Disclaimer:Not mine, no money made. Thanks.
Author's Note: So...we reach the end at last! This is the final chapter of Hermione's adventures with the youngest Black. May we hope at the end of this week (book 7!!) he gets some leg-room! All that remains now is to say great thanks to everyone who has followed this, I was and still am quite surprised at how many like-minded folk there were!
I hope you all enjoy the last part. I'd love to know what everyone thinks, too, as always.
Thanks for reading!
Summary: "If we were alive today, we would never have met."
When the Order Of The Phoenix learn of Voldemort's latest plan to use the Veil to experiment with immortality, they embark on a mission to destroy it once and for all. Hermione Granger is nineteen, and in charge of finding the spell that will succeed in this task. But when the mission goes wrong and Hermione is pulled in, who can she possibly turn to for help now she's….well..dead?
A Call To War
"It's no use going back to yesterday.
I was a different person then..."
When the daylight came, it filtered through the threadbare cotton curtains and leaving multicoloured shapes on the walls. It highlighted the cracks and stains and cobwebs, and Hermione awoke slowly, feeling more warm and comfortable that she had in a very long time, even before she came to this place. Usually, waking up meant worry descending upon her again after only too few hours of respite, that is , if the old fears of Voldemort and his slow takeover of the Wizarding world had not invaded her dreams, the dreams where mysterious objects touched with deadly curses were always just out of reach…
But now, soft fingertips stroked lightly along the back of her neck, pushing thick messy curls aside. A lock of smooth, straight black hair that was not her own fell over her shoulder, tickling her collarbones, and soft, dry lips kissed her shoulder.
"Morning," Regulus murmured, kissing her again and making her insides tremble, and she didn't need to look at him to know he was smiling.
She lay there for a few moments, just enjoying the feeling of the warm body pressed up against her, the fresh scent of his long hair and it's silky feel over her skin, and remembering the night before.
Last night she had been terrified of the consequences of such intimacy, but even when he'd asked her, panting and breathless, if she wanted to stop, she couldn't bear him to, needing the feel of his skin against her, hands doing the most wonderful things, things that she had never felt before, and all this somehow soothing the aching emptiness inside. Now, though, she wondered how she ever could have doubted it.
She reached her hand back, running it through those dark silken locks that had been wild and messy and damp with sweat the night before, something ,for once,that their owner had not immediately attemped to correct. Regulus made a small, appreciative noise that reminded Hermione of a purring cat, but after a moment, he kissed her one last time and moved away.
She heard him get out of bed and begin to dress. When she sat up, he had just begun to button up his shirt. Her own clothes were hung neatly over the back of the stiff wooden chair by the fireplace They had been cleaned as well by the looks of it; he must have done it with the wand, she thought, probably lying there awake before she had opened her eyes.
"You slept," she said, with a little surprise, remembering his face blank in slumber and turning to face him.
"As did you," he returned with a slight smile.
"I was so tired."
"Me too. Felt like I was alive."
He said the words quietly with his back to her, and laughed briefly, but Hermione did not miss the meaning in them. He stayed silent as she dressed herself, picking up his boots and beginning to lace them, and when he had finished, he went around the room placing everything back where it had been when they arrived. They left the key in the porch of Cassandra's empty cottage. It seemed the only thing to do.
The morning was crisp, bright and beautiful, and they walked over smooth, low green grass, sloping uphill as far as the horizon stretched beyond the Seer woman's now-empty dwelling place. The grass became sandy as they neared the height of the slope, a strange, low sound coming on the clear air, and then suddenly, at the very top, they could see the other side.
A great sand dune sloped downwards, and the low roar was that of the sea, still as glass but for the small waves that broke it's surface again and again. No ships were there to see on the straight and clear skyline, and the two of them stood and stared for what seemed like forever, Regulus' hand a slight, but reassuring, pressure on Hermione's shoulder, the gentle breeze tugging the hair around their faces.
"We're close, aren't we?" she whispered, at last.
"I think so, yes." he replied steadily.
The vast expanse of sand sloped gently down to the beach. They tried to walk normally, but ended up having to almost run to keep up with the gradient of the land underneath their feet. After she'd fallen over for the fifth time, Hermione started to laugh, and they both began to run.
"Race you to the bottom!" Regulus called, and they did, although his legs were so much longer he had the clear advantage and she ended up at the bottom of the dune in a tangled heap, laughing uncontrollably as he pulled her back to her feet.
They surveyed the landscape. It curved around, almost a perfect crescent of which they were at one end.
"She never told us the way," Hermione observed, looking across at the other end of the beach. The rock face was high, there, and looked treacherous, but the top was so cloaked in mist, shimmering and indistinct, that it was impossible to tell from here what lay beyond it.
"We'll just have to find it ourselves, then." Regulus said firmly. "I didn't see any other way than the way we came, so we must be on the right track. But we should hurry, we might not have all the time in the world."
"What do you mean?" Hermione asked, suddenly nervous.
"The Keeper told you to make haste," he said. "And I think you should, too."
He glanced at her very quickly, and then looked away, and suddenly, she realised that the unbearable moment, the moment she would have to leave him here alone, might be very close at hand.
Just as a hard day drags along and seems to pass so much slower than one might wish for it to, so too Hermione found that as the other side of the beach drew ever closer, the sick feeling in her stomach intensified, the cold hand that seemed to have hold of her heart, began to tighten it's grasp. Regulus was quiet, holding her close all the while, his pale eyes sometimes drifting off over, beyond the blue-grey horizon as if he could see something over it that she couldn't, his face set as if deep in thought.
The warm water splashed around their ankles as they went, and Hermione thought, that in another time or place this would have been the perfect day for lovers, the sun warm on their skin, the sea air clean and the whole world at peace with itself. Impulsively, she turned around, and put her arms around Regulus' waist, standing on her toes to pull him down into a kiss.
He didn't put up any resistance, and returned her embrace generously, and when they broke away, they stood looking out at the sea for a long moment.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" she said, at last, for want of something say more than anything.
Regulus nodded in silence, but she noticed with a jolt inside that he had not been looking at the view, and she had to swallow hard to keep the tears down inside, where they belonged.
It was cold by the time they reached the steep rocky wall at the other end of the beach. The temperature must have dropped by degrees, but although Hermione shivered, Regulus didn't seem to notice until the air seemed to mist and become harder to see through, like the early morning mists Hermione recalled when she, Harry and Ron had camped on various journeys.
But the light was as strong as ever. If anything, it was becoming much brighter, concentrated around the highest point of the rocks just above them, an intense glow of light without heat. Hermione looked across at Regulus, who merely nodded briefly, and they began to climb.
Hermione's hands were sore with the effort of gripping the rocks by the time they both reached a ledge along which ran a tiny stony path, twisting around and behind the rock face. Regulus, as always never betraying any sign of effort with the climb, swung himself over the edge and stood on the path, helping Hermione the last of the way. She took only a few moments to compose herself, aware of the drop in air pressure up this high, and trying not to look down at the drop below lest she lose her balance.
There was definitely something in the air, she knew, almost like a sound one cannot quite hear, but that one is aware of all the time. A movement of some sort, or vibrations, perhaps, in the atmosphere. She hesitated as Regulus began along the track, wondering if he could feel it too, but before she could ask, he said without turning
"You'll be home soon, Hermione."
If Hermione had ever believed in the tales of the gates of Heaven, all the pictures in latter day books with plump-cheeked cherubs and angels that she had seen and heard of at her Muggle primary school, the sight that met her eyes as at last they turned a corner both halted where they stood, was not one that she had ever seen or could ever, she thought, have imagined.
The gates that reared up in front of them were more beautiful and ornate than anything Hermione had ever seen, the wrought metal tens of feet high. They were indeed golden, but a pale, shimmering gold that shifted and changed as the two of them stood in awe, speechless for a second suspended in time as they stood on the long stretch of smooth grass leading the way towards this passageway of the dead. Here, the mists were thick and shrouded the whole place, stretching as far beyond the gates as the eye could see, into bright white nothingness. The light, that penetrating impossible cold light that had cast it's glow all the way up into the sky from here, it's source; seemed to be emanating from somewhere behind the gates.
Hermione, suddenly afraid, reached for Regulus' hand, and looked up at him.
"This is it, isn't it?" she asked, quietly. "This is the Soul Crossing."
He nodded, and took a step towards the gates.
"Come on. It's time."
They approached the tall gates slowly and cautiously, mist now swirling around their feet, and as they did so, Hermione saw that the tall gate was not the only one.
A much, much smaller gate lay set into the wall next to the enormous shimmering double ones. This gate was only a single door, and made of sparkling silver, the exact same hue of the key the Keeper had given Regulus. As if in answer to an unspoken question, he looked up at her, his face pale, his hand delving into his pocket and holding up between thumb and forefinger the precious silver key and holding it out to her, his other hand gesturing towards the gate.
Hermione met his eyes unflinching, a silence between them as tangible as the ever-changing mists.
"Come with me," she said, suddenly. "Please."
Regulus said nothing, just smiled and pulled her into a firm embrace that seemed to last an eternity. Hermione closed her eyes and wept at last, into his sleeve, until he broke away and never taking his eyes from hers, said gently,
"We can't both go back, Hermione." he held up the key that she still hadn't taken from him. "Just one soul, remember, and in any case, we're from different times. Imagine what it would be like if we returned and I survived…..it wouldn't be able to happen, because you wouldn't be who you are. Events conspire, and all that, I think the phrase is. You would never have been to Grimmauld Place, because it would have been mine, and I would still have been a Muggle-hating Pureblood fanatic. But in any case," he said, "If I went back, I'd go back there, in that orchard, on that night, the night that somewhere in the world, you were being born. I don't think it's an accident that we met here. We both had a purpose. D'you believe in fate? It's another sort of soul crossing, really, isn't it? Like us. I left the world, and you arrived. And now I'm going to send you home."
He stepped towards the gate and put the key in the lock.
"What will you do?" Hermione asked him.
He stood up very straight, and held out his hands, palms up, and Hermione noticed that somehow, he looked a little less solid, the dark shadows under his eyes diminished to the point of being barely there.
"I think I can go on now." he said. "Find my way back to the Keeper, get the key to the other gate."
"Alone? Through that forest, and all that way, on your own?"
He nodded. "Got enough happy memories to keep me safe," he grinned. " And I'll find my way back. Sirius and I will have some catching up to do."
"You won't tell Sirius…about us, will you?" Hermione asked, thinking how crazy the question sounded.
Regulus pulled a face of mock horror.
"What, and listen to him talk about all the girls he's had and have to keep quiet about the only one I ever did? Unspeakable!"
Hermione let his words filter through her mind.
"I was the only one?" she asked in surprise, not being able to help herself.
"I'm gratified you couldn't tell," he answered, raising an eyebrow and giving her a wry smile. "My…..occupation in the last months of my life didn't lend itself well to romance. And being Sirius Black's brother never really helped, to be honest."
Impulsively, she hugged him.
"You were lovely," she whispered. "And I would stay here with you forever, if only I could."
"I'd like that," he said, quietly. "But you need to carry on."
"I know. Harry and Ron won't attack Voldemort without finding the locket. And Voldemort won't stop until someone stops him by force."
"Ah……Just Ron. He'll like to see you home, I think.".
Hermione sighed faintly.
"Yes. Yes, I expect he will."
"You know, I didn't like him when I first saw him. But perhaps, if he looks after you, I'll change my mind." Regulus said, thoughtfully, and Hermione got the distinct impression he was only half-joking.
"And why would you do that?" she asked, raising her own eyebrow at him.
Regulus smiled and looked away.
"Because I reckon we've got something in common, he and I."
There was a very long pause. Then Regulus turned back to the gate. The silver key turned easily, and the gate swung open. Regulus held it and Hermione walked slowly towards the entrance, staring out at what seemd to be a sheer wall of swirling cloud.
"It's just a sheer drop," she said nervously.
"Only one way down again then, I daresay." he said.
She turned back momentarily, and saw that he was holding something out to her.
"Nail the bastard, won't you," he said, with a short humourless laugh, his voice sounding suddenly as if he had a bad cold.
Hermione felt hot tears begin at the corners of her eyes as she realised that this really was goodbye. She looked down at his hand and saw that what he was holding out was the locket, ugly, cracked…and empty. She took it from him silently.
"Tell him it's a gift from the Noble House of Black."
"I will," she whispered, putting her arms around him one last time. Regulus smiled, and glanced a little wistfully at the crossing.
She looked up at him at last, eyes shining with tears.
And then, determined as ever, she strode through the gate, over to the edge where the fathomless mists fell down and down in a bottomless fall that seemed to have no end. The last thing she saw as she turned and looked back at this strange world, was the tall figure of Regulus Black on the other side of the gate. He relocked it carefully, gave one wave, and turned, hair blowing in the cold breeze and cloak streaming out behind him, back down the treacherous path they had once travelled together.
And then she let herself fall over and backwards, though the cold and the mists, and the picture was gone.
The feeling was like a sharp blow to the solar plexus, Hermione choked taking an almighty breath of cold air amidst the sound of crashing and the crumbing of bricks, and felt a hand on her shoulder, pulling her unsteadily to her feet.
"Shit! Shit!" came a familiar voice, terrified.
"We nearly lost her there."said another.
The voices were all around, shouting and swearing and calling urgently amidst all the other sounds ringing in her ears
The spell had worked. The veil was coming down. Strong hands grabbed hers and pulled her up, and she found her feet running between those hands, arms around her back, half dragging, half leading. The ceiling seemed to be falling in, now, and she breathed in dust, choked, but carried on running, the pounding of other peoples feet thrumming in her ears. Something sharp hit her, hard, above her lip. It took a moment to feel the hot blood dribbling into her mouth, but she kept on running because Regulus had hold of her hand with his and his hand was always so impossibly warm, and in any case, the Malevolents might be coming. Regulus did not have red hair though…….
At last they reached the lifts and the street outside. Hermione stood still, gasping great lungfuls of the fresh evening air of the same day she'd left. Suddenly, she felt her throat prickle and her stomach begin to heave. Without warning, she leaned over into the gutter, and vomited neatly onto the pavement.
Somewhere, in some place that sounded alternately very distant, and then very close to her, Hermione could hear voices. She was vaguely aware of giving her body the repeated command to open it's eyes, but somehow, he brain was not responding to the call. The voices came and went, there were quiet times, and times when she thought it might be dark and times of light, but the voices echoed on, and she was powerless to respond to them.
"Thank god…thank god…." That might have been her mother.
"Hermione? Can you hear us? Can you hear us, Hermione?" Harry.
"She should have woken up by now…" That was Ron, impatient as ever.
"Don't be silly, Ron. It's still early days." Mrs. Weasley, she thought.
"It's all my fault…" Harry again, and Hermione wanted to tell him to stop being stupid, but she couldn't.
It was dark when she finally did open her eyes. There was no trial, no effort, she simply woke up suddenly, as if waking from a particularly deep sleep.
The room was long and bare and very white, but it wasn't a hospital, and someone lay with their head bowed in sleep against the sheets by her elbow. Someone with too-long red hair, his pale hand on her arm.
Ron. Hermione reached out and touched his hair gently with her right hand, but her didn't stir. The other hand was sore and bruised and clenched, but she couldn't remember what had caused it.
Bringing it up to her eyes, she forced her fingers open. The ugly, gold locket dropped onto the white sheet, and she stared at it a moment, remembering, before scooping it up in a panic, and sliding unsteadily out of bed , shoving it into the bottom drawer of the nightstand.
It was Ron who found her collapsed on the linoleum, surprised that he hadn't noticed the sudden burst of activity. He called down to Harry, who ran thumping upstairs, and stood in the doorway with a huge grin.
"You're all right!" he said, and she actually managed a faint smile back, aware of the slight pressure of Ron's hand still on her arm.
"We……thought the veil killed you." Ron said, after a long pause. "You just sort of went all limp, and stopped breathing, and then a moment later, you woke up, just as we thought that was it." He wasn't looking at her as he said these words, but Hermione noticed that his voice was flatter, less flippant than it usually was, and she was grateful.
"I'll be fine," she managed, still feeling a little dizzy, and laid back on the pillows.
"I picked your wand up off the floor," Ron was saying. "After the Death Eaters ran for it. You dropped it. I actually think I might have immobilized one of them , too, on the way out…..but I was too busy running after you to look back. You just ran for it, Hermione. I never saw you run so fast…"
"Where are we, anyway?" Hermione asked. "Why didn't they take me to St. Mungo's?"
Harry answered. "Well, at first we weren't sure what was wrong. But then one of the Healers in the Order had a look at you and said that it was a shock to the brain and that you needed to rest, that's all. We couldn't risk the hospital, either, you know that if the Death Eaters want somebody dead, then a hospital isn't going to stop them."
"So where are we, then?" she repeated , a little impatiently.
"Oh." said Ron, looking a little puzzled. "We're in Grimmauld Place, still. But we got this room all cleaned up, just for you. There's a great view as well, if you can get up, but they hit your ankle as well, with some kind of curse. We did manage to lift it, but it might still hurt a bit. That bloody bastard Dolohov still isn't dead…he's got it coming though…….the next time I….."
As Ron and Harry launched into another blow-by-blow post-mortem of the events of the night of September 30th, Hermione dozed and just let their words wash over her, taking in what she could and ignoring the rest, glad simply to just be able to sit there and hear the reassuring murmur of familiar, friendly voices.
Over the next week or so, Hermione had a steady stream of visitors both concerned and asking after her health, and full of congratulations on her successful spell. It transpired that the mysterious veil has indeed been destroyed, one of the other members of the Order having managed to procure top secret Ministry photographs of the event.
Her head still felt heavy, though, and despite the newness and novelty of so many people suddenly so interested in her, she found that although she had originally thought that telling Harry and Ron about the locket would be the first thing she would do, if she ever returned to the world of the living, now she could not even open the drawer in which she had stashed the empty trinket that had once held a fragment of Voldemort's maimed soul.
It was Luna Lovegood, of all people, that she confided in, in the end. It was nearly Hallowe'en when she had finally managed to stand, and she took to looking out of the window, watching the birds and the squirrels gathering their autumn fill down in the gardens below, the leaves turning orange on the silver birches and the apples falling off of the Black's old trees and gently rotting on the once-well-tended lawn.
In another, past, time, a different Hermione would have laughed at the notion of herself and Luna being confidantes.It was in her usual place by the window that she was standing when the door creaked open a little one afternoon, just after four, and Luna poked her head around the door.
"Hi, Hermione," said the Irish girl, opening the door wider and coming into the room itself.
Hermione turned, not altogether pleased to see the younger woman. Luna carried a bulging purple string bag over one narrow wrist and the strap had left a red mark. In the other hand she had a tray of tea with some oranges on it, and as the door clicked shut, they rolled off the tray and on to the floor.
Luna seemed unperturbed and busied herself retrieving the fruit from under the bed while Hermione slid back under the covers, her legs aching again. Luna, brushing dust out of her untidy blonde hair, came out from under the bed triumphantly and deposited the now rather dusty oranges in Hermione's lap. She settled herself into the battered, brown armchair by the side of the bed.
"How are you?" she asked, in remarkably level tones, for her.
"Not bad," Hermione answered carefully. "I thought you were in America."
"Oh, I was." Luna answered, in surprise. "But I always come home for Hallowe'en. Harry asked me to stay. I think he's a little worried about you, actually."
"Why would he be worried now?" Hermione said. "Like I said, I'm fine."
"Yes," Luna agreed, looking at Hermione's pale face. "But I had to ask…..you know what they've been saying?"
Hermione narrowed her eyes at the younger woman.
"What have they been saying?" she asked, curiously.
"They said you died in the Ministry. They said you died, and your heart stopped, and then you woke up again."
"Well," Hermione tried to ignore the penetrating stare Luna was giving her. "I…..I…."
She never really knew why she couldn't answer, or why she found herself locking the door with her wand and rummaging in the bottom drawer of the nightstand until she found the heavy golden locket. She never really knew at all what drove her to tell Luna the story from start to finish, but Luna listened in silence, never taking her eyes off of Hermione as she spoke, and never interrupting, only occasionally looking down at the ugly ancient relic Hermione had thrust into her hands. But perhaps at the back of Hermione's mind was the fact that Luna, once upon an earlier time, had heard the voices beyond the veil, had seen the Thestrals and she believed. And Hermione needed someone to believe, right now.
When she had finished, she waited, not looking at the younger woman. There was a silence. All she could hear was the constant back and forth shift of Luna hefting the weight of the locket between her outstretched hands.
Unable to bear the silence, Hermione broke it.
"Do you believe me?" she demanded.
Luna looked up, grey eyes (the exact same grey as his, Hermione realised) looking at her like they were searching her face. It seemed to take her a long time to answer, but she did, at long last.
"Harry found some more portraits this morning," she said serenely.
"Why don't you come and see?"
At first, Hermione felt angry and impatient. Why, the girl hadn't listened to a word she'd said! Then, she realised.
"Oh," she whispered, and understood.
Leaning on the younger girls' arm, they negotiated the stairway up another floor to the attic without meeting anyone.
The room was dusty, and the door showed signs of having recently been forced open, fragments and chips of wood on the floor around it. Ron, she thought, with a wry grin.
When she pushed open the door, Luna fell back, leaning against the wall outside and fiddling absently with a lock of hair. Hermione didn't question her, she knew as well that if there was something to see, she wanted to see it alone. Luna seemed to understand.
The portrait took up most of the wall in the small, low-ceilinged room, the edges brown with age even though the colours of the oils were still bright. In places, the canvas looked as if it had been burned away from the tarnished frame, but the portrait itself remained almost perfect.
Leaning against an apple tree in what appeared to be the grounds of the house was a teenage boy in a long flowing cloak, his white cuffs visible like bandages on his wrists and his long black hair sleek and shiny, tied neatly with a handsome velvet ribbon and hung over one elegant shoulder.
He didn't look up at once but Hermione was strangely aware that he somehow knew that she was there.
"Regulus," she said aloud, at last, as if to try out the name in this world as much as to get his attention, as to reassure herself he had been there… and at last, slowly, the boy raised his head and she found herself looking once more into those round grey eyes with the impossibly long lashes. He smiled.
"I wondered if you would find me, " he said, quietly. "I waited."
"Where are you now?" Hermione suddenly realised that tears were running down her cheeks and there was a strange pain somewhere, inside that she couldn't quite place, or maybe she was too afraid to.
She moved forward, both hands outstretched like a blind person, to touch the portrait. Canvas, nothing more, and Hermione felt the tears edge out in despair.
"Can I kiss you goodbye?" she wept, biting down on her hand as if to keep from breaking down completely.
Regulus looked at her sadly.
"No…..I'm just an image now. But before I go...I just wanted to know, know for sure...that you made it."
"Don't go!" Hermione whispered. "I want to come back, to be with you again"
"You can't. " he said gently. " I've……I've gone on………he'll be here to get me any moment…"
"Who will?" she asked
He glanced behind him as if expecting someone to arrive, and sure enough, as Hermione watched, there was a bright surge of light in the portrait, and a tall man with the very same long, black hair approached. Sirius was walking towards his brother, his hand going out and closing over Regulus' wrist, and pulling him into a firm embrace.
"Come on, little brother, " she was sure she heard him murmur. " It's about time."
And then the portrait went blank.
Luna was still leaning on the wall quite a while later when Hermione left the room. She looked at Hermione, a light of knowledge in her pale eyes, and Hermione nodded, and they both understood .
"I think it's time we told Harry about that locket," Luna said.
"My footsteps will want to march to where you lie sleeping
But I shall go on living."
Ron never knew where Hermione went every single year at the end of September, and something told him not to ask. She always returned to him, in any case, so what did it really matter?
Today was sunny and fine, though five years since Voldemort's fall and four since Ron and Hermione's wedding, she still walked with a slight limp, and the scar of the old injury could still be seen, faint above her lip. The Riddle House, Voldemort's father's old home, had been demolished, the sad contents of various barred cells and torture rooms buried or burned, including the bones that they found in the orchard.
Hermione paused in Diagon Alley, closing her ears to the hustle and bustle of the street, now busy again and almost back to normal, after the war. She paid the flower seller on the corner one silver sickle before turning down a grey cobbled side street that led to the Wizard cemetery.
Here, in the cemetery, it was cool and still and silent. Hermione stepped through the rows and rows of graves, some dating back to the first war, and many from the second, until she arrived at one particular spot, a stone of cool, pale marble, bearing one particular name.
Hermione laid the white roses on the grave of the teenage boy who had died the day she was born, and walked the long way home.
Quoted: #1: Lewis Carroll
#2: Pablo Neruda