Mourning was an act performed for the lost. An expulsion of emotions and grief that was necessary to pave the way to healing. She wouldn’t be healed, didn’t want to be. And she refused to believe that he was gone for good. She refused to believe she would never see his face again. How could she be a witch, have faith in all that was seemingly unthinkable, and not believe there was a way to achieve that end?
It scared her family and her friends, she knew. They cast worried looks at each other behind her back, and spoke in soft and reassuring tones. It angered her because she didn’t understand how they could give in, accept defeat, when it meant losing him. Mourning was an admission that he was gone and that the scent she thought surrounded her wasn’t him, but just a memory. It meant bringing forth a future that didn’t include arguments followed by his rueful expressions. Her friends seemed to think that she should lock herself in her room and cry. But crying meant an ending. She wasn’t ready for that.
Time had lapsed since the official closing of the war, and the cheers were raucous. Even that didn’t last long. People always went back to normality, the day to day run of things before they’d known what war really was. And there were those, like herself, who couldn’t remember life before the threat of death and defeat had loomed overhead. They were the ones lost in the fallout. They didn’t know how to pick up all the shards and piece them back together in a way that fit. Hermione didn’t think anything fit anymore. So they floated on, like so much lint in the air.
The old Hermione—if she could be defined as a wholly separate person—would have sought employment and distraction, a cause to be championed. She had a cause, one that she couldn’t voice for fear of ridicule. She didn’t mope though. Time passed with the turning of thousands of worn pages. Book after ancient book she pored over, her avaricious gaze starved for information that would give her what she wanted.
Pinpointing when the idea first struck her would be impossible. She only knew that sometime after Ron was buried, she had recalled the references to a certain branch of magic, a mysterious and lost art that people rarely spoke of now. It was the sacred sort that allowed one to manipulate truth and air, to bring back the lost and let them walk the earth again. It was a dangerous magic, one which she would never have considered in the past. But that was the old Hermione. She was something different now. She had different concerns, and sometimes none altogether.
The knowledge of its existence, and the possibility, lingered in her mind for years. Just one of the many nuggets of information she had stumbled upon during her years of foraging through bundles of parchment. Hermione was well read. She knew of the sorts of magic that existed in the old days, when magical folk cared about the earth and its connection to their powers. She’d read about the rituals, sacred and secret, and what they had revealed. And she wanted fervently to know those secrets too. She wanted to unravel that knowledge and exploit it, to see him once again.
Necromancy was, for the most part, a forgotten art which dated back centuries upon centuries, practised by those who wished to bring back the dead to help them divine the future. Hermione cared nothing for Divination; she wished only to see the light bend across Ron’s face again.
It seemed strange to her to know that children, both Muggle and magical, celebrated All Hallows’ Eve with pumpkins and witch hats, but no real knowledge of what the night meant, of the possibilities it held. They’d all forgotten about the last vestiges of stories about that sacred night. Samhain was the night when the barrier between the living and the dead was most malleable. It was the time when one who knew what she was doing could see the one she’d loved and lost again.
The realisation of what she was planning didn’t actually set in until she found herself knee deep in tomes, their pages filled with images of the distinctive markings of the druidic language ogham. The sort of books that she had access to were not the kind that gave instruction on the primordial forms of magic, considered by modern standards to be of the Dark Arts. They provided commentary on the mystic rites of Samhain, but little else.
She spent almost all of her time following the close of the war in this manner, much to the great concern of everyone around her. She didn’t want to tell them that she had discovered a way to find closure. She told herself that she wanted to see him just once more, to say goodbye. It wasn’t strictly true, but it was the justification that she clung to. The finality of that night was what had undone her. She told herself that if she could just see the lines of his friendly face once more then she would be okay. She would move on like they wanted her to.
Or, at the very least, she would try.
Hermione wasn’t unaware of the dangers of the necromantic rites of Samhain. She knew that if performed incorrectly she could summon other spirits, malevolent ones at that. She read the stories of witches who had been driven mad by the rite and the urge to see their loved ones again. They had wasted away each year for it. It was a fine line, hovering on the edge between this life and what came after. People weren’t supposed to blur those lines. Yet she who had always been so cautious, suddenly wished to attempt it with a fervency that scared her. The fear and the uncertainty weren’t enough to stop her though. In fact, she threw herself into the hunt for knowledge with abandon. It was, if nothing else, a way to pass the time. And she craved such distraction like a thirst that was endless.
For months during this quest for information Hermione visited all manner of bookstores, each increasingly obscure in nature. She had found, in her readings, several references to a rare book which was said to illustrate the very fine details of the rite, in a way that no others would. It was said to have been written in the Celtic tongue, by a witch who was very skilled in the arts of necromancy. When Hermione spoke with some highly perturbed rare book dealers, she was told that few copies were still in existence and all were privately held.
It was on one fortunate occasion when she stumbled across a small bookstore specialising in hard-to-find tomes that the wizened proprietor seemed inclined to share his wealth of knowledge. He told her that he himself had been the one to procure the last seen copy of the book. It was sold, he said, to one Abraxas Malfoy almost half a century ago. The Malfoys were known for their extensive collection of rare books apparently. Hermione’s heart had quickened in her chest.
It was a bitter twist of fate that his grandson was the person she would have to approach in such a time of need as this. And he would, unquestionably, know her reason for seeking the words within the book’s pages. He was precisely the last person she wished to see, yet she knew that she would all the same. Draco Malfoy wasn’t surprised, as it turned out, to see her on his door step mere days later. Apparently the old book dealer had told him she was interested in the volume. She stood proud beneath his scrutinising gaze.
‘You look like shit, Granger.’ He didn’t. He looked more whole than she had seen him in a long time. She hated the fact that he could stand before her, almost entirely put back together. It was the cruelty of life that some could recover and others didn’t know how.
His words about her appearance were disparaging on the surface, and yet somehow hinted at a concern she’d never credited him as being able to muster. She knew she was a little thin, distraction and determination caused her less concern for bodily needs.
‘I know why you’re here,’ he said. ‘I won’t help you.’ She didn’t listen to the words when he told her it was an unhealthy obsession and that he wouldn’t be her enabler.
She asked him instead why he cared, and he told her that he didn’t. It was a lie, of course. But she couldn’t figure out how that had come to be. The warning that came from his lips made her want to lash out. She saw the pity and judgement written across his face. He should know, she thought. He had to understand. And indeed, he must have seen something in her eyes that made his own soften fractionally. When the offer came, she knew she had to accept. He said he would give her the book, but that he would be there when the time came to perform the rite. She didn’t want that though. Her pain was a secret she couldn’t bear to unleash in front of him.
‘No,’ she whispered.
Malfoy told her he was responsible. She wasn’t sure what he was referring to then. Giving her the book? Or for Ron? ‘I have enough blood on my hands without yours too.’
She should have told him it wasn’t true; the guilt wasn’t his alone. Yet she found that she could not.
October 31st, 1999
Hermione had read once that the spirit never died; it lived on in magic, becoming one of the shining pearls of starlight that watched over head. If this was so, she hoped that Ron, watching over her, shone brighter than all the others.
She knew when she stood on that sacred hill of Tara—where the druids had stood more than a millennium before her—that Draco Malfoy was watching. Hidden. She could feel him there though. She could also feel the magic-steeped soil beneath her bare feet and smell the scent of burning apples from the bonfires. It was exactly as she had read in the small, richly bound volume that spoke her heart’s desire. She stood on the sacred soil, the knowledge that witches hundreds of years before her had performed the same secret pact was the sort of heady realisation that used to make her heart flutter. She didn’t care about unravelling mysteries now. She cared only that it worked, that she would see that pearly-lit shape of Ron emerge from smoking bonfires and that his eyes would light up to see her.
It was a volatile, pulsing sort of mysticism that throbbed in the air around her. It stole her breath and gave it back again. Hermione was thorough; she chanted words that were foreign on her tongue. Just as the writings instructed, on the worn parchment of the small book, she had built two blazing bonfires encircled by ancient runic etchings in the disrupted soil. Her lips moved and her eyes watched the passage between the two towering flames. Time seemed to swirl around her, stagnating and speeding up, making her dizzy and breathless. The wait was intolerable.
And then the quality of light changed, thickened like a fog and swirled, making shapes that whispered to her. And she knew. When he stepped forward a sob wrenched from her throat. He was less distinct than a ghost, more like a trick of the light than anything else and yet it was him all the same. The sound of his voice calling was so insubstantial that she thought she might have imagined it, another of her fevered yearnings in the dead of night.
But it was real, cool like the wind against her skin. She revelled in the sound.
Hermione, he whispered. You haven’t forgotten me, have you? She told him no. She could never forget. No matter the pain it caused her to think of him, she feared nothing more than forgetting. She wanted to be haunted by the memory of him always. The smoky image of his face was broken with confusion, the look of the lost. She moved forward to touch him, to feel his ghostly presence running through her.
Why did you leave me? Where did you go? The broken voice whispered to her, so unlike the rich and laughing tones that she remembered. She told him sorry. Again and again. The word tumbled from her lips in torn out gasps that left her body shuddering. Her stomach twisted and her bare feet moved closer to the searing flames. Her fingers reached out desperately to grasp at the intangible. When the voice came again it was pleading, tempting. Come with me. She listened, her eager feet willing to comply. The shadowy form of him pulled back, ready to pass between the narrow strip of space that lay between the two blazing bonfires.
And she wanted to follow, with a clawing sort of urgency, fearful that his glimmering form would fade further still. She lunged forward, and was stayed only by the very real hands which hauled her from the flames. Draco Malfoy had saved her once again. So entranced was she by the vision of Ron that she completely forgot his presence on the lush green hill. But she could not find it in herself to thank him, not quite yet. At another time, with distance from the remembered offer in Ron’s voice, she would thank him, but in that moment it was far too raw.
The searing look in his ashy gaze broke through the film of yearning and brought the sobs that had caught in her throat. They roared to the surface in a body-wracking fury. She clung to him. And, once again, he let her. When he did speak again, after a length of time beyond her determining, he told her what she knew already, in her heart of hearts. It wasn’t him. It wasn’t real.
‘He would never want to hurt you.’ The hushed words were whispered against her ear.
That was true, Hermione knew, and yet she was hurt just the same.
People always said that time healed all, and whilst Hermione didn’t think that this was strictly true, she felt certain that it took the sharp edge off the hovering blade. It made it easier to breathe. It made it easier to smile on occasion and to stare into the faces of those she loved, especially his family. They looked so much like him. Blue eyes. Hair like fire. And, on occasion, the briefest hint of his smile.
She also knew that other wounds, much smaller in the scheme things, had caused her some distraction. They averted her mind at times from the gaping wound within. The hurtful, yet true, words of Draco Malfoy that day had cut piercing little jabs across her skin. She could never seem to figure out why it was that she cared about them, except to say that she did. Unfathomably. She felt connected to him, in some unwanted way. They were bound together by a string of events and moments that could not be denied.
Whenever she did cast her mind back to that night, it was like another person had stolen her body, leaving her bereft. She understood Malfoy’s logic, knew what he had said was true, and yet it had broken her heart afresh. She holed herself up for almost a month, crying endlessly, the way everyone had said she must in order to grieve. She’d always thought she was grieving, just differently. As it happened she hadn’t been grieving at all. She never worked out what was worse: the pain of acknowledging the truth, or the murky cloud of denial. They each hurt in different ways.
After the incident that Halloween, and Hermione’s self-imposed seclusion, Ginny had sent for her mother, for which the former was most grateful. There was something about the embrace of one’s parent, so giving and unfailingly comforting, which made the pain abate just a little. It made one revert to that time when they were little and all of life’s problems could be solved by one’s mum. And no matter the differences of opinion between Hermione and her own mother, nothing could have stopped her from traversing the great divide and falling into those comforting arms.
The outpouring of grief dulled the pinprick of the blade just a touch, enough so that in some glorious moments, she could breath. The heady rush of air and the millisecond when she simply forgot to hurt were pleasures beyond reckoning. She’d finally begun to own the truth: he was gone, truly and irrevocably, and no amount of magic could draw him back to her.
In spite of the intensity of that night which seemed to sew her and Malfoy together—or perhaps because of it—she hadn’t seen him since. It was far too intimate and emotional a connection for either of them to contend with. That he should be the one to literally pull her from the flames was a truth she grappled with, because she didn’t want to owe him anything. She rather thought that, in some strange way, he held the same belief. After all, she was the one to start it—that first time she went to see him in the dark corners of Grimmauld Place, because she’d thought no one should be alone after the death of a loved one. In a way this was his repayment. But it was also a pattern, the most dangerous kind.
It was easy for her to forget, in the face of her own losses, that he was alone. And she wasn’t even conscious of that fact until it was no longer true. It was something of a shock to her when she heard the announcement of his engagement. She hadn’t even known that he was with someone. But she saw photos in the newspaper. The look on his face when he stared at his pretty fiancée was familiar. It was the look in Ron’s eyes when he looked at her. Indulgence.
Somehow Hermione had always thought he couldn’t possibly know what love was like, the real kind. The kind that burnt through the skin and lingered in the pit of one’s stomach. It was the kind that, though no longer immediate and present in her life, still lingered as a memory. The realisation that she was wrong, that perhaps he did know something of love, made her feel lonelier than ever. It was a funny thing, because she could recall back when her life was whole that she had wanted this for him. She just didn’t want it for him when she had nothing. That kind of bitterness was unbecoming, she knew. But it festered just the same.
She had lost the person she loved because of him: his choice to keep her alive. And he had the audacity to fall in love himself. She thought she hated him that day. It passed though.
October 31st 2001
She thought it was funny how people tried to assume responsibility for someone or something beyond their control. Yet so often the smallest of details had an impact, created a bond whether it was wanted or not. Soon she realised that he recognised the bond as well.
It was the night of Samhain, and the call to return to those hallowed grounds burned like a needed drink, a drug to the system. The thought, however wrong and depraved it was, to see Ron’s face, had her knees locking and her heart hammering. She had thought about going and sitting on the sacred plains, just to remember and revel in that memory. She wouldn’t do it, not again.
Except she wanted to.
He must have known, because he arrived on her doorstep, bright white like a saviour she didn’t want. He had no right to play that role. There was a knowing look in his gaze when it fell on her. She asked him why he was there, when he should have been with the pretty witch in the picture. He told her that he was staying, to make sure that she didn’t do what he knew she craved. She hated him in that moment once more. But the relief was more acute. The knowledge that she could pass the weight of the decision to someone else was the sort of freedom that she needed.
When they sat in her small house, watching the crackling flames, it reminded her of Grimmauld Place, when she had gone and sat by him in the quiet. A comforting presence in the silent room. She supposed that was exactly what he was doing too.
The minutes seemed to slip into hours like rivers into lakes. Fluid lapping motions that were so gentle, she was unaware of them. Only him, and the hearth, and the bright glow it cast around the room. It was like a stolen moment, a separate and secret one. She supposed that meant something neither of them was willing to explore.
She did ask him, finally, the question that had threatened to spill from her red mouth all evening. The sounds formed words and she listened as breathlessly as he did, uncertain of their meaning. Did he love her? The pretty girl in the picture. She thought she knew the answer, a resounding yes, but somehow the words on his lips were important.
“I wasn’t sure,” she said finally. “I didn’t know if I could be happy for you, after what happened. But I am.”
He looked at her, his eyes burrowing through the layers of her skin to the very centre of her, home to ugly truths. It still throbbed with a pain that was unending. Whatever it was that he saw though, he nodded. It was a thank you, she supposed. When he left in the early hours of the morning, as dawn crept closer, she noticed how the air seemed to shift with him. It was quiet, a different type of quiet to the one they shared. An empty quiet.
She didn’t see him after that for a very long time.