* The Day The Whole World Went Away.

34.

Hermione wondered how long she would stare at the tree line: if she would ever be able to look at the forbidden forest without regret, and ache. She turned back to Hogwart's grounds with heaviness in her gut. What had they really changed? Was waiting for it to come to this end the only way they could have won?

She and Harry had spent the last hour combing through the remains of Hogwarts, spelling away the fires and melting snow rivers that strayed through the bodies spread across the grounds. There was no one left, and Hermione could scarcely think of a way Hogwarts would ever feel like home again.

Harry was waiting for her at the top of the staircase that led into the castle.

"I found, Flitwick and Luna in the Ravenclaw tower with the first and second years." said Harry with an air of bad news left unsaid.

"Is everyone alright?" Hermione asked.

"No, Flitwick warded off as many of the giants and trolls as he could, but he's hurt fairly badly. A few of the children as well, and five of them didn't make it."

Hermione nodded looking around the interior of the castle. Paintings and tapestries were hanging askew, ripped and torn in long fleshy strips.

"Anyone else?" she asked tears burning at the corner of her eyes.

"Not yet." Harry answered. "I'm heading up to the south towers now to check for anyone else, I haven't done the lower levels yet."

There were so many people Hermione wanted to ask Harry about, if he had seen, or found anyone. So far, most everyone they loved, and knew had died fighting to protect what they believed in.

"I'll have a look," she said heading to the kitchens and lower classrooms, leaving Harry to jog up the staircases alone.

The kitchens portrait was peeled from the wall, rolled down as if a muggle tin opener had been used. Hermione stepped guardedly into the entryway. Tables were upended, pots and pans thrown about the room, some twisted and warped into little brass balls that resembled crumbled parchment. There was whistling coming from a kettle over boiling on a stove fire.

"Dobby?" called Hermione. "Winky?"

"Dobby is here, friend of Harry Potter." he called crawling out from under a large table dragging a severe looking fire poker behind him.

"Are you alright?" Hermione asked.

"We is, Dobby and Winky stayed hidden when the Death Eaters came through."

"That's very smart of you Dobby, and you too Winky." Who unlike Dobby, had yet to look at Hermione and was whimpering pitifully into a dirty and torn tea cosy.

"Is Harry Potter won?" Ask Dobby.

"Yes, Dobby, though there are not many people left to tell."

"What is we to do, friend of Harry Potter."

"If you could continue through the kitchens and help find any other elves or students have them meet in the Great hall, please. I will continue through the lower levels of the castle."

"Yes Dobby will find them." pulling Winky with him in a crack that thudded through the tall kitchen ceilings.

Hermione turned left out of the kitchens pacing her way towards the Hufflepuff common room. Before she could turn the corner toward the paintings that covered the entrance, she could see the splintering of wood and rubbish across the stone corridor.

Rushing forward, she knew there would not be a pleasant outcome. A giant surely had caused this, for where the door would have been, was a gaping wound of split and creaking wood shards. Stone and dust like the soiled snow outside, and no one left inside.

She would collapse with the weight of their failure. This was no won war, no victory.

Hermione stumbled from the remains of Hufflepuff common room, blindly carrying her body to the Potions classroom and Slytherin dorms. She knew without looking that no one had bothered to venture through here. No need as most of the Slytherin students had faced her on the frozen grounds earlier, or later depending on how her mind tried to wrap around her missing time. The entrance to the common room looked perfectly unharmed as if nothing was amiss and the whole castle not destroyed above it. Hermione moved past the stone entry into Professor Slughorn's classroom. Here too, nothing was touched, in fact, students' course work was still sprawled across their workstations and a potion was brewing on the Professors desk. It was eerie and unnatural to see a classroom so busy with work without a student in sight, most of them lying lifeless above her. Hermione pushed on into the potions storeroom and Slughorn's office, everything still and flat against its surface. Set on finding someone living and moving she hurried out of the doorway and into the hall, her eye catching on light splintering out from a doorway. Tentatively she pushed into its frame letting it swing open. A candle was burning on a side table in what was obviously living quarters for a teacher. Had Slughorn hurried so quickly to the grounds he had left his door un-warded and a candle burning? Hermione glanced around the room; it had none of Slughorn's flamboyance and untidiness she had come to know from his Slug Club meetings. No pictures of well to do wizards, or trinkets and trifling curios; this room seemed spare and uninviting, nothing but books and essentials. No pictures or personal touches. Hermione walked further into the room vigilant and alert. She pushed open another interior door and her breath knocked from her lungs. It was Severus' room. She was sure, for the gift she had yet to give him, the gift that sat heavy and hard in her pocket rested simply next to his bed.

She would return to him; it was the only way he could have had this and this time she would tell him everything.

*A/N: First an apology, Im so sorry to everyone who is still reading this… I was so bummed at the end of the series that I couldn't even read fan fiction let alone write it. No excuse I know. Hopefully, the few of you that want to see this finished won't mind hanging in a bit longer as I promise I will finish it as long as there are those who wish to read it. Secondly, as you can tell there are spelling and grammar errors. If some lucky reader wants to read the chapters before everyone else in exchange for editing work have at it. Lastly, this is A/U and non-compliant to the wonderful books we all love.