Must Be

She's always believed in gray areas and blurred lines. She hates the novels with the black and the white, good versus evil. Human nature just isn't that simple, she thinks. It's not like that. She believes that reformation is possible; she knows nothing is inherent.

The irony of being stuck in a time that inclines towards black and white amuses her even as it saddens her.

Hermione knows that what they are caught in right now is a struggle between good and evil. She sees the light and the dark, sees people committing foul and horrifying deeds. She sees people that she knows are really and truly evil.

But she doesn't believe that it's natural.

She'll never tell anyone this, but she can see how Tom Riddle was warped into what he became. She can see that Pettigrew's jealousy and his weakness and his desire to be great drove him to betrayal.

Somehow, she doesn't think that Harry would understand.

The world is a strange place now, and Hermione watches it all and tries not to shatter. She watches all of them changing around her, everyone she knows and everyone she loves. Ron becomes angrier and more determined. Harry becomes quiet and withdrawn. His destiny is a heavy burden, and it weighs him down. Neville becomes stronger, deadlier, so unlike the soft, bumbling boy she's used to. Ginny grows pale and thin and hungry for revenge. Hermione cries sometimes at night as she thinks about her, weeping for the pain she knows that Ginny feels every time she looks at Harry and imagines him gone.

The school divides itself systematically, Slytherin versus the rest. Most of them are Death-Eaters by this point, but Dumbledore refuses to listen to the objections and lets them stay at Hogwarts.

And this is where Hermione's hopeful side emerges. She refuses to believe that they are all bad, that they truly believe what they are fighting for. She wants the grey and she wants crooked, broken lines.

She constructs a whole fantasy world around him. A whole fairy-tale, a back story. He is abused by his father. He is pressured into taking the Dark Mark. He is taught that Muggle-borns are inferior, but he really doesn't think so. He will resist one day and switch sides.

The possibility that he will not isn't allowed to exist in her mind. She refuses to imagine a battle, a confrontation, where she or her friends might be forced to kill him or be killed by him. She won't contemplate the possibility that he might really just be like that.

Maybe she's just never been a good judge of character.

He'll follow her down the corridor one day. They'll fight, eyes will flash, barbs will fly, until suddenly their passion sweeps through them and their lips will meet…

She'll catch him alone one day, vulnerable, crying maybe. When he sees her, he will try to cover up, try to replace the haunting loneliness with the customary smirk and sneer that he is so known for. But she will throw caution to the wind and embrace him. Trembling, he will cling to her, and their lips will meet…

He's a spy for Dumbledore, he just can't reveal his identity for fear of being caught…

He'll witness his father killing a muggle and realize, sickened, that this isn't the way it should be…

He's really loved her all along…

All along…

Hermione clings to her blankets in bed, ignoring the whispers she can hear through the walls, the crying from Ginny's room that she can sense, the emptiness where Parvati should be that she feels so sharply, the weight and dread she knows is emanating from the room where her boys toss and turn in fitful, nightmarish sleep.

She clings to her quilts and her fantasies, because if Malfoy can change, because if there was more than they all say, there is hope for everything and the world might not be such a horrible, garish, black-and-white world.

Because there might be a place and a time and a plane of existence where he could possibly, eventually, completely belong to her.

She's obsessed with the idea of him. Even Harry and Ron notice how she has retreated into the small pale form that is her body. Even Neville and Ginny can sense that when she talks and when she is near them, it is just a shell that they see, that her soul and her mind are gliding on wingless whispered words far above them.

And one day Harry comes to her somberly and tells her he sees a heartache in her eyes.

That's when she begins to shatter, so slowly, delicately, the carefully stitched pieces of her fantasies falling apart around her. No longer does she clutch at the covers and imagine beautifully tragic scenes full of intensity. The darkness dazzles behind her eyes and her psyche is leaking out of herself, drawn out with a bitter fluidity. Now there is just one word pounding through her brain, propelling her hollow steps forward day after day.

Draco, Draco, Draco.

No fantasies. No scenarios. The only thing that now matters is that he might love her, that he could love her, that he must love her.

When the inevitable, crushing end comes, it passes in a flurry of blood and hexes and sounds roaring in her ears. Then the world spins in and out of itself and centers on one face, one reality in the midst of the world that is now so black and white, so red, so stained and full of torn and splintered innocence.

He raises his wand and she sees the green fly and she sees a body fall; she doesn't know who.

And this is the moment where he will realize, where he will know, sickened, that this can't be the way that things can be. And this is the separate plain of existence that can bind and bond and pull them together.

Malfoy looks up and meets Hermione's gaze. She bores her eyes into his and the remaining vestige of her essence drains away.

He smirks and turns to his next victim.

She remembers nothing now but the feel of her lips moving and her wrist shaking and the dull thud his limp form makes when it joins with the ground.

Ron carries her home. Harry sits beside her bed. Ginny cries and Neville ceases to be.

She suffocates in her quilt late, late at night.