Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter. If I did I would be rich and not writing fanfictions. Do the math.
A/N: This came to me, for some reason, after I watched the fifth movie. And just so you know, I personally do NOT want the seventh book to end this way. It would be far too depressing. And since this doesn't blatantly ship H/Hr, you R/Hr and H/G people should be able to read this as well. And if I spelled any of the spells wrong, do forgive me; it's been awhile since I've read the books. Read, review, and enjoy!! (note the "review" part...hee.)
Smoke. There was smoke everywhere.
Harry blinked, trying desperately to see through the haze, but the thick clouds hung in the stagnant air, pierced by blinding flashes of light in hues of scarlet and gold and terrible emerald. Crouching to avoid accidental hits, he wiped the perspiration from his forehead and listened hard to the sounds all around: the heavy thudding of feet, the heavier thudding of bodies, the shrieks and screams of wounded, and somewhere close, the insane cackle of Bellatrix Lestrange.
"Stupefy!" he heard someone call, and without thinking, he reacted instinctively with a swift Shield Charm. The red light dashed apart on his momentary shield, and he searched the roiling smoke for his assailant, finding the culprit quickly enough. A Death Eater, his mask missing and cloak awry, emerged from the smoke, tendrils of it clinging about his limbs.
"Stupid boy," Macnair growled, his wand aimed directly at Harry's face. "I won't wait for the Dark Lord, not when I have you. Ava—"
Harry watched, bewildered, as the red bolt smashed into Macnair's head and sent him careening sideways; the Death Eater fell motionless to the matted grass, stunned. Harry had most certainly not used the spell—so who had?
At that moment, a body collided with his, and before he could attack, he recognized the bushy hair.
"Hermione!" he exclaimed, ducking low as a spell lanced through the air where his chest had been. "Are you okay? Where's Ron?"
"No idea," she replied, her breaths short and quick, and she brandished her wand. "Protego!" she yelled, and two separate spells dissipated harmlessly into the smoke. "Lucky I stumbled across you. Managed to get that idiot before…before anything happened," she allowed herself to say, nodding briefly at the sprawled, unconscious Macnair. Her expression creased then, and she led Harry by the hand through the thick, choking air. "I was separated from Ron a while back…He went to help Ginny, and I got involved with some Death Eater…and then all this smoke appeared, and since then…" she trailed off with a shake of her head, her brown eyes simultaneously hard with determination and bright with fear. "I just hope nothing has happened to him."
"Me, too," Harry agreed, straining his eyes for signs of the enemy. "At least you're alright," he added, that reality lifting his spirits a little.
"For now," she reminded him grimly, and a sudden shriek rent the air, causing both of them to tense and fall into their stances. A heavy thud followed, and Neville stumbled from the haze, stark white and shaking uncontrollably. Blood smeared one half of his face, and he looked wild, unhinged.
Neville paused, staring at them, but no recognition flashed across his features. "She's gone," he stated, his voice empty. "She's gone." And then his eyes rolled back into his head and he crumpled to the ground, lying utterly still.
"Neville!" Hermione yelled, rushing over to him, Harry a step or two behind. She fell to her knees, shaking his shoulder and fumbling for a pulse in his neck. "Neville!" She shot Harry a swift glance. "Keep watch, Harry."
"Already on it," he told her, scanning the black clouds, his wand poised readily. The smell of blood invaded his senses, and he knew it was from Neville and all the other casualties on the battlefield. His thoughts raced, and he experienced a small sense of triumph largely overshadowed by his anger and fear. Neville must have defeated Bellatrix; who else would he have been referring to? The little clumsy boy who had not been born with any spectacular talent had vanquished one of the worst Death Eaters single-handedly—and Harry was proud to be his friend.
Hermione's quiet voice dashed him from his thoughts and his watch. "No pulse, Harry. No pulse."
He looked down sharply, unable to believe his ears, and stared in shock as Hermione rose to her feet. "He's…he's…?" He couldn't get the word out.
Harry and Hermione's wands soared from their grips and were lost in the smoke all around. He glanced around wildly, berating himself inwardly for being caught off-guard. Footsteps sounded from beyond his vision, and he felt Hermione's fingers dig into his arm, heard her breathing close to his ear.
"Accio wands!" the same voice continued, and as they watched in horror, the Dark Lord himself stepped into their midst, their wands held tightly in one long-fingered hand. His other hand bore his own wand, which pointed menacingly at them.
Harry glared at Voldemort, feeling his rage seething inside him as he faced, yet again, the monster of a man who had destroyed nearly everything and everyone he held dear. Distracted as he was, he didn't notice the Death Eaters until it was too late. Hands fell on his shoulders and tore him away from Hermione, and a wand pressed threateningly to his throat; from the corner of his eye, he could see that she had received the same treatment.
"Little Harry Potter," Voldemort murmured, banishing the smoke in the immediate vicinity with a lazy wave of his hand. "So we meet again, and at long last, you will die. There is no father to save you now, no mother, no Sirius Black, no Dumbledore. You have run out of people to hide behind, and now it is but you and me."
"And a load of your followers," Harry spat, his anger barely allowing him to see straight, and he wrestled against his captors, who held him firmly.
The Dark Lord smiled thinly, and his red eyes traveled slowly to Hermione, who was trying to squirm free. "It would seem that you are not entirely alone, either, are you, Potter? You have one friend who still draws breath…" He glanced at Neville's body before looking back at Hermione. "…but not for long, I'm afraid."
"Let her go!" Harry demanded. "She's not your target. I am! You have me, so let her go!"
"Ah, I could, now couldn't I?" Voldemort mused, tapping his wand softly against his chin. "But it always has amused me how attached people become to others…it is such a weakness, Harry, such a terrible, terrible weakness. And it is always so enjoyable to exploit that weakness." He jerked his hand, summoning Hermione into his grasp, and she froze, her eyes darting about for an escape. "I was planning on torturing you, you realize, before the end, because we were rather interrupted last time I tried. Torturing is almost as enjoyable as killing, but you see, Potter, I will refrain from using the Cruciatus Curse on you, and do you know why?"
Harry glared at him, his blood pounding in his ears.
"Ask me why, Potter," Voldemort continued calmly, and he pocketed their wands to renew his grip on Hermione.
"Why?" Harry ground out, his hands balling into fists, every muscle of his body tensing as he strained to escape his captors.
Another thin smile and the Dark Lord pressed the tip of his wand into the underside of Hermione's jaw, his red eyes never leaving Harry's. "Because I'm going to use it on her instead. And you get to watch."
But Voldemort paid him no heed. "Crucio!"
Hermione jerked as the curse was cast, her eyebrows drawing together in an expression of agony, her eyes squeezing shut. Voldemort dropped her carelessly to the ground, and she landed hard on her shoulder, twisting around as the excruciating pain wracked her body.
Harry stared in horror as she writhed in the muddy grass, and he could feel his heart breaking at the sight. "Stop it! God, just stop it!" he yelled, tears forming in his eyes as he helplessly watched the torture.
Voldemort glanced at him and casually moved his wand, recalling the curse.
Hermione lay still, and in the silence, he could hear her ragged breaths, her whimpers of pain.
"Did you like that, Potter?" Voldemort asked rhetorically, striding over to the struggling boy and looking him straight in the eyes. "Isn't it amazing how much you can feel even though I'm not cursing you? It almost makes you want to reconsider attachments, doesn't it? Such easy weaknesses…" he repeated with a low laugh. "And look," he continued, his gaze never leaving Harry's, "I can do it again. Crucio!"
She screamed, a full-throated scream drenched with agony, her back arching as the dark magic ripped through her mercilessly. Her hands fisted in the grass, tearing up clumps as she jerked around, the spasms growing worse by the second. Blood began to leak from her nose and mouth, and tears already streaked her cheeks, leaving clear lines in the dirt and sweat on her face. Her movements became harsher, more erratic, and she clawed at her head, as if she could physically tear the pain out.
Harry could not have felt more agony if the curse had been cast upon him. He fought his captors, desperate to free himself so he could save her. He had to save her, he had to. She was Hermione Granger, his best friend of seven years, the girl who knew him better than he knew himself, the person who always had his safety at the forefront of her mind. He respected her, trusted her, loved her as a companion and a friend and a partner and so much more. And he could not bear to and would not stand idly by and watch Voldemort torture her to her death.
With a snarl, he wrenched his arms from the Death Eater's hold, their fingers tearing his sleeves, and he bodily tackled the Dark Lord, not even thinking about a wand. His assault caught Voldemort by surprise, and the two fell heavily to the earth in a tangle of robes and limbs. Harry was beyond rational thought, blinded by rage and tears, and he smashed his fists into Voldemort's head, pummeling his enemy like a man gone mad, his vision obscured by a haze of red. The Death Eaters crowded around, their hands renewing their grip on Harry, and sought to drag him off their leader. He tore at their hands, his own knuckles bloody.
"Stupefy! Protego! Stupefy! Stupefy!"
And the hands relaxed, their owners toppling unconscious to the ground. Harry stumbled to his feet and backed away from Voldemort, who had risen and was seething in anger, his eyes narrowing as he stared at something beyond Harry.
Harry glanced over his shoulder, and to his surprise and relief, saw Hermione standing there, brandishing Neville's wand. She was spattered in mud and grass and her mouth was smeared with blood, but she was alive. Her entire body quivered with aftereffects of the curse, but the wand was steady, aimed at Voldemort.
Voldemort smirked. "A resilient Mudblood, to be sure. And look, she's covered in mud, how fitting." He stalked to one side, Hermione's wand following his movements. "It would seem that I have not made an impression." He raised his own wand and pointed it at her. "I will simply have to end this now."
Harry glanced quickly at Hermione, starkly understanding Voldemort's implication, and he wondered fervently if he would be able to reach her in time. But he faltered in his thoughts as he saw her expression: he recognized that expression, since it was the one she always wore when she was analyzing something. The Dark Lord had made it clear, though. He intended to kill…
Hermione leapt sideways just as Voldemort's wand twitched away from her, just as those awful, familiar words rolled from his lips.
All Harry could see was a brilliant flash of emerald and then he was falling, but he had not been struck by the curse that had been directed at him at the final second. No, Hermione had tackled him at the last possible instant, knocking him safely aside and bearing him to the ground. He landed on his stomach, and she landed heavily atop him, her fingers loosely curled on his arms. He struggled to rise, but her weight prevented him.
"Hermione, get off me, quickly!" he told her, pushing himself up as best he could. "Hermione—"
And his voice died in his throat as she rolled listlessly off him, seeming not to be in control of her actions. His heart ground to a halt, his entire chest tightened as he looked at her face and saw that she was staring blankly up at the sky, her brown eyes glazed over.
He felt hollow inside.
Dimly aware of Voldemort's high-pitched laughter and his mocking speech about sacrifices, he slipped Neville's wand from her unresponsive fingers and slowly rose to his feet. He turned around, and with no dramatic fanfare, no words of hatred or predicted victory, no emotion at all, he lifted the wand and simply whispered, "Avada Kedavra."
Caught in the middle of his gloat, the Dark Lord had no time to react, and the Killing Curse struck him squarely in the chest, choking off the end of his startled scream. He stood for one full second, his red eyes piercing, and then he collapsed to the mud, finally caught by his long-evaded mortality.
Harry turned apathetically away, no surge of victory coursing through his body. This was not a day of victory. This was a day of loss, losses far too deep and bitter to comprehend. He knelt by her side and took one of her hands in his own. She was still warm, and it seemed mocking, the lingering warmth teasing him that she was alive. He stared at her hand, at those fingers that would never intertwine with his or brush his cheek or flip the pages of a book again. He squeezed it lightly, half-expecting to feel her squeeze back, but that was not so. Absently, he retrieved her wand and placed it in her limp hand before he gently laid her hand on her chest in the traditional, ancient pose of a fallen warrior.
Tears began to prick his eyes as reality slowly began to set in, and his fingers shook as he closed her eyelids, suddenly aware that he would never see her look at him again. Never see her smile again. Never hear her laugh again. Never feel her arms around him in one of her fierce embraces. He bent low, a tear dripping onto her face, and softly kissed her forehead.
He drew back, his finger tracing the curve of her cheek, and swallowed. The Girl Who Died so the Boy Could Live. She protected him until the end, loved him so dearly that she gave up everything so that he could be safe. He wished he could have returned the favor, but all he managed was a sob as his fingers stroked her hair.
"Sleep well, Hermione," he whispered, and through his veil of tears, he could almost imagine that she smiled.