You Gotta Breathe
Disclaimer: Harry Potter & Co belong to JK Rowling. None of the characters or places mentioned (except for the ruined manor house later in the story) belong to me.
In an instant, with a blinding flash of bright blue light- portkey light- Voldemort was gone. Gone too was the invisible barrier that Harry and Ron had been pounding on while screaming themselves hoarse. Suddenly deprived of the barrier's support, both boys flew forward and sprawled on the stone floor of the corridor, several feet from where Hermione was crumpled near the wall, still with her arms wrapped tightly around her stomach, still struggling to draw breath in the wake of Voldemort's savage parting kick, which had knocked the wind out of her.
Scrambling to his knees, Harry made it to her first. He reached her side in an instant, but then stopped, at a momentary loss for what to do to help or comfort her. "Hermione," he gasped finally, awkwardly; "Hermione, I'm here. Its okay- we're here now- you're gonna be okay."
Hermione raised her head, and as soon as Harry saw her eyes, dark with pain and shock, he realized that she was about as far as she could get from okay. For one thing, the most pressing thing, she was still struggling to breathe without quite managing to do so.
"Oh no," Harry whispered, "Oh God, oh no, please breathe… Hermione, you gotta breathe!" He reached out and grasped her shoulders and shook her slightly, then pulled her fiercely into his arms, crying, "I don't know how to help you- I don't know what to do!"
Finally, as Harry's arms closed about her and her head fell onto his shoulder, Hermione managed to drag in a long, shuddering breath. Another followed, and another, as she wound her fingers in the material of his shirt and clung to him like a woman drowning.
Harry held her thus for what seemed to him like days, listening to her ragged breathing as tears coursed down his face. "It's all right now," he finally choked. "You're breathing…you're okay…you're breathing…you're okay…" he repeated it like a mantra, for he had felt so sure, so terribly sure, that when Voldemort had let them through the barrier it was only because she had been beyond all help. Just the fact that she was here in his arms…alive…breathing…seemed at the moment to be an incredible gift. And yet he was aware, even as he spoke the soothing words, of just how monumentally false they were. Hermione was alive, she was breathing, but she was not, by any stretch of the imagination, okay.
Harry raised his head and locked gazes with Ron, who was crouched a few feet away, looking for all the world like a trapped and wounded animal. He opened his mouth to say, God Ron, help me- I don't know what to do- but before the words could come Hermione muttered something into his shoulder and his attention returned to her in a flash.
"…Huh…Harry…" she whispered again. "I'm so… ungh…c-cold! I d-duh-don't feel so good…at all!"
Despite everything, Harry cracked the smallest smile at her characteristic understatement. "It's all right," he said, his voice nearly a sob. "I've got you…I'll keep you warm." He gathered her closer, and realized with a sick feeling that everywhere her skin touched his she did indeed feel like ice. She was shaking too, shaking so hard her teeth were starting to chatter.
"Ron!" Harry called, "you gotta get over here! She's freezing, Ron- help me keep her warm." Wretchedly, Ron shook his head and mouthed two words at Harry- my fault. Staring at Ron, Harry remembered that the last words Ron had said to Hermione before this ordeal had been spoken in vicious anger, and had been the cause of her running ahead alone. Dear God, he blames himself for this, Harry thought. This is going to destroy him. And it's not even true- Voldemort did this to torment me, only me- I'm the cause of this!
Hermione cried out as a violent shudder convulsed her body. Her nails dug into Harry as she clung to him, gasping, until the spasm passed. "Hermione!" Harry cried, panicked. Finally she slumped against him, limp again.
"Harry…" she whispered, more softly than before, "I'm scared."
Harry was teetering on the edge of a blind panic now. He could feel that Hermione's shivers were subsiding, and that by itself should have been a good thing, but that wasn't all- it was as if Hermione herself were…fading somehow…her body was still solid in him arms, but he had the distinct impression that her………essence maybe was the word…was slowly seeping out of her pain wracked body and away. He laid his head against hers and murmured gently to her, trying not to let her hear his increasing desperation.
Raising his head, he again met Ron's haunted gaze. "Ron, PLEASE come help me," Harry begged, his voice cracking, then mouthed the words- I think she's dying! Ron rocked backward, as though Harry's last words, his silent words, had been a physical blow, and looked stricken to the core. But he still did not approach.
In Harry's lap, Hermione struggled to raise her head once more. She only had the strength to hold it up for an instant though, before letting it fall against Harry's shoulder again. "…Ron-" she gasped, "…still mad?" Her question just about broke Harry's heart. "Tell him…ugh…for me, Harry…whatever I did to make him so angry…I'm suh-sorry. Please…" she paused as her body convulsed once more, then whispered, "duh-don't let him stay mad at me! Harry, please…"
Harry raised his head once more to see if Ron had understood Hermione's words from his distance. Ron's face was buried in his hands, and his shoulders were heaving- he was either sobbing or retching, Harry wasn't sure which, but either way it seemed as though he had heard Hermione's plea.
Suddenly, Hermione's back arched against Harry as the worst spasm yet gripped her mercilessly. She screamed hoarsely, and her eyes flew open as if in surprise at the pain. Instantly her eyes, too large and dark in her pale, pain-ravaged face, locked on Ron's, who had raised his head when he heard her cry. Her eyes never left his as the spasm passed and she fell back against Harry's chest, and as he watched her lips formed one word; "Ron." She extended a trembling hand toward him beseechingly.
That single word and gesture did what all Harry's pleading had not; Ron was beside them in a flash. "Hermione..." He breathed her name like a prayer, reaching out to cup her cheek in his hand. Her cheek was deathly cold, and damp with sweat and tears.
As soon as he touched her, Ron felt a jolt like an electric shock tear through him; a jolt that came from five years of emotions suppressed and denied surfacing in an instant. Before he was fully aware of what he was doing, he found himself pulling her frantically, almost violently, out of Harry's lap and into his own.
He spoke her name again and again as his hands flew over her, caressing her face, her hair, chafing her cold arms and hands. Harry, meanwhile, crawled slowly away, spent, miserable, to a distance of several feet, where he further exhausted himself by pounding his fists against the floor and wall until they were bloody. Then he dropped his forehead against the wall and listened, gasping, to the sounds of Ron's grief.
Bracing his back against the wall, Ron pulled Hermione more fully into his arms, cradling her head against his chest and rocking her like a baby. "Please," he whispered in a choked voice, as he felt a convulsive shudder wrack her body, "Hermione- you're the strongest, most stubborn person I know… you've got to pull through this, please."
He laid his cheek down on top of her head, burying his nose in her damp, sweaty, yet still somehow sweet smelling hair, and felt his tears begin to flow just as he felt her fingers catch and grip the material of his shirt. She clenched her fists, nearly ripping his shirt, and gasped as another spasm of pain ripped through her.
"Hermione," he sobbed, hugging her tighter, "I'm here. I couldn't save you- I'm so sorry, love- and the things I said…ah, God…but I'm here now and I…I love you. I've loved you since second year at least, but I just never found the right time…or the courage…to tell you. Please don't leave me now, not now that I've finally said it…please…Hermione?"
A despairing moan, muffled by the fabric of his shirt, was her only answer. Ron stroked her hair and murmured nonsense to her as he finally felt her begin to relax in his arms.
Harry, who had been watching from some feet away, now crawled back over, threw himself against the wall beside Ron, drew up his knees and dropped his forehead onto them. He wrapped one arm about himself, draped the other over Ron's shoulders, and began to sob miserably. Everything he had just seen came crashing down on him…Hermione in such agony…he and Ron powerless to help her…and why? Because of him. Voldemort had hurt her for no other reason than because he knew that doing so would cause Harry to suffer.
It was at this moment that, in a swish of long black cloaks, none other than Professor Snape and his protégé Draco Malfoy rounded a corner in the corridor and stopped short, as though they too had hit an invisible barrier.
"Potter," Snape spat, "what is the meaning of this?"
Harry raised his head slowly. Although Snape allowed nothing to change in his outward expression, he experienced surprise and a first twinge of alarm at the dull, shocked look in Harry's eyes. Malfoy, meanwhile, was staring intently at Hermione, his customary sneer nowhere to be seen.
"It's Hermione, professor," Harry said, his voice barely more than a whisper. "She's been…attacked. She's hurt bad."
"Attacked…right here in a hallway of Hogwarts! Attacked how…when…by whom?"
Harry and Ron exchanged a glance. "Professor, I…I'm not sure that Hermione would want me to-" Harry began, but stopped abruptly when Snape held up a hand. The answer of how had just been answered for Snape, though he could hardly credit- didn't want to credit- what he was seeing. When Ron had pulled Hermione onto his lap, her uniform skirt had ridden up almost to her waist, and what Snape was staring at now was her thighs, thighs smeared and stained with blood. But how? How could this have happened right here at Hogwarts? Right here in a public corridor, by God! Granted, this corridor was seldom used, but… but still… The color drained from Snape's face and he felt an abrupt need to sit down right there on the floor, but he held himself together by strength of will.
"Raped!" he exclaimed in a hoarse whisper. It was the voice of a man who has been punched in the stomach. Instantly the color drained from Draco's face as well: he went two shades paler than Harry
would have thought possible for someone so pale to begin with. He sucked in his breath sharply, and even through the haze of his misery and guilt, Harry had to marvel at the stricken expression on his face. What could Malfoy possibly care…Malfoy who used to call Hermione a filthy little mudblood? Granted, he hadn't used that term in at least two years, but…
Harry's train of thought ended abruptly as Snape, sounding deadlier than Harry had ever heard him, hissed one word: "Who?"
Harry's cloudy gaze returned to meet Snape's furious stare. "Voldemort, sir," he whispered. "He was right here…in the flesh."
Snape opened his mouth to ask the next pressing question, where had he gone, but before he could do so, Draco erupted into the silence, surprising them all.
"Why didn't you stop him?" he cried, twin points of fire now blazing high on the cheeks of his pale face. "You know you're the only one who can, Potter, so if you saw…what he was doing…then why the HELL didn't you STOP him?"
"We ran into a barrier!" Harry said in a strangled voice. "Hermione had been walking on ahead of us…because she and Ron were fighting again…she rounded the corner and then we…we heard her…screaming, and we ran around the corner and just…it was like hitting a brick wall…a clear brick wall. It was solid…we couldn't go any further…she was yelling at us to run, to get away…but we couldn't leave her like that…we were going mad…watching…he had her upright…right against the wall…we tried spells…we hurled ourselves against the barrier…it held. There was nothing we could do, but we kept trying…we tried the whole time. But we couldn't get through…and she…she looked at me…there was such pain in her eyes…and pleading. She reached out toward me…" Harry paused to stifle a sob. "And then he…he finished…he leaned forward and whispered something to her…and she…oh God, Hermione…she spat right in his face. He grabbed her by the hair and slammed her head back against the wall. He stepped back and she slid down the wall…we thought she would collapse, but she didn't…she was still conscious somehow and she caught herself before she hit the floor. She was kneeling at his feet…supporting herself on one arm…her other hand clasped to her head…and then he kicked her hard in the stomach. She doubled over…wrapped both arms around her stomach and doubled over hard…slammed her head again, on the floor…and then he took another step back…and he turned and looked at me- he grinned at me- and he said, 'the only reason this happened to her is that she's your friend.' And then he just…vanished. As soon as he was gone the barrier was gone too…now we could reach her, but it was too late…too late." Harry's head dropped forward onto his knees once again, and now his whole body was wracked by his sobs.
Snape found himself speechless in the wake of this tale. He felt his self-control failing and made a conscious effort to get a grip on his emotions. He had never cared much for Hermione Granger- never cared much for any Hogwart's student other than the members of his own Slytherin House- but no one-
no one deserved this.
As Snape's mind raced to determine the best course of action, Draco suddenly breathed the words
"oh, no." In a flash, he crossed the distance to where Ron sat huddled with Hermione in his arms, and threw himself to his knees. Staring intently at her still form, he again moaned, "oh, NO!" With a tenderness that amazed both Harry and Ron, he reached out and pushed back the hair that had fallen like a curtain across her face. Her tear streaked face was ashen, and utterly still.
"Oh, Hermione," Draco whispered, "Hermione, no!" Suddenly, all gentleness gone, he gripped her shoulder and began to shake her hard. "Hermione," he said loudly, urgently, "Hermione, wake up!"
"Leave her alone!" Ron snarled, clutching her tighter. "Back the hell off, Malfoy, and leave her ALONE!"
"Leave her alone?" Draco echoed, incredulous, his voice rising. Harry and Ron were astonished to see that now tears were standing out in his eyes. "Leave her ALONE? You bloody stupid prat! Potter just said she slammed her head- hard- not once, but TWICE- and you let her go to SLEEP- and now you say to leave her ALONE? Don't you understand she may never wake UP?"
As Ron's eyes widened in horror, Draco began shaking Hermione again. "Hermione- for God's sake- PLEASE wake up!" There was no response.
And then Snape was there, bending over them. He clamped a hand down on Draco's shoulder and squeezed- a quick but comforting gesture. Snape reflected briefly that he had had no more idea than Harry or Ron that his own protégé was carrying a torch for the Granger girl, and he wondered, equally briefly, when and how it had begun. But there was no time to ponder such questions now. As the only adult present, he had to take control of the situation. Draco rocked back on his heels, making room for Snape, and dashed angrily, savagely, at the tears that were now flowing down his pale face. Then, like Harry had done earlier, he dropped his head onto his knees.
Snape reached for Hermione, but Ron pulled her more tightly to him, crushing her against his chest. He dropped his face once again behind the curtain of her hair and choked out just one word; "No!"
Snape's fists clenched in frustration. "Listen, Weasley-" he began harshly, then paused and forced himself to gentle his tone. There was too much at stake to allow his emotions to get the better of him now. Hermione's life hung in the balance. "Ron, her chances for survival grow slimmer every moment she stays here on this floor. She has to get up to hospital, and because you are already exhausted from trying to break through the barrier, I can carry her far more quickly than you can. If you want her to live, Ron, you must give her to me- now!"
Ron stayed as he was a moment more, then, with a groan of anguish, loosened his grip on Hermione. Snape scooped her easily from his arms, lifting her as effortlessly as though she had been a napping five-year-old child. Ron stared blankly down at his empty arms, then gave a low, guttural cry and brought them up over his face, grabbing fistfuls of his hair. He began to rock back and forth, sobbing. Snape stared at him for a moment, unable to tear his gaze away from the most profound display of abject sorrow and loss he had ever seen. Even Sirius Black's reaction when he learned of the deaths of James and Lily Potter hadn't matched this.
Unlike with Draco, it had been clear to most students and teachers at Hogwarts that Ron had loved Hermione for years. The two had never progressed past a close friendship, however, and it was also common knowledge that said friendship was stormy, to say the least. And now Snape remembered Harry saying that the reason Hermione had been walking ahead, alone and vulnerable, was that she and Ron had been "fighting again". Good God, the pain that boy must feel, Snape thought. He felt a momentary rush of sympathy for Ron: if there was one thing Snape knew about, it was guilt.
Then Harry wrapped his arms around Ron and pulled him into his embrace. Strapping 16-year-old boys the both of them, they dropped their heads on each other's shoulders and simply held onto one another. Draco remained, hugging his knees, off to one side. Snape dropped his gaze to Hermione's still, tear streaked face. A little furrow between her brows suggested that even now, in whatever dark place her spirit had fled to, she was still in fear or pain, or both. Snape debated for only a second before his better nature won. He lowered his head and spoke in her ear. "Miss Granger, this is professor Snape. You're safe now. Please listen to me. You're one of the brightest students this school has ever seen. You'll make Head Girl next year for sure, if you will only hold on now. Just hold on and be strong. Hermione, please." His words had the effect he had intended- a tiny sigh escaped her lips and the furrow between her brows relaxed.
Snape adjusted her in his arms so that her head rested on his broad chest, then glanced once again at the boys on the floor. "One of you needs to fetch Dumbledore, and fast- I fear this may be beyond Madam Pomfrey's skill. The others can follow me to the hospital wing if you like. It makes no difference to me which of you gets Dumbledore, but it has to done right now- come on, on your feet!" With that, he turned and sprinted down the corridor and around the corner. In a moment his feet could be heard pounding quickly up the stairs. Then he was gone.