A/N - Hello lovely people. It's been too long. I'm busy working on the sequel to The Needs of the One (The Needs of the Many - original, huh?) and another Harmony story called Better Never than Late behind closed doors, but as they are both proving stubborn, I decided to write this little oneshot to try and motivate me to finish a scene I'm trying to write involving Malfoy Manor in BNTL. It is inspired by, of all things, an episode of Buffy called Normal Again.
As always, many thanks to my awesome beta, Katesmom2 who has gone above and beyond to wade through my many, many mistakes to make this readable for y'all.
Disclaimer - I own nothing. Harry Potter belongs to JK Rowling and Buffy the Vampire Slayer was created by Joss Whedon, whilst Diego Gutierrez wrote the episode on which this is based.
The Nature of Reality
Excruciating, insufferable pain, reverberated through every cell in Hermione Granger's body, her pleas for mercy growing in both volume and hysteria until finally the individual words were completely lost amidst a drawn out scream of terror. Her muscles convulsed as the pain reached its crescendo, her back arching involuntarily as even her anguished cries fell silent and she prayed for the end to come.
Moments later her wish was granted; she immediately wished it hadn't been - the after affects of the Cruciatus curse were almost as bad as the torture curse itself. Every fibre of her being felt like it was ablaze, yet, conversely, her teeth chattered as if she had been plunged into a bucket of ice water.
Unable to curl herself into the foetal position owing to the too near presence of her tormentor, who prowled over her prone form like a predator deciding where to strike, Hermione instead found herself staring at the manner in which the light, refracting from the crystal chandelier high overhead, played across the ceiling.
"Did that hurt my sweet?" The whispered voice of Bellatrix Lestrange made Hermione's skin crawl, but she forced herself to remain silent. She knew from first-hand experience that any response she might make would only anger the demented Death Eater further. "You don't want me to do that again, do you?" Her tone remained soft, her voice issuing forth like the weakest of spring zephyrs, which, if it were possible, made her sound even more deranged, and correspondingly, far more dangerous.
Hermione suppressed a shudder of fear commingled with revulsion as Bellatrix lowered herself so close her face that she could count everyone of the former azkaban's inmates rotten and yellowing teeth. "Tell me where you found the sword and this will all be over," she continued, punctuating her point by running one overgrown nail along Hermione's cheek.
Hermione shook her head, the motion dislodging a single tear which ran along her cheek bone, her refusal to speak resulting in an immediate and terrifying change in Bellatrix's demeanour.
"You filthy mudblood! CRUCIO!"
Despite herself, another scream of agony tore past Hermione's lips as the blinding pain returned.
"That sword was supposed to be locked in my vault at Gringott's. How did you and your little friends steal it?"
"P - please, I didn't - I didn't steal anything," sobbed Hermione. "Please. I don't know anything." Her protests trailed away as her vision began to grey, her awareness shrinking to just one small point fixed on the still dancing lights high over head.
"LIES!" bellowed Bellatrix.
Hermione felt her body twitch and writhe as Bellatrix increased the spells intensity, but it was almost as if it were happening to someone else, a detached part of her mind noted, the pain receding to a far corner of her mind as shadow engulfed her. Surrendering to the blessed relief of unconsciousness, Hermione's last awareness was that of Bellatrix's taunting laughter and the memory of the glittering light of the crystals dancing in her now closed eyes.
When awareness returned an indeterminate amount of time later, Hermione's first sensation was that of light. A bright, brilliant white light, which, even through her closed eyelids, was almost blinding in its intensity.
I've been moved, her rational mind reasoned, recalling that the room she had been held in at Malfoy Manor faced due north, precluding this level of natural light. For it was, she was certain, a natural light. She could feel the warmth of the sun's rays as they caressed her cheek.
Escape. The single thought floated to the surface of her consciousness and she tried to sit up, only to find her arms restrained - her body immobilised by thick leather straps wrapped securely around each of her extremities. I'm trapped.
It was then that she became cognisant of the soft mattress on which she lay, the strong smell of disinfectant, and the omnipresent drone of dozens of voices - albeit distant. Another room perhaps?
Whilst logical, Hermione felt a nagging resistance to accept that rational. None of this makes sense, she thought. Why do me the courtesy of providing me with a comfortable bed? Why bind me using such thoroughly muggle means? And why can I smell disinfectant? she wondered silently, her last question strangely proving to be the most unsettling; the pungent smell was not one she could ever recall experiencing in the magical world before and she feared what use the Death Eaters might find for it during her incarceration.
Forcing her eyes to part through sticking eyelashes, she squinted around the too bright room. This isn't Malfoy Manor, she realised as she took in the small room, its four white walls dancing with multi-coloured sunlight refracted through a crystal prism which hung on a short ribbon in the rooms only window. A tube from her left forearm led to a machine which beeped softly as it fed her a colourless liquid intravenously - presumably a medicine of some sort - whilst in the far corner sat a television set, it's screen dark and covered in dust. Understanding dawned. I'm in a muggle hospital. But why? she wondered.
Her questions would have to wait, as just them the rooms only door swung open, admitting a middle aged woman clutching a clipboard. She had a pleasant, round face and short, greying, tightly curled, hair.
"Hermione?" asked the woman in surprise - a doctor judging by her attire. "Can you hear me?" she asked, pressing the conjoined index and middle fingers of her left hand against Hermione's wrist, whilst her other hand manipulated a small torch which she flashed alternately in each eye.
A moment later, and apparently satisfied with her findings, she repeated her previous question.
Hermione opened her lips to reply in the affirmative but her mouth felt like it had been filled with cotton wool, her voice issuing forth as a barely audible rasp as if she hadn't spoken in aeons.
"Take it easy," counselled the doctor. "You're bound to feel a bit weak. Just nod if you can hear me." A warm smile blossomed on the older woman's features as Hermione did as she was instructed. "That's wonderful," she said. "You're doing really well.
"Here - " she added, filling a plastic cup with water from a small sink in the corner. " - drink this."
The doctor pressed a straw to Hermione's lips and she drank greedily, draining the cup in a matter of seconds as she revelled in the simple pleasure of the tepid liquid as it soothed her parched throat.
"Where am I?" Hermione wanted to know, gratified to hear her voice issue clearly, if still weak from disuse.
"Oak View hospital," replied the older woman. "You've...you've not been well."
Hermione felt her brow crease. Aside from her run in with Bellatrix Lestrange she was as healthy as a Hippogriff. "Where's Harry? Is he here? Did he escape too? I want to see him." All of this was said very fast and she tried to sit up again, her frown deepening as she remember the restraints. "Why am I restrained?"
The doctor pulled a small metal framed chair from beneath a simple desk and placed it next to the bed, depositing herself in it a moment later. "You'll have a lot of questions, I know," she began kindly. "But to take your last one first - " she reached up and unbuckled Hermione's wrist restraints as she spoke. "You were confined to bed for your own safety. Your condition meant that you would occasionally lash out at those attempting to care for you."
"My - my condition." Hermione's mind felt slow and sluggish as she repeated the doctors phrase, not even remembering to alter her inflection so that it became a question. Nevertheless, the female doctor seemed to understand and answered anyway.
"I'm afraid so. You see, Oak View is a psychiatric hospital, Hermione. You've been receiving treatment here since you were eleven years old."
"What? No. I've been attending Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry since I was eleven," Hermione protested, sitting up abruptly and fumbling with the straps which still bound her ankles. "This is a trick. It's some sort of hallucinogenic curse. Where's Harry? I need to find him. Bellatrix Lestrange has him locked in the cellar. She's going to turn him over to Voldemort!"
"Hermione, please. I need you to calm yourself," said the doctor. "I promise I will explain everything to you, but if you can't - " her words trailed away as two burly orderlies entered the room, presumably in response to some sort of silent alarm triggered by the doctor - the implied threat of their presence clear.
Through sheer force of will, Hermione slowed her breathing and returned to a reclined position on the bed. She didn't believe a word the doctor had told her so far, but as she was both wandless, and therefore defenceless right now, she knew it would be ineffective to attempt to do anything save follow the instructions she had been given. She would listen to what this woman - this doctor - had to say whilst she tried to figure out exactly where she was, and, more importantly, how to escape. "I'm sorry doctor. I'll - I'll try to be patient."
The doctor visibly relaxed and nodded towards the two men in an obvious dismissal, the two stepping out of the room to take up what Hermione could only describe as sentry positions either side of her still open door. "Thank you, Hermione. I promise you'll have your answers soon enough, but first I'd like you to answer one for me." Hermione gave a subtle bob of her head in lieu of a verbal response, accepting the doctor's proposal. "Do you know who I am?"
Hermione opened her mouth with the intention of replying in the negative, but, before the words could form on her lips, she closed them again as she took her first proper look at the woman seated before her. Hermione was certain she had never before lain eyes on this woman, yet there was ... something familiar about her.
Perhaps recognising Hermione's internal debate the doctor spoke again. "My name is Doctor Umbridge."
Hermione's gasped as she studied Doctor Umbridge more closely still. She was simultaneously both like and unlike the Dolores Umbridge she knew; her face still possessed a certain toad-like quality to it, and, judging by the pink blouse she wore under her coat, still had a fondness for that particular hue. However her eyes were more inviting – kinder somehow - than the sadistic former Headmistress had been.
"Ah," nodded Doctor Umbridge sagely, "I see you do remember me. Or at least one version of me. Let me explain; when you were first admitted to the hospital you were suffering from grandiose delusions brought on by schizophrenia. However, shortly after I took over your case two and a half years ago, your delusions became more persecutory in nature. You began relating stories of an odious woman, named Dolores Umbridge, who had been installed as a professor against the headmasters, and, by extension, your wishes.
"I had elected to follow a more...aggressive strategy in forcing you to confront the lie of the fantasy world you had created," she continued having paused to search for the right choice of word. "It is my belief that your subconscious chose to demonise my namesake in an attempt to avoid confronting that truth."
"No," Hermione found her voice and shook her head vehemently. "That's not true. Hogwarts is real. I studied magic there for six years."
"No," replied Doctor Umbridge equally forcefully. "Hogwarts is a fantasy. Think about it logically. Magic? Dark Lords? Dragons? None of these things are real, Hermione. You've been a full time resident here at Oak View for more than six years - in a near catatonic state for two."
"I can prove it," said Hermione in desperation. "If I could just have my wand, I can prove it to you."
"Ah yes, your wand," replied to older woman directing her gaze towards Hermione's bedside table.
Hermione followed the older woman's eyes, her own immediately falling upon the familiar shaft of the wand she had bought from Ollivander's seven years ago. Half expecting to be denied the magical tool, she made a swipe for the vinewood and dragon heartstring wand and snatched it from smooth surface of the table. However, as soon as her numb fingers closed around the shaft she knew that something was amiss. The wood felt too coarse, too light; the decorative carvings, instead of being an ornate representation of vines she had grown so familiar with, were child-like and incomplete. Most worryingly she didn't feel the surge of warmth she associated with holding the tool which allowed her to focus her magical energies.
"That used to be very important to you," continued Doctor Umbridge, breaking the silence into which Hermione had lapsed. "A few years ago you would become very agitated if we removed it from your room, so we let you keep it close. But now, even in your fantasy, you are willingly separating yourself from the symbol of the world your mind created for you."
"But that's only because Harry's wand broke when we escaped from Godric's Hollow," protested Hermione weakly. "He needed to borrow my wand to protect himself."
"In your fantasy, Hermione," replied Umbridge firmly, but not unkindly. "I believe your willingness to give up your wand highlights a subconscious desire to reject that world and rejoin ours."
Hermione shook her head disbelievingly, but, even to her, the gesture felt unconvincing, and she lapsed into silence, studying the pale hands wringing her lap.
"At first," continued the doctor, a tone of urgency present in her voice that had not been there before, "your fantasy world was just that, a wonderful, fantastical world into which you could escape. You had a close group of friends. You were the smartest and most talented witch of her age. You were the central figure in your story without whom, the hero - " she bobbed her conjoined index and middle fingers of both hands up and down. "would have surely fallen at the first hurdle. But more recently, even your delusion have turned sour: You are persecuted for your background, hunted for daring to oppose the new regime, and have even started to romanticise a relationship you once described to me as antagonist.
"Your willingness to hand over your wand, even for a moment, tells me that you are ready to rejoin the real world for good."
It was too much to take. She could close her eyes and see the multiple turrets of Hogwarts castle, the faces of her teachers and friends, the ministry, the room of requirement, the forbidden forest. It couldn't all be fake; the last seven years felt so real. But then, pointed out her inner voice, so does this - an observation she could not deny. "What do I have to do?" she asked in a quite voice.
Doctor Umbridge's warm smile returned. "That-a-girl, Hermione. What was the last thing you remember?"
Hermione's brow knit as she tried to recall something that, less than ten minutes ago, had seemed so real, so tangible, but now seemed like it had occurred more than a lifetime ago - the memory now faint and indistinct. At length she said, "I was being tortured for information by Bellatr - "
"Give her everything she wants," cut in Doctor Umbridge, a gleam in her pale eyes that Hermione could not quite place. "Give up the fight and there will be nothing holding you to that world any more.
"Go back now - one last time, and cut all ties with a world you've grown to hate."
Hermione nodded weakly, and, complying with the doctor's orders, closed her eyes.
When Hermione opened her eyes, no time appeared to have passed at all. She was back in the same oppressive, dimly lit room she recalled from before, the remnants of her earlier cries for mercy still echoing in the cavernous room.
The stench of halitosis assaulted Hermione's nose as Bellatrix's crazed face filled her vision once more. "I want to know what else you have stolen from my vault."
"I-I've never b-been in your vault," replied Hermione truthfully. "I didn't steal any-anything."
"I don't believe you."
With a speed of movement Hermione hadn't expected, Bellatrix flung herself to the side and pinned Hermione's right forearm to the ground, a searing pain lancing through her skin mere moments later. The volume of Hermione's screams elevated to new heights as she kick and flailed in a vain attempt to free herself.
It's not real.
It's not real.
Whether she truly believed the words she could not say - even with the benefit of hindsight - but the mantra-like phrase anchored her against the pain and her screams fell silent; a solitary tear trickling down her cheek her only outward response to the feeling of hot wetness, that could only be her own blood, seeping from whatever wound had been inflicted on her flesh.
I can't do this any more, she thought, and she closed her eyes on the world of pain and torment for what she felt sure would be the last time.
There was a knock at the door and Hermione looked up.
She was back in the white room. Back at Oak View. Although how she came to be sitting on the floor in a corner, her knees drawn up to her chest and held there by her arms, she could not say.
"Her parents are here, doctor," came the voice of one of the orderlies, his tone warmer than she might have expected.
"Thank you, Lucas," replied Doctor Umbridge, whom Hermione now saw was still seated in her plastic chair. "Send them in if you would."
"My parents are here?" asked Hermione, her voice faint and far away even to her own ears.
In lieu of an answer, two new, achingly familiar figures appeared in the doorway. Tears glistened in Hermione's eyes, blurring her vision, but still, she drank in the sight of them. "Mum? Dad?"
"Hermione!" said her mother thickly, covering the space between them in a handful of strides. She sank to her knees and pulled her daughter into an embrace, her body shuddering with tears of happiness. "My little girl," she sobbed into her daughters hair as Hermione sensed, rather than saw (blinded as she was by her mother's thick, bushy mane - not unlike her own) her father, weeping openly, join their family reunion.
Hermione too was crying. In her darkest moments during the hunt for the Horcruxes she had sometimes doubted whether she would ever see her parents again. Yet here they were - alive, well, their memories perfectly in tact. It was more than she had ever hoped possible.
After what felt like a lifetime, but conversely no time at all, they broke apart and Hermione's father helped her back into a sitting position on her bed whilst her mother took a seat in one of two chairs that, Hermione was certain, had not been there before. One of the orderlies must have brought them, she reasoned.
"How is she doing, doctor?" asked her mother, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue she had pulled out of her handbag as her husband deposited himself in a chair to her side.
"Very well, Mrs Puckle," replied Umbridge. "Hermione is responding well to the new medic - "
"Wait! Who? Who's Mrs Puckle? You're Margaret Granger," cut in Hermione.
Doctor Umbridge showed no irritation at being interrupted. "As you can see," she replied, taking control of the conversation and addressing her parents directly. "She is more lucid than at any point in the last two years, but she is still suffering from some...confusion.
"Your delusion took some time to stabilise," she continued, now speaking to Hermione. "Your character went through several iterations before your subconscious settled on the alter ego of Hermione Jean Granger, by which time your subconscious mind had pushed your parents out of your ever narrowing universe."Although," she added as an after thought, "you were quite content being addressed as Hermione Jane for a long while."
"We named you Hermione Jane after Grandma Puckle, sweetheart," put in her father. "Don't you remember?"
Hermione could only blink stupidly at her parents. If everything she she knew, or thought she knew - her friends; the world in which she lived; even her own name - weren't real, then who was she?
Evidently her sense of loss was visible on her face, for Doctor Umbridge spoke again. "We'll get it all back, Hermione. Don't you worry," she said soothingly. "We just need to close the door on that other chapter in your life for good."
"I'm never going back there," replied Hermione very quickly, making no effort to suppress a shudder of fear as her thoughts returned to the dark and empty room in which she had been held prisoner.
"But you have to, Hermione," said Umbridge firmly. "Only with complete closure can you ever hope to be truly whole again."
"It's too hard." Hermione's voice wavered as she spoke. "I can't do it...I'm sorry."
"Merlin, Hermione! Don't you want to get better?"
Hermione's gaze snapped up to meet her father's. "Of course I want to get ... " She stopped mid-sentence as her mind drew her attention to something she had initially overlooked. "Hang on," she said. "What did you say?"
Her father appeared momentarily taken aback by her question. "I said," he began after a beat, his right eyebrow arching towards the ceiling in a manner so reminiscent of a facial expression often seen gracing her own features. "Don't you want to get better?"
Hermione shook her head. She knew what she had heard. "You said Merlin, Dad."
Her father pinched the bridge of his nose, apparently unable to reply, her mother smoothly taking up the baton. "We've been dealing with this for a long time, Mimi," she said. "It's only natural we should pick up a few phrases."
Mimi. It was name she had only ever let her father call her - of this she was certain. It's this that isn't real, she realised silently. This is the false reality. It's a trick.
"I can't do this." Paraphrasing her earlier statement, she addressed the room aloud. "I'm sorry."
For a brief moment she held her worried parents gaze before allowing her own eyes to slip towards the dancing lights of the crystal in the window. There they took on a glassy and unfocused look about them as she let the world - a world of light and family slip into the ether, the words of Albus Dumbledore ringing in her ears: Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.
I'm back, thought Hermione as she became aware of the dull ache in her body, a ghost of smile playing across her lips. She had made her choice, and, as always, she had chosen Harry. She had come back for him, and he, she knew, would move heaven and earth to come for her.
Her enigmatic smile drew the attention of her tormentor. "You dare smirk at me?" she yelled, striking Hermione across the cheek with the back of her hand. "Fithly mudblood!"
But Hermione did not hear her words or feel the sting of her blow, the sounds of thundering footsteps reaching her ears a moment before a familiar voice cried out to disarm her attackers.
Harry had come for her, and she would always be there for him.
"Hermione? Hermione!" Her parents were by her side in an instant, her mother gripping her painfully by the shoulders, although Hermione felt nothing of her touch. "What's happening to her?"
"She's made her choice,"replied Doctor Umbridge, her disbelief evident in her tone as she repeated her earlier tests, now finding her patient exhibiting all the psychomotor symptoms of catatonic schizophrenia. "She's – she's gone."
Review on the way out if you fancy.
Till next time peeps.
ps - I know very little about mental illness (aside from what I've researched on t'internet) so feel free to let me know if I've made mistakes.