"First trip to Diagon, then?" The plump woman asks as the magical measuring tape flits around. She supposes it shows in her wide-eyes, and her parents' numb expressions - one can only be surprised so many times in the space of two hours.
"Yes, it's amazing," Hermione politely replied.
"Don't worry, dear, we'll get you fixed up." The woman began pulling out robes, skirts, button ups, ties, scarves, all in dull black, white, and grey. She must have seen Hermione eyeing them, because she replied "Don't worry, dear. They'll get a little color to them once you've been sorted. But I don't want to ruin it for you!"
"Now, we do have a large selection of wristbands. Usually people get two. One for decoration, and one for everyday coverage."
Hermione looked into the case and saw a few that caught her eye, but she knew she had no real use for frivolities. "No, thank you," she said quickly. "I'm not the jewelry type."
"Oh, silly me, of course no one has told you." The woman said quickly, blushing a little. "See, at some point while you are growing up, your magic will manifest itself physically. You will get a set of words on your wrist. These words will be specific to your soulmate, the one person your magic knows you are supposed to be with." She began laying out ones that Hermione might be interested in. "But they are intensely personal, these words. They can be almost anything - I've even heard of someone who had a date, time, and address. But since you will literally be wearing your heart on your sleeve, you have these to cover up. People don't always wear them with long sleeves, they get a little uncomfortable, but everyone will expect you to be wearing one if your wrists are otherwise bare."
Hermione was dumbfounded. Not only would she be expected to learn about something she had previously not believed in, at a disadvantage because she hadn't grown up with it like the others, but magic words would tell her who she was expected to be with? "Then...I will take these two." She said with more confidence than she felt.
The words aren't very exiting to her for the next two years. Lavender and Parvati giggle about them sometimes, wondering what theirs will be, but she doesn't focus on them and the boys practically never mention it. She carries the cloth wristband in her pocket at all times, but she never worries because she is not the kind to roll up the sleeves on her uniform. But they come into her life in her third year, and she will never forget the circumstances. Harry received a broom, the best broom, anonymously, and she was worried. She'd already had to watch him fall off his broom once, and she refuses to do so again. As Professor McGonagall leaves the room and the boys turn on her, as she defends herself (and she will cherish for years that technically, she was right, Sirius HAD been the one to send the broom), her wrist begins to itch. She is too busy with the accusations and the tears and the angry huff of both boys turning their backs on her to worry about the burning sensation. But as soon as she gets to her bed and pulls the curtains, she looks, and there, written in blood red, are two words.
She doesn't have free time, what with classes and Buckbeak, but she makes this a priority to the best of her ability. Eventually, she asks Madam Pince for a book on "The Hallows." The woman laughs (she will, every once in a while, but only when Hermione can see her), asks if her dorm mates have been telling tales, and writes down the call number for a book called "The Tales of Beedle the Bard."
She cries all the time, now. It's as if it's her first year all over again - no friends, overwhelmed, and depressed. In this case, it's worse, because she had friends, actual friends, and had lost them. She was overwhelmed because she was in too deep, and there was no adjustment period, as far as she could tell, no way she was going to just hit her stride and settle in. And she is depressed. It's the friends, and the work, but it's also the words. She got her words (before Lavender or Parvati, as far as she can tell), but she wishes she hadn't. Because her words are associated with death and sadness. It is at this point when she begins to realize that surely not everyone in the Wizarding World has a happy ending, and it looks as if she had been selected to be one of those people.
When she is again in the Hospital Wing, and she has watched Harry almost die again tonight (multiple times), she stops trying to connect them to Harry. He has enough death in his life without her trying to push her words on him. Even though it will break her heart, she hopes desperately that they aren't for him, that this will be one less ill omen he has to deal with. She looks over to watch him sleep, and her feelings haven't lessened, but she forcibly stills her heart and begins the process toward guarding it.
She goes home for the holidays and doesn't tell her mother that she had nearly been killed by a servant of the Dark Lord, a werewolf, and dementors all in one go. She does have to tell her about the words - they'll have to be covered up. She's only fourteen, she can't be sporting what looks like a tattoo all summer. The conversation is brought up easily. "Hermione, I've noticed you're still wearing the wristband. You need a new one this year, for sure, it's getting ragged looking."
"Yes, mum, I'm still wearing it," she said delicately, trying to decide whether she should go for the truth or say that the wizarding idea of the wrist being obscene had been so instilled in her that she just couldn't bear to be with out it. "I-er-I got my words this year." Truth, it was.
"Oh, Hermione, that's wonderful! Well, go on. Let's see."
She pulls off the band and shows her mother the two words which had haunted her for months, in a really very gorgeous shade of red and that universal looping cursive in which all magical quills seem to write. "Oh, love, it's gorgeous. Have you figured it out, yet?"
The truth, but not the full truth. "No, mum. Anyway, it's specific to the other person. I might not know at all until they bring it up. There are stories of people not finding out for years until someone else says it casually in conversation or something."
"Well, I'm sure you'll figure it out. You're so clever." Her mom runs her fingers through her hair and laughs. Hermione wishes she could laugh about it.
When she is in 4th year, the others around her begin to get their marks. Lavender and Parvati squeal and giggle on two separate occasions in the early part of the year. She doesn't take part in the sharing of words - even though some of the other girls crowd around and take turns showing off what they've had written. No one ever asked her to participate, and she never volunteered.
It is around this time when she sees someone else's up close for the first time. She is in the common room, trying to find a way for Harry to stay under water for a prolonged period of time, a stack of books cutting her off from the rest of the world.
"Er, knock knock?" She hears Seamus say from the other side.
"Yes?" She replies, surprised. They weren't unfriendly, but she couldn't remember the last time someone outside the boys had sought her out without an incomplete essay in hand.
"Well, I just - can I ask you a question?"
"Of course, Seamus. Go ahead." This makes her comfortable again. She is used to being quizzed.
"Well, it's personal."
"Not personal about you. Personal about me." He looked away, cheeks flaming even though they were no where near the fire.
"Seamus, I know I don't come off as - well, I'm not known as the most fuzzy of people." She wasn't sure how to say this without sounding like a silly girl. "But I'd never, ever tell. As long as no one is in immediate danger, your secret is safe with me, and I'm always up for a chat." It's sad, she thinks, that she is only 15 but she has to remember to make room for the possibility of immediate danger.
"Would you mind if I showed you my mark? I know it's personal-"
"Oh, no, go ahead. I've never seen anyone else's before, I think it would be very interesting-" He cuts her a look, and she manages to look a little embarrassed. "I mean, I'm sure we can figure out the story behind your words."
"Well, it's not words so much as - well -" Seamus looked around carefully, then perched on the chair across from her and rolled up his sleeve.
On his wrist was a small circle, containing hexagons and pentagons, lined up in a familiar pattern. "Oh! Seamus! I know what that is!" She said, perhaps a little too loudly, and he jerked his sleeve back down. They both looked around, but no one bothered to pop around the wall of books.
"So, what's the verdict?" He asked nervously, flattening his hair.
"Oh, it's quite simple. It's a football. It's used in a muggle sport, actually," she started rambling, "very popular. In fact if you wanted to know more about it, you could probably ask Dean, he's-" she stopped, eyes widening and breath catching, "-crazy about it."
"Well." He said, not looking her in the eye. "This is has been fun, but I think I'm just going to flee now." He began to get up from the chair across from her, and she grabbed his arm. His left arm. His left wrist.
"Seamus, don't," she said quickly. "Don't do this. It's alright, you know. It's fine."
"What, that I'm apparently going to fall in love with my best friend?"
She looked him in the eye. "It's all fine."
He collapsed back into the chair, and buried his face in his hands. "Oh, Merlin, I hadn't even come to terms with the fact that I like other blokes, much less this one. He's my best friend. What am I going to do, now?" He asked.
"I don't know," Hermione replied. "I'm sitting this whole thing out."
"What, entirely? Not going to try to figure out your words?"
"Yes, well," She said, suddenly prim and proper. But, it only seemed fair. He hadn't asked for reciprocity, but it only seemed fair. "Mine aren't exactly nice."
"Would you - well, do you want to see?"
"Of course, Hermione."
She unbuttoned her sleeve slowly, and only had to push it up the shortest bit before they were revealed.
"Oh, my God." He looked a little panicked. "You know what those are?"
"Of course." After she buttoned up her sleeve and let her robe fall back into place, she explained "I looked it up. Just a fairy tale, nothing more."
"Not this one, Hermione. This one is death and destruction. Folly and - and hubris."
"You think I don't know?" Her eyes flashed.
"Hey, calm down. You know my big secret. I'm not going to be mean to you about it. It's just - well, it's sad, isn't it? I mean, I always figured eventually Harry would wise up and-"
"Don't take this the wrong way, Seamus, but I want nothing more than for Harry to have nothing to do with my words, all things considered."
"I know. But you guys could have been something, you know?"
"I know. But I'm not the only person to ever have unhappy words." She raised her chin, and continued doing what she had been doing. Ignoring it.
"Well, I'm sorry."
Around the side of the books, Hermione saw Dean Thomas's head. "Oi, Seamus, there you are! Come on, I'm about to show some of the lads how to play football! You're going to love it! Meet us on the pitch!"
They both went instantly red, and Hermione whispered, "He went off again. Good thing, too, give you a bit of time to get your composure."
They laughed like loons for a moment after that, and he stood up. "Thanks for this, Hermione. You're the best."
The second time she sees someone else's words, she thinks she's not the only one who has seen. She is looking up while she stirs her potion, counting to thirty clockwise turns while staring at nothing. Snape, across the room, reaches for something on one of the upper shelves, and she is sure she wouldn't have seen it if it hadn't been so bold and dark, but there, peeking out of his sleeve, is one word written in deep red. Her eyes widen, and she stops stirring.
"Hermione, what are you doing? I don't care how tired your arms are, you can't stop stirring!" Ron hissed next to her. She quickly continued stirring, and kept a close eye on the potion. It wasn't up to her standards after that, but it looked nothing as bad as Harry and Neville's awkward vomit green concoction.
As they fled the dungeon ("Today might have been record points taken, I wonder what crawled up his a-" "Ron!"), she said hurriedly "I can't believe Snape even has words, much less-"
"What?!" Ron burst. "You saw Snape's words?"
"You didn't?" She questioned. Surely she wasn't the only one who had been looking up at the right time.
"What did they say?" Harry questioned.
"I-I wasn't able to work out what they said. He was all the way across the classroom, after all."
She felt a little bad about lying to them, but she hadn't heard of anyone else having red words before, and she didn't want to have to give up the secret. As she laid in bed that night, tossing and turning over the thought, it finally comes to her like a bolt of lightning. Evans, his wrist had said. LILY Evans.
She doesn't think about her idea that the red linking their words might have a deeper meaning, a terrible meaning. After hearing Sirius's stories about their rivalry with Snape and the way he acted, she thinks she sees below that something of a boy who has lost. Someone else who's words didn't lead them to a happy ending. But she shuts that off. She's a prefect now, and the school is being overtaken by that horrid woman and Harry, of course, has his crisis of the year, and she doesn't, can't think about the possibility that the red in hers means an ending as horribly unhappy as Snape's.
Her theory is confirmed for her rather abruptly. After the latest escapade, she lays in the Hospital Wing, and Professor McGonagall, still in her pajamas and dressing gown, sits next to her bed and explains to her the nature of the curse, that she will always deal with side effects, lingering pain, but it shouldn't be too terrible. She cries a little, because she's only 16, and she will have this pain on her chest forever, and even Hermione Granger is allowed to have a quick cry before moving on. McGonagall goes to brush some of her hair back, letting Hermione see how sorry she is that the girl had to be mixed up in all of this, and a flicker of red catches her eye. McGonagall follows her eyes, and immediately takes on her no-nonsense attitude. "I'm sorry, Hermione, that was terribly impolite of me." She swiftly yanks her sleeve back down.
"Lemon drops." She breathed. "I know who-"
"Don't." McGonagall insisted. "It's nothing like what you are thinking."
And suddenly, Hermione's eyes fill with tears again. "I think it is, Professor. You see, mine is red, too." She pulls back the stretchy fabric band around her own wrist.
"No. Not you." McGonagall refuses to look for a moment, but when she finally does, she looks alarmed. "Not you."
"It's alright, Professor. I've had it worked out since 3rd year. I'm used to it."
The bed shifts beside her. McGonagall had sat next to her, hip to hip, and quite uncharacteristically put her arm around her. Hermione hadn't felt the comfort of her mother's embrace for so long that she fell into the hug quite easily.
McGonagall just kept whispering about how sorry she was.
In their 6th year, people seem to be pairing off left and right. She thought maybe she had a chance with Ron, but that is blown by Lavender Brown (who tells Parvati when she thinks Hermione is asleep that she knows her words have nothing to do with him, but she doesn't want to wait to have a bit of fun). After the holidays, Seamus runs up to her as she is walking across the common room and kisses her cheek with a huge, wet, smacking sound. They had kept up and Seamus was affectionate, but never that much. His whisper in her ear as he hugged her tight enough to crack her ribs of "His was for me," was enough to make her smile and pat his hair. As he let go and headed for the portrait hole, Dean walked by and clapped her shoulder, smiling, and followed him out.
"What was all that, then?" Ron asked, glaring at Seamus's back.
"Never you mind," was all she would say, even though Harry was looking at her like she'd grown a second head.
The worst was when Ginny and Harry got together for everyone to see. She is glad, in a terribly bitter way, because if Harry's words aren't for her, maybe hers aren't for him. It takes only one glance over breakfast at Professor Snape, face as unhappy as ever, for her to write this theory off. She must remain cautious.
When they are given the book, Hermione almost cries. McGonagall shoots her a look - they both think that Dumbledore is trying to tell her something. Something she has known all along, and is terrified to find out. Ron looks at her, alarmed, and Harry looks out the window as he has taken to recently. On their way out, McGonagall lays her hand on Hermione's shoulder, and the unasked question is there. She nods, smiles shakily, and continues out. She knows the answer.
The Hallows are Harry.
She reads the tale over and over. It is not as important as discovering the Horcruxes, but she thinks there must be something. After all, surely Dumbledore wouldn't have sent it to her just to taunt her from beyond the grave. She knows it is a warning, yes, but she can't seem to figure out how.
Harry is missing Ginny, she is sure, because he has taken to moping around, and doesn't even bother to cover his wrist. "Devotion" is written there, in the same looping script as hers, but his is black and speaks of lovely things. Every time she sees it, she gets a little more upset. Who had ever been more devoted to Harry than her? How could that word be for Ginny, who hadn't come along, who hadn't given up everything to live in the middle of nowhere wearing a horcrux around her neck? She tries to stop the horrid thoughts, but with the locket weighing at her throat, it is sometimes all she can think.
She makes sure to keep her wrist covered at all times. She can't have either of them discover that this mysterious thing they're all so confused about is written on her body.
One night, after they have left Shell Cottage, Ron confronts her outside the tent. "Don't worry, Harry's asleep so deep, a stampede of hippogriffs wouldn't wake him." This is the first thing he says, and she worries what it means that Ron wouldn't want Harry to hear what he's about to say. "I know. About your words. About what they say."
"You what?" She asks, deadly. She knows she hadn't shown Ron. She would have never shown Ron. She would have fought the Imperious if it meant the difference between showing Ron and not.
"I-well, I peeked. When we were all in the Hospital Wing. 5th year."
"5th year?" She screeches, only remembering afterward to keep her voice down. "You've known all this time? Ron, that is such a huge invasion of privacy, I can't even-"
"Look, I had a reason. And I've got something I want to say about it, and I'm just worried that I won't get another shot."
"We don't talk like that, Ron, you know that."
"I know. But look, humor me." She can only glare at him. "I thought they might be for me. At the time, I thought mine were for you."
"That doesn't excuse anything, you selfi-"
He pulls of his band and shows her. "Lionheart. I thought it meant you, from the day I got it. Everyone thought you'd be more suited in Ravenclaw, but I knew better. We charged into danger right behind Harry time and again, and I knew that you were just as deserving of being a Gryffindor as the bravest of us."
"Ron, that's - well, that's very sweet."
"So when I got the chance to see yours, to see if they matched, I just took it. I'd like to remind you that some giant brains had just fed on me, and Merlin only knows what kind of potions Pomfrey had given me. But I went to look at yours. And I want you to know that the only thing I thought of when I saw yours was sheer panic."
"Wow, thank you, Ron, that is absolutely lovely of you."
He waved his hands in surrender. "That's not how I meant it, and you know it. Besides, you know what they mean."
"I know. I've had this long to get used to them."
"Well, I was terrified they were for me. I'd never seen a red one before, and I thought it might be something bad, when coupled with what they mean. So I freaked out. That's why I was so awful to you last year. I'm sorry."
She laughed a little. They had been in a right state. "It's alright, Ron. I wasn't great to you last year, either."
He lets her almost-apology pass without comment. "But, something happened recently. Someone made me realize that my words aren't for you, after all."
"What happened?" She found that she wasn't even angry anymore. Not much sense holding a grudge over something that had happened almost two years ago.
"When we were at Shell Cottage. I was talking to Luna about how brave she had been, to be in there with that awful woman for so long. And you know what she said to me? 'Gryffindors aren't the only people with lion hearts.' I almost died. I think I played it off, maybe, and she went inside soon after that. But, Hermione. It's Luna. I can feel it."
Hermione smiled, and ruffled his hair. "Well, thank goodness. That poor girl has had such a crush on you forever."
"Really, you think so?" he asked, and they giggled, letting the war pass from their minds for a few fleeting moments.
They stand outside of the castle, watching as Voldemort approaches. Her wrist has been burning for quite some time, and she assumes she's been cut. But she's been cut many other places, so she doesn't quite worry about it. As she asks who Hagrid is carrying, she already knows, the burning turning into an unbearable agony. She peeked underneath the band, and the words were a dark, dark red, turning further toward black with every second. She doesn't really have time to think about it, because Neville is talking, reminding everyone that Harry is still with us, and then Harry jumps up and there are explosions and there's no time, but Hermione understands suddenly. The cloak, the wand, the stone. They hadn't meant death, after all.
They meant life.
Hermione was finished packing her things, ready to get a flight into Australia as soon as she could leave. But she couldn't, not yet, because Harry hadn't woken up yet. Not long into the aftermath, he had collapsed. Magical exhaustion, Pomfrey says, nothing to worry about. But Hermione is worried, and Hermione can't leave until she knows.
The door to the small, private room at St. Mungo's opens, and Luna comes in, almost hesitantly. "Come on in, Luna. Pull up a chair."
She does so, still looking at Hermione as if she isn't quite sure what to say. When she does, she seems as if she has taken the most confusing path to the topic. "The words are...not always concrete. The magic inside us can see into the future, somewhat. Divination. But, as I'm sure you know, divination is...an imprecise branch of magic." Hermione snorts aloud, but says nothing. "Sometimes the words are concrete. But that is rare. More often, the words are subjective. They can apply to several situations or people. Ron's for example, are subjective. They are not exact directions, but something he feels."
"Luna, if you're feeling guilty-"
"It's of course entirely possible to love more than one person. The words are a guide, but they don't dictate our feelings for us. If someone were to bind up their wrist at 11 and never look at their words, they would still find a love just as true as the rest of us. We just choose only those who fit our words, because we understand that our magic understands more than we could ever hope to understand. Do you understand?"
"Ron loved you. He did."
"Look, Luna, if you're looking for absolution, you can have it. I've always known that my words weren't for Ron. I love Ron, surely, but not like you do. And I would never want to stand in your way. If you're meant to be, then you're meant to be."
"If I didn't know mine, I would probably think that his were for you." Luna began to unbutton her sleeve. "After all, I just said them in conversation, but you ARE the lion heart." Then she showed her wrist to Hermione, who gasped. "But, I've never had to doubt mine."
"Ronald Billius Weasley. You've had his name this whole time."
"That's why I can be sure. Why I can let him be sure. I'm so sorry, Hermione. I'm sure there will be someone for you."
Hermione laughed and shook her head. "There never will, Luna." She unclipped the pretty silver decorative cuff bracelet that her mother had gotten for her, to reveal her own words.
"It's alright. All you can do for me is be happy."
She gets two angry letters. How could she just take off like that? Doesn't she know that they would have gone with her? But she enjoys the fact that it's winter again out of nowhere (winter had always been her favorite), and helps her parents pack up their things (after tears and anger and, after all this time, the entire truth). The cold helps heal her, helps remind her that she is not defined by the lives she took and the things she did. Her mother privately mentions the words to her, remembered them from her tale of what she had actually been up to for the last 7 years of her life, and asks what that meant for her and Harry. She replies with a sad smile, and says that his words are for someone else. That night they stay up and finish a whole quart of ice cream between the two of them, and Hermione feels like she is healing.
It is toward the end of the summer when they finally get everything set up again. She gets an owl from Harry, and she tells herself that she will help her mother finish unpacking the kitchen before she opens it. She needs to not be at his beck and call anymore. When they are in the kitchen, she receives an owl from the school. It's heavy, and she knows what it is immediately. Her mother is very happy for her, and Hermione cries when she reads McGonagall's tidy lines saying that they need her, they want her to help put the school back together, no one could think of a better Head Girl for their first year after the war. She is conflicted, though she doesn't show her mother that, because she doesn't know if she wants to go back without the boys, who surely won't. When she gets back up to her room, she opens Harry's letter, she finds that he writes very little, just a bit to be polite, before getting around to asking what "semper" means. She sets it aside with a heavy heart, and replies to McGonagall that she's ready.
After Christmas, Harry again brings up the subject of Ginny's words. He writes to say that he is worried, because she won't show them. All he has seen was one little peek when she had fallen asleep in an odd angle on the couch. He thinks she may be holding off because they're unflattering, but he is far too curious to care by now. Could she try and get her to come around? Hermione doesn't tell him that she and Ginny don't talk anymore - somehow both girls have refrained from mentioning it to him, and neither seems to want to disabuse him of the notion that they're still friends. But that night she sneaks into Ginny's dorm (and honestly, she can't believe she's invading someone's privacy like this), and pulls back the sleeve of the top she'd worn to bed. There, in a light, almost spidery black, is written "Sanctimonia Vincent Semper." Hermione writes in the morning to tell him that she doesn't think she'll have any luck, because she doesn't know how to tell him that Ginny is marked with the Malfoy family motto.
It is Hogsmeade weekend in April, and it's Hermione's turn to keep an eye on things in the village while the Head Boy stays behind at the castle. She sticks her head into the Three Broomsticks and sees a large crowd gathered by the fire, and a very embarrassed Harry in the middle. She is about to duck out again, when she hears him call "Hermione! Great, you're here!" She turns back around to see him looking at her with a pleading look. "Come over here!" The group makes way for her - she is not only the Head Girl, she is a hero of the Second Wizarding War and Harry Potter's friend to boot.
She protests, saying "Oh, I couldn't possibly, I've got lots of other students to check on," but her feet are already moving toward him.
"Oh, wow, that is important, isn't it? You should let me help, I know how much of a handful the younger ones can be." She rolls her eyes and a groan arises from the crowd.
"But Harry, you were going to tell us about the dragon!"
"Don't go yet, Harry!"
"Sorry, everyone, duty calls!"
Several people follow them to the exit, and Hermione is frustrated. This is not what she had expected out of today, and her damn wrist has taken to burning every time Harry is near. She is perhaps a little sharper than she needs to be when she says "Alright, everyone, go about your day. If I find out someone is following me, I'll be more than happy to start handing out detentions." She storms out and Harry follows her.
"Oh, wow. That was some pretty amazing Head Girling back there."
"Look," Hermione said, still wanting to be short with him, pressing her left wrist discretely into her hip to try to get some relief. "Don't you have something else to do? Ginny will be here somewhere."
"Nope," he laughed. "Filch gave her a detention right as she was about to leave, can you believe that?"
Hermione did have to smile a little bit at that. "Of course I can. Filch never changes."
"Hey, I just wanted to say thank you," Harry rushes out. He'd never been good at things like this. "For whatever you said to Ginny to convince her. She showed me her words last time we met up. I don't know what she was so worried about." He laughed and shook his head. Hermione suddenly felt as if she was left trying to stand in an earthquake.
"You didn't care? Not even a little?"
He looked at her strangely. "Why would I care?"
"Well, I mean, it's-" Hermione stopped. Harry didn't know. He didn't know what they meant. Beyond just their latin translation.
"Sure, I mean, it's a little weird that something about purity would be associated with me, I mean, I've got blood on my hands. But...I dunno, maybe that's how she sees me. What's with the weird reaction?"
"Oh, nothing," she laughs, eyes looking for an escape route.
"You're a terrible liar. What are you keeping from me?" He stopped her and put both hands on her shoulders. Her wrist flared up again.
"Nothing!" They were on the outskirts, now, and he coaxed her into a side alley.
"Do you know what her words are?" He asked calmly.
"Yes. Sanctimonia Vincet Semper. I...peeked." He looked at her like she was crazy. "When you wrote me last. I wanted to know why she wouldn't show you."
To her relief he laughed. "I knew you wouldn't keep out of trouble, even with Ron and me gone. Why did you freak out just now?"
She couldn't be the one to tell him. She wasn't petty. She wasn't trying to break them up. She had to keep reminding herself of this, because she felt pretty terrible about coming between them, no matter what she wanted. "Believe me, Harry. You don't want to know. Just be happy."
"I can't do that now, Hermione, and you know that. What is it that you know?"
"Please don't do this."
One person could only take so much. "It's - well, it's the Malfoy family motto. It's on their crest and everything."
He didn't say anything, and Hermione began to panic. She tried to remember what Luna told her, but she wasn't sure she could get the sentiment across. "Some people's words are subjective, they can mean different things at different times. It can still be you, Harry."
"How the fuck does the Malfoy family motto count as subjective?!" He cursed.
"Well...it could be..."
"Don't, Hermione. Just don't."
She is left standing in the alley, and she needlessly straightened her robes before going to continue her Head Girl duties.
A week later, she carried her bags upstairs. She didn't intend to stop in the Head's common room, but as she gets to the stairs to her room, she hears a throat clear behind her and she stops. "Look, Seb, today's been awful, can we skip tonight's meeting?" She says before she can register the fact that her wrist isn't burning because of the bag hanging off of it.
"It's Seb, is it? That's awfully familiar." She hears Harry's voice behind her and begins to berate herself for not looking around her.
She doesn't turn around. "We're familiar."
"Really? That's interesting." The tone in his voice infuriated her.
"Not like that! Not that it would matter if it was. I don't know if you've noticed, but you've been...well, you've been a bit of a shite friend this last year." She hasn't slept well in months, almost none in the last week, and she is beyond stressed. These are the excuses she'll use when she inevitably apologizes, but right now she's just glad to feel the words on her tongue.
"Me?" He stands up, and Hermione carefully sets her things on the staircase, before taking up a defensive stance. "You left while I was in the hospital. You didn't come to the Burrow all summer. You didn't tell us that you were planning on coming back to school. Then you're distant the whole time you're here, not even dropping a line to say when Hogsmeade weekends are so we could come see you. Or, better yet, you're Head Girl! You could come have dinner in the village any time you wanted!"
Suddenly she is furious. The irritation of her wrist does not distract her from her goal, because suddenly she feels that irritation all over. "I put off getting my parents for a week waiting for you to wake up! I didn't leave your damn side longer than it took to pop home for clothes and a shower! And I would have thought you would expect me to come back to school."
Some of the wind leaves Harry's sails. "I didn't know you'd stayed."
She allows herself to calm down a little, too. "You were hurt, Harry. Why would you think I would leave you?"
He collapses on the couch. "You wouldn't. Of course you wouldn't." She isn't sure what to say, so she stands there until he says "Look, can we talk?"
"I-" she wants to snap at him, but she is so tired, and NEWTs are closer than she wants to think about. She just wants to get this over with. "Yeah. We can talk." She sits in the chair across from him, pulls up her knees almost defensively.
"Ginny and I are through. I called her out on it. She knew what it was the whole time, of course she did. She - well, she grew up in this world. She knows all that stuff. I won't spread around what she said to me about Malfoy, but she said the same thing you did. It doesn't have to be for one person and then done. She still thinks hers are for me. But, I want to find the person who has the match to mine. I'm sure Malfoy's are for her, hers are so damn specific. But...they're supposed to be in pairs."
"They're not always in pairs." She said. "I think, if they're red, there's not a pair. Like your magic knows that this person will never love you back."
"How could you possibly know that, Hermione?"
She squirmed. "Well, mine were red. Obviously. And Professor Snape's. And Professor McGonagall."
Harry looked like the eyes would fall out of his head. "Yours are red, then?"
"Were. Were red, Harry."
"I've never heard of them changing."
"Well, you'd never heard of them not coming in pairs, either, so I wouldn't exactly call you an expert on the matter." She could feel the loopy cursive burning into her again and again and it was driving her crazy.
"So, what, your words were for someone who wasn't born yet, or something?"
"That's one explanation of some of the facts."
"Hermione, tell me."
"Absolutely not!" Everything will fall apart if she does this. He has just plainly said he doesn't know who his belongs to. If he still can't look at it and think of her, she doesn't know what she's supposed to do.
"I've shown you mine."
"You didn't ask if I wanted to see it."
"Ron's seen it!"
"Ron peeked!" She is growing more and more indignant, and he is just sitting there, goading her, looking far more determined that she is ready to handle.
"What makes you think I've shown Seamus?"
He at least had the decency to look sheepish. "I may have asked him. Forcefully."
"Merlin, Harry! It's private!"
He looks wounded. "I thought we didn't have any secrets."
She knows she is backed into a corner. "Will you ever stop?"
He grins. "No. I will bother you about it forever."
She tries very hard not to let her eyes water as her fingers go to the button on her left sleeve. "This isn't fair."
"Hermione, don't cry. This is important, but it's not that important." He goes to pat her shoulder, but she moves away.
"No, you're right. No secrets." She pulls up her sleeve and watches as his eyes get big, like everyone else's had. She goes to turn away but before she knows anything he has one knee on the coffee table, leaned all the way over, kissing her thoroughly.
Later, they lay on the couch, hair mussed and lips swollen, and he traces the words on her bare wrist. "Was it always red?"
"It was red from the moment I got it. Then when you...came back to life, it turned black. Quite painful, actually."
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"The story of the hallows isn't exactly a love letter, Harry."
"Honestly, I love your words. They're a reference to the darkest time in my life." Just as she's deciding whether or not she wants to get offended, he presses their words together. "It's like you knew that one day I would need you more than ever. And you stayed. You never left me, you never wavered, even though you knew it would end up badly. You stayed for me, even though you had been warned off years ahead of time. Our words are a reminder that you'll always be there for me, no matter how bad it gets. And hopefully they're a reminder that you can expect the same from me."
"I know, Harry," she said, and clasped their hands. "I know."