Summary: After losing Ron in the final battle, Hermione has tried to go on with her life. Until a prank gone wrong makes it all feel useless, like his death was in vain and there is nothing left to live for. Probably a one shot.
Author's Notes: Feedback is welcome, and constructive criticism particularly so. If it's spelling/grammar/etc, an e-mail would be even better than a comment, but whatever, but I'd like to hear about it either way.
Review Response: I have a livejournal containing responses to received views, as well as update notices, and maybe other story stuff if I get around to it. The address refuses to show up on here, but it is under homepage on my front page, or you can go to livejournal and it is username dreamfall (underscore) ff If I can figure out a way to make fanfiction just show the webpage I'll add it in later.
The glass of pumpkin juice slipped unnoticed from Hermione's fingers. Her eyes were locked on her hand, her attention on the changes she could see in that hand and the further changes she could feel throughout her body. Growing, shrinking, stretching, compacting- it was … similar to the Polyjuice Potion experience second year, and yet different. She was analyzing each change, mind whirling with possibilities. Broadening shoulders, shrinking chest, slight changes in her cheekbones and lips- every change gathered in her mind.
At the same instant that the glass shattered on the stone floor, the thick juice spraying across the stone, the first scream was torn from her as she realized what had been done.
Hermione's reaction had been more than they'd hoped, and the snickers started while she was still figuring it out. The laughter grew at the first shriek, but faded when the screaming didn't. The scream was not what they had expected. It wasn't a startled screech or a howl of embarrassed fury. It was the heartbreaking misery they'd expected to hear when Ron had died. She'd been surprisingly strong then, upset but resolved to keep going. They'd known the dangers going into the war, after all.
Some had even begun to wonder if the girl had felt as strongly for Ron as they had all believed when she was not more heartbroken at his passing. Especially as he had thrown himself desperately in front of a curse intended for her. She had slain his murderer, fought like a banshee for the rest of the battle, and then had sat, holding his hand, pale faced but dry-eyed until his family had come and the burial had taken place. Since then she had continued with school, throwing herself into her studies with even more energy than before. She didn't talk about Ron, refused to discuss the battle, and moved on with life. She had stated that Ron wouldn't have wanted her to give up.
But she never laughed any more, and they had decided it was time. And Hermione was always one of those few who, after the first fury, would laugh harder at herself than she would at anyone else. But the shrieks were unexpected. And the boys started to grow uncomfortable as she didn't calm but seemed to grow still more desperately miserable.
Harry touched her arm, lightly, and she didn't pull away. But, then, she didn't seem to notice at all.
The entire hall was staring at them by then, and several teachers converging. Snape was the first to reach them, and took the girl - now a boy, though with similar features and the same bushy hair - roughly by the arm. "Ms. Granger, control yourself!" he snapped, loudly to be heard over her shrieks. His eyes flickered around the table, lips curled into a furious sneer. "And you, you will reverse this at once!"
McGonagall had fallen in battle. Not dead, not yet, and perhaps she wouldn't die for many years to come. But she remained, for now, at St. Mungo's and Snape had been assigned to cover her duties as Head of Gryffindor in her absence as well as his own. Nobody was as upset as they would have been before the battle-- they knew he was on their side. Git he may be, but he had given a great deal to see the end of a dark lord, more than anyone else, perhaps. Many had died for the cause, but Snape had been forced to live for it, and those who were close enough to the events understood that that had been the harder of the two courses.
Snape flicked his wand and muttered a chilling spell that generally had about the same effect as emptying a bucket of ice water on someone's head, albeit less wet and more temporary.
It shocked her to silence, the hysterical screams breaking off mid breath and she stared at him. Then her attention slowly turned as Fred, who looked more upset than she'd seen him since Ron's burial as he pressed a small vial into her hand.
"We're sorry, Mione, we only-"
"Meant to surprise you, it was just-"
"A prank, honest!"
"We never thought-"
"You'd take it like-"
"That!" the twins explained in tandem, Harry nodding at their side.
She stared at all three of them for a moment, then, very slowly, very deliberately, she took unstoppered the potion and swallowed it. A look of utter concentration crossed her face as the potion took effect. She stood perfectly still, focused totally inwards for several seconds after the effect was complete, when everything should be back to the way it was. And then her face twisted into a mask of rage and sorrow.
"Murderers!" she hissed into their shocked faces. Then, with strength the professor hadn't expected of her, she jerked her arm away from him and dashed from the hall.
The three boys stared at each other in shock. "Murderers? It was just a gender-switch potion!"
"Do you think she's gone mad?"
"She loved it when we turned Ron female for a day!" Harry stated, confused. "And once she stops being angry she always thinks pranks on her are funnier than on anyone else!"
Professor Snape ignorred the students' babble. "Albus, deal with discipline, I'll go after her and try to find out why she's so upset," Severus murmured to the headmaster, whose brows rose at his potions master's unusual priorities. "It may be that Ron's death has only just hit her-- I can't think why this would trigger the reaction, but…" his voice trailed off as he swept from the hall, not deigning to run, but walking nearly as swiftly as if he had.
He saw no sign of the girl, so murmured, "Point me," and then followed the spell's direction not towards the Gryffindor tower but, to his surprise, down, to the dungeons. He moved more quickly as he realized she was going towards the potions lab and finally did break into a ground-devouring sprint as it occurred to him that she might, possibly, be planning to do herself harm. There were certainly numerous ways to do it in the lab, and she would know many of them.
Bursting through the door, he found her huddled in the back corner of the lab, carefully mixing a cocktail of painless, poisonous ingredients. Her eyes darted up as the door slammed open, and he froze for an instant at the soul-deep misery filling them. Her hand jerking the bowl towards her mouth galvanized him into motion and he leapt across the room, knocking it from her grip, sending a wave of sapphire blue drops in an arc across the room.
"Foolish, foolish girl!" He muttered as she stared at him in hardly comprehending sorrow. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Why did you stop me?" she whispered forlornly. "Don't you know? Now, I'll only try again."
He dropped to his knees at her side, gripping both her shoulders, and gave her a shake, making her look into his eyes. "Are you mad? You will not try again! And if you do, I shall stop you again! What were you thinking?" he demanded furiously.
"I was thinking that I was alone," she replied, voice unnaturally empty, too exhausted from emotion to even consider lying. Too uncaring to attempt to escape his grasp or even try to look away. Her body drooped limply from his hands, head barely staying upright. "I was thinking that they killed him and now it's all for nothing. I was thinking that I'd rather be with Ron than alone here."
"You're not alone! You have friends!"
"Friends?" A tiny bit of passion finally entered her eyes, her voice, and then died out again. "I don't have friends. They killed him."
"Other friends! The rest of the Weasleys, Potter, Longbottom, even!"
She stared at him. "They killed him," she repeated.
Black eyes gazed steadily back, narrowed slightly in confusion. "The deatheaters killed Ron," he said slowly. "And you avenged him. Nobody else."
"No," she agreed, voice cracking slightly.
"So why do you say your friends killed him?"
"Because they killed him! And now Ron's death is for nothing!"
"Ms. Granger- Hermione, Ron died for you. Do you really think he would want you to kill yourself now?"
"But he didn't die for me," she whispered. "He died for us. And now he's dead."
"What do you mean, he died for … you? Plural?" he asked.
"We agreed. We agreed that if it came down to it, he would," she whispered. "I didn't want to, but I agreed because it was for him. Not me. And Ron gave up his life for him, and now he's dead!"
Slowly, a horrified understanding beginning to creep into his mind, Snape asked, "Hermione, who did Ron give his life to protect?"
"For me," she whispered.
"The baby," she stated, voice even lower. And then the tears began to fall. "He died to protect the baby. And I lived to protect him, even though I wanted to be with Ron. And now he's dead. They're both dead and I'm alone. And I want Ron," she finished, voice cracking with dying with the last words.
Hardly thinking, Snape lifted the girl, turning her head into his shoulder, and rocking her gently. "My poor girl," he murmured. "My poor, poor child." He rubbed her heaving back and felt tears soak through the thick material of his robes. "Why didn't you tell someone? Hush, no, be calm. We must go to Madam Pomfrey," he whispered. "Nothing is certain-- she may be able to save him."
"He's gone," she whispered, the words coming out in the gasps between her sobs. "I could feel his magic, you know. And now I don't."
"She must at least check. There may be something she can do," he repeated, rising carefully to his feet. She didn't respond, didn't struggle, as he hooked one arm under her knees, the other cradling her back, letting her continue to hide her face in his shoulder.
He murmured a brief phrase that the castle recognized as a request to have Madam Pomfrey in the Hospital Wing as soon as possible, and carefully holding the shaking girl, he moved through the halls to meet the medi-witch there.
Here eyes were concerned as he stepped in, and she murmured, "A calming potion perhaps? Did Ron's death finally hit her, poor thing? We've been wondering when it did."
"No," he whispered. "I'm afraid she had much more immediate reason to be upset than that. She was pregnant. And believes that the gender-change has killed their child."
The nurse paled. "Set her on the bed. I shall see if there is anything to be done."
Snape obediently set the girl down and took a step back, watching intently as Pomfrey began her examination. The girl didn't struggle, just watched the nurse, hopelessly waiting to be told what she already knew.
And finally Madam Pomfrey shook her head, tears in her eyes. "I'm so sorry," she whispered.
Snape sank into a chair at the words, not realizing how much hope he had held until it was taken away. He heard the nurse explaining what Hermione should expect, asking if she would prefer it be magically taken care of. Heard the girl's response that it didn't matter. And tuned it out.
Finally the nurse moved before him and set one hand on his shoulder. He looked up, for once not hiding his pain behind a mask and she sighed. "Take this," she requested, pressing a potion into his hand.
Sniffing it, he shook his head. "I don't want my emotions dulled, Poppy. Does this … this reasonless tragedy not deserve grief?"
She sighed and set aside the vial. "As you wish, Severus. I've given her Dreamless Sleep. Hopefully when she wakes we can calm her and help her through this. Are you sure you won't take the emotion blocker before … you know you must inform her House? Or would you prefer me to do so?" she offered hesitantly.
"I haven accepted the duties, Poppy, and I've never yet shirked duties that I've accepted. I don't intend to start now."
"Of course," she murmured, squeezing his shoulder slightly. "Shall I tell Albus?"
"Do," he agreed. Then, reluctantly, he rose to his feet, his usual grace missing. "Tell him to wait till I get the Gryffindors away from the Great Hall, however. I don't want them to hear in a general announcement."
"Of course," she repeated. "Severus-- be gentle with them. They meant no harm."
Anguished black eyes met hers steadily. "I know that I have a reputation for cruelty, Poppy, but I'm not going to state that they murdered their nephew. Or friends' son, as the case may be. Besides-- they're Gryffindors. They'll take the blame up even without me setting it on their shoulders."
"I'm sorry," she looked away. "I shouldn't have said that. I know you better."
He shook his head regretfully. "It-- I appreciate the advice, Poppy, for all that I had already thought of it. I'd best do this now."
She watched him leave, then moved to her desk and picked up a small crystal. "Albus," she murmured.
"What is it, Poppy? Is it worse than we had thought?" he asked immediately, voice concerned. He had clearly been awaiting her contact.
"It is. She was pregnant and the gender change killed the child. Don't announce it to the school, yet, Albus. Severus is coming to collect the Gryffindors, let him get them away first."
"Yes," he agreed, voice hollow. "I shall."
The nurse returned to her patient's side, and sat down, stroking the girl's hair sadly. There were times when being a healer hurt more than any other profession in the world. The times when healing wasn't possible.