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The Raven's Shadow

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Hermione's lungs were burning. Her ribs couldn't expand fast enough—couldn't take in enough oxygen. Acid seeped into her muscles, slowly turning her legs into stone. Into lead. She willed them to keep moving. Knee up. Plant foot. Push. Knee up. Plant foot. Push. She couldn't stop. They couldn't stop. She could hear Harry and Ron just behind her. Their loud, erratic breathing just barely masking the grunts and shouts of the men behind them.

The Gryffindor forced herself to take in her surroundings, thankful she was still able to think clearly. The skinny trees surrounding them provided them with some reprieve as curses ricocheted and blasted off their ghostly bark. They wound farther and farther into the dense, unknown forest, and Hermione could tell the sounds were getting closer. She looked around. The ground was covered with dead leaves, still wet from the early morning rain. A shout was heard behind her and a curse flew past her head. She sent an exploding charm over her shoulder at a cluster of the snatchers and ran a quick assessment of their options.

Tree cover? Obvious. They're too close.

Outrun them? Possible, but estimating less than sixty seconds left at current speed. Fatigue will leave us more vulnerable.

Turn and attack? Heavily outnumbered.

Surrender? He can't be captured.

What if they don't know it's him?

Her brain ran through more scenarios in the span of a few seconds. A sudden muddy downslope gave her the opportunity. It might be the only one she'd get. She looked over her shoulder again and Harry was just behind her. Ron was trailing slightly. They were too close. She had no choice.

Another bombarda. And another. Tree roots and earth exploded at the feet of the snatchers, throwing off their balance and leaving her a few critical seconds. She stopped and turned, aiming her wand at Harry with an apologetic look, unable to explain before a nonverbal stinging jinx hit him square in the face. He flew backwards with the force of the spell, landing on the soft leaves with a heavy thump. Ron slowed beside her as she dropped to her knees, looking back at the men getting back to their feet and tightening his grip on his wand. Her fingertips were numb as she dropped her wand and put her hands in the air. The redhead looked confused, but she hoped he would trust her. This had to work.

They were surrounded by ugly, angry faces in no time. She looked to her brothers, heart racing and breathing ragged. Sweat was dripping down their temples, but Ron relented. He fell to his knees and dropped his wand beside her. Harry was roughly dragged to a kneeling position next to them as ropes suddenly appeared and bound their arms to their sides. Rough hands were in her hair and all over her body, checking for anything hidden. She felt a wave of nausea as a hand groped her breast. Ron yelled something at the man behind her and Hermione heard a thud and a sickening crunch. She saw his body fall forward onto the dead leaves and she struggled with the restraints, shouting back at them insolently. The last thing she saw was a wand pointing at her before she felt herself falling forward next to her friend.

*********************************

She woke up in the middle of a grand sitting room, her cheek pressed onto some cold, hard flooring. It smelled freshly cleaned and polished, and ridiculously rich. What kind of wood is this? She couldn't think of what it reminded her of, but it wasn't homey. It was far too clean for that and far too expensive. She could hear voices around her. Raised voices. She tried to move her arms slightly, but they were still trapped by the magical ropes constricting her. She took shallow breaths through her nose and opened her eyes a fraction. Shapes were moving, but it was all too blurry to see any detail. She closed her eyes again and tried to listen past the heartbeat thundering in her ears.

She could hear rustling behind her. One. A creak in the floorboard to her left. Two. A low, wheezing breather just above them. Three. A man's raised voice that sounded familiar. Four. They were talking about Harry, she discerned. The hex had fooled them, but only just. At least four. A woman spoke, and Hermione's blood froze. She knew that voice: Bellatrix Lestrange. Five.

Suddenly, the room was silent. A question was asked, but she missed what was said. The brunette tried to stay still, but the dead weight in the air was palpable. She cracked her eyes and saw pools of black looking back at her. They looked away, and then the room was filled with her shrill shrieking.

"Where did you get this?!" she screamed, her voice echoing in the cavernous room.

Some bumbling snatcher in the far corner—Six—said they found it in their tent, and Hermione's eyes widened before she slammed them shut again, desperate not to give herself away.

Silence.

Dangerous silence.

Heels clicked on the hardwood like a ticking clock, coming closer. She tightened her eyes shut, anticipating impact, but when the elder woman spoke next it was eerily calm and much closer than she expected. She could hear her excited breath by her ear.

"Put the boys in the cellar, Wormtail. I'm going to have a little chat with the muddy."

Hermione's stomach twisted uncomfortably. Her body was starting to shake, but her mind was racing, running more dire calculations.

Method? Torture, no doubt.

Type? Likely physical and mental. Possibly sexual.

Risk of death? High. Will be drawn out, however. She needs information.

Possible escape? None. Outnumbered. Death almost guaranteed.

Plan of Action: Endure.

Endure.

Could she do that? She had no idea what true, unforgiving pain felt like. When she was nine, she fell off her bike and broke her arm. She could vaguely remember the white-hot pain at her wrist before her adrenaline consumed it for her, but this would be different, she knew. Very, very different. She had read about torture and seen the ripples of its effects in her friends, but by no means had she imagined it coming from the new-age architect of pain itself. She heard yelling, and another thud and a grunt as Ron and Harry tried fighting with Wormtail and another snatcher dragging him them from the room. She opened her eyes and tried to give them a look of courage, but it fell flat. Their shouts got louder, but then the door shut, leaving them muffled. It was just her now.

The ropes binding her were suddenly gone, and she looked around tentatively. She was breathing sharply through her nose as she slowly got to her feet. Narcissa, Draco, and Lucius were standing by the fireplace, pale and looking nervously at something behind her. Fenrir and three other snatchers were sprawled on the floor, unconscious. She couldn't see her, but she knew she was there. The nauseating feeling of fear was pooling in her stomach. She briefly wondered if she had left the–

"Crucio!"

Every cell was screaming. Burning. Transforming. She was not in her own body. Her skin was being stretched beyond its limits until it split apart like a seam. Her bones snapped at the weak points, and then they were shattered, then minced until she was made of dust. Everything was being pulled apart and every nerve was wide awake to feel it. Her organs were turning into liquid. Her body was trapped in a furnace, but her head was underwater. Deep underwater. A thousand leagues, and the pressure had ruptured her eardrums. Her brain was boiling and her lungs couldn't get any oxygen. Her throat had been stuffed with hot coals. She was dying, suffocating. Her spine was being bent backwards and she could feel the vertebrae crack under—

The pain lifted. Comically, almost. Her eyes opened and she breathed deeply again as she eyed the lavish chandelier above her. She tasted copper in her mouth and her throat was dry—logically she knew she had been screaming, but she had no idea how long. She hadn't heard anything; she hadn't seen anything. The pain was everything. Her mind was jarringly quiet, unable to form any coherent thought as shock took its hold in her trembling muscles. She knew she needed to stay here. Fight it. Harry. Ron. Ginny. Her parents. Harry. Ron. Ginny. Her parents.

She scrunched her eyes tight. Bellatrix put a boot on her chest and asked her something about the sword. The Gryffindor somehow had enough sense to mutter something about it being fake before she was spat on.

Hermione opened her eyes again and saw black craters watching her in disgusting, unhinged glee. It wasn't over. This demon wanted her pound of flesh. Fight it. She saw a red light and the pain began again. Screams and maniacal laughter filled the room, but she couldn't hear it.

*********************************

Hermione felt like laughing herself when Bellatrix slid the knife over her skin. She had no idea how long it had been. She tried to keep track, but after the third round they were all starting to blur together. Surely, this should feel worse, though. She should be fighting; she should be screaming. Her mind dimly knew that a knife to her skin was supposed to elicit a negative reaction from her. She was doing nothing. She was laying there, watching. Her head felt foggy and her mouth was claggy, but this wasn't the pain so it was good. She felt the blade carve into her again and she sighed a little. The reprieve gave her brain a moment to come back online.

I'm bleeding out……..I don't care.

I can't die here….I don't care.

My parents? Harry?I…don't….

Endure. Harry. Ron. Her parents. Hell, herself. What the fuck? Where did she go? Her eyes widened as Bellatrix moved the blade over another part of her skin with a childish giggle. The pain was coming back. Dull in comparison, but it was back, and she knew she didn't want it. Shouldn't want it. She squirmed, and black eyes were on her again, excited. The deranged woman liked the struggle. She was straddling her hips and the brunette felt a sharp pain in her ribs when her knees squeezed her tightly.

"What else did you take from my vault, muddy?" she breathed hotly against her cheek.

"Fuck you," Hermione spat out, uncaring. She'd be dead soon anyway, she hoped. The pain would be back before that, though. Her stomach dropped like a stone in the sea at the thought. She closed her eyes, finally hearing her own cries as Bellatrix growled like an animal and bit the meat on her bicep. She cackled while she held her down harder and kept slicing into her forearm.

Some of her other senses were coming back momentarily. She could feel her tears cooling as they raced down her cheeks. Her muscles were aching; her heartbeat felt slow. There were sharp pains in her ribs with every inhale. She could distantly hear Ron's faraway voice yelling her name, but then everything was gone and it was the pain again.

Nothingness would be better than this.

*********************************

Reprieve. Kind of. The pain stopped again, but it still hurt. Everything hurt. It's…aftershocks, her reasoning sluggishly supplied. Every few seconds her skin would be on fire again. It would come in waves, from the base of her skull down her neck, spine, and then out to her fingers and toes. She hated the toes the most. Her feet were cramped from curling like claws in her shoes every time the sharp sensation whipped at her nerve endings. Fingers were easier to deal with for some reason.

She knew it would come again, the pain. Each time it was longer, and each break was getting shorter. She wanted to die. She couldn't make it another round. If she had a voice she would tell the madwoman to just kill her already, but evidently some self-preserving part of her told her that would just make it last longer. She was a mudblood, and there would be no taste of mercy.

Her skin felt like a live electric fence, as if someone would be shocked if they were to touch her. But that couldn't be true. Bellatrix had been touching her plenty. She vaguely remembered her on top of her, cutting open her shirt and decorating her skin in more savage designs with her tongue between her blackened teeth in concentration. Some voice was telling her this was in her head, the pain, but she didn't know if she believed it anymore. She couldn't listen to it. Her back was broken, cranium crushed, after all. Fingernails were pulled off and joints dislocated. Skin branded, flayed, and barbequed. They would find her here, bruised and battered and bleeding from her eyes and ears. Her body would be twisted and contorted, bones sticking out at all the wrong angles. She wasn't Hermione anymore; she couldn't be.

Nothingness would be better than this.

She opened her eyes again despite her splitting head. Everything was blurry. Maybe she was blind now, but then she blinked and the tears in her eyes fell away, clearing her vision. It was hard to focus. Every atom she was constructed from was in agony, and she couldn't stand the waiting. What was taking so long? She just wanted this to end. Sounds came rushing back in and there was shouting around her. She couldn't move. Didn't want to. Soon she would be back, and Hermione wondered how she could speed this up. She wanted it to be over.

The shouts were getting louder, and she could feel vibrations in the wood beneath her as bodies fell like bricks onto the mahogany.

Mahogany, that's what it is.

A squeaking noise above her distracted her from her musings. She tried to blink away the cloudiness in her eyes so she could see what was going on, but then a large mass above her was suddenly getting larger. Maybe it's Death. She distantly hoped this would be the end before everything shattered around her, inside of her. She barely felt it, too delighted she was finally be able to let the night take over.


Fleur was in the kitchen making a cup of coffee when she heard the first pop. She frowned, wondering if it the wind or if her mind was playing tricks on her. Bill was in the doorway then, however, his brow furrowed and his wand out. He must have felt the wards shift. Perhaps Ron was back? The blonde set her mug down. Another pop was heard in the distance and they sprang into action. Bill ripped the door open first and Fleur was hot on his heels, her wand tight in her fist as her feet sank into the cold sand. The salty air, usually bright and uplifting, was looming and dark. The wind was hurling itself against the bluffs, blowing sand off the peaks as they assessed the scene of intrusion.

She was ready for a fight, but once she saw the trespassers she knew they were in no immediate danger. An old man with cheeks so sunken was being half-carried by a tall man and a blonde girl. They were all covered in grime and their clothes were hanging from their diminished frames. It looked like they hadn't seen food or a shower in weeks. Bill was already running down the ridge to the second group and Fleur stopped in front of the blonde. There was yellowing around the vibrant blue of her eyes, but she looked at her with a dreamy smile despite her appearance.

"Hi, Fleur," she said in a hoarse whisper.

"Are you okay?" the veela was looking over the three of them, anxiously looking for any immediate injuries. The tall man spoke up next, his own eyes gaunt and bloodshot.

"We'll be fine. You need to help Hermione," he said, and dragged them wearily along to the Cottage.

Hermione..?

"Non…" Fleur said under her breath as she looked down the sand ridge. Bill was making his way back up the hill with her tightly in his arms, the wind angrily whipping his hair across his face. Harry and Ron were crouching around some small figure laying in the sand but didn't seem to be wounded themselves.

When they got closer, Fleur let out a gasp at the sight of the Gryffindor. She was less dirty than the others, but still unwashed and underfed. Her pallid face was covered in tiny cuts. Her lip was split open and bleeding, and a purple bruise was forming around her eye. Bill reached the top of the slope. She briefly met the look of horror in his eyes before continuing her assessment. Blood was steadily pouring down one arm, leaving a trail of blood in the sand behind them. Her t-shirt was cut open. A crescent-shaped bite mark on her arm was beginning to swell. Dark red lines crisscrossed all over her arms, chest, and neck. They were bleeding slowly and steadily, dampening her shirt in crimson.

Though she was unconscious, the brunette's body would seize suddenly as they journeyed back to the house, and Bill had to tighten his grip so she wouldn't fall out of his arms. The veela was filled with a blinding rage when she realised what that had to be from. They were inside now, the howling wind muted once Fleur kicked the door shut behind them. She hurried upstairs after him, entering his bedroom just as he was laying her down on his side of the bed. Hermione's body was wracked in convulsions again and Fleur's hands shook as she took her wand out again and started healing some of the wounds.

Bill was there silently, watching and holding her down as gently as he could while tears streamed down his face. The blonde couldn't cry. She knew she'd fall apart if she let herself give in to emotions, and Hermione needed the strength right now. Fleur gently took the brunette's wrist, noting her hands were clenched in tight, shaking fists despite being unconscious. She slowly moved her to get a better look at the injury bleeding the most, waving her wand over the area to clean up the carnage.

MUdbLOoD

"Oh, my god," Bill muttered beside her. Fleur swallowed the lump in her throat at the crude word carved childishly into her skin. The blood was seeping out quickly already. She summoned a bottle of dittany from their bathroom and muttered a Veela incantation before pouring the solution over the wound with shaky hands. The letters hissed and black smoke furled from her arm vengefully.

They waited, holding their breath until it cleared. Still there; still angry. Bleeding slightly less now though, at least. Fleur did it again, and they watched as more black smoke filled the air.

Bill was looking at her with wide, concerned eyes, "Dark magic," she said tightly. He swallowed and nodded, impatiently wiping at the moisture around his eyes. The blonde poured again as she explained, "It won't close, but I can try to stop the bleeding a little. I need you to go downstairs and get the other bottle of dittany and the Blood Replenishing Potion in the cabinet. After, please check on the others. I will tend to 'Ermione."

"Okay," he had disappeared and was back in less than fifteen seconds with her requests. She continued speaking in Veela and pouring, not noticing when he left again. Less smoke came out each time. She knew she wouldn't be able to get it all out with just this. The spell was love, essentially. It was very, very old magic passed down for generations. Fleur was pouring love into the younger witch and trying to siphon, to persuade, the evil to escape with the dittany. It wouldn't really work as an antidote, she knew, but veela magic had strong reactions with dark magic. She just wondered how she'd get the rest out.

She continued closing up the other cuts, frustratingly noting they all remained angry and red despite her best efforts. The blade must have been cursed. She bandaged the slur and gently applied some dittany to the bite on her arm and the injuries on her face, thankful they healed up immediately, at least. She spent all afternoon tending to the Gryffindor, grateful she had some basic healing knowledge. She never allowed herself to cry, even after she peeled off her stiff clothes to reveal more bruises and broken bones adorning her frail frame.

"Qu'est-ce qu'ils t'ont fait, petite lionne?" she whispered in a shaky voice, trying not to dissolve into tears.

She worked her way down, hands working tirelessly and magic flowing effortlessly to get her back to some semblance of physical recovery. She just hoped her mind—that gorgeous mind— wasn't lost. She had no idea how to check. She supposed they would find out in time. She chanced a few looks at the unconscious witch as she worked. Fleur couldn't be sure, but she swore she was smiling a little.


Hermione didn't know how long she had drifted in and out of consciousness, but she knew every time she could feel her body again, she wished she was back in the nothing. Everything hurt, but at least it was a more manageable hurt now. Her bones were aching. Her jaw felt sore. She tried to flex her fingers, but her tendons felt sprained and her joints were inflamed and irritated. She knew she wasn't dead, and a small, selfish part of her despaired from that information. She didn't want to wake up. Her throat was dry. Her tongue felt swollen in her mouth.

There was a sound nearby, and she flinched slightly, inhaling sharply as she waited for the pain again. Her mind was filling with memories. Horrible, horrible recollections of onyx eyes and unending anguish. She waited and waited, but it never came.

"'Ermione?" a soft, angelic voice full of concern spoke. She felt like she knew that voice, and she wanted to open her eyes to see for herself, but couldn't. She didn't trust her eyes yet. She scrunched them up instead, too scared that this was a trick and it would be the pain again. Her brain felt slow and foggy. She felt a gentle hand on her shoulder and she recoiled from it, a sharp sting spreading through her torso. A whimpering sound, like a beaten dog, slipped out from the back of her throat and she stayed frozen, shaking as she waited for the pain. It had not come yet, but she knew it should be any second.

She was feeling the lull of unconsciousness again, and she tried to will herself to stay awake, but she knew it was useless. The darkness was coming once more and she couldn't do anything to stop it. She just hoped she wouldn't have to do this again.

Nothingness would be better than this.

"'Ermione, you are safe now," she heard distantly, like it was the beginning of a dream, just before she lost consciousness.

*********************************

There was a scratching sound nearby. It wasn't loud, but it was enough to pull her out of her deep slumber. Her eyelids were less heavy now, and she nearly sighed in relief when she felt a semblance of alertness again. It felt like she had been in and out of wakefulness for days. She blinked an eye open carefully to take a peek at her surroundings, her tongue trying to pull at the thickness in her mouth. She needed water.

The room looked unfamiliar, but it was warm and cosy. Nothing like the last room she was in. Blue and white sheets were laid over her legs up to her waist, and the cream-coloured walls were clean and undecorated. A small dresser at the foot of the bed was adorned with a half a dozen seashells. The sound of gulls could be heard from the cracked window and she could smell salt in the air.

Must be near the ocean.

There were bandages across her ribs and covering a majority of her arms. The bandage on her left forearm had started to bleed through in a few spots. Hermione continued to scan, her eyes catching movement in her peripheral vision. A stunning woman was seated at a small desk in the corner, writing what seemed to be a lengthy letter. Her long, silvery-blonde hair was immediately recognisable.

Fleur Delacour.

The doors of Hermione's library of knowledge opened before her as she remembered Ron talking about Bill and Fleur's place on the seaside.

Shell Cottage. Safety.

So they made it out. She was no longer in imminent danger. She continued to watch Fleur as she scratched at the parchment. With her hair tucked behind her ear on one side, Hermione could just make out her profile. She saw the muscles in jaw clench once, twice, thrice in the span of twenty seconds. Her posture may have fooled anyone, but the Golden Girl was not just anyone. She could see the overcorrection, the forced nature of it.

Conscious posture from someone with unconsciously perfect posture. Clenched jaw. Knuckles white from tight grip on fountain pen. She is tense.

She supposed she knew the reason for that. Hermione continued to watch her in silence. She didn't know why she didn't say anything. She should tell her she was awake and ask for some water. The Saharan state of her mouth was begging her to at this point. She knew she should, but she didn't want to. She just continued to watch her delicate hand fly across the parchment as she took in more information.

Left-handed. No wedding ring and no suntan line, indicating it hasn't been worn for some time. Pen flourishes indicate she is including accents not found in English—likely writing to her family. Spot of blood on her jeans and sand on the floor. Less than a day has passed, then. She'd have noticed. Hermione grimaced at the pain in her neck as she turned her head to look back out the window on the other side of the room. Dark sky, but some blue hues. Either 9pm or 5am.

The Gryffindor looked around the room a little more, taking in more. She knew then she was on Bill's side of the bed because the drawer was worn and open slightly. She assumed that Fleur likely didn't sleep in here with him anyway considering there was nothing on the other nightstand and no women's shoes in the closet. Based on the two toothbrushes she could just make out in the bathroom, she could tell Bill was likely seeing someone else that wasn't his wife. Only one photo of the Weasley family was on display, and they were all looking at her with concern. She looked away from Molly's pitying gaze and back to the room's other occupant.

Fleur was staring at her now. Hermione's face didn't change, she just continued to observe her.

Stunning, as always, but tired underneath the mask. Looks skinnier. Likely my only caretaker. Hair looks brittle despite its natural shine. Hands shaking slightly. Hungry? Nervous?

Her blue eyes scanning apprehensively as she set down the fountainpen and slowly made her way to the edge of the bed.

She thinks I am brain-dead, probably.

"'Ermione?" she asked quietly.

Hermione swallowed the tar-like feeling in her mouth but didn't respond. Fleur said down timidly by her knee, her deep eyes flickering between her own as she searched for any signs of life. The brunette had always loved her eyes. She was good at reading people—always had been, and the eyes were an easy entryway into someone's emotions and intelligence.

Fleur's eyes were excruciatingly deep, and they gave her pause every time. She'd never seen eyes so unnaturally blue. They were like the bottom of a tropical ocean; unfiltered and unfettered by human touch. She always liked how the blonde used them too. Not many people had control over their eyes. It was an easy tell for most. Harry, for example, couldn't seem to keep his feelings out of his eyes, but the veela had learned to disguise hers. She could put a wall of blue ice up when she so wished, and Hermione loved seeing that. It made her even more fascinated with her. Right now, though, there was no guise. She was looking at her with nothing less than concern written plainly across her stunning features.

"I'm not dead," Hermione said, her voice cracking like split wood. Fleur's eyes betrayed her happiness at hearing her speak, but she frowned at the statement. She opened her mouth but closed it again soon after. She didn't know what to say to that. Instead, the blonde shifted a little closer, her brow furrowed again in contemplation. The brunette waited for her to come to a decision, watching her expression again. Her hand was pressed tightly against her thigh.

Veela are physical creatures, she remembered. Likely toying between physical comfort or not.

Hermione sighed, and blue eyes darted to her apologetically. She pulled her wand out and the brunette eyed in warily as she wordlessly summoned a glass of water and held it close to her mouth.

Brown eyes looked at her in mild annoyance before she leaned forward a little, gasping at the pain that shot across her ribs. Fleur's hand shot out to her leg automatically to comfort her, and Hermione flinched away from the touch without a second thought. Her eyes met frightened blue.

"Je suis désolé," she said quietly, bringing her hand back to her side. Her voice sounded tired despite its elegance.

The brunette grimaced again and reached out to grab the water still clutched in the delicate hand. She knew it was only a small weight, but it felt like picking up a block of cement. She clenched her teeth and brought it to her mouth, though, gulping down a few greedy swallows before her arm couldn't hold it up anymore. She held it out and Fleur took it from her, setting it on the bedside table.

"Harry and Ron?" she asked, her voice still low and rough. Her throat felt raw, and she knew it was from the screaming.

"They are okay," Fleur smiled sadly, "I don't know what you remember, or if you even want to talk about—"

"It's fine," she said abruptly. The blonde held her gaze for a moment before nodding solemnly. Her accent was less prominent now, but still there. Hermione found she was happy about that.

"They were taken down to the cellar at the manor. Luna, Dean Thomas, Ollivander, and a goblin by the name of Grip'ook were down there held captive. 'Arry managed to get help from this broken mirror he 'ad, and Dobby apparated into the cell within minutes. 'E took the others 'ere first, and then 'Arry and Ron overpowered those in the drawing-room, likely from surprise as I understand it. Dobby…'e loosened the chandelier to create a distraction, but it fell on you," she took a deep, shaky breath. Hermione watched her, intrigued in her display of emotion as she regaled the miserable tale.

"Dobby, 'e—he did not make it," she finally said, and the brunette felt a pang of sadness at that. He was a brave friend to them, after all.

Fleur continued, "You 'ave been asleep mostly. I tried to care for your wounds, mais…you will always have the scars, 'Ermione. I am so sorry," she looked down in shame, and the English witch was again struck by how much feeling her caretaker was displaying.

"It's doesn't matter," she said flatly, looking away from her.

It didn't, really. Who cares about some scars? She had been standing at the mouth of hell itself, and frankly, there were more important things to worry about.

She decided to change the subject, "I need to use the toilet," she said. Fleur nodded and moved to help her up, but she just scowled at the outstretched hand. Blue eyes were looking at her with a pained expression. For once, she missed the iciness in those eyes.

"You need 'elp, mon amie," she said softly. You can't do this on your own.

"No, I don't," she said stubbornly, putting her hands on the bed next to her so she could scoot herself off. As soon as she tried, she felt another crack of pain shoot through her torso and she yelped. Fleur stood up suddenly at the side of the bed, effectively blocking her from moving further. When she spoke next, she had lost all the patience in her voice. It was replaced with irritation as she looked into indifferent amber eyes.

"You 'ave three broken ribs that are still healing. You 'ad a ruptured spleen, a fractured pelvis, 'and, ankle, and occipital bone. Oh, and four broken fingers. You 'ave been tortured repeatedly with the Cruciatus Curse, your upper body sliced open with a cursed knife, and you will not accept my 'elp?" she was breathing heavily as she glared down at her, and the Gryffindor couldn't remember seeing her looking so angry and so unbelievably beautiful. Her fierce blue eyes were boring into hers, challenging her.

Hermione had always had a soft spot for the Frenchwoman, and this was why. Ever since the Triwizard Tournament, she had taken a liking to her, both physically and emotionally. Truthfully, she hadn't really found anything she didn't like about her. She was intelligent, intense yet friendly, resourceful, competitive, and arrestingly gorgeous. Her classmates viewed her as stand-offish and critical, but Hermione had come to learn she was often harassed and objectified, so it made sense to her that she was protecting herself. In the brunette's blossoming adolescence, she initially had no idea that the feelings she had towards her were attraction, but she was glad when she figured it out so Ron could finally give it a rest. She came out to her friends a year or so after the tournament, throughout which she found herself staring harder and longer at the athletic blonde in that damn silk uniform. Since then, the brunette had tried to keep a respectful distance from the now-married woman responsible for her sexual awakening.

Now, though, that woman was glaring at her with those electric eyes and asking to let her help, and this felt much different than a schoolyard crush. She was different now. She was no longer the little girl plagued by O.W.L. results and managing timetables. Accepting help felt like a failure, somehow.

Maybe she wasn't being fair, though. Fleur already had helped. Hermione would likely be dead if it weren't for her, by the sounds of it. It didn't mean she wanted to be looked after now, though. She didn't want to be coddled. She didn't want anything. She didn't want anything from anyone, let alone Fleur Delacour.

However, she knew she'd piss the bed before being able to get herself over there.

Today, she thought, One day of help, and you're on your own. Never again.

"Fine," she said, raising her arms with a wince, "But you're not staying in there."

Fleur pursed her lips but finally relented, throwing her hair over one shoulder before leaning down. Hermione hid her face in her blonde's shoulder as she gently wrapped her arms around her. She could smell vanilla and jasmine as she lifted her up, and she focused on that instead of her protesting muscles with every slight movement. Thankfully, the blonde gave her a moment to herself in there. After gritting her way back up to a standing position she put her bandaged hands on the countertop and looked at herself in the mirror for the first time in months.

Her hair looked dull. Her eyes were lifeless. Her skin was pale and dry. Her outer shell looked exactly how insides felt; empty, hollow. She knew what she should feel right now, and it wasn't this. She should feel embarrassment, anger, perhaps some semblance of survivor's guilt. She should want to splash water on her face and get some colour back into her pitifully pallid cheeks. She should take some step towards restoration—some small, swing of optimism to attempt to recover and come back into her old self. She knew this, but she felt nothing when she looked into those dead eyes. She couldn't feel anything. She couldn't see herself in there. And you know what? She didn't really care.