Chapter 25: A Broken Heart
She sighed as she felt a phantom caress upon her brow and a voice whispered in the back of her mind, Wake up now, Hermione. It’s time to wake up.
Her eyes flew open, but she was not met with the sight of her mother leaning over her, like she had been in her years before Hogwarts, singing to her softly while stroking her hair. Her voice seemed to echo in her mind, though, the way it had in the first few weeks of her passing.
She closed her eyes at the memory and she instantly turned her thoughts away from her loss as she shifted in bed.
She frowned. The mattress was firmer than she was used to sleeping on and as she looked down she discovered it wasn’t a mattress at all, but a deep burgundy sofa that would have been quite comfortable had it been even remotely familiar. Her frown deepened as she sat up, craning her neck to glimpse her surroundings.
Not counting the sofa she occupied, there were two others that were positioned facing each other on either side of a fireplace. The fireplace itself was devoid of any flame or warmth which cloaked the small room in a rather gloomy darkness. She thought that the furniture, despite not being anything even slightly similar to what she and Thomas owned, should have been familiar. There was a soft tickle in the back of her mind as she looked around her. Perhaps someone she knew had a similar décor.
She sat up fully, her classy back dress wrinkling around her waist. Her hair was flat and more than a few tendrils had come loose of her elegant do. She was dressed for a night of dancing and romance, she realized, and in that epiphany she knew something was wrong. Horribly, and terribly wrong.
Her hand rose to the side of her head as the room tilted dangerously. She felt the dry tracks of tearstains on her cheeks and knew that her makeup was probably smeared and caked to her face. There was a faint tingling feeling that resonated throughout her entire body making it hum warmly and her chest felt as though it was on fire.
Unconsciously, her hand rose to her neck to fumble the locket Tom had given her, a habit she had become accustomed to when she was nervous. Her fingers only caressed the smooth skin of her neck. Her heart stopping, Hermione looked down to find the locket, and thus any reassurance she would have derived from its presence, gone. There was a bright red line on the right side of her neck where the chain had bit viciously into her skin as it broke under the unyielding pressure of her body falling away as Tom held firmly to the chain.
The thudding of her heart grew to a painful extreme as the burning in her chest doubled, making the act of breathing nearly impossible. When her eyes scanned the room it was more desperately as she searched, in vain, for the smirking face of her husband.
She flew from the sofa, tears spilling from her eyes as she denied the truth. Perhaps it had only been a dream, a nightmare. She wasn’t gone. He wasn’t gone.
Wake up now, Hermione. It’s time to wake up.
It was time to wake up.
Her legs gave out beneath her and she crumbled to the floor. No, no, no, no, no…her mind was a broken record as she sobbed soundlessly in denial. Please no…
It was impossible. The odds were astronomical that one simple question and its very complicated answer could send her body hurling through time and space. He had been holding on to her so tightly and she had been so sure he would not let go. He wouldn’t let her leave.
Yes, her mind clung to the false hope firmly. Tom wouldn’t let her go.
She surged to her feet and ran to the door, ignoring the tears streaming down her face. She wasn’t in the Room of Requirement. She wasn’t.
Her panic increased in the hall, her crying turning into a soft, desperate moaning. She ran to the left, passing by suits of armor who called out for her to slow down. She wasn’t at Hogwarts. She hadn’t been to the school since she graduated two years ago. She wasn’t running through the halls at Hogwarts.
Hermione rounded the corner, her heels skidding on the stone floors as she threw out her arms to save her balance. With nary a pause, Hermione passed the library. No, that’s not the Library…I’m not at Hogwarts, I’m not! Her breathing became ragged as her speed increased and a painful stitch began throbbing in her right side. But she did not pause as she ran down a staircase, leaping the last two steps as it began to grind into movement.
Any minute now she would wake up. Tom would look down at her, a slight frown between his eyes, and tell her she was being quite foolish for having such a silly nightmare.
Yes, any minute now.
She was gasping for air when she reached the doors of the Great Hall. Her hair was wild and almost completely free of the golden, snake shaped barrette she had used to secure the unruly locks. Tears ran unchecked down her face, and her nose was red and stuffy.
Denial gave her the strength to push open the doors, but it was fear that rooted her to the spot only three frantic steps in.
Every head turned to her, chicken and mashed potatoes sitting forgotten on their plates. Talking dwindled into silence as a thousand eyes pierced her being.
Susan Bones frowned concernedly at her from the Hufflepuff table. Over at the Ravenclaw table, Luna Lovegood dropped her fork and focused all of her attention on to Hermione, her eyes twice the size of her dangling radish earrings. All of Slytherin house looked cautiously curious, but still unconcerned at her presence, Crabbe and Goyle snickering at the fresh tears glistening on her face.
Minerva McGonagall sat in the center of the Head Table, her eyes wide in shock and just a little bit of terror.
Neville Longbottom rose from his seat as if to approach her, but froze immediately when he was fixed with her wild stare.
And her heart halted abruptly, only to begin to beat in a painful staccato as two figures rose at the furthest end of Gryffindor table. One positively dwarfed the other, standing tall and lanky, flaming red hair marking him as a Weasley as surely as though he wore a name tag. The other was short, but only when compared to his companion. His posture was straight and confident, his hair black and messy, and the candlelight glinted sharply off of his rounded glasses.
The burning increased in her chest as she simultaneously attempted to stop her tears and cease the rapid beating of her heart.
Harry and Ron made their way to her, their eyes holding nothing but concern. They took no more than two steps before Harry stopped abruptly and hissed in pain. Ron frowned at her, then down at his other best friend.
Harry reached up to cover his scar which Hermione’s slow mind finally noticed was a vibrant red, standing out in sharp relief against his pale forehead. Ron reached out to steady him as Harry staggered.
Beautiful green eyes cut into her and even though he spoke in nothing but a painfully tight whisper, Hermione could hear him above the thudding of her heart.
He knows, the words were enough to cut through her cloud of fear and freeze her racing heart.
He knows, he knows, he knows…her head swam as everything blurred. A blissfully dark fog began to creep into the outer fields of her vision.
And while it was apparent exactly who Harry was referring to, it was not that realization that made her knees buckle and darkness overtake her vision. The almost forgotten knife of betrayal that had been lodged deep within her heart turned and caused fresh blood to spill from the old wound.
He knows, her mind echoed. Harry knows.
Her eyes rolled and her body crumbled. Her head would have connected painfully with the floor had it not been for the two invisible ghosts that managed to catch her listless body before the impact.
But all Hermione knew was darkness. It surrounded her, pulling heavily at her limbs like sticky tar. Dark tendrils sprung out of the nothingness, reaching hungrily for her. A voice seemed to hiss alluringly to her, telling her to be calm and still. Let the darkness take over.
She listened for a moment, thinking that the sibilant voice sounded vaguely familiar. Phantom caresses made her skin shudder, but it wasn’t until she felt fingers curl around her neck did she panic. But like Devil’s Snare, the more she struggled against the darkness, the tighter its hold became.
The voice hissed in false reassurance even as her wrists and throat began to burn from where the dark tendrils tightened.
She opened her mouth to scream, but the darkness leapt down her throat and filled her body to the brim. She felt as though she was being stretched thin, as if a heavy weight was sitting on her chest. Her panic increased and her struggling doubled. A lazy chuckle echoed in the void and Hermione immediately ceased all movements.
Invisible hands traced an unseen path up and down her arms with the confidence of an old lover. She shivered, and not from fear this time.
“Sssoon,” the voice was filled with a dark promise.
The hands relaxed and she felt them withdraw, receding back into the darkness from whence they came. She attempted to call out, unsure if it was to voice her relief or to call the hands back. Now that they were gone she felt oddly bereft. The hairs on her skin stood on end and she shivered as the coldness soaked through her skin.
“Come back,” she whispered, her voice quivering slightly as she shivered again.
But it was no use. The strangely familiar and comforting hands were gone and there was no voice hissing false reassurances.
“Please,” she whimpered again. “Please don’t leave me.”
She was crying. Even as she opened her eyes and found herself in a brightly lit room, she felt the tears roll down her cheeks. When she awoke this time, there was no deluding herself into thinking she had dreamt the whole scenario. There was no desperate belief that perhaps she was dreaming even still. She was waking up in the Hospital Wing. There was a thin privacy screen separating her from people she had never forgotten, but had long since thought about.
And as she cried silently on the bed, she could hear their voices, just as she remembered, murmuring amongst themselves.
“She’ll be fine. It’s only shock that’s keeping her under. Her mind and body are both under a lot of stress,” this was spoken briskly by Madam Pomfrey.
“Stress?” Minerva McGonagall’s voice was unusually trill. “Of course she’s under stress, Poppy, the girl just time leaped fifty-seven years into the future!”
“I still don’t understand this!” Ron moaned in a way that told Hermione it was not his first time saying so. “I thought there were laws that prevented this sort of thing!”
“Laws can be broken, Mr. Weasley,” was proclaimed in Severus Snape’s unmistakable drawl.
“Albus never told us fully the exact circumstances,” Minerva admitted.
“Regardless, the girl will be fine!” Poppy reassured them.
“Fine?” this came from Harry now, his voice low with disbelief and a touch of indignant anger on her behalf. “That’s not Hermione Granger in there, in case you’ve forgotten! No one could experience all that and walk away fine!”
Silence met his statement for no one could deny the truth of his words.
“Did you see the ring on her hand?” Ron asked quietly. “Bit flashy, but beautiful.”
“Poppy attempted to take it off when she treated her, but it wouldn’t budge. Isn’t that right?” Minerva asked.
Hermione thought she could her Madam Pomfrey nod. “Someone used a permanent sticking charm on it. The only person who can take it off is the person who put it on.”
Hermione closed her eyes in an attempt to stop the tears and shut out their voices. A memory flashed behind her closed lids of her and Tom at the Ministry. He wore classy black dress robes and she was in a modest white dress. Minerva smiled at them as Hermione dutifully slept a gold band onto Tom’s finger, and Tom had smirked slightly as he slipped his ring onto hers.
“She won’t be fine,” Harry said, his tone rather scathing. “None of us will be.”
Personally, Hermione agreed.
“It won’t be the same, will it? I mean, we just saw her in Defense. She left to study and we were going to meet up at dinner. We were only twenty minutes in when she arrived in that dress, crying and looking like a cornered pigmy puff. It was like no time had passed at all,” Ron sounded desperate for someone to contradict him, but no body could without lying.
“No time for us, maybe,” Lucius muttered, his voice a tad lower than normal which indicated he was deeply concerned. “But she spent nearly three years there. With him.”
“She looked different.” Harry no longer sounded so angry, but sad now. “Her hair was longer and she was a little taller. She erm-” Hermione imagined he was blushing as he said, “She filled out a little more, ya know?”
“She would have been beautiful had she not been so scared.” There was no hint of insult or sneer in Severus’s soft tone.
“Hermione was always beautiful,” Harry maintained, causing Hermione to give a small watery smile at his loyalty. “It’s just, well, it was more noticeable is all.”
“He always noticed it,” Minerva murmured darkly. “Everyone at school saw how he looked at her, like a starving man gazing upon a feast.”
Another moment of silence.
“Did he love her?” Harry’s whisper was soft, but in the silence of the room everyone could hear it.
Hermione bit her lip.
“I think so,” Minerva eventually said. “In his own way, I think so.”
Hermione felt her heart crack. Tom had never said he loved her, but there had been need, and desire. There had been respect and passion. And no matter the reasons why it shouldn’t have, they had simply worked. They had fit so perfectly together even from the beginning. Their lives had folded onto the other’s as though it had always been meant to be. She could settle with passion and need. In fact, she didn’t see it as settling at all.
“What’s going to happen now?” Ron asked wonderingly.
“That all depends on him. And her,” Poppy stated.
“Will he hurt her?” Harry demanded to know.
It was Lucius who answered. “Of course not, Potter. We were charged to protect her.”
“Do you think,” Ron’s tone was surprisingly thoughtful, “he still cares about her?”
Hermione stilled her already motionless body, and waited with breath abated. Her heart was pounding so loud she thought they would all hear it for sure and know that she was awake.
“We don’t know,” Severus admitted.
Hermione released her breath, unsure of what she had been expecting to hear. Was it disappointment or relief she felt? Or perhaps it was hope. She didn’t know what she wanted.
“Will he come for her?” Harry asked.
Surprisingly, it was Minerva who answered him and not one of the two spies. “Oh yes, of course he will.”
“How do you know for sure?”
“He came to me, the night it happened,” Minerva announced her voice soft with memory. “The night she left he came to my door in the dead of night with a trunk full of her belongings. He asked me to store them for her,” she broke off as emotion choked her words. “I was so scared, I thought she was dead, but all he said was that she was gone. That she was waiting for him, somewhere.”
“He’s waited, all this time for her?” Ron’s disbelief was clear.
“He always knew their paths would cross again. Tom Riddle was always patient when he stood to gain something.”
Ron sounded scared as he said, “What does he stand to gain with our ‘Mione?”
Hermione felt a bubble of resentment well up within her. She wasn’t their ‘Mione. Not anymore.
“I couldn’t say, Mr. Weasley.”
Someone sighed and Hermione heard the rustle of fabric as if someone had lifted their hand to tousle their hair. Probably Harry.
“She cries in her sleep,” Harry abruptly claimed. “Did you see her? She doesn’t make a sound or move, but the tears are there all the same. I hate it when she cries. Always have.”
“I fear that perhaps you had better get used to it, Potter,” Severus sighed. “I doubt she will be in a cheerful mood once she awakens.”
Hermione hated that Severus was always right.
“What will we do now? Even after all this time, we’re still not prepared. Albus never could think of a way to apologize to her, to explain to her why things had to be done the way they were.”
“With all due respect, Headmaster,” Harry was angry again. “But even if he had prepared some speech, he’s still not here to give it. It wouldn’t matter anyway. There’s nothing we can say that will take away the betrayal. There won’t be any way for us to make it right. This is one thing magic can’t fix.”
Hermione thought that perhaps Harry was speaking from personal experience.
“Harry’s right,” Ron agreed solemnly. “Magic won’t fix her broken heart.”
No one had anything left to say after that and Hermione wasn’t ready to face them, so she let their silence settle over her with no intention to break it. She wasn’t sure if she’d ever be ready to break it.
She felt the truth of their words and the burden of the future on her shoulders. Everything up until this point had been known. Everyone knew she would travel back in time to marry Tom, everyone knew she would again travel forward to come back to them, but after that, what was to happen?
The future was a blank canvas waiting for fate to pick up her brush again to sketch out a new scene. What color would the sky be? Dark or light? Perhaps gray? The possibilities were infinite in their choices and they all feared the outcome.
One thing Hermione knew for sure, though, was that Ron was right. Magic couldn’t fix her broken heart. She was sure nothing could.