Broken Together

If I Should Lose Myself

"Anger is the fluid that love bleeds when it gets cut."

C.S. Lewis

Time with Severus was now a beautiful torture. Hermione had become adept at hiding her soaring and fluttering insides with laughter and smiles – or so she'd thought. Harry, though, had begun giving her funny looks…and if Harry was on to her, she was giving more away than she was keeping hidden, and Severus would notice soon enough. That would likely push Severus away from the friendship they had…and that would kill her.

Distance. She needed some, quick. And she had the perfect project in mind. Something that would give her enough distance to get a grip while doing something she needed to do for Severus. She knew that his neck wound, especially, still pained him, still marred his remarkable voice, and made it difficult for him to eat. She couldn't stand to not do anything about that, especially after coming across some information that made her think it possible a cure could be found. It wasn't running away, not really. The timing was fortuitous, that's all.

Hermione tried to maintain a balance, not wanting Severus to think she was avoiding him or that she'd given up on his friendship. She kept most of the SevenS appointed get togethers and even fished him from his office on most of these occasions, but as the weeks progressed she became more and more engrossed in her project, and she became negligent in this regard. She kept hitting frustrating roadblocks, but every one of them put her a little closer to the answer.

Harry cornered her in the library one day.

"Alright, Hermione?" he asked.

She sighed. "I suppose…maybe...ask me when I finish this project. It's driving me insane. The answer is hiding just out of sight, I know it!"

"What are you working on anyway?"

Hermione shoved her journal across the table toward him. After looking through her notes, Harry looked up, "You're trying to heal his bite wounds?"

She nodded, her gaze far away. "They still hurt him," she explained.

"I know," Harry sighed. "Impressive…hope you find a way. I suppose you're keeping it quiet from him until you figure it out…in case you don't."

Hermione nodded again, her thoughts and gaze still abstract.

"There's more to it, isn't there?" Harry asked with a knowing look.

Hermione finally swung around to look at him. She gave a sort of self-deprecating huff and looked away again. "You could say that." Her inner turmoil finally animated her to life. "It's utterly ridiculous, Harry! He'd never…even I can't imagine...he's been walling me out more than half the time since Australia anyway," she said, waving her hand up and down, miming a wall in agitation.

Harry squinted his eyes at her. "Hermione, why do you think that started after Australia?"

"He found me annoying, I expect. Let's not forget my embarrassing, hormonal crying jag. If my nerves didn't put him off, that was sure to do it."

"I don't think that's it," Harry said.

Hermione looked at him with disbelief.

Harry chuckled quietly. "I'm not saying it didn't annoy or horrify him a bit…but he didn't start getting that look or distancing himself until he saw you with your parents."

"After my parents? What…why would that put him off?" she questioned.

Harry shook his head at her a bit. "Hermione, for someone who usually sees so much, sometimes you're really obtuse. There you were, getting your parents back. I'm sure he was wondering what that would mean for him."

Hermione still looked confused. "You think he was worried I'd blow him off when I got my parents back? Why would he…I wouldn't…he's the only one…"

"That get's that humongous brain of yours…I know," Harry said. "But Mum blew him off, Hermione, and now you sort of are too."

Hermione looked at him, distraught. "I'm not…it's just this project.." Harry gave her a look. "And I was afraid he'd see and be so horrified he'd run away and I'd lose his friendship altogether. I promised, Harry. I promised I wouldn't ask more of him than he wanted to give." She felt near tears again.

"I'm sure it's worse for him to think you're blowing him off than that you're wanting more than he does…he's gotten way worse in the last few weeks already…and are you so sure it couldn't happen…later maybe?" Harry asked.

"I'll be more careful," Hermione promised. "I've almost figured it out anyway – I'm sure of it!" She gave Harry a gauging look and ignored the latter part of his question, too afraid to open the door of hope. "When did you get to be Mr. Discernment anyway?"

Harry laughed. "I guess you and Ginny had to rub off on me sometime. Don't tell anyone I've gone and joined the girl club, though. It's only because I know you so well, probably."

"Speaking of…How are you and Ginny doing?" Hermione asked.

"Good. We're going slower this time…after Fred and everything that happened. Auror training's going to be intense the first couple of years and Gin wants to try for the Holyhead Harpies. It's a long-term plan, but she's stuck with me,"

Hermione smiled back at him. "That's good...Thanks, Harry."

Five days later she bounded into Severus' office ecstatically, full of joy and thrilled at her accomplishment.

"Severus, I think I've got it!" she exclaimed.

Her enthusiasm was doused immediately. Dread replaced it. Severus had been pacing, but now he turned his glittering, angry eyes her direction and snarled, "Control yourself, Miss Granger." He advanced on her and pointed toward the door, "Go. Away. I have no need or

time for your...over-familiarity. Make an appointment if you think it ab-so-lute-ly necessary."

He was done with her. It was obvious in his tone.

Hermione stood, petrified by the shock of his rejection, her breath and her heart…gone, her eyes fixed and tingling. 'Please, no!' her mind wailed. She blinked and raised her eyes to his, searching for some sign to justify hope. There was nothing. He was cold and occluded…and absolutely certain. As her heart stuttered and beat in frantic denial, she steeled herself to accept the limit that he'd drawn. She wrested her face from a grimace of pain to a blank expression and nodded once. A pathetic squeak sounded in her throat as she gulped back tears, and tremors wracked her body as she fought back the waves of sorrow and loss. She turned and headed for the door with jerking movements.

Hermione paused when she reached the door and looked down at the journal in her shaking hands. It was blurred by the silent tears that pooled in her eyes and escaped down her slack face. She shut it all down and threw the journal in the bin by the door before she left.

Hours later, Harry found her sitting at the top of the astronomy tower. She didn't look him in the face, she hadn't anyone on the way here either, but she put her finger to her lips in a shushing motion and patted the ground beside her. His familiar presence was welcome, but she didn't want to talk or listen. It would distract her from the nothing, the abstract space where she could take in the silence and the sky obliquely and just be without breaking. She sat with him, letting the intermittent tremors run their course, letting her body cry so that she wouldn't. It was the only way she knew to hold herself together.

Harry didn't ask, she didn't answer – he knew the answer anyway.

The floodgate of her nightmares and worst memories had burst open with her upset over Severus. Hermione cleared her mind as much as she could and focused on the nothing, but she was still barely coping. It was hard enough keeping up with the things she knew she ought to care about. She knew she couldn't add a Severus who had rejected her into the mix of things to deal with right now – it would tear her protections down completely.

For his sake, Hermione asked the boys not to be mad at Severus and to keep him in company, but Hermione herself avoided him, avoided their common room when she knew he had free time, avoided the halls or hid herself completely from notice when she knew he might traverse them, studied in lonely forgotten places of the castle, ate elsewhere and avoided looking at the staff table when she did eat in the Great Hall. Harry and Ron learned to sit by her quietly. Hermione let them hug her and sit near her talking to each other, but she didn't want to talk. She researched and revised, did her homework and answered questions when her Professors called on her, but she was faltering.

She existed mechanically, putting up a façade to avoid more probing questions. It was paltry. Her school mates, if anything became more wary of the coldness with which she dispensed justice and punishment and walked the halls. Harry eventually cornered her and asked, "Hermione, what are you doing?"

"Keeping afloat, keeping my promise," she answered in a dead, flat voice. It was the only question she had answered on the subject.

She answered only one more. "And what if he wants to apologize?" Harry followed up.

The truth was, she didn't know the answer to that. It wasn't that she was mad at Severus. She had been hurt, partially of her own fear and making, but now she was lost to herself. She felt too far gone, too cornered by horrors, too dead inside for it to do any good, save there was a possibility a discussion with Severus could thaw the coldness that was holding her together, and as bad as things were now, if that happened, it could be even worse. If Severus needed to apologize, she would let him, eventually, if she ever rediscovered enough of herself for him to talk to. "Maybe later, Harry, but not yet. I'm not mad, but I'm..." she couldn't even find the words so she finished with a shake of her head and a wave of her hand. "Give it some time," she said quietly, before resting her mouth on her hand and staring off into the distance.

Harry seemed to understand the words that she couldn't say. He wrapped her in up in a hug. "Maybe over Christmas break…back at Grimmauld next week?" he asked.

Seclude herself as she did, It was still too much, the requests for her involvement too overwhelming for the blank space inside her, so she took to leaving the castle which was no longer familiar or a comfort. She found that her tree platform was the only place anything like soothing. Those nostalgic moments of beauty that she had talked to Severus about so long ago no longer swept through her, but they at least touched her when nothing else did. Her breaking had been worse than she had ever imagined. She didn't know how to fix herself, but it didn't really concern her...though she knew it should. She had lost herself, lost hope and purpose - and the moments of beauty, dim as they were, provided the only meaning that she could find.

When Fenrir Greyback found her, he found a cold opponent devoid of fear. She fought as one with nothing left to lose, with little care as to winning or losing, and it was this that made her realize how close she was to the brink. Some little fear and concern had returned to her by the time Severus found her, but she was still so lost.

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