It was Christmas Eve, and Hermione was out walking on the grounds. It was cold, but she couldn't resist. Regardless of the temperature, it was far too beautiful a day to be cooped up indoors, like Harry was. She hated that he was sick, but there was only so much she could do about it. In truth, it turned out that there was in fact very little she could do about it except make sure she didn't catch it so they could spend time together after he got better.
She frowned as she noticed the clouds gathering overhead. They hadn't been there before. Still, it was a beautiful day nonetheless, and she refused to let a few clouds spoil it. Her cheer returned rather quickly as the first few snowflakes began to fall. She caught a few on her tongue, feeling happier than she had for quite awhile. The whole war was taking a terrible toll on Harry, not to mention herself. Every day Harry seemed to grow more and more weary of the entire ordeal. There were several times she actually had to go up to his room and literally drag him out of bed. It had gotten to the point that Ron asked her to just go up to get him up before he even tried. After Harry had actually gotten up the nerve to ask her out, she decided on a rather different tactic. She decided that her boyfriend deserved slightly more dignified treatment than being dragged out of his bed by his girlfriend. Instead, she crawled into bed with him, and gently persuaded him to leave the safety and warmth of his bed by promising to provide safety and warmth wherever he went. It worked much better, and she encountered much less resistance after that.
Hermione was so wrapped up in her own thoughts, she didn't notice that the softly falling snow had become a white blanket over the grounds, and it was falling considerably faster than before. She snapped out of her reverie when she realized she couldn't see the woods anymore. She whirled around, and, when she couldn't see the castle either, realized she was in trouble. Snow was falling so fast, it was all she could see. She was in the middle of a complete white-out. She pulled her wand out and sent sparks up, but she could barely see them herself. She knew that there was no way the castle could see them.
"Okay, Hermione, think," she muttered. "Where is the castle?" A terrible cold shiver ran down her spine when she realized that she had gotten completely turned around, and she had no idea which direction was the right way to go. She decided to pick a direction and just go, hoping that she could find some kind of shelter until the snow at least slowed down, and she'd be able to find her way back again.
She walked for twenty minutes in her chosen direction, and she still couldn't see anything. Not only was she getting cold, the complete lack of anything in her field of vision was starting to scare her. She realized that she could have walked right over the lake, which had frozen over, and would have been completely covered with snow. She'd never have known. The only way she'd ever know is if she started walking up the mountain, and by that time, it would be far too late to turn back. If the snow didn't let up soon, it was possible that she'd never find her way back. With no point of reference, it was even possible that she had been walking in circles for the past twenty minutes. The snow was falling fast enough that her footprints were filled in far faster than she was comfortable with. The snow was getting higher and higher, and she was getting colder and colder.
"Can't give up," she muttered to herself. "Didn't pass the lake. Going in the right direction." Unfortunately, her words of self-comfort were doing little good. Her anxiety grew every second she walked in the blank white.
Finally, she saw a shape looming up in front of her. The whomping willow creaked as it tried to swing towards her, but it was so cold, and the wind was so furious, that it was far too slow to hit a tortoise, much less Hermione. Remembering the passage under the tree, Hermione began to search for the knot that froze the tree, as the entrance would be right under it. Then she could go into Hogsmeade and floo back to Hogwarts. When she realized that the snow had already passed that point, she began to dig desperately. After what seemed like forever, she found the knot. She continued to dig until it occurred to her that the passage could be filled with snow.
"Gone too far, can't stop now," she said as she resumed her digging. To her extraordinarily good luck, the root that guarded the passage had blocked the snow from entering. She slipped under the root and into the passage.
It was slightly warmer under the tree, but it was still bitter cold. She turned to head down the passage, excited about the possibility of her long, and seemingly-eternal journey through the nothingness of the snow-covered grounds of Hogwarts. The pile of rocks that had caved in at some point crushed her hopes as effectively as they would have crushed a bug that was in their way when they fell. She sat down hard and leaned back against the wall, tears in her eyes.
"Damn it!" She screamed as she slammed her fists against the ground. Looking up at the entrance, she realized she had another, more pressing problem. The root may have blocked a lot of snow from falling into the passage, but there was nothing stopping the snow from piling up in front of the entrance. Soon her air supply was going to be restricted very severely if she didn't get out of there. She clambered out the entrance and back out into the blank nothingness of the grounds. She didn't like it, but she didn't have much of a choice, either. Besides, she knew which direction the castle was from the entrance to the passage. She started back on the way back to the castle.
Every so often, she looked back to check her direction, until the whomping willow was blanked out by the snow, which didn't take long at all. Unfortunately, what she didn't realize is that one or two of her steps had gone slightly awry, and she was no longer headed back to the castle.
After about half an hour, the cold was starting to get to her, she still couldn't see the castle, and it was getting hard to walk. She already had severe windburn on the few patches of skin that remained uncovered, and she was starting to lose hope. Even her Gryffindor courage seemed to be failing her, along with her legs. The muscles in her legs burned from the strenuous exertion of trudging through the snow, but she grunted through the pain and pushed on. The wind howled at her, and it seemed as if mother nature was determined to break her.
Finally, Hermione stopped. She couldn't go anymore. Her legs refused to respond to her brain. It was just too cold, and she had pushed herself too far.
"Have to stay awake," she muttered to herself. She knew that if she drifted off to sleep, she'd never wake up again.
Soon, surrounded by the eerie howling of the wind, Hermione heard a distinct howling. She looked around to see Fang bounding towards her, followed closely by Hagrid, moving through the snow as easily as a steak knife moves through Jello. She smiled as they approached, but her smile faded as they did, and she realized they had never been there. She was starting to hallucinate.
Not five minutes later, although each minute felt like an hour, Hermione saw a blur go past her. If she didn't know better, she would have thought that it was Harry on his broomstick. That, however, was preposterous. Harry was sick, and there was no way he was getting on his broomstick at all, much less in weather like that. Finally realizing that she wasn't going to make it back to Hogwarts, no matter what she did, Hermione began to despair. She was broken by the realization that she would never see Harry again, and she blacked out, her last defense against the prospect of onrushing death, her will, finally shattered.
Hermione blinked and sat up, unable to process the sight before her. It was the hospital wing.
"But that's impossible," she said to herself. "How did I get here?"
"Rumor has it the stork brought you," said Albus Dumbledore, who had been sitting quietly by the bed. "That is, if we temporarily assume that our Mister Potter is of the avian persuasion."
"Harry?" Hermione looked at Dumbledore, very confused. "But Harry was too sick to stand. What I remember is a vision of him flying by on his broomstick. He couldn't have possibly done that in his condition."
"Apparently, we all underestimated his abilities concerning when a loved one is in danger. When he learned that you had not yet returned, he picked up his wand, and managed to stagger out the door, overpowering Madame Pomfrey along the way. He summoned his broom and went out searching for you." Dumbledore smiled. "And now, you are both perfectly safe. He managed to find you and bring you back. His condition has worsened significantly, but it is nothing life-threatening, and he will make a full recovery."
Hermione looked around, and saw Harry in the bed next to hers, unconscious.
"I can't believe he did that," said Hermione as she felt her heart melting. She smiled at Harry's motionless body, and she lowered herself back onto her own bed, still weak.
"Yes, Harry is full of surprises," said Dumbledore with a grin. "I, however, would not be surprised if he were to make a rather rapid recovery. Madame Pomfrey insists that he will be staying here for at least another week, but if I know Harry as I suspect I do, he will be at least out of bed in much less time than that."
"Well, if he gets out of bed before it's okay for him to do so, he's going to get an earful from his girlfriend," said Hermione with a smile.
"I will make him aware of that fact, Miss Granger." Dumbledore stood up. "I will now leave you to rest. I prefer to leave the hospital wing of my own volition, so I shall depart for now. Feel better, Miss Granger."
"Thank you, Headmaster," whispered Hermione, already drifting back off to sleep.
The next morning, Hermione awoke to Harry sitting next to her.
"Good morning," he said brightly.
"Before you give me an earful, Madame Pomfrey said that it was okay if I left my bed. I'm feeling much better now. A couple of potions, a bit of rest, and having you by my side has brought me back to good as new." He helped Hermione sit up.
"I love you, Harry," said Hermione, putting her arms around Harry and pulling him close. There was nothing else to say. He knew the rest, and she felt that verbally thanking him would seem woefully inadequate.
"I love you too, Hermione," said Harry, kissing her softly.
"Happy Christmas, Harry."
"Happy Christmas, Hermione."