Wormwood

Summary: Five times Hermione faced the prospect of losing Harry. Movie-canon compliant.

Characters: Hermione, Harry and Ron.

Word Count: 2,800 words.

Rating: PG

Disclaimer: Co-written by falafel_musings and lenina20. But not really ours.


o1. Return from the Graveyard

Harry had come back that night clutching a dead boy.

Harry himself had survived – shocked, battered and traumatised—but still breathing. He had escaped with his life again. He was still the boy who lived, still shaking off murder attempts as he'd done since he was a baby. But Hermione couldn't help wondering how many more curses could Harry really endure? How long before he came back dead like Cedric?

The thought, unplanned, dizzied her. Her knees buckled. Ron grabbed her arm to steady her. Smiling faintly at him and nodding in thanks, she sat down, eyes back on Harry.

"He's going to be alright, isn't he?" said Ron, who might have learned once and for all not to envy Harry Potter for being the chosen one.

Ron sat down next to Hermione, clutching her hand, as they kept a vigil by Harry's hospital bed. Ron's words weren't really a question. He wanted Hermione to confirm something he needed to believe was true. Hermione was always right, wasn't she? Ron needed her to say Yes, of course, Harry is going to be okay. Yet this time she couldn't even bring herself to speak, so she just squeezed his hand in reply. She wanted Ron to believe for both of them now that her mind was clouding with doubts.

It was a new, foreign, terrifying feeling.

Harry could still be alright. He hadn't come back dead.

The teachers seemed certain that he would wake up from the sleeping potion with no permanent magical injuries. But as Hermione stroked her free hand over Harry's brow she could feel the heat emanating from his scar. Her friend had always been spell damaged. He still suffered from those phantom pains. She knew it'd be worse than ever with Voldermort back. And how long before the pain became too much?

How long before Harry became incurable?

Hermione shuddered. She wondered if one day she and Ron might be looking at Harry in a sickbed he would never get up from. Like Neville's parents. They were powerful magical minds too, weren't they? They were heroes. And yet, that hadn't stopped them from being broken beyond all healing. She knew that Neville still visited his mum and dad every holiday. He still sat by their beds and he stared into their tired tortured eyes, even though he knew they would never come back to him.

Hermione knew she wasn't as brave as Neville. Not yet. She wasn't ready to stare into Harry's eyes and find her friend gone.

Not yet. Not tonight. Not ever.

She needed to know that Harry would always come back.


o2. The Occlumency

When Hermione had been growing up, she had an uncle whose young wife had been diagnosed with cancer. For a little over three years, her aunt's sickness came and it went, her condition worsening then slowly regressing. The family always thought she'd fight it off. She was young and strong after all. But then one day the doctors gave her cancer a new name—terminal. She had slipped away in a matter of months.

Hermione's uncle had never remarried. He barely smiled when they saw him at family gatherings. It was like he had fallen away from the world with his wife; like he had followed her into that darkness. And he had only been a young man too...

If Harry's connection with Voldermort were cancer, at least the Muggles could take Harry into one of their surgeries and cut the tumour out of him. There would be hope. There might be no trace of it left behind and Harry could be restored to health. But how could they hope to remove this cancer —this infection of dark magic—from Harry's soul?

They didn't have chemotherapy. They only had Snape's occlumency.

If Harry learned closed down his mind, he wouldn't see it. That part inside. The darkness. Harry wouldn't have to see any of the Dark Lord's doings and more importantly the Dark Lord would not see through Harry. But as much as the Order and Hermione herself might try to protect Harry, to cure him...there was a reason why Snape's occlumency just wasn't working. Because Harry wantedto see, didn't he? Harry was a restless boy, picking at his scabs, making his wounds bigger...letting Voldermort bleed through.

"He's not really trying..." Hermione muttered to Ron as they sat by the fire in the Gryffindor common room, waiting for Harry to come back from another lesson with Snape. "He needs to learn this. He needs to shut Voldermort out and stop seeing those things..."

Ron shuffled on the couch. "If it hadn't been for Harry seeing dad getting attacked, he'd be dead now wouldn't he? Harry needed to see that, else we wouldn't have saved him."

Hermione didn't argue with him. Ron, Ginny and the twins were still shaken from that night and so grateful to Harry for looking into that darkness so they could save their father from it. Hermione loved Mr Weasley as dearly as her own dad, but she already knew it wasn't that easy. This wasn't just a cool new power that Harry could use to save them.

Harry had a dark tunnel growing in his mind. A secret passage to Voldermort's soul.

How were they ever going to save him from that?

Occlumency, Hermione thought, reassuring herself. It was the best defence that they knew. So Harry would have to learn it, even if she needed to nag him to concentrate. Harry would learn not to look into that darkness that was seeping into his mind.

Maybe then, he could teach Hermione to not see it, too.


o3. The Horcruxes

Ron thought they were going on a treasure hunt. Harry knew the task would be far more difficult than that. He knew treasures had nothing to do with it. But even though he was always ready to see his task through, no matter what, Harry had no mind for planning. So it fell upon Hermione's hands; the task of keeping note of the few fragmented clues they had to go on.

She did her best.

Dumbledore had told Harry the horcruxes would be objects of value. She hoped he was right because it scared her to think that a horcrux could really be anything. If a horcrux could be a ring or a locket then conceivably it could also be a watch or a cigarette case. If a horcrux could be a diary then Hermione imagined it could also be any one of the dusty tattered books lining the shelves of the Hogwarts library. According to her research, a horcrux could even be an animal, maybe a loyal pet that the dark wizard or witch always kept close to their side, like a familiar; the better to protect it from harm.

And if a horcrux could be an animal...could it also be a person?

She wanted to say no. She so desperately wanted to say no. But the logical side of her brain told her she couldn't discount the possibility. She found no reason to ignore that terrible, persistent thought. No reason at all—except it hurt. So bad.

The thought.

Yes, it could be a person. It could easily be a person. A person who was present at the scene of a murder. A baby could be hit with a piece of Voldermort's shattering soul like it was shrapnel. And that baby could grow up and still be carrying that splitter with them today. A human incubator for Voldernmort's life force. Another vessel for that poisonous soul.

Just like the diary. Just like the locket. Just like the ring.

If Harry was a horcrux then...

...then how could they possibly end this? How could Harry destroy all the horcruxes if he was one himself? Would Harry's death be the only way to cease all Voldermort's resurrections? Would it come to shooting Harry like a dog to save the world?

Hermione swallowed, old tattered pages running madly through her fingers, flying before her exhausted eyes. Around her, Grimmauld Place smelled like dust, and the embers of old, drained magic. Hermione didn't care. There had to be another way. She would find it. Some solution beyond destruction. There were always alternatives to annihilation, weren't there? Maybe the spell could be reversed; maybe the pieces of a soul could be removed from cursed objects (and people) like splinters from the flesh, or the sharp fragments of shattered glass after a dish breaks. There would be blood, but the wounds would heal in time.

What was the point of magic if a dark spell couldn't be undone by stronger, better forces?

Hermione would find a way.

She wanted them all to get through this. She wanted them to survive. She wanted to save the world, but, if it ever came to Harry or…

…she didn't know if she could live in a world that needed saving that way.


o4. Alone in the Wilderness

In the nights after Ron left, Hermione told herself she understood.

Harry was the chosen one, which meant he didn't really have a choice of his own. And as Ron had harshly reminded him, Harry had no family to worry about. Hermione had simply taken her family out of the equation, erasing herself so mum and dad wouldn't have to mourn her loss. It was the logical choice. It was easier to render her parents childless than have them fear for the life of their fugitive daughter. She never belonged in their world anyway; their Muggle world where everything seemed so simple, even if it lacked a sparkle of magic.

When Ron had still been with them he had clung to the radio. Every night he'd listen for news of his parents, his brothers, his sister...they haunted him like ghosts whispering through the static. No, not ghosts yet. Ron had needed to get back to them before the world ended. So he'd left Harry and Hermione like orphans in the wilderness. And however much it hurt she understood it and so did Harry. Because every night in their frail dreams of impossible happy endings, they wished for nothing more than to be allowed to go home to the Burrow for Christmas and to be a part of the Weasley family again.

So yes, she understood why Ron had left. It didn't stop her being furious with him. She felt like she'd never forgive Ron for leaving her without hope.

He had left them. He had left Harry.

Harry—who had taken her to a graveyard for Christmas.

There was no comfort to cling to anymore. When Ron had been with them she could still feel like a young girl. She could teach Ron how to play piano. He could show her how to skim pebbles on the lake. He could rant about all the favourite foods that he was missing. She could roll her eyes and laugh and say "Honestly Ronald." He could make her life simple again, in just a second, and for just a second. He could make her believe that life would go on after this terrible battle. As if life was only just beginning for them... and isn't like that how she should feel at seventeen years old?

Hermione's childhood had been consumed by books and spells and hard study. She had filled her head with learning and ambitious dreams of everything she could be in the future. She was a gifted young witch; the brightest of her generation some had said. Was it all for this? Should all her brilliance be snuffed out on this one hopeless mission?

She was still young. She didn't want to die. Alone in the woods, she and Harry were dancing to music that was too old for them. It felt wrong. It felt like they were dancing at a funeral for all their lost friends and they'd keep on dancing until death came to claim them too. And Hermione would dance with Harry. She'd made her choice to stay. For as long as she could, she would pretend they were still children. She would twirl and laugh if she had to. She would look into his eyes and she would try to believe that Voldermort wasn't staring back at her through his spyglass in Harry's soul.

But when the music faded, she couldn't hold onto her smile anymore.

The following morning she told him, "Don't ever let me give you a haircut again."

He only nodded, understanding. They would never dance again.

It was a mutual compromise. Hermione could follow Harry in this death march; she would follow him till the end—so long as he didn't ask her to smile.


o5. The Last Battle

Hermione really thought it was over.

She had kissed Ron and that kiss had tasted like a breath of clean air, even in the smoky ruins of the chamber. And when she kissed Ron she believed that she would see the dawn come and live beyond the war. Yes, she so desperately wanted to live. She was going to live. In Ron's arms, she had been sure. She had won.

They had won.

Harry had saved them—he had saved them long before he had marched on to face Voldermort alone, once and for all.

It was over.

The very last thing that Harry wanted was another friend to die for him.

It was over.

Yet Hermione didn't hesitate. She didn't even think about it. She had always known. Hermione always knew, didn't she? Harry looked at her as he spoke, not accusing even when he should have been, you knew too. She had known what Harry was long before she had the word, the knowledge about the kind of magic running through her best friend's veins, those dark deadly wormholes in his mind. She had known this moment would come, and she had known—she would never leave him. She wouldn't wait for Harry to come back dead, like Cedric had. They had come this far together.

"I'll go with you."

Harry didn't say 'no' to her. Harry knew better than that.

Harry simply hugged her goodbye, discarding words he didn't need to promise. He would never leave her either. He wouldn't leave any of them. Hermione let her tears fall on his shoulder. A little way behind her, she sensed that Ron was holding Harry's stare...without jealousy...only love, sorrow and admiration for his friend. That's how the boys said their goodbyes. Like they were grown men. Like they were warriors.

This wasn't goodbye though. She had to believe in that. They were still just kids and they could still trust in magic. A betterforce of magic.

They could win this yet.


o6. The Day After

They didn't find themselves alone until dusk had fallen. Around them, people were sleeping—those who still could—or huddled together in closed grounds, mourning together the deaths of a part of their family. In the silence that followed the battle, the realization hadn't felt unexpected, in spite of the victory.

Ron was with his mother, letting her hold him in her arms to make up for the many months he'd been away—to make up for the other son who she'd never hold again. Arthur and Ginny clutched George between them, trying to console him, knowing the loss was too much for the brotherless twin, or any of them to bear right now. Maybe in time they would heal. Maybe Hermione would stay with Ron and Harry with Ginny and they'd become part of that brave loyal family. Maybe they could finally go home together.

But for now, neither Hermione nor Harry felt they should intrude on their mourning. They weren't family yet. They were still orphans, Harry and her.

There weren't alone in the woods. They weren't stranded—not like that. Never like that again. It had been a crazy thought; crazier still to say it out loud. They could have stayed there, and grown old together.

Alone.

Staring with dull, sunken eyes at the ruins of their world, scattered around them, Harry grabbed her hand. Hermione rested her head on his shoulder, squeezing Harry's cold, bony fingers into her palm.

"I knew you weren't dead."

Harry breathed in, and his chest rattled, the sound making Hermione wince in pain.

"I know."

Hermione felt like nodding—she knew he knew— she was always right. But she couldn't move with her head nested in the crook of Harry's neck. She was glad she didn't have to explain, how she had felt it inside her. Harry was alive. How she had felt his life beating inside her even as she looked at his lifeless body, limp in Hagrid's arms like the dead body of a regular, thin, too thin boy.

She had known.

She held to that thought because she needed it.

What was the point of magic if there weren't stronger, better forces to connect two souls than a strike of green light that sends a body falling to the ground?

Ends