A/N: This is dedicated to Kate, my dear friend and soulsister. She doesn't read Harry Potter, and she's probably never going to read this.....and I rather hope she doesn't. The song means something more to her, more than I can ever write in a simple fanfiction. I can't hear it without crying. This is also for her mother, who passed away on August 8th, 2000, with cancer. I just want to say I hope this year can be better, Katiebird, even though I know you won't ever see this.  

Oh, yeah. I own nothing. Rowling owns the characters, Counting Crows owns the song. And please, I beg of you, don't flame this. I don't care if you think it's the most horrible piece of fanfiction ever written. Don't flame this one. Nice reviews I can handle, constructive criticism I can handle, but with this....this is just one of those pieces that I've poured my whole heart into.  *half-hearted smile* I'm letting all of you read a part of my soul, you lucky ducks.  So....here's to Mary, may she rest safely in the arms of the Lord.

A long December, and there's reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can't remember the last thing that you said as you were leaving
And the days go by so fast

Forty-three year old Harry Potter was awakened New Year's Eve by the ringing of the telephone by his bed. He had worked late the night before, and even though it was early afternoon, he hadn't gotten up yet. Yawning, he fumbled for his glasses and picked up the receiver. "Hullo?"

"Harry, it's Ron."

Those three words jolted Harry wide awake. Ron never used a telephone unless he had to, and it would have to be an emergency....especially since the most correspondence he and Harry kept up with over the years consisted of an owl about once a month, plus Christmas at the Weasley's.

"Hey....something up?" he asked, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed while trying to push his glasses onto his nose with one hand. There was a short pause, then,

"It's Hermione. She's in St. Josephine's hospital....you know how the cancer came back a few months ago? Well....she's had a turn for the worse....the doctors say...well, it doesn't look good, Harry."

There was a grim silence on both ends of the line. "All right. I'll be there." Without another word, Harry hung up the phone. Suddenly, tears filled his emerald green eyes. "Dammit." he said to the empty room, choking on the words.

It had been twenty-six years since they were all at Hogwarts together. Hermione had been his best friend in the world, besides Ron. Then, after graduation....they had somehow managed to drift apart. He couldn't remember when it had happened, just that she became a distant acquaintance, someone who came up in conversation every once in a while. The last time he had talked to her was at her father's funeral five years ago; he hadn't been able to attend Mrs. Granger's funeral the next year on account of out-of-town business. He could barely remember what Hermione had looked like then, and the memory of her voice had grown fainter over the years. And now she was dying.

And it's one more day up in the canyon
And it's one more night in Hollywood
If you think that I could be forgiven
I wish you would

Less than an hour later, Harry was standing outside the gray walls of a London hospital, his black hair still damp from taking a shower. A cold wind rippled around him, causing him to shiver and pull his jacket closer.

He didn't want to go in there. He was so afraid of what he would find when he stepped into Hermione's room. After all the deaths he had witnessed, after all the horror and blood seen in the past battles with Voldemort, it shouldn't have bothered him so much....but he didn't want to go in there and see her dying body.  He would rather be back on the battlefield, the sickeningly sweet odor of blood in his nostrils, the moans of the dying....anywhere but here.  Anyone but her.

The smell of hospitals in winter
And the feeling that it's all a lot of oysters, but no pearl
And all at once, you look across a crowded room
To see the way that light attaches to a girl

Taking a deep breath, he walked in. Without stopping to ask directions, he headed for the intensive care unit, his mind repeating all the while, "This isn't fair....it just isn't fair..." He paused at the waiting room doors, then stepped inside to see if anyone else he knew was in there. The sterile smell of hospital corridors was replaced by the thick, warm scent of fresh coffee, and he quickly scanned the faces in the room. Sure enough, most of the Weasley clan was present, along with some people he recognized as Hermione's newer friends, and Minerva McGonagall, Hermione's mentor. It was she who stood up to greet Harry.

"Ron's already with her. She....she asked for you to be sent in as soon as you came." the aging professor said, her voice faltering once. Nodding, Harry opened his mouth to say something, but every question seemed to fly out of his mind. He turned and started down the hall, stopping at the room marked "Granger, Hermione."

Ron's back was to the door, and he was sitting at the bedside of a thin, ghostly pale woman. The white lights of the hospital room made her skin look washed out, and the skeletal hand that was lying on the covers seemed to blend in with the white sheets. There were two spots of color on her cheeks, as though she had a fever, and her brown hair was spread out on the pillow behind her head, contrasting starkly with her skin. It was a sight that would stay with Harry the rest of his life.

And it's one more day up in the canyon
And it's one more night in Hollywood
If you think you might come to California
I think you should

Numbly, he stepped forward, his shoes echoing on the cold floor. Ron glanced up, bravely trying to fight back the tears filling his brown eyes. Wordlessly, Harry sat down on the other side of Hermione, laying his healthy hand atop her sickly one. She opened her eyes, looking at him blankly for a moment, as if trying to adjust to who he was. And then, she smiled.

For a long time, they all stayed like that. No one spoke; Hermione was too weak, and Ron and Harry were afraid to test their voices. The only sound was the soft whirring, bleeping, humming noises of the machinery that was keeping her alive, and the shallow, rasping sound of her struggled breathing.

Neither of the men knew how long they sat there. They didn't look up until a nurse came through the door, her face sympathetic. "I'm sorry, sirs, but I'm afraid you'll have to go....there are still others that want to see her, and visiting hours will be over soon." she said softly. Ron nodded slowly and stood up, his fingers gently brushing across Hermione's thin cheek one last time. She smiled slightly, but didn't open her eyes. Biting his lip, Ron stepped away from the bed, quickly walking to the door.

Harry stared for another moment at the dying woman that lay before him. Hermione. When he heard the name, he pictured a bright-eyed, bushy-haired girl with a know-it-all personality and her nose stuck in a book all the time, but with a kind, generous heart. Not what was lying before him. He could feel his hands shaking as he slid his palm into hers, covered in IV cords and damp with perspiration. She squeezed his hand slightly, and he leaned down to kiss her forehead. "Good-bye, Hermione." he whispered, then quickly walked away.

Drove up to Hillside Manor sometime after two A.M.
To talk a little while about the year
I guess the winter makes you laugh a little slower
Makes you talk a little lower
About the things you could not show her

Ron and Harry left the hospital after saying good-bye to everyone still in the waiting room. It was unspoken knowledge between them that neither one wanted to be there when the doctors announced the inevitable. So they apparated away to Hogsmeade, the place they had spent many enjoyable Saturday afternoons. It was a long, long time before either of them said anything. As they walked around town, they came across the spot that used to house the Shrieking Shack, now transformed into a wealthy manor. Ron laughed quietly.

"Remember those days?"

Harry nodded, smiling slightly. "Yeah. We had a lot of big scares, but a lot of good times, too. We could get through anything, just as long...as long as we were all...." His voice broke, and he quickly gulped back a sob. They were silent again, sitting at the foot of the hill and watching as dusk turned to darkness. After a while, the conversation started up again. They talked about all the good times with Hermione at Hogwarts, all the crazy things they had been embarrassed by at the time, but could laugh at now. Still, the laughter was subdued, almost hollow at times. There were so many unspoken regrets, so many things they had put off telling her over the years. So many things they would never have the chance to say to her.

The night seemed to speed by, and still they sat there talking, ignoring the cold that seeped through their clothes and into their very bones. Cold was nothing compared to the icy feeling both their hearts held now. Midnight must have rolled around, because there were sounds of celebrating from around the town, and a lot of cheering from the manor above them. The merriment slowly subsided, and time still dragged on, with only a stray fireworks display indicating any lingering New Year's celebrations.

There was a lull in conversation, when Ron finally said, "She's gone, isn't she."

And it's been a Long December, and there's reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can't remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass

Harry gulped quickly, fighting so hard against tears. "Yeah. She's gone." There was another long silence.

"Not forgotten." The redhead uttered softly. Harry nodded slowly in agreement. They could keep their memories of her.....but already, so many of them had slipped away. It was so hard to keep remembering how she was, when the image of her dying body was so vividly fresh in their minds.

And it's one more day up in the canyon
And it's one more night in Hollywood
And it's been so long since I've seen the ocean.....

Ron stood up. "I guess I'd better go. My folks will be wondering about me, and I know Mom'll be upset over...over all this. Wanna come along?"

"No, you go on ahead. I'll see you later." Harry paused, then added quietly, "Happy New Year, Ron."

There was another moment of silence. As Ron was apparating away, he replied, "Yeah. Here's to a better year."

I guess I should.