a dark hermione oneshot

summary: being best friends with a horcrux for seven years changes a person.


"While the magical container is still intact, the bit of soul inside it can flit in and out of someone if they get too close to the object. I don't mean holding it for too long-it's nothing to do with touching it," Hermione added before Ron could speak. "I mean close emotionally. Ginny poured her heart out into that diary. She made herself incredibly vulnerable. You're in trouble if you get too fond of, or dependent on, the horcrux."

- deathly hallows

Hermione's different in the summers.

First comes the crash. She doesn't know what it is, the exhaustion, the almost reptilian languor, but she always begins to feel it the instant she parts from Harry and Ron at King's Cross. Those first few days of summer she's always dangling off her bed in the midmornings and staring out the window of her parents' house, eyes blank as rough garnet, lace coverlet thrown across her wrist, inside which her pulse is throbbing in something like a withdrawal symptom. For two days she can't make herself touch books, or even food. Her mouth starts to taste like water.

But everything's slow in summer, and she has time to adjust. It's a process of kaleidoscopic reorientation, shifting the tube so that the crystals align just so, until they coalesce perfectly into a mirror and there—she can see herself again.

By end of July, she's woken up.

By end of July she feels light, actually—like a sundress caught by a breeze, as if her entire self could be shifted any way in particular. It's better than she feels at school, or if not better, certainly healthier. At Hogwarts there's always something nailing her into something else, determination into textbooks or righteousness into activism, irritation into indignation. Too many drives consuming her.

At home, she reads differently. The process is less bloodshot. The letters she writes Viktor have poetic little flourishes at the ends of sentences, and she sits back with a smile on her lips and thinks to herself, I can still write this way? He can tell, too. When he writes her back, he tells her how well she sounds, as if she's there with him, murmuring into his collarbone, and there's some sharp ridge filed away from her voice.

By early August she wonders if she dreads going back to Hogwarts for their sixth year. She's long since finished with her homework by then and she's about to hit the back cover of Advanced Potion Making, and with precious little reading left to distract, she starts thinking about herself in the castle. The way she behaves, the person she becomes there.

Dreading Hogwarts seems ridiculous if not a byproduct of the war. She doesn't mention this in letters to Harry, of course, her knowledge of the Dursleys and of his grief for Sirius flavoring her every word to him.

She does, however, mention the feeling to Ron. He's more receptive than she thought he would be. It is nice, holiday, is what she writes, innocently: Of course I'm excited to start up with classes again, but something about being away from the castle feels good for my health.

I know exactly what you mean, Ron writes back, more emphatic than she has ever read from him. Like the person you are at school sort of falls away, isn't it?

This is, of course, exactly how it is. By the end of 3rd year Hermione felt as if she had grown a bud, some nascent thing forming in her side, and during 4th and 5th years, she felt it differentiating itself from her: second Hermione, sharper Hermione, Hermione with wit that can not only salve but punish. When she goes home, this creature retreats into her, unable to survive. It's a bit of a reprieve, but also a bit of a disappointment. There's a spiky energy around her second self that she prizes.

She comes to realize that she doesn't dread her return. She craves it. The mistake was easy to make. Both feelings are empty, awaiting replacement.

oOo

This year, it arrives first in their potions class. Harry has his textbook wide (his cheat textbook), and Hermione is inhaling the fine mist rising from her lilac-tinted potion (the potion that has falsely marked her second best), and she feels this thing move violently beside her heart when Slughorn exclaims so effusively over Harry.

She looks Harry in the eye and experiences a lash of fury quite unequal to anything she's ever felt during a summer, this rage of being overlooked, this howl of being trodden on, of injustice, of effort not matching outcome, of not earning what she has earned.

She has felt this before. When the others used to denigrate S.P.E.W., she never felt diminished or embarrassed. She used to look at their retreating backs and think about how they didn't deserve the air they breathed, how she might strangle it out of their throats. This rage, she could never say to anyone. Help me understand this rage.

But it felt better to feel it. Better to feel this rage than to feel nothing, to be among you, undifferentiated.

This is one of many days she storms away from Harry and doesn't talk to him. That night, sequestered in the girls' dormitory, she thinks about herself in Potions with such detachment that she could be watching someone else's memory, head-deep in a Pensieve and sidelined and invisible, incorporeal.

oOo

It happens next after the Quidditch match when she saw Harry's hand slip over Ron's morning juice, when she could have sworn

Ron is astounded at Harry's benign trickery. "But the weather's good … and Vaisey can't play … I honestly haven't been given lucky potion?"

Harry shakes his head, looking pleased and happy—until Ron turns on Hermione, an uncharacteristic gleam in his eye. "You added Felix Felicis to Ron's juice this morning, that's why he saved everything!" he imitates in a cruel, shrill mockery of her voice. "See! I can save goals without help, Hermione!"

"I never said you couldn't—Ron, you thought you'd been given it, too!"

But Ron is already storming out of the changing room, leaving Hermione and Harry alone. Staring after Ron, Hermione feels it again, this wash of incandescent fury up to the fingernails.

When she looks back at Harry, the surprise on his face has sharpened to wariness. "Hermione," he says slowly, "are you all right? Only—er, you look really angry."

"What was I supposed to have done?" she bursts out, and her anger cartwheels into sadness and even loneliness, and she grasps out at this hand Harry has extended because as much as she loves her boys, they are not much for olive branches, so she must speak when she can: "I'm sick of Ron at the moment! I can't look at him, I can't say a word to him without him deciding I've done something awful. He's never like this with you, Harry. And it's nothing you do or don't do," she adds hastily, "but it's not fair. I wish he'd stop to consider that as much as he always feels like he comes second, I'm always the one who comes second to both of you. I … I—"

She's said too much, she thinks, given too much away. Or something has been too much. The changing-room smell of bodies in motion, maybe, has overpowered her, or her affection for Harry for listening so earnestly, or her own honesty, because the next thing she knows, her knees have fallen out from beneath her.

Harry, a coiled spring, everything in him a trained reflex, catches her. "Hermione?" he says urgently, staggering to bring her to one of the benches. "What's wrong? What's happening?"

She looks at him and he seems to be swimming. She blinks and with every other window of viewing, she sees a different boy with jet-black hair, handsome as Harry is handsome, but in other ways: features smooth as sea glass where Harry is all crests and angles. Dark eyes where Harry has green.

"Harry," she says hoarsely. "Is that you? Harry—is that you?"

Her second self is reaching out to this other boy in him, who seems to sharpen the more tightly she holds his hand. She feels something both cold and hot within her, something in motion rearing its head. She has given of herself to Harry, and something in him gives back.

Suddenly she finds she can stand. Her head is clear. Her thoughts are laser cut.

"I'm all right," she says, and suddenly it's Harry again beneath her fingertips, Harry, filled with relief. The other thing is submerged.

He closes her into his arms. Afraid, she holds him more closely, as if the familiarity will smother the fear.

oOo

Harry visibly worries about her for a few days. He seems to feel personally responsible for her collapse, given that she was there because of him, emotionally overexerted because of him. He is at her side often.

Now that she knows to look for it, she sees how his presence operates on her in a way Ron's doesn't. She feels drained when Harry is there, but when he leaves to go to Quidditch practice, she wants to call after him, to tell him to stay just a minute longer, hungry for the strange, sick energy she pulls from him. When he is gone, the stormclouds in her cranium begin to turn to a slightly more gentle, penetrable mist, but he's never gone too long, and besides, she likes the electricity.

The year is a greased slide, sending her into caverns of thoughts she has never entertained before. In a letter to Viktor she finds herself writing of her frustration with everyone else's inadequacy, their petty concerns, their raging hormones, their inability to focus on the war brewing outside their walls. Their stupidity and childishness. She begins to feel herself fueled by a sort of cold heat, a quartz-powered furnace.

The next day she rereads what she's written and singes off the page of parchment, alarmed with herself and ashamed, unsure who she thinks she is.

Still, she has never been so productive, has never worked so cleanly and efficiently. This is the girl who completed a Protean Charm on her first try last year, who cursed that parchment so vehemently that even now, a year later, that Marietta girl still hides her wretched face. Hermione wonders if this is a part of growing up, if to be older is to be necessarily worse. Maybe to be seventeen is to come to terms with all these self-important thoughts.

But every so often she experiences a blinding moment of clarity, when she can look back and see veil after veil scythed apart to reveal the softer, kinder girl she was last summer, or the summer before. When Ron is poisoned, and later when Harry leaves to find the horcrux with Dumbledore, and later still at Dumbledore's funeral, she can feel some sort of meniscus breaking in her. In these moments she feels such a thunderclap of fear and love that the second self seems to recoil inside her, and she thinks for an instant she can separate out the contaminant.

She can't, of course. It's all in her blood, in her skull, everything intermingled. By the next day things have reverted again. The future converges inevitably with the way things have always been.

oOo

On the last night before they are to leave Hogwarts—and she knows the three of them will not return—Ron falls asleep in the common room. These days he's been surly and tired and self-righteous, the sort of defensive that accompanies swollen pride. She has seen this side of him growing all year, more defined, these secondary characteristics that were always in Ron but exacerbated now by—by what? Hermione attributes the change to stress and loss, to fear.

She and Harry watch the fire flickering in the grate.

"Do you fancy a walk?" she asks, not tired at all.

"Yeah, all right," he says.

They take the Cloak through the portrait hole and into the gloaming, where all the colors seem switched, the sky a moorish purple that should belong to the heather along the grounds, and the ground greenwashed in murky rain light. They remove the Cloak to walk. Nobody will stop them, nobody will call after them. The worst has already touched this castle. What danger is there left? In the distance the white tomb glows red—sunset.

"I heard you ended things with Ginny," Hermione says quietly.

"Yeah," Harry says. He sounds reluctant.

"I'm sorry," she offers.

"It's all right. She understood why."

"She knows Ron and I are coming with you, though?" They are at the very edge of the forest now.

Harry turns toward her with an expression of resolve. "I've been thinking about that. I don't think you two—"

"We're coming, Harry," she says firmly, "and you can't stop us."

He leans against one of the trees and looks into the forest. "You shouldn't," he mutters. "It's not—not safe."

"Not safe?" Hermione says, trying not to sound amused. She knows how he hates that, amusement when he's being serious. Anyway, it isn't funny, really, is it?

"Harry," she says, more quietly, "do you really think anywhere will be safe after this?"

He is looking so fully into the forest that she can only see a sliver of his face, like a crescent moon.

"You must understand by now," he says in quite a different voice, "that it would be safer for you if you kept your distance."

Then he reaches out and takes her hand. She feels an absurd sense of danger at the touch, like vertigo. Some string in the center of her is quavering. At that moment, he angles his face toward her, and she sees him again. The black-haired boy who is not Harry, but who is nonetheless leaning against the tree, holding her hand.

She feels for an absurd moment as if she might die here, and she knows that if she were to die at this moment, it would look inexplicably like natural causes. The sudden and irrational stop of a heart.

The violence of it, the displacement of Harry, injects her with a frantic little shot of panic. "No," she tells the boy.

"No?" says the boy smoothly, and she knows she is right. This is not Harry gripping her hand.

"Who are you?" she says, higher-pitched. "What are you?"

"Don't worry," he says in a sort of soothing croon. Harry's voice, but not Harry's inflection. Harry has never spoken to anyone this way, with this careful, knowing placation. "He isn't in danger."

"Get out of him," she whispers. "Give him back."

The boy laughs. "I'm afraid I can't leave his body. But I am not ungrateful. You and the red-haired boy have cared for him well." A thin smile pulls at Harry's mouth. "You nourish me, Hermione. You give me strength."

And then, at last, she understands the full extent of the dilemma. The closer she and Ron draw to Harry, the more they will transform away from the friends he loves. The closer they try to cleave to him, the stronger this thing in Harry will become.

She wants to cry from the helplessness of it, until she looks up and sees the thing in Harry watching with cold amusement.

Heat floods her. She narrows her eyes so they burn into the boy's. In that moment she is more herself than she has been since summer. More herself, perhaps, than she has ever been. "I give him strength, too," she says fiercely, and holds more tightly to his hand. "I give him strength."

The horrible smile falters. The strength of her affection seems to burn. The hand in hers twitches. The head jerks spasmodically, and the body shudders. The thing recoils.

When Harry looks back at her, she knows he remembers none of it. "No," he says. "I know nowhere's safe."

oOo

That summer's respite doesn't last long or feel like a respite: rather, slight strangulation. The instant she sees Harry again she has the distinct sense of surfacing from underwater, gasping oxygen, and within an hour she can feel herself changing, the second self emergent. She wonders if they will complete their task before she is changed forever.

She and Ron both know that their commitment to Harry will cost more than it ever has. Nonetheless, settling into place at his side has never felt easier. She has already told Ron the truth, and they barely had to discuss it before knowing the depth of their loyalty: they cannot, will never, leave—not for any reason, not to save themselves, not even to starve the thing burgeoning inside Harry. They will not abandon him no matter what there is in him.

Besides, it is wartime, and Harry is the crux of it all, so even if there were no fragment of night encased in him, Hermione knows her every molecule would be twined into and eventually transformed by what he must do. The fear of loss, the agony of death, and the tremendous hope for change: all this is between them already. Hermione's deep love and abiding affection for her boys, her autumn and winter boys: red-haired Ron, like the burning of leaves, like the falling away of the child self; and distant, marbled Harry, somehow always surprising her with both his lostness and immediacy. Immersed in all this, why shouldn't she change? Of course there was always going to be a cost. How could any of this come free?


hi! this was written in a fit of madness.

xo

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