June 11th, 2011
It started, like most things, with a bang.
This one sent Hermione skidding across the concrete, coming to a gasping stop mere inches away from the edge of a drop that would have had her splattered across Third Avenue. She felt something snap; through the explosion of pain she distantly diagnosed it as a broken collarbone. Still, she staggered to her feet, raising up her wand just in time to parry Harry's next attack. Her shield shook under the effort to sustain it: she wasn't a soldier, she was a scholar, she didn't belong here, she had sworn off war long ago, but...
...but, but there was Harry bringing up his wand once more, hurling not just his trademark Expelliarmus at her but also other spells of binding and control, everything from Petrifucus totalus to Imperius. She didn't know what was worst, that she was fighting her childhood friend or that he still thought they were friends enough that she was worth 'saving'.
Oh, spells and stones may break her bones, but the words that came out of his mouth...
"Can't you see, Hermione?" Harry asked, his voice with only the faintest hint of a pant to it. He stalked towards her, wand upraised. Above them the Chitauri stormed down from the heavens, the rift between their worlds black as a rotten wound against the blue of the New York summer sky. Here's to necessary evils. "I know you mean well, you always do, but—Hermione, please, please stop, I know it's hard to hear but you've picked the wrong side this time, we can't stop Ragnorak, nothing can, this isn't your fault... You're hurt, you need healing, you're hopelessly outmatched, surely even you can see that-"
Listen to yourself! she wanted to scream, but knew it wouldn't do an ounce of good. He wouldn't understand. He never did. This was hardly any different. So instead she gritted her teeth against the pain and clenched at the Elder Wand in her hand. Oh, she hadn't wanted that little trinket, anymore than she wanted any of this, but she'd be damned if she'd let Harry win this—damned to hells darker and deeper than he could ever imagine.
Not that she needed to imagine them anymore. She snapped out an Expelliarmus of her own between ragged breaths. "When have I—when have you ever cared about being outmatched when it's the right thing to do!"
Harry dodged, of course, an Auror in the full flower of his abilities. It was that sort of day. "Loki has lied to you, I understand that you're angry-"
"That's not the point!" she spat out, bracing herself for Harry's next blow—an eyewateringly strong freezing hex that had her diving to the ground again. She couldn't bite back the scream as the broken bone fragmented further within her chest with her hard landing.
When she looked up next, the world spinning around her, Harry looked pained. "But you do care about doing the right thing. Hermione, please, don't do this—we just want to help you—I'll keep you be safe, no one will be angry at you, I promise-"
He was advancing towards her, his palms upraised as if he was trying to calm a wild animal. She tasted blood in her mouth and she spat it out as she forced herself to her feet again, swaying with the effort of staying upright. Her heart ached. Harry's still-scruffy hair, utterly untamed even though he was a father in his mid thirties, ruffled in the wind. He was wearing jeans and a tshirt; if not for the splatter of blood on his glasses and the alien invasion whirling around their heads it could have been a friendly sparring match. She tasted smoke and fire in the air and remembered all the times they had once stood side by side against those that would seek to destroy their world.
Gods, she was tempted. Every part of her wanted to sink down to the ground again and give it all up. Harry cared for her, and there were others as well, she hadn't pushed away all her friends yet-
—but his eyes, wide and eager and so very sure of his ability to save her from herself, they were not the sparkling emerald green she had long loved in her friend.
They were a shade of too-bright blue, the color of the Tesseract that was tearing their world apart.
Hermione closed her eyes, trying to will herself to cast Fiendfyre, Avada kedavra, anything that could simply end this so she could get on with saving the world, but she found that she couldn't. Her throat was dry and the tears were spilling over in her eyes. Her hand refused to bring up her wand, her legs rocked dangerously beneath her.
She couldn't. Couldn't hurt him. Couldn't do a damn thing, not when Loki was standing on the other side of the skyscraper watching the exchange with his chin held high and a dagger-thin smile on his face, cutting her heart asunder.
Her breath caught. It was the happiest she had ever seen him, the full power of the last twelve years of plotting coming to a cruel cusp. Their eyes met and when she blinked he was in front of her, next to Harry as if he that had been the one standing at Loki's side all these years, as if it was—was-
Loki stepped in towards her. She scrabbled for the knife she kept at her waist but her hands were shaking too hard; the blade fell with a clatter to the ground. He stepped forward, pressing his hand against her broken bone and she mewled in pain, the world going bright white for a moment. "Hermione," he murmured, "Hermione, love, how very far you've fallen. It hurts to see you so."
Her eyes darted around. They were close to the edge; she could toss herself down. It'd be better than what he planned for her, anything would be than that hell. She still had quite a bit further to fall, and it was only an issue of whether it'd be with him or under her own power.
His long fingers came up to cradle her jaw, middle finger delicately tracing her earlobe. She shuddered. His eyes were hypnotizing, just as they always had been; she couldn't bring herself to look away even though she could feel the beginnings of a spell curl around her mind like a noose. "You've lost, my little lioness. The world is changing and it leaves you behind. Is this what you dreamed of as a little girl?" His smile sweetened and his fingers tightened, threatening to choke her. "Oh, do you not remember..."
Her face twisted; dizzy, she couldn't help but lean into his hand as she struggled for balance. How had it come to this? And, for a moment, she wished she could change it all.
A few notes, before we begin in earnest. :-)
As of 7/25/2012 I have a complete rough draft of Aphelion, so no worries about it not ever getting finished. ;-) I just... take a lot of time to edit things. Huge props to my infinitely patient beta reader, MakalaMea!
Every 100th reviewer will get a short story of their choice from me (within reason). It could be "missing moments" from this fic, sequels or prequels, or something from completely different fandoms. Your pick! I'm hoping to encourage reviewers as much as I am hoping to expand my own writing horizons with this. No, really. I was told to write fluff and I wrote fluff for the first time in my life. Check my profile for a current listing of fics I have finished/am working on; ones that take place either parallel to or between chapters of Aphelion will additionally be noted in the author's notes in the relevant chapters.
I do my best to respond to every review I get, particularly ones that include constructive criticism. I go back and edit/revise chapters pretty regularly based on feedback from y'all, so it doesn't just float away into the ether. ;-) It's helped me grow as an author tremendously, and has also made this particular story much better over time. For a complete changelog of edits that I have made, check out the Aphelion tag on my tumblr, DresdenBlue.
With that – off we go!