It had to have been hours. She could feel it. She could feel herself falling apart, rearranging, readjusting. She might have been erupting. But she wasn’t, was she?
She was on the floor still, and she was screaming. She could hear that clearly, but it didn’t sound like her own voice. It felt like someone else, somewhere else, somewhy else.
It had to have been hours. She could taste it. She could feel the blood in her mouth as her tongue hung bitten and bruised, useless. She could see the pool of red under her, sticking to her skin and soaking through her clothes.
At some point, she even heard her name. It sounded hoarse on Ron’s lips, distinctly different from how he used to call her name to get her attention.
She blinked and her eyes burned, and then she could see Bellatrix standing above her. There was a wand sternly trained on her as curses littered the woman’s mouth, dripping from it, and Hermione couldn’t even understand what she was hearing anymore.
“Let her go,” Ron screamed, and Hermione’s breath quickened.
“This is your last chance,” Bellatrix whispered into her ear. “ One last chance to tell me what you took.”
Bellatrix was on the ground now, holding Hermione’s face to the side as she dug her nails into the stretched skin of her throat. Deep bruises from tight fingers formed on Hermione’s neck, and Bellatrix smiled.
Her face was pushed harder into the marble floor, and Hermione’s throat constricted, her heartbeat panicking.
“Stop hurting her!” from the basement, and she couldn’t breathe.
Bellatrix pushed down again, harder still, and Hermione tried to buck her hips to push the woman off of her, but she couldn’t move. She was pinned down, and then she felt something searing into her skin and it felt like fire. Something sharp glinted near her face and she squeezed her eyes shut, feeling the wetness against her cheeks as it blurred over her eyelids.
“HERMIONE!” Ron screamed, his voice breaking and cracking in his panic.
In that moment, as the blood oozed down her face, her heart sputtered in realization.
She wouldn’t make it through this…
Her insides twisted at the thought of Harry and Ron downstairs, at the idea of them being brought up to see her dead and mangled.
She tried to push again, stronger this time, but she was held down too strongly, something still carving into her.
Her stomach tingled, and then so did her fingers. Her eyelids were so heavy…
Maybe, she thought, it would be okay to sleep.
She closed her eyes for a moment, and urgent air instantly filled her lungs as her body shivered, convulsed, broke under the restraints and hands, and snapped. Electricity coursed through her, painfully, and it felt like her insides were being melted. Although, when she really focused on the strange sensations, she could tell that it was coming from inside herself.
She’d only felt it three times before: once when she’d fallen from a jungle gym and bounced off the pavement; a second time when she’d dropped a knife and it suspended midair above her foot; and again when Harry had been screaming on the floor of the Ministry after Sirius, when she’d shocked Ron as he’d tried to hold her back from him and Dumbledore.
Accidental magic was rare after childhood, but she supposed it made sense that her magic would fight back just as she was willing to let go.
But this time, it felt different. Stronger.
She squinted her eyes in the small seconds that tore through her and she felt the cold marble floor disappear from beneath her back, replaced by even colder wet sand.
There was silence. Everything around her was still, and then there was a breeze against her face, and then the sound of soft waves met her ringing ears.
She opened her eyes cautiously, warily, still heavy and exhausted. Above her was open sky. Clouds drifted slowly and a seagull flew overhead.
She groaned loudly and tried to sit, but her limbs were too sore still to pull her up. She just needed a moment… And then she felt her wand in her hand.
She could have sworn it was being held in Malfoy Manor still, she was absolutely positive that she’d done nothing at all for it to be in her hand. Perhaps she’d fractured under Bellatrix’s knife and this was where she would live from now on. Even more unlikely was the idea that she’d somehow saved herself.
With a thankful grunt, she flicked her wand towards her chest and touched it lightly, and as she did, her muscles relaxed and released. It was only to ease her pain for now. It wouldn’t last long, but it didn’t need to. She only needed it as long as she could stand, get her wits about her, and return to the Order, or find her way back to Harry.
Rather quietly, Hermione was now able to stand. She readjusted her stained jacket on her body and raised a hand to her face. There was blood across her cheek and the bridge of her nose, and she wiped it off on her sleeve. She could feel it soaking through her limbs and she nearly started running as her brain fog cleared; she needed to get to Harry and Ron immediately. They needed her, they needed help. The charm she cast on her body would help her calm herself down for a moment, but it clearly hadn’t gotten to slowing her erratic heartbeat. Only her physical body entered a state of absolute neutrality. She couldn’t feel her fingers anymore, and she took wobbly steps from where she’d been lying as she let it work through her.
Finally, her breathing slowed.
The charm had subdued her panic, but she could still feel her heart racing in her chest. She glanced around herself in an attempt to ground herself further.
From what she could see, she was on a beach, on the shoreline. There were thick plumes of fog lifting from whatever body of water she was beside, and she shivered lightly as she suddenly felt the chill of the frigid air for the first time.
There were trees pushed back beyond the sand, and between the trees a flicker of movement caught her eye. She raised her wand in front of her and took a wary step forward.
Another flicker of movement.
“Revelio,” Hermione’s heart skipped a beat as whispered under her breath. The trees blew back, and Hermione could suddenly see the figures of six large wolves.
Hermione gasped and fell back a step at the sight of the beasts. They were huge; larger than what she’d learned to expect even from Padfoot.
They didn’t look at each other as they stepped into formation around the largest of them.
Hermione squinted at them, her charm working wonders on regulating her body’s heightened senses, suppressing her fight or flight responses.
She took another step toward them, and she heard low warning growls. She licked her lips. She couldn’t remember if wolves were trusting of eye contact or if they were threatened by it. Had she looked Remus in the eye when he turned in front of them? She must have.
With a nervous glance, Hermione raised her eyes to the largest black wolf, and her heart sputtered harshly in her chest. Its eyes were piercing and deep, and she imagined polished obsidian. Its fur rustled in the breeze and she thought of black tourmaline.
It was truly only a second, but Hermione raised her eyebrows in shock. It felt like the blackness of its eyes was a ribbon that had latched to the inside of her skull, and was pulling her closer, and from the strange twinkle in the wolf’s eyes, it looked as if it felt the same thing.
It took a step forward, and the snap of a twig under its foot shocked her out of her trance.
She blinked at the creature and raised her wand, and she was gone.
3 Years Later
Hermione stared blankly at her reflection in the medicine cabinet mirror. She bristled in her cold flat and focused on her eyes, propping her hands against the sink to hold herself as still as possible.
She focused on the day on the beach and held still for a few minutes, ignoring the puckered scarring that wove its way under her shirt and over her collarbone, creeping up her neck to her cheek and over her nose and eyebrows like ivy on a brick wall.
She didn’t know what she wished she saw. She hadn’t known for years. Her therapist told her that on that day in Malfoy Manor, she’d performed accidental magic that transported her to a safe location, and that her brain had latched onto the memory for comfort. Her therapist told her she had an unhealthy fixation on the largest black wolf, the one who had stood tall to her, and stepped closer when they’d looked into each other’s eyes.
Please. Unhealthy would be to ignore the nagging in her stomach that yearned to stand where she had stood on that beach. She was taken there for a reason, and even if the wolf wasn’t there, she was sure she would be able to feel better and get over this obsession if she just found her way back.
It was just a wolf. It was probably dead by now, anyway. How long did wolves even live in the first place? A bit of research told her that wild ones didn’t usually live past 8 years, and Hermione would put money on it having been an adult wolf already when she had seen it. But it was so impossibly large… It couldn’t be expected to live by the same lifespan. Perhaps it was a magical creature?
She shook her head and slipped on a jumper, resolving to get ready and go to work. To stop looking for black eyes. To stop letting an albeit large but overall probably very common wolf become the symbol of safety and comfort for her.
But she was still cold, and she knew she’d be warm against its fur, so she wrapped her arms around each other and turned from her reflection.
Jacob Black stared at his ceiling. It was 2am, and he still hadn’t fallen asleep. He hadn’t slept before 3am ever since he’d seen her on the beach, and each night it felt like pulling teeth to try to close his eyes without feeling a lump in his throat.
Of course, he’d developed methods. The first year he ran, and he didn’t stop running. He ran to Alaska. He ran to Mexico. He ran all through Canada until his body was too tired to stay awake, and even then, he dreamed of her. The second year, he discovered weed, and that helped numb his mind enough to stare blankly at the ceiling until it blurred into sleep, and with weed, he didn’t dream. It was easier to not dream, but the heartache of losing the one place he knew she’d be was something he couldn’t maintain. It had been three years since he’d seen her, and he still couldn’t get her out of his head. It was cliche, he knew, but she was everywhere, and his throat constricted with worry.
The one and only time he’d seen her, she’d been drenched in blood. She’d been pale and bony, with a gash across her face. She’d been terrified, and somehow she was like him . She appeared in a second and evaporated with a crack. She was part of his world, even if he didn’t know how she fit in yet.
If it wasn’t for the other guys who’d seen her, Jacob would have been sure she wasn’t real at all. But he’d seen her, they’d seen her, and then she left, and now all he got were sad pats on the back from his best friends. He got to watch them fall in love and imprint on their own mates and he knew exactly who his was and he couldn’t get to her. He couldn’t find her, and after years of looking, he knew she was dead. He knew she’d been killed, and he wanted to tear apart whoever it was that hurt her.
He’d even sucked up his pride and gone to Edward in Alaska for help, and to be fair, Edward did try. He put in decent effort to try to understand what Jacob and the others had seen, and he even brought Jacob to a creepy cult on another continent. Apparently one of them could find whatever he looked for, and Edward’s drawing of her face provided Jacob with a definitive answer: she either never existed, or she was dead.
Jacob rolled over in his bed and wiggled until he lay on one side of the bed and stared at the other.
If she’d stayed for a moment longer, maybe he could have helped her. Maybe he could have kept her from running, kept her from dying.
He could have helped her get better. He could have taken care of her.
If she were there…
Jacob shook his head. Not this again.
He grumbled and lifted a frustrated hand to rake at his hair, his erection growing under the sheets despite his best efforts.
He reached down for a moment just to graze it, but it wasn’t enough. He needed her with him. He needed her beside him, but it was wrong of him to be horny by the memory of her when he saw her, when she was hurt and torn down and scared. That was no way to remember her and be turned on at the same time.
He wanted to go back in time. He wanted to protect her. He didn’t even know her, but he would lay down his life for her.
He wondered what her name was.
Something strong, he knew. Something powerful.
He imagined her face washed of the blood and the bruises, wiped them from her neck and her wrists. He carefully cleaned his memory of her with a soft sponge until she stood clean and strong before him.
He loved her alive.
3 Years Later
Ron and Harry had outdone themselves. Truly, it was the best birthday party Hermione could fathom for herself. Of course, this meant that it was hardly acknowledged at all, and decorations were kept to a bare minimum in Hermione’s flat while Ron gaped at muggle football on the telly and Harry meticulously threw together the most confusing charcuterie platter Hermione had ever seen. She was quite sure she’d never seen sugar cookies, baked beans, and hard candies deliberately mixed so freely with the cheeses and meats, but Ron inhaled the odd combinations with surprising approval.
She didn’t care much for sports, but there was a chill in her skin, so she begrudgingly wedged herself between the two of them on her couch and rested her head on Harry’s shoulder.
She was happy. She was , even if she had to convince herself of it.
She was thankful to have her two best friends so close, and she was lucky. So many people hadn’t survived the war. So many hadn’t wanted to. Hermione was fortunate to have made it out alive, but it felt more and more like she made it out only mostly alive. Her mind absently wandered back to the beach that day.
She’d tried everything in the past six years to figure out what had really happened back then, but nothing worked. She never found her way back, and it felt like she’d left part of herself there. If her therapist had anything to say on the matter, he’d say that she was projecting again.
“Oi,” Ron shuffled on the too-small couch. “We’ve got presents for you.”
Hermione groaned. “You know I hate presents-”
“Yeah and you hate surprises too, but you’re a buzzkill with everyone else. We’re your best friends. We get to give you birthday presents on your birthday.”
Hermione opened her mouth to argue, but the look on Harry’s face made her pause.
He removed his glasses and fiddled with them.
“Hermione,” he began, his voice low. “We know you don’t like to talk about it, but we think you need more help than just the therapist you’ve been seeing.”
Hermione’s jaw fell. “My gift is being told I need more therapy?”
Ron smacked the back of Harry’s head.
“What I mean is that he’s probably excellent, but you haven’t been the same since the war.”
Hermione nodded. “Yes. Because it was a war and those typically change people.”
Ron rolled his eyes at her. “But it goes deeper. Part of you is missing. Can’t you feel it? You disappeared from Malfoy Manor and it feels like part of you never came back.”
Hermione bit her lip. She could feel it. It was the very thing she’d been trying to ignore for the past several years. She hadn’t realized that her best friends had also been able to sense her missing piece. Her heart swelled with both love for the two boys beside her, and with an aching loneliness that she didn’t know how to fill.
“I’ve already told you everything that happened.”
“And we think it’s time you get to the bottom of it.”
Hermione’s eyebrow arched. “And how do you suppose I do that?”
Harry and Ron exchanged looks and a brief nod before jumping from the couch.
“Well,” Ron began. “I was going through a box of old stuff when I found this.” He pulled a small lighter from his back pocket.
“Your Deluminator?” Hermione asked, her voice edging higher.
Ron’s eyes widened. “You can’t keep it.”
This time Harry smacked the back of Ron’s head.
“I mean, you can use it. But you have to give it back.” He grumbled. “You know. Dumbledore left it for me. Kind of a big deal, wouldn’t you say?”
Hermione smiled, the kind that pinched at her eyes.
Ron held his hand out to her in offering, the Deluminator flat against his palm. Hermione looked at it warily before reaching out and picking it up and grimacing. It was warm, presumably from being in Ron’s back pocket for the past several hours.
She rolled it between her fingers carefully, as if it would break with any pressure.
Just then, a gentle murmuring echoed in her head.
“Ron!” she gasped, “what was that?”
Ron smirked. “What, did it shock you already?”
“No, I-” she pursed her lips. “I heard someone, I thought.”
Ron’s eyes narrowed in confusion. “But you said you were on a beach with wolves? How could you hear speaking? I never heard you lot unless you said my name, and last I checked, beaches and wolves couldn’t speak at all. Unless maybe there are people on the beach? Maybe you’re hearing something accidentally?”
“I don’t understand how it works,” Hermione confessed shyly, holding the Deluminator in her hands. It was heavier than she expected, but it fit perfectly in her palm.
“Whatever it is, you’ve got to trust in it. It’ll pull you in the right direction.”
“How will I know when I’m getting closer?”
“You’ll feel it,” Ron smiled. “Inside you. Almost as though your heartbeat knows where you’re going in the first place. It told me how to get to you and Harry, and kept me sane even when the Horcrux gave me visions of Harry kissing you .”
The Deluminator shuddered, vibrating in Hermione’s hands, and she knew it was already beginning to tug at her. She could feel the strange ribbon that had once pulled taut from inside her skull starting to pull again. Butterflies erupted in her stomach and she swallowed her anxiety down, flustering her even more.
Ron leaned over and nudged her shoulder. “You can go now, you know,” he goaded, and Hermione raised her eyebrows.
“Really,” he clarified, rolling his eyes. “Harry and I will definitely raid your liquor cabinet after you go, but we’ll clean up before we leave.”
“You mean you’ll make Harry clean.”
“You know he’s better at those charms than I am,” Ron whined defensively. “Besides, Mum won’t leave us alone at home. I promise, I’ll help clean and we’ll even do the dishes you hide in your office and not judge you at all.”
“And?” Hermione laughed and bit her lip.
Ron chuckled. “And we’ll stay out of your room.”
Hermione narrowed her eyes at him while Harry appeared at Ron’s side, lifting a hand to Ron’s side.
“I think she wants us to promise not to have torrid sex in her flat,” he suggested to Ron, and Hermione smiled in approval.
Ron’s face flushed as he tried to argue that he wouldn’t even consider it, especially after Hermione had caught them in the act last time, but Hermione was already in her room and gathering a small stack of clothing. The Deluminator stopped vibrating as soon as she put it on her bedside table.
She didn’t know where she was going, but she wanted to be prepared. She packed jumpers of varying thickness as well as a sundress. Boots and tiny flats. Her work files for safe measure. Perhaps some of her research would be useful. She stuffed it all into her small beaded bag with the undetectable extension charm and pulled the drawstrings closed.
Picking up the Deluminator again, Hermione felt the ribbons in her skull start to tug, and she smiled, following the pull out of her bedroom and past her bickering friends, out the door without so much as a glance, and she was gone.
True to Ron’s words, the Deluminator pulled her whenever she held it in her hands.
For the time being, she kept it tucked into her coat pocket. She was sitting in a train compartment by herself, rifling through a stack of research papers. She knew it would be a good idea to bring her work with her. She was far too busy to let it fall by the wayside, and in her hurry to gather her belongings from the hotel, she’d forgotten to cover her scars. Several times, she caught strangers staring.
Her journey so far had taken her to a portkey on the west coast of Ireland that sent her all the way to New York City. From there, a series of busses and trains seemed to be the best mode of transportation to wherever she was being pulled. She would have Apparated, but she found herself scared to actually arrive wherever she was meant to go. She needed the time the journey provided to acclimate herself to the idea of her life changing irrevocably, as she could feel would certainly be the case.
It wasn’t rational. In fact, she almost turned around several times. She imagined how easy it would be to just disappear and hide in her flat for the rest of her life. Being away from her carefully constructed wards made her uncomfortable. She’d been hiding her flat and workplace under undetectable wards and even managed to cloak her frequent routes from anyone looking for her. It infuriated Ron and Harry, but Hermione wouldn’t risk being found. Not after her parents’ home had been destroyed for simply being her home.
Even if the world was different, she didn’t feel safe in it. It was a malicious place, hostile and cold, but she found herself feeling warmer as she followed the pull of the Deluminator. Already she could feel the tingling in her fingertips, and anxiousness was being replaced by giddiness. The idea of going back to her cold, lonely, stale life was becoming more and more impossible by the hour
Something was different. Jacob could feel it.
He could feel it in the air. He could feel it in his skin. He could feel it in his bones.
Something was different, and it felt like he was being slowly cooked from the insides. Someone had turned him into a frog and tossed him in a pot and slowly started boiling him.
It started days before as a shiver, and then over the span of a day, it grew stronger and stronger until he couldn’t even stand still in his house. He needed to pace, and then he needed to run, and then he found himself in an entirely different state .
And then he felt it: the tugging inside his skull.
It pulled taut against him, and he couldn’t breathe.
It pulled harder, and he realized he was too far away.
He needed to get back.
He needed to get back.
He could feel it suddenly; his chest opened and his lungs breathed their first relieved breath in six goddamn years. She was alive, and he could feel her.
He didn’t bother staying hidden anymore. He tore through a small town’s busiest street. He crossed highways. He didn’t even notice when his pack could hear him again, nor did he listen when they all started shouting.
He didn’t care what they had to say, all he could focus on was getting back to the beach, and with every step, the boiling in his blood inched towards a total meltdown. His body melting off his bones seemed perfectly plausible.
Finally, Jacob could see the slivers of the ocean through the trees and screeched to a halt. His heart was beating too quickly, and fear replaced excitement as he remembered what she’d seen last time they were together.
He should probably look like a human this time, right?
He should. He should be a person, not a wolf, and he was suddenly grateful for the infuriating fanny pack he’d fastened to his arm that held a change of clothes.
What would she be like?
What was her name?
Who is she?
He crept closer to the shoreline and pulled a branch to the side. Sun fell through and his eyes took a moment to adjust, and there, kneeling in the sand, the shape of a young woman. He took a step out onto the pebbled beach and he could suddenly see the texture of her hair.
Had it been curly last time? No, it had been too sweaty and mussed for it to curl.
Jacob smiled. He’d never pictured her with curly hair.
He took another step, and then another.
She was still turned away from him when he stopped a couple of feet away.
She looked strong. She looked healthy, and a weight lifted off his shoulders.
“You’re back,” he said, and his eyes widened at the shock of his voice against the silent waves, and then she turned.
Hermione arrived at the beach and took a deep breath before handing the cab driver the fare as she stepped out onto the small parking lot.
She glanced down the shoreline and she swore she could feel the pulling even though Ron’s Deluminator sat safely in her pocket. Hermione looked around at the empty beach and took her shoes off. She’d never gotten to feel the sand between her toes the first time she was there, and she’d thought about it a million times in the years since.
When she finally arrived at the place she’d been transported to originally, she dropped her shoes and sank to her knees, glad that she wore one of her sundresses just so she could feel the sand grind against her shins.
It was exactly as she’d imagined it would be - exactly as it had been the last time, and for the first time in 6 years, she felt the piece of herself she’d been missing so close to her.
It was almost within reach.
“You’re back,” a voice spoke, careful and coarse, strained and hesitant.
She jumped to her feet and spun around, her eyes widening as they fell on a tall man standing behind her. There was something so familiar about him, and her head cocked to the side as she took him in.
“I’m back.” She surprised herself by saying, but somehow not responding wasn’t an option. Thinking wasn’t even an option in front of him, he was so beautiful.
His eyes were hesitant as she took him in. He had long black hair, and she had the sudden thought of black tourmaline. Her eyes darted to meet his, and she imagined polished obsidian.
Without thinking, she reached out her hand and raised it into the space between them, and breathed in sharply when she reached out farther than she’d intended to. It was almost as if a set of magnets were embedded deep in both of their hands and yearned to clasp together. It probably looked like she was offering a strange handshake, and she should be nervous, but she couldn’t stop staring into his eyes.
The ribbons she’d felt in the wolf’s eyes all those years ago curled around her and tugged her closer to the man, who took a step forward at the same time she did, and suddenly she was touching his skin and electricity shocked through her.
Hermione gasped and pulled her hand back, but in the absence of hands touching hands, the man took a step forward and pulled her against him. His hands on her upper arms burned through her jumper, branding his heat into her skin.
Hermione had not been kissed in years, and suddenly she knew why. She didn’t understand it quite yet, but she felt within herself a whole breadth of emotions she hadn’t let herself fully feel since Malfoy Manor.
Hermione smiled against his lips, and when she inhaled, she felt lighter. She felt brighter. She felt strong, she felt brave, she felt happy.
She felt happy.
Very quickly and not subtly at all, he knelt down and wrapped one arm around her waist and pulled her higher up against him, standing and lifting her off the ground entirely until she could wrap her legs around him while holding his other hand against the back of her head. Her shoes, forgotten on the ground, lay licked by waves as she let this strange man hold her as she’d never let anyone else come close to before.
She could feel his breath against her and her heart raced. His hands weren’t smooth like she’d experienced before. They were hard and calloused, and Hermione was reminded of the pads of a wolf’s paw as his fingers worked their way down her scalp to her neck.
She didn’t want to pull away, especially not as his strong arms pulled her so close against him she could hardly breathe, and she didn’t want to breathe. She wanted to be frozen in this moment, and she didn’t even understand why . She didn’t want to be anywhere else, even though she knew there was something she needed to say.
At the clearing of her throat, the man suddenly stiffened. He carefully set her down and took a step back, not meeting her eyes, the dazed look on his face turning slowly to hesitancy.
Hermione smiled and raised her hand again to him.
“I’m Hermione Granger,” she said, her cheeks flushed. “I’m guessing there’s a lot to explain?”
The hesitant look turned to laughter as he took her hand in his and finally looked directly at her, gripping her fingers tightly.
“Jacob Black,” he answered. “Yeah, I guess there is.”
Hermione sighed in relief. As much as she longed to devour the man in front of her, she hardly knew him.
She let him begin, and she was glad she did. She learned that he was not a wizard, but when he claimed to be a werewolf, Hermione laughed nervously. Surely it wasn’t her place yet to tell him what actual werewolves were like, and that he was much more likely a strange connection to a hereditary animagus, metamorphmagus, or, Merlin forbid, a maledictus strain that affected men rather than women. Even stranger, though, was that he seemed privy to a world she’d never thought to take very seriously. The idea of vampires and whatever Jacob was seemed ridiculous, especially in the numbers he talked about.
On top of it all, he had never even suspected that someone like her could exist. When she first said Witch he laughed and asked her where her pointy hat was.
It was ridiculous, but she found herself laughing as he described his childhood. She frowned when he confessed his love, and held a careful hand to his face when she learned everything Jacob had been through with her.
All this pain, and for what?
She wanted to stay here in this moment, learning about his life, forever. She wanted him to talk about his father and sisters. She wanted to know what his favourite subjects were in school. She wanted to know if he had a favourite book.
“You’ll hate me for this, but I don’t have a favourite book,” he muttered sheepishly, looking up to her. “But I have stories I can tell you, thousands of them.”
“What kind of stories?” Hermione smiled lightly, encouragingly.
“The Quileute tribe alone has hundreds passed down through the generations. My favourites growing up were all about the wolves, so I guess it’s really no surprise I turned out to be a werewolf, right?”
Hermione suppressed a smirk.
“I’ll tell you all of them,” Jacob promised, and Hermione was glad. She wanted to know them. She wanted to know him, but with every detail that slipped through his teeth, she felt herself caving inwards.
Her chest, now a giant stone opening, was collapsing.
Each rock that fell, a word on his lighthearted lips.
He deserved a lighthearted life. A lighthearted mate. She was anything but lighthearted.
“Hey,” he prodded, his voice distinctly heavier than the lighthearted joking and fun he’d been having while describing his life. “What’s happening?”
Hermione shook her head. “Nothing, it’s all-”
“You don’t have to tell me anything until you’re comfortable, you know that right?”
“Hermione,” he said, and her name in his mouth sounded like honey. “I’m serious. I want to know about your life, but whatever happened is obviously sensitive. I’ll respect that.”
Shaking her head, Hermione cast a nonverbal warming charm. Jacob looked around in surprise as small wisps of sunlight seemed to break through the clouds, even though the sun had started to droop an hour before.
“It’s not a short story,” she began, her voice wavering as she scooted away from him to better watch his face.
Jacob nodded, his eyes watching her bite her lower lip.
“There’s no clear beginning. I can’t pinpoint where it starts, but I’ll do my best.”
Hermione’s story did, in fact, not have a clear beginning. She tried to start with her finding out she was a witch, and Jacob’s eyes widened in excitement as she recounted her invitation to study at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It was so obvious she had fond memories, but soon her story changed.
It took on a darker hue as she described her best friends.
Jacob learned about Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley, and then he learned about Harry’s parents, and then his scar, and then what the scar meant. He learned about Ron’s family and the torment of being left by him when she and Harry were on the run.
He took her hands in his when she started to describe what it was like to be alone and starving for so long. He pulled her forwards until she was straddling his hips and he laid back with her until his head rested on the sand.
He learned about Lord Voldemort, and what he wanted to do with people like Hermione, and Jacob seethed with anger. His mate being hunted in her own world. It was unthinkable, and he was so distracted by not letting Hermione see the anger that he didn’t feel her when she removed her jacket.
Jacob had clearly seen the scarring across Hermione’s face and down her neck, meticulously carved over her cheek and nose and down her throat, but he’d never imagined what else there might be. He'd never wanted to imagine what more there could be. He held her hands away from her as she struggled against his grip shyly.
The scars below her jacket turned her body into broken glass, cutting shards out of her skin and making her look like she’d been hit by lightning.
Perhaps she had been hit by lightning. Was that too much to hope for? He looked up to her eyes and found them staring into the distance.
“I-” she started, trying to pull back. “I’m sorry. I should have hidden them, I didn’t think-”
“No,” Jacob interrupted firmly, his voice gravelly with emotion. “Never hide them.”
He could feel her muscles release some of their tension, but he couldn’t take his eyes off of her.
“Who did this?” he asked ruefully, his jaw clenching, knowing he was asking her to jump ahead in her story.
She swallowed deeply. “It doesn’t matter anymore.”
“It matters to me,” he said quietly, firmly, just loud enough for her to hear. The sun was starting to dip lower on the horizon, and the September bugs didn’t bother him, but he could see Hermione’s discomfort. He was about to ask her if she’d prefer to head back to his house when she pulled out her wand and said something quietly, and suddenly the mosquitos were gone.
He watched her for a moment as she fiddled with her wand between her fingers, and then surprise curled in his brows as she pulled her sundress off completely.
Pointing to the webbing of scars across her torso and arms, she took a deep breath.
“This is from a man named Antonin Dolohov. He worked for the one I told you about.” Jacob followed the jagged streaks with his fingers. “I was 16, and we’d broken into the Ministry. He’s dead now.” She shivered under Jacob’s touch, his burning fingers warming her skin as they also caressed goosebumps to life. She hadn't gone into detail about the break-in before, and he suddenly wanted to throw caution to the side and ask her to tell him every detail, but the wobble in her breathing told him to wait.
“‘We’ as in Harry and Ron?” he asked instead, and she nodded.
“And Ginny, Neville, and Luna. Harry’s Godfather was killed that night by his own cousin. Her name was Bellatrix LeStrange, and she gave me this.” She briefly touched the inside of her arm before lifting his hand up her throat to the side of her face. “That’s when I was brought to you.”
“Is she dead too?”
“Yes. Ron’s mother killed her at the battle of Hogwarts.” Hermione smiled thinly. Not a real smile, he could tell.
“I wish I could kill her myself.”
"So do I."
Hermione pressed herself close to him. The sun was even lower now, and less of the wisps of light were floating around her, but he was so warm. It radiated off of him. His dark hair drifted over her, and she found herself remembering how she longed to nuzzle closer to the large black wolf.
“So the first time I saw you, you’d just been tortured for hours by an insane genocidal escaped convict?” he asked incredulously. She nodded solemnly. “How did you even get out of there?”
Hermione frowned and leaned against his warm chest. “I’m not sure. Accidental magic is tricky. My guess for the past six years was that it just took me somewhere safe, but now I think it was more than that. I think it brought me here… because you were here. I think it was bringing me to you because I would always be safest with you. ”
Jacob’s brow furled. “I’ve never heard of an imprint doing any of that, especially before they’d even met.”
“You’d also never heard of witches and wizards or heard of Harry Potter,” she retorted, cheeky sarcasm lacing her tone.
"What is it?" Hermione asked, still pressed warmly against him.
He was quiet for a few minutes. He tried a few times to speak, but the words didn't seem right.
Finally, he was here in front of her, under her, and he was still wrong for her. She deserved someone stronger. She deserved someone better.
"I was supposed to save you," he said at last, and he felt Hermione stiffen and pull herself back onto her knees over him.
"I didn't," Jacob exhaled. "You saved yourself and came to me, and I couldn't help you. My entire reason for being was you the moment I looked into your eyes, don't you understand? My reason to exist, and I failed you. I was supposed to be whatever you needed and you needed me and I wasn't there. I should have tried harder, I-"
Hermione leaned in quickly and kissed him, pressing herself against him. She could feel him under her as she ghosted her hips above his own, tempting herself to give in.
"You," she whispered against his lips, "were exactly where I needed you to be. You were here, and I'd be dead without you. I owe you my life, Jacob Black. It’s yours."
He didn't hesitate to close the gap between them.
In a quick movement, he'd rolled over until Hermione was laying on the sand beneath him, her legs to either side of him.
He kissed her hungrily and then tenderly, a reminder that she was alive, she was here, and she was his. The sun was deep on the horizon now, lighting the skies with brilliant purples and blues as it sunk deeper into the ocean.
With a twist of her wand, she transfigured her jacket into a large blanket under them and looked Jacob in the eyes. At the sight of his dark eyes and flushed face, Hermione could feel a shift deep in her stomach, possibly lower. While she’d been completely content getting to know this truly odd person, something inside her urged her lips forward until they met his, and something even deeper inside her sputtered and flared for the first time in years.
And just the same way as six years ago in this very spot, when she looked at him, she knew he could feel the same thing.