Disclaimer: World and characters by JKR. Plot and writing by Zelz Saihitei.
Warnings: Aftermath of character death.
prologue: her bruises
Watery footsteps marched heavily and fast across black nylon, an unnecessary protective dome. The wet was under her feet, attracting dead blades of grass to her uncomfortable black heels. The corners of her eyes were crying mascara-tinted tears.
And only twenty feet back, she could hear the sounds of dirt being replaced in the hole where Ginny Weasley lay.
Molly Weasley had clutched her shoulder through the services, leaving blue-purple bruises underneath her warm wool overcoat. Hermione had let her. She couldn't feel the pain, anyway.
She mused; when she had first found out, she had beaten her fists against the plaster walls of their home. She had covered them with blood and they had covered her hands with bruises. She could still see the yellowish-green tainting her skin. They were her monuments, her own memorial.
Would the rain ever stop, in her head or otherwise? Hermione wanted to scream but didn't have the energy or the voice. Ginny's family had asked her to talk about their life together, how much they had meant to each other, all the promises that would no longer be kept. She presented herself before the crowd like a fallen dark angel and cried out her misery while her voice shook raindrops from her esophagus.
The ring on her finger, a silver proclamation of something special that was now dull and gone. But she wouldn't admit to herself that it was over. In her heart, there would always be Ginny's shining light.
A heavy weight fell on her shoulders. For a moment she thought it to be metaphorical, but a soft voice made her lift her head from examining the criss-cross patterns of grass on her shoes. Black and silver and grey.
"Hermione." Fleur Delacour's hand was delicate and pale, contrasting beautifully with the darkness of Hermione's eyes. Her accent was still French lilted, despite years of living in Britain. "If you need anything, you know you can come to me."
The broken down brunette said nothing. No one could return her need to her. It was buried in the ground with a bouquet of red and orange tulips and lilies of the valley. She walked away, unsure if she had said anything or no, out of the shadow of death and into grayscale.
The rain had turned into a storm. She abandoned her umbrella on the sidewalk and let the wind whip her into an incoherent tsunami, the waves of her grief crashing into her deserted shore. It broke one of her heels. She left her useless, grassy shoes outside of a coffee shop and let the wet concrete hurt her bare feet. She arrived home – what was left of it, after bringing in a hurricane, hints of blood still on the walls that had been her denial, her anger – and tore her clothes from her body, leaving them in ripped, defeated piles scattered across the rooms she wandered in. What was she trying to find? A woman with hair the color of red tulips in the summer and skin like lilies of the valley.
She found her in photographs and memories. Hermione let them take her away, shivering from the cold grief she had drenched herself in, until morning.
Pitying eyes peered over piles of papers, distracted by the appearance of Poor Hermione Jane Granger walking down the aisle, carrying a messenger bag instead of a wedding bouquet. Ginny used to joke that Hermione would sooner marry her job than marry her redheaded lover. Now, she would have no choice.
There were sympathy cards on her desk to reiterate what their eyes had already told her. She sighed and shoved them into the garbage on her right. They disappeared. Out of sight, out of mind.
Her work had somehow not piled up on her while she had been gone for… how many days? She realized she didn't know. They had blurred together, between finding out and owling in to work and screaming and crying and breaking herself to beat the pain away. A week had passed in a blur of grey and rain.
Ginny waved at her from a thick black frame and blew her a playful kiss. Hermione felt herself slip away until she heard the rustle of fabric and the click of expensive heels.
"I took your assignments while you were gone," said that familiar French lilt. "They were not difficult to fit into my own work. Though if you would like something to forget, here is what I missed." Fleur slipped a manila folder out of her hands and in front of Hermione with grace, her bare arm touching Hermione's shoulder delicately. The brunette shivered slightly and pulled her sweater closer to her body.
A soft whisper against her ear: "Don't forget about my offer. You know you have me to talk to."
The breath chilled her hollow heart and filled the empty space with ice.
"Stop fidgeting!" Ginny whined, slumping away from the canvas with a frown. The thick paint brush was dripping with corn silk yellow, plopping slowly on her already paint-stained jeans.
"I can't help it," Hermione protested, fixing the pale green sheet covering her again. "I don't know if I like the idea of being painted; you could change something about me you don't really like."
Ginny tilted her head to the side, regarding Hermione with a strange, uncomprehending expression. "That's ridiculous, Hermione," she responded matter-of-factly. "Why would I want to fix perfection?"
Hermione blushed. Ginny washed the brush clean of yellow and added the rosy pink to her cheeks.
"You're smiling," Fleur commented.
Hermione woke herself with a jerk and her lips quickly fell. A dream, a memory; she wished she had stayed trapped in her head. But there was Fleur, leaning against the side of her desk, her manicured nails displayed on the hard wood and her realness evident by the green and blue veins visible beneath her skin, even paler than Hermione's. They matched Fleur's outfit.
"What is it?" Hermione asked, vaguely alarmed at her monotonous tone.
"It's lunch," Fleur replied. "And it doesn't look like you've eaten in days. Why don't you eat with me today? I will pay. I know of a nice café down the street."
Why did her voice sound like silk and running water, smooth and relaxing? A part of Hermione grasped for the signs of simple empathy, lacking pity; another part recoiled from it, determined to be on its own.
Ginny twirled in the corner of her eye, the photograph moving again. It had been one of the few times she had agreed to wear a skirt. They had been on vacation to La Côte d'Azur, swimming and playing by the Mediterranean Sea. They had seen the skirt in a shop; Hermione had badgered her lover for half an hour to try it on, and then another ten minutes to buy it.
"No," Hermione replied hollowly, closing like a creaking door. "I'm not hungry."
She could feel Fleur freeze slightly with the rejection, and then slowly melt again. The French woman could not be angry with a woman who had only a week ago lost the love of her life. There would be time.
She left in a rustle of silk and quiet persistence.
Hermione stared at the painting for hours, tears creating a rain on her still-healing hands. Once it had been completed to Ginny's satisfaction, she had insisted to hang it in plain, glorious sight.
Ginny's brush had eternalized the messy nature of her hair right after lovemaking, how it tousled and curled. She had found the perfect mix of yellow and green for her eyes, had made them bright and content, shining. She had perfected the tint of her cheeks when compliments kissed them. The swell of her breasts only barely covered by the rumpled sheet pulled over her chest were not over exaggerated; they were exactly the right size. Every detail was correct and beautiful.
Hermione really had been perfect. But it was only because Ginny had painted her like that.