AU; post-book 7; Hermione, Minerva (Harry Potter)
The last battle was only the beginning.
I wish that I could just be brave
I must become a lion hearted girl
Ready for a fight
'Rabbit Heart' – Florence and the Machine
Se doesn't allow herself to feel as she swings the baseball bat, the 'crack' as it collides with Ron's skull sharp in the otherwise silent world. Ron staggers and turns toward her and Hermione catches a full whiff of his putrid, rotting breath. Hermione gags at the smell but doesn't falter as she swings the bat again, slamming it into Ron's temple. He falls first to his knees, then face-first onto the ground, legs twitching.
"I'll do it," Harry says, pushing her to the side. "You know that's not enough."
Hermione nods and doesn't look at him as she walks away. Tries not to hear the sound of a blade slicing through flesh as Harry gets to work.
It was the Ministry. Dark magic shouldn't be played with, McGonagall says, but they were still under Voldemort's control, and his loyal Death Eaters in high places thought that to continue the war, they could raise the dead. In a way, it makes an odd sort of sense. Who better to have onside than those who were already dead? Against whom 'avada kedavra' could not kill? But then it all twisted out of control. Inferi need an anchor, someone to control their thoughts and actions. But then Voldemort was defeated and there was no leader because he had named no successor.
The inferi went feral.
The newly-formed Ministry, led by Kingsley Shacklebolt, tried to keep them contained but they couldn't and the inferi spread and spread, feeding on flesh all over the world. The muggles were not spared and governments fell as citizens rebelled and formed their own vigilante armies.
When McGonagall first tells them, Hermione laughs.
"Inferi?" she says, still high on their post-battle victory. "You're joking, right?"
But McGonagall's eyes are serious, and she shakes her head.
"We're not joking," Mrs. Weasley says, looking sick.
Realisation hits her like a punch to the stomach and Hermione thinks she might be sick too. She looks at McGonagall. "How bad is it?"
"Bad," is all she says.
Tears form in her eyes and Ron rests a hand at her waist and pulls her close.
No one officially decides to form an army, but Hermione finds herself following Professor McGonagall down the gravel drive of Hogwarts. They've left most of the students behind at Hogwarts after reinforcing the charms and enchantments around the boundaries along with select Order members and teachers. The other woman's stride is long and Hermione hurries to keep pace.
"We will go to your parents," McGonagall interrupts, "but first, there are things we need to do."
Hermione nods and doesn't say a word as the Professor 'accio's' a fallen piece of rock and flicks her wand, the rock gleaming blue. As one, the group reach for the rock and the familiar tug at the navel sends them flying through the air, spinning so fast Hermione thinks she may be sick. They land heavily in an unfamiliar courtyard and follow McGonagall up the stairs.
"Where are we?" Hermione asks as the doors swing open.
"This is where my parents lived," McGonagall says, walking into the large foyer. "I haven't been here in … years."
There's a story there, Hermione thinks, watching as McGonagall runs her hands along the wooden banister, one that can wait until later.
(Later, Hermione thinks that was a foolish thought. Minerva McGonagall was never one to tell tales.)
Minerva was born to lead, Hermione thinks, as the other woman stands on a make-shift podium and looks at the ramshackle army she has gathered. Dark eyes survey the crowd, meeting hers for a brief moment, before moving on.
"This is a difficult time," Minerva says plainly. "And one that will take both endurance and bravery to overcome. Inferi cannot be killed with avada kedavra, they need to be dissected and burned. It is not a job for the faint-hearted and I urge those who feel they cannot do this to leave now."
She pauses and a few look at each other as if they would want nothing more than to walk through the open door. However, no one moves a muscle and Minerva's lip tilt upward in a satisfied smile.
"Thank you," she says, looking from one person to the next. "Thank you."
It's a different type of war entirely, Hermione thinks, as she watches Shacklebolt and McGonagall talking late one night. The two huddle over piles of parchment, covered in various scrawls, and look to argue one minute only to agree the next.
"What do you think their next move will be?" Ron breathes, wrapping his arms around her waist.
Hermione closes her eyes and lets herself relax into him, his body a boundary, keeping the bad out and the good in.
"I don't know," she responds and she can feel Ron smiling against her shoulder.
She grins too, remembering late-night study sessions and his whispered 'know-it-all' hissed across the ancient table.
She hears of her parents deaths, killed in their home. She wants to cry but even though her throat tightens to the point of being painful, all she manages is a whispered "I can't even go to their funerals, can I?"
Ron looks down at the ground, unsure what to do or say, and it's Minerva who answers.
"No, you can't."
Hermione's breath comes in short gasps and Minerva reaches out and takes one of her hands. Behind them, Ron shuffles out of the room and closes the door.
Minerva finds her the next day by the windowsill. Snow falls, coating the gardens in white, and Hermione thinks she might scream. She can't get out, her mind in circles.
"I wanted to go straight to them," she states flatly.
Minerva nods as she crosses the room to stand at her side. Her hand sits softly on her shoulder. "I know."
Hermione turns, Minerva's hand still resting on her shoulder and whispers, "part of me blames you."
Minerva takes her hand. "I know."
Hermione's breath hitches and she leans her head forward to rest against the other woman's shoulder. Minerva stiffens for a moment, but soon her fingers tangle in Hermione's hair as she whispers in her ear.
Hermione closes her eyes and inhales deep.
Casualties are a fact of any war, Hermione reminds herself as she pushes her hands against the man's chest. Stop being a fool, she thinks a second later as the man's eyes change colour and his arms reach up, nearly trapping her inside. She wriggles out and runs a few steps backward, withdrawing her wand.
"Sectum sempra!" she hisses, and the red light flashes across the man's neck, severing his head.
Adrenalin pulsing through her veins, she takes off down the street and finds it empty.
Time to head home
Ron is pacing when she apparates inside and rounds on her the moment she appears.
"Are you an idiot?!" he spits and she glares upward but says nothing. "Well, are you-?"
"That's enough," Minerva says and her words cut through the air like a knife, rendering him silent.
Hermione catches Minerva's eye over his shoulder. She remembers the curve of the other woman's shoulder, the sense of safety and the scent of jasmine.
When Ron kisses her later that night, his lips an unspoken apology, she feels frozen. Her hands rest against his chest for something like balance. His fingers dance along her spine, resting on the small of her back, pulling her in.
If they aren't touching, some argument always seems to arise. And when they touch, the apocalyptic world fades away.
Their habits continue. Mornings they bicker over the table, afternoons they argue over any triviality, and nights they combine so fiercely its difficult to determine the start and end of each body. She arches her back as he runs his tongue down her neck, whimpers as his hand skims over her hips that point to happy territories below.
They force the anger and the need onto their bodies, but never find relief.
Days bleed into nights, bleed into weeks, bleed into months and it feels as if they are going nowhere fast. Hermione wakes in the middle of the night and goes down the stairs toward the kitchen for a glass of water. She hears the sound of a chair scraping against stone and slows down before she peers around the corner. Minerva sits at the table and grimaces as she wraps a bandage around her arm. Hermione inhales sharply and Minerva's head snaps upward, her eyes narrowed.
Hermione steps inside and crosses the room in silence. She sits next to Minerva and silently takes hold of her arm to examine the wound. It's deep, the result of a curse, and she knows by sight that only time will heal.
"Who did this?" she asks softly.
Minerva shrugs one shoulder. "A former Death Eater with bad aim," she says drily, a tired smile at her lips.
"Where's Kingsley?" Hermione says a few moments later.
At this, Minerva ducks her head and stares at the floor. "He didn't make it," she breathes.
Hermione pulls her chair closer as Minerva buries her head in her hands. Her body shakes in silent sobs, as if she's afraid someone will overhear, but she doesn't protest when Hermione wraps her arms around her shoulders, eventually dropping them to her waist. Her forehead rests against Hermione's clavicle, bone against bone, so hard it's almost painful and she presses her lips against Minerva's neck, can feel her pulse beating beneath the skin.
"Hermione..." Minerva whispers, finally looking up.
They're at eye level and Hermione doesn't realise that Minerva's leaning forward until hesitant lips meet hers. Hermione doesn't pull away, she presses closer, impossibly close until she isn't sure if she's tasting Minerva or the folds of her soul. It's over quickly, and she left with the saltiness of tears on her lips and the sound of Minerva crying in the darkness.
Winter brushes over her skin, sending a shiver down her spine. Her eyes close as she remembers the blood and the pain of the war not long ago, the war she thought would be the end of this … madness. Instead, blood and corpses filled her days. She inhales sharply as her body threatens to give into the grief she can feel running through her veins. She's mourning the loss of innocence – the life which was snatched from her because of a madman with a god complex not once, but twice.
She hears Ron behind her and turns to find him at the doorway. He's just returned from a patrol and his jeans are covered in filth and there is a new bruise to his cheek.
"I won't be long," he says, shooting her a smile. "And then-"
"I think I would prefer to sleep alone," she interrupts.
There's a cold silence after her words, a finality that hangs in the air. Ron's eyes narrow as he looks at her and when he speaks, there is venom in his voice. "Sometimes, Hermione, I don't think you care about me anywhere near as much as I care for you."
He storms out of the room then, slamming the door behind him. Hermione flinches at the sound and folds her arms across her chest before turning back to the window.
Ron ignores her completely when she goes to dinner that night. Hermione flushes and stares down at her food, unsure what to do.
"Ignore him," Harry whispers into her ear. "Please."
She glances up and finds him looking at her with sympathetic eyes. She gives a faint smile, surprised that he was being so understanding. Usually, he took Ron's side of an argument in an instant.
She turns her head quickly and finds Minerva standing at her side, her hand inches away from her shoulder. The other woman looks tired, drawn out, her cheekbones pushing against her skin as if she hasn't eaten for weeks. Hermione follows her down the corridor and into a small room used for meetings.
"I wanted to apologise..." the other woman says, sounding, "for... well-"
Hermione takes a step forward and reaches out, her fingertips tracing the line of Minerva's jawline, down her neck, to rest at her collarbone.
"Don't," she says firmly.
She glances up, sees the slight flush on Minerva's cheeks, the tilt of her lips. Emboldened, Hermione unbuttons the other woman's muggle blouse. Despite herself, Hermione gasps as she glimpses the webbing of pink and white scars that marr Minerva's ivory skin.
"Sorry," she stutters as Minerva takes an embarrassed step back. "Sorry."
She's talking to thin air as Minerva leaves the room, re-buttoning her blouse with nimble fingers. Now alone, Hermione leans against the wall and slides to the floor, holding her head in her hands.
She tries to get Minerva's attention, to apologise, but all-at-once, the other witch is simply not there. Not at breakfast, not at lunch, nowhere to be seen.
"Where's McGonagall?" she asks the half-full dinner table.
Arthur Weasley shrugs his shoulders. "She said she was meeting an old friend," he answers. "Whatever that means."
Hermione nods and sits down at his right.
"Why?" he asks softly.
She shakes her head and reaches for the tray of baked potatoes. "No reason."
Hermione slips inside Minerva's chambers, to apologise, and finds them empty. She hesitates, unsure what to do next, and starts when the door opens.
"You shouldn't be here," Minerva says coolly.
Her eyes are hard and Hermione bows her head down, ashamed. Footsteps sound and she looks up as Minerva strides past her into the adjoining bathroom, not giving her a second glance. Irritation fades to anger and a second later she follows the other witch. Minerva stands before the vanity and catches Hermione's eye in the reflection.
She falters as Hermione's fingers circle her wrist and twists her around until they're inches apart. Hermione doesn't waste time as she unbuttons Minerva's blouse and presses her lips to her shoulder. Minerva exhales a shaky breath as Hermione moves her lips to her throat, can feel her pulse beating faster, can feel her breath against her skin.
She arches into her touch and her fingers come to her waist. The skin is rough beneath her fingertips, a mess of scar tissue and Minerva stiffens.
"No," Hermione breathes, taking a step forward so Minerva's legs hit the vanity and she can't move away. "Don't."
She dips her head down, replaces her fingers for her lips.
Later, they're quiet, just breathing. Minerva's hand is at her hip, her thumb tracing small circles against her skin. Hermione shifts suddenly and in one swift movement she rolls them both so Minerva is on her back, her arms splayed to the sides. For a second she's reminded of Ron, of the way he used to hold himself above her, pushing himself deeper and deeper. She remembers the way her toes used to curl into the sheets, how her breaths came in short gasps.
Dark eyes stare upward and Hermione is brought back into the present. She flexes her thighs and hears Minerva's sharp intake of breath. It makes her feel beautiful, powerful, and she revels in it. She's well aware that if Minerva put her mind to it, she would be flat on the ground in seconds, the breath knocked from her lungs. Instead, the other woman lets her head fall back, black hair tumbling down in waves.
Hermione wakes in the morning and the other side of the bed is empty. She sits up sharply and gathers the sheets to her chest as she gets to her feet.
"Minerva?" she whispers.
No one answers and she thinks perhaps it was all a dream. Then she catches a glance of herself in the mirror. Her hair is tussled, there is a mark on her neck and she flushes as she remembers Minerva's hands on her waist, pulling her closer and closer.
The breakfast table is empty save for Harry and Ron. The former smiles in greeting while the latter raises his eyebrow over his bowl of porridge.
"Were you on a night patrol?" he asks.
Hermione blinks. "Sorry?"
"You weren't in your bedroom," he continues.
"Oh," she stutters, grateful for the ready-supplied excuse, "yes, I went on a late patrol."
Ron rolls his eyes and looks back down at his breakfast as she takes a seat. Harry looks as if he wants to say something but she shakes her head a fraction to the left and he falls silent.
Later, she glimpses Minerva through the window and raises her hand in a brief wave. Minerva stares back and for a moment Hermione thinks she will be ignored. Then Minerva smiles and relief floods through Hermione's veins. Its so intense that she stumbles forward and has to hold the windowsill for support.
When she looks up again, Minerva has disappeared.
"I saw you last night," Harry says matter-of-factly as they walk down a muggle street.
Hermione stops and looks at him, her eyes wide. "What do you mean?" she asks finally.
He rolls his eyes and kicks a piece of broken brick down a drain. "Don't insult my intelligence, Hermione."
He turns away and she rushes after him, stops him in his tracks. "It's not what-"
Harry shakes his head as he reaches out and cups her cheek in his hand. "It's not my business," he says softly, "but you should know one thing."
Hermione waits, unsure what his next words will be.
"You haven't looked that happy in a long while."
He side-steps around her. This time she doesn't follow.
Minerva is absent for a week. It's not the longest time she's been away, but Hermione's mind lets only the darkest thoughts in and she sleeps in fits and starts.
"What is the matter?" Ron asks. He's been making more of an effort, giving her space, and Hermione wonders if he's genuinely concerned or if he's trying to get back into her bed. Almost immediately, she chastises herself for thinking him so callous.
"Oh, nothing," Hermione answers. "Just... you know, tired."
He nods, understanding, and gathers both of their plates up and puts them in the sink.
"Yeah, I know."
Hermione is passing the library when a hand wraps around her wrist and pulls her inside. The door shuts behind her and she looks at Minerva who is no more than two feet away. She's soaking wet, her hair falling from its usual bun and sticking to her neck. It makes her look more human.
"We've made a mistake," she says softly. "I should never have allowed myself to-"
She's been through this before, Hermione realises. She takes a step forward and puts a finger against her lips. Minerva pulls back sharply and tears mix with raindrops. Hermione thinks she looks almost broken.
"Please, don't," Minerva whispers. "Please."
She pushes past Hermione who stands in the library long afterward.
The war continues. Minerva leads them all from battle to battle and slowly, the inferi numbers begin to fall. Hermione watches, enthralled, as Minerva runs down a London street, her boots crunching against the broken glass, calling for them to follow.
Like always, they obey, and find themselves in an abandoned building close to platform nine-and-three-quarters.
"I've contacted Hogwarts. The train will be here tomorrow afternoon and will take you back to the school."
They all protest, their voices rising as one, and Minerva holds up her hand.
"The muggle leaders feel they have enough to worry about without the rest of the populace discovering there are witches and wizards among them. Given that a wizard is responsible for this awful mess, it's likely there would be grave repercussions for the wizarding world. The witch trials of past centuries would be nothing compared to what muggles could do now."
There's a cruel logic to her words and they reluctantly agree.
"And you, Professor?" Harry asks.
"I need to stay here to liaise for a week or two, then I will also return to Hogwarts."
When everyone has fallen asleep, Hermione rises and walks to the room at the end of the hall that has light streaming out from underneath the door. Inside, Minerva sits at a conjured chair and desk, going over paperwork by candlelight.
"You should sleep," Hermione says.
"As should you," the other woman retorts, not looking up.
Hermione crosses the room and pulls out the sheet of paper Minerva is writing on. A trail of ink marks the page and Minerva's eyes flash upward in anger. She opens her mouth to speak but Hermione's lips are against hers in an instant. She tries to pull away but Hermione reaches around to the back of her neck and keeps her close.
"I don't think-" Minerva breathes when they pause for breath, looking to the side.
Hermione leans forward and whispers in her ear. "Don't think."
They wake the next morning to the sound of a stunned 'oh heck', a streak of red hair, and a door slamming shut.
Ron leaves the safety of the building and she and Harry don't speak as they search the streets.
"Did he say anything?" she says finally.
"No," Harry responds. He looks as if he is going to say something more but his mouth goes slack in a terrified 'oh.' Hermione follows his line of sight and a second later she is sure her expression mirrors his. Hundreds of inferi lurch across the bitumen, too many for just the two of them, and she doesn't argue when Harry grabs her hand and pulls away.
They run as fast as they are able, down tiny streets, across wire fences, but the inferi nip at their heels until they stand at the edge of a canal. The filthy water surges past but Hermione doesn't falter as she dives into the murky depths. She's not sure if its because the water and air are similarly frigid, but she doesn't notice when she first hits the water. She's a stronger swimmer than Harry, courtesy of childhood swimming lessons and summers at the sea, and reaches the other side first. She clambers up the metal ladder and holds out her hand, pulling him up and to safety.
"Thanks," Harry says, spitting out dirty water.
The wind hits then and both shiver.
"Oh, no," Hermione breathes, looking over Harry's shoulder.
"More?" he says incredulously.
She shakes her head. "Just one."
Ron's hair is as bright as ever and tears run down Hermione's face as she wordlessly conjures a bat and walks towards him. Harry looks to be frozen in place and she doesn't ask him to follow as she swings the bat as hard as she can, sending Ron to the ground. She pauses, unable to utter 'sectum sempra.' Ron twitches but her wand hangs loosely at her side.
"I'll do it," Harry says after several seconds of silence. "You know that's not enough."
There's vomit down his front and his eyes are bloodshot but Harry doesn't hesitate as he begins to sever Ron's limbs from his body. Hermione doesn't look and simply walks away, running when the smell of burning flesh permeates the air. She can hear Harry calling her name but she runs faster, down the ruined streets until she's alone. The wind hits her wet skin and she shivers as she ducks into an enclosed porch and sits down hard.
"My fault," she whispers to herself, rocking back and forth. "My fault."
It's Minerva who finds her two days later. She's barely moved and doesn't flinch as the other woman sits down and takes her hand.
It's her voice that finally breaks through the shell she's laboriously built and sobs wrack through her body. Minerva reaches out and wraps her arms around her shoulders, presses her lips against her throat. Hermione's pulse is erratic and Minerva's eyes widen as they fully take in her appearance. She's covered in a thin film of filth and her clothes are damp, her lips tinged blue.
Minerva doesn't hesitate as she thinks 'McGonagall manor' and an instant later they appear in an empty bedroom. No one's been here in months, not since the war first started, and she flicks her wand lighting the fire in the corner. Hermione shivers and doesn't protest as Minerva begins to take off her clothing, lifting her arms like a little girl so Minerva can peel her wet shirt away from her skin. Minerva leads Hermione into the adjoining bathroom and turns on the shower, gently pushing Hermione inside.
She takes a bar of soap from a shelf and trails it over Hermione's bare skin. "It's my fault," Hermione says hoarsely as Minerva reaches her shoulder.
"No, it isn't."
"Yes, it is."
There's no arguing for the time being and Minerva stays silent as she flicks her wand and fills the bath in the corner with steaming water.
"We need to get your temperature up," she says, "the water will stay warm. Stay as long as you need."
She leaves the room then, closing the door gently behind her, and Hermione sinks into the water and closes her eyes, refusing to let her mind wander. To Ron, to Minerva, to the war that was now won.
Hermione wraps a towel around herself and goes into the bedroom. On the bed are a change of clothes and she puts them on quickly and goes downstairs. Minerva is in the kitchen, stirring a pot of soup and gestures at the table for Hermione to sit. There's bread on a plate, smothered in butter, and Hermione takes a bite, then several more, realising she hasn't eaten in days.
"Here," Minerva says, placing a bowl of soup in front of her, "eat this."
Hermione nods as the other witch sits opposite, then looks at the pile of mail to Minerva's left. There's a letter with a ministry seal and she raises an eyebrow and nods towards the open envelope.
"The government has reformed," Minerva explains, "in that is an invitation to a dinner where I believe Mr Potter, yourself, me and other members of the Order are to receive Order of Merlin's."
"Harry?" Hermione says, one eyebrow raised.
"Is it at Hogwarts," Minerva responds. "I've contacted him to tell him you are with me. He's going to write to you soon."
Hermione nods and looks down at her bowl. "He's angry at me," she whispers.
"At the moment," Minerva says, not seeing the point in lying.
Tears fall then, and once they begin, she is unable to stop. Minerva rounds the table in seconds and takes her hands, squeezing them tightly.
"It will get better, Hermione," she whispers.
Bloodshot eyes meet hers. "When?"
Minerva looks down, threads her fingers through Hermione's, but can't answer.
Author's notes: Hello, everyone. This is completely different to any other Harry Potter fanfiction I have ever written but I hope that you enjoyed it. Also, this is unbeta'd, so any mistakes are mine and mine alone. There will probably be one more chapter.