Please read this note: Since writing Tied for Last, I've realized that it not only portrays an abusive relationship, but also glorifies it. Glorification of abuse is never an author's intention (or if so, they're a shitty author), but it's happened inadvertently here, and for that I sincerely apologize.
As a high school sophomore writing this piece, I'd never read anything about relationship abuse, let alone experienced it. Having never encountered real cruelty, I had an immature fascination with it, as if it were something confined to fiction. I had the idea that the type of dependent behavior within this story is romantic. This is patently untrue. Being hurt and hurt again, and having the compulsion to crawl back, is not romantic. It's psychologically and physically dangerous.
Since maybe a year after publication, I've wanted to delete TFL. Fiction has impact, and I hate letting a negative influence persist. Two things have stopped me: 1) the story could get re-hosted, thanks to fic downloading sites. I'd rather express this here and make it clear what my thoughts are than people read some weird bootleg copy floating around. 2) I've received a surprising number of messages from people saying that critical flaws and all, TFL has helped them in dark places. This also keeps me from a cold delete.
As such: if you do choose to read on, please do so with a grain of salt. These fictional characters' mindsets should not be applied to real-life concepts or relationships. Abuse is not romance; it ruins lives and takes lives. If you're unsure if your relationship is abusive, you can find a list of signs here: prelationshipinfo dot com /relationships/ 12-warning-signs-of-an-unhealthy-relationship/. Also, there are numbers you can call (the national domestic abuse hotline is 1-800-799-7233) and there are always, always people you can turn to. You're not alone.
Thank you for reading.
This was not how it was supposed to happen.
No, definitely not. After those pale, spidery, fingers had picked the wand back up, and placed it to her throat, and murmured those two soft words, that ricochet of green light had definitely indicated that she should die. Not that she should be here.
She knew quite a bit about old magic, about things that might delay her journey through death and land her in this place. One snippet in particular came to mind—something called thread theory, something she had read about in a book once: the number of ties one had to life determined which direction a hypothetical death would take them. And, if one was tied to life enough, the soul could be caught halfway between life and death, stranded in the place hovering between the two. One such tie would, of course, be a horcrux, but there were endless other magics that had a similar, if reduced, effect.
Hermione Granger sat idly on the front lawn of a dreamlike Hogwarts, wondering where she had gone wrong.
She counted the number of things that could have kept her marginally alive – enough so to be here, in any case. She was a Secret-Keeper for both Harry and Ron; those secrets stayed with her now, creating a bridge between life and death. She had placed a never-ending character charm – much like the one on the Sorting Hat – on a book she left in Hogwarts, specifically so that it could give advice to those that wrote in its pages. Of course, she didn't know every spell she'd done that might have yielded such a tie—various wards that she had put up around areas of Hogwarts remained; was that enough to tie her back to life?
Wouldn't that put the Founders here as well, then? They had done so much vital, long-lasting magic. And as far as Hermione could see, she was alone.
Hermione sighed. Harry had told her about this place—after Voldemort had killed him the first time, he had found himself in King's Cross. But Hermione was at Hogwarts, and a very strange and beautiful Hogwarts it was. Each stone in the castle seemed smoother, each blade of grass more emerald, the lake clearer and the sky bluer.
It had been six months since Harry had been killed the first time. As he had awakened, he had frozen, contemplating his options. He could stand and fight singlehandedly. Many of his mentors would call that foolish, he knew. He could wait, for God knows how long, and risk someone discovering he was still breathing, his heart drumming like that of a frightened animal. Dangerous. Or he could find a way back to Hogwarts, a way to regroup.
He chose the last option.
Harry Potter had not been accustomed to running. He was not accustomed to the feeling of turning his back on an enemy. And he barely managed to escape with his life—it was a miracle he had it back in the first place—but he managed to join the rest of his troops within Hogwarts. They set up shields of all sorts, and they trained every soldier until even the students could hold their own against the teachers' more advanced spells. After all, there was no need to take risks. The wards would not hold forever. Not against Lord Voldemort.
But they held for five long months.
Then Death Eaters managed to find a way into the castle.
Hermione found herself alone in the Room of Requirement. And, as luck would have it, she wasn't just discovered by a Death Eater, but by Voldemort himself. He recognized her as one of Harry's best friends.
But he did not recognize her as a Secret-Keeper. He didn't know that when he killed her, he was killing his chance at finding either Harry or Ron, forever, as Hermione had told absolutely no one their whereabouts. After his Legilimency failed in the face of a newfound and formidable Occlumens, the Dark Lord pressed the tip of his ivory wand to her throat and said, "Avada Kedavra," and he did not know the consequences. So Hermione Jean Granger had died with a smile on her face.
Hermione lay back on the cool grass, staring up into the sky. She couldn't determine which season it was – it was warm, but the earth felt cold.
She couldn't be the only one here, surely? There must have been others. Even just one other person would have made the place bearable.
Well, she wouldn't just wait around. Hermione hoisted herself to her feet, adjusting her voluminous brown hair, and strode off towards the castle.
The dream Hogwarts was identical to the one in real life, if a bit more idealistic. The library had the same books, although there was no Madam Pince. The tables laid the same food, though there were no house-elves enslaved downstairs. And the portraits, strangely, were still animated, which reassured Hermione. She had a lengthy conversation with the Fat Lady, who was just as flighty and preposterous as in real life. Eventually, the Fat Lady just admitted to Hermione that the password was 'Venomous Tentacula' and let her inside.
The common room smelled as it always did, looked as it always did, and it was there that Hermione met the first people she would see in this dreamlike world.
Hermione's hazel eyes gazed around the common room. It was hardly packed with people – there were perhaps a dozen in the common room, each dressed in Gryffindor robes – but to see any people at all was a shock beyond belief.
Hermione was surprised. There were this many people that were trapped between life and death?
Then again, millions of witches and wizards had died. A dozen was a tiny number to be trapped in-between, she supposed.
As Hermione stepped into the common room, the conversation died into absolute silence. Then a young man with red hair and green eyes spoke up.
"So, you're new?"
"Nice to have you join the ranks," said the redhead, who was tall and radiated healthy power. "What got you stuck in here? A horcrux or ten?"
He said the last few words with a joking tone, but the others in the room got instantly quiet as soon as he mentioned horcruxes. Hermione stared, awed that this boy would toss around the word so casually.
"No. I'm…I'm not really sure why I'm here," she answered carefully.
The redhead grinned. "Well, glad to see you're not one of those horcrux types. They make me uneasy."
A tall, dark-haired boy sitting next to him punched him. "Shut up."
"R.J. here is just such a specimen," said the redhead with a smirk. "My name's Godric, by the way. He's R.J. King."
Hermione just stared. Surely he wasn't Godric Gryffindor. Surely if she were standing merely feet from the most famous Gryffindor ever to live, she would know it. She said, "Godric...Gryffindor?"
The boy nodded.
A lump formed in Hermione's throat. This was surreal. If Godric Gryffindor was here, did that mean that she was going to be trapped here forever? He must have been here for centuries. "I'm Hermione Granger," she eventually replied. "It's really...er, interesting to meet you."
"What year is it back home?" the dark-haired boy, R.J., asked.
R.J. blew at his hair. "Huh," he said. "It's been a while, then."
"Why, when did you get here?"
"Back in 1971," R.J. told her, "but time doesn't really work the same here. A few years is more like a few months, and we don't exactly age. God knows I don't understand it."
Godric raised an eyebrow. "Also, there've really been a lot of great wizards kicking the bucket in your time, eh?"
Hermione laughed uneasily. "Why?"
"Well, there've been lots of people coming in and out," said R.J., shrugging. "All sorts, all houses."
"They've all faded relatively quickly," explained Godric. "The ties to Earth are proportional to the strength of the magic, of course, so not many people stay for long. The last one from your time faded last week."
"And none of them…none of them explained why…why they were here?"
Godric and R.J. exchanged a glance. "Er, no," said R.J.
Of course. They wouldn't want these people to know the truth about the world now. That would be too terrible, to be trapped here with the knowledge that the real world was under siege.
Hermione stared around. If the most recent person in this room had arrived in 1971... That meant that no one here had seen the rise of Voldemort, had seen him kill innocents, throw the world into chaos—
Hermione sank into a squashy armchair opposite Godric and R.J. "So," she said, "could you tell me how you got here?"
"I worked for the Ministry of Magic," said R.J., "and they were doing testing on dark magic for some reason. I got trapped into doing an experiment with a horcrux. Got forced to make one."
Hermione frowned. Shouldn't that have been illegal? Then again, the Ministry of Magic had always been more than a little bit corrupt. "Who made you?"
"I was an Unspeakable. My superior was Andros Lestrange. He had a kid in my year at Hogwarts."
"Hold on. If you didn't die, then why are you stuck here?" Hermione blinked owlishly at him.
R.J. shrugged. "This is my horcrux self. It got destroyed somehow, so that puts the horcrux in here until the rest of the soul dies to join it."
"Oh. So, you're still alive, back on earth? This you is the actual horcrux half of the soul?"
Hermione chewed on that piece of information for a while. How many people had ever created horcruxes? Weren't they all supposed to be evil? Who had this man killed to create a horcrux?
Well, that was more than private business. She couldn't ask R.J. Besides, if it was a Lestrange that had forced him to make one, it was understandable. The Lestranges were veritably insane.
So she turned to Godric and opened her mouth to ask a question, but found she had none. All her years on Earth she had wished she could meet historical figures to ask them questions, but now that she was stuck in this in-between, it seemed pointless. So she just asked something useless, her voice dry and practically sarcastic. "So, care to explain why we're not see-through?"
Godric laughed. "Just because we're not quite here, doesn't mean our physical bodies show it. You're going to get hungry and thirsty and tired just like in the real world. We just don't...age."
"And why is the fixed age…this age?"
Godric exchanged a glance with R.J. "Well, we're not sure about that," he said, "but we think it's because magic starts young and stays young forever, so if you place only a magically-tied part of yourself here, it stays young too. Can't be sure, but I mean, look at me. Look at R.J. Look at Albus. Look at all of us. None of us look as old as we are."
All of a sudden, Hermione broke out in a cold sweat. Albus?
A young man with auburn hair turned to them. "Did someone say my name?" he asked with a cheerful grin.
Hermione was stunned. There were parts of the young Dumbledore that looked nearly the same as before – half-moon glasses, with clever eyes behind them, a dancing smile. But his hair was dark and tied back in a loose, frizzy ponytail, and the lines on his face were noticeably absent.
"Professor Dumbledore?" Dumbledore's eyes locked on her, but he made no outward sign that he knew her.
"Professor?" he laughed. "Of what?"
Hermione's eyebrows rose so high that they practically vanished into her hair. How could this be possible? How could he not know of his being a professor? He would have had to be here since before he had become the Transfiguration professor, since before the 1930s.
"Hello?" Dumbledore said, waving his hand to break Hermione's blank stare.
Hermione sighed and closed her eyes. "Sorry about that. It's just—never mind."
"Come on, Albus," R.J. said, knocking Dumbledore with his shoulder. "I already told you, I learned from you at Hogwarts. You were the head a year after I arrived."
Dumbledore raised his eyebrows, looking quietly bewildered, and then a look of remembrance came over him. "Yes, you did say something to that effect, didn't you?"
Hermione felt like she couldn't tell any of the three boys about what had happened to Dumbledore. It didn't seem right.
Everyone seemed so cheerful. They were trapped in the dim twilight between life and death—why weren't they bothered by that? How could they be satisfied with that?
A girl walked up then, a tall girl with black hair, sharp grey eyes, and a wicked grin. "So, who are you, then?" she asked. "I'm Filemina. Call me Mina. Used to be a Quidditch Captain."
She stuck out a hand. Hermione shook it tentatively. "I'm Hermione," she introduced quietly. "Nice to meet you."
"A bit shy, are you?" Mina asked, grinning even wider.
Hermione spluttered. "If my friends could hear you say that, they'd have a laugh," she chuckled. "When are you from?"
"1918," said Mina. "Same year as Albus, here. Weird coincidence."
Albus raised an eyebrow at Mina. "Not really a coincidence," he told Hermione. "We were working on the same project."
"What was that?"
Mina sighed. "Trying to make a First Task for the Triwizard Tournament. They tried to resurrect it a few times after 1792, but they all failed. Especially our attempt."
"Let's not talk about that!" suggested Dumbledore brightly. "Is anyone else hungry?"
"You're always hungry," muttered R.J.
Godric stood up with a lazy yawn. "Albus, mate, you're not the only one." He clapped Dumbledore on the shoulder, making him stumble a little. The younger Dumbledore was as lean and wiry as the older, and Godric was huge, a beast of a boy. "Let's go get some food. You all want to come?"
Hermione nodded. She found that she was starving – she wondered how long it had been in the real world since she had died. A few days? It was a strange thought.
R.J. unfolded himself from the armchair with a groan. He was handsome, pale, with bright blue eyes, and reminded Hermione a little of Harry with his unkempt, jet-black hair.
Hermione scanned the rest of the room, looking for any familiar faces. She recognized Miranda Goshawk—author of The Standard Book of Spells—with a rush of excitement. She was a pretty, pixie-like girl who was scribbling furiously on an impossibly long piece of parchment.
Mina tapped Hermione on the shoulder. "Coming?" she asked. Hermione nodded and followed the tall girl through the portrait hole.
The Great Hall seemed disproportionately large, due to the meager number of students in it. It glowed with light shining through the tall windows, illuminating the depressingly empty teachers' table in front of the four House tables.
Hermione couldn't stop herself from thinking, I will never sit here with Harry and Ron again.
The tables were filled with mouthwatering dishes. "Oh, good, pot pie. I haven't had this in a while," commented Godric, piling nearly half a pie onto his place. Mina winced.
"He eats everything," she told Hermione. "Don't get too close – he might try to eat your arm or something."
Hermione laughed, but it was bitter. Godric's eating habits reminded her painfully of Ron.
She and Ron had had an intense relationship over the last few months. He hadn't wanted her to be his Secret-Keeper, but she had insisted. She'd performed the Fidelius Charm, thus concealing his hiding-place, and when Ron had attempted to become her Secret-Keeper in return, he hadn't been able to perform the Charm.
Then Hermione had gone downstairs to talk to someone, and Death Eaters had found a way in.
It hurt to think about. Hermione worried about what Ron and Harry were doing back in the world of the living, worried about what was happening to them.
I hope you're safe, Ronald Bilius Weasley. My Ron.
"Are you alright?" R.J. asked her quietly, breaking her from her reverie. "I know it's hard the first few weeks, but it gets better. You start to look on the bright side of life. Or, well, the bright side of whatever this is."
Hermione tried to smile a little. "I just—I know neither of them is going to come here." Battle magic was temporary, so it wouldn't tie. For all Harry's brilliance with the Patronus, with offensive magic in general, he would never arrive here.
R.J. didn't ask who 'they' were, just said, "Eventually you'll move on, too. Don't worry – all ties have to fade sometime. Helga Hufflepuff moved on a while ago. I've got a bet on with Albus that Rowena will be here after both Godric and Salazar are gone. It's only a matter of time—you'll go. We all do."
She never thought she would be reassured by the thought of death.
"Wait. Rowena..." she said, peering over at the Ravenclaw table. She was less than surprised to see twice as many people there as any other House. The prized pursuit of knowledge. Rowena Ravenclaw was stunningly beautiful, as befit her house, and she looked regal and sharp.
Then Hermione glanced at the Slytherin table. Salazar.
The beady-eyed Founder sat at the end of the table with a man Hermione recognized as Herpo the Foul, the discoverer of both basilisks and horcruxes. There were quite a few unsavory characters there, like the writer of Magick Moste Evile, Revelend Godelot, and a man who looked highly Malfoy-reminiscent—not Lucius, and not Draco, so probably his ancestor before that, Abraxas Malfoy.
But the one upon whom Hermione's eyes fixed was the boy in-between Abraxas and a woman who had the pointed features of Sirius Black. This boy sat up very straight and had black hair, impeccably arranged, and dark, quiet eyes. He was impossibly handsome, with straight, serious eyebrows and an air of silent confidence.
Hermione observed the way the Slytherins were associating. Every so often, one of the other Slytherins would look at the boy with the dark hair, as if for approval. He himself didn't say much, but every movement seemed to revolve around him in a strange way. He only smiled once throughout the entire conversation, a smirk, really. His eyebrow quirked, and in that brief moment, he exuded dizzying charisma.
Mina peered over at Hermione, and then glanced at the Slytherins. An easy grin spread across her face. "Looking at the boy with the black hair, huh?" she asked Hermione.
Hermione blinked. "Not really. Who is he?"
But she already had an inkling.
"Tom Riddle," Mina said, with a sigh. "It's not quite fair, how gorgeous he is."
"No," Hermione agreed, memories flooding her mind of a snakelike man with paper-white skin, thin white lips saying, "Crucio," over, and over and over—
Hermione lifted a bite of potatoes to her mouth and managed to look away from Tom Riddle. "Not fair at all."