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darkness is just the absence of light anyway

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When she opened her eyes, she saw stars. But they were far away, and she suspected they were hiding from her. There was a throbbing behind her eyes and her brain was set to burst. She couldn't tell if she was hot or cold, though the blankets had warmth enough. She had made up her mind to ask them to share when she fell under again.


Her head still hurt when she woke the second time. The stars were gone beyond the window, but she had sense enough this time to know that it hadn't been due to any autonomous decision of their own. Her head ached and her arms and legs felt heavy, pinioned under weight that didn't feel her own. She watched the sun shine unfettered outside and suspected she wasn't in England anymore.

She couldn't tell where she was. The room wasn't small, she could have paced, but it didn't take grandeur to new heights either. She tried her voice, attempting a hello but it was small and choked. It hurt to speak.

The last thing she remembered was drinks at the Three Broomsticks after work. Watching Ron hold the door through foggy eyes as Harry carried her through bridal style and apparated. Then the smell of lilac. Then nothing.

She felt the promise of panic on the horizon but pushed it away. She wondered what was going to happen to her.


Free use of her arms and two tall glasses of water greet her when she woke again. They weren't new, having sweat a ring at their base' on the nightstand, but they were the most beautiful thing she'd seen in hours. Moonlight filtered through and the lack of the usual floating sediment reveal them to have been magically purified. She'd stared at first, sod it, bracing herself on one hand and gulping them with the other.

"Are they helping?" She jerked, startled, spilling a little liquid down her front. She knew that voice. It would always help her.

"Harry, where are we? Is everything alright?"

She could hear two sets of footsteps, softened in carpet, and relaxed as they stepped into the light. Then stiffened again, confused. She had felt it.

She shuddered when a wand tip softly tapped her legs, setting them free. Her skin prickled and she could feel a droplet of water as it traced a path

down the curve of her breast. It was cold.

"Everything's fine, Mione." Ronald. He ran a large hand down her calf, an action she knew he had meant to be soothing. But his voice was oddly intense and Harry was staring just as intently as Rons voice was heavy and it all just fed straight through to the unsettled mass in her chest. It was all very uncomfortable.

She threw the covers back and tried to stand when two sets of hands pushed her back down, replacing the blanket.

"No need to worry, Mione." Harry, that time. "Everything's going to be fine from now on. You need to sleep." She didn't, actually. She knew that she

didn't, but it hadn't seemed to stop her body from obeying. Eyes drooping and limbs growing heavy. All the while thinking that she had felt it.

That thing that she had fine tuned during the war, that made her the best profiler in England when the war had ended. But it couldn't have been, really. It couldn't. Never before had her instincts warned her away from Harry and Ron.


They brought lunch the next day, some indeterminable time after she'd woken to breakfast on the nightstand and had made use of the adjoining bathroom. All her clothes were in the dressers. She'd spent the time thinking, of course, had come to her conclusions. And as far as kidnappings go, she'd decided, she could have done worse.

She wondered when the optimism would wane and tried to remember if it had always tasted like ass.

She'd turned from the window, open but impenetrable (she'd tried), when she'd heard the door unlock. And what she had only sensed in the dark the night before, she could see clearly in the light of day. Looking at them she felt cracked, ripped in half and saw broken mirror behind her eyes. An intuition attached, some way, somehow, to her instincts, and knew, the way one knows the sun will set tonight and rise tomorrow that they were wrong.

That they were different, but at the same time the same and that she needed to get the hell out of dodge.

"Please let me go."

"Don't worry." Answered Harry, setting down the tray. Ron's mouth upturned at the corners as if he were keeping a secret. "We're the only ones that know you're here. They're looking though, it's all over the wireless. Turns out your much more appreciated than we thought." There's affection in that last part, and pride, but they're overlaid by something else, something maybe just a tad bit mental and it had been a challenge not to look away.

"You can't keep me here forever. Someone will figure it out eventually."

"Mione," replied Ron, "The only one who ever knew us enough to figure us out is you." His eyes shone with the delight of it all. "And you already know."


Hermione couldn't figure out their psychosis. She knew that they had become fixated, but whether it was on her or something she represented to them she didn't know. She knew that those who were obsessive were, in fact, really obsessed with an idealised versionof the victim projected onto the victim by the obsessed, not the actual victim themselves. That the obsessive person knows this subconsciously, and so will never put themselves in a situation where long-term one-on-one contact with the victim is necessary. Would never risk the idea of the victim that they have in their mind by becoming familiar with the victim as a person. Hence, the stalking. But this, kidnapping her, broke the pattern. It broke the ritual. And with the types of perps she was trained to profile it was all about the ritual. Kidnapping her brought her out of the comfortable sphere of fantasy she would be in, if this had been a usual case, and into their reality. Brought to bare, revealed as she was, into the light. Fantasy eliminated.

The obsession had crossed into something else, but what exactly it meant, she couldn't figure out. They hadn't threatened her, hadn't tried to scare her, hadn't touched her beyond putting her to bed her first night, and once again on her second. They brought her food that could have been prepared by Harry himself for all she knew. Sometimes take-out from random stores around her block. Or, once, from her favorite Chinese take-away a few streets away from her childhood home.

"Now you were right about this place, Mione," Harry said as he sat the Styrofoam container down on the nightstand to her side. "These guys know what they're doing. They haven't failed a health inspection ever, we checked."

"And we got them to leave out the carrots." Ronald added. "Because we remembered what you said that time about Carrots undermining the awesomeness that is fried rice with their Carrotyness." It took her a moment, in the stress and the helplessness that had become her world of late, to recall what he was blathering about. But apparently he remembered just fine. "And look!" he finished, holding up a bag. "Them muggle Seer cookies!"

When Hermione crushed hers into tiny pieces, she hadn't wanted it anyway, it read: Patience and optimism are key to happiness.

She spied the solid, shiny hardwood door over Harry's shoulder and sighed. Somehow she doubted that.


Hermione's room was fifteen by twenty-one feet, approximately. It took her eleven paces to get from the door (locked, heavy, hard oak, lacquered and menacing) to the closet door (the same) and nine paces to get from the bathroom (white, white, shiny white) to the window (that let only sunshine in and her hope out).

The ceiling was ornately carved with vines and leaves and orchids in full bloom twisted about each other in a never ending tangle and she wondered what it meant to them as she had caught them staring intently at it on more than one occasion. The dressers and walls were of the same wood as the doors, a rustic 'cabin in the woods' look that was probably a facade and that she couldn't bring herself to enjoy anyway. And anything made of material; the draperies (that she never closed), the blankets and sheets (that always managed to be changed when she wasn't looking) were quite decidedly red and gold. She'd never hated those colors before.

There were no vents to crawl through, Merlin himself wasn't getting through that window and she didn't have her wand to get her out of this one.

Any authority she had had over Harry and Ronald at Hogwarts, if only psychological, was absolutely moot now. Negated by their irrational need to keep her near. Or away. Either-or, her last hope was pretty much sunk.

She tried to make a run for it, waiting at the door for them to come and attempting to push through when she caught them by surprise. They carried her back and made her sleep then didn't return for three days. Her meals were brought by a house elf who popped in, put the tray down, then popped back out again no matter what she did to try and make it stay. She tried to hunger strike after that but when they came one day with a large Caramel tart (her favorite) to share, and sat with her, and continued to tell her about the search she couldn't do it.

She didn't know how long they'd been keeping her.... wherever they'd been keeping her. She'd stopped counting the days after a month. They came twice a day when they could. Though there were plenty of times when it was just one of them and her. She thinks the house elf probably brought her breakfast in the mornings.

She stopped speaking so she couldn't ask. She doubted she'd get a truthful answer anyway.


One night she surfaced, just for a moment. Just long enough for whispered chants to register, for the soft weight of a head atop her belly, before sinking back again. That night she dreamed of them, of the three of them and has every night since. She didn't believe for a moment that it was coincidental.


"What does this accomplish? Keeping me here?" She demanded when they opened the door. Her outburst had caught them off guard, they stood in the doorway, processing.

"They were going to hurt you." Answered Ronald. "They were going to take you away from us. We couldn't allow that."

"No," said Harry, shaking his head absently. There was a glassy sheen to his eyes and she knew that whatever he was seeing, it was nothing in that room. "No" he intoned again, bringing himself back, "We couldn't allow that." And it was like some cosmic play button had been pushed again. They brought in the trays, sat at the other end of the bed and began to eat. She glanced at them from under her lids. She could have fought them, well she could have tried, she could have argued the point, but suddenly she just didn't have the energy. And she knew better than to argue rationally with the irrational.

"Who was going to take me from you?"

"Disease," Harry answered.

"Accidents" Ronald added.

"Vengefull family member of a death eater in Azkaban or killed in the war." Harry again.

"The next time a perp would get a hex off before back-up arrived."

A flash of waking in the hospital was there, then gone. The sterile white had been familiar if not unfailingly nauseating, but it wasn't as if she hadn't taken a hit in the field before. They all had. But this last time, three weeks before they'd brought her here had been especially nasty. She woke to thier hands clamped around hers, to their faces, drenched in worry and concern and something else, something she hadn't noticed then but was all too familiar now. She had found the stresser.

"Them." Harry emphasised, tipping his head to the window. "Out there. Those who are not a part of us."

She blinked disbelievingly. "This is about keeping me safe?"

They shrugged, the action belied completely by the wrapped attention with which they stared at her. Intense and unapologetic.

"Your ours, Hermione. We can't live without you. We won't."


Psychologically, Hermione knew she was buggered. She'd read the literature, knew that man wasn't meant to exist alone. Deprivation of contact led to hallucinations, paranoia, loss of cohesive thought. And now more than ever she understood her grandmother's need to scrapbook, knit, do jigsaw puzzles, join clubs (doll, stamp, book), do anything to fill the minutes, hours, days that would else be left empty, with nothing to do but think.

She'd thought about the search process, about Dean Thomas whom she'd roomed with in the co-ed dorm during Auror training and whom she'd always gone to for a consult if she found herself with a particularly difficult UNSUB. She'd thought about the fact that the hope of ever finding her diminished with every hour that passed. That, if Harry and Ron were spear heading the search, as the bestfriends who were also the best Aurors in the business were want to do, then the search party definitely hadn't come anywhere near her, and probably never would.

She thought about the dreams she'd had the nights before; from the childishly innocent to those that were anything but and, from those, naturally she thought about them. About signs she should have noticed. Behaviours she should have spotted. They'd become very territorial of her since the war, and almost caveman since her latest visit to Saint Mungo's.

Time moved on. One of them came twice a day. Both when they could manage, and she began to look forward to their visits, if only to break the boredom.

"Are they still searching?"

They both looked up in surprise, it had been days, weeks perhaps since she'd last spoken. "No," Answered Ron, sneaking Harry a conspiratorial smile. "We've regretfully called off the search."

"'Resigned ourselves to our loss', Skeeter wrote," Harry finished. And he was smiling. She'd tried to ignore it, she had. She had been steeling herself, trying to show them that they weren't getting to her, but she couldn't help it! She had been locked in that room like a bloody pet and they were smiling!

"Does my captivity amuse you?" She'd never used that voice with Harry and Ronald before, something reserved should she have need of it while questioning suspects or when her boss hit on her every fortnight or so. "Does my pain amuse you?" Their faces fell, but also she saw anger. And it almost made her smile. Almost.

They'd had an idea of themselves. The fearless protectors whisking away the damsel in distress, hiding her away from the cruelty and the danger of the world. A fantasy created as a buffer between themselves and the reality of what they were doing. Between themselves and the moral implications of their actions. Implying that they were causing her pain endangered that fantasy.

"You're not a captive, Hermione! We're keeping you safe!" They were up and in her space then and she couldn't help but huddle away against the headboard. They weren't touching her, but she could see in the way their fingers curled then straightened and curled again that they wanted too.

"We're doing this for your own good, love." Her flinch had been automatic, these were tired lines.

"But not just for you, for us as well. We can't function not knowing where you are, if you're safe, if you're even alive at all! It's better this way. You're safe and you're here with us and we're together and that's the way it should be, Hermione," she turned her back to them then, laying herself down and using the hair that fell over her face as a shield, "It's the way it was always meant to be."

She heard a sigh and light footsteps as they gathered their food and turned to leave. "Mione?" Ronald, from the doorway. "Please, talk to us. Tell us what your thinking."

Her answer was done and out before she even had time to try and stop it. To remind herself that she wasn't talking to them. "I'm thinking that I'm dying in this fucking place."

Her voice was soft. Resigned. But it was better than listening to them.


The migraines started one day while the leaves were turning. A rhythmic thumping that hit at the bottom of the Cerebellum and permeated everything right through to her corneas. But the first time a migraine overlapped a visit with Harry and Ron the leaves had fallen completely. Caught amidst the agony beneath her skull she couldn't force herself to pay attention to anything but the pain that she knew was only going to become thicker before it got better.

So she hadn't heard the lock snap, or seen them both stop short in surprise then approach, behind the palm of her hands against her eyes. She did, however, flinch when they each put a hand on her shoulder.

"Mione." Harry's whisper that close clawed through her brain and she pushed her palms deeper. He didn't go away though; instead placing a hand either side of her head and massaging her temples the way he used to, when she'd had stress headaches at Hogwarts. Ronald rubbed her back. It hadn't lessened the pain, not at all, but it gave her a sensation to focus on other than the pain, which made it easier to live through.

She didn't know how long it had lasted. It felt like days, weeks, but when it finally did end she was exhausted. Ronald was still rubbing her back in that long soothing motion and Harry was resting his forehead against hers, his fingers threaded through her hair dampened with sweat. She didn't have the energy to push them away.

When she woke, she was warm. But not a warmth born of body heat trapped beneath blankets. When she realised she was draped across Harry her ear above his heart, Ronald on her other side with his own ear atop hers, running his hand lightly up and down her side, she stiffened. The hand stopped, squeezed her hip lightly.

"Feeling better?" They asked.

"Please, let me go." In unison they sighed, and Ron's hand began again at her side.

Against her will she felt herself relax.

"Just sleep, Hermione," said Harry. "You need to sleep."


On they're next visit, they brought her a headache potion. A level one healant; non-addictive and not lethal in large doses, in a pretty little blue and green chrystal bottle. It caught the light on sunny afternoons and cast rainbows and clouds of green and blue across the walls and ceiling. She wondered if they were trying to buy her?

"Please let me go. Why won't you let me go?" She knew why. She knew better than they did, but she'd been wall to wall desperation for months now and she could feel hysteria peeking through like a ferret in her chest cavity and if she didn't get out of that room then she was going to crack. As it was she was sure the walls had begun to close in and she couldn't stop fidgeting. Her nerves seeming to pool in her fingertips, making them tingle with (not so) imaginary pins and needles.

"We've been through this Hermione."

She'd sat up on her knees on the comforter, her hands clutched in the ends of her hair. Distantly she was aware that she was begging, but she was beyond caring. She felt the bed dip and knew that Ron had taken place behind her, just in case. She didn't like to think of what.

"We're doing this for you, for us. We love you."

She planted her palms over her ears, trying to keep the words out like colors in the air. "No! You're doing this for you! You've become obsessed! You need professional help! I'll stay with you, I'd be with you every step of the way, but you have to let me go!" She'd shuffled forward and taken Harry's head between her hands. Pressing their foreheads together as if with enough force she could push her ordered thinking into his mind and make him see reason. "I will, I promise. I will help you both through this. But you have to let me go!"

Arms snuck around her and pulled her back against a broad chest. Squeezed her to it and kept squeezing, behind her Ron chanted No. No No No No No into her hair like the word was going to save him and he kept squeezing. Suddenly she just couldn't look at them and she tried to turn away but it was Harry who had her face then, and all she could do was close her eyes against him.

"You're safe here Hermione. We're doing this to keep you safe." He kissed her cheeks, her eyes, in a frenzy and it wasn't until later that she realised he had been kissing away her tears. "You have to be safe. We'd die without you Mione. We're doing this for you." She'd struggled the best she could, grunts and high pitched moans of rage and desperation slipping through, but the world around her seemed to blur, sound into picture into touch.

"No, you're doing this for you! You've become obsessed, consumed with keeping us together! Consumed with me! And you're keeping me here, using isolation and dream manipulation and psychotropic spells in my sleep to mind-fuck me because you need me to be consumed with you too!"

Harrys hands tightened against her cheeks, screaming, always screaming whispered into her skin, and I couldn't stop them, we couldn't help.

She felt it, carried on a breath over her heart and the breast above with a shiver that made her nerve endings sing all over. She didn't want to feel it. Didn't want to acknowledge what it meant that she had. She didn't want to be there at all.

"Please. Please let me go." With a huff of the mattress Harry fell back, using his weight to take her with him. Any strength she had at all was gone, cried away and wasted on useless struggling. All she could do was clutch and beg into Harrys chest where she'd landed. "Please. You're killing me.

I'm dying in this room."

"Sleep, Hermione." He answered. "You need to sleep." She didn't want to, she hated it when they made her, but her eyes closed anyway. Vaguely she felt the steady weight of Ronald from behind, pushing himself into her, herself into harry. And as Harrys arms wound around both of them, Hermione slept.


They didn't come back. They didn't come back. They'd missed dinner that night, lunch the next day, dinner after that and they just didn't come back.

She should have kept her mouth shut. She knew better than to lose control in those types of situations, really, she did. But she was so angry and so hopeless and out of her own control, the last being something she had always loathed. And she needed to make them see. To see and to understand. She had dared to puncture there carefully crafted false reality. And now she was being punished.

She should have kept her mouth shut.

She was bored. She knew she was not like other people in that way. Pain she could handle, humiliation, degradation, physical abuse, emotional, all these things she could take. But she could not stand boredom. She was unstable and she was bored and alone, and she began to feel the movement of time like plate tectonics. For all intents and purposes, at a stand still. She tried counting seconds, but kept losing place. She could see the numbers in her mind, 3-d and colorful, some with patterns, like dancing digits on a children's show, until her line of thought would just stop. She didn't think she ever got passed three hundred and seventy-nine, but she wasn't sure. Wasn't sure.

She toyed with the crystal bottle, turning it this way and that and watched the colors move before, one day while a Robin was foraging outside the window, throwing it against a wall. It was pointless and achieved nothing, but she was drowning and she wanted to hurt something, break it the way she was breaking.

She played six degrees of Kevin Bacon with potion's ingredients but only got so far as Furile Root before she had to stop. She had to stop before she sliced her wrists open with the small piece of crystal she'd hidden under the mattress before the house elf (who, apparently, was still under strict orders not to speak to her) could discover then clean the mess.

She couldn't sleep. She couldn't think. All she could manage was a manic striding from bathroom to window and back again wondering if this was how she was going to die. Furious and crazed and alone pacing her life away like an animal trapped in a cage.

She saw Neville and Luna and Ginny and the Weaselys but every time she tried to keep their faces they melted away like Dali's clocks and she would found herself sometimes, hands grasping desperately at her scalp in vain attempts to keep them in.

A book appeared once. Stephen King's It. A story about, amongst other things, the importance of friendship. After all it was, in part, the friendship, loyalty and love of each other that gave the seven young protagonists the strength to face Pennywise as children, then face again and destroy him as adults. She threw it at the window when she realised what they were trying to do.

She started to have memories. With an eery calm they settled around her. Random warm moments of friendship; playing exploding snap, talking and laughing in the common room, at their spot on the edge of the cliff behind the quidditch stands. Interspersed with moments of fear and worry; sitting at a bed side in the mediwing, watching them dodge balls and bodies on brooms. She laughed with Harry's and Rons of many ages, all coincidentally older than eleven (and that meant something, she was sure of it, but could never quite push herself to grasp what) as 'manipulation' wrote itself again and again across the walls. (backwards once, because apparently King was who all the crazy kids were reading these days) She traced over it with her finger and sang.

She tried to count the seconds but got lost in the two-fifties.

She banged on the door and screamed. Yelled at them to finish it. "Let me go! Kill me or let me go!"

She tried to count the seconds but her voice was hoarse from screaming. It hurt to talk, but she pushed it anyway.

She wondered where they were. She began to think about them a lot. What they were doing, who they were doing it with, what robes they were wearing. She thought about them at work; If they were keeping up with their paperwork, if they'd been wounded, if they'd had need to call for back up. She wondered if they were eating properly because neither had any sense of health in that regard and it was always up to her to make them eat any sought of vegetable at all. She wondered what they were thinking about. And hated that whatever the answers to these things were she didn't know because they weren't there. They wern't there and she couldn't see them and she didn't know and not knowing felt horrible. A horrible cesspool of what ifs that sat and stewed and ate at her innerds. She remembered knowing before that this was what they wanted. And she hated that it was working.


When they finally did come, Hermione thought they were hallucinations. "You Bastards." She'd said, her voice cracked and abused.

They had left her. They had left her alone for she didn't know how long, and the rage that had been simmering beneath the surface wanted to burst,

wanted to scorch. But at the same time she felt disjointed, displaced from her body. Seemingly from afar she watched herself run at them, beating ineffectual fists against Harry's chest. He dropped a tray to block her. "You Bloody Fucking Bastards! You left me!" Sleeplessness had left her weakened and thinner and it was pitiful, even to herself, how easily Ronald had her restrained.

Weak, pathetic she'd tried to strike out, but he'd held her tight to his chest. Held her up. Her arms pinned at her sides with his own around her torso. Hermione felt tears fall, traitorous, and hated herself, kicked out with the last of her waning strength. "You left me! I was all alone! You left me!" Hermione closed her eyes, she was so tired. Felt Harry's forehead against her own, Ronalds face in her hair. She'd sagged against him and Harry's hands lifted to grasp her hips, turned into a hug that Hermione refused to return, even if she could have. It was warm though and part of her wanted to; wanted that warmth, desperate with the knowledge that it was the heat of another. Of a person. Even as the other part wanted to hurt him. It had been such a long time since she'd last been held.

"Please just kill me." She'd sobbed. "If you won't let me go, then please kill me. Please. Please."

"Shh, Mione. We're here. We're here now. Calm down and come eat with us. Please." They'd walked her to the bed and she went silently. It took a moment longer than necessary to pull away and she'd hated herself ten-fold for liking it. They'd both given one final squeeze before setting her down, then fetched the two remaining trays.

They were her keepers. The two men who had simultaneously stolen and ruined her life. And a few seconds later they had handed her a knife and fork, had sat on both her sides, and were sharing their dinner with her.

After a moment of eating in silence Ronald said: "We won't kill you, Mione. You belong with us. You're ours. But please understand that that means we're yours too."

She sighed then nodded, there wasn't much else that she could do. She was never getting out of that room.


"We're thinking of becoming Hermits" said Harry. "Just withdrawing from society and staying here with you."

They were escalating. The word bounced about her brain like it were made of rubber and she understood that it should mean something to her.

Understood that it used too. But it was gone now, whatever it was. Lost.

"What about work? Your friends? The Weaselys? Girlfriends?" She'd tracked them as they moved. They'd brought yogurt. She didn't move from the bed and they sat on either side of her again, their shoulders warm against her own. She thought about moving away but then she saw all the faces again, appearing as if from the dark and she couldn't.

Harry and Ronald were real at least. Even if she didn't know what to do about them anymore.

And she couldn't help the joy she felt at the thought of it. They were going to visit her more often, maybe even stay with her all the time, she wouldn't be alone. She'd hated herself for wanting them with her, but she needed company, craved human contact and knew that this was all that they'd afford her. Her eyes welled at the thought, they were going to stop leaving her, she wouldn't be alone again.

"We don't need to work." Harry answered. "My inheritance alone would be enough to support the three of us two lifetimes over. Add to that what

Ron and yourself have saved while working. We wouldn't ever have to be apart. We haven't dated since your 'disappearance' and as for friends and the Weaselys, well losing them is a necessary sacrifice."

"We cannot be unless we're together." Ronald finished. "We belong together, the three of us. They don't understand that."

Then all of a sudden Hermione was laughing. It was hysterical, she knew, she could feel it spinning out of control into sobs, and then she could barely breathe for the laughter and the sobbing. "I'm going crazy," she gasped digging her fingers into her thighs. The life she'd worked so hard to create for herself in the Wizarding world was over, it had been lost, stripped from her in this room. Friendships, any boyfriends she might have had, a marriage,

children, her career, up in flames and there was nowhere else for her to turn.

They gathered her into their arms. "Shh. We know," Harry whispered into her hair. "We know. But it's alright. Ron and I are there to catch you. You're almost with us, Mione. You're almost there."

She hated them for reducing her to this, she did. But she couldn't stand the loneliness when they left her anymore than she could the silence in their wake and so she'd held on to them and sobbed. Held on to them like they were the only things keeping her together, instead of the ones that had ripped her apart.


She didn't want to ask them, didn't want to give them the satisfaction of knowing that their decision meant so much to her. Except they hadn't visited together for a long time and she never spoke when it was just one of them. She'd picked up It from the dresser where the Elf had placed it and read it through. Reread the chapter where Mike meets the rest of the losers club and remembered. Remembered the troll and the days afterward and the feeling of all things falling into place.

"No," Said Harry, "No, we haven't made the decision yet." They flanked her as usual and Ronald noticed the book. "Like it?"

She'd read it before actually, at fifteen. The holiday of the King her parents had called it, after she'd devoured The Stand and fallen in love. "Yes. What's keeping you?"

Ronald handed her a fork and their shoulders (shoulder to shoulder to shoulder) settled together as usual. "The time isn't right."

''You've both never taken this long to make a decision this big. Not since Auror training.''

"Usually our minds aren't on other things."

The weight of their gaze on her made Hermione pause. She crawled out from between the middle and sat facing them. They were less manic tonight, but no less intense.

Then things were clear. Thinking about what I think.

"We know about the piece of potion bottle. Obi tried to reassemble it, when she was left with a bottle with a whole in it, it was kind of obvious." The less obvious question of why they let her keep it she didn't need to voice.

They shrugged.

Hermione stared back until they both dropped their eyes and resumed eating. She wasn't sure what they were saying, she was half crazy, isolated, her wrists ached from scratching at shackles that weren't really there.

"Are you going to kill yourself?" Harry asked.

She contemplated them both, gaze settling from one to the other, and then she knew, she knew that they were waiting for her choice. She felt odd, like her chest was being compressed and inflated at the same time.

She didn't answer right then. But took her place between them and continued to eat in silence, dozens of hole ridden thoughts flying about in her head. She needed... she had too... but they would never... she just needed it to end. She needed something to stop so that she wasn't in this room anymore, caged and forgotten and alone.

But that was her reality now, she had left her old self behind long ago. It was lost, drifting out of reach in the realm of reason and she couldn't get her back. In the then and the there all she had was them and she couldn't pretend that she didn't care, couldn't pretend that they were not, now, all she ever thought about. And she realised that there was a kind of clarity in that. In letting go of everything else. Of putting all else away and focusing only on them. There was freedom in abandoning all else and giving yourself entirely to someone else, as they had given themselves to her and were hoping to receive in return.

And then something clicked. She felt it shift inside her like a cosmic puzzle piece falling into place, like Mike and the losers club, like her and her boys after the troll, and understood.

Ronald shifted forward when he finished, an unspoken signal that they could not stay to talk today. She felt cold inside at their absence from her side. She thought she might have seen Neville over in a corner but decided that it couldn't have been. The last time he'd visited he'd said he couldn't come again. "Do you want another book?" Harry asked, as if he were simply leaving the room for a second. As if the three were some fucked up couple and she just didn't want to get up to get another herself. As if they weren't changed.

"Stay." They both froze. Disbelief sitting on their shoulders. Tentatively, she reached out and pulled them both back. Back towards her. "Stay with me."

There was a moment of hesitation in their eyes, but then they seemed to melt. They smiled, eyes shining with un-shed tears as they cocooned her with

themselves. Lifting her up to her knees as they kissed her face, her neck, her shoulders, her hair. They held her, warm and close, fingers and hands sliding of thier own accord. Hers, theirs, she wasn't sure. She wasn't sure. It no longer seemed like there was a difference.

She calmed the shudders that ran through her at their touch, wasn't sure if they were of revulsion or relief. But, she supposed, it didn't matter anymore.

When she twisted, turning back over her shoulder, arm reaching to pull Ron closer, and when lips mashed, she felt herself crack as well, filling herself up and then emptying herself out in turn. Felt a door open.

In that kiss Hermione let go, and when she surfaced for air, Ronalds face flushed redder than his Weasely red hair, when she turned to Harry for the same, pulling him up by the hair from her nipple, the last of herself that was supposed to care was gone.