Barren
by Regann


To say that she was numb would have been a misnomer.

She was numb, but only in the way one's hands are when they've fallen asleep, the same loss of motor control and the absence of feeling but tempered by the bite of tingle as the limbs totter on the brink of gaining feeling. It was no-feeling with a painful echo, throbbing pain which was experienced from a distance.

So, she was painfully numb. Or the pain numbed her. Or something.

Hermione Granger was simply too devastated to work out the problem.

When she had been a little girl, she had loved to learn. Knowledge is power, she'd been taught. Information was precious, and it was always better to know than to not know. That was why she'd love to read, to research, to understand. It was her niche, her passion -- her avenue for power.

In that cold, numbed, painful moment, she wished she had chosen another adage on which to model her life:

Ignorance is bliss.

It was frigid -- icy and biting, snow piled up all around her, turned a sickly blue by the night sky. Perhaps that explained her numbing pain, or painful numb. Her fingers, left bare to the cold wind which cut into her as it howled around her, ached as she kept them gripped around a sealed flask, the fragile cargo tucked against her breast, her shoulders slumped against the wind's barrage.

What she had to do had to be done where no would could find her, no one could interrupt her. Even if everyone around her was too stupid and cowardly to suggest the most the appropriate action in the situation, she wasn't. She had been clever as a child; as a young woman, she was brilliant.

The situation…that was what she wished she had never learned, one of the first occasions in her life when she had wished to scream "NO!" and cover her ears so that she wouldn't have to hear and learn, so that she wouldn't be forced to comprehend the grave words spoken by Sirius, Lupin or Dumbledore, so that she wouldn't recognize the slightly off-kilter expression with which Snape regarded her as they all sat -- with Harry and Ron -- in the cozy atmosphere of Dumbledore's office.

Pity from Snape! Snape, of all people.

She should have known then that there was no such thing as a happy ending, although there was such a thing as a satisfying explanation…if one only meant by satisfying that it made logical sense. Because their explanation for the odd string of events made complete sense -- but they were horrifying, painful and disgusting. And unfair.

As if the life of Harry Potter had not been enough evidence that justice did not truly exist in the world, this did. It was so completely twisted that it made Hermione want to rant and scream like a banshee, claw and scratch like a lioness into the smirking face of Malfoy -- any Malfoy -- before ripping out Voldemort's throat with her teeth, left alone to enjoy coppery tang of his snake-blood on her lips as she watched his life drain away with her own eyes.

A few days before, such thoughts would have caused Hermione to shudder in horror, disbelieving that they could come from her own mind. On that biting cold night, in the darkness of a half-moon, it still made her shudder, but only from the satisfaction it would give her to act in such a manner.

But a few days earlier, she hadn't known. Now, she did.

Her destination was a small closed patch of clearing beyond Hagrid's old hut, not that it was in use anymore. Shielded by the night and the small, empty cottage, she could act as it was needed, in a way only she was strong enough to take. Her friends and teachers would never suggest it as a means to an end, but it would work.

Perhaps Snape would have, but he had remained silent. But, Hermione thought vaguely, that Snape would also see the true literal action behind the idea of cutting off one's hand as a viable action.

Stated in words, even words laden with sorrow, it all sounded so simple, straightforward. Voldemort's ultimate plan was hinged on the use of strange ancient magic combined with the colorful innovations which his followers had discovered through decades of his tutelage and experimentation.

As he has spoken of such things, Sirius had openly glared at the silent man who hung to the room's edge like a shadow. If she was not mistaken, Hermione would have swore that she had seen him flinch, like a whip was brought down across his back.

Perhaps, in that gesture she had found the root of his sympathy.

Using all the Slytherin slyness which he possessed, the Dark Lord had gathered the insignificant ingredients. Instead of Harry Potter's blood, he had needed a bit of Hermione Granger's, tainted as it was. That was why it was so powerful, because it was muddied blood. Blood made of the earth. Different from Muggle blood, different from pure Wizard blood. A hybrid, powerful from its infusion and balance.

Voldemort would know, Hermione thought bitterly, bowing her head against the wintry weather. He was half-blood, as was Harry. Two stronger wizards were hard to find at that moment. The Muggle blood in them hadn't weakened them.

There was also the need of a bit of hair, easily lifted from someone with great waves of it, usually tangled and wild, like a plant left to grow unchecked. A few strands and some blood. It had given him enough of her to Use her. Not simply use or make use of, but Use her.

Somehow, through her blood and body, he would find the power to destroy Harry Potter.

Hermione, for all her cleverness and sharp-mindedness, had become lost as Remus explained the ritual which Voldemort intended to use. Everything had become blurred as she listened to what the Dark Lord had planned specifically for her.

She was to be the conduit, the portal. Through her tainted mudblood, through her body and her womb would be born that which would allow Evil to triumph over Good, bound to her and Harry and Voldemort through rituals already performed and sanctified in darkness.

The sudden vision of the movie Rosemary's Baby had flashed through Hermione's frantic mind, and she'd understood why Sirius had been laughing when they'd hauled him off to Azkaban. She had been seized with a similar desire to cackle hysterically.

"What if she hides?" Harry had asked, eyes glittering with anger, suddenly ashen. The jagged scar was red and swollen, throbbing behind the curtain of dark hair.

"They'd track her endlessly," she'd heard Remus's soothing voice answer. "The ritual is complicated and Voldemort's already begun its earlier stages. They've already bound it all to her blood. It has to be her, Harry, or else these last two years would be for naught in his mind. I'm not even certain that he'd be able to procure the more exotic ingredients to try again."

The simple answer had hung in the air, that being the truth of the matter. She would have to die before Voldemort could make any Use of her at all. Hermione knew that she would choose death over being used; she wasn't about to lie down and allow Voldemort and his followers to fuck her over.

Either figuratively or literally. Not certainly not without a fight.

Hence the imagery of claws and blood spurting from ripped-open throats. Sometimes violence brought peace of mind.

But none of her loved-ones would dare suggest such an option -- it was one thing to send a soldier to die but it was another to kill someone with such premeditation. In the eyes' of Dumbledore, Sirius, Remus and Harry, if such a path was chosen then all that would have been changed was who -- Dark or Light -- offered Hermione for Sacrifice.

Snape might have, had he spoken. But he had remained virtually silent throughout the meeting, all dark eyes and smothering presence. No words, no gestures. Only heat and unfathomable looks which she knew were pity. Only once did he use his voice, but only to point out the lateness of the hour and that a few more days of research could lose them little at such a junction.

He had stressed the word research, dark eyes on her, hitting her like well-aimed daggers.

But she had understood.

It is said one must fight fire with fire; if the advice holds true, then power must be matched against power. If knowledge is power, then Hermione could fight knowledge with knowledge. She could find the way and she would do whatever was necessary to thwart Voldemort's hellish scheme, her friends and loved ones be damned. Was she a Gryffindor or was she a Gryffindor?

Two days and nights in the Restricted Section and Remus's compilation of information on the subject had delivered to Hermione the answer; another half-day in the darkest section of the Dark Arts books had procured the means by which she could act. It had to be Dark, the cure. Only Dark Arts could be cruel enough and twisted enough as well as irreparable enough to render her Useless to Voldemort. Like fire was fought with fire, so Dark must be fought with Dark.

Another day of secret brewing in Myrtle's bathroom had created her Dark potion and she was immensely proud of it, its twisting, complicated recipe which she had mastered.

Another bout of insane laughter had threatened her as she'd bottled the slag-like potion when she realized that Snape, as a Potions Master, must feel similarly in his work.

Only such bleak moments in life, she reflected with acid humor, could find her in such accord with Snape.

It was the flask of her Dark, thick masterpiece which Hermione clutched to her as she traipsed through the winter storm. She had chosen the timing of her action well: it was Solstice, the day on which darkness prevailed over the light, night lasting longer than day. If she remembered correctly, it was the time which the Celtic wizards called Elder Moon, the thirteenth moon of a year's cycle. The Death Moon.

How utterly appropriate.

Hermione reached the clearing, and carefully laid her flask in the fluffy white snow so that she could fling away her heavy winter cloak which suddenly seemed to be too restrictive and confining as it covered her body. It was tossed as far away as possible from the spot where she stood, its black color competing with her deep-set footprints as the only blemishes on the white snow. Wand held tightly in one hand and the flask once again clutched by the other hand's numbed fingers, Hermione took a deep breath to prepare.

Then, she began.

First a slow spin, wand pointed outwards. She cast the circle, laying heavy charms over one another like braided gold, creating the magic space around her, locking in the Darkness her potion would unleash, like an bell jar over a firecracker.

The Bell Jar entered her mind and for a third time the need to laugh manically seized her. For the third time, she quelled it and continued to work.

After the circle came the heavy silencing charm. She knew it was going to be painful, the effects of the potion on her body, akin to Cruciatus in terms of agony. Hermione wanted no one to hear the screams which she knew she wouldn't be able to stifle and come to her rescue. Her potion needed time to act before her friends decided to intervene and ruin this chance.

They all needed this chance. She, more than anyone. Ron, Harry and the adults didn't understand that it was preferable to rape, torture and being made a tool in the hands of a thing she despised.

Hermione opened the flask slowly, breaking the waxed seal with the sharp edge of her thumbnail. It might have been her imagination, but she could feel the Darkness roiling off like odorless fumes from the liquid in the flask, winding up from the neck of the bottle to stain the air with its noxiousness. Its smell was putrid, but she paid it little attention as she dropped the glass stopper to the ground, eyes locking on the potion as she gently swished it within the flask's glass.

With no more preamble, Hermione downed it in one long gulp, her throat working frantically to swallow the potion which her tipped-back head and upward-turned hand were forcing into her mouth, never hesitating in her actions. Its taste barely registered although there was a soft hint of chlorine in her mind, as well as salt laid upon something rotten like soured milk. She only had a second to straighten before the effects of the potions exploded in her body, causing her to double over, hands clutching at her abdomen as the pain wracked her body. Fire scorched in her lungs and nose, while thousands of tiny knives slashed at her throat and stomach, ripping and tearing at the soft flesh. The worst of the pain settled lower, and hands placed defensively over abdomen now used their nails to slice at her skin hidden beneath layers of clothing, begging for the opportunity rip the offending uterus from her body in order to alleviate the pain. All the while, howls poured from her lips, incoherent noises which sounded more beast than human, initially overlaid by a stream of obscenities in her head, wildly directed damnations and violent but fervent wishes of pain until even that thought became too difficult. Her mind was gone but the unwilling cries continued.

Left without the ability to think beyond the reverberating chorus of "STOP THE PAIN!" which hammered behind her eyelids, Hermione staggered to her knees as she convulsed, her entire frame jerking as her body tried to reject the potion. She involuntarily began to retch, dry heaving as her physical form fought to free her from the agony. Her body's reactions were in vain, however, as the potion had already been absorbed into her system, working its vile magic on her.

Too weak to control them any longer, Hermione's hands fell away from her middle, palms hitting the wet ground. Her eyes rolled until they managed to focus on those hands, ink-smudged fingers laying wearily against something dark instead of the snow she expected. Oozing liquid, her brain tried to recognized as it continued to flow from an unknown source, the puddle circling around her -- knees and calves coated with it, the hem of her skirt soaked.

It was her blood, crimson and thick, pouring from some unknown wound, some forgotten opening, staining the white-coated ground.

Tainting the purity of the snow with its muddy color, seeping through the flakes back into the earth.

It was not, as she had once hypothesized, the pain which finally caused her to lose all sense of reality but its slow ebbing after the potion had run its course, the shaking relief when she could breathe again. Just as she slipped from consciousness to some twilight between it and unconsciousness, she thought she dimly heard the hiss of a snake in frustration mingled with a man's howled indignation.

Despite everything, it brought a half-manic smile to her chapped lips, weary head cushioned on the ground by her unreasonable hair, its ends trailed in the blood. Where her hands has splashed in it by mistake, strange patterns of red swirled on her bare forearms, twisting spirals which looked like some kind of strange alphabet smeared across the pale colums of skin. Huddled and drained, herself a darkened stain against the whiteness of winter, Hermione lay almost unconscious under the black sky, dripping blood but victorious.

She had won, in her own estimation. Voldemort would never use her as his sacrifice or his brood mare in a terrible ritual to defeat Harry. The ritual was useless, a waste of time and resources for the great Lord. Along with having ruined his complicated and elaborate preparations, she had ruined herself.

She was now useless -- and Hermione had never before felt such peace at that thought as she did in the stillness which followed the imbibition of her glorious potion.

Time no longer held meaning for her, so she had little idea of how long she remained sprawled across the snowy landscape before she felt warm hands grabbing at her, frantically holding her close in an attempt to warm her freezing body. Her rescuer shouted for assistance but he still held her close. His voice was familiar and his unruly hair felt like silk against her face.

"Oh, Hermione," Harry whispered in painful tones. "This…it's all my fault. I never thought…oh, Hermione…"

Drowsy eyes fluttered to focus on his famous jagged scar. "Shut…the…hell…up…Potter," she managed weakly. "No…one's fault…except…Volde…king…ort."

Her words only caused him to hold her more tightly, oblivious that her blood now stained his clothes and hands. Then there were many others circling around the pair on the ground, looking down at them.

"Miss Granger, what happened?" That voice was Dumbledore's but it was heavier than she'd ever heard it, cold like the glass of her imagined bell jar.

"I took…potion…" she struggled. "Ended His…hold over me."

"Hermion---" Ron, impatient and agitated with concern.

"I think that we should postpone this inquiry until Miss Granger has received proper medical attention," Snape's voice was like black velvet, comforting its in lack of concern or grief over her actions.

They lifted her, Harry and Ron, up onto a conjured stretcher; she desperately wanted to scream at them to remove their hands from her because her skin was like one huge bruise, tender even to the air's brush against it. She was glad when the jarring journey up to the hospital wing ended, although she was once again manhandled on her over-sensitive skin. The sensation was blanketed slightly as the mediwitch gently cast a warming charm over her icy skin. Now warm and comfortable, Hermione felt herself slipping into blessed darkness, concerned voices floating around her like mosquitoes which pecked at her descent.

"Will she be alright?"

"Potter! Weasely! I said -- get out! So help me…"

"What do you think she took, Severus?"

"There was only a drop left in the flask…I cannot be certain without studying it. If I may?"

"Of course, contact Madame Pomfrey as soon as you know."

The voices wavered and moved away; darkness shadowed her and Hermione was able to rest, warmth seeping into her bones where the cold had once been, as if to replace blood which she had lost.


***


Before she had taken the potion, Hermione had anticipated that her decision would not be met with approval by any of the people who knew of the situation. Everyone had tried to dissuade her from any foolhardy attempt at action, asking to her allow the adults to handle the situation, to find a way to rectify the situation.

All except Snape, who had said little other than rest and research.

When she awoke the next morning to being painfully alive, Hermione steeled herself for what she knew to be coming. The anger, the disapproval, the reproach. But she was prepared for it. She knew almost everything there was to know about the method she had chose, and she knew of the effects it would have on her, her body and her powers. The most immediate consequence was that she was powerless -- for how long, no one knew. Not even Hermione.

Dumbledore's displeasure was quiet and almost subdued beneath his concern. "Do you realize how what you have done to yourself?"

"Yes."

"And that the effects of the draught you concocted -- illegally, mind you -- are irreversible?"

"I know."

Harry and Ron found her serenity in the face of her near-death unnatural; they counterbalanced it with emotions of their own, fury and relief warring in them for control.

"Hermione, why did you do it?" Ron demanded to know. "Now, you're…there's a high chance that you'll never regain your powers. You'll be a Muggle!"

"There are worst fates in the world than being a Muggle, Ron. And technically, I'll be a squib, not a Muggle."

"What are you going to do if your magic doesn't come back?"

"Perhaps I'll go into potions-making. No foolish wand-waving needed there."

Her sense of humor was not appreciated.

Harry was quieter, a storm beneath the surface of his green eyes. "You'll never be able to have children, now," he reminded her, his voice stricken for her loss. "And the damage inflicted on your insides…Madame Pomfrey said that…that they'll always be problems, that the pain will never be gone."

"I know, Harry." She knew of that when she chose the potion. If she were barren, unable to conceive, then never could she be forced to use her body for Voldemort's purpose of giving birth, particularly not to whatever creature he had envisioned for her to bear. She could never be a portal, never be the Muggleborn sacrificial mother who gave life only to lose her own. Any kind of pain was better than that fate.

When she was visited later in the same day by Remus, she was surprised by his gentle acceptance of what she had done. He sat quietly at her bedside, lightly soothing the disarrayed strands of her loose hair which Pomfrey had cleaned with a spell while she'd been asleep. If Hermione had spared a glance at the locks which Remus idly arranged, she would have seen what he saw: that the honey-brown strands were now mixed with silvery-white, haphazard streaks which mirrored his own graying hair. He, unlike her friends, understood hardships, having to face the ones beyond one's control; being aware and accepting of the consequences.

As expected, the pain lingered in her joints, in her abdomen, but it was more a dull ache than the acute sensations she felt before. And her magical abilities -- after a week of rest -- showed no signs of returning. There was still hope, of course, since it was documented to sometimes take two months for someone to recover from such stress on the body. Hermione, however, intuited on her own that her powers would not return. Like her graying hair and painful joints, it was something she would accept.

She had still won and regret was a silly emotion in the face of that.

After a week, Snape appeared at her bedside, silently watching her as she skimmed through a dusty volume which Pomfrey had brought her.

He spoke, at last, offering her a goblet. "To alleviate the pain," he explained. "It is the only treatable problem from which you suffer, however temporary the alleviation."

She thanked him, downing the potion quickly. When she glanced up at him, his dark eyes were hot on her skin as they had been in Dumbledore's office, but the pity she had seen there had dimmed. Instead, there was something akin to admiration in those ebony depths, perhaps even grudging respect. And, if she wasn't mistaken, a tiny sliver of what she saw directed at her was awe.

Snape, like Remus, knew of hardships and obstacles. He, too, knew of choices where none of the options were good ones. The lesser of two evils.

"We are no closer to defeating the Dark Lord, despite your sacrifice."

"Yes, but he's no closer to winning."

"True."

Hermione almost smiled at him, despite the fatigue and the pain and the emptiness she felt from the loss of her magic, which had been so much a part of her being. "Professor, have you heard of a Muggle book called The Bible?"

"Of course."

"There's this passage about cutting one's hand off if it impedes them…for some reason, I just thought it of it."

"An unusual idea…but an intriguing one."

Yes, she decided. Snape understood exactly what she had done. She had cut off her right hand but now…she might live to see Light return to the world.

Delivered from the Darkness.


***

Author's Notes: This is what college exams does to one's mind, folks. In case anyone was confused -- Hermione created a potion which would make her unable to conceive (hence the title "Barren") so that Voldemort's Rosemary's Baby-esque plot would not succeed. To maker certain that it could not be reversed through magic, she chose a very damaging Dark Arts spells which had really dismal side effects (loss of magic, residual physical damage, etc.) To anyone who doesn't know, Rosemary's Baby is a film from the late 60s where a young wife is raped and forced to give birth to the child of Satan. The Bell Jar is a novel by Sylvia Plath about a gifted young woman's mental breakdown. The author later committed suicide herself. Just happy writing from me, today, huh? Oh, and the bible verse about cutting off the hand is from Matthew 18 :7-9 and it's always struck me as a bit odd.

So this is me, trying angst. Let me know what you thought.