AN: Realized I'd forgotten a disclaimer. The characters in this and the previous chapters are not mine. Neither infringement nor profit is among my objectives.
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Zenith
Hermione wasn't sure how long she'd lain in the cool blackness of the cavern, her brain in neutral, almost in a stupor. Ron…Hogwarts…Harry! It was the spastic movement and gentle snuffling noises from the baby now nestled in her arms that brought her back to herself.
"Oh, poor baby…" she crooned, spouting gentle nonsense, as she cast a Warming charm around her, blindly counted fingers and toes, and pulled a swath of Ron's robes around to cover her head. She tucked the end in tightly.
Ron's Lumos lit their immediate surroundings in a blue-white light, but most of the small cave was still folded into shadow. She looked at his fallen form, and stared until she could see the barest hint of movement in his shoulders, as he inhaled and exhaled.
A distant vibration thrummed gently through the stone, as some disturbance reached her even here, buried in what felt like the bowels of the earth. She cast a glance at the opening to the cave, now blocked with an array of rocks in every imaginable size. Her eyes darted to her baby, and then to Ron. She would not think of Harry, his charred hands, useless wand, crumpled form. She would not think of the weight of that great castle crushing him beneath its stones.
She forced herself into a more upright position, and scooted a short distance to a small grouping of rocks, casting a Cushioning charm, and gently laying Laurel in their midst. Apprehension twisted her stomach into knots. Laurel was breathing without effort, and appeared perfectly normal, though small, and Hermione knew that the most important thing to do was to keep her warm. Still, she fretted about the absence of any qualified healing personnel, and that made her wonder what had become of Madam Pomfrey, Fleur, and Ginny.
She would not think of Harry.
Ron stirred and groaned, and made an abortive attempt to push himself up off of the smooth stone floor, but collapsed back down before he'd gone any sort of distance at all.
"Stay still, Ron," she warned him, without thinking. Her voice resonated in the cavern, sounding cool and authoritative. "I'm going to need to look at that wound." She considered the distance between the two of them, hardly more than a couple of meters, but it seemed vast. Her muscles and joints felt as if they'd been transfigured into a gelatinous mass, and she decided against standing, instead using a sort of modified crawl to get to Ron's side. By the time she reached her goal, she was breathing as heavily as if she'd run a sprint.
Ron was watching her through half-closed eyes.
"How can you move at all?" he mumbled in wonder. She smiled at him, pressing her lips tightly together, as if that would help keep the threatening tears in her eyes, and unbuttoned his shirt. Her fingers were clumsy and slow. She did not want to look at him, afraid of what she might see in his face, but she could feel the weight of his gaze on her, as she moved his medallion out of the way. It made a soft clink as it flipped over his shoulder and hit the stone floor.
"Baby all right?" There was much effort in the few syllables.
"She's beautiful…perfect," Hermione said softly. "Thank you, Ron."
"Didn't… do much."
"You saved my life. And hers. Harry will – " She stopped and gave her full attention to Ron's injury, struggling to keep a gasp off of her lips. The rock – or whatever had hit him – had left a large discolored area that was sure to bruise badly. The skin had a speckled cast, the blood having been released immediately beneath the unbroken surface. But one of the ropy welts that remained following his attack had also been affected, and it was from here that the copious amounts of blood originated. Fighting panic, she grazed light fingers over his tender skin; when he groaned in response, she could hear the rattle in his chest. She figured he probably had a couple of broken ribs.
Quickly, she stripped off her robes, shivering as the damp air began to seep through her skirt and blouse, but casting hasty Warming charms at Ron rather than herself. She attempted to stop the bleeding with magic, but the sheer volume of blood overwhelmed the mediocre Coagulation spell attained by Ron's wand. She used her wand to cut the robes into three pieces, and discarded the ruined lower half. She transfigured one piece into a bandage, padded it thickly, and pressed it down to Ron's side, as firmly as she dared. He tossed his head in discomfort, and exhaled air abruptly between his teeth. She hovered over him for one heart-stopping moment before seeing his chest rise and fall and almost sagging to the ground in gratitude that he was merely unconscious. She conceded that it was probably better that way.
She tried to clean herself up as best she could, but it was difficult with only an unfamiliar wand, one remaining piece of transfigured robe and a few cleaning spells at her disposal. The quiet noises of the baby further distracted her. Laurel would probably need to eat soon.
Then she heard it, without comprehension at first, she then seized on the familiar sound – the sound of dripping water. Ron could probably use water, and she was pitifully grateful for this – this something she could do, could control. She dared not use a medallion to move Ron, given both his state and hers, and especially without knowledge of what they could be moving into, but this, at least, she could give him. She remembered going down to the pond on the Weasley property to get water for Harry. Harry… she let a solitary sob escape before clapping her hand over her mouth. Even that terrible and wonderful day that she had gotten him back seemed like an eon ago, while seeing him back into the dark waters of the Lake, eyes fixed on her seemed a lifetime separate.
She turned her head slowly, trying to localize the sound, but having difficulty with the cave's acoustics. Finally, she took a deep breath, and forced herself to her feet. Her head swam and her abdomen throbbed; the joints in her hips felt wobbly and barely functional. She had only taken two steps, when she heard Ron speak again, in a scratchy effortful whisper.
"H'mione?" He sounded afraid.
"I'm here, Ron." She took comfort in the way her voice resounded, like she was somehow bigger than she was, unruffled, in control. "I was just going to get you some water."
"Not… thirsty," he protested.
"But you probably need – " She began, but he interrupted.
"What happened?" So now he was asking. She took a deep breath, and made her way back over to him, groping for him in the dim light, reaching for his hand and clasping it between both of hers.
"He did it," she said simply, and it was amazing how those small words could overwhelm her. She could barely get them out, as the tears pricked at her eyelids and burned her nose. "He – Voldemort's dead. It's over." Joy should have tinged her words, but her soul could not have felt heavier. There was a lead weight in her chest.
A faint smile wreathed Ron's face, and it almost transformed the ghastly pallor. His face looked otherworldly, almost ethereal, and the sight of it shook Hermione badly.
"So… they'll be coming for us then?"
Hermione opened her mouth to tell him the rest: that she had seen Hogwarts collapsing, that Harry had been lying unconscious, that she had seen no one around him who could have gotten him out in time.
That was when she saw it, a dark glint in the blue-white wandlight. Blood was trickling from the corner of Ron's mouth. He did not seem to be aware of it.
"Yes, Ron," Hermione said, and it seemed to her that her throat was quivering so hard that the words would not even be formed, but somehow they emerged coherently. "They're coming. Just hang on."
Laurel wailed in earnest then, and Hermione unsteadily made her way back to the infant, knowing that she would have to make an attempt at nursing. She pressed the back of her hand to her mouth so hard that she could feel the indentation of her teeth. Please, oh God – hope in death, hope in death, not Ron…please not Ron… Her thoughts crashed together, jumbled and scattered, as she scooped up the infant, clutching her soft warmth to her like a garment – or a shield.
She hobbled back over to his side, unable to think of being away from him now, and settled back down, rearranging her clothing and then wincing as Laurel began to suckle tentatively at first, and then more enthusiastically.
"Think…the others're okay?" Ron startled her by speaking again. "Ginny…"
"I'm sure they're fine, Ron," Hermione soothed automatically, the pain that was seizing her heart in its claws overriding any thought behind the words. "I'm sure they'll break through here soon."
"Harry – Harry'll be sorry he missed… being here." Ron nodded toward Laurel. Hermione bit the inside corners of her lips to keep from surrendering completely to utter despair. Ron…Harry!
Don't leave me alone here.
"I'm glad you were here." She tried to infuse lightness, warmth into her voice. It felt false, but she couldn't tell whether or not Ron could discern that. "Couldn't have done it without you."
"You'll tell her, won't you?" he entreated, moving one hand to grip her elbow. His touch was icy cold.
"Tell who what?" For a moment, Hermione was uncomprehending.
"Tell her – Laurel – tell her how much Uncle Ron… loved her mum …and dad… and her… right from the first. You will, won't you?" Hermione lifted horrified eyes to meet his, and she saw the awareness there, his eyes dark with the realization of what was before him.
"Ron…" she choked, wanting to scream, wanting to turn away, hoping that if she denied it hard enough that perhaps it would not happen, that she could keep it from happening by sheer will alone.
"Promise me." His voice wobbled slightly, but his gaze demanded an answer, and she couldn't refuse him.
She began nodding, almost frantically, as the tears finally were loosed, burning hot trails down her cheeks.
"Please, Ron, try to hold on." Her voice was so shaky that she didn't even recognize it. I'm sure someone will be coming soon. Ginny and Fleur and – and Madam Pomfrey – they weren't so far away. They – "
"I want to tell you something…" he broke in again. "I'm glad Harry has you. He deserves…" His eyes were bright, and Hermione saw his true feelings for her in them again. He seemed determined not give those feelings voice this time; at last truly accepting her as my best friend's wife. His fingers fumbled at her elbow, but he could no longer sustain the grip, and she reached with the hand that was not cradling Laurel, and took his, holding on for both of them.
"Tell him… you tell him… won't you?"
"I'll tell him, Ron. I'll tell them all what you did – that you were a hero. You – "
She stopped abruptly, as she had been bathed in sudden and complete darkness.
Ron's Lumos had gone out.
There was a heart-stopping moment as Hermione took in what exactly that meant, with a long, too-slow, sucked-in breath that seemed to increase the painful pressure in her chest rather than relieve it. Would she ever stop feeling this agony, this enormous sense of loss? It seemed unreal. And if she had to relive this later, with someone else…?
But she could not even make her mind approach that.
It can't be true. It is true.
I can't face this. I have to face this.
What will I do now?
The sound of dripping water was lost, as Hermione, still clutching his hand, buried her face in the downy softness of Laurel's head, holding fast to her daughter, wrapped in Ron's robes, as if she hoped somehow to draw strength from the baby, and cried.
When Hermione awakened again, she felt stiff and sticky. One arm was completely asleep, and her tongue was thick and dry. Laurel stirred against her and mewed a mild complaint. Hermione had no idea how much time had passed, but assumed that it hadn't been too long, as Laurel had not fussed for another meal. Poor baby, she thought… patient baby.
Her eyes roved blindly in the darkness for a moment, as her head throbbed in time with her pulse, and then she remembered. Ron…
She whispered his name once, but no sound met her ears save the implacable dripping. She sniffed once, noisily, and swallowed the knot of tears that seemed determined to take up residence in her throat. More than anything, she would have liked to curl up in that impenetrable dark and let sheer apathy and despair have their way. But whatever scrap of Practical Hermione that remained was informing her that there was Laurel to consider… and Hermione knew that her baby would be her salvation.
She carefully put Laurel down, intent on finding Ron's wand. Her medallion still hung on a chain around her neck, unusable when she was in her throes of labor, but now perhaps she could get herself and Laurel out of here, even though she didn't know the situation in which she would find herself.
I can't leave him. I can't stay here.
What about the others? What about Harry?
Harry…Ron…it hurt so much, as if someone had slung a sledgehammer right into her breastbone. She wasn't sure what would've happened to the Death Eaters with the fall of Voldemort, whether they would have been incapacitated by their Marks, whether they would have fled, or stayed to fight with the ferocity of cornered animals. At any rate, she fiercely hoped, surely, she wouldn't be the only Order member left.
I've got to find someone, see if anyone needs help, if Fleur and Ginny are trapped…
She thought about the medallions planted in the lookouts in the Forbidden Forest, the one in the tunnel that led to the Hogwarts dungeons, the discarded sprinkling of them in the cavern near the cold waters of the Lake.
I've got places I can go. I can get out of here.
She flicked blind eyes over to the area where she knew Ron's still form lay. He'd been wearing his medallion. She could get back to him, bring others, retrieve his body. She couldn't believe she'd just thought that phrase, and tears stung her eyes anew.
Oh, God, Ron… I won't leave you here, I promise.
Laurel gurgled and began to fuss, a petulant sporadic wail that did not sound like her previous cries, and it began to build. The temptation to succumb to panic and loss was seductive, but she tried to push it away, gingerly feeling for Laurel in the darkness.
"Accio wand. Dammit, accio wand!" She was trembling, as her outstretched fingertips skimmed lightly over Laurel's upturned little nose. How could she have lost track of the wand, when the Lumos went out? Where had she set the wand down? She certainly couldn't leave this cavern unarmed, not knowing what she might face on the outside. "Accio…" her voice broke, as she scooped up the now furious baby.
And her hand brushed something smooth and wooden, and the relief that surged up in her chest was powerful enough to surprise her. She gripped Ron's wand tightly in her hands, and leaned her forehead against it, closing her eyes for just a moment before she whispered,
The light flickered uncertainly at first, and then bloomed out more surely, though somewhat less brightly than Ron's. Hermione tried to rationally survey the situation, her eyes tripping over the stained patch on the floor where she'd given birth, as well as the one mostly obscured by Ron's body. He hadn't been carrying anything, having been occupied primarily with her transport and safety. All the supplies had been in the care of Fleur and Madam Pomfrey. She dared not use her medallion to get to them, having no idea whether or not that would bury her under tons of rock.
She decided to make for one of the lookouts first. There was food there and some basic first aid potions. They had been made for the purpose of reconnaissance, so perhaps she could figure out which way the wind blew, whether or not approaching Hogwarts was safe.
Moving methodically, she unwrapped Laurel, Scourgified Ron's robes, and re-fastened them around the baby. She nursed again, trying to ignore the soreness that seemed to permeate every fiber of her being, and then cast her gaze around for something that she could transfigure to strap the infant to her torso, leaving her arms free. Without really wanting to, she looked to Ron, and noticed his dark leather belt, threaded through the loops of his Muggle jeans that he'd worn beneath his robes.
She took a deep, but uneven breath, and laid Laurel back into her little Cushioned rock crib.
You can do this. It's not really even him anymore, is it?
Still, as her fingers touched the buckle and fumbled with the clasp, the scalding tears fell and splashed on her trembling hands. Somehow it felt like a violation of the highest order, crass abandonment, unfeeling opportunism.
He would've given you anything, gladly, you know that, right?
She knew it, but it did not make it easier to pull the belt free, to feel his dead weight rocking senselessly, his skin already growing cold to the touch. She felt her gorge rising, but was powerless to stop it, and managed only to fling herself away from Ron and Laurel before vomiting quietly in a darkened corner, moaning with the pain that the spasm of retching caused, and hiccupping with suppressed sobs.
Her face was sticky and clammy, her mouth tasted foully, and her hair was a snarled and matted mess. Carefully listening to the dripping water, she found the tiny pool, had a drink, and washed her face and hands. She would have given anything for a real hot shower, as though she could rinse away all the grief and loss and pain, but she knew that would have to come later. She could barely run her fingers through her hair, but braided it back in a sloppy plait, and fastened the end with a spell. After she picked up the baby, and strapped her in her makeshift sling, she was ready to go.
Her heart thundered as she prepared herself to concentrate on the medallion in the lookout. She forced herself to look at Ron, one last time, and said aloud,
"I won't leave you here. I swear it."
All she could do was hope that what awaited her was not worse than what she left behind. A brief thought of Harry, insensate on the floor of the Headmaster's office, as the castle began to crumble flashed in her mind, but she resolutely pushed it aside.
She winked away, leaving only darkness and death behind her.
The first thing she registered was that it was raining, a cold relentless rain that the treetops did not fully block out, in a soggy, dull environment that seemed to mirror her very soul. The second thing was that, though difficult to tell under the steely gray sky, twilight appeared to be in the process of falling.
The third was that a pair of eyes had just Levitated up to the lookout and were peering at her from the other side of the railing.
She screamed then, a short sharp cry born purely from being startled, which she cut off when she realized who it was. It appeared that she had scared him almost as badly, for he exclaimed,
"Sweet Merlin," and plummeted from sight.
She threw herself toward the railing, leaned over it, and thrust Ron's wand outward to perform Arresto Momentum, but Neville had recovered himself about halfway down, and was rising again to meet her.
Neither of them said anything until he had safely clambered inside the lookout and cast a Water Repelling shield over both of them. Hermione shook the dripping wayward ringlets out of her eyes, and checked to make sure that Laurel remained snug and dry within Ron's robes.
"It's bloody good to see you, Hermione," Neville finally said. "The others'll be so glad. And is – is that the – ?"
She nodded, smiling, and leaned over to show him the baby. Her heart leapt at his comment, the others.
"When was she – ?"
"I'm not sure. It was hard to keep track of – I think about six hours ago?"
"They sent you here for safety?" Neville asked. "I was to come and check these out, see if anyone made it here…"
They? It took Hermione a moment to realize what Neville meant.
"No… I just came… there's nobody…"
Horror filled Neville's eyes.
"Ron?" he whispered. "Ginny?"
"Ron's dead," she breathed, her voice shattering over the statement of that simple fact. "And – and Ginny – Fleur – we were separated. There was a – a cave-in… in Remus' tunnel. I don't – I don't know where they are. The baby…I couldn't…" She gestured helplessly down at Laurel, as if to explain the reason she had not tried to find anyone until now. She felt wretched and ashamed, as if she had failed somehow.
"You're safe now," Neville said, with more authority than she would've given him credit for. "Everyone… that is, everyone who's left – is at Hogwarts…we should go, get you and Laurel out of this rain."
The joy that soared into her eyes must have been more than obvious, for Neville visibly reacted to the look on her face.
"Hogwarts? It still stands?" Harry!
"Well, not most of it," Neville began dubiously. "The Great Hall is sort of intact. Part of it still has a roof, so that's where we've been setting up… camp." He shrugged, for lack of a better word.
"The Death Eaters?"
"They were – I don't know, Stunned or something – when Voldemort … fell. So far, we've been able to – to round up all of them who weren't killed in the collapse. When I left, Fred and his dad were searching the rubble… for any more of our people – or theirs."
Fred. Mr. Weasley. Hermione seized gratefully on those names, the information that, not only were they alive, but uninjured enough to be doing patrols. They had all been in Hogwarts – if they had survived, then perhaps…
"Harry?" The word came out as a squeak, as though she were unable to get enough air into her lungs.
Neville's face shadowed, and the terrible tight pain reasserted itself into her chest.
"We haven't found him yet."
"He was in – he was in Dumbledore's office – Dumbledore's office… I saw him," Hermione mumbled, not even realizing that she was talking about the late Headmaster in the present tense. Neville did not question how she had such knowledge.
"Hey," he said, taking her gently by the shoulders, and squaring them so she'd face him. "Hey, Hermione. That helps. Okay? It helps to know where to look. Let's go and tell the others. And you need to be seen by – " A spasm of sorrow crossed his face. "Well, we lost Penelope, but – but Megan Jones has turned out to be a pretty decent field Healer."
She started to say something, but Neville beat her to the punch.
"And don't worry. We'll get to the cavern and find the others. I'll see to it myself." He helped her through the gap in the railing. "If you come down slow," he said, "I'll keep the shield up on the way down."
A moment later, their feet were lighting on the soft damp bracken of the forest floor. The woods were hushed, the falling rain giving it the serenity of a cathedral. Hermione felt as if the forest itself were crying with them.
"I walked here. We only just have the one medallion," Neville said, and Hermione remembered again that they had all discarded theirs before leaving for battle. "Nicked it out of the dungeon tunnel. We wanted to secure Hogwarts before we went to the cavern, in case – "
"There were Death Eaters there," Hermione informed him. "They were coming after us. Voldemort … found out … where we were."
"We'll need to send people in to secure them," Neville nodded. "And find – and find the others." Hermione knew that he'd been half in love – maybe more than half – with Ginny, and she hoped the compassion showed in her eyes.
"We'll find her, Neville."
"Can – can you think of Remus?" he asked. "He's got it on." She nodded, and without further comment, Neville slung one arm around her shoulders, pulling her next to him with a strength that again surprised her. She saw his eyes close, and as she concentrated, she did the same. They both disappeared as silently as they'd come.
Neville's sudden reappearance in the Great Hall – or what was left of it – with Hermione, caused the bustle therein to utterly cease for a long moment. Hermione felt strangely self-conscious, as every eye fell on her, took in her disheveled appearance, and then slid down to the bundle wrapped across her chest and abdomen.
And then it was as if everyone galvanized back into movement all at once. Megan was busy over a bloodstained body that Hermione did not immediately recognize. The Slytherin table, which had alone survived undamaged, held several of the more seriously wounded. Hermione's eyes tripped over those walking around, nearly all of them had some kind of patched up injury. There was several draped forms lined up neatly in another corner, and Hermione could not bring herself to look at them overlong, feeling selfish and defiantly glad that Harry was not among them. Yet, a darker part of her added snidely.
Remus Lupin was the nearest and reached her first, sweeping her up into half an embrace, with his right arm in a sling, but while being mindful of the load she carried.
"Merlin, it's good to see you, Hermione."
"It's good to see you, Pro – Remus," she replied in a tremulous voice.
"Hermione says that Harry was in the Headmaster's office – at the last," Neville told him. Remus nodded.
"Seamus has only just regained consciousness. He says that's where he and Blaise were headed with Harry, when they were attacked by Lucius Malfoy."
Hermione was nodding as if she'd heard all this before, her mind going back to Harry's final confrontation with the elder Malfoy.
"What did Blaise have to say?" she asked, and Remus' face flickered in the same way that Neville's had earlier.
"He didn't make it. We found his body and Seamus' together in the corridor that leads to the Headmaster's office. Seamus was alive, but only just."
"But nobody – " Hermione began with difficulty, twisting her hands together. "Nobody's gone inside yet?"
"Fred and Arthur are on their way there now. It's been slow going, trying to make progress, not knowing how close anything else is to collapsing. We've been trying to shore things up as we go, but there've been a few scattered skirmishes – those aren't helping – and nearly everyone's been hurt in one way or another…"
Hermione bit back a strangled cry in her throat, and was already moving in that direction.
"Then I should – " she began, but was swaying visibly on her feet. A firm hand closed around her upper arm. She turned, and found herself looking directly into Neville's face.
"You need," he emphasized, not unkindly, "to go let Megan look at you – and the baby. You've just given birth for Merlin's sake. And wasn't Laurel a little early?"
Hermione opened her mouth to protest, but stopped, struggling to keep back tears of fear and disappointment. Neville was right. After all Ron had done for her… and Harry had made it more than clear where his priorities lay. She let out a breath, and then nodded, with an acquiescent.
Megan looked overwhelmed and unsure, as Hermione unstrapped the baby, and they transfigured part of a bench into a small cradle.
"I'm – I'm afraid I don't know a lot about babies…" she began, as she gently pushed the folds of the robes back to look at the tiny girl. "But I – sweet Merlin!"
"What!?" Hermione almost shouted in frantic worry, though Megan's voice was not alarmed, but rather astonished. "What's wrong with her?"
"Nothing that I can see," Megan replied, running her hands up and down the limbs of the infant, then scanning her with her wand. "But Hermione, look at her eyes."
Hermione realized that in the dim light of the cave, she had not yet gotten a good look at Laurel's eyes, and had assumed that they would be the murky slate blue found in most fair-skinned newborns. But as she leaned over Megan's shoulder and peered full into her daughter's face for the first time, she understood why Megan had reacted the way she did.
Laurel's eyes already had very little blue left in them, and the flecks of their transition showed a clear and brilliant green.
She stood on the grounds at Hogwarts, the stately grey castle looking like a jewel in the center of verdant green lawn. The sky was a brilliant rainwashed blue, so blazing that it almost made her eyes water, and the sun was inset like a bright jewel bestowed by a benevolent deity. A refreshing wind lapped at her hair and the hem of her dress.
Her dress was clean, a light white linen, and her hair was clean. She was clean. Her soul felt light, happy, like she could fling her arms wide and spin in circles there on the soft lawn, like she could laugh in abandonment, for no other reason than the sheer joy of laughing.
And then she saw them both, ambling toward her from the distance: one tall, one not as tall; one with his hair a burnished fiery copper, and one capped by shining ebony. Both were smiling, hands in pockets, white shirts, tail out, sleeves rolled up. They were barefoot.
Everything was perfect. Her boys were here. Hogwarts was here. Not only was everything unscathed, but it was as if the dirty, imperfect filter through which the world had ever been viewed had been removed.
A high-pitched baby squeal reached her ears, and she knew instantly that it was Laurel. She thought if she succumbed to any more joy that she might die of it. There was a wicker basket sitting in the grass, and a chubby pink arm waved out of it.
"There's my girl!" came a voice, and it was his, with a lilt of carefree laughter in it like she'd never heard before. She turned, her breath catching with the rapture of it all.
"Harry…" she breathed.
"Hermione," it was an unfamiliar voice, a female voice, and its introduction instantly struck a sour note into her perfection, as if the pretty melody she played had suddenly become discordant.
She turned away, looking back at the basket. Laurel squealed happily to herself, and she moved towards the cradle, intent on picking up her daughter. She could feel Harry's presence immediately behind her. Any moment now, his arms would encircle her waist, his fingers entwine with hers; she would feel the vibration of his voice in her ear, with a whispered endearment.
"Hermione." Her shoulder was being shaken. "Hermione, the baby – Laurel is – "
Hermione's eyes flew open at the same time that she recognized Megan's voice, and heard Laurel, wailing in full fury. Reality boomeranged back to her with all the eye-watering force of a blow to the face.
"Oh," she said fuzzily, rising from her pallet in the floor. "Oh, right. Sorry."
A few torches flickered orangey-yellow in random sconces that had remained intact and in place. In their uneven light, she could see the enchanted ceiling, midnight blue sky studded with stars and a half-moon. It flickered from time to time as if it had been magically short-circuited, and Hermione was able to discern the portion of the Hall that was now unroofed; it's midnight-blue sky and moon and stars remained solid. She stared at the ceiling for a long moment, trying to remember the last time she had seen the sky. Had it been her trip to Little Hangleton with Fred? So long ago? she mused, or is it, so recently? She felt suddenly as if units of time were just arbitrary words, and maybe seconds were really hours, and days actually years.
A few people who were well enough to be up remained awake, moving about various tasks that could not be shirked because of mere fatigue or speaking in hushed conversations of loss. There were two figures standing watch, wands out, on either side of the ruined doors to the Great Hall. Megan flitted among the injured like a fairy, soothing the occasional cry of pain. Most of the others were slumped across benches or up against walls or on scavenged or conjured blankets, asleep with the utter exhaustion of the battle-weary.
Wincing at the persistent soreness, she shuffled over to the makeshift cradle, and picked up Laurel, who was tearlessly squalling, red-faced and thrashing. Her downy dark hair felt like velvet under Hermione's nose, as she pressed her cheek to the baby's soft head.
"Are you hungry, baby girl? I'm so sorry. Are you hungry?"
Laurel had ceased screaming when she'd been picked up, but her wails now turned into almost a frantic excitement, snuffling into Hermione's neck as she apparently caught her mother's scent. Hermione padded back to her blanket, and sat cross-legged against the wall, scooting over so that she could drape the cloth around her shoulders. Once Laurel had reached her target, she quieted so quickly that it was almost embarrassing.
"Is everything okay? Do you – do you need anything?" Megan, passing by, asked uncertainly.
Only to know that my husband is okay. Only to have my best friend back. Tears stung at the backs of her eyelids again, as she thought of Ron, alone, in that dark cave. She hadn't seen Neville among those moving about, and hoped that meant that he was still at the old headquarters, and that Fleur, Ginny, and Madam Pomfrey would be safely extracted.
She realized that she hadn't replied to Megan's question, and sniffed twice before her voice would work properly.
"No. No, thank you, Megan. I'm – we're fine." We're fine. Whatever happened tomorrow, she was part of a 'we' now. Finding that somewhat hard to fathom, she peered down at Laurel, who blinked up at her with a sleepy, contented gaze as she placidly sucked. Hermione didn't reckon that she'd ever seen anything so beautiful. Even the slight rhythmic movement of the baby's rib cage against her own was as a balm to her soul. She leaned her head back against the stone wall, and sighed deeply.
When Laurel had finished, and Hermione had rubbed her shoulder blades to coax a burp out of her, she stood, still more than a bit unsteady, and gently replaced her daughter in the cradle. As she hovered over the side, tucking a recalcitrant lock of hair behind her ear, her attention was arrested by a commotion from the doorway.
"OY! Some help over here please. Jones! Get the hell over here, now."
Hermione's heart vaulted up into her throat so quickly that she thought she'd actually gag. Instead, she swayed on her feet so violently that she had to grab the edge of the Slytherin table for support. She didn't even notice as the corner bit uncomfortably into her palm.
The voice was Fred's.
If he were dead, Fred wouldn't want help. If he were dead, they wouldn't need Megan, was all Hermione could think. Her eyes were transfixed on the giant hole where the double doors marking the entrance to the Great Hall had once been, but her feet may as well have been fastened to the floor with a Sticking charm.
"Harry…" Her voice came out a wobbly squeak, but there was no one there to notice, as Megan had already headed for the voice at a dead run. At least, Hermione thought there was no one to hear, and she started visibly when a hand touched her wrist, and then feebly patted it, in an obvious effort to give comfort.
She looked down, and barely recognized Cho, swathed as she was in salve and potion-soaked bandages, pink healing charms faintly showing on the more minor injuries that had been left uncovered.
"Cho!" she uttered in surprise, and then cast about in her mind for something else – anything else – to say. Fred and whoever accompanied him – presumably his father – were nearly to the doorway now; Hermione could see their shadows wavering on the wall.
"I'm – I'm sure he'll be okay, Hermione," she managed, with a barely audible raspiness that must have meant she had taken a hex to the throat. Hermione tried to smile, and forced her words past the clog in her throat.
"Thank you, Cho." Perhaps no other words were really necessary.
Then Mr. Weasley appeared framed in the entrance, walking backwards, wand up, clearly Levitating someone. Hermione's hands were digging into the table's unyielding surface so hard that she felt a fingernail bend back and tear away.
Why aren't you moving? Something inside her shrieked, and finally, she was able to propel herself in that direction, even as a limp body proceeded in, with Fred bringing up the rear.
"Harry! Harry!" The word broke through, tumbled from her lips, louder the second time. And if anyone hadn't been paying attention to Fred's initial outburst, they were certainly paying attention now.
"Lay – just put him – lay him here," Megan was saying, clearly flustered, and the two Weasleys did so. "Where did you find him?"
"In the Headmaster's Office," Fred answered. "Took us a bit. If the fact that most of the ceiling is now on the floor weren't enough…the gargoyle's charm has obviously malfunctioned as well; it tried to bite off my other arm." His tone was light, but his eyes were serious, not leaving Harry, as Megan began her once-over.
Hermione barreled into their midst then, completely ignoring the pain that shot through her hips and down her right leg. She flew at them so rapidly that she would have landed on top of Harry, if she had not stopped herself by bracing her arms on the table's edge.
"What happened? Did – could you tell… what happened?" She felt breathless, her heart pounding impossibly fast. Her eyes skittered diagnostically over Harry. He was covered in fine dust and his glasses were broken. There were scattered minor cuts and bruises, which seemed to generally correspond with various rips and tears in his clothing as well. Save for the fact that he was unconscious, he seemed to be – Hermione's hopeful assessment died as she saw his hands… and then remembered them from her vision, the way he'd held on to his wand, even as it burned him, ensuring that all of Voldemort's magic was drained away. She sucked air sharply between her teeth, as she took in the way the fingers were twisted in on themselves, the skin appearing to be all but burned away. The wounds were livid and seeping.
"Do we have any murtlap? Has someone been to the hospital wing?" Hermione asked breathlessly, her hands fluttering over Harry's. She so wanted to take them in hers, but dared not touch them. Something flashed quickly in Megan's face.
That was a stupid question, Hermione.
"The hospital wing was the first place we cleared," the field healer responded evenly, having evidently successfully squelched the annoyance, refraining from actually saying obviously. "We've got some murtlap, but not – not enough for that. That – it needs – I've never seen magical burns that severe – someone who's trained, I – "
Remus had appeared at some point, thrusting a crockery bowl full of gelatinous yellow liquid at Megan, as his eyes roved over Harry in as worried a fashion as Hermione had.
Of course, Hermione thought dazedly. He's all Remus has left as well.
Megan was dabbing on the murtlap, as gently as she could, and yet still Harry hissed between clenched teeth, tossing his head from one side to the other. Still unconscious, he tried to curl his hands into fists, and the resultant cry of pain tore at Hermione's heart.
"Good God, Megan!" Hermione snapped. "Stupefy." She jabbed Ron's wand in Harry's direction, and some of the pain eased out of his face as he went limp. Gratitude surged through her that the substitute wand had worked decently enough.
"It's not advisable to Stun someone who has been the victim of a magical injury. With burns of this magnitude – it could have caused his whole system to overreact." Megan was angry. Her voice stayed low, but her lips were pressed together in a tight line.
"I – " She stopped in the midst of an irate retort, and scrubbed both hands over her face, sighing tiredly. "I – just couldn't stand seeing him in pain, Megan. I'm – I'm sorry, I … shouldn't have spoken out of turn like that. You're the Healer…"
"Just a medic." Megan lifted one shoulder in self-deprecation. "If it's any consolation," she added, sympathy beginning to tinge her dark eyes. "I wish Madam Pomfrey was here too."
"She was with you, Hermione," Fred spoke up suddenly, from across the table on Harry's other side. "She – Ginny…" His voice trailed off, as his mind tripped through possibilities that would explain the situation, none of them very good. His eyes dropped to the wand Hermione used; there was unwilling recognition there, and he had to draw in a deep, trembling breath before continuing.
"Hermione, what happened?"
She didn't respond right away, but hurried as quickly as she could manage back over to the cradle where Laurel lay, drowsing. She lifted the baby carefully out before making her way back over to Fred, Mr. Weasley at his elbow.
"The – the Death Eaters were coming," she began, wishing that she could sound more like her normal self. "We took – we were going to hide in Remus's tunnel, and – but I was in labor, and I – I'm sorry. I slowed everyone down. They were close, but – but Voldemort was – he was watching with the Map – through its ashes; we'd destroyed it. And I think he caused a – the tunnel to collapse, and Ron – Ron and I were separated from the others. I don't know what's happened to them. Neville – Neville went back to the cavern, to see…" She proffered the baby up to Arthur Weasley, who took her, even as he looked at Hermione with all too knowing comprehension, clearly waiting for the rest of her story.
"Ron had to – he delivered… " The words were beginning to emerge unwillingly. Hermione felt like she was having trouble breathing. "He delivered her, but he – he'd been hurt during – during the rockslide, and I hadn't realized… he reopened the – the injury from the Ministry. I – I didn't know what to do… I didn't act quickly enough. I'm so sorry."
Mr. Weasley's chin wobbled, as he looked down at the baby. Fred was pale and strained, and for a moment, Hermione could not tell whether or not he'd even been listening.
"His – his last act of life was giving Laurel hers. I – I couldn't have done it without him. He – he even shielded me… from the falling rocks, and – " Hermione couldn't seem to stop talking. It was as if she thought talking would ease some of the dreadful pressure in her chest and throat
The two remaining Weasley men stood very still, with Mr. Weasley still holding Laurel as if he'd been Petrified in that position. Hermione swayed slightly on her feet, at a loss, and then realized that she was waiting for one of them to comfort her, to pat her on the head and tell her that it was not her fault. She felt a wave of self-loathing, and reached toward Laurel, kissing Mr. Weasley's cheek as she did so.
"He was a hero…Arthur." She tried to infuse her voice with as much sincerity and meaning as she could. "He was my hero."
The Weasley patriarch looked at her then, and smiled, though the effect was somewhat washed away by his swimming eyes. She slid her arms between his and Laurel, and would have lifted her back, but he stopped her.
"No… that is, if you don't mind. I'd like to hold her for awhile."
"Of course," Hermione swallowed with difficulty. "Take as long as you like."
A kind of despair swelled up and filled her, as she turned back toward the table on which lay her husband. It's never going to get easier… In fact, she thought it could actually get worse, as they, in all likelihood, did not yet know the extent of their losses.
But Ron… there was only one way that her loss would cut more deeply, and she did not want to contemplate that.
Then there was another commotion at the entry, and the sentries were shouting something out into what remained of the entry hall, their wands raised. But Hermione recognized Neville's silhouette as he came into the Great Hall, hands aloft until the guards realized who he was, and she watched, heart in throat, to see who came with him.
One…two…three… and there's William. The third person carried a tiny bundle that couldn't be anything else. The gratefulness that surged through her was so sudden and swamping that Hermione felt her knees buckle.
Fleur saw her first and called out, in a most un-Veela-like fashion, and the two new mothers reached each other at about the same time that Ginny was swept up in the arms of her father and brother.
"But look at you!" Fleur said, sweeping her gaze down Hermione's somewhat slimmer figure. "And Laurel – she is – ?"
"She's fine, she's fine," Hermione hastened to assure her. She saw Megan, now with Laurel in her arms, quietly come up to Madam Pomfrey, speaking to her in a low serious tone. The younger girl's face was grave, and the mediwitch nodded in a business-like way. Both of them moved out of Hermione's field of vision.
"We were so worried! We got into the very end of the tunnel and managed to keep a Protego up long enough to ward off most of the rocks. We wanted to find you, but we – we didn't – " Fleur looked upset.
"I know," Hermione replied. They hadn't used their medallions to get to her for the same reasons she had not done so for them. There was no way to know whether or not your destination was buried in rock.
"To think of you, stranded in a cave, delivering a baby…" Fleur's tone sounded lightly chagrined.
"But I had Ron with me," Hermione put in, managing to curl her lips upward in a smile. "He was brilliant, he did everything just – "
"But where is Ron?" Ginny asked, from the depths of her father's smoke-blackened robes.
For a moment, Hermione couldn't speak, but despite Ginny's sightless eyes, she didn't need to say anything. Fleur pressed one fist to her mouth, and Ginny begin to shake her head in denial.
"No." Her voice was pitched very low or it would not have come out at all. "No. Not Ron. Not Ron."
Hermione felt like each syllable was piercing her already wounded heart. There had been no verbalized accusation, but she still felt as if Ginny had hurled imprecations at her. It was all her fault, she thought. Ron had been protecting her at the Ministry, and helping to move her through the tunnels. He had died because of her.
"Ginny, I'm so sorry. It's my fault he's gone… it's my fault …" She felt the last vestiges of her control slipping, and a sob rattled its way upward. Her abdomen throbbed; her head pounded; she missed Ron so badly, and the uncertainty about Harry was going to drive her mad. She was slipping downwards; her ears were ringing loudly. Then she felt strong arms around her, lifting her back to her feet. The arms remained there, securing her, and she welcomed the support.
It was Neville.
"It wasn't your fault, Hermione," was all he said, quietly.
There was a complete and aching silence that hung over the group, save for Ginny's muffled sobs. Tears were streaming down Fleur's beautiful face like liquid crystal, but she managed to ask,
"Can we see the baby?"
A low raspy growl startled all of them.
"Neville, get your hands off my wife."
Hermione hadn't known that it was possible to feel such despair and elation in such close proximity, and she wondered that her heart didn't simply cease beating from the emotional roller coaster of it all.
Harry was conscious; he was alive, he was teasing her, for Merlin's sake. She ran her hands across his forehead, over his cheeks, and along his jawline, tangling her fingers briefly in his matted hair, before spreading them along his shoulders, smoothing them along the dirty fabric of his robes, careful to stop before coming anywhere near his injured hands. He smiled at her, leaning into her caresses, but there was a shadow in his eyes that told her that he had heard at least some of her conversation with the Weasleys.
"Is it true?" he asked. "Ron's…?"
"Yes." Her voice was watery. Tears glinted in the torchlight as they tracked their way from the corners of his vivid eyes to his hair. "He told me – told me to tell you… to tell you that – that he was glad that we … that we're together. And to tell Laurel how much he loved her – right from the first…." Her voice wisped out on her then. A spasm of emotion quivered across Harry's face, and then she saw him squelch it, as if it were something too deep and painful and utterly heart-rending to be examined at this time.
"Laurel!" Harry's voice was shocked, as if he'd even forgotten he had a daughter. "Is she okay? Has Madam Pomfrey – she wasn't due for – " He actually tried to sit up,
"She's okay, Harry. Perfectly healthy, just small. Madam Pomfrey was looking her over, just to be sure." Her voice trailed off, as she saw the mediwitch approaching, smiling tenderly at the bundle in her arms.
Harry began to lift his arms as if to take the baby, but the color immediately washed out of his face as he did so. Madam Pomfrey handed the infant to his wife.
"You can goggle over your daughter while I tend to your hands, Mr. Potter." The familiar reproving tone was in her voice, but her eyes were soft. She cast several skilled Numbing charms, as she lifted and turned his hands to examine them. "Can you tell me what happened?"
Harry began to relate the story, as his eyes roamed avidly over the baby. Hermione could tell by the yearning look on his face how much he longed to touch her.
"… Voldemort was screaming. It was – I thought if I could just hold on a moment longer, that it would all be over. And then the wand starting overloading. It – my hands… but I thought if – " Words seemed to fail him. "I just tried to hold on until it was over."
"Hogwarts was collapsing. You were unconscious." Hermione said, plowing over the unasked question in his eyes, by saying, "I saw you. How did you – ?"
"He'd cast a Protego charm," Fred spoke up, approaching the bedside for the first time. "When we found him, the ceiling over him was still hovering, maybe a meter off of the ground. Barely anything had even touched him."
"You can't cast a Protego when you're unconscious." Harry sounded mystified and a little worried. Hermione wasn't sure why.
"Ron's Lumos lasted while he was unconscious," she put in, even though she knew that they were not the same thing, that the Protego was a charm that had to be sustained, directly related to the strength of the caster.
"Mr. Potter, where is your wand?" Madam Pomfrey asked, and Hermione wondered at the concerned look on her face. Megan had reappeared with a thick salve, and, after Madam Pomfrey cast a medicinal spell on it, began silently slathering it on Harry's hands.
"I don't know. I – "
"It's right here," Fred offered, unwrapping a cloth parcel from the pockets of his robes, and proffering the ruins of Harry's wand. It was in three pieces and flaky black from being burned. What was left of the Repository Stones spilled out into his hand, dirty green, and very nearly ground into sand.
Harry's eyes were riveted to the remains of his wand, and Hermione felt his breathing accelerate.
"Mr. Potter," Madam Pomfrey asked coolly. Her wand moved over him slowly and smoothly, taking a scan. "What is your Patronus?"
The question seemed to suck all the air from the room. Megan's hands froze mid-motion, where they were engaged in winding charmed bandages around the wounds, covering the salve.
"Oh, this is ridiculous," Hermione burst out with righteous indignation, startling the baby in her arms. "How can you even presume – ?" Harry lay one thickly wrapped hand over hers.
"It's a legitimate question, Hermione," he said calmly, though she could see the fear that flickered in his eyes. The what-if? fear. "My Patronus is a stag, like my father's."
"She can't think…. they can't think…surely…" Hermione's voice was a despairing whisper.
"Voldemort's dead," Fred said helpfully. "We saw the body – it's still up there in the office; didn't burst into flames or melt away into nothing but robes, or anything."
"But the Respository Stones are destroyed. The wand – my wand – overloaded. If his magic – "
"My question was a precaution only, Mr. Potter," Madam Pomfrey tried to reassure him. Her wand chirruped softly, and her eyebrows soared to her hairline. "It would seem that, while some of his magic was expended toward your Protego during the overload, a good deal of it did seem to find its way back inside you."
Harry's head sank toward his chest, his face gone a ghastly gray. Hermione saw the muscles in his neck work as he swallowed hard.
"Harry, it's just magic. Magic itself isn't good or evil – it's the wielder who can bend it in one of those directions." She laid her head on his shoulder, willing him to believe her. Looking up at him, she could see the uncertainty in his eyes, as he grappled with half a dozen things at once: the looming imminence of the future, the completion of his task, the death of their best friend, new fatherhood, rebuilding the Wizarding world, and living a 'normal' life with more magic than many other wizards would even dream of.
"Are you sure?" he asked once, and seemed to come to a decision, after seeing her nod.
"It's over, Harry," she whispered.
"Then…." He seemed to be mulling over a weighty decision. "Then, I guess it's time we let everyone know." He flicked his hand in her direction, and Ron's wand flew out of her pocket, coming to rest clumsily between his thickly bandaged thumb and forefinger.
"Lux Prevalet," he said quietly, but the spell burst forth with a rush of noise that caught everyone's attention. The spell did not blast a hole in what was left of the roof, but it was more like – Hermione noted – the roof moved aside for the spell, and then reformed after it had passed through. There was a shriek and explosion of noise like fireworks, and the Light mark – the white phoenix and lightning bolt that had been seen over the Scottish village – was imprinted on the enchanted ceiling, exactly as Hermione was sure it appeared outside as well. Silvery streaks shot out from it in all directions, fading gradually from sight at various points on the horizon, and she stood gaping for a long moment before she realized it had been at least two dozen stags, gone to spread the news that Voldemort had been vanquished.
"Oh my God," Hermione uttered in a low voice. She could not think of anything more perfect than Harry sending out a message of victory with Ron's wand, but had the sneaking suspicion that Harry really had not needed a wand at all. She cast an appraising look at him.
Harry appeared abashed.
"Can I hold my daughter now?" he asked.
Four Months Later…
"It was a beautiful ceremony," Hermione murmured, threading her arm through his, and balancing Laurel on her other hip, as they strolled across the gently sloping grounds at Hogwarts. A breeze teased pleasantly at their hair and the hems of their robes, and it occurred to her that the day was not far from the one she had dreamed about the first night after the battle was over.
Harry seemed pale and a little strained. Only Hermione and the Weasleys really knew what kind of toll managing that much magic took on him. He had responded well to the training though, and was noticeably improving.
"I can't believe I cooperated with the Daily Prophet," he grumbled half-heartedly, running one hand through his already wind-tossed hair. In the direct sunlight, the webby lines criss-crossing over his hands were more noticeable than usual.
"It was incredibly generous of you to wait until they were ready to print their first issue. And not at all surprising that you did it, since Luna's taken it over." She smiled crookedly at him. "It's not at all the same paper now, is it?"
Harry's lips twisted upward in response.
"Thank Merlin for that."
By unspoken common consent, they stopped, their eyes taking in the vista before them. Hogwarts still looked skeletal, but there was a good number of people about, those who had been present at the Dedication. Tomorrow, Hermione assumed, the hordes of wizards who'd been recruited from around the world would be back at their job: the consuming task of reconstructing Hogwarts by the first of September.
"Do you think they'll be done in time?" she asked.
"Probably," was Harry's laconic response. She figured that he would probably give an anonymous nudge or two if the project was in danger of falling too far behind.
"How long would it have taken you?" Faint amusement tinged her voice, and Harry gave her a withering look before admitting,
"Not this long." After a brief hesitation, he added, "Hermione, you know why I can't do that." The thought of any more media scrutiny, of the misunderstandings and apprehensions that were sure to follow if it became known that he now claimed Voldemort's magic for his own, were nothing but abhorrent to him. He still carried a wand, still did things in deliberately slower way, still held himself back in nearly all aspects of his life.
"I know," she responded, sighing a little. It seemed that 'normal' would forever be beyond Harry's grasp.
"D'you want to look at it again?" he nodded toward the object of the dedication, sitting like a piece of onyx in the center of the grounds, exactly equidistant from the front gate and the Forbidden Forest. "Without so many people around?"
"Yes, I would," she answered, after a moment of consideration. It had been difficult to stand before the crowd with Harry, to feel the weight of their expectations on her, along with the curious eyes and hungry camera lenses.
It was a huge piece of marble, polished and finished to a sheer face on one side, but left in misshapen and natural appearance everywhere else. At the top, magically etched in large letters it read,
In smaller letters underneath, the text explained, In memoriam of those who fell during the struggle to overcome a madman.
There had been much debate as to the actual wording, but it had been Arthur Weasley, who as Minister for Magic, and the person up there with the most people bearing his last name, who had made the final decision: refusing to refer to Voldemort by name or incur any more of his fear-inspired glory by labeling him You-Know-Who.
There had also been much talk of the names to include on the stone, but it was finally decided to begin after Voldemort's second return to corporeal existence. Thus, Cedric Diggory's name appeared first on the memorial, followed by countless more, too many more, Hermione thought. Her fingers skimmed over Sirius Black… Amelia Bones… some of those lost so early in the fight that it seemed impossibly long ago.
She brushed her fingertips further down the list, reading the names through eyes shimmery with tears. She felt Harry's hand tighten on her shoulder.
Alastor Moody… Molly Weasley…George, Bill, Charlie, Percy…Michael Corner…Nymphadora Tonks…Padma Patil…Penelope Clearwater…Blaise Zabini… and Ron Weasley – almost the last, almost the last, but the War had claimed one final life before all was said and done. Dennis Creevey had succumbed to his injuries three days after Voldemort's defeat. Hermione had seen Colin at the ceremony inside; he seemed thin and withdrawn.
It was odd, she reflected, how in some ways, the remaining fighters of the Order wanted to be around each other, wanted to reassure themselves that those with whom they'd suffered the most were well and whole, and yet – those they loved most that remained were themselves living reminders of what was lost, what would be forever lost.
She sniffed loudly, as her fingers traced the tail of the 'y' in Weasley, and then dropped to her side. She laid her cheek on top of Laurel's soft dark hair.
They had told no one outside the Order of the prophecy, and Hermione was glad that it had been destroyed that day. Hermione had thought tearfully of her birth so close to Ron's death, and wondered about Laurel's cries that had led her to the location of Ron's wand – out of light, into light. She wondered how much of it was foreordained and how much was coincidence. Harry had been adamant that no child of his would have their life dictated to them by a flimsy glass ball.
Laurel reached one flailing hand up to snarl in Hermione's curls, and said, "Gah," to remind her parents how long they'd been standing there. They turned in unison, arms bracketing each other, leaning against each other, and walked away slowly, though they both knew that pieces of themselves would forever remain behind.
"Are we going to the Burrow?" Hermione said, thinking of the cottage that Fred had rebuilt, quirkier than ever, but not nearly as ramshackle as in days of old. She was going to have to an anti-staining charm on her dress before she sat down on anything.
"Yeah." Harry's voice was faraway and reflective, as he pressed a kiss into her hair. "Ginny said she's making lunch."
I can't believe I'm done. I felt like Noah Webster writing the Z part of the dictionary; I kept pacing around, and could barely make myself sit and type.
Anyway, thanks for sticking with me, and do leave a review on your way out, if you'd like. I was working toward a sort of angsty, but hopeful moving-on kind of thing, especially at the last section, so I'd love to see what you think of the end, and the story as a whole.
Until we meet again!