The world has certain expectations, when it comes to love. It desires symmetry. Even numbers. Straight lines. Odd numbers are rejected. Love is meant to be two and one, perfect and absolute in their ability to be whole when connected and equally whole if divided.
They have never been that.
Well, not never.
Once upon a time she was just a girl, full of hope and potential, a single solid point on a map. It didn’t last long. They—them, that’s how she thinks of it, as the world and as them, because they are lesser, they are more, they are within and beyond, they are nothing and oh, they are her everything—have never been what the world wants of them. They have their false starts, their rough edges, but once they click….
The world says no. Better to be two. Better to be a pair, and then when it breaks—(all things break, don’t you know?)—it is simple to become one again.
Hermione Granger is never two, can never be two. She is one-in-three, a point on a triangle, and she cannot, will not, be less. When things break—(no, if, if and never, please, let it be never)—she cannot simply become one again. There is too much of them in her, too much of her in them. Somewhere, somehow, the lines have blurred so perfectly that there is nothing left of Hermione Granger as a whole, complete person. She is both less and more than she ever was, and not all the pieces of her can be reclaimed. Now she is only complete inside of her triangle, only perfect when Harry holds one hand, Ron holds the other, and they link together, when they are three points and three sides, striking their own perfect balance.
Later, Hermione will think about how much time she wasted. It takes far too long for her to consciously comprehend what she has known since that moment in a destroyed bathroom when two boys and a girl became irrevocably connected. (It was that moment that sealed it. She knew then, deep in that corner of her that is soul or heart or something small, intangible and nameless that makes her fundamentally human and capable of the depths of love and hate. That part of her has known, because it could read their destinies written in blood and magic and time.) She is just a little girl then, incapable of understanding, and she continues to be that little girl for so long, whim to jealousy, prey to insecurity, holding tight to the things she believes should be.
They grow, and the world tells her that they are supposed to split down the lines. It demands of her that she choose. She cannot have both Ron and Harry, could not possibly love both equally, at the same time and in the same manner. There must be a choice. Three cannot hold—they must break, must be two and one, must be three separate points again. She can be in love with Harry or she can be in love with Ron, but she cannot have both of them. She spends ages trying to convince herself she loves one more than the other, trying to choose.
Before the war breaks down the barriers of her life, before it takes the walls of her reality and bends them to its will, she despairs. It hurts. Fairytales never say that love is ivy, spreading its tendrils into the tiniest of cracks and breaking even the strongest of foundations. No one tells her that love can be a physical illness, that sometimes she will feel it like the ache of a flu in her muscles, the itch of a rash under her skin, the endless, shuddering heat-chill of a high fever. She does hear that love makes it impossible to sleep or eat, but she finds this to be a weak description. What she feels is sharper, hurting all the way through. It lives and breathes in her being, feeding on every touch and glance and sound, waiting to gather enough strength to become sentient, until it can reach out of her and just take what it desires.
Some days, she chooses Ron. Other days she picks Harry. Always in the back of her mind is the pressing thought that if she doesn’t make a decision she will lose them both. If she chooses Ron, she is sure she will lose Harry; if she chooses Harry, it will be Ron who slips away. Perhaps neither of them wants her. Perhaps they only want each other.
(I am selfish, she thinks, when she smiles just at Harry or touches Ron’s arm. I don’t deserve either of them. Fickle and selfish, and on those days she tries to just stop, tells herself that she can’t have either of them, that she doesn’t want them, that she doesn’t feel anything. She cannot convince herself to believe her own lies, though.)
And then the war comes. It comes, or they come to it, and either way she stops trying to decide. Stops trying to convince herself, stops analyzing. People are dying. She can’t be concerned with something silly and pointless like love, not now. Any moment she spends worrying about what she wants is a moment where another woman dies trying to do what is right and another man dies trying to protect his own and another child suffers a last terrified breath because of the “dirty” blood in his or her veins. Every moment she wastes is a moment that Voldemort’s grip on the world grows tighter, and the world finds it harder and harder to breathe. War will suffocate them all, if they let it.
(She will not have that on her. If the sun doesn’t rise because Voldemort has plucked it out of the sky and stomped it out beneath his foot it will not be her fault. If he wins, it will be because of something she couldn’t possibly control, and even then, she will feel the guilt.)
She spends every waking moment of their exile—their self-chosen quest, their suicide mission, it’s all just a different description for the monotony of their journey, where everything blurs together, where they might be in the Forest of Dean or the Forbidden Forest, or is she even awake at all?—trying to hold it together. She pours over her books, reads the same pages over, hoping the words will rearrange and tell her where the next horcrux is, what to do next. She tries to keep the peace between them, as patience becomes a fading memory and hopeless desperation takes its roots inside of them. She takes her turn with the horcrux, counting the minutes until her shift is over and hating herself for doing so. She should be able to keep it longer, should sacrifice herself to spare the boys, but she can’t. She tries, sometimes, until its weight is heavy, heavy and she can’t breathe and she has to pass it on. She’s afraid of what might happen if she keeps it longer, if she lets it sink its poison into her. She’s afraid that if she falters they all will, because Ron is half-broken, Harry is faltering, and what happens if she goes too? She runs herself in circles, trying to make a plan, trying to keep their sanity, trying to keep them together. Trying, trying, trying, she’s a walking wraith of trying.
The Ron leaves, and she cracks.
(They’re all cracked now.)
When Ron leaves, nothing is right. As he storms from the tent, she chases after him, screaming his name. She holds on to whatever handful of clothing she can grasp until he shakes out of her grip, and when he goes, his name rips out of her throat, leaving her gasping and silent. She stumbles to the ground, mud sinking through her jeans until she is cold straight through, and she can’t bring herself to stand. She’s at the edge of a circle of light that seeps through the tent’s canvas walls, half-submerged in the darkness that Ron fled into, half-illuminated by the light that Harry hides in. Ron doesn’t return, and Harry doesn’t come out, and Hermione sits in the mud and lets herself cry.
(Harry never comes out to her. Instead, when she finally staggers to her feet, she finds him slumped at the table, cheek pressed hard against the wood. She doesn’t know if he’s only pretending to be asleep or actually is, but she does know from the way that his eyelashes stick together that he’s been crying. She touches the top of his head lightly, running her fingers across his scalp, and then she goes to bed.)
In the morning, she wakes and hopes that it is all a dream. But the tent is empty, and when she ventures blinking out into the sunlight she finds Harry huddled, his pose melancholy. She only has to look at him to know that Ron is still gone.
It takes everything in her to not break. It would be so easy, just a little push and she’ll fall apart along the fault lines that have formed inside her. For a while, she tries to bury herself, focus on something else, but the words on the pages swim away from her and the inside of her mind is fogged by the breath of sharp memories and there is no clarity in this world. This is not some romantic folly that she can dismiss; no, this is the destruction of everything she knows.
They move on. Now it is just her and Harry, and nothing is right. She doesn’t have the strength to hide the fact that she can barely keep herself together, and though she does keep from breaking it’s a near thing; there’s no way that she can possibly bear the weight of her own grief as well as the task of keeping Harry’s sanity, but she does. She’s not sure how, but she manages. It wears on her every day though—she doesn’t laugh, and she stops smiling. Harry can see right through her lies, so there’s no point to them now. He tries to keep her spirits up, but Ron’s absence is a gulf between them, a ghost. She and Harry have always fit, but now, when they need each other’s comfort the most, they don’t.
(Without Ron three becomes two, the triangle collapses into a line, and nothing is right.)
Two days after Godric’s Hollow—God, that’s the breaking point, that’s it, when a snake wears a woman’s skin and the Dumbledore they knew was apparently a lie and there was no damn sword and they almost died and no one would have known, how can she stay whole after that?—Hermione wakes to find that the world has somehow healed itself. Harry calls her out of the tent and when she comes, Ron is standing there with a destroyed horcrux and the sword of Gryffindor and a slightly abashed still love me? grin. She wants to kill him. All he has to do is bloody stand there and everything falls into place. Harry looks like a plant in the middle of winter finding the sun, color and life returning to him, and she can’t help but feel that everything will be okay.
This is the moment that she realizes, consciously, that she has not ever been two, cannot ever betwo. She doesn’t want to. They are—have been, will be—three. She realizes this as she leads the boys back into the tent and they all fall back into their old, worn patterns, so much freer and lighter without the heavy wounding weight of the horcrux. She looks between the boys as they bicker and knows that she cannot possibly love one more than the other, nor can she possibly love anyone as much as the two of them.
It terrifies her. At any moment they might shatter apart again, might be broken by betrayal or war or death, and they would never know how much she loves them.
The boys fall silent, realizing that she is just staring at the two of them.
“Are you alright, Hermione?”
(No. Yes. No, yes, no. I’m selfish, I could lose you, I’m scared, and I love you. She stops thinking.)
She doesn’t say a word, just steps forward. She goes to Ron, who stands still at her silent approach, looking down at her with a knit expression. She touches his arms, slides her hand across his shoulder blade and up the curve of his neck, an intimate touch. His expression is rapt, his breathing shallow, as if he is afraid to breathe too deeply. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees the shadow that crosses Harry’s face, quick before he smoothes it to neutrality. She, of all people, recognizes the flash of jealousy as it jumps through his eyes, and she’s not sure if it’s jealousy of Ron or jealousy of her or both.
She needs them to understand. She needs them to feel the same way.
She steps back from Ron and towards Harry. He’s almost eye level with her, and for all his practice at pretending not to care, she can see the sad resignation. The tremulous smile he gives her is acceptance of what he thinks is her choice, and it makes her smile. She has known these boys since they were eleven; they need no words to communicate, and words are empty things anyway. She, who puts so much stock in books and wisdom imprinted on parchment, knows them to be useless now. She shakes her head at Harry and touches his cheek with her fingertips, smoothing them over his skin, tracing his jaw and finally touching his lips gently. His lips part in a gasp, his eyes ask, and she smiles. (It’s a fragile expression. She is so close to breaking, and if they’re not careful, she’ll shatter. If she’s not careful, she’ll lose them all, even herself. But this being she calls love that has been living in her has been biding its time. It will not lose its chance at freedom. This is it, or this is her own destruction.)
She reaches down and takes Harry’s hand, tugging him forward. He follows with only a moment’s resistance, and she half turns, only to find Ron already behind her. He was watching, she knows, and it seems he realizes her aim, because he brings her close to his body, one arm sliding around her waist, and his other hand extends to Harry. She watches the silent exchange between the two of them, the hesitant brush of their hands and wordless questions and then the closing of their bodies around her. This is a slow, warm embrace; she lets go of Harry’s hand in favor of sliding it around his waist, her fingers locking together with Ron's behind his back. Her other hand rests at the hollow of Harry’s neck, and she is pressed between the hard planes of their bodies.
(She is afraid to breathe. If she does, this all might disappear.)
Ron’s breath is hot on the back of her neck. In front of her, Harry seems caught between a smile and a frown. “Is this—?”
She doesn’t respond verbally. She cannot say, in words, what she needs to. Instead, she leans forward, presses herself up, and kisses him. Ron’s arms tighten around them and Harry’s hand on her waist grabs a fistful of her shirt and this is how they are meant to be. She cannot imagine them being anything less, anything more. She breaks the kiss with Harry and half turns her head and then Ron’s lips are on hers and she wants nothing more than the three of them to always be this. When Ron pulls back from her, his eyes go to Harry. There is only a flash of hesitation, before Harry grins ruefully and Ron returns it, and they reach around her to kiss each other, the last barriers falling.
At some point, they move to the bed, shedding the things that separate them. Clothes gather on the ground in undignified heaps. She doesn’t think. Here, in the wilds, the world does not exist to tell them no. They speak to each other on a level that transcends vocal sound, saying I love you, I’m sorry, I will never leave you, I am yours, I love you, I love you, I love you on a thousand different levels, at every depth of meaning that they can convey.
Love, she thinks, as she falls asleep, tangled between them, is three points on a triangle. Thus they are, and thus they shall be.