Disclaimer: I own nothing relating to Harry Potter whatsoever.
The idea had come to her during the war, when trusting friends had been as hard as keeping them. She imagined this the night after Luna Lovegood had tried to kill Harry Potter: What if we didn't have to worry about this? What if we could trust people?
Even now, in a world where curses can destroy life and evil and good, there is no way to tell if anyone is being controlled by anyone else. The Imperius Curse is as illusive as the memory of those they have lost, and there is no counter-curse.
That was the hardest part of that war, not knowing who was really who. It had been an epoch of secrets and betrayal and façades.
So after Harry had killed Voldemort in a flash of awful green and they left half their side on that red field, she decided to change the world.
Today the potion is dark blue. She sits and stares at it, willing the bubbling liquid to change how she wants. Her workroom is small, a hidden nook in the expansive, aging house that she bought more than a year ago. Her home is in the country, closer to Hogwarts than she would have liked, and it reminds her vaguely of the Burrow expanded to three times its size. Everything seems to be graying, and when it rains she puts rusting buckets under the leaks.
Her bedroom is upstairs and the sheets smell musty when she huddles deep to escape the damp cold. Her books weigh down their rotting case. She forgets to clean out her refrigerator and the cheese and milk spoil. Then maybe she remembers and apparates to Hogsmeade to re-stock.
Her work takes up a significant amount of her time, and this is why she allows the house to exist as it does. She often recollects that in her school years the state of the place would have driven her mad, but now she knows there are more important things.
She has been working with the potion ever since she bought the house. In the beginning it was mostly theoretical. She would search through books from the meager library and substantial bookstore in Hogsmeade for abstract potion-making books and record every ingredient she found with its properties and effects. She spent days with diagrams and notes, speculating as to what would occur if she added a different component. She finally started with a simple solution of lacewings, powdered moonstone, and one unicorn hair. She hasn't stopped since.
The Ministry gave her special permission to use the Imperius Curse when she introduced her idea. Logical experimentation, they said.
She tested the potion on the spiders that wandered around the clammy confines of her house. The first time the unfortunate daddy longlegs had shriveled up upon contact with the mixture—it had been a dull yellow, then—and Hermione was frightened to test it again for a week.
Her last attempt with the dark blue potion produced a spider that performed her magically-enhanced commands in achingly slow motion and turned one shade lighter. She considers this a good sign.
She has been trying to isolate the antidoting properties of the bezoar in order to counteract the curse. So far, she has tried most other antidotes without effect, but a faint memory of her school years prompted her to try the neglected bezoar. Next, she has decided, she will attempt to discover the specific components of veritaserum that strip the recipient of his defenses so that they can be used to fragment the magical shield of the Imperius.
She has spent a lot of time working in the past year.
The vibration of her wand, cast with a timekeeping charm, alerts her that the bezoar should be sufficiently deteriorated to separate its individual elements. She pushes her chair back, nibbles the last of her jam sandwich into a perfect, galleon-sized circle before setting it on the corner of her desk, and steps over towards the boiling cauldron.
She trips suddenly over a forgotten stool and crashes into the table, slamming her hip into its edge and spattering the steaming solution to the floor. She jumps back as the cauldron tips completely over and destroys three days of careful work, narrowly avoiding several nasty burns.
She releases a fluent stream of profanities as she vanishes the ruined potion and collapses to a seated position on the floor, drawing her knees to her chest in frustration.
"Merlin, Hermione. What happened?" he says.
She starts violently and lifts the frizzy hair from her eyes to gaze at him as he stands with one hip propped against the doorway and his arms crossed over his chest, that constant smirk quietly contorting his lips. She hates being distracted because then she can't hear his footsteps as he comes where she is.
She shoots him a dirty look and stands, brushing off her worn sweats carefully. "I had an accident. I thought you were still asleep? It's early for you."
"You don't have to remind me. The bloody sun's not even out yet. You all right?"
"Yes, just a bit angry at myself."
His eyes curve over each detail of the room, from the dark blue of the potion to the cauldron on its side on the floor. "How's it coming along?"
"The last test went better than usual," she says, her tone light. "And I'm working… well, I was working on isolating the bezoar component, but I'll have to start over."
"You must do it quickly, Hermione. Voldemort's followers still have spies. They'll be looking to start a new uprising, I'm sure of it," he responds insistently, his eyes finally stopping on hers.
"I know," she says miserably. "I'm trying—you know that."
A sign of a smile. "Of course you are. I was going to make some breakfast, since I'm up. I figure you'll forget to eat unless I do."
She shrugs. "You're probably right… I'm going to be pretty busy for the next several weeks with trying to catch up."
"Don't wear yourself out."
"Why are you still here, Draco?"
"You know the answer to that question, Hermione. Why do you keep asking me?"
She meets with Harry and Ron at the Three Broomsticks. The activity of the pub confuses and overwhelms her after so long in the quiet seclusion of her house.
"It's been a while, 'Mione," says Ron, his eyes revealing more than he's willing.
She smiles to reassure him. "I've been really busy, Ron. I think I'm getting close. The last test showed promising results."
Harry takes a sip of his butterbeer and she finds it endearing that it leaves a foam over his upper lip. "Someone leaked information to the media, did you hear? The Prophet published an article about how your potion would affect the wizarding world—it's stirred up quite a fuss," he explains carefully, like he is afraid it will shock her.
"Yeah. I brought a copy if you want to have a look." He is already rifling through his bag.
"That's okay. It's only a distraction, really," she says. Harry freezes for a moment, but soon after straightens up and takes another drink. Ron stares at her. Her butterbeer tastes too sweet. "Has it always tasted like this? I don't remember it tasting like this."
Ron nods. "Well, we haven't met here in a while. You probably just forgot."
Harry interrupts abruptly, his eyes fixed on his folded hands. "Hermione, how much sleep did you get last night?"
She leans back against her chair, glancing at him through her lashes. "I don't know. Seven hours, maybe? I can't really remember." The skin beneath her eyes tells of a different number.
Ron steps in now, his eyes concerned in a way that annoys her. "We've been really worried about you, Hermione. We hadn't heard from you in nearly three weeks before we sent you the owl to meet us here."
"I told you, Ron. I've been busy."
"Then maybe you need to take a break."
"I can't. The potion is incredibly volatile. If I simply stop working on it, it will—"
"Merlin, Hermione, we're worried about your health!"
"You don't have to worry about me, Ron, I'm—"
Harry finally speaks up, his voice containing that quiet authority that made him such a powerful leader during the war. "Stop it, you two. Arguing isn't going to solve anything. Ron, Hermione can take care of herself." Ron casts him a doubtful look that indicates extensive previous conversation on the subject—this annoys her as well. Harry continues. "And Hermione, you need to have a life outside working sometimes. Just… drop in sometime. Send us an owl, so we know how things are going."
She smiles—faintly, distractedly—in his direction.
Draco, in protest over her protruding ribs, prepares an expansive feast for supper. She has not the heart to tell him that she doesn't like roast beef. They sit in comfortable silence, and Hermione shapes her potatoes into a crooked star and cuts her beef into a rhombus, eating the edges but saving the body of the shapes on her plate.
"Why do you do that?" he asks, sounding faintly aggravated. "Shape your food, I mean."
She shrugs. "I don't know."
"I've been thinking lately."
She sees him role his eyes in her peripheral vision. "Yeah, I can tell. You've been working every day."
"No, I mean thinking about what happened between us," she says in a whisper, staring down at the edge of the table so she can trace it with her fingertips.
"I've decided that we could never have worked." It is difficult for her, because she tries constantly not to remember this.
"Even if I hadn't—"
"Yes," She finally lifts her eyes and watches him watch her. "Even if you hadn't killed them."
He just stares at her for several more seconds until he tilts his face down, drops his gaze to his plate.
She knows that it started with this:
"You couldn't ignore me if you tried, Granger."
It was a challenge. His eyes fixed irrevocably on hers, and she was caught by the intensity of them. Something in her throat fluttered.
He had been provoking Harry and Ron with idiotic insults that still managed to be completely effective, and Hermione was repeating her common mantra of "ignore him, just ignore him."
And then he said it, and she realized that it was true
She had noticed him, and he had noticed her, but neither of them would admit it.
That was three months before the sanctuary of Hogwarts lost its leader.
After a week, she succeeds in isolating the antidote in the bezoar. She adds the cloudy yellow liquid into her blue mixture one drop at a time, alternating the direction of her stirring strokes. The potion hisses and settles to an opaque maroon. Hermione wafts the steam towards her and smells nothing. Perplexed, she searches the house for a spider. Herding an unfortunate creature into a plastic box, she carries him back to her workroom. She grasps her wand and points it at the arachnid, the pointed tip of the wood following the frantic scurrying motion of those eight legs.
The spider stops moving, his tiny body sagging slightly as the effects of the curse take hold.
Climb out of the box, she thinks, and watches the spider move directly to the corner of its enclosure and attempt to clamber up the slippery sides with no success. Satisfied with her cursing skills, she pipettes a tiny drop of the potion on to the struggling spider.
She sees no change in its appearance. Her eventual goal is that if the subject is exposed to the potion while experiencing the effects of the curse, it will change colors and thus signify the presence of outward control.
But the spider abandons its task. Leaving the corner where it had been trying so diligently to climb, it resumes its previous pattern of scuttling about the edges of the box.
Hermione sits up with a jerk in her chair.
"Draco!" Her unused leg muscles burn as she takes the stairs two at a time. She reaches his bedroom and throws open the door, coughing when a shower of dust gusts into her face. After she catches her breath, she says, "Draco! It works! I think if I can isolate the component in the veritaserum, it will be perfect! I—"
The room is empty. Hermione stops speaking abruptly, a frown coloring her face. He is always in his room when she works. She steps into the room and finds it odd that his bed is neatly made. He never makes his bed.
Confused, she searches the house, but she does not see him anywhere.
Their fortress was Hogwarts. The fading castle continued to offer protection, even if it was for soldiers instead of students. They had their pick of rooms, and she chose her old dormitory from sixth year. It reminded her of an age when war did not occupy their every thought.
He returned during the hardest part of the fighting, in the time of night when she often rose from her bed to enjoy the silence between the battles. She would have killed him had she not seen his eyes, because she thought that they would not hold such resignation if he had been against their side.
The first thing he told her was that Severus Snape was dead, and that he was tired of running.
The second thing he told her was that he was going to black out. She caught his head before it smashed into the floor so that he would not wake up with a concussion.
He remained unconscious for days, and she had to convince more than one person not to end his life while he slept. She kept saying that she knew he wasn't going to hurt them, and when they asked her how she could be so sure, she said she didn't know. She just did.
He woke to her face, hovering over him like solace.
That night, Hermione decides she doesn't really need to sleep. She begins to make the veritaserum that is essential for the success of her invention, and she sits in her workroom and watches it boil.
He doesn't return for five sleepless days, not until she isolates the component in the veritaserum and finds that it is not the ingredient that she needs. Another shriveled spider.
Once again, she doesn't hear his footsteps. She is crying on the floor, holding the dead spider in her palms as if it were a sick child.
She forgets the spider. At the sound of his voice, she whirls on him in a fury. "Where the fuck have you been?"
He stands still despite her anger and gazes coolly into the flashes of her eyes. "I needed some time. What happened?"
"Don't change the subject!" she snaps.
"Have you been sleeping?"
"God damn it, Draco! I'm trying to talk to you!"
"I think you need to sleep," he says, slowly, cautiously. He takes a step towards her.
"No, I don't!" She moves away, nearly knocking over her failed potion. "I have to find the last ingredient! Where have you been?"
And then she hits the floor.
He touched her first after they lost Ginny. Harry was grieving as she had never seen anyone grieve before, and she will forever remember the will to die in his eyes, the desire to follow his lover into whatever afterlife there is. Ron was surrounded by the protective force of his family.
She was alone.
She did not venture from her room for days, not until he broke down the door to see the blankness of her face. She turned away from him.
"Granger, quit being such a pussy."
She knew he only said it to get a rise out of her, to make sure that she was still there, but it worked nonetheless. She next came to her senses when she was pressed against him, pounding on his chest with the flats of her hands, swearing and crying so hard that it hurt her throat. She vaguely registered that he was holding her elbows, his forehead resting against hers, and he was making hushed sounds that somehow managed to soothe her. She stared into his eyes through wavering tears.
It was a quiet, breathy whisper, a plea for forgiveness and comfort. Ginny's death had opened a void somewhere in her frail body, and she thought that he might fill it. Grief allowed her to know what she really needed.
She had wanted him for so long.
His eyes changed at the sound of her voice, went hard and insisting.
"Please…" Her voice again.
He moved his hands to her waist, grasping hard enough to make her gasp. He leaned close to her, their cheeks nearly touching, and pressed his lips to her jaw. She closed her eyes, and searched for his strength with her body.
She wakes in her bed with scraped elbows and knees, and wonders how hard she crashed into the floor. He sits in the dusty chair to the left of her, his head in his hands.
"How long was I asleep?"
"More than a day," he responds, peering at her through the web of his fingers with bloodshot eyes.
"Oh Merlin! The potion! I have to…" She starts to push the covers back and tests the ground with shaky knees. But he is there, coaxing her back into bed.
"You have to stop exhausting yourself, Hermione. I've taken care of the potion. Don't worry about anything, right now. Just sleep."
She breathes a sigh. "Stay? Will you stay here with me?"
He sits down on the edge of the bed, reaching out a hand as if to smooth the lank hair back from her face. Instead, he pulls the bedclothes more securely around her. "I always do, don't I?"
For the first time in a year, she feels helpless. She fails to think of anything that could be used in her potion to reveal the presence of the curse. She slept for three days, and yet does not feel any more rested. Draco maintained the potion's stable condition and even did some to remedy the presence of the failed veritaserum component while she slept, but she can't think of the next step.
He is a constant presence, now. She feels him watching her when she works and as she eats and when she sleeps, just to assure himself that she does not fall apart.
He brings her lunch as she pours over her extensive potions library. "Any progress?" He asks, stirring milk into her tea.
She shakes her head. "I just… can't think of anything. You had good marks in potions. What do you think?"
He shrugs. "I don't know. You need something that reveals, something that shows the presence of something else," he says, considering the idea. "My suggestion would be to think of any substance that does that and try whatever seems like the best option."
His rational thought calms her. The haze of panic and illusion leaves her mind, and she can think again. She feels like she should thank him, but when she turns to speak he has left.
Their relationship did not remain clandestine for long. After three weeks of hushed and rapid coupling against walls and on tables, their affair was discovered by possibly the last person she would have chosen. She had to physically restrain Ron when he entered her unlocked bedroom without knocking and saw them in the shower through the reflection on the clouded mirror. It was months before he could accept Draco as Hermione's partner, friend, and lover.
For the others, it had come easier. Their grief manifested itself in different and unique ways, and for her it appeared as need and desire. It was expected that she do something radical.
Harry had suddenly become very focused on killing—on winning the war, on defeating Voldemort, and on killing whoever had killed her. Mrs. Weasley didn't speak any longer. Luna's eccentricity only increased. Ron never joked, never smiled.
She had Draco.
At dinner that night, when she finds time to escape from her workroom, she stares at the food that Draco has cooked and remembers something from before. A wrinkle appears between her brows. "You never cooked," she says slowly.
He glances at her as he shovels food into his mouth. "Mmmph?"
"Before all this. During the war. You never cooked."
He swallows. "I didn't, did I?"
"I must've picked it up somewhere."
She frowns, stabbing her fork absently into her chicken breast. "Hmm…"
"It's just odd…"
His eyes turn weary and exasperated. "What's odd?"
"Well, you're spoiled git."
He smirks and it makes her want to throw her food at the wall. "Yeah," he admits smartly.
"I find it strange that a spoiled git would—or could, for that matter—learn to cook so well in such a short amount of time," she snaps, and it sounds like an accusation rather than speculation. She stares at the chicken as she cuts it into shapes like puzzle pieces.
"Fuck, Hermione! What the hell is wrong with you?" He pushes his chair back hard and the table jumps. She doesn't move.
After he leaves, storms out of the room like a bitter draft, she looks at the wall and says into nothing, "I just find it odd, that's all."
Every now and again, she had doubts. When he spoke about Voldemort in a way that made him seem like something wonderful instead of something terrible. When he saw the blood that pulsed beneath the thin skin of her wrist and reservation appeared in his eyes. When the mark burned under her fingertips.
She knew that it was their history that caused her hesitation. She knew that it was primarily imagination. She knew that he was loyal.
And yet the doubt fermented.
After half the Weasleys died in the war, visiting the Burrow has lost the appeal it once held for her. She knows that Mrs. Weasley struggles to hold the family sound by a fraying thread. Anger and sadness rip away the binds of kinship.
She doesn't want to leave the empty house that has begun to feel like safety, but Harry and Ron have bombarded her with owls and threats of bodily removing her from her workroom for the past week. She decides to appease them lest they do something rash.
And so she stands on the Weasley's doorstep with a bottle of cheap red wine and a smile on her face. Ron throws open the door.
"'Mione! It's great—"
He stops speaking very quickly and stares at her. She watches his Adam's apple move as he swallows. "Hi Ron," she says, peering at him.
"Merlin, Hermione. You're ill. You've got to get some rest. Some Dreamless Sleep potion, or something. You—"
She frowns. "What? I'm fine, Ron."
"You look… have you been sleeping?"
"You always ask me that, and I always say that I have," she says, pushing past him to set take off her coat. She catches a glance of her reflection in a mirror in the foyer and sees pale and thin and tired. "I've just been working hard."
"It's more than that… it's… Hermione, you've got to get help. Maybe the potion can wait."
She whirls on him in an instant, pushing him hard with the flat of her hand. "How can you say that? How can you say that after what we knew in the war?" She is yelling now.
Harry comes in response to her voice, loud and strained and desperate. "Hermione, what's going on?" he asks, looking at her but not revealing his shock.
"Ron is being awful, Harry!" she says, pressing her back against the wall for support. She sees Mrs. Weasley peeking around the corner.
"Okay," he reasons, still staring at her, eyes wide. "Okay. Hermione, Ron and I have been talking, and we don't like the idea of you living alone in that old house. It's doing damage to your health. You need to take a break."
She looks back and forth between them, her brow furrowed. "What are you talking about? I'm not alone. Draco takes care of me better than either of you could," she says slowly, as if speaking to children.
Harry and Ron share a secret, unsettled glance that frightens her.
Harry sighs, running a hand through his unruly hair. "All right. Okay. This has gone on long enough. Hermione—"
"What?" She snaps, not without hostility.
"We have to tell you something about Draco."
She gazes back and forth between them, and sees them with a new light, with a new purpose. "Yes, well I don't want to hear it," she says, coldly.
She stares hard at Harry, her face stolid and fixed, and disapparates.
Two weeks before the battle that changed everything, Draco said he loved her. She kissed him, and replied in turn.
She appears gasping, and slides with her back against the wall to the floor. She feels her eyes burn and wonders why.
"What's wrong now?"
She glances up at him through her hair, falling down from its bun at the crown of her head. She wipes her nose with the back of her hand and stands, oddly grateful for his presence, as if she had expected him to be gone. "My visit at the Weasley's didn't go very well," she says softly, brushing past him to fill a glass of water in the kitchen. It feels cool down her throat, and she regains some part of her composure.
"How so?" Draco asks, having followed her into the other room.
"They thought I was sick or something… Ron even suggested that I take Dreamless Slee—" She cuts off, and her eyes glaze in thought.
"What?" He questions, his bored eyes peering anxiously at her.
"Of course!" She blurts, a smile flitting across her face. "Of course!"
Draco shrugs, and follows her hurried steps as she runs to her workroom. She shuffles through her supply of ingredients. "It's so simple, so elementary!" She beams, her fingers trembling faintly as she searches.
"It's knotgrass!" She says triumphantly as she holds the bottle of dried, chopped root aloft.
Draco frowns dubiously. "The antiseptic?"
She glances at him excitedly, already chopping the root further into a dust and measuring out small quantities. "It's one of the essential ingredients in Dreamless Sleep Potion. When sprinkled over the almost-completed potion, it allows for the effect of stripping away the subject's worries and concerns and afflictions. The properties are right, and they should react properly with the ingredients that are in the potion already. Find me a spider, will you?"
She sees Draco, shaking his head in wonder, exit the room. The potion turns a pale, champagne color when she dusts the correct amount of the knotgrass over the potion. She feels eyes hot on her back and turns to find Draco standing near the door. "Where is it?" she asks, searching for the clear box she uses to contain the spiders.
He cocks his head slightly to the right, narrowing his eyes until she can see only a line of gray. "Where is what?"
She watches the skin between his eyebrows draw together. "I don't know. Why don't you look around? There's bound to be one somewhere," he says, picking idly at his fingernails.
Hermione frowns, considering him. "Merlin, Draco, I just asked you to go find one for me!"
He scowls back at her. "No you didn't."
If it were any other time, she would question this further, simply because she distinctly remembers asking him and yet no spider resides in his care. Shrugging reluctantly, she spies an eight-legged creature in the corner and scoops it into the box.
The spider goes limp, a wilting flower, and awaits her command. Far too excited to think in details, Hermione simply pipettes a drop of potion onto the spider, the tip of the dropper trembling with her fingers as the opaque liquid forms a bead and splashes onto the abdomen of the arachnid.
The spider immediately turns a shade darker than its natural hue and begins to scuttle about the base of the box.
Hermione feels Draco's arms around her as her legs give out.
They lived in a haze of beauty that was only briefly interrupted, from time to time, by the war. She used to love waking up to his face.
In his arms she felt safety. When fighting and dying were all around, she felt safety.
"What are you going to call it?"
She looks at him over the top of her champagne flute, eyes smoky with drink and triumph. "I was thinkingInsurrectum Potion. Fitting, is it not?" she asks, sipping the last of her champagne and enjoying the sting on her tongue.
He nods, watching her. "Insurgo Insurgi Insurrectum. Seems like an appropriate counterpart to Imperius. I see you're keeping up on your Latin, then?"
She shrugs. The outline of his body wavers, fuzzing like a bad photograph. When he becomes clear again, she wonders if she has had too much to drink. They sit in moderately comfortable silence.
She feels a familiar nag (doubt)in her mind and cannot understand the reason.
It was always growing louder, that final battle.
Each curse, each yell, each falling body made a sound.
They fled with hands embraced, with wands drawn. Everyone went to Hogsmeade with its buildings for shelter and shields, so that was where they went too.
This is why she never follows a crowd, anymore.
"Don't you breathe. Just wait for me. I'll be back, I promise. I need to see if they are here," he said, and went into the crowd of people, looking for the other side.
She held her breath.
She resolves that tomorrow, after sleep and rest, she will take a sample of the potion to the ministry. Now, she needs time to settle.
She makes the bath water as hot as it will go and watches the steam curl up towards the ceiling as her skin prickles and pinks. She sweats impurities, and everything that has made her hurt goes somewhere else, for now. She stays in the water as long as she can, and when she stands up she feels the blood rush from her head and she has to hold on to the wall until the black before her eyes subsides.
When she exits the bathroom, wrapped in a large blue towel that makes the pink of her skin all the more pronounced, Draco is sitting on her bed. He looks at her and she sees a helplessness that unnerves her.
"What are you doing here?" she asks, clutching her towel.
He rakes a hand through his hair, staring at the warped boards of the floor. "I was thinking that I might have to leave soon," he says, quietly.
She feels like perhaps he has hit her, and closes her eyes against her instinctive protest. "W-Why?"
"You don't need me anymore."
She frowns, confused. She doesn't know where to go, so she stands against the wall. "What do you mean?"
"I don't need to be here, so I'll have to leave."
"You don't have to do anything, Draco. You can do whatever you like."
He finally looks back at her, and she sees that he is smiling darkly. "You still don't understand, do you? Merlin, Hermione." But he doesn't say more.
She sits next to him, her arms wrapped tight around herself. That nag has returned, and she feels hollow dread in her stomach, desperation.
The year, she recollects, has seemed to last a lifetime, and Draco has been a constant presence. Her caretaker, her overseer, her aggravator. Her companion and her destroyer. But their time in this house has been a dream, and she begins to realize that it cannot last.
She can't help but feel that they are on the precipice of a terrible secret.
"Where will you go?" she asks, trepidation in her voice.
He looks at her too sharply, and then he laughs. It is not a happy sound. "You're funny, you know that?" he says.
She narrows her eyes. "What the fuck is wrong with you, Draco? I've never told you that you can't leave. You're not a prisoner."
"Wake up, Hermione."
And then she kisses him, because it feels like it's the only thing she can do. He turns on her immediately, pressing her body hard into the bed, like punishment for her ignorance.
Her body remembers what her mind does not, and she stops thinking.
It feels insubstantial—a less-logical dream—and she holds on to him.
The explosion threw her on her back and took the breath she had been holding. She lay, fighting against her uncooperative lungs, for several minutes until she could sit up and view the slaughter.
A crowd of civilians. An unfeeling massacre.
The explosion originated from where Draco had been moments before, and the bodies were strewn in a circular pattern around the focal point.
And she knew.
"You bastard. I knew it." Her tears burned the smoke residue away. The fermented doubt all of a sudden seemed justified.
She remembers the betrayal of that day, just before the world went black.
She wakes and immediately senses that something is not how it should be. Rolling over, she reaches out an arm to wake Draco but finds the bed empty. No, not just empty—untouched. The bedclothes are completely smooth, the pillow without indentation. He never makes the bed.
Frowning, she pushes her snarled hair from her eyes and looks, bleary eyed, around the room.
She trembles. Something is wrong.
She throws back the covers and stands, expecting to feel the pull and ache of unused muscles. She walks without discomfort.
She wonders if it had truly been a dream.
And then she realizes that she is naked. She sits on the bed, bare knees knobby in her thinness, and attempts to come to terms with the fact that she had loved Draco Malfoy.
She woke to hushed voices. She could recognize the sterile whiteness of St. Mungos even with closed eyes. She lay still for several moments, attempting to collect her memories.
"Draco!" she breathed, anger in a flash causing her eyes to snap open.
"Hmm?" said a familiar voice. She turned her head and saw him. Her eyes narrowed. She sat up, wincing, and slapped him sharply.
"How dare you come here, you son of a bitch! You killed them!" Her voice broke, and she scrambled to grab onto a part of him, twist and hurt. "I saw you!"
She saw Harry and Ron, the source of those hushed tones, rush through the doorway, confusion written on their faces. "Hermione, what—"
Draco grasped her wrists lest she attempt to hit him again. "Hermione, wait. Let me explain. Voldemort has powers beyond—"
"DON'T TRY TO RATIONALIZE!" She screamed, squeezing her eyes shut against the pain of her battered body. "You killed them! Just people on the street! After everything we've been through, how could you?"
Harry and Ron rushed towards her, nearly plowing into Draco, who had to step aside and out of their way. "Hermione, what are you talking about? Who killed who?" asked Ron, his brow furrowed in concern.
"HIM! He killed those people!" Hermione shrieked, pointing suddenly at Draco, who stood off to the side, staring at her with eyes that were sad enough to make her insides fracture. "I can't…" She finally broke, sobbing, and cradled her head in her hands.
Ron and Harry glanced in the direction she pointed, and then they shared a look that alarmed her. Harry motioned to the doctor. "I think you'd better sedate her."
She didn't know any more.
After she has found herself once again, she finds a robe and goes downstairs. She expects to find an empty house, but he is in the kitchen tending to two mugs of coffee on the counter.
She stands in the doorway, looking at him, for only a moment. Drinking in the idea that he is still here. He hears her breathing, and picks up the coffee. He hands it to her, and leans in to kiss her lightly on the mouth. She can hardly feel it.
"I thought you would have left," she says, wrapping her hands around the warm mug.
"Not yet," he replies.
"Something is wrong."
"You're waking up. You don't need me anymore."
She cocks her head and begins to understand. "You made the bed. You never made the bed. I couldn't feel you last night."
He stares at her, a minute. Two. Then he says, "Of course you couldn't. I've been dead for a year."
She drops the mug. Coffee splashes across the floor, seeps between the floorboards. "No, you haven't. You've been here with me. You've always been here to take care of me. Don't lie, Draco," she says quickly, between shallow breaths.
"Use your head, Hermione. Don't let it control you. It's time to wake up." His eyes are very soft, very clear.
She closes her eyes, squeezes tight. "Oh my god. Oh my god." And then, she knew. She remembered empty rooms and words spoken to nothing. She feels like she might faint, so she feels for a chair and sits down.
When she next opens her eyes, he is gone.
Harry and Ron spoke to the doctor quietly while Hermione slept.
"What's going on? Why was Hermione acting like that?" asked Ron, wringing his hands.
The doctor looked at them sadly, responsibility weighing heavy on his face. "You said that Ms. Granger was in a relationship with one of the victims of the curse?"
"Yes," said Harry. "We're questioning Lestrange now. She performed the curse. She killed thirty people." The anger in his eyes made the doctor take one step back.
"I have reason to believe that Ms. Granger has…compensated," he explained, sighing deeply.
"What the hell does that mean?" Ron demanded aggressively.
"It means that Ms. Granger thinks that Mr. Malfoy betrayed her and killed those people. It means…she thinks he's still alive. She thought he was in that room."
The two boys—men, now—fell silent. "She…she was talking to Malfoy in there?" Ron stumbled over the words.
The doctor nodded. "I believe she knows, in her subconscious mind, that he has passed, but she has been through such a trauma that her mind is compensating by recalling the image of the man she loves. It will likely pass, but for now I would suggest playing along. She will likely not believe whoever tries to reveal the truth to her, but it will also be an incredibly upsetting revelation." The doctor removed his glasses and wiped them on his jacket. "She will come to terms with it in time. These things take time."
Ron and Harry stared at each other, one of the hardest conflicts of their short lives playing out before their eyes. Harry smoothed his thumb over the object in his pocket.
Inside the hospital room, Hermione woke to gray eyes.
"Hermione! Are you in there?" Ron pounds his fist sore on the splintering door of Hermione's house. He and Harry have been waiting outside for Hermione to answer the door for ten minutes.
"Ron, this is really starting to worry me. We haven't heard from her in two weeks, and now she won't answer the door. What if something's happened?" Harry says, his eyes betraying his panic.
"Only one way to find out. Stand back, will you?" Ron nudges Harry out of the warpath, and promptly kicks down the door. It comes away with ease, carrying chunks of the rotten doorway with the lock.
"Hermione! Where are you?" Harry shouts, noting the dusk and gloom of the house subconsciously as he searches.
He finds her in the kitchen, sitting with her back to the wall. She doesn't move, even as she hears his footsteps. "Hermione, what's going on? We haven't heard from you in weeks! Are you—"
Harry falls silent. Ron's heavy breathing announces his presence, and good sense keeps him from speaking. Harry finally takes the plunge. "He is, Hermione."
She turns to look at them, and Harry fights not to recoil after seeing the empty despair in her eyes. "Why didn't you tell me?" She asks in monotone.
"They told us not to."
She nods, and tears begin to leak from her eyes, covering the salty tracks of many before. "Will you take me out of this house, please?" She whispers. She lets the tears lay quietly on her cheeks and throat.
Harry lifts her easily from the ground, his arms around her thighs and shoulders. She breathes softly onto his neck. She is very light, and Harry frowns.
Before they leave, on the threshold of the sad house, Hermione says, "The potion is ready."
At Harry's flat, he settles Hermione on the couch. She stares at the wall. Harry disappears for a moment, and returns with his fist clenched tight around something small. He opens Hermione's lightly clenched hand, and presses cold metal into her palm.
Hermione looks blankly at the ring in her hand, and then her eyes light with slow understanding. She looks at Harry with a question in the lines of her face.
"It was all we could find of him, Hermione," Harry says, choking on her name.
Hermione releases a near silent sob, and her shoulders finally shake with suppressed grief.
She stares at the ring in her hand, and the Malfoy crest glints with terrible regularity back at her.