CW: Mention of child abuse
"Good!" Tom praised her, as Hermione huffed and forced the dementor-boggart back into the box. "You almost got it that time!"
"I got sulfur-smelling smoke," Hermione grumbled. "Let's not hype this up into something it isn't."
"You still got something," Tom argued. "You got silvery wisps before a full Patronus, right? This is a step closer to your goal."
"I just don't get why I can't get it still," she moaned. "I've been at this for ages, now. Weeks. And still nothing. The Patronus wasn't nearly as hard."
Tom considered, looking at her thoughtfully. He casually leaned against one of the fallen pillars in the chamber and raised an eyebrow.
"What's the main thing you need to cast a Patronus?" he asked.
"Err," Hermione said. "A happy memory?"
Tom nodded. "And what do you need to cast Fiendfyre?"
"Hatred?" Hermione guessed. "The consuming Dark need to burn things into ash?"
"You're close enough," he said. "The desire to destroy something utterly."
"I do want to destroy the dementor," Hermione snapped, resisting the urge to stomp her foot. "That's the entire reason I'm doing this."
"Do you, though?" Tom mused.
Hermione's eyes narrowed.
"I didn't burn my hair off to not, Tom," she said warningly, but Tom shook his head.
"Not like that," he said. "Think about it: as much as you despise dementors, your hate's still rather abstract, isn't it?"
Hermione blinked. "What?"
"Your hate is abstract," Tom pointed out. "You hate the dementors on moral premise – you think their existence is immoral and represents an unacceptable threat to humanity. So your desire to destroy them is based on an ethical imperative you've devised for yourself – you feel it would be evil for you to not destroy the dementors."
Hermione felt her face grow hot. "I don't see how—"
"So when you think of dementors," Tom said, steamrolling over her, "you think of the wrongness of them on the world, don't you? You hate them for what they are and what they represent."
"I don't see where you're going with this," Hermione said hotly.
"Hate isn't like that, Hermione," Tom said patiently. His eyes glittered. "Hate is personal. Hate is mean."
"I'm trying to do it and have it not be Dark magic," she argued.
"It's a Dark curse; it's going to be Dark," Tom said, rolling his eyes. "You might figure out how to use it for your ethical moral imperative, but it's still Dark."
"Fine, then," Hermione snapped. "What do I need to do, then? Wait for a dementor to suck out a friend's soul so I can hate them on a personal level?"
"While I wouldn't recommend it," Tom said dryly, "it would probably work."
Hermione shot him a scowl.
"No, I'd recommend remembering other things and people you hate," Tom said. His voice was soft, his eyes seeming to glow. "Descend into your darker thoughts, Hermione. Remember the thrill you felt when you hurt people who had wronged you."
"Those were justified," Hermione argued. "It was righting an injustice—"
"It was revenge," Tom corrected, eyes sharp. "And it felt good, didn't it?"
Hermione bit her lip hard.
"I was pleased to have restored the balance," she said primly. "Snape said righteous vengeance of an injustice isn't Dark—"
"For just a second, forget about what's Light or Dark," Tom snapped. "Hermione, just think – have you ever wanted to hurt someone?"
"Those are base impulses of a cruel child," she sniped back. "As a society, we need to overcome those to function."
"You need to feel your base impulses to get this curse to work," Tom warned, frustration in his tone. "And your refusal to admit to yourself that sometimes you get angry and just want people to hurt isn't psychologically healthy either, Hermione."
"I'm not deluding myself," she protested. "I know I get angry. I know that. But I don't wish people dead. I don't want to hurt them."
"Don't you?" Tom's eyes glittered. "No one? Ever?"
Hermione faltered. "I…"
Even as she protested, memories of dark emotions curled into her mind, creeping up from the depths of her subconscious. Her cruel pleasure at seeing Pansy's terrified expression when her blood was too dark, the savage thrill of seeing terror streak across Damon Rowle's face, the dark satisfaction of seeing Rhamnaceae's eyes widen as she realized what was going on…
"The fact that you don't destroy your enemies is a testament to your strength, Hermione," Tom murmured, "but the impulses are there."
And they were.
Even now, Hermione felt loathing and hatred flare up from time to time. Lysander Lestrange, the 6th year prefect who was particularly rude, made her wish he'd been involved in her attack just so she'd have a reason to go after him and strike him down. Alexia Rosier was still swanning around the Slytherin common room, making loud, snide comments about certain standards – Hermione had grown confident enough in herself and her place in the House to let them roll off her back, but they still bothered her. She'd imagined just hexing her out of nowhere, just having a full-on fight in front of everyone and just absolutely crushing her, so no one would ever disrespect her again…
Peter Winickus was a weak wizard with a runny nose, someone who always reminded her more of a whelk than a serpent. He'd been involved in her attack, but after Damon Rowle had met the Whomping Willow in an unfortunate turn of events, he'd largely stopped talking badly about her and faded into the background. Saunder Snyde, on the other hand, was an oily, smarmy pureblood in 5th year who looked and acted like a caricature of a slimeball lawyer from a courthouse drama. He didn't talk to Hermione directly, but she could overhear him at times talking about magical power and bloodlines and those who were trying just so hard to rise above their station…
Hermione had fantasized about the giant squid breaking through the glass looking into the lake just to grab and strangle him, everyone screaming as water gushed into the common room as the squid thrashed him about.
"Okay," she snapped, annoyed. "I have dark impulses. What about it?"
"You need to remember what that feeling is," Tom told her. "You need to descend into your hatred and immerse yourself in it. Then, find that dark satisfaction once more. Experience the thrill. The pleasure." His eyes glowed. "You need to remember those feelings on a gut level, Hermione. Only then will the Fiendfyre truly come to you."
"Hi, Blaise," Hermione muttered to herself, scoffing. "Will you help me with my Dark magic homework? I've got to get revenge on someone in order to learn an evil curse..."
The irony was, he probably would help her if she asked, Hermione thought, even if she phrased it exactly like that.
Blaise was her instinctive person to go to for help with this. She remembered his rage at Rhamnaceae, his comments that she deserved to rot away in Azkaban after what she'd done, and his morality was… decidedly flexible, she thought. If anyone was going to help her find people to hate and help her get revenge just so she could remember what it felt like, it would be Blaise.
Hermione hesitated, though. Blaise would certainly help her get revenge, and Blaise would certainly feel anger towards whomever, but would she…?
The bullying incident in her first year had left a deep impression and scar on her psyche and her memory, but she had moved past it, moved beyond. She didn't want to keep dwelling on it and remembering it if she could help it – it didn't seem healthy to her.
And there was something more niggling at her, too. Despite Blaise's vow that he would keep her secrets and that he trusted her judgement on the use of Dark magic, she didn't want him to think that of her. Lord Voldemort had had power and followers, but he hadn't had friends. And while Hermione had no doubt that Blaise would follow her into Hell, she'd rather he do it because he wanted to – not out of fear of retribution if he chose not to.
Did the other Slytherins wonder so hard about how to not become a Dark witch? Hermione wondered sometimes. Snape had explained the Dark Arts to her very early in her Hogwarts career, so how to avoid Dark magic had become semi-ingrained in her early on. But that wasn't the typical Slytherin Hogwarts Experience™, was it? She doubted Draco Malfoy really cared if he was becoming a Dark wizard or not.
The next candidate she had for her 'Dark magic homework' was not an ideal one.
"You want me to what?" Theo said, astonished.
"Teach me how to hate," Hermione repeated. "I need to feel hatred."
Theo stared at her.
"You know how to hate," he said flatly. "I've seen you hate people before."
"I have not!" Hermione objected, and Theo snorted.
"You hate those girls in Ravenclaw who bullied Luna," he said, listing people off on his fingers. "You hate Lavender Brown for asking stupid questions in Divination, and you hate Lily Moon for that time in Herbology she mocked you for asking about a magical aloe plant. You hate Lysander Lestrange for all his loud comments about people trying to raise above their station. You hate Sally Anne-Perks because Zabini is dating her—"
"I do not!" Hermione objected.
"—and you hate Professor Burbage because she's teaching out of date nonsense and masquerading it as genuine Muggle Studies," Theo went on. He raised an eyebrow. "And how do you need me to help you hate someone?"
"Okay, so I hate some people," she said, surly. "But I don't hate them enough."
"You do realize hate is a bad thing, right?"
"Hate is powerful," Hermione argued. "If you use it properly—"
"I am not helping you with this," Theo said flatly. "And if you have any sense, you will drop it and not do this either." He gave her a significant look, and Hermione rolled her eyes but didn't respond. She already wasn't thrilled about doing this at all.
Hermione ended up complaining about it to Harry in the library while they were working on Arithmancy homework, Hermione flying through her equations as she ranted, Harry carefully looking up his runes in a dictionary each time he came to one.
"—not unreasonable to ask for help!" Hermione argued. "Just because hate can be used for bad things doesn't mean it has to be!"
"Doesn't it?" Harry's lips quirked.
"'Use your aggressive feelings, boy'," Harry intoned in a creepy voice, pulling up the back of his robe to cover his head. Hermione could see he was struggling not to laugh. "'Let the hate flow through you… release your anger…'"
"Oh, shut it," Hermione snapped, annoyed, and Harry let his robe fall, laughing.
"You have to admit, it sounds just like that," he pointed out. "And while I wouldn't say the Dark Side is necessarily Dark magic…"
Hermione rolled her eyes.
"I need it to cast a really difficult and advanced spell," she said. "Like with the Patronus, you know? We needed a really happy memory to use. For this one, I need to be able to reach down and feel hate on a personal and visceral level."
"'Your hatred has made you powerful'…" Harry mused, tapping his lips with his quill. He looked at her sideways. "Really? You don't hate anyone?"
"I do," Hermione admitted. "But I don't think at the level I need to. Like the people who bullied me in first year—"
"The ones who almost got you killed?" Harry said flatly.
"Err—yes, those people. I hate them, but if he could, Blaise would eviscerate them." She shook her head. "It's almost funny. The attack was against me, but Blaise is practically more upset about it than I am."
Harry looked thoughtful.
"D'you think it's because you lived it?" he asked. "Because you lived it, you know how bad it was and how close to death you actually were, whereas Blaise has to imagine it. And what he imagines might be way, way worse."
"Err—" Hermione faltered. "I have no idea."
"Or maybe it's because death isn't that scary of an idea to you," Harry went on, "but the idea of losing you is terrifying to Blaise."
Hermione went red. "I really don't think—"
"Have I ever told you about my relatives?" Harry said abruptly.
"Um," Hermione said. "Not really…"
Harry glanced around. The library wasn't crowded, but it wasn't deserted by any means.
"Not here," he muttered. "Somewhere else. Hang on…"
Hermione waited as he checked out the Ancient Runes dictionary and caught up to her at the library entrance.
"There's an old abandoned classroom around here," Harry said. "It has a bunch of piled up desks in it. Dumbledore stored that bloody mirror there first year over the holiday…"
He led her into an abandoned classroom and closed the door behind them. He pointed his wand at a chair, transfiguring it into a slightly less-uncomfortable looking chair, and he shot Hermione an amused look when she managed to transfigure a cushion onto hers.
"Show off," he teased, and Hermione laughed.
"Whatever," she dismissed. She sat down, moving her chair across from his near the windows. Thin slats of pale light filtered through the dusty windows, illuminating Harry's face in an odd way. "What's this about your relatives?"
Harry's face went blank.
"You said you needed to feel hate, right?" he said. His voice was odd, toneless.
"Yes…" Hermione said slowly.
"If Blaise hates the people who hurt you more than you do, maybe there's some transitive property of hatred," Harry said. His eyes looked brighter in this light, almost an acid green. "I figured I could tell you about who I hate, and you might hate them more."
"Your relatives…?" Hermione ventured carefully. "I knew you disliked them immensely, and they locked you up the one year…"
"I hate them," Harry reaffirmed. "Did you know they had me sleeping in a cupboard under the stairs until I was eleven?"
"They what?" Hermione was aghast. "A cupboard?"
"I was a freak," Harry said, shrugging. "Didn't deserve a proper room, so Dudley had a bedroom and a playroom, full of his old broken toys…"
It was as if Harry underwent a transformation, Hermione noticed, as he talked about the Dursleys. Harry's voice went flat as he told her stories, and his face never moved, a completely vacant, emotionless mask. It was a creepy effect, especially as his tales horrified Hermione, appalling her on a visceral level and making her feel like she was going to throw up.
"This happened all the time?" she said, horrified. "They just… locked you up and didn't feed you?"
"There's a reason I'm so skinny," Harry said. "Getting locked in the cupboard and deprived of food tends to do that to a kid. It wasn't nearly so bad as Dudley, though."
"Your cousin?" Hermione asked.
Harry nodded. "Dudley and his friends were all a bunch of bullies. And their favorite game was called 'Harry Hunting'…"
Harry went on, detailing how his cousin would beat him up, chase him up trees, blame him for everything, and how Harry would be punished for things that weren't his fault at all.
"You got punished for having better marks than him?"
"Dudley was supposed to be the smart one," Harry said, shrugging. "He wasn't, but that meant I couldn't be smarter than him. So I must be cheating, then, so I got in trouble and locked up."
The abuse at the hands of his aunt and uncle was so much worse than she had ever imagined. Being locked in the cupboard and beaten, though terrible, was at least a finite kind of horror, a physical trial to endure. The constant degradation, loathing, and resentment his aunt and uncle had treated Harry with, though, was appalling. She had no idea how he hadn't come out of Privet Drive completely psychologically broken.
"And it… it was just like this all the time?" Hermione whispered. "They treated you as a slave, pretended you don't exist, hit you, starved you, and told you that you're a freak who they'd be better off without?"
"It is like this," Harry corrected. "I still go back over summertime, remember?"
Hermione's jaw fell open. "You what—"
"Dumbledore said something about my mother's sacrifice making where her blood still lived safe for me," Harry said, shrugging. "So if I live in my aunt's house, I guess, the bad guys can't come after me."
"What bad guys?" Hermione demanded, her voice growing shrill. "Death Eaters? Because they're mostly all gone now, and it sounds like your aunt is doing a lot more harm than good!"
Harry held his hands up. "I don't go back willingly. Dumbledore's orders. If I could, I'd never return."
Hermione stared at him. She shook her head slowly, pressing her hands into her eyes.
"They beat you because your hair grew back," she repeated, incredulous. "They beat you…"
"I was a freak," Harry said, shrugging. "They tried to beat it out of me whenever anything freakish happened."
Harry's calm, eerie acceptance of everything was almost worse than if he'd been crying during his stories. He must have been so used to it that it was just a matter of course to relay everything to her, flat facts instead of emotions, or maybe his mind had needed to protect him from the psychological horror of what he'd gone through, so his emotions were carefully uninvolved in his memories instead.
"I can't believe this," Hermione despaired. "We can't let you go back there again. We can't."
"It is what it is," Harry said. "But Hermione…"
His eyes almost seemed to glow in the thin light of the dusty room.
"I hate the Dursleys," he told her, some emotion returning to his voice. "I hate them. I'd be happy if I never saw them again in my life. I resent them so much, Hermione, you don't even know – but I mostly hate them for never telling me about my parents."
Hermione blinked. "…what?"
"They said my parents died in a car crash," Harry said viciously. "Implied my father was a drunk. Got mad at me when I said I remembered a green light. Never told me a thing about my mother or father. Hagrid had to tell me everything, when he finally hunted me down and told me I was a wizard." He looked up at Hermione. "To learn that I had had a family that had loved me, that had wanted me…" He broke off, looking away and rubbing his eyes. "And more than that – even if they had just told me that my parents were freaks, so I inherited weird freakish abilities from them – it would have at least been reassuring, you know? To know I wasn't just this weird freakish kid that was a stain on the world."
Hermione stared at him. Her throat and chest felt like there was a void in them, sucking out all the happiness and joy and positivity in the world. She felt like she couldn't breathe. She couldn't speak, it was so horrible.
"So I hate them," Harry went on, his voice low. "I hate them, and I will always hate them. But some part of me is vaguely aware that I should hate them more – that I should hate them for how they treated me growing up."
"Not really," Harry said. "It's like you, with your bullies. You lived it, so you know what it was like. I lived it, so I remember, and I came out of it okay, so it's probably not as bad to me as it is for whatever you're thinking."
Hermione stared at him. The idea that he had 'come out okay', so it wasn't that bad…
He clearly hadn't come out okay, if the psychological damage and his own psyche's defense mechanisms had ended up so twisted and warped.
"But I've told you about them, now," Harry said. He looked up at her. "Do you hate them too?"
"Yes," Hermione said vehemently. "Oh, Harry, I can't believe—"
"Do you hate them, though?" Harry pressed. "Or are you just saying that?"
Hermione gaped at him. "Harry, I—"
"No. Really stop and think about it," Harry stressed. His eyes glinted. "Feel it. Do you hate them? What emotion do you hold in your heart?"
Frustrated, Hermione did as she was bid, taking a deep breath and closing her eyes, letting herself feel her emotions and noticing how her body was reacting.
The first thing she came across was a sharp indignation and righteousness. Harry had no business living in a place like that, that would treat him so! She was appalled that he was forced to go back there, really – and she was going to make sure he'd never have to spend a summer there ever again, if she had anything to do with it…
Eyes still closed, Hermione breathed deeply, letting her emotions flow over her, before she delved deeper.
It took a while to find them. Behind the indignation and practicality that was already brainstorming what to do in order to solve the problem, there was a sense of horror, the sense of her being appalled. But under that, other emotions were lurking – rawer, more visceral feelings that didn't have words attached. There was hatred toward his family, for ever making Harry feel this way, and a deep sense of loathing towards them. She couldn't express these feelings adequately even to herself in her mind – they were so raw, so powerful, that words escaped her to describe them – she could only feel…
And there, right in the middle of her hatred and loathing, there was a small flare of something dark and malevolent in the middle, an ember of execration, glowing inside of the flames of her hatred and loathing.
She didn't just hate the Dursleys; she abhorred them. She would damn them to Hell if she could, wipe those evil people off the face of the earth without so much as a smear. They deserved it. The world would be better for it, if she did, she thought with enmity. No one would miss them if she just cursed them into oblivion, if she destroyed them. No one.
And as she meditated, feeling those feelings, part of her mind whispered to her:
You could, you know.
Hermione looked up at Harry, wordlessly, and Harry nodded slowly, his green eyes holding hers.
"This was unexpected," Tom said mildly. "Usually we only practice on—"
"Shut up," Hermione said tonelessly, setting out the dementor box. "Just shut up."
Tom raised an eyebrow at her, but Hermione was ignoring him, stashing her bag and the diary in the large sewer pipe. When he shot her a questioning look, Hermione shrugged.
"The whole point of this is we think it'll destroy pieces of souls, right?" she said. "Then we need to make sure your horcrux doesn't accidentally get burned up in the flames."
Tom's eyebrow rose higher.
"You think that could be an issue already?" he said skeptically. "Do you really think you're going to cast that large of a fire your first time?"
"I think," Hermione said, rolling up her sleeves as she focused on the box, "that this is going to be an all-or-nothing spell for me."
Tom's face changed, making some new expression, but Hermione was only vaguely aware of him at all. She was looking at the dementor box, unseeing. Harry's story was still echoing in her mind, visions of his torture behind her eyes, and a wordless feeling of utter hatred, utter loathing, of execration burning deep inside.
Hermione withdrew her wand.
"Are you ready?" Tom said. "Here we go—"
The dementor started to emerge, but Hermione's wand was already flashing through the air, a sharp feeling of vicious power in the gesture this time as she did.
A feeling of sheer hatred, of utter loathing and fury boiled up through her body, utter contempt and cruelty tempering it as it burst out of her wand, the dark feeling of execration catching fire as it burned out of the end of her wand. The heat from the flames was staggering, the sheer volume of hatred and loathing pouring out of her, and the sense of power in being able to act on those feelings was intoxicating. It was almost like a drug, as it poured out of her, clouding her senses, and it she was caught up in it, in the feeling of magic and fire flowing out of her so powerfully. It took her a moment to realize something was off, when sweat trickled down her neck - had it been so hot in here to start?
"Hermione!" a voice was yelling, sounding panicked. "Hermione!"
She shook her head, clearing her eyes, and refocused, becoming immediately aware of the problem – there was an insane fire raging around the Chamber of Secrets, a massive tiger formed of flame and hate.
Hermione bit her lip and swallowed hard, concentrating on the feelings going out of her wand.
It was hard, to pull back on the fire, on the feeling of hatred, now that it was flowing through her, so instead, Hermione focused on the feeling of power; the cruel part, the execration, the cold sense of control, the knowledge that she could hold the fate of those she hated in her hand. Slowly, she felt that part of her shift to overlay the hatred, her fire elemental shifting to overlay the flow of magic as well, and suddenly there was a new certainty in her mind, a sudden sense of complete control.
With a gesture, she made the tiger race around the outside of the chamber, a raging and billowing fire of fury, and there was a sense of satisfaction as the tiger morphed smoothly into a basilisk into a dragon, before she jerked her wand up sharply, the flames burning into nothingness and dissipating away.
There was a heavy smell of ash and sulfur left lingering in the air, a haze of heat dissipating against the stone. Tom stared at her, astonished.
"That was—" He broke off, shaking his head. "I'm honestly astounded. I've never heard of someone succeeding so quickly, or with such control. Do you think it was your fire elemental that helped?"
His words echoed in the Chamber, unheard, as Hermione stared up at the face of Salazar Slytherin. There was a feeling settling over her soul, like a thin sheen soot. Casting that spell… that feeling of power, of complete control and dominance…
It was if it had shifted her perception of magic ever so slightly, like throwing colors into chromatic aberration, changing the gradients of life.
Hermione looked down at her wand, the feeling of power still inside of her, a hot, heady feeling licking up at her throat. The feeling of dominance… the intoxicating sense of control…
"Young fool," she murmured, looking at her wand, held harmlessly in her hand. "Only now, at the end, do you understand."