Spoilers for HBP.
Pairings: R/Hr, implied H/Hr
Summary: At Christmas, Hermione worries over the possibility of Harry being a horcrux.
Hermione's sitting before the fireplace, watching the flames. They flicker and dance, hot against her face. It's been so cold this December that she thinks with longing to the coming spring. Perhaps everything will be over then… the hunt, the fear, the war. She's never known a worse time to celebrate Christmas.
She spent all day in the library, scanning through tome after tome, trying to find information about horcruxes: how to make then, how to find them, and how to destroy them. She'd been doing the same for many weeks now. The first two horcruxes had been flukes really, too easily found and disabled with such astonishing luck that she shuddered even now to think of everything that could've gone wrong. After all she's read about horcruxes, which, granted, wasn't very much, she supposed she was one of the few who actually knew how they generally operated and how they could be protected.
She thought that it was only because Harry had been the one to destroy those first they found that any of them was still alive today. There was something about Harry's connection with Voldemort that allowed him greater leverage against the horcruxes, yet it increasingly alarmed her. By all rights, the first horcrux alone should have blown Harry to bits. The second would have stopped anyone's heart who dared touch it, but not Harry's. She didn't like the direction her suspicions were leading to at all.
After those two horcruxes the search had slowed. They weren't sure what the next objects were, let alone where they resided. So Hermione had been confined to reading everything she could about the splintering of one's soul, which she did in the library at Grimmauld Place, at the wizard section of the Bodleian Library, and back at Hogwarts, where she, Harry and Ron had found and destroyed the second horcrux, and where Headmistress McGonagall now allowed them full access.
Had Hermione had any ambitions to want to prolong her life, she believed she understood enough about horcruxes to create one, which scared her more than anything. Anything, besides the fact that she feared that Harry was carrying a fragment of Voldemort inside him, and the implications of that were so terrible that the mere thought made her shiver helplessly.
"Here," a voice sounded behind her, startling her from her thoughts, and a quilt was draped over her shoulders. "You look cold."
She looked back, blinking spots from her vision from staring into the fire too long. "Thanks," she said, gratefully. Too many hours in the library had turned her fingers and toes cold and stiff, but she hadn't cared enough to heat up the fire. It wasn't beneficial to the books.
Ron sat down behind her, his back against the couch. His arms reached out and she allowed herself to be pulled back against his chest, with the quilt tightly around her torso. She let her head roll, looking around the room.
Harry was still where he'd been when she'd come in. His eyes were locked on the Christmas tree Ron had set up two days ago, though she doubted that Harry was paying attention to it. His mind was always on the quest, his thoughts always roving about possible ways to discover a hint or clue about the horcruxes. Now that he finally had a way to fight back and an end in sight, he was like a man possessed. The last few months had been difficult, with the sparse information they'd been able to gather. Every day he asked her to tell him everything she'd discovered, and she was sure that everything she related was taken in and agonized over in pain-staking detail. He wanted it so much to be over.
And so did she.
But she didn't even think he cared about much else anymore. She didn't think he cared at all about what would happen to him. She had begged him to be careful with that second horcrux, to not touch it until they learned more about how to approach it, to keep them all from getting hurt. He'd grabbed the ancient cup and smashed it to the floor though, over and over until it was no more than splinters, and then he'd seared it to dust. Hermione had sobbed as she watched him do it.
That prophesy made him reckless, and with both Sirius and Dumbledore gone and Ginny driven away, Hermione wondered if Harry cared at all to what lay beyond the fulfilment of it. She suspects he occasionally tries to pry information from Voldemort's mind, and the risk of such a tactic left her near breathless.
"What are you thinking?" Ron asks her, his hands rubbing her upper arms through the quilt.
She shrugs. She doesn't want to talk to Ron about Harry, even if Harry weren't sitting in the same room. Talking about it made it real. "Nothing. Just thinking."
He accepted that grudgingly, she could tell by the tightening of his arms. "Find anything today?"
She sighs. Should she tell him that when an object is turned into a horcrux it will kill a unicorn if it is brought into too close a contact with one? Should she tell him that when Kurgoss the Cruel created a horcrux in the thirteenth century, he went on a murdering rampage that lasted for over two-hundred years before he was finally put down?
What use would it be to have him share her nightmares? He had his own.
"Nothing of value," she says quietly. Her eyes are still fixed on Harry. He looks out of place amidst the Christmas decorations and fairy lights, like a well of darkness illuminated at the edges. He looked alone, and she longed to be in his arms instead of Ron's, to drive that loneliness away. She'd always been there for him as his friend, but the friendship just wasn't cutting it anymore. She wanted to hold him so close that everything else would go away, closer than a friend could.
Why was it that now that she had the boy she wanted all year, she could only think of another? Why had she changed? Or had she?
Now that they were together she and Ron got along better, but she felt it was more a manner of avoiding the issue than a better understanding of each other. She'd been waiting for the other shoe to drop since the summer, but it hadn't come, and it left her feeling uncomfortable and out of place. She loved Ron as much as ever, but she didn't think this was the way it was supposed to be. She felt no different than she ever had, and she had a suspicion that there should be more.
And when she was with Harry she felt her entire being reaching out to him. She didn't want him to die without ever knowing how much she… She didn't want him to die. She didn't want him to want to die.
Was it an expression of anxiety, of overwhelming fear that she was going to lose her best friend that made her feel so deeply? Was she confusing the issue for something else?
Ron shifted against her and pushed her forward a little so he could stand. "I'm going up to bed," he announced. "You coming?"
"I'll head up in a bit," Hermione answered softly.
"All right." Ron stretches and walks to the door. "Good night, mate," he says to the back of Harry's head. Harry, lost in thought, didn't seem to hear.
Alone with him, Hermione fell adrift in her thoughts as she contemplated him. If Harry came into contact with a unicorn, would the animal die? Would that prove the horcrux in the boy? Should she attempt it? It was a terrible thing to kill a unicorn…
She looked up; caught his eyes.
"What are you thinking?"
With him, she wanted to share it all. "I was thinking if I should prove you have a horcrux inside you," Hermione said quietly, truthfully.
Harry sighed and looked down at his hands in his lap. "I was sort of suspecting the same thing," he admitted. "I didn't really want to think about it, like it wouldn't be true if I ignored it. I don't know what to do about it."
Despite his pained expression she can't help it: all she feels is great, blooming relief. He doesn't just think about sacrificing himself for the greater good. He doesn't want to be a horcrux.
"Oh, Harry." She wiped at her face, but she was smiling.
"Hermione?" He kneeled next to her, putting his hand on her shoulder. "You all right?"
"I am now, or I'm better at least," she laughs at him, but the tears are still coming. "Sorry."
"Do you think you can help me?" he asked her, and his hopeless tone made her heart ache. "Do you have any ideas?"
She turned to face him directly, and caught his hands. "I'll help you if you listen to me," she said seriously. "Do what you have to do, but listen to me before you do it, okay?"
The corners of Harry's lips twitched upwards. "Okay."
"We can work this out, Harry. We always do."
"I'll find the answers even if it kills me," Hermione swore.
Harry's hands tightened around hers. "Okay. But please don't."
"You know I'd do anything for you, Harry."
And with those innocent words tumbling from her mouth she knew the truth. She would do anything; because she loved him. She loved him beyond reason and back. If he died or if he wouldn't, if he was with her or if he wasn't, she burned for him like she did for no one else. And looking in Harry's eyes she saw something flicker.
"I know," he said.