Disclaimer: I don't own any of it.
Summary: 'It is harder to live than it is to die.' post-war, hermione-centric
A/N: All right, I've just re-uploaded this and made two minor changes. One is that after several reviewers pointed it out to me, I realized the time frame was indeed a bit too short at the end, so I switched it from 2:45 to 2:15. I also changed 'AM' to 'in the morning'. I sat down to write this fic having no idea how it'd turn out, but voila, here it is. Behold the product of Silv the Procrastinator avoiding studying for exams.
It is three in the morning when the screams melt into silence and the dangerous flashes of colored light go dark.
It is three in the morning when the war is over.
Now, it is five-forty five in the morning, cold and dark, and the sound of sobbing is on the frosty December wind.
Hermione Granger lies beside him as the snow falls thickly around them, words tumbling from her blue lips, from between her chattering teeth, apologies and whispered endearments and pleas for him to wake up again. She is dirty and covered in blood, staining the white of the snow beneath her crimson. Each new breath she take hurts a little more, and she knows she can't keep this up much longer.
She was never stupid, not Hermione.
His freckled hand, once so warm and big and strong, lies limply in her own, and Hermione squeezes it fiercely.
Ron, Ron, Ron. Wake up.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. The day the war was over was supposed to be happy, it was supposed to be filled with laughter and jubilation. She had seen it somewhere in her mind's eye: she and Ron and Harry would dance together, all three of them, and smile and laugh and Ron would whoop and kiss her again and again, tell her to set the date for the wedding. Harry would find Ginny and hold her and that almost-forgotten look of absolute happiness would wash across his face, and she would see the darkness in his eyes disappear forever, replaced by a bright, lively emerald green.
They would be okay again, more than okay.
And Harry did defeat Voldemort. The shrieking explosion of the Dark Lord's death left a gigantic crater in the earth, sending shrapnel everywhere. Every Death Eater dropped to their knees, and simultaneously, every Death Eater died—perhaps there was a planned mass suicide, perhaps the Dark Lord took them with him. This would have been all right, except for the fact that Harry used every single ounce of power and strength and love and hate and fear and courage he had in him to kill Voldemort, and when it was done, he stood there for a moment, swaying left and right. It was quiet, so quiet—and then, he fell, hitting the ground. Hermione had gone to him, and taken his hand, murmuring,
"You're all right now, Harry, you're all right. He's gone, we're safe." And Harry, the Boy Who Had Lived and Lived, looked at her through rapidly dimming eyes and said,
"Tell Ginny I loved her, Hermione. Tell her I tried."
"Harry," Hermione had gasped, weak and terribly hurt and near frozen to death herself, "Harry, hold on, just one more minute. We'll get you to Mungo's, you're going to be all right."
"Hermione," he managed, blinking rapidly, "it's ok, really. I feel…happy." His hand started to go limp in hers.
"Harry, please. Stay with me. You—you can make it. You—"
"I love you, too," he whispered, his eyes closed now. "You'll be safe now, you and Ron." Then he managed a strained smile. "Happy Christmas." And then, he was gone, and Hermione had clutched his hand to her cheek, crying and rocking back and forth, feeling so empty and miserable, she thought her heart might break.
When a shaking Neville had come to her, guiding her away from Harry, and told her about Ron, she had actually slapped him.
"Don't say that!" she shrieked wildly, drawing her arm back to slap him again. "Neville Longbottom, don't you dare say that!" He caught her hand before it hit his cheek, and held onto it tightly.
"I'm so sorry, Hermione," he said simply, and then he'd hugged her. She tore herself away from him and rushed to find Ron, to help Ron, and she'd found him splayed on the ground beside Ginny, who was unconscious, but breathing.
Ron's chest was still, and there was far too much blood there for him to be alive.
"Hermione, he saved her life." Neville had followed her, and looked utterly miserable. "I saw it—he just…dived in front of her and fought the Death Eater off until…until…" His voice broke. Wordlessly, Hermione had simply lain down on the ground beside Ron, and refused to speak to anybody. They had come in droves, Neville had fetched Seamus and Professor McGonagall and Tonks and Mad-Eye Moody, and others whose voices she couldn't place, trying to coax her to get up and go with them to the hospital. She remained silent, merely gripping Ron's lifeless hand and crying until nobody came anymore.
She will die here, and she doesn't care.
Without Ron, without Harry, there is nothing left for her. There is nobody to be and nowhere to go and no point in living. They are the Trio, and damned if she's going to be just Hermione. She will lie here, and she will die next to the man she loves.
Hermione can still hear the footsteps around her of Aurors and soldiers clearing away dead bodies, rushing people to St. Mungo's. Nobody is singing, not yet. This grisly battle field is not a place for celebration.
They come for her again, and this time, nobody is trying to convince her. She fights against them so furiously, Remus Lupin is forced to Stupefy her so they can carry her, half-dead, to the Portkey that will take her to St. Mungo's.
"That poor girl," Moody says gruffly, a choked quality to his voice, when she's been taken off with Tonks. "She's never going to be the same, not after what she saw. Not after losing those two." Lupin shakes his head, remaining silent. Grief has stolen away his voice, and it is all he can do not to fall to his knees with the misery of it all.
So many dead. So few alive.
He does not blame Hermione for wanting to go with her boys. It is harder to live than it is to die.
The funerals are bad.
People from all over come, respect and sadness dampening their joy that the war has been won. Ron and Harry were buried side by side, and Hermione sits next to Ginny throughout the service, neither of them crying. They have both been silent and grey-faced since waking up in the hospital; not one person has been able to get a word out of either of them, and Hermione grimly thinks that it serves everyone right. How can people be out in the streets dancing and singing and laughing? How can anybody feel happy, how can they rejoice and tell funny stories about Harry and Ron and everyone who died?
The minister standing beside the identical mahogany coffins calls Harry and Ron heroes, and he seems to think that's important. Hermione wants to yell at him that it's not so grand, being brave and sacrificing everything or whatever it is heroes do. Why can't you call them stupid like they are? Why can't you tell us all we were stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid children and we should've stayed in school with our books and our safe, warm beds and our pumpkin juice where we belonged? It's the heroes who die. It's the smart, sensible people who don't go out fighting evil that live.
The minister is getting on her nerves more and more as he tells everybody to be strong, seeming to have some absurd notion that that's what Harry and Ron would want most.
How can she or Ginny be expected to be strong anymore? They've been strong enough, dammit, and she's sick of it. They've seen more and fought harder than two girls their age should ever have had to, and if their fighting has broken them in half, well, that's just the way life crumbles.
Hermione almost laughs at that.
Life. Hah. That's a funny thing to call hell.
Rufus Scrimgeour writes her a personal letter to tell her she's been awarded Order of Merlin, First Class for her bravery in the war.
She burns the note, and throws the shiny medal into the bin.
A year goes by.
Hermione spends this year with the Weasleys; nobody sends her away, and she never makes any motion to leave. She sleeps in Ron's old bed in Ron's old room, and stays there most days, writing a book about how she met her two best friends and the part they played in the war: her memoirs.
Ginny gradually begins to get better, and Hermione is inwardly proud of her. Instead of abandoning life, Ginny tackles it head on. She's Head Girl at school, last Hermione heard, bound to come home for Christmas in a few days. According to Luna, who writes to Hermione now and then, Ginny's the same as she ever was, and her bad days come less and less frequently. Hermione thinks that it's good Ginny's getting on with life. A part of her wishes she herself would do that, too.
It hurts too much, and Hermione just can't let go.
She still hasn't spoken a word, and she shakes her head every time Mrs. Weasley asks if she'd like to go with her to put flowers on the boys' graves. Fred and George come to see her weekly, and they talk and talk at her as if she'll say something back, sometimes joking, sometimes being utterly serious, saying things like,
"We're worried about you, Hermione," and, "They would want you to be happy. They wouldn't want you to be so miserable. Talk to us, Hermione, let us be here for you."
Now, it is Christmastime again, and the ache in Hermione's chest starts up. She stops eating as the 25th draws nearer and nearer, ignoring Mrs. Weasley's promptings that she's too thin as it is. Even Fleur barges her way into the horrendously orange room (something she had sworn never to do) and imperiously orders Hermione not to be "so fooleesh," telling her she must have a bowl of stew tonight, and if she keeps going on like this she'll die.
Good. That's what Hermione wants.
December 24th, Hermione wakes up early. Ginny is standing beside her, smiling.
"Hermione, I've got lovely news!" Hermione sits up, blinking at Ginny wearily, but ready to listen.
"Dean's just told me—there's an opening at The Daily Prophet; you know that's where he works. Well, he wants to ask you if you'll take the position! You'd have a column each month where you could write about anything you want; Dean says he knows how good you are at it…er, writing that is, and he really thinks you'd do well."
Hermione stares at her.
"Come on, Hermione," Ginny says earnestly. "This is a good thing. Work. Life. You need that, Hermione. Harry would hate to see you like this. Ron would…this would break Ron's heart, Hermione. You never smile, you never talk, you barely eat. You've got to stop grieving, Hermione. It's time, now. You can't go on like this, not for another day."
Hermione shakes her head wordlessly, drawing her knees to her chest.
"Think about it," Ginny tells her gently. "That's all I'm asking. Think about it."
And then she leaves Hermione to her thoughts.
Christmas Day, Hermione gets up at two-fifteen in the morning, puts on a cloak, wool mittens, and a scarf, and sets off briskly for the tree beside the pond. It takes her ten minutes to get there, as she gets somewhat lost and has to double back. Finally, though, she sees the great, looming tree and the two grey headstones beneath it.
She stops in front of that tree, balling her hands into fists, and stares at their graves.
There are wilted, frozen flowers scattered across the snow, and Hermione thinks that they look nice in the moonlight. They're the color of Ron's hair.
Her knees give out, and she sinks to the ground, the tears that haven't come for a year already spilling down her cheeks.
I can't do this anymore, she tells Harry and Ron, her thoughts frantic and scrambled. I'm so scared of living with you two gone. I miss you so much and I love you so much and I don't know what to do anymore. Should I take the job? Should I start getting on with my life?
I don't want to, and I can't believe you'd feel any different if it was me who had died and you two who had lived.
I feel so sad and tired and I don't want to anymore. What should I do, dammit? I'm tired of having all the answers, so now it's your turn!
She waits there, her shoulders shaking and the tears hot against her frozen face, and she listens to the wind, waiting for an answer—for something, anything.
It's little more than a whisper when it comes.
Live, it seems to say. Live.
Hermione wipes a hand across her eyes and squints up at the cloudy sky.
Live? she thinks fiercely.
A frigid wind rustles tree branches and blows through her hair, lifting it away from her shoulders for the briefest of moments.
She takes that to mean yes.
It is three in the morning when Hermione Granger takes a good long look at her best friends' graves and speaks for the first time in a year, saying in a voice hoarse and soft from disuse, "Goodbye, boys," and turns to walk back to the Burrow, knowing that tomorrow morning she'll owl Dean Thomas about the job.
It is three in the morning when the cold wind dies, and the war, for Hermione, at least, is finally over.