Disclaimer: Harry Potter, etc. are the intellectual property of JKR; no infringement is intended.
A/N: I dedicate this fic to sunshyndaisies; thanks for being my light at the end of the tunnel during this crazy, crazy time and for not telling me that "everything will be okay." You're the best.
A/N2: This fic is loosely, loosely based on my favourite song of the moment, I'm With You by Avril Lavigne. That would be where the title comes from, and some of the story's nuances directly related to the story's lyrics. I might suggest that you listen to it while reading, it might give you a better understanding of Hermione's feelings in the situation.
A/N3: I should probably also mention that Hermione is really lost in this fic; she doesn't necessarily act like herself because she's in a situation where she no longer knows who she is. This would explain why she's acting more harshly than she probably would towards Ron and Harry; she doesn't mean to do it, but she's so lost that it's the only way she knows how to handle things.
Take me by the Hand
They were both downstairs, talking about her; she knew this because she could hear them, could hear them partly because their deep voices had a tendency to carry through walls, and partly because Harry had neglected to shut the door to her room when he'd left. The fact that they were both talking about her annoyed her; the fact that Harry had left the door open annoyed her; everything about her life annoyed her, and she was the highest on her own list.
"How many times do I have to tell you that I didn't do anything this time?" she heard Ron defending himself, and despite the heaviness in her chest, she managed a very small, very brief smile. It was a funny thing, as funny as she could muster anyway, that of all the things that felt so wrong in her life, the redhead was the only thing that didn't make her want to crawl under the thick covers adorning her bed and break down crying. There were a lot of things about him that made her want to cry, but at the moment he was the only thing keeping her standing. Even Harry, with his constant concern, unwavering devotion, and admirable advice was starting to tear at her patience.
"Well something had to have set her off; she's acting as though she's angry at us, or something," Harry was now saying. The truth was that she was angry, but not at anyone but herself, and it was making her lash out at everyone surrounding her. Why else would she be alone in a room meant to house two others, on a day too cold to spend outside, too quiet to spend in the already near-deserted common room, and much too boring to spend in the dreary library? She was pushing everyone around her away, when the one person she truly wanted to get away from was herself.
"Well what do you want me to do about it?" was Ron's answer, and her thoughts echoed his words. She was restless, so restless, but didn't feel like doing anything; she was exhausted, but couldn't sleep; she didn't want to be alone but couldn't stand anyone being around her. She didn't know what was wrong with herself, much less expect anyone else to. She wanted to cry, but refused to stoop so low; she felt trapped, so incredibly trapped, and it was the one emotion that didn't seem to be countered by anything. Was life supposed to be this hard? It was a question she asked herself every day. Ever since the OWL scores had come in, she'd begun feeling as though she'd never amount to anything. How could she when she'd gotten such dreadful marks…and not just to her standards, either. No, she knew she set impossibly high standards for herself, but this time it was different. This time she'd really messed things up. She'd gotten average marks, yes average marks. Average wouldn't get her anywhere in life.
Average was for the people who would end up working minimum wage, struggling to make ends meet every day. Her own parents had built their practice from their own sweat and blood and had worked hard for years before they'd found success. They'd worked so hard, she knew, because they'd wanted her to have it easier, just as she knew the Weasleys were so that Ron, Ginny, and their brothers would never have to know what it felt like to have to budget their money so that they could give their kids a decent education and still be able to eat. She admired people who had to work hard for what they had, but she'd never thought that she'd work so hard and have nothing, absolutely nothing, to show for it in the end.
Downstairs, the two boys' conversation was continuing. "Go talk to her," Harry was now ordering Ron, and though he didn't speak his reply, the heaviness of his footsteps betrayed the fact that he was coming to see her only because he felt he had to and not because he wanted to. This only made the emptiness within her worst, and she had to swallow back a lump that had formed in her throat. Of course he didn't want to talk to her, why would he? She'd been acting horribly towards both he and Harry for the past week and a half. She hadn't told them about her marks, though she knew they'd both gotten the best of her by several, several, percentage points. Not only that, but since their conciliation the year before during the Goblet of Fire fiasco, her best friends' friendship had cemented itself even more, whereas she felt her place with them fall short of what she'd expected it to be. She didn't feel as though she belonged anymore. If she were to disappear this very instant, would they even notice that she was gone? Maybe if they had an essay to write or assignment to complete, though it was now obvious that they didn't need her even for that, as her poor OWL score attested to.
She tried to make herself look occupied when she heard his footsteps reach the top of the stairs, and tried to act as nonchalant as possible when she felt his presence in the doorway, though she'd purposely turned her back to it when she'd heard he was coming up.
"Hi," he greeted, and his greeting didn't seem forced though she just knew he didn't want to be here.
"Hi," she said, turning around and giving him a half smile, not trusting herself to look him in the eye lest the look betray her. She turned back around, looking at the book in front of her, a book she'd randomly picked up off the shelf, randomly opened, and was now only pretending to read, the words actually blurring in front of her eyes because she couldn't bring herself to concentrate on them.
"Is this a bad time?" Ron asked behind her, still standing in the doorway. As a means of response she lifted her book.
"Reading," she replied, with another false smile. Her body language was screaming "leave" though somewhere inside her, deep inside her, a small voice was begging him to stay. She didn't understand it; when Harry had gone after having been given this type of behaviour, she'd felt as though a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Now that the same weight had returned she knew it would only be lifted if Ron stepped inside the room rather than deciding to leave it…though she wasn't giving him any reason to want to stay at all, especially given the fact that he hadn't wanted to come up in the first place.
She heard the door behind her shut, and it was as if her world had crumbled around her, leaving her standing alone in a dark, empty void. She had to take a deep breath, a breath that turned out to be quite shaky, when she realized that he had abandoned her. So it was true…she really was on her own.
She felt her mattress shift next to her as if a weight had been placed on it, and it took her a full minute to realize that it was because someone had in fact sat there. "Do you want to tell me what's wrong?" she heard a deep voice ask. She knew it to be Ron's, would have known it even if she'd been deaf and could only have felt the reverberations of it. What she didn't know was why he was still here.
"Nothing's wrong," she felt the need to lie. She couldn't look at him, though, knew he'd know it to be untrue if he saw her face. "I'm fine, just a bit tired," she told him. After all, she didn't want him to feel the need to comfort her. It was obvious he and Harry felt it their duty to be concerned about her, had only come talk to her because they felt it was what they had to do, and not because they were really concerned about her. She'd become a burden to them, an unwelcome third to their duo.
"I'm sorry to hear that," he said, and the void inside her became a bit bigger at the notion that he'd believed her so easily. "Now do you want to tell me what's really wrong?" he persisted. Though it did nothing to the heaviness inside her, it did surprise her that even without having seen her face he'd known she'd lied…not that it mattered.
"Why do you care?" the words had come out before she'd been able to stop them, and the harshness of her tone seemed a hundred times worst outloud than what it had been in her head. He flinched at her words, and she immediately wanted to take them back, a pain coursing through her that made her wish the emptiness returned. A lone tear ran down her right cheek, and she could only silently thank the powers that be that it hadn't come from her other eye where Ron would have noticed it instantly.
"Did I do something wrong?" he asked; she was still looking at her feet, but she could see that he'd moved to put his hand on her arm, only to let his arm fall limply back at his side. She could only shake her head no in response, not trusting her voice.
"Did Harry?" he asked, then, and again she shook her head. "Then please, Hermione, please tell me what's going on?" his voice was pleading with her to answer him, but she couldn't.
"I don't know," she said, and it was the truth. She didn't know what was wrong because it felt that everything was wrong. She'd done horribly on her OWLs, she was never going to amount to anything, she wasn't good at anything other than school and now she wasn't even good at that anymore. She had no friends, no true friends, other than Ron and Harry, but they'd grown closer and it seemed as though there was less room for her than there used to be. Everything inside her felt wrong, and it seemed as though everyone else was going through their lives as great as could be. Everyone else seemed happy, and she was just…miserable. She seemed to be surrounded by people but still felt so…alone.
"I feel so lost," she finally admitted. Her voice was dry, as empty as her body felt. The tears were no longer threatening to fall; it felt as though she had no tears left, though she hadn't actually cried any. For the first time she looked up into Ron's face and saw the concern there, the fire in his eyes; the intensity was such that she had to look away. What would he say now? Tell her that everything would be all right? That she was just going through a rough spot but would cheer up eventually the way Harry had? Though she'd admired her green-eyed friend's efforts, they'd only left her cold; he didn't know that everything would be all right. She herself didn't know what was wrong with her, how did he know that it would settle itself? Surely, Ron would only respond with some version of the same.
It seemed that he was quiet for a long time and she could feel his eyes on her, though she refused to meet them. She didn't have strength enough to meet them. She felt him shift beside her and half of her expected him to up and leave her like she'd thought he had before, but a moment later she felt his hand come to rest on top of hers—large, warm, protecting.
"I will always be here to find you," he finally said. His voice pierced through her, lashed through the empty darkness within her. Eight words, eight simple words, and they were her undoing.
When the tears finally did come, he took her in his arms without saying a word; when all she could do was shake and hiccup, he ran his hand through her hair, rocking her back and forth; when the exhaustion finally caught up to her, he laid her back gently on her pillow and covered her with a blanket; when she closed her eyes, on the edge of sleep, he leaned over her and pressed his lips to her brow, ran his thumb across her cheek, and answered the question she'd asked out of despair, and hurt, and confusion. Why do you care?
"Because I wouldn't be the same without you."