Author's Note: Many thanks to Rilla for her beta of this story. This was originally written for the hp_tarot fic fest on livejournal. The card I chose was the Nine of Swords: this card represents the pain that we generate from within. What tortures we put ourselves through when our fears and doubts overwhelm us.
It all belongs to J K Rowling – I'm making no money from this.
The first time she saw him after his death, he was energetic and young, dressed in ill-fitting Muggle clothes and gazing through a fence at two young girls playing in a park.
Hermione sat back from the table, staring down at the now-silent Pensieve. The images she had seen whirled through her mind. Who would have thought that Severus Snape had loved so much. A devotion like his for Lily Potter – Evans, she corrected herself – was something she'd only seen in fanciful books. Well, books that she'd once thought only fanciful.
She could feel Harry's eyes on her, but she didn't look up. Not yet. "I… I didn't know," she murmured.
"Yeah." At the tone in Harry's voice, she glanced up and watched him brush his hair back from his forehead in a gesture reminiscent of their Hogwarts days. The now-faded scar held her gaze until a few locks of hair flipped back down to obscure it once again. "None of us did. You always defended him-"
"Because I had to." She bit her lip. Harry wasn't the only one who still displayed habits from years back. Thinking back, thinking of the times she'd defended Professor Snape to her two closest friends, she sighed. It seemed so long ago, when she had just been a student, trying to make a name for herself in this new, strange world. Now, she was a hero in said world. It didn't feel real. "He was our teacher. I wasn't any better at clairvoyance than you and Ron, just better at behaving as a proper student."
"Whatever the reason, you were right about him." Harry stood and paced a bit around the room.
"Thanks for finally showing me, Harry. I know it couldn't have been easy."
He continued to pace. She watched him silently, waiting, until he finally stopped by the window. Leaning heavily on the window sill, he said, "I wish I'd known, when he was still alive. When I could still dosomething."
Those words, and the images from the Pensieve, echoed in her mind for months. The echoes grew deeper and longer, touching her psyche in places she never anticipated. What would have been different, if she'd known before?
She let none of this show to the outside world, instead conducting her days as she always had. She spent time with friends, continued to be an exemplary employee, continued to spend time with Ron. At night, however, in her dreams, her mind broke free to torture her with possibilities. One morning, after a particularly vivid set of dreams, she lay in her bed staring at the ceiling. What would it be like, to be the object of such intense desire? A desire of the soul, beyond that of body or self? She loved Ron, and knew that he loved her, but… was it enough?
The image of black eyes filled with snapping fire caused her breath to catch, and she closed her eyes. What would it be like, to be with someone other than Ron? To be with him? Would it be anything like the dreams that tormented her almost every night?
With a sigh, she let one hand hand drift across her body, teasing a breast before sliding down further. Her other hand stroked her stomach, caressed the tops of her thighs, pinched a nipple… her breathing deepened and her back arched as years of practice combined with the leftover ache from her dreams brought her to completion quickly.
Her body still tingling with aftershocks, she wondered if it was the sign of a deranged mind that the long, slender fingers she had pictured in place of her own belonged to a dead man rather than her fiancé.
Hermione didn't intend to talk about any of it, but when she was out with Hannah at the Leaky Cauldron, the subject somehow came up. Over glasses of wine, Hermione told Hannah about her dreams and the dark man that inhabited them – though she didn't identify the man, of course. Some things were beyond her ability to confess.
Hannah eyed her over the wineglass, tilting her head. "If you're not sure, Hermione, maybe you should… you know. Call off the wedding, or something. I know you're not planning it for another year or so, but-"
Choking out a laugh, Hermione shook her head. "No, no. I'm sure, I am. I mean, I'm sure as much as anyone is, right?"
"But what if you run into this man from your past – you keep dreaming about him. Maybe it's a sign."
"I won't run into him." Definitely not.
"You can't know that, Hermione! What if-"
Ever blunt, Hermione cut Hannah off. "He's dead."
She ran a finger along the rim of her glass, regarding the muted shine of light through the wine. "It just makes me wonder. What would it be like, having someone love you that much? To have that sort of single-minded intensity, all directed at you?"
Hannah looked a bit confused, and Hermione couldn't really blame her. Her friend took a small sip of wine and said, "Ron loves you."
Hermione let out a breath. "I know he does, but… how much, really?" What she wanted to ask was whether it was the kind of love that could withstand twenty years apart, but it would be useless. No one could answer such a question.
Hannah sat quietly for a time. Finally, she said, "What brought about all this, Hermione? I thought you two were happy."
"We are. We're best friends, as well as being in love."
"Then why all this doubt? These dreams… that's all they are. What are you afraid of?"
That stopped her short. She sat still, one finger gently tapping the side of her glass. Fear and doubt. Was that all it was? Or was it a desperate longing, from deep within her, something fundamental to her being that demanded more, now that she knew it was possible?
Hermione pushed her glass away and laughed a little bit. "Well, we'll see if Ron and I can withstand two months apart when I go to Australia."
"That's a test, isn't it?"
"It's a start," Hermione said, her thoughts already far away, wishing for something that she didn't have.
The next week, Hermione woke from another set of dreams. Shaking her head, she threw off the bedclothes in frustration and stood in the small guest room in her parents' house. The walls were a gentle green, a calming color, but she didn't feel calm.
She'd been with her parents in Australia for three days now, and it was wearing on her. While they had understood her motivations in wiping their memories during the war years ago, there was still a sort of tension hanging in the air between them. She understood it, just as she'd understood why they had decided to live in Australia after the war. The neighborhood she'd sent them to as Wendell and Monica Wilkins was lovely, and the weather even more so.
Today, she had a free day, at least. Her parents were visiting with some friends and didn't expect to be back until later the next day. She'd been invited along but had begged off – some of her vacation away from the Ministry should be spent resting, after all.
If she could.
Luckily, Ron hadn't seemed to notice anything off about her, which was at once a relief and a concern. Shouldn't he sense something, when she was in such internal turmoil? Her logic asserted itself and pushed the concern down ruthlessly. Of course he wouldn't notice, since she'd been taking such pains to be sure he didn'tnotice.
She sighed. One thing was certain – she had to get out of the house. Maybe wandering the shops would clear her mind. A plan in place, she left the room to get ready, hoping desperately that she could exhaust herself enough that she wouldn't dream that night.