Title: Fall thy edgeless sword
Word Count: 706
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I play. You don't sue.
Summary: The night before the Final Battle can prove to be as life-altering as the battle itself.
Only the faint noise of raindrops hitting the leaves outside and the crackling of the fire broke the silence inside the cave.
Harry Potter had always imagined that the Final Battle -capitalised, of course- would be announced with pomp and circumstance, that he would spend the night before listening to Dumbledore haranguing the Forces of the Light. All very inspiring and epic.
And instead, here he was. All alone, vainly trying to get some rest, wrapped in his cloak on the cold stone floor of a cave somewhere in the lost depths of the Forbidden Forest.
A sudden rustle from the bushes hiding the entrance triggered his panic and he instinctively reached for his wand, pointing it at the dark nothingness outside the cave.
"Harry?" a soft whisper came. "Harry, is that you?"
"Hermione?" he asked as a young witch with soaking wet hair came into view.
"Are you alone?"
Harry nodded numbly.
"I couldn't find anyone either. They must have run for shelter as soon as night fell."
Neither of them felt brave enough to voice the other possibility.
Hermione inspected the cave with a quick glance, then sat next to Harry, her knees drawn to her chest. She didn't speak, just stared vacantly into the flames. Harry wondered what she could see in them. As he surveyed her in the dim light of the fire, he noticed the tracks of tears on her cheeks through the slowly drying strands of hair that partly obscured her face. She looked weary and fragile and… older. Much older than she should have.
They were only nineteen, but with any vestige of their innocence gone, their childhood at Hogwarts had acquired the surreal quality of dreams, and Harry had been left with nothing but his ever fading memories to attest that those careless days had really existed outside his own imagination.
"I never told him I was sorry for ending things that way," she declared out of the blue, breaking his train of thought. "I never… I should've tried harder, and now, now I'll never have the chance… I can't…" she trailed off as she started sobbing uncontrollably.
Harry took her in his arms and gently stroked her head.
"We don't know if he's dead, Hermione," he said. But he didn't believe his own words, so he went back to comforting her in silence, simply rocking her back and forth like a child.
To this day he doesn't know how it all happened, how they were suddenly lying down, how their mouths met, how layers of clothing started being discarded…
He just remembers that at some point he stopped caring about how irrational, how primal it was. He vaguely recalls the thoughts that went through his head… Wasn't The Boy Who Lived allowed to quit rational thought for a night? To feel, to need, to lose himself in his instincts for one night, possibly the last night of his life?
In time he has come to understand that it was strength and not comfort he was seeking from her that night. The strength to keep fighting. For he had by then realised that people don't battle in wars for the sake of mankind, but to return alive to the open arms that await them at home. And because he had no one waiting and no home to go back to, sometime during the war he had forgotten that he was fighting for himself, too. If not for a family he didn't have, for the hope of it.
That night there were no words, no promises, no explanations.
One woman's love had saved him the first time he had ever faced the Dark Lord. Now and then he wonders if it was the love of another woman that saved him the final time. He likes to think so. He also likes to thank her in his mind and imagine the thoroughly unconvinced look on her face if he told her she had actually been the one to save them all.
But for all these years they have kept an unspoken agreement not to talk about the battle or the night before, and he wouldn't dare to break it now.
So he just watches her sleep beside him instead.
To-morrow in the battle think of me,
and fall thy edgeless sword.
Richard III, V.3.148-9