"The Tower that Ate People"

Feel the building all around me
Like a wrap of armoured skin
But the more we are protected
The more we're trapped within

- 1 -

The sky looks real enough: a soft August night streams above her head, dark and smooth as ink, with a spattering of stars that wink down at her. Hermione rests her palms on the dusty sill as she looks upwards, at the moonless night that stretches in every direction, and wishes for its ubiquity. If only I could see Harry, she thinks. See him, embrace him, help him.

"Miss Granger, we are underground. Hanging an illusion charm on your window won't change that."

Hermione sometimes has wished she could hate Snape as much as Harry and Ron do. She's wished she could hate the terrible things he had done, wished she would bring her wand to his heart every time she saw him like Harry does.

Harry doesn't forgive people. She's glad of it, because this is what makes Harry turn a blind eye to her wrongs; to recognize her evils would render her unforgivable.

Loathing Snape would have been so much simpler than empathy. Simpler than her respect for him. The man was brilliant, after all, and there was a part of her that felt he was the most selfless of them all, entering unforgivable places for the greater good.

It would have been so much simpler if Hermione hadn't had months in this house to martyr him in her thoughts like this.

Being in this house has given Hermione far too much time for thought. Sleep eludes her in the ominous walls.

She turns to look at him, and smiles. "I know that, Professor, but this view is better than that of the worms."

His lips curl in disdain and Hermione's temper flares the tiniest bit. In the months that he has been gone she idolized him, but every time Severus Snape returns, Hermione finds herself repulsed instinctively. This, coupled with the obvious contempt he has for her, researching while he and so many others are fighting, can always drive her to rage.

It had begun as just a research assignment, after all. She had never planned to leave the front-lines. Harry had had plenty of fighters with him, and many far better than she (Hermione could never relinquish thinking enough to move as quickly as Harry could, or Kingsley had, or McGonagall had. Hermione could never forget the distinctions between could and had, between enemy and victim. Hermione could never overcome her weakness.) and so Hermione, after weeks of stubbornness, had agreed to come to Tom Riddle's last house, living in his basement.

He ignores her reply, and asks, "Have you made any progress?"

Hermione flinches. She has been going through texts frantically, working on four hours of sleep every night, and her findings are still vague and useless. Hufflepuff's cup sits on her nightstand, full of Voldemort's soul.

Damn if she'll let him know that, though.

"I have, sir."

He nods, his mind elsewhere, and nods at her again before leaving. Hermione is more than a bit jealous: leaving the house is unsafe for her.

Hermione lets her body slide to the floor, pettily wishing for the sense of suffocation, of being pressed upon from every which way, to go with him.

She hopes he survives, too, because no-one else steps into Tom Riddle's house, and the silence couples with the remnants of Dark Magic to chill her to the bone.

- 2 -

The war is over.

Rejoicing burns through the cities like smoke, and those who have survived begin to enter beautiful calm as the shock dissipates.

The war is over and Hermione must care for Ron.

This house will destroy him, Harry tells her. He is aggressive, exuding tamed fury. She thinks that maybe this was too much like Sirius, that perhaps Harry can not understand. Harry has irrational fears, Hermione believes.

He will destroy himself if he doesn't stay here, she reasons, convinced of her own pragmatism. She's won a war, Hermione refuses to succumb now, because she has little resistance left, and if she begins to unravel she will vanish.

Harry turns away from her, shaking his head. He'll never stay here, Hermione. This place reeks of Dark Magic.

Hermione will never admit it, but as he leaves in a thunderous rage, she murmurs: so do you.

- 3 -

"You wouldn't understand. At all. I mean, sympathy has never been a strong suit of yours."

"Be that as it may, I know better than anyone what kind of good comes of self-sacrifice. Do not underestimate my experience in this, Miss Granger."

"Wouldn't dream of it, sir. You were offering advice?"

"You can drop that tone, and yes, I was. Just remember: you know best."

"I've had to believe that for years, professor, or I would have lost my sanity as well."

Hermione thinks of third year (because I thought – and Professor McGonagall agrees with me – that that broom was probably sent to Harry by Sirius Black!) and reconsiders this.

"I haven't been a professor for years, Miss Granger."

"You're still teaching me."

- 4 -

Hermione dreams of the curse hitting Ron, again and again and again.

They had been sitting on the four-poster in the bedroom, talking quietly, Hermione kneading the blue duvet in her hands with worry, Ron watching the fire that hissed and curled in the stone fireplace, having been wounded in a recent battle in Maidstone, one slight enough to be repaired, but requiring a short respite. The bedroom was as ominous as the rest of the house, a two-story that was held together by the faint stitches of magic Tom Riddle himself had used to construct it. The windows were a film of thin glass over piles of dust, and filth and writhing black soot lined the feeble walls, in the bone china teacups, on the carved banister that Harry discovered could speak Parseltongue one night. The air tasted of age and Dark magic all at once.

Ron was dozing off, and Hermione had run her hand over the bronze Hufflepuff cup again, when she was struck by an idea. The spell came to her in a blur, and Hermione, feeling hypnotized with certainty, tipped the cup with her wand, muttering the incantation.

The cup had hummed with Dark Magic, then, of course, and Ron, whose hand was flung over its handle, was illumined by the eruption of bluish light.

Hermione had cast every counterjinx and every possible spell she could think of – as the Order members arrived, they found her shrieking accio! accio! at his body – to no avail.

The cup had enchanted her, of course, but Hermione had understood the spell it cast upon her. It had compelled her, but Hermione knew there was no compulsion spell which could not force a person towards something which they had no desire at all to do, towards things they had never considered, comprehended. It was why Harry had resisted the Imperius.

Hermione had been tired of being without any leader. When Dumbledore fell from the tower, the Order plummeted with him, and Hermione was left to go on, unsure.

- 5 -

Snape tries to help Ron, and for this Hermione is infinitesimally grateful.

He brews potions and casts wide webs of spells which measure levels of magic that Hermione has never studied. She observes all this while doing all the brewing, stirring, and helping she could, taking swift mental notes and resisting the urge to ask too many questions.

During these stays, Hermione takes dinner with Snape.

It's peaceable.

It had been found that removing Ron from this house, Tom Riddle's house, for more than a day or so, caused him to become violently ill. Hermione had found this out when she took him to St. Mungos and left him there overnight.

She has renovated the house somewhat – walls have been destroyed to install windows, eerie portraits replaced with vases of flowers, Hermione has transformed the guest bedroom into a library. The house is resistant, however, and so the dining room remains dim, with shadowy wood paneling and a table with legs carved into claws which Hermione had been forced to cage, as they constantly tore at her feet.

Tonight Hermione has made spaghetti and garlic bread and a salad. She's poured them both red wine that is profoundly dark and thin enough that it seems to stain her throat as she sips at it. Snape eats politely, with the same portentous aplomb he has always exuded.

It has become an unmentioned kind of tradition now. Snape arrives on the last Friday of each month to examine Ron and dine with Hermione before leaving. She enjoyed this quiet, steady ritual. Snape had always counseled her during the war, and did so now, still, though he had become more of an equal than an advisor.

Others question this, of course. Ginny has said that though she prays for Ron's recuperation, she wonders if, with no progress having being made, Snape is merely wasting his time. Mrs. Weasley has asked Hermione if, perhaps, there are maybe different kinds of potions being brewed, the kind she and Mr. Weasley had never really bothered with enough.

Hermione was queasy for a week after that, but the worst of it had been that Fred and George had happened to hear the conversation.

They are wrong, of course. Severus Snape is a great scholar in Hermione's eyes, and his presence is a comfort. His visits fuel her persistence in tending to Ron, for if Snape, the epitome of practicality continues to devote his time to healing Ron, why shouldn't she?

Hermione does, of course. She reads a thousand textbooks, combines and builds hexes, and attempts various muggle and magical remedies.

None work, but it is encouraging to see Snape read her notes diligently and commend, critique, and improve them.

Hermione does love him a little, but her heart is beating with guilt and her own futility.

- 6 -

"But how could you have let this happen, Hermione?"

"You know, once you go another twenty years, the Prophet won't find you tall, dark and handsome. They'll find you paranoid and sulky. Your hair will go from 'sexily wild' to 'patches of seaweed'. You should really work on the charm now. Think ahead, Harry."

That year with Malfoy had really changed her more than Hermione cared to admit. She'd gained his babbling defense mechanism and an adoration for lemon biscotti. Neither had proved useful, though Malfoy had been plenty useful himself.

"Don't try to-"

"I did nothingwrong here."

The thing of it is, Hermione cannot trust Harry's judgment here. After being misdirected and misguided for so many years, even now, Harry Potter finds any and all dishonesty to be a repulsive sin. He's wrong, and Hermione knows that. Still, three years after the finish of the war, he won't forgive Snape, he won't forgive Dumbledore, and right now he doesn't want to forgive her.

"I can't believe you think you have the right to-"

"If he comes out the better, what does it matter?"

This is what he has never understood. Machiavelli never did appeal to Harry.

"But you lied. How could you tell him it was his own fault?"

This is the bit she has always understood, but feels she can dismiss. Hermione remembers glory and sharp sobs over Dolores Umbridge, and remembers the miserable look Dumbledore gave her. Ruthless, that look had said. You are ruthless.

The Order had needed ruthlessness then, and Ron needed it now.

"Harry-"

The words flood her, and she stammers. There are so many explanations she wishes to captivate him with. Harry, if he knew that I cursed him, who would help him?

She is about to say this is not selfish, when he says:

"That's allthere is to it."

His apparition is silent, and so Hermione is left standing in the half-light of the morning in the Tunbridge Wells train station, her grey suitcases in a neat pile beside her, with the disappointment and torpor of a waking sleep-walker.

- 7 -

"Why haven't you gone to sleep?"

The disgust in Ron's voice will never really stop shocking Hermione. Not shock perhaps, as much as repulse her, really. His mouth turns with tight agony, stuck like a jarred clock, hands quivering without ever progressing. He is utterly graceless this way. There is nothing beautiful about this, nothing which should appeal to Hermione's righteous side.

It does, though, and she does stay. Hermione thinks if she does not face this, then she does not deserve to have outlived the many she has had to bury.

"I'm making myself a drink."

She clears her throat – it's the end of winter, and her mouth is dry. The merlot is dark and leaves her teeth tasting like chalk dice, but she takes a few cautious sips as he replies:

"You can't make a drink. You can't make things from nothing, Hermione, no matter how much you want to. You know what they told me? She said that every time you conjure something, you make it from the bits of all the destroyed things that sit in the air, and wait until they can come together by magic. She said conjuring is building houses from blood, Hermione, and she was right. You can't make a drink, you can't make anything on this god-damn planet."

"I'm mixing a drink, then."

"You always were such a quick learner."

Ron is like this most of the time. He is bitter and rambling and it takes no time at all for Hermione to forgive him for it.

She can't get angry with him. Not anymore.

Hermione thinks that most days, she doesn't deserve to be angry at Ron. She's doing her penance here, fixing him. These last fifteen months had given her humility, if nothing else. She's swollen with guilt, propelled by shame that sits in her blood like flour in an oil spill, and enough self-loathing to last her well into the next few millennia.

- 8 -

Every Thursday afternoon Ginny comes for brunch. Ginny is an Auror now – the only one of them who managed it, her need for vengeance left unsatisfied with a few paltry bloodbaths. Hermione believes Tom Riddle left a touch of darkness – the righteous kind, the strength to brave darksome sins for the sake of true altruism, the kind Hermione has come to wield – in Ginny, and Ginny has finally managed to use this to succeed.

Hermione loves Ginny's visits. Ginny is understanding and sharp, and the picture of a survivor; she is beautiful in a severe way, and the press adores her, leading every weekend, still, with photos of Ginny in sundresses and smiling bemusedly at each Ministry Ball. Ginny has outdone them all, and Hermione is glad of it, because she has been allergic to any spotlight since Hogwarts. In a twist of nature that Hermione still doesn't quite understand, she dove from the public eye, to care for Ron, Harry stowed away in Muggle Kent, and Ginny took the lead in Reconstruction, finishing the Auror training program at top speed, fixing the world. Harry and Hermione and Ron may have stopped the world from being conquered by evil, but it's Ginny who takes it upon herself to repair it.

Hermione loves Ginny's visits, but she hates Ginny's marriage.

In the half-light of the solarium, the white-gold band is thin and bright on Ginny's finger, the one which Mulciber rotated and shriveled, and which Ginny, at first, insisted on leaving unhealed as a reminder, for notable bravery's sake. The Aurory politely reminded her that injuries which could interfere with wand work would work against her.

Ginny fixed her ashen finger, her rotting ankle, and her green elbow the very next day. The papers hailed her as having made a new start.

It took Hermione a while to understand, and it was the engagement which brought it to her mind. The party had been glamorous and tasteful. Bouquets of full lilies and silk table-cloths and crystal centerpieces which soared and ducked about the tables in exquisite, incomprehensible zigzags.

When Hermione had received the invitation, she wished more than anything else that it hadn't resurrected her memories of him. Lying in tatty mattresses in the dust of Grimmauld Place, sheets stiff as canvas and cold as stone clumped over them.

Not one of her war memories is pretty at all. Hermione doesn't understand how memoirs come to be. She keeps her copy of All Quiet on the Western Front under the broken leg of the dining table to steady it. Hemmingway leaves her library along with Stephen Crane and Tolstoy and a handful of others. War stories don't please Hermione, especially when they had given her a portrait of the future that was so unlike her own.

She remembers whispering to him:

"What I am doing is more important than us, though."

"It never wasn't."

Draco Malfoy, who, of course, is the majority shareholder of every major paper in England.

She thinks if he could speak to her now, he would say what we are doing is more important than you, now and without spite. She thinks she could bear the sight of Draco Malfoy in her life again. She's made peace with his success, the miraculous Garrison Finish that people celebrate endlessly, conducted by him.

"Are those ice cubes yellow?" Ginny asks, amused.

"Ron grew tired of ice cubes melting in his lemonade and watering it down," Hermione explains to her, "Now we have a tray full of lemonade cubes, apple juice ones, and so on."

"Sounds like something Fred and George would appreciate," Ginny says.

"Yes, I think I'll mention it to them at our next lunch," Hermione agrees.

- 9 –

"I believe you may have solved it, Miss Granger."

"Oh, god. Oh god oh god."

"Get a hold of yourself, honestly. This will take two months to brew, test, and perfect."

"Thank you, sir. Thank you."

- 10 -

Ron's skin shudders and his eyes roll like pinwheels and the pain sweeps through him as Hermione breaks the flowerpot over the fire and makes the flames green as death.

- 11 -

Ron is healed.

The nurse emerged five minutes before, her insipid ringlets bobbing, to tell Hermione this.

Ron is healed. Inexplicably, wonderfully.

Ron's hand won't shake when he tries to read a book. Ron's mouth won't seal itself. Ron will be able to near a wand, near magic without convulsing in pain.

Ron is healed ron is healed healed healed healed.

Hermione lets this cycle through her mind, fill her mouth and her lungs and her blood, because suddenly the future she lobbied so hard for has arrived, and there's nothing beyond it.

This is why when Ron emerges, announces he wants to go to the Burrow.

"I'll go with you," Hermione says immediately, and when he turns, Ron is hesitant, still relearning the mechanics of his body.

"Hermione," he says, quietly, "I appreciate what you did, I know it was…awful-"

Hermione shakes her head, wiping her eyes.

"But I think I need to see what's left of my family right now," he finished.

It's shaky, after lying dormant for years, but Hermione's ability to read Ron has her understand in an instant what he is saying. I am not sure what to do with you right now. I am weak and dazed, and the support I crave is the one I was born of.

Hermione grins at him, and it's strange because her skin is heavy, and suddenly she is finding that the war ended five years ago.

"Go," she tells him, and his apparition is silent – the survival mechanism that never did help him – and she's left in blithe, lovely solitude in the steaming light of the hospital.

- 12 -

Severus Snape is on Hermione's doorstep – the last of the boxes are stacked in the living room, and Hermione is thanking every God she's read of that she will leave this balteful place – and she is glad.

Hermione buries her face in the jutting angle of his shoulder, and begins to weep, murmuring thank you thank you thank you.