Okay. There were times I thought I wouldn't be able to finish this - and I know you you doubted me too but... here we are, dear readers. The final chapter of The Philosopher's Stone. I really hope you enjoy it.
Walking back through the rooms was even more frightening when Hermione was on her own, heavy with the knowledge that Harry was facing whatever he found beyond the other wall of flames alone. She glanced nervously at the huge prone body of the troll as she scurried past it and went back through to the chess room.
The pieces had all returned to their original places, intact, and for a terrifying moment, Hermione thought she might have to play back across the room alone to get to the other side. But the chess board seemed far less concerned with people walking away from the Philosopher's Stone as it was with people walking towards it. Ron hadn't been reset. He lay in the middle of the board exactly where he'd been knocked down, and Hermione sent a glare towards the White Queen as she ran to him.
"Ron?" She said, placing a hand gingerly on his shoulder, "Ron! Wake up!" Ron didn't move. Hermione swallowed down her panic and took a moment to breathe. Her parents were medical professionals. She could deal with this. He was breathing, so that wasn't a problem and – she touched her fingers to the base of his neck – his pulse was still going strong. A head wound maybe? She leant over him and gently ran her hand over the back of his head, his ginger hair fanning between her fingers. There was a lump there from where he'd hit it but he wasn't bleeding.
"Ron!" She tried again, squeezing his shoulders more firmly, "Ron, Harry needs us!"
Her friend moved, finally, though his eyes remained shut, one arm coming up to half-heartedly cover his face.
"Ron, you need to get up, now."
"'Mionee?" He mumbled blearily, his eyelids fluttering open, "Did I win?" For a moment she thought he was still dreaming, before she realised he was talking about the chess game, that felt like it had happened an eternity ago. She let out a shaky breath.
"Yes, Ron. You won. You got us to the other side." A half smile spread across Ron's face. "But Harry's gone on without us. He's fighting alone."
She watched the pride drain from his face, and his eyes finally focussed properly on her face.
"What d'you mean he's alone?"
"I'll explain on the way – we have to go back and get Dumbledore." He stared at her for an agonising three seconds before nodding.
She stood and helped him to his feet by one sweaty hand. He seemed steady, and even if he wasn't, the look on face told her he was going to get the job done anyway. She was surprised to find that the same steady resolve was burning in her too. She was terrified for Harry, of course, but she wasn't panicking. She had to do what she had to do now.
They used the brooms from the flying key room to get back up to Fluffy's room, and, without needing to discuss it, stayed on them until they had shot past the three-headed dog. They didn't have time to stop and play him to sleep. Hermione could only deal with flying for so long, however, and once they got out of the third floor corridor, she leapt from the uncomfortable seat and continued at almost the same speed, running up to the owlry, the sound of footfall and heavy breathing behind her alone alerting her to the fact that Ron had followed suit.
They had just gotten to the entrance hall, however, when Professor Dumbledore himself appeared like a saving apparition in front of them. For a moment she couldn't speak with shock, and Ron still seemed out of breath and dizzy from his recent physical trials, but the Headmaster, it appeared, did not need their information anyway.
"Harry's gone after him, hasn't he?" Dumbfounded, Hermione found herself nodding, and then – as quickly as he had appeared – the white-haired man had left, his purple robes whipping out of sight behind him.
Hermione turned to see Ron's face reflecting her own confusion and astonishment.
"You don't think…?" Hermione couldn't tell if Ron was leaving the sentence open for effect or if his head injury had affected him more than she'd thought. In either case, it seemed logical what they should do next.
"Come on." She said, "We need to go to the hospital wing."
"No, no" Ron started shaking his head emphatically before apparently realising this wasn't a good idea, wincing, "We need to go back to see if Harry's –"
"Dumbledore's with him now," She said, sounding calmer than she felt, "And… he'll probably end up there anyway if…" She knew exactly why she was leaving the sentence open. Ron pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes.
"Okay." He said quietly, and they headed off.
Ron was lying in a bed in the hospital wing. Hermione's gaze was constantly shifting between watching him try to stay awake and looking anxiously at the door. Madam Pomfrey had been amazed to hear Hermione's rushed explanation of why Ron was showing up in the middle of the night with a head injury, covered in grey ceramic dust, but when she'd finished, all the matron did was press her lips together and say:
"I suppose we'll be getting another patient soon, too." Hermione supposed she was used to – if not this, then – things in this league.
That had been half an hour ago.
Finally, she heard muted voices outside the door, and it swung open to reveal Harry being levitated gently in the air. She clapped her hands over her mouth as she saw his limp body, but when Dumbledore entered after him, wand raised, he smiled reassuringly. A second later, however, her horror was replaced by fury.
"What are you doing here?" Ron hissed, apparently thinking along the same lines, as Snape followed behind. The Potions Master's face twisted into a disapproving sneer. Hermione recovered from her shock enough to speak.
"Professor Dumbledore? Wasn't he trying to steal the stone?"
"Severus?" Said Dumbledore, sounding mildly surprised as he lowered Harry into the bed beside Ron, "No, Miss Granger. Professor Snape has been trying very hard to protect the Stone this whole year." Snape shot Hermione a sardonic smile. She blinked.
"Protect the Stone?" She repeated, as Dumbledore turned to face her, "Then who…?"
"I think you may have been slightly confused," he said, smiling benignly, "it is in fact Professor Quirrell with whom Harry has just met."
"Quirrell?" Hermione and Ron said together, equally shocked, but then Hermione's brain started putting things together.
"Of course…" She murmured, almost to herself, "the potion puzzle was Snape's and the troll was Quirrell's. He's the one who let one in at Halloween…" Her gaze shot back to Dumbledore, frowning, "But then… you've known the whole year? That he was after it?" The Headmaster was nodding sagely.
"Not quite the whole year, no, but yes. I had been aware of Professor Quirrel's intentions for some time."
"And you just let him carry on?" She tried to keep the accusation out of her voice but she doubted her success.
"As I said, Severus was working very hard to protect the Stone." Hermione's mouth worked around other things she could say to him, but it was Ron who spoke next.
"What happened, then?" He said, half demanding, half submissive, "Where's Quirrell? What did he do to Harry?"
"I think the more important thing is what Harry did to him, Mr. Weasley. You see, Professor Quirrell is dead."
"And a fortunate thing, too," sneered Snape.
"Severus," warned the Headmaster, but before he could continue, Professor McGonagall strode into the room, her tartan dressing gown rippling around her.
"Rare as it is," she said brusquely upon her entry, "I find myself agreeing with Professor Snape." Her eyes moved from Harry to Ron and then settled on Hermione. "I suppose I should congratulate you," she said archly, "On besting my chess game." Hermione gaped at her for a second and then cleared her throat.
"Actually," She said primly, "It was Ron that got us through the chess board." Hermione watched as McGonagall's eyes, disbelieving and reluctant, slid from Hermione, frizzy-haired bookworm Hermione – to Ron, who was grinning blearily at her from the hospital bed. She looked Snape dead in the eye.
"I beat the potions riddle."
The next three days were an odd and confusing blur. While Ron had been discharged the next day, Harry remained knocked out, so the two of them spent every free moment sitting by his bedside until Madam Pomfrey kicked them out. Another side-effect of Harry's incapacitation was the lack of details about what had happened on the other side of the fire. In the absence of eye witness accounts, rumours became wild and elaborate. Some people were saying Harry had faced down three trolls single-handed, and then drunk a draught of living death. Others were saying Quirrell had been Voldemort himself in disguise. Hermione believed almost none of it, dodging questions in class from Parvati and Lavender, who had gently apologized for their coldness, now they wanted a story from her. She couldn't bring herself to hold onto what felt like such ancient grudges but she still refused to talk about it with anyone who asked.
Well. Almost anyone.
"Granger!" Said Fred and George together as they pulled up chairs on either side of her.
She had been sitting next to Harry's bed, working on some advanced reading for second year, and looked up, startled.
"You're alive!" George cheered, clapping her on the back.
"We were beginning to wonder," Fred said overly sincerely, hand on his heart.
"You've seen me around," Hermione protested and, feeling slightly cornered, she pushed her chair back a little so she could look at them both at the same time. Fred scoffed.
"Barely," He said.
"You're like a ghost or something," added George, "We just catch a glimpse of weightless –"
" – ethereally bushy – "
" – hair and then you're gone again." They each tugged a stand of said hair in their fingers and she twisted out of their grasp.
"Well, I've been a little busy," she snapped, raising her eyebrows pointedly at Harry.
"Ah, yes," Said George wisely, "I'm sure Wonderboy will really appreciate waking up to hear you preparing him for next year's exams."
"It'll be just the recreational activity he needs after all this drama." Agreed Fred. Before she could come back with a response, George added, with a careful look in his eyes:
"Besides, we weren't too busy for you when you asked." Her lips pressed against each other tightly.
This is where they had her. It wasn't that she hadn't wanted to talk to them, to thank them for what they'd done but, yes, she had been avoiding running into them. She'd been relieved to see them walking around the school un-expelled, but was careful not to catch their eyes. Part of it was because she didn't have the time – or the energy – at least, outside of that which she was committing to watching over Harry. But there was also the fact that she didn't really know what to say.
She didn't know how to talk to them now. If they asked about her feelings towards them she wouldn't know what to say. She couldn't claim that the risk they'd taken for her meant nothing, but it was equally ridiculous to say that this one incident had fixed everything that had broken between them. What if they wanted to go back to how things were? The distancing conversation had been hard enough the first time – she didn't want to go through it all again, this time with the added guilt that she might have led them on with her desperate request. She supposed she knew that she couldn't avoid it forever – the Weasley twins were nothing if not persistent. She cleared her throat.
"Yes, I've been meaning to…" She caught the identical cynical expressions on their faces and gave up on that sentence. "Look, it's not that I'm not grateful"
"Grateful?" Said Fred.
" – for what you did. I know you didn't have any reason to help – "
"A reason to help?" Said George, half-laughing, "For one thing we still owed you from being enormous prats earlier," His eyes slid over to his brother but he didn't weight guilt in either direction.
"For another, we're fa- friends," Fred skipped over the word smoothly, his face serene, "And you don't need a reason to help friends." She shook her head.
She looked at them for a moment, and then, quietly, she said:
"This doesn't fix everything." By the time she could bring herself to look up and meet their eyes in turn, their faces were calm. They weren't surprised by this. George shrugged.
"We didn't expect it to," He said gently, but Hermione caught something in his sideways look to Fred that made her wonder. The other twin shifted slightly in his chair.
"Like Snape said, we had a fair amount of dues to be paid in that corridor." His eyes were steady on hers, and she knew he wasn't talking about outstanding homework. His mouth quirked up a little. "Consider this the first instalment."
"Another two hundred or so of them and we'll be all settled up!" Added George cheerily, and then, when Hermione stayed quiet, he continued: "Two hundred blown up toilets is enough, right? I mean we're only limiting ourselves because we'll be leaving school before you do and then we'd have to sneak back in to provide distractions for you."
"We could do foot rubs instead?" Fred mused, "That's how mum likes her dues paid…"
"I was asking a little more of you than just a foot rub!" Hermione suddenly burst out, and she saw them start at the outburst, "You could have been expelled!" For some reason their belittling of the risk they'd taken was getting her all twisted up.
"Expelled?" George scoffed, "Us? Please." He looked at her carefully, "You're not feeling guilty, are you?"
"I shouldn't have asked you take that risk." She admitted, the words crawling up out of her throat unbidden, "And definitely not in those terms. I made it sound like you had to keep promises you made from before…" She looked down, "…everything. It wasn't fair." They didn't speak again until she looked up to meet their eyes.
"I reckon we must have different definitions of fair," Fred murmured gently, "You're talking like you forced us into something. You asked for help. We provided. It's about time we kept some promises to you." Hermione opened her mouth to say something but he carried on, "And no, they weren't voided when…" She saw him struggle for words, "When you drew those lines. That was about protecting yourself, I get that – we get that – but it doesn't mean that we can't be on your side. That we can't try to make up for… everything."
Hermione was stunned into silence, processing. What was happening between them made more sense in his words than they did in hers, guilt was replaced with gratitude, emotional blackmail with loyalty. That was about protecting yourself. It had been, hadn't it? Not vengeful or malicious but just a wall she needed to re-erect. She hadn't expected them to understand that, didn't realize that they didn't blame her for what had happened to their friendship. She her own guilt seep out of her, her body feeling incrementally lighter.
"Besides, we were gonna blow up the toilets anyway," Said George condescendingly, "If you could pull your head out of your own arse for two seconds you could see that your request had very little toll on us." Her mouth opened and she scoffed incredulously.
"Sorry, Hermione," Said Fred, patting her on the shoulder bracingly, "But you're just not that important."
"Other than the whole 'saving-the-wizarding-world-from-Voldy thing." Added George as an afterthought, waving this little achievement away with his hand.
For a moment, Hermione stared at them. After all this anxiety, could the conversation be over this quickly? Were things really this easy between them? They hadn't tried to call her family again, hadn't tried to reason through their actions with affection or loyalty. Here it was again, Fred and George making things simple, telling her what she needed to hear. She felt a smile pull up the corner of her mouth and groaned. Okay. Sure. They wanted to be on her side, they didn't need her approval to do so and she was too tired from everything else to fight them anyway.
"There's no proof that Quirrell was He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named yet," She said brusquely, "Besides, I never got to that bit of the chambers."
"I heard," Said George conversationally, relaxing back into the chair, "That you drank poison to get Harry through."
"Nothing quite so Gryffindor." She said sarcastically, and then settled back to tell them what actually happened. As she went through the portion of the story she knew, they interjected on occasion – "I knew Ron must be good at something. To think, all this time, mum thought his only talent was the speed at which he could turn into a human tomato" – but once she was done, they sat in silence for a moment.
"So…" Said George, "Let us get this straight."
"You didn't drink any poison?"
"No, Fred," She said, laughing, "I'm very sorry to disappoint but no, I did not drink any poison."
"Disappoint?" he replied incredulously, "Hermione."
"You were trapped between two walls of fire –"
" – with nothing but a riddle for company – "
" – well done on memorising the whole thing, by the way – "
" – and you still managed – "
" – to figure all of that out?" George finished, blinking earnestly at her.
"Without," added Fred, "Panicking."
She hadn't even thought about it properly. She remembered feeling the correct amount of horror, of course, at their predicament, but she had been breathing steadily. She hadn't needed anyone to hand her goblet of water or guide her breathing. She'd just done what she needed to do, what she was good at – what she knew she was good at. Something warm filled her chest, spreading through her whole body until she felt like she must be glowing with it. She grinned at them.
"Yeah. Yeah, I suppose so."
"'Nothing quite so Gryffindor'" Mocked George derisively. "My arse."
"She's enjoying a moment of glory, George, don't make her think about your arse." Hermione snorted unattractively but they just grinned at her.
"Speaking of arses," Said George, "Look what we managed to pick up while we were in the loos." As if from thin air, he suddenly had a toilet seat in his hand. Hermione leant away, her nose wrinkling. As she did, her book started slipping from her lap and in her haste to get it, she fell off her seat. Or she would have done, had Fred not caught her. Still too high on her own glory to feel properly embarrassed, she still felt her face flush as he pulled her down so she was half sitting on his lap. She raised an eyebrow at him and he smiled serenely back at her, giving her a brief squeeze with the arms he had around her waist.
"What're you up to?" Ron had just arrived, his bag slung across his back, and was surveying the scene with curiosity.
"Miss Granger is sampling her new throne," Said Fred in a pompous voice, "as the new princess of Gryffindor."
"I was hoping for something less ginger," She drawled back at him.
"No you weren't," Said George decisively, and she sent him the same questioning look.
"We both know we're exactly your type." She stared at them blankly for a moment and then, unbidden, a laugh rose up in her throat. It had been so long since that first day on the train that she had almost forgotten the joke.
"Not got a thing for gingers, have you?" He was nodding in the direction the cat had run in and Hermione answered without thinking.
"They're just so nice to cuddle." She blushed – that sounded so childish. He cocked and eyebrow.
"Yeah, well maybe when we know each other better, eh?"
She looked at the way her arm had automatically slung over Fred's shoulders and couldn't help smiling to herself. I guess we know each other better now. And, more importantly, she thought, I know myself better. She looked around them, Harry Potter, asleep in a hospital bed, brave and noble and heroic and Ron Weasley, smarter than he was ever given credit for, and full of fierce loyalty, Fred and George Weasley, kind and funny and exactly what she had needed… her friends. She remembered how desperate she had been to make them that first day on the Express, how she'd thrown the entirety of her abrasively swotty self into every interaction in a misguided attempt to get people on her side.
She smiled fondly as she thought of Neville, and helping him find Trevor. She had found him the day after the trap door, to apologize for the spell casting. By that time he'd already heard the story and was mortified to find he'd almost prevented them from stopping Quirrell, so it wasn't hard to earn his friendship back. Neville, who had shown in the dead of night, with no one except them there to witness it, that he was as much a Gryffindor as anyone else in that tower. Just like her.
On the last day of term, after Harry had woken and told them everything, after Hermione and Ron had gasped in all the right places, they would sit together at the feast. When Dumbledore would dole out the extra house points, handing them out for Neville's courage, Ron's strategy and Harry's… Harry-ness, he would also say "to Miss Hermione Granger... for the use of cool logic in the face of fire I award Gryffindor house fifty points."
Hermione would burst into tears, feeling the warmth and love from all sides of her big brash Gryffindor family. There would be tears running down her face as Neville – their Neville – was awarded the points that won them the cup, and she stood to cheer and applaud with everyone else.
In the confusion, she wouldn't even see it coming when Fred Weasley, equally giddy with victory, sandwiched her skull between his hands and pressed a celebratory kiss to the corner of her mouth, and would be even more surprised to feel George do the same to her forehead. She would watch them grab Neville and kiss him too, and her laughter would bubble out of her like a waterfall that could never end.
She would be happier than she'd ever been, happier even than later, when she would find out her grades had topped the entirety of the first year, happier than when Ron would tell she and Harry both that they needed to come and stay over at some point in the Summer. She would be happy, knowing that she had a family in the wizarding world that was bright and beautiful, she would be happy knowing that these people believed in her and supported her and didn't doubt that she belonged on their side.
But for now, Hermione was twelve years, nine months and two days old. She had known she was a witch for one year nine months and nine days. She had read two books in preparation for the next year. She was sitting in a room beside one sleeping Harry Potter. Around her, she had three Weasley boys. There were two days until the end of term, and Hermione was laughing. Later, she would be ecstatic knowing she had a whole House on her side, but right now, she was pretty happy with an army of five.
So there we go! That's it for this fic never coming back okay bye.
Psyche! They haven't even had a proper kiss yet (and no, the one I included at the end there is definitely not romantic, unless your OT4 is Hermione, Fred, George and Neville, in which case, by all means, read it as thus)
I'm gonna take a little time to work out what I want to do with CoS and then I should be back writing by the end of the month - thank you to everyone who shared their thoughts about Fred's perspective being featured in the second book by the way, there was some really useful challenges you guys highlighted that I needed to think about, and it's just nice to know that there are people who would be excited to read that.
Like I've said earlier, I don't think I could keep up with showing literally every plot point in the book chapter by chapter, like I did for PS. I'm probably going to end up just rewriting key scenes and focussing mostly on any new ones I have ideas for. You guys have already read the books, you don't need me rehashing that shit for you, I just really wanted to establish these characters in the first book.
Thank you so much to everyone who has been keeping up with this fic, and has been patient with me while I juggle it with uni stuff, and has left me kudos and nice comments and generally been wonderful. I would not have had the motivation to finish this story without your feedback.
If you're discovering this fic many a-moon into the future then hello, I hope by the time you're reading this that there's at least one sequel linked here, and I hope I didn't take up too much of your valuable time with making you binge the whole thing. It's never too late to comment and talk to me about what you'd like to see coming up or just what you liked/didn't like about this story - I know it wasn't perfect and I'd really like to keep improving as we go on.
Okay, I think this is the longest author note ever - I'll stop now, I swear. Thank you again 3