A tall, dark figure slipped into a dimly lit bedroom, emerald eyes darting over to the figure lying against a mound of pillows. The figure looked up from a book resting on their lap at the entrance, brown eyes peering over a pair of round frame glasses.
Frizzy white hair spilled around the bedridden person's face as she smiled.
"Mione," said Harry, falling backwards against the door in shock. He stared at his old friend for a moment then took a nervous step forward towards her bed. "I'm sorry about Drake."
Hermione's brown eyes, undulled by her many years, closed at that and she shook her head slightly.
"He died eight years ago, Harry."
Emerald eyes gleamed as he whispered, "He was just going on seventy when I last saw him. I missed so much because of what I did…"
"And none of us blame you for it," hissed Hermione, closing her book with a snap. He looked at her and she continued, "You were lost without her. We all knew that."
"More than lost…dead. Even now with her able to reach me from the other side, I still wish for death."
"But you won't."
Harry shook his head then crossed over to the window, looking outside at the snowstorm slowly brewing. From her bed, Hermione watched him, her heart aching for him. She could only imagine what it felt like for him to be thrust back into the world he'd tried to escape so long ago…
But it was good to see him in the flesh again after so long.
"How old are you now?" he asked suddenly, interrupting her thoughts.
"One hundred eighty-four," she replied.
Harry nodded then whispered, "I should be four years older than you."
"And Drake…Tom…Niamh…Ron…they should be here. All of us should be here."
Hermione looked at his back for a long time then asked, "Harry…why did you come here?"
The broad shoulders slumped slightly and he leaned against the window, resting his forehead against the cool glass.
"I-I'm not certain," he replied. "I guess…maybe…I hoped you wouldn't have changed. I just…oh Merlin, Mione, I wanted something to be the way I remembered it."
He turned away from the window then, shaking his head.
"I wanted to have another argument with Drake over something stupid; have a chess match with Ron; watch you and Gin fuss over a paper with Mik looking on; see Nev and Manda snuggling in a corner; find Thomas studying to the wee hours of the morning in front of fire; have Niamh smile at me again. I-I just wanted everything back the way it used to be."
"But you know it can't," she said softly.
"And you know you can't just give up."
He nodded and looked up at her, eyes gleaming in the darkness.
"I know," he said again.
They were silent for a long moment, one perched in the bed she could barely move from anymore and the other a silent shadow next to the window. Then Hermione leaned forward, patting the edge of her bed with a wrinkled hand.
"Harry, sit down."
Green eyes turned to regard her blankly and the old stern expression he and Ron used to jokingly call her McGonagall face appeared in an instant.
"Harry, sit down."
Meekly he turned and moved towards the bed, carefully easing himself down beside her frail form. And inside he was smiling at the sight of that stern expression again.
Hermione reached out and slid her hand into his, aged flesh against young and gently squeezed, smiling at him. He looked down at their entwined hands then, gently rubbing his thumb along the inside of her hand. A spatter of liquid falling on his knuckles made him jump and he looked up in surprise, finding his last remaining friend to be gazing at him sadly.
Her other hand reached out then and cupped his cheek, making him aware of the warm liquid streaming down his cheeks. They sat like that for a moment – or perhaps it was eternity – until his entire body began to quake, shivering as though he had just come out of an intense cold. Harry closed his eyes then, jaw clenched tight enough that his teeth groaned from the strain, and fought against clutching Hermione's frail hand as tight as he could.
He whimpered as she took back her hand then fell completely apart, every piece of him collapsing into a pile of jagged shards, as thin arms reached out to hold him. Hermione drew him close to her, giving him silent permission to let everything out – asking him to allow her to see him at that point where he had allowed few to see him.
She asked him to let her see him fall.
And he did.
He babbled mindlessly between sobs and fits of tears and she sat there through it all, gently running her aged fingers through his hair. That gentle caress and her stalwart silence was what eventually allowed him to calm himself and slowly – oh ever so slowly – begin to rebuild his shattered self.
Fitting the last broken piece into place, he sat up, carefully meeting her eyes. Brown stared into emerald for an achingly long moment then they both were startled by the sound of footsteps on the main stairs of The Downs. Harry bowed his head as the door opened and asked, "What is it, Samus?"
Samus McCall, great-grandchild of one of Seamus Finnegan's surviving children and a stunning duelist despite her nineteen years, blinked in the doorway of the room, her slim hand still on the doorknob. She was the only one to accompany Harry on this trip to The Downs to see his old friend as everyone else was still working on recovering from the fall of Hogwarts just two weeks before. It wasn't that no one else was eager; it was that there had been no one else to spare.
"Sir," she said, dipping her head respectively even though Harry had told her time and time again that he wasn't worthy of such a thing. "News just came back on Lord Erik."
Harry's shoulders hunched at that.
"The group you sent after him never made it in time, sir. They…they found him lashed to a tree and…" She stammered off, tears welling in her eyes as she remembered the list of atrocities that had been done to Erik Romaniv, who had been trying to do nothing more than avenge the death of his wife and son. Three deaths, she also recalled, which left a young girl without parents or her twin brother.
Harry hung his head at the realization that another of his family was gone and that a young woman would have to live with the knowledge of what his murders had done for the rest of her life. He looked at Hermione then but found none of the reassurance he had sought. Instead he came to realize that the hand he'd clutched at when Samus had entered the room had gone cold and that the life was gone from the body lying in front of him.
His last friend had gone and he remained to carry out this foul war with only one familiar face left by his side.
Slowly he rose, laying Hermione's hand on top of the book that still rested on her lap. He then leaned forward and gently kissed her cheek, frizzy hair tickling his mouth and nose as he whispered, "Goodbye. And thank you. I'm certain now of what I have to do."
Samus looked up at him as he walked towards her, tears gleaming at the corners of her eyes. She then looked towards Hermione's form and began to sob as she realized what had occurred.
Harry enclosed her in a hug, gently ushering her out of the room and closing the door behind them. He held her, this wisp of a girl whose great-great aunt had been the cause of the scars on his face, as she cried for a woman she'd hardly knew but had liked nonetheless.
He held her as that woman had held him only moments before, letting her fall apart then piece herself back together.
Samus drew away from him slowly, her head bowed as she wiped tears from her face. Then she looked up at him, eyes red but gleaming with a fierce determination. She snapped a quick salute then and the wry grin Harry was used to seeing on her face showed a shadow of itself for a moment.
"I'm ready, sir."
He looked down at her and smiled, his mouth aching with the motion.
"Yes," he said slowly. "As am I."
And somewhere a handful of souls cried in that half-joy, half-grief way as the soul that had been torn from them became well and truly ready for the war that was only just beginning.
This story was actually forgotten until last night when I was searching around my computer for some stories to burn on CD for a friend. I loaded it up after she left and read over what had been written then and decided to finish it.
I don't recall what my original goal for this little short was but…I think I succeeded in it.