A/N: I got some reviews talking about how I killed off Harry and Ron, so I need to clarify: her parents were the two bodies strung up in the Great Hall, NOT Harry and Ron. Harry and Ron, as you'll see in this chapter, are alive and just fine. I mentioned it a few times at the end of the last chapter that it was her parents, so maybe we need to read a little more closely. I love you anyway though. Hence the super-duper quick update! AND I'm in the middle of finals so let that be a clue of how much I love you. And how I'm the worst procrastinator ever.
There's a place that exists beyond time, immeasurable and unshareable - a canyon at the edge where infinity gets to have a face, where memories are sown like seeds to grow roots, heavy roots, which could withstand time and human flaws and bad decisions and do so with grace. A place where loved ones lived on after the physical world turned on in their absence, not blinking once. A place too sacred for time.
It explained why she saw her parents again just after she had seen them strung up in the Great Hall, displayed as gruesome warnings to her and her peers, young people full of ideas and optimism about the future, trapped inside a dark room like blind cattle. She didn't know how, but she had lost her grip and slipped into the misty in-between of time and memory and life and death, and she had seen them again, alive and happy. She watched their eyes as if they would rot away in their sockets within seconds, transforming into gleaming beetles and worms. But this was it, the snow globe, the amberized moment in which her parents would stay exactly the way she wanted them to: young and perfect. In her memories, they would not fall victim to the life cycle or to the withers of old age.
When she saw them, they didn't say a word to her. All they did was just stand there and look alive and make her feel like they loved her, and it was enough.
There are a few thoughts that go through your head when you realize the people you thought would live forever, whose arms you'd always be able to run into, are gone. Like that the world was so incredibly unfair and cruel. And that no matter how long you lived, you would never get an explanation, or a reason, for catastrophes. But the one thought that stood loud and clear in her mind, the one that absolutely gutted her, was how she had wished she'd been able to tell them, one last time, how much she loved them.
She thought of all the words she had used up in her life (words like "parchment" and "library") and how few she'd ever used the one that was the most important. And she didn't know how she could have possibly known but she still should've, anyway. She was the brightest witch of her age. That was the point. She just should've fucking known.
She woke up to the stark whiteness of the hospital wing ceiling, her head throbbing and lips so dry she could taste their salty ridges against her tongue. She looked down at her body to see that the skirt of her dress had been ripped, its frayed remains limp against her legs, from what she guessed to be the panicked mob from the Great Hall. She remembered how the crowd had surged all at once, feet and limbs and frenzied bodies crashing into one another, screams bounding off the walls, blind panic electrifying the convoluted air.
At one point she had no longer been able to keep her balance and stumbled. She braced herself, knowing for a fact that she would likely be trampled on, her fear causing her knees to lock and preventing her from getting back up quickly enough – until she felt a strong hand grip her and pull her up by the elbow and then around her waist, his face shadowed but blurred, her head spinning. "Come on," he'd said to her, and he held her to him and pushed through, while she fought to keep conscious.
She'd said Harry's name even though she knew it wasn't Harry. She could smell him. She knew that smell. It traveled with her all the way back to her memories. In her mind there flashed an image of fat roses in bloom.
If he heard her above the terror, she didn't know. He didn't say anything more. It wasn't long after that, catching a glimpse of his serious and stricken face, when she finally slipped into unconsciousness.
When she looked around, she realized there were others in the beds beside hers, bruised and battered. She felt an unexplainable flush of shame, watching them, before she heard the furious clicking of heels and saw that Madam Pomfrey was heading her way. Her lips were pressed together in a line so fine they practically disappeared.
"Miss Blackwell," she said. Her eyes flickered over her in inspection. Hermione almost wanted to applaud her. She only saw a faint wash of pity in her eyes. "How do you feel?"
"I feel fine," she said. Her hoarse voice cracked and she grabbed the glass of water beside her, taking thirsty gulps. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. "Where is he?"
She didn't wait for her to respond. She was already throwing off her covers.
"Miss Blackwell, you're in shock. You're not fit to be getting out of bed yet – you need your rest—"
Her knees buckled and she reached out to hold onto the side table for support, accidentally sweeping the glass aside. It shattered on the floor. The faint rustles of movement ceased. She could hear the deafening silence of a watching audience.
"My parents are dead," she said. Somehow the words felt empty, foreign, and yet to sink in. "I'll rest when the Dark Lord is, too."
Her response was halfhearted. "I understand, but—"
"Poppy, let the girl go." She didn't have to turn her head to know that her Head of House had appeared behind her. Her voice sounded tired, not the stern tone she was used to in her classroom. "Albus asked for her."
Madam Pomfrey nodded, albeit hesitant. "Watch her."
"Undoubtedly," McGonagall said. Hermione straightened and followed after her, glad to be away from the watching eyes. She just half a step ahead of her, in easy reach in case something happened to her – but still, she was glad for the distance. She didn't want to see the look on her face. Already, she was tired of the pity.
"Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley wanted to apologize for not being there when you woke," she said. "They're both waiting for you in Albus' office."
"What about Draco?"
She said nothing for a long while. The rhythmic taps of her heels – still dressed for the party – punctuated the air between them, like the ticks of a clock. "Mr. Malfoy is fine. He's been detained," she said. "For questioning."
It occurred to her that she should not have been thinking about Draco. That she should have been thinking about her parents and have been too busy falling apart to think about how he had found her in that impossible crowd, how his unyielding grip around her had been so tight it was almost painful, helping her keep from passing out. And how, even now, she was replaying the scene in the corridor before everything had happened. You shouldn't be here. I wasn't sure before, but I'm sure of it now.
Things were adding up, but some things weren't.
One thing she knew for sure: her parents were dead. Thinking about them wasn't going to bring them back. She had to focus on the living. She had to, or she knew she might fall into a dark place she wasn't sure she could crawl back out of.
They said nothing else until they reached Dumbledore's office. There, she found Lupin and a few other members of the Order, looking serious and deep in discussion. They walked in right as Harry was in mid-speak.
"He drugged her. Madam Pomfrey said herself she'd been drugged!"
His face was flushed with anger. Ron, having seen them come in, pressed his hand on his shoulder. "Mate, she's here," he whispered, and Harry's head whipped around to her. She could see the tightness of his jaw and the wildness of his eyes.
"Hermione," he said. "How are you feeling?"
"I feel fine," she said.
"You should come and sit down."
"I'm fine standing." She felt a distance between them she wasn't sure how to read. She had seen Harry like this before – countless times, it seemed. But she hated the way the air changed in the room when she walked in, as if suddenly everybody was holding their breath, watching her carefully, waiting for her to fall apart. "I'm fine," she said again.
Harry knew what it felt like to lose people, perhaps more than anyone in the room. He couldn't even look at her for more than a few seconds.
"Who drugged me?" she asked, meeting eyes with the people in the room.
"Malfoy," Ron spat. "It wasn't just shock, Hermione. Madam Pomfrey said your symptoms were caused by a disorientation potion."
"It couldn't be. I hadn't even spoken to him all day."
"Whether you spoke to him that day or not, it still doesn't change the fact that he wants you dead. You said so yourself, Hermione," Harry said.
"I never said that," she said, her voice raising a little.
"Hermione, he was in charge of who came in and out," Lupin said calmly. "Had he been working with someone, with a mind like his, not to mention his resources, it would have been fairly easy to orchestrate it."
There was the smallest hint of underlying sadness to what he said, as if Remus hadn't wanted to believe it, either, but that the facts were undeniable.
"He was dragging you out when we found you, Hermione. You were gone by then, unconscious. He was taking you somewhere, away from the crowd, away from where we were supposed to be," Ron said. "Probably to the Death Eaters."
She shook her head. Her mouth felt fuzzy. "That still doesn't prove—"
"He did it, Hermione," Harry suddenly said, yelling at her, surprising them all. "Why can't you understand that? If you don't believe us, then go see him for yourself. He's already admitted to it."
A tense silence befell the room. She stared at Harry. She could count, on one hand, the number of times he's ever yelled at her like this before. Ron was looking away now, to his feet. As she stood there, she felt something hot and bile inching up her throat. In a room full of people who genuinely cared for her, she had never felt so alone.
Dumbledore had just started talking when she ran out of the office.
She was only able to make it to the hall before she doubled over and vomited. It went on for a few seconds, tears streaming down her face, sobbing to herself. Even when it was over, she held herself there, wishing it were that easy.
How did they get here? She asked it over and over. How did things come to be, how did tragedies happen when you least expected them? How did the people you loved change into people who wanted to hurt you? How did it all happen before her very eyes? And how could she not have stopped it?
When she wiped her eyes, Harry was there. He cleaned up her vomit from the floor with a spell. She shakily helped herself up. He didn't touch her.
"I'm sorry about your parents," he said to her, his voice still hard. "I shouldn't have yelled at you like that." He paused, his voice softening. "I should never ever yell at you like that."
He was angry with himself. She didn't say anything.
"I know you're still hung up on the Malfoy you grew up with, but he's not that person anymore, Hermione. People change. You know this. I know there's a possibility you might not be able to accept this until you hear it for yourself. But I want to prepare you for it." His voice got quiet, almost a whisper. "I wish this didn't have to happen to you."
She used to believe in good things. She believed in it more when she'd found out about her parents, and how they had adopted this abandoned little Muggleborn child and loved her like their own. She wanted to believe that good still existed, despite the claims of it long being dead.
She realized then what they pitied her so much for. For a girl so smart, she was so unworldly and naïve. She had yet to learn the hard lesson that goodness, in these troubled days, was a myth.
There was a time when she used to think she knew a lot about the world. That she thought she had come to a good balance between reality and illusion, when her childhood was waning away to the hazier and more confused times of adolescence. She thought she had grown wiser through her books and watching Draco battle his inner demons. She thought she could understand through simply observing and listening and asking the right questions.
It was mad, she thought now, just how young she was.
She gave herself some time to recuperate before she asked to see him. She thought she needed a clear idea of what she was going to say to him. So when no words seemed to align with her emotions, she asked to see him anyway.
They led her to a room cozier than the dungeon cell she had pictured him being held in. There was a couch and table with a pitcher of water and a tray of food. When she entered, she could feel the vibration of magic all around, holding him there, knowing without being sure that if he were to try to leave, he would find himself right where he started. Comfortable as it all looked, he was still a prisoner.
Snape was there when she came in. She wasn't surprised. He narrowed his eyes at her in the usual way, and in his low nasal voice greeted her, before leaving them to be alone.
Draco watched her, his face unreadable. His collar was crumpled, his tie missing, dress robes nowhere to be seen. He was perfect even when he wasn't. Already, she hated him.
He looked away, staring holes into nothing.
"Is it true?" she said. "Tell me."
He didn't. She walked over to him in two long strides and struck him across the face, the sound of contact cracking through the air. He didn't flinch. She felt tears starting to burn her eyes and silently cursed at herself for being so weak at the time she most needed to forget what weakness was.
"Answer me, Draco," she said through her teeth. "Tell me. Did you kill my parents?"
She needed to know if her disbelief was stupid. She needed to know if her lingering faith was madness.
Finally, he raised his eyes back at her. So dull and gray, like the sides of an old coin. "Does it matter if I didn't?"
Her lungs burned. Her hand itched to strike him again. When she spoke, she saw tiny bits of her saliva scatter into the air like doves. "You know it does, you bastard."
"Don't be so fucking naïve, Hermione. You think Potter ever asked me if I killed your parents? You think he asked how? You think he was open to anything other than what he already thought?"
"You admitted it. He told me you did."
"I admitted it," he said, "because he wasn't going to hear anything else."
She stared at him, trying to swallow down the thorn in her throat. He didn't move in his seat. For an infinite minute they just watched each other, and she tried her hardest to read him – to discern the truth from the lies; the tenderness from the cruelty. His face, all angles and sharp lines now; a skeletal bearing of the Draco she had met in the garden.
"I feel sorry for you. You're so much weaker than you'd ever feared you'd be," she whispered sadly.
Confusion flickered in his eyes before he glared at her, his mouth curling into a familiar scowl. She was just turning away, blinking away her tears, unsure of the agonized wheezing of her heart, when he called after her. The odd strain of desperation in his voice caught her attention.
"Do you think I killed them, Hermione?" he shouted at her. "Do you think I did this? Forget about your idiotic Gryffindor cronies. Do you think I murdered your parents?"
"I don't know. I don't know you anymore, remember?"
There was a beat of silence, heavy and throbbing. Her bitterness waved between them, like a flag. "I didn't kill them. I didn't know. Not like you think."
"But you knew something," she said, clenching her hands, frustrated with the contradictions he was giving her. "You told me, out in the hall—"
"I didn't kill them," he only said again, before he began to yell, his voice turning hoarse and frenzied. "I didn't fucking kill them! I didn't know! I didn't kill them!"
Suddenly, the door in front of her opened. Snape's black robes rippled into her view, and she felt a hand on her shoulder, yanking her away.
"I made a vow to your parents," she heard him say, behind her. "I promised them I'd keep you safe, no matter what."
And then the door slammed, shutting him away from her view.
Drop me a line! Did this chapter do anything for you? Is Draco a goodie or a baddie? Is Harry being a total douche? Let me know! Also, you know, flattery never gets old. Just FYI.