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Broken Winter

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It’s gradual at first; the Healers don’t catch it right away. Hermione herself doesn’t notice, until her magic’s unreliability becomes too obvious to be put on to fatigue, or stress, or any of the other things she had been telling herself.
It turns out there’s a reason she’s been lying to herself, and it’s because the truth is so very painful.
As Hermione mostly is these days (if you don’t count reporters), she’s alone when they give her the results. Her bare, pale calves dangle over the hospital table. Her skin looks very white in the too-bright lighting. Just like a Muggle hospital, she thinks.
It should be comforting, but it’s not. The irony threatens to crush Hermione from the inside out. She struggles to breathe.
“It may come back, in time,” the mediwitch says, and maybe it’s intended to be reassuring. “It’s such a rare curse, Miss Granger … It couldn’t have been diagnosed. None of us ever heard of it, until now, quite frankly.”
Hermione drops her head. She understands it all too well. It’s just Bellatrix’s brand of insanity. A clever, crafty curse for the very cleverest witch.
The hospital smelled pleasantly of lemons when she came in. Now the smell nauseates Hermione, makes her want to heave. “So I’m a Squib,” she says quietly.
She’s in shock, but not enough to miss the healer’s hesitation. Does a Muggleborn without magic become a Squib, or only a Muggle? Hermione straightens her spine, and her gaze becomes frosty. The Healer looks away.
“It might come back,” she repeats, “little by little, given time. Your magical core needs rest, to recharge.” But her tone says otherwise.
“And it might not.”
The Healer sighs. It’s answer enough, really.
*/*/*
Someone leaks it to the Daily Prophet, of course. The editorials are either openly cruel or filled with false sympathy. Hermione finds she prefers the former, at least it’s honest. Why shouldn’t she be obliviated, they ask.
The consensus does tend to place her in a kind of honorary-squib status, neither welcome nor forced for forget.
The looks of pity, of veiled satisfaction, that she sees on the streets are hateful. Hermione aches to show them what a good Muggle right hook feels like. She refrains. The anger boils inside her until it leaves her numb and aching.
But she’s stubborn, slow to let go when she should. Her job at the Ministry becomes untenable. Meetings are cancelled politely by owl; key decisions are made (coincidently of course) without her. A war heroine’s only as good as the use of her wand. Mudblood or pureblood, there’s still the first point of entry, and that’s the magic running through your veins.
Hermione couldn’t pass through the brick wall to get into Diagon Alley, and everyone knows it. They want her on the other side.
She starts getting hate mail, Howlers. Packages she can’t run tests on and is afraid to open.
The writing’s on the wall; Hermione knows it’s time to leave.
If only it weren’t so hard to say goodbye.
*/*/*
Hermione’s parents are Muggles, but she’s used magic on them, taken their memories and returned them without their permission. The loss of her magic only makes things more strained. It’s as if. Instead of a noble sacrifice, her mother and father suddenly feel the whole exercise has been pointless. An irrelevant war fought, their lives torn apart for less than nothing.
They can barely look at their only daughter.
“I just don’t understand how it could all go away like that,” her mother repeats again. She’s up to her elbows in dish soap. Hermione is holding the towel. The fading smell of roasted chicken fills the kitchen from the dinner they’ve just barely eaten. Her father had finally put on some music to fill the silence.
“It was a curse, Mum.” Hermione can feel her pulse pounding in her throat and the burning of unshed tears behind her eyes. She feels the absurd urge to apologize.
I didn’t know, she thinks helplessly. I couldn’t.
Her mother nods absently. “No A-levels,” she says. “No qualifications.”
“They’re going to take care of it.”
“They bloody well should.” Her mother stops herself. “Sorry.”
Hermione drops her head. “It’s fine,” she whispers. It’s not.
“I just … don’t think I can handle this, Hermione. And your father …” her mother trails off. Hermione nods at the floor, sets down the towel.
“I understand,” she says, and the rest of her visit is spent in strained silence.
Her parents take Christmas that year abroad; they don’t call her when they return.
*/*/*
The flat is cold, grotty and smells of litter from the cat hoarder tenant across the hall. There’s black mold on the wall of the bathroom and a crack in the window through which condensation has gathered.
If Hermione had magic, she could charm the smell away, paint the walls with a flick-and-swish, install wards so no Muggle crime or street noise would ever reach her.
As it is, Hermione listens to loud music at two in the morning, silently witnesses domestic squabbles that end in violence about which she can do nothing.
She moves in her last box three days after she’s moved in (it takes longer without magic). She hauls it up the fourth story, lowers it with a thump. She sits, gets out her new, state-of-the-art cell phone (guilt gift from her parents, sent via post for Christmas), sets the timer for fifteen minutes. It’s all she will allow herself, no more.
She cries for only ten. And then Hermione gets the bleach cleaner, kills the mold. Places tape over the cracked pane. Installs her music system to drown out her neighbors.
They couldn’t kill her with magic; she’ll be damned if they do it now that she’s only a Muggle.
*/*/*
Even before Hogwarts, Hermione had never been ordinary. And the loneliness was nothing new. They’d labeled her ‘gifted.’ There were hushed conversations about her ‘potential’ and her ‘genius level IQ.’
She’d been segregated from the other children, then. For her own development.
The fact that she’s now alone now, that her friends have faded away … in Hermione’s mind it’s a return to normal, really, after the wartime years of friendship.
But brothers-in-arms will bond during war; it’s a known phenomenon. Deep inside, Hermione had never expected it to last.
*/*/*
It’s drizzling on her way to the bank, and Hermione ducks into the lobby gratefully. She’s there to set up a new account, now that she has her first position, a tour guide at the British Museum. She actually loves the job; at least Kingsley had come through for her there.
Hermione’s so hopeful that she doesn’t even dwell on her lack of weather charms. So far, she’s not seen a trace of her magic. For the first time in a while, she feels almost at peace about it.
Of course, something has to spoil it. This time, it’s a bank robbery.
Looking at the two men in Kevlar and masks, at how they stand in the marble-and-glass space with guns, Hermione is reminded of Death Eaters, of Bellatrix.
She’s shocked at the depths of her own rage. It’s the emotion that taps into her magic, she supposes later, and it just kind of figures.
*/*/*
Four hours later, it’s night time, but the crime scene is well-lit and there’s no way to escape. Hermione’s leaning against the police car to keep herself upright. The misty rain has sent her hair into a crazy horrific frizz Her feet are bare and cold.
“Look, Miss …”
“Granville.” She’s exhausted; the paltry magic used everything she had.
“Miss Granville. I hear what you’re saying about there being, well, no unusual circumstances surrounding your, erm—“
“My shoe, obviously.” Hermione says. “When may I have them back? That was an expensive pair.”
The police officer, an annoyingly persistent woman named Donovan, shrugs. “They’re evidence.”
“Both of them? It was only the one that—“
“Is there something you can do with just the one, then?”.
Hermione deflates. “No, of course not.”
“Are we calling Freak in on this?” A coworker of Donovan’s. They’re obviously sleeping together, sneaking around because he’s married, but Hermione’s not there to judge, She only wants to go home to her dodgy flat and watch some crap telly. Maybe some ice cream.
“Lestrade says no. No mystery to solve, he says. Footwear or no”
“Even if one goes through someone’s carotid, I suppose.”
Donovan huffs a laugh. “The case of the Murderous Manolos,” she says. Then she coughs, remembering Hermione’s presence. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine,” Hermione says. “They were just pricy knock-offs.
Sally tries on a smile, but her eyes are assessing. “Either way, good throwing arm.“
“It was stupid,” Hermione says dismissively, and of course it was. If it hadn’t been for her magic showing up at the moment of her strange, blinding rage, throwing her high heel at the one bank robber would have gotten her killed.
Instead, it had veered off course, gone through his artery, killed him dead. The other robber, seeing the crimson blood, had fled.
A perfect, freak accident.
“Stupid or not, you’re a hero,” Donovan says. “Just wait until the papers get hold of you.”
Hermione smiles. Says nothing.
*/*/*
The scene in Lestrade’s office the next day isn’t pretty. Sherlock Holmes is in full-on diva mode. Not only was he not called in on ‘The Case of the Slaughtering Stilettos,’ as the papers are calling it, the woman who did the slaying cannot be located.
“The level of stupidity …” he mutters darkly.
“Wrong name and address, wrong telephone,” John says in (unnecessary) confirmation. “Donovan screwed the pooch on this one.”
“How I love your colorful expressions, John,” Sherlock says. His tone says just the opposite. ”And the name.”
Lestrade asks, “What about it? Sounded ordinary to me.”
“Christine Granville,” Sherlock says, “the code name for the Krystyna Skarbek, the famous World War Two spy? And what are spies known for? Lies.” He throws up his hands, exasperated.
Greg and John roll their eyes at one another. “Oh,” Lestrade says, deadpan. “That’s clear enough, then. How ludicrous that Sally missed the code name.”
Sherlock moans in frustration. “Of course you haven’t heard of it. She was only one of the most important spies of the twentieth century. Ian Fleming only based several his female characters on her. God. Does no one read anymore?”
“At least she has a sense of humor,” John offers. “You read Bond novels?”
“Do be serious, John. Please.”
“And you haven’t deleted her?”
“Spy tactics are continually useful. Spies were important.”
“And Jupiter isn’t?”
“Could we focus on the point please?”
Lestrade is getting a headache. “It hardly matters, Sherlock. The girl didn’t want publicity, and can you blame her? Poor thing was so thin and pale a good wind could have knocked her over. She likely just wanted her privacy.”
“Yes,” Sherlock says. “the dear, Sally says. And yet, the fragile darling threw a high-heeled shoe straight through the short, thick neck of an armed gunman, like some kind of female James Bond.”
Lestrade shrugs. “Odd, I grant you. But people can do amazing things under stress.”
Sherlock hummed. “I tried it, you know,” he says conversationally. What she did. With ten different brands of shoes. Including the type you have currently in evidence.”
“Maybe she just has a better throwing arm than you do, Sherlock.”
“It’s not possible, Lestrade.”
“She did it. Ergo, it is possible.”
“Perhaps.” Sherlock steeples his fingers.
Lestrade sighs in frustration. “What do you want me to do, parade around the city like some over-aged Prince Charming, looking for a fit to the magic slipper? She’s gone and we have better things to do than look for a woman, who has, I might remind you, likely saved several people’s lives.”
“DNA.”
“Let it go Sherlock.”
*/*/*
Jim Moriarty is bored, and it’s all just a little more of the same, mind-rotting tedium. The whining of incompetents.
God, but he needs a distraction.
He listens to his employee’s report of events that happened the night of the bank robbery, Hearing the details, something in his brain flickers to life.
Jim listens intently. The man speaking is beyond dull, of course, but there’s something in his account. Under Jim’s careful questioning, he gives every detail of what happened.
Oh, and what details they are. Impossible, ludicrous. Infuriating.
More to the point, not boring.
Once the man is done talking, James Moriarty moves to stare out the window. The sound of traffic noise can be heard outside the penthouse in which they have met. The release of the automatic icemaker crashes in the bare, backlit kitchen.
Sherlock’s been his only entertainment, the only bright point of color is the entire, grey world.
Until now.
Jim’s read the police report, of course. Christine Granville. The female spy, obviously a false name.
She has courage, whoever she is. She’s not stupid. And she executed a man in cold blood through a freak act that, was improbable, if not impossible, according to the laws of physics.
Jim grins. He throws back his head, and laughs. He laughs until there are tears coming from his eyes, and he’s literally weeping.
Then he wipes his eyes on his employee’s shirt. “Any more details?” he asks.
The man shakes his head dumbly.
Jim sighs. “Then thank you. Really, truly, I needed that.”
The man sags, immeasurably relieved.
His boss continues, “Of course, you’ll be dying now.”
As he’s hauled away, Moriarty’s still smiling. Amused. He turns to another of his companions. “I want to know more about the girl.”
*/*/*
The man is in the tour group again. Hermione notices, but she doesn’t let her worry show on her face. He’s been coming for almost two weeks, and no one can need that much culture.
She observes him in between mini-lectures and question-and-answer sessions. He’s personable, jokes with the other people, mostly tourists. His manners are good. He’s very well-dressed; his suits fit so well that they have to be bespoke. And what the suits reveal, she can’t help but notice, is flattering.
His dark eyes follow her every movement as she guides her groups through the marble halls and glassed-in exhibits. At the end of every tour, he always asks a question she has trouble answering.
Although he hasn’t stumped her, not yet.
There’s something about this man, she thinks. There’s a challenge in his eyes. Hermione hates to admit it, but he’s growing on her.
His name, he tells her, is Jim.
*/*/*
Jim asks her to dinner after the end of his fifth tour, and it’s as if he knew just when she decided that she would say yes.
He takes her for a meal, and by the end of the night, they’re nude in his hotel room. It’s the penthouse and clearly expensive. She wonders, how can he afford this and yet be able to follow her around the museum every day? But it hardly matters. Jim casually tears at his clothes until he’s bare, and then undresses her.
“I don’t,” she begins. “That is—I’ve never—“
“Shh,” he says. His hands don’t cease, but his voice is gentle. “I know.”
Hermione crosses her arms under her breasts under his dark-eyed scrutiny. She’s self-conscious about her scars; has no glamour to hide any of it. If only she had magic.
“I know I’m—“ she begins again.
“Beautiful,” he interrupts loudly, and Hermione’s eyes widen. He’s serious. “I love broken things,” he says, and smiles. “They’re so much more interesting.”
Later, when they’re moving together, Hermione can feel a tendril of dark magic wind its way down through her spine, then out to circle their entwined bodies. It reminds her of a pointed wand, and Hermione shudders.
She comes apart underneath him, feeling inexplicably chilled.
*/*/*
Much later, still inside her, Jim traces the word carved on her forearm. His eyes are calculating. “I want to kill her for you,” he says, his tone matter-of-fact. “With a knife. Slowly.”
Hermione shivers underneath him. The man from the museum is gone from view, the dinner companion is someone she doesn’t recognize. “She’s dead,” she whispers.
“Good.” Jim smiles at her expression. “Don’t look so worried,” he says. “I’m joking, of course.”
And then he slides downward, buries his head between her legs, and Hermione forgets to think about the stranger in his eyes. Forgets the dark magic. Forgets to think about anything at all.
*/*/*
Just before she falls asleep, Jim whispers, “Winter is my favorite month, Hermione. That play was one of his finest.”
“Most would probably disagree with you,” she murmurs, amused.
“They’re idiots,” he says flatly. “All of them.”
*/*/*
His gifts are causing her a deep kind of unease, and, he needs to control everything. But he’s intelligent and he has a wicked sense of humor and the sex … he has a kink for danger that’s exciting, but also frightening.
They’re two months in before Hermione realizes, she still doesn’t know what Jim does. What she has observed leaves her troubled. For a supposedly ordinary Muggle, he’s far too powerful.
Hermione’s decision to end things doesn’t go exactly as planned.
“This isn’t built to last,” she says. And oh, how she hopes he will accept what she says. Even if somehow she knows better.
“Do you know why I love broken things, Hermione?” Jim asks. A small smile curls his lips
Hermione shakes her head.
Jim’s dark eyes lock on hers. “Because once you fix something broken, it’s yours forever.”
“I’m not broken,” she says, and unconsciously squares her stance, as if she’s about to be hit with a hex. Hermione has never felt the loss of her magic more than at this moment.
Jim smiles even more widely. Falsely. “No, but you are mine.” He shrugs. “But you want to be wooed, do you? That’s okay. I can do that.”
“I’m not—“ Hermione blinks, flustered.
“You’ll see how sincere I can be, Hermione,” Jim says. “I’ll show everyone.” He smiles at her, and his eyes are dead now. “Everyone.”
“Jim—“ she begins, but he’s gone. She stares after him. For the first time since the end of the war, Hermione finds herself afraid.
*/*/*
The corpses fit two distinct profiles: women with dark, curly hair and men with long, blonde hair. Each corpse is found with lines from the Shakespeare play, ‘A Winter’s Tale.’
Sherlock is called after the second. He’s standing before the map of abductions and dump points with John. To one side, a large television on the wall shows the latest in the Bard Butchery case.
“Terrible name,” Sherlock says. “You could do better, John.”
“Thanks, I suppose.”
“It wasn’t a compliment,” Sherlock says. He frowns at the map, his fingers steepled before his chin.
John grimaces “It’s all horribly familiar, isn’t it? Only this time there’s no chance to save them after they deliver the message.”
“Why A Winter’s Tale?” Sherlock mutters to himself. “Why not Hamlet, Othello? It’s one of his minor plays.”
Lestrade cuts in. “Christine?”
They turn. The girl is pale, with a large mane of wildly curling hair. Her eyes are fixed on the television screen, move to Lestrade. She looks frightened, but determined. “Hermione,” she says.
“Ah,” Sherlock murmurs. “I see.”
“I have information on the murders,” she says, and hesitates before squaring her shoulders. Her right hand twitches. “And Jim Moriarty.”
*/*/*
“She’s restored to life at the end, you know,” Sherlock says. His eyes haven’t left her for a while now. Examining, information gathering. It’s unnerving.
“Yes, well, they won’t, Mr. Holmes.”
“You slept with Jim Moriarty,” he says. “You … dated him.” On his lips, the word sounds like a foreign obscenity.
Hermione says nothing. Her right hand curls, and she clenches it into a fist. Looks away. “Would you please stop staring at me, Mr. Holmes?”
“No,” he says distinctly. Hermione sighs.
Sherlock eyes her. Beyond the achingly obvious, he sees only unanswered questions. Maddening. “Call me Sherlock,” he says absently. “And you have missing pieces.”
Hermione shakes her head. “I’m not a puzzle.”
Sherlock hums, tilts his head. “On the contrary. A boarding school student, yet you live in a slum. Genius IQ, and you work as a tour guide.” He ignores her outraged sound. “Odd callouses that only correspond to a conductor’s baton. Yet you play no instrument. You stare at the television as if it’s unfamiliar technology, yet you must have grown up watching one. There are ink stains on your fingers as if you use a …” he frowns, “a quill to write with, obviously ridiculous. Even an antiquarian, which you’re not judging from your phone—although that’s obviously a gift, but you know how to work it well enough—would use the more modern fountain pen. You have no friends whatsoever, aside from those recently made at your new job, yet I can observe no defect of friendliness or personality. You have no employment history. Your parents, when found, refused to answer questions.”
Hermione turns away. Yet Sherlock isn’t done. “You keep an owl as a pet, work with sealing wax and parchment, neither of which are required by your job. Your dress is conservative to the point of being prudish, yet you’re not afraid of men, are you? You like them, and they like you. Jim Moriarty especially liked you, didn’t he, Hermione? In fact, he had you, countless times.”
“Sherlock, that’s enough,” John says quietly. But still, Sherlock doesn’t stop.
“You remind me of my flatmate, and yet you’re neither a doctor nor male nor a—“ Sherlock stops abruptly. He frowns. Pauses. “Now, that’s odd.”
Hermione glares at him. “I’m eccentric, Mr. Holmes. It’s not a crime.” Her dominant (baton) hand twitches, curls as if holding a phantom object. Static hisses from the television, abrupt and loud.
Sherlock narrows his eyes. “I begin to understand Moriarty’s obsession with you,” he says.
*/*/*
“I need information,” Sherlock says. He hates being in this office, hates the paneled wood and smell of polish. Hates the muffled footsteps of his brother’s countless minions. Hates, most of all, being a supplicant.
Mycroft leans back in his expensive leather chair. “This is an extraordinarily busy day, Sherlock.”
“It’s about Hermione Granger.”
Mycroft doesn’t wince, doesn’t freeze; he’s too professional for obvious tells such as these. But his pupils dilate, just a little, and there’s a tiny, worried furrow that appears between his eyes.
“How did you hear that name?” He asks, instead of answering.
Sherlock feels a tiny blossom of victory, right behind his sternum. He smiles behind his steepled fingers. “You’re a fan of the Bard, aren’t you? Notice which play they’ve been advertising lately, dear brother?”
Mycroft sighs. “Cancel my 2 o’clock,” he calls, no one in particular.
*/*/*
After the third death, there’s a silent sense of defeat at the Yard. They remember the games all too well, remember the helpless people strapped to explosives, forced to recite texts, to be Moriarty’s voice.
This is worse, however. Moriarty’s learned from his mistakes. Even Sherlock seems somewhat stymied.
And every corpse is dedicated to Hermione. Word and verse, blood and bone.
It’s altogether obvious, Sherlock thinks, what has to be done. Jim’s attention must be reset. Redirected to its proper place. On Sherlock.
Hermione shows up to Baker Street in the dead of night, dressed as a portly man. John’s silently impressed; her disguise could rival some of his flatmate’s. He only knows who it is by her voice.
“He’s expecting you,” he says quietly.
Hermione hadn’t said she was coming, but she’s not surprised that Sherlock knows. In her hand, she clutches the emailed picture of her mother and father, received this afternoon.
She just nods, enters the flat.
*/*/*
Everyone has their pressure point, and Hermione’s no exception. Her death, when it comes, is banal and unsurprising. An ordinary suicide, lacking in drama, veins opened in the dingy bathtub of a woman’s utterly depressing flat.
All in all, even the suicide note is altogether quite dull.
Sherlock thinks it’s altogether unsurprising that the people from the Yard seem relieved. Hermione would probably say he’s being uncharitable, and she would be right.
But he never claimed to be a good person. Unlike her.
“I didn’t expect this,” John says, looking around.
“You appear upset,” Sherlock notes.
John frowns. “Of course I am. Hermione seemed like a fighter to me. Kind of a … kindred spirit, although I suppose you’d call that sentimental.
“Like she’d served,” Sherlock says. One of his gloved fingers trails the books on the shelves. History, philosophy. Physics “A soldier, of sorts?”
John frowns, thinking about that. “I suppose it’s stupid.”
“No,” Sherlock says quietly. “Far from it.”
*/*/*
It works; the murders cease. As to how it was done, all Sherlock knows is that Hermione called in a favor, and that even the DNA matched.
“It’s utterly frustrating,” he tells her. “I know you have powerful friends, but this is ridiculous.”
“I know,” she says. “but you’re better off not knowing the details.”
“You’ll tell me one day,” he says. His voice is grim.
Hermione grins. “Knowing you? Probably.” She sighs. “Thank you.”
“I just had the idea.”
Hermione smiles. “Modesty doesn’t suit you,” she says. “And we both know the idea is the key.” There’s a short silence, and her expression turns pensive. “He said he loved how broken I was,” she says. :”that it was beautiful to him. I think he wanted to keep me that way.”
Sherlock turns his gaze on her. “No,” he says, “not broken. You’re like an antique vase, Hermione.” He smiles. “Fragile, but only on the surface.”
Hermione regards him. “I think I’m going to miss you.”
“Sentiment.” But Sherlock’s voice lacks conviction.
“I know,” she says. “It’s tiresome. I should go,”
She doesn’t. Instead, she kisses him.
To her surprise, he kisses her back. His lips are soft, and for such a caustic man, she can feel only sincerity. Her small hands clutch Sherlock’s coat, curl around to the back of his neck, stroke the fine small hairs above his collar. One of her hands cards through his soft black hair.
Magic, she thinks. Magic. A small, speaking tendril of energy swirls down her spine, out around their bodies, and they shiver.
When they break apart, breathless, he hands her a grey card. “You have mutual acquaintances. If I know her, and I do, she’ll find you interesting.”
Hermione stares down at the black lettering. “The Woman?” It’s a California address. She’d been planning on Europe.
Sherlock’s smile is a little rueful. “Not right away, but later, when you’re sure it’s safe. You could use allies.”
Hermione touches his cheek. “Thank you.” She smiles a little uncertainly. “I’ll see you again one day, I think.”
“You will,” Sherlock replies. To Hermione, it sounds less like a farewell, and more like a promise.
*/*/*