The Execution of All Things

Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling, blah, blah, blah. You know 'em, she owns 'em. Title borrowed from Rilo Kiley, just because I'm such a boring old sod I can't make up my own titles.

Summary: Because faith and failure both had something in common. They were both f-words.

Warning: Rated M for bad language. And lots of F-words.

A/N: One-shot. Not a very happy story, either. Major tweaking of HPB. The trio is still back in Hogwarts. Voldemort is not yet defeated. DD is still dead – or so they say. Draco still failed to kill the old man. Got it? Yeah? Okay.

- - - - - - -

He didn't really know how to deal with it. That was the thing. Everybody had this certain distinct way of dealing with their problems: drinking, drugs, writing crappy songs, going away on vacation, killing themselves. None of them were particularly nice. And he wasn't going to go writing some song about his problems because he just wasn't that guy, and even if he were, he probably would have killed himself just for being that guy. He tried drinking, but the liquor around here sucked like no one would know. He even stole Snape's stash behind his bookshelf, but those only lasted him for about two nights. It would've been great to lapse into a coma, because at least when you're just some stiff in some bed you don't have to think about what you lost that day. But it just seemed like the more he kept drinking, the more he felt like he was drowning. Like the feeling only worsened. His problem only became more vivid. It became shiny, and popped out in the universal magic of Technicolor.

So now he was sober more than he would have liked, only because he could never ever drink himself to sleep. And even when he did, he had the most realistic nightmares he ever wished to have. Then he woke up. And it turned out they weren't nightmares at all.

Word had gotten around, fast. How could it not? He'd tried to kill Dumbledore. He was lucky he was even allowed back into school, but it seemed everybody in this damn world believed in second chances. And if they didn't, then they believed in third chances, or fourth, or seventh chances. They flung a certain word around, especially when he'd been sitting back in the circular office with Professor McGonagall in front of him. He remembered feeling like nothing had changed, except for the fact that the old man was gone. And then, shit, that seemed to cancel everything out. It was the strangest thing. Like the whole castle had been immersed in this murky water and everybody walked around like they were tied up against a rod. But, anyway, that word. The F-word. Faith.

He hated that word. He hated it more than he hated Harry Potter. He hated it more than he hated Dumbledore, hated it more than he hated hippogriffs. Absolutely hated it. He didn't get it. How could a five-letter word cause so many people to look at him with these strange looks on their faces that just made him so angry, half pity and half something bloody else, and just let him go? Granted, they had not really let him go. One more year of freedom, if he could even call it that. Then it was a free trip to Azkaban. He remembered hearing the judge say it in court, and his voice had been so thunderous, like his education actually meant something – that it could actually count for something and he'd remember it a few years into a rotting cell in Azkaban prison. He'd tried so hard not to laugh, and the only reason he didn't was because even though he'd expected to be sent into Azkaban straight away, regardless of his age, he was convinced that was the worst fate the Lord in Heaven could have granted him. He was convinced. Then he'd come back to this shithole and stared McGonagall right in the face. He was completely isolated from everybody else, even his peers in Slytherin. They showed him very clearly that there was an unmistakable line drawn out from the very beginning, and it was okay to play with it sometimes, feign that toeing of it, but it was never okay – never – to actually cross it.

And Draco had crossed it.

Well, damn. They sure as hell had never shown him that before, in fact, he felt completely betrayed by his own House. By each and every one of them. All this time they'd known he was serving the Dark Lord and they'd pushed him on, patted him on the back. Then when something big happened, when the big Failure happened (those damn F-words), they completely turned on him. Like they had nothing to do with it. And it nearly took everything inside him not to throttle one of them when he saw a group walking by, completely ignoring him, like he somehow blended into the surroundings so well that his glaring presence did not affect them in the least bit.

And then Draco realized why they'd sent him back to Hogwarts. It wasn't because of his education – his education could mean shit to those people. It was to show him the extent of his damage, even though he hadn't even killed the man. It was so he could literally feel the burning hate emanating from the rest of the people, even when they didn't say anything to him at all. They wanted him to suffer in the very place he'd become so familiar with. It was part of his punishment. It was his punishment. It was their own distinct way of showing him how badly he'd ruined everything. And, well, honestly? Draco wasn't such a big fan of their gratitude, anyway.

So it wasn't about second chances, or third chances, or seventh chances. This wasn't about faith – not for him, and he reckoned not for anybody else. Even if they did throw that word in his face. This was just part of the process.

Nobody would talk to him. Nobody. He was completely invisible to everybody, even Pansy. It was as if everybody had – at some point before his arrival – agreed to send him into complete and total isolation. He wouldn't have believed it at first if you'd told him to his face, because the Slytherins worshiped him. But it was just so easy how one person could be at the top of the damn golden pyramid before stumbling down for stepping on the wrong step and slipping. And he remembered that for those things, the descent was always painful, and this was no bloody different. Each minute of every day he had no verbal contact. Nobody would even look at him. He'd been so arrogant in the beginning, had been so persistent, trying to get people to utter at least one word to him. Then he realized that he really was alone now. Screw up, and everybody was going to hate you. Screw up, and your whole life was going to be hell.

Often he wondered about how this would all be different if he had killed Dumbledore. If he hadn't hot potatoed the task to Snape. But the thing was, he couldn't imagine it. If he had killed Dumbledore, he wouldn't be here right now. Voldemort wouldn't have completely cut him off. And Draco remembered thinking that Voldemort was going to kill him once he found out, but it was one of those rare instances when living was actually worse than dying. Voldemort had said to him that there was always going to be a time when a traitor has to face the world and has to carry his own damned weight. So nobody was being nice by letting him live. Nobody was being nice by letting him go back to school. Nobody knew Nice anymore, anyway.

But his problem wasn't that people weren't talking to him. His problem was a little bit subtler. No, actually, it was a face-puncher. It wasn't subtle at all. He didn't sleep at night because he thought about the future. He used to imagine it to be this bleak, open road with nothing but weeds, or a roaring sea that would most definitely swallow him up and never spit him back out. It was great thinking about all the metaphors you could come up with when you were in absolute turmoil. But now he could not see anything at all. That was the worst thing. The fact that the single thing his whole life had been built around, founded on – had been taken away from him just because he had chickened out. And everybody thinks that, don't they? That he chickened out. Or they could even be throwing around that weak notion that maybe, just maybe, Draco Malfoy was a little bit human and he didn't want to kill Dumbledore. Couldn't stand to.

And to tell you the truth, he wasn't sure which one it was. All this time he'd played it off like he was so tough, so evil, so badass. No one could throw him down. Maybe that was all some pretense he'd been determined to keep up to save face. Maybe it just came with having a bastard father who mapped out your future and all you had to do was follow it like some mindless zombie. Or maybe he really was chicken shit. Maybe everything he had done had been fake and hadn't mattered at all to anyone – until he'd looked down at Dumbledore, knowing that he could kill him. That was the one thing he would be truly known for. For killing this old man who would die in a few years anyway. People probably didn't think of this one. Why he didn't kill Dumbledore. Well, he didn't kill him because he thought it was useless. The man was going to die soon, anyway. He was so damn old.

So, really, some days he wasn't even certain why everybody hated him. Because he tried to kill him, or didn't come through with it?

Then there was Potter. Miserable, pathetic sod. Such a paleface that walked around school with hunched shoulders like he was so tired all the time. And, hell, maybe he was. He sure as hell wouldn't know. But he hadn't said a word to him either, nor had any one of his friends. But then there was this one day when Draco had been walking around by the lake. It was completely dark – couldn't see a damned thing even if it was right in front of your face. He was just leaning against the tree, looking at the lake and the moon. Or, the moon in the lake. Just because he had nothing else to do and he hated being inside that castle. Everywhere he looked he could see himself almost killing Dumbledore, and then hesitating. To him, the castle was alive. It would never let him live that moment down.

Anyway, he heard a rustling. Footsteps. Then he lit his wand, asking who was out there, and spotted Potter, who hadn't even bothered to hide. He just stood there, as clear as day, not saying a word. Draco remembered just staring at him. He didn't know if he was shocked. Maybe he was, on some level, but he couldn't really show it.

"What the hell are you doing here?" he barked.

And then, the next thing he knew, he'd been punched, hard, in the gut. Then pushed to the ground, feeling his heavy body collapse down to the dewy grass, hearing its solid thud. His head had been spinning. And do you know what the real pincher was about that night? As Potter literally beat him up, kicking him, breaking a few bones, smashing his head in, Draco didn't say a word. He just let him. Because it was just like he said. Everybody had their own ways of letting out their problems, like a temporary way of battling it off for a while before it came back. But he could have sworn, as he tried to open his swollen eyelids, every single part of him just straight out hurting, he saw Potter standing over him, and right behind his head was the bright mood. It was a full moon. And he saw him crying, man. He was really crying.

He didn't remember much after that, only waking up in the hospital wing and seriously thinking about how much Potter needed to get his head kicked in because no one in their right mind would beat somebody up so bad and then bring them to the hospital wing after the person had passed out. And the entire time he was there, nobody really came in or out. It was just he and the nurse. But he didn't really mind, because somehow, to a certain degree, he got used to it. But he really actually knew that you couldn't get used to it. It was just wishful thinking. Half of a wish granted, out of mercy, because you got your ass kicked and then the stupid guy brought you into the infirmary himself. That was just some freaking irony.

- - - - - - -

He'd followed him outside first. He hadn't even planned to; he was just out walking in the corridors and then he'd seen him, and then something came over him. All of a sudden he just got so angry, and it wasn't anything new or anything because every time he saw Malfoy he got angry – and no one could call him on it, because it was justified. But this time there wasn't anything to stop him, no Hermione pulling him back, no Ron telling him that it wasn't worth it. So he just followed him. He followed him all the way to the lake, and when he finally reached him, he remembered hearing him say something, and he'd just punched him – hard, in the gut. And he just kept doing it, beating the hell out of him. And it felt good, like this was what he needed to get all of steam in his head out, to clarify things – just for one second. In that moment nothing mattered except his hate for Malfoy.

It'd been so simple.

But you know what the weirdest thing was? The damn boy didn't even say a single word to him when he was beating him up. Not even when he heard the crack of his bones when he'd kicked him in the ribs. He didn't yell at him, or even try to fight back. And Harry didn't even care. He just kept going at it, flinging his fists with everything he could muster, biting his lip in rage, his face screwed up in his hate and anger and resentment. And when he was done, when he was finally exhausted, he remembered just falling to his knees, and panting. He started to cry. He remembered there was a certain point in his life when he told himself he wouldn't ever cry, not again, because it wouldn't help. His tears wouldn't bring anybody back, or help him defeat Voldemort. But he couldn't help it. He just cried.

Because it just wasn't fair. Everything. That everybody he loved kept dying, that everybody kept getting away with his or her crimes. And the world was just so damn messed up towards him, like it just keep throwing all of these situations on him, testing how far they could take it until he finally managed to lose his control and just shoot himself in the head. And he just thought – it just wasn't right, you know? Who would do this to him? How could God be so cruel? Because he knew there was a God. Don't ask him why, but he knew it. And he believed that bad things had to happen to pave the way for good. But he just couldn't see it anymore, all right? He'd just had to put up with so much shit. One thing after another. No answers. Just questions. Just dying. And he'd begun to lose faith. He started to think that No, everything wasn't going to be all right. Screw what anybody said. Nothing was going to be okay anymore. They could have fed him that when he was younger. But it was different now.

A few minutes later, he hastily wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, and then he looked at Malfoy. He couldn't see his face in the darkness, but as he clenched his fists he could feel wetness on his hands. And, for some reason, he picked him up and carried him all the way to the infirmary, where he left him on one of the beds. Then he went to the bathroom, and as the lights flickered on, he looked down and saw how bad the damage was. His hands were completely covered in blood, and there was a big crimson stain down his shirtfront, still fresh. And he had this firm look on his face as he turned on the faucet, the water so ice cold that it made his entire body shudder. He washed his hands until the blood was gone and he watched as it swirled down the drain, sliding down the shiny porcelain. And even then he kept washing. Until the skin on his hands were raw and pink.

Because then he started to think about what he had done, and he felt a clenching in his stomach, and all of a sudden he just felt a little sick. But he deserved it, didn't he? That little fucker had deserved it. And he even knew it, too. That was why he hadn't done anything. That was why he let him. Or maybe it wasn't that. Maybe his mind was still bubble-wrapped from all of the shit everybody had been feeding him with golden spoons all his life. Maybe he'd just let him because he knew he couldn't win.

And when he finally stopped, he looked up and he saw Moaning Myrtle's reflection in the mirror, floating behind him in one of the stalls. For some uncanny reason, she looked older. And ghosts weren't supposed to get older.

"You've got a fresh bloodstain on your shirt," she told him, and her face was solemn and grim, a major difference from her usual giggly nature.

Harry pressed his lips together and didn't say anything, only wrenching the knob closed and grabbing a paper towel, wiping his raw hands, slightly flinching from the pain.

"You could have killed him, you know," she said. "Nobody would have blamed you. You wouldn't go to Azkaban for killing him."

"No, I wouldn't," said Harry, his voice grave, his eyes flickering darkly. "But killing him would have been too nice."

"If you say so."

And as he exited the bathroom that night, looking down at the red, angry skin of his palms, he felt a skidding inside his chest. He'd been so close to killing him. He'd wanted to. But he didn't. Why? Was it really because it was too nice – death was too nice for what he did? Was it because Harry really wanted him to go to Azkaban and suffer? Or was it because Draco Malfoy hadn't killed Dumbledore, and killing someone who wasn't actually the murderer wasn't justified, no matter who was rooting for him? He didn't know. In all honesty, he didn't feel like thinking about it anymore.

He went straight back to Gryffindor tower, forgetting about the bloodstain on his shirt until he came through the Portrait hole and found Hermione on one of the couches, reading a book. She looked up at him, and her eyes only slightly widened when her gaze flickered down to his chest. She slowly set down her book, but she didn't move from where she was lying down.

"Where were you?" she asked him quietly, looking him dead in the face.

"I was out," he told her.

"Anything more specific?"

"Sod off, Hermione," Harry said, starting to walk towards the staircase. "I'm not in the mood."

"Did you kill him?"

Harry froze, but he didn't turn around. He swallowed hard.

"No. No, I didn't."

And then he went up the flight of stairs, disappearing behind the stone wall.

- - - - - - - -

There was a day when Harry hurt himself. They were at Quidditch practice, and something went wrong, and Harry had fallen thirty stories to the ground. Somebody saved him just in the nick of time, but he still hit the ground pretty hard. And when she'd heard she'd been in the library because Ron had been looking for her, and she remembered that look he'd given her afterwards, scornful and bitter. And when they went to the infirmary to see how Harry was doing, as she sat by his bedside, everybody began to talk in whispers. She heard somebody say that Harry had done it to himself; he just let go of his broom.

All of her days spent in the library were meant to meditate on something else – anything else than the black pit that was reaching up to swallow them whole, or the silent hell they had all walked straight into. And as she sat there with the dust and the old books, she was coming to a realization each and every day that she tried to fight off – she thought she could do it with books. People always said that knowledge was power. She was just trying to help Harry. But lately it was as if things had just come into a sudden collision right in front of her, sending out sparks and heat, scalding her from the waist up. Suddenly everything was real. Dumbledore's death had torn off her blindfold, her ability to sugarcoat things to protect herself, and bam, suddenly – God, everybody was going to die. She got so fucking angry with herself because it hadn't happened before, and she remembered just crying into the pages of the books, soaking them wet, but knowing that the ink never ran.

She remembered how brave she used to be, how strong, but things seemed a lot more real now. Knowledge was power. Keep reading, and you'll have more chance of helping Harry, and more chance of survival in this sick war. Keep reading, and they'll never know that you're chicken shit. Keep reading, and you'll look strong – even though you're not. You're chicken shit.

And, damn, it was just so selfish. That fear. The fear of dying. Because, what about Harry? What about Ron?

But she didn't want to die.

She hid behind her books and just prayed that when the time finally came she wouldn't choke. She even thought, right now, that she would do anything for it. Name the price. She'd smack it down just to erase that fear. Do you get that? She just didn't want to let them down, you know? They were all counting on her. You couldn't be scared of dying. I mean, you could – but you weren't supposed to succumb to it. And she didn't know when, or how, but she did. Somehow it happened, like it was one of those kicks in the ass life throws your way from time to time, just to see how you'd respond to its rhetorical abuse. And every day she was just counting down to the day where she was going to have to face that fear. And, here was the thing – she didn't even know why she was afraid to die. Maybe it was just because ever since she was little she had counted on her future. Like she was going to be something big, and important, you know? A chance to change the world, to impact it the way she'd been dreaming of. She'd dreamt of being somebody. And who cares if that was such a half-ass dream? Everybody wanted to be somebody. Why couldn't she have the same dream as everybody else? Who said she was any different? Who said she was special?

Because if you'd asked her when she was little, a little stupid kid, she would have told you the same thing every other little girl would say. Who says you're left out of the world and its aspirations just because you're fucking smart? Or-or if you have magic powers or magic blood or a magic wand? To Hermione, if she had stayed a Muggle, she still would have been afraid of dying. She just wouldn't have known it. But maybe that was easier. There was always that question of: is it easier knowing or not knowing? But what exactly did that mean? Did the easier way mean it was the better way? Or was it worse? Was it just a shortcut? Because she knew well, just like anybody else, that you weren't supposed to take the shortcuts in life. They all always ended up in dead ends.

There are those moments in your life when you have to choose between the easy thing and the hard thing; very well knowing that the easier way is the wrong way. But whoever said she was perfect? Something inside her cringed when she'd seen the blood on Harry's shirt. She knew that he was so exhausted, and so angry, and so confused. But he just didn't talk to anyone about it. Because Hermione figured that he just didn't want to leave it all out there for people to tsk-tsk about and shower him with their pity. Harry Potter had never wanted any pity from anybody, she knew that. But you'd think that he'd gotten used to it, you know? But there were just some things you couldn't get used to, and even all those nightmares you get, every night, never get old. Somehow, no matter how many times you see them, they always get you.

And through everything, Hermione just kept reading her books. It was the way she protected herself. Self-preservation. In war, and in death, people had their own outlets. Maybe it was Quidditch or beating people up, or reading, but it was always something. But somewhere along the way there comes the time when it blurs into something else, something bigger. When your outlet becomes something you hide yourself behind because you can't face anything else anymore, because you're just tired of the same shit. You're so tired of seeing people die, and you're just so fucking tired of trying not to cry anymore.

Her face darkened, and she held her book tightly. Then she threw it into the fireplace and heard the loud crack as the spine hit the brick wall before bouncing into the flames. She heard the fire as it ate up the book, the pages slowly blackening before getting eaten away.

And one by one, each time grunting with force and with tears in her eyes, she threw them in.

"Fuck you!" she yelled. "Fuckyou!"

She was yelling it at herself.

- - - - - - - - -

Harry Potter was standing in the lake.

It was dark, so dark that you couldn't see a damn thing even if it was in front of your face. But then the moon came out of the clouds, and you could see a little bit, even if it was just the silhouette of things, just like last night. He just stared up ahead, where the moon hadn't managed to light things up, and somehow it just shone right down where he was, his spot, and the moon reflected in the lake like it was some spotlight. Malfoy didn't come to class, and nobody noticed. Not even Ron. Hermione hadn't talked to him all day but in the morning when he crossed the common room all of her books were gone. He saw some of them in the fireplace, the eaten spines of a few, but there was so much ash. And he remembered just staying there for a while, looking at what was inside. He didn't know what it meant for a person whose entire life revolved around books to just one day decide to burn them. He knew it had to be something, something big. But he didn't ask her about it.

Because he knew there were some things you don't ask people about. Sometimes it's up to them to go up to you and just say it. He never knew if it was important, those things, but he learned them, slowly, one by one. And Hermione was no different from him, or Ron. Or anybody else. They were all the same. I mean, you get everybody telling you that everybody's so different from each other these days. But they're wrong. So fucking wrong, you know? Everybody's the same.

He thought about the other night. What he did. And nobody could tell him that it was a mistake – nobody could. Because people had different ways of dealing with their problems. Everybody had their own ways of letting out their problems, like a temporary way of battling it off for a while before it came back. Sometimes it was beating people up, or not sticking up for yourself anymore, or reading books. And it wasn't like Harry liked what he did. He didn't like being so vulnerable to his anger that he started beating up guys, and it was made all the worse by the fact that Malfoy hadn't even resisted, not once. What kind of hero lets himself fall into that? He wasn't a hero. He was so hateful towards everyone. Sometimes he even hated his own best friends. He kept telling himself that it was just because of the war, and the hostility everything and everyone seemed to have now. He just kept feeling like it was his fault. Everything. Even though he knew it wasn't.

But was that how life convicted you? Into being a better person? Into doing what you have to do? Harry didn't know. Harry didn't give a shit anymore. He just wanted to be free from all of this. Be normal. Have a life that didn't include hunting and running and dying. He wished he could hand off the task to somebody else, somebody else more equipped for this. A person better than he was. And he knew people would die to be able to have the chance to be Harry Potter. Then all the dying happened, and everybody changed their minds.

He couldn't change his mind. It wouldn't matter.

He bent down and ran his hand along the sandy ground, catching a few pebbles, and began to throw it at the lake, as far as he could, hearing the strain on his arm as it cracked. His face was angry under the moon. And then he yelled.

- - - - - - - - - -

Draco woke up from the sound of somebody yelling. His entire body was still sore, and his head hurt. He blinked a few times to try to see something, and when he finally opened his eyes completely he saw a figure standing at the foot of his bed. He clenched his teeth, glaring ahead.

"Who's there? Well? Have you come to beat me up some more?" he snarled.

But then the person came closer, and he saw that it wasn't Potter. It was Granger. He could tell from the bad hair.

"What do you want?" he barked at her.

She heard her sigh. "Why didn't you kill him?"

"What does it matter to you?"

"Just answer the fucking question."

"I don't owe you anything."

"Harry doesn't owe you anything. He could've killed you, but he didn't."

"Is that why you're asking me? You think it's all related?" he spat mockingly.

"I'm asking because I'm trying to figure out whether you deserve one year of freedom before going to Azkaban prison."

"Freedom?" he repeated. "You think that's what this is? Freedom? You're mad. This isn't freedom. This isn't anything close. You think it's pleasant being ignored and everybody acting as if I don't exist? You think it's freedom getting the shit kicked out of you?"

"It's better than Azkaban."

He pressed his lips together. "Why are you here?"

"Answer my question."

"Or what? You'll kill me?" he hissed. "Come to finish the job for Potter? Go right ahead. You'd only be doing me a favor."

"You didn't kill him for a reason," she said coldly. "And I want to know why."

"I'm not a good person. You can stop trying to prove that I am. If you're trying to redeem me, I don't want it."

"Haven't you heard, Malfoy?" he suddenly heard her say. He couldn't read her tone, if she was sad about it, or angry, or proud, or spiteful. It'd been so long since somebody had talked to him. "We're all the same."

"Fuck you, Granger. I don't want your mercy or your pity."

Then she was quiet for a while. He just kept his eyes on her as she stood there, not moving, not doing anything. Then she spoke, silently.

"Are you really willing to go to Azkaban for a crime you didn't do?"

"It doesn't matter, does it? It's the same. I served under the Dark Lord. You people have sucked out my entire future. Now I've been isolated. Voldemort hates me," he said bitterly. "I'm completely alone. It can't be any worse in Azkaban."

She looked away. "Do you wish you killed him?"

He didn't say anything.

Then, suddenly, Draco found something cold landing on his chest. He reached up and felt around for it, and felt the thin links of a chain – it was a necklace. Then he felt the object suspended on it.

It was the Time-Turner.

"Make up your mind," he heard her say. "Kill him or don't."

Then she turned around and walked away, until he heard the doors of the infirmary close. Draco just stared at what he was holding. The moonlight from the open curtains caused a glare on the gold of the Turner. Time in the palm of his hand. He just looked at it, not doing anything, but felt this rasping feeling right in the middle of his body and a salty taste in his mouth. What does a person do when they're offered a real second chance? When they're single-handedly provided a way to change things? He didn't know. He just didn't fucking know. It wasn't because he didn't deserve it – he had done plenty of things, things that would make even your mother want to beat the shit out of him, and he'd never deserve anything great. He was used to it. And he didn't take mercy gifts. But what if this mercy gift was a lot more important to him than he wished it was? Could he go back in time and change things? Kill Dumbledore, once and for all, just so the crime would fit the punishment – or kill someone else?

He remembered someone saying that time heals all wounds. But could time heal death? Death was a force stronger than time. Sometimes things were just meant to happen. He didn't know – he didn't think enough about fate to believe in it. But there was an order of things. You make a choice, and you can't take it back. Magic shouldn't be an exception. A golden thingamajig couldn't change that.

He looked it at carefully, bringing it closer to his face, before he looked away, tucking the Time-Turner under his pillow.

He didn't believe in second chances, anyway.

- - - - - - - - - -

Hermione was sitting in the common room again when Harry came in. He looked up, and she was just there, looking at the fire. The entire room was bare now because all of her books were gone, and everything seemed different. Like it was another clear-cut, in-your-face sign that things had definitely changed, and they weren't the same people anymore. He'd tried to figure out things standing out in the lake, even wondered why Hermione had thrown away the things she loved more than anything else. Then he caught himself there. He realized that she was letting it go – pushing it out because she had come face to face with the idea that maybe there were more important things than hiding behind tiny print and leather covers. Because being strong took a lot less than what people expected. Being strong could be a lie, but sometimes it was the most convincing lie you were ever going to hear.

"Hey," he said.

"Hey," she said back, and she finally looked at him. Then there was silence for a few minutes, just like how it'd been the past few months – awkward and solemn as hell – and she was just looking at him, while he looked back at her. "I'm afraid to die," she finally said, and he could hear this massive weight behind those four simple words – like how sometimes when you hear people, it's all you need to know that things aren't really fine at all. "I just thought…you should know that."

People would say it was completely irrelevant to what they were doing now, but Harry didn't tell her any comforting words or go off on some weak-ass monologue about how undeniably strong she was, or any of that. Sometimes when you say things like that, people make it a point not to hear you – because people can tell you the same bullshit every day, and the fakeness of it all was never going to get any realer. He saw that. He'd gone through that.

And – so what if she was scared of dying?

They were all the same. Each and every one of them.

"Yeah," he told her, calmly. "So am I."