Disclaimer: I own nothing of Harry Potter, all characters belong to the Great Jo. The section headings are from the Catholic Prayer for the Forgotten Dead.
A/N: And, this is what I do during class, in the margins of my notebooks. The idea got in my head and wouldn't let go, so I hope you like it. Please leave a review, let me know what you think!
Where the Breezes Know My Name
What a strange dream…
She was lying down, with Harry and Ron's heads floating somewhere above her. The air around them was hazy, misty somehow, like trying to stare through a clouded window. The obscure grey made certain colors stand out more, made the ginger and blue of Ron, the black and green of Harry, larger and more vivid than life.
Distance was playing tricks on her dreaming mind. She couldn't raise her arm to find out if they were within reach, but she had the feeling that they were and were not. They simply were; where or how far didn't matter.
Beyond their heads- she couldn't read their faces, like the colors drowned out detail- she could see the ceiling of the Great Hall. It must have been night, because all she could identify were tiny pinpoints of silver, overhung with a filmy blanket of smoke and green vapor.
"Come on, Mione," Ron's voice urged. That was odd; her dreams were usually silent, like the old movies she watched with her mother. "Hang in there, help will be here soon."
"Hermione, say something." That was Harry's voice, sounding just as worried as Ron's.
Why were they worried? It was just a dream…
Oh Merciful God
Wind snaked through the field of lavender, gently coercing the long stalks to brush together in the most ancient form of music. The light odor pervaded the playful breeze, weaving around the clumps of flowers to lift into the air and spread.
That same wind tousled her hair behind her, a few strands whipping across her face before gliding back to join their fellows. The arid soil sank slightly beneath her bare feet, dirt curling around her toes. There was the wind and a colorless sky, but she could only see waving stalks of lavender as far as every horizon.
She felt like she was visiting someplace she'd seen a thousand times in pictures. Familiar and unfamiliar at once. Like she should have recognized it, the way she would recognize the Taj Mahal or the Kremlin. She walked forward, the lavender gracefully moving aside and falling back into place behind her. Fabric fluttered under her
fingertips and she looked down, smoothing the flowing black broomstick skirt. Her favorite shirt, a filmy peasant's blouse the color of a fine cabernet, molded to her form, and she smiled. She was comfortable.
She wasn't sure how long she walked before she saw the shape in the distance. It was walking towards her, and she had the vague idea that she should be frightened.
She paused in the midst of the field, the wind still introducing itself, and let the stranger approach the rest of the way. As it came closer, she was able to make out more about him. Black hair fell neatly about a pale, angular face. He wore a green dress shirt of that peculiar shade close to black, untucked with sleeves rolled up to reveal wiry forearms. His hands were hidden in the pockets of black trousers that hung over utilitarian black dragon hide boots.
She smiled slightly when she realized who it was. Shouldn't she be more afraid? Shouldn't she hate him? But she just smiled, and when he was close enough, she saw that he was smiling too. "Professor Snape."
He stopped a few feet away and looked around with detached interest. "Severus, I think," he corrected, but without the venom she was used to hearing from him. "If my instinct is correct, the formality is a little silly."
"You know where we are?"
"I know where we're not, Miss Granger."
"What do you remember?"
Her feet started moving again and she let them choose a path that curved away through the lavender. He fell in step beside her, silent while she gathered her thoughts. "The battle," she murmured abstractedly. "We were fighting."
"Mrs Weasley swore."
He could agree with the incredulity in her voice; it was difficult to conceive of Molly swearing, she was some kind of redheaded monument to motherhood, but he had known her through two wars. Nothing would be more savage than Molly protecting her children, natural or adopted. "And?"
Her eyes narrowed and she stopped suddenly to scrutinize his neck. "You were bitten."
"I was. What else do you remember?"
Her head was strangely fuzzy, but slowly clearing with the relaxing scent of the flowers and earth. "Harry died for a little bit."
"There was…" Hermione's hand rose to rub at her chest, feeling the dull echo of an ache.
"There was what, Hermione?"
"There was a flash of purple light, like the curse that sideswiped me in the Department of Mysteries fifth year."
"Exactly like," he affirmed. "Only this one wasn't cast through anything obscuring it, and so retained its full power."
"Am I dead?" she wondered. She wasn't particularly disturbed by this thought, though a small voice whined that she should be.
"You're being nice, if ambiguous."
His smirk widened into something that was almost a real smile. "We're almost dead, Hermione. What's the point?"
She looked around at the endless field of lavender. "So this is being almost-dead?"
"Having not been this close to dead before, I really couldn't tell you."
A small laugh escaped her and was caught by the breeze. The curious wind tumbled the sound about to hear it from every angle, carrying it down to the soil and traipsing about their feet.
"Do you dream, sir?"
"Do you dream, Severus?" she persisted, sticking her tongue out at him the way she might Ron or Harry.
Ron or Harry…their worried faces…was that real? Or was this real, this moment?
"I'm not sure if this is the dream or the other visions are. I'm not sure which is real."
"Maybe neither are."
"Maybe both are," he countered, but she shook her head.
"This feels more real," she said slowly. "Even though I don't feel entirely here." She held a hand up before her face, and while she couldn't quite see through it, she couldn't not see through it either. "I feel like there's more of me to come."
"Perhaps there is. Perhaps this is the in-between stage, until we're completely dead."
"No offense, sir-"
"-but when I thought about the afterlife or whatever, I don't think I ever pictured spending it with you."
"Is any of this-" and he indicated the limitless horizon with a jerk of his head "what you imagined the afterlife to be like."
"No," she admitted readily enough. She could almost-not-quite see through him too, but he seemed slightly more solid than she did. Maybe he was a little more dead than she was? "So we just wait?"
"You'll know at the same time I do, Hermione."
They continued on in companionable silence. Their pace was unhurried, their steps fitting together as if they'd spent all their lives walking together. He slowed his gait without seeming to think about it, made his manner less dramatic although that could also have been the absence of the swirling robes, and she took slightly larger steps and added a sort of half-skip. It was a compromise, reached without a single word or look between them. It simply felt natural.
"You look different."
"As do you."
"How so?" she asked curiously.
His voice held a carefully restrained laugh, something she'd rarely heard in him. "Your hair doesn't resemble a bird's nest, for one thing. And you seem far more comfortable in your own skin than you ever have before." There was a short pause. "And I?"
"You look…not younger, but not as careworn. Less burdened, somehow, healthier." She studied him more closely, her warm brown eyes traveling down his lean frame. "What if this is how we think of ourselves? Not necessarily different people, just better versions of ourselves? Like me with tamed hair and better posture, and you with a smaller nose and no Dark Mark?"
He started visibly and yanked his left hand out of his pocket, staring at the unblemished skin of his forearm. She watched the awe, the shock, bloom in his pitch eyes, and turned away to hide her smile.
His teasing voice brought her eyes back to him. "Hmm," he mused. "Intelligent conversation and a smaller nose…even if this is the afterlife, Hermione Granger, it might not be half-bad."
And they continued walking.
Take Pity on Those Souls
She was back on the floor of the Great Hall, still not entirely convinced she wasn't dreaming. There was such a peculiar quality to the light, the way it kept skittering away from her eyes. It was playing a lonely, one-sided game of hide-and-seek and she wanted to oblige, but she still couldn't move. Even coming out of the petrification her second year, she hadn't felt so much a part of the stone.
Was that what they saw, those splotches of color floating above her? Did they see human features in the time-worn stone? Was she grey and mottled, fading into the floor?
Those splotches…sluggish memory tried to drudge up names. She'd known them only a short time ago, knew them still, but the words swirled away in a purple edged haze. There was a third splotch now, blending into the other two. Red and brown…
Ginny, her memory supplied, and Ron and Harry came fast on the heels.
The brown was surrounded by red, then by white and more red.
Why had she been crying?
Oh…right. Fred. Fred was dead. The words tumbled over in her mind, investigating the strange sounds. Fred was dead. Dead was Fred. Fred dead. Dead Fred. That purple laugh tickled her throat till the corruption in her lungs turned it to a bloody froth trickling from the barely open kiss of her mouth.
The splotches moved above her, and sounds that should have been words emerged from the flurry of motion.
The sky was clearing overhead, a gentle undulation of cloud and night. She was mesmerized by it, by the exquisite dance of the stars as they politely gave way to the fading night and encroaching daylight. The sky was purple, purple like her laugh and voice, purple like her breath.
Purple like the spell dissolving her lungs, pushing itself through her leaden breaths to spread the decay to every part of her body.
Purple like the lavender against his unblemished skin.
And she smiled a purple smile amidst the fog of voices and sounds and words she couldn't identify, and she let the wash of purple carry her back away from the dream, towards the reality.
Who Have No Particular Friends And Intercessors
She felt slightly more solid, and a glimpse of her fine-boned hands confirmed the sensation. There and not there, but a little more there than not. And there was purple, so she smiled. It wasn't quite the right shade of purple, a little too much blue and black, too deep to be less than the indigo of midnight, but it was still a kind of purple, the way the silence was a kind of sound.
"Yours, I think," she said without looking around. She knew he'd be there.
He stepped up close behind her, his hands resting lightly on her shoulders as they both investigated their space. "Indeed." Those hands, never less than graceful and articulate…they too felt heavier than they had. Neither had recognized the field of lavender. Neutral territory. But this held a resonance that spoke deep within their forming bones, starting faintly in the cradle of his skull and creeping downwards, leeching from his skin to hers from his hands on her bare shoulders.
"The Forbidden Forest?"
"Deeper than you would have gone."
But was it? Didn't she recognize that kind of tree, the shape of the clearing? Hadn't they passed through in a grim parade, a deception that led to centaurs and giants and a foreign ruthlessness?
"Then again, when did rules ever apply to you?"
"I followed most of them."
"When it suited you."
"Did you come here for Potions ingredients?"
"And to think." He moved away from her and sank down onto a moss covered boulder, his long legs stretched out before him. She hesitated, then dropped comfortably to the deep cushion of grass. Without really thinking about it, she rested her cheek against his knee, feeling his hand rest against the crown of her head. "He never really liked the forest, for some reason."
"It was too primal, somehow. Something he couldn't manipulate and control."
"The demythification of Albus Dumbledore."
"It had its purposes, I suppose."
"It stretched the wings, and then crippled them."
"What color were the wings?" he asked curiously.
"Phoenixes aren't brown."
"They are when drenched in old blood."
"Brown, then." One finger threaded through to her scalp, rubbing ever so lightly at the skin there.
"There are strange things in the Forest."
"Yes, I suppose we are."
She smiled slightly and closed her eyes, breathing in. Her chest rushed with an echo of purple, but there was no smell to it. Didn't the forest have a smell? She'd never particularly cared for it; she loved the outdoors, the natural scents, but the Forbidden Forest had never smelled quite…true. Did a lie have a smell?
"Why did you ever come out?"
"Out of here."
"Why did Snow White leave the cottage? Or Little Red Ridinghood the path? Why did Cinderella leave behind her slipper?"
Why didn't his voice have a color?
She nudged his knee with her nose, and the hand resumed its motions. "Because the story would have stopped without an ending."
"Every fairy tale has to leave the forest eventually."
"Only if you want a happily ever after."
"Or an unhappily ever after."
"An ever after, then. But we don't have to leave."
For him the forest had a smell. It smelled of sweat and mystery, of leaves and herbs and rare potions ingredients. It smelled of memory and despair and hope…it smelled like hope. Amazing how hope had the same scent as Hermione's hair. "No," he agreed, breathing until he all could smell was hope. "We don't have to leave."
To Recommend Them To Thee, Who
Of course it had to be the Shrieking Shack.
If there had ever been a single place where he knew he would die, it was the Shrieking Shack. He'd always hated it, almost as much as his father's house, but repeated exposure to the dilapidated construct at Spinner's End had lessened the wound. This flea-infested, werewolf-broken shack had always been met with a paralyzing frisson of terror. In a cruel, sadistic fashion, it was appropriate.
Lying in a pool of his own blood, his filmy black eyes could still make out the verdant streams of excess poison. Leave it to Nagini to have bright green venom, when most other snakes had the decency to be translucent. The green and red bumped against each other as eddies of air crept through the warped boards to dance across the surface of the viscous liquids. They swirled without mixing, different densities, different concentrations. Death and life and death, existing and co-existing and negating.
Always green and red.
Hadn't it always been that way?
He'd seen it first with his mother, the green of old bruises and the red of new cuts. Then with Lily, that long ago day on the playground, with the vivid dichotomy of her eyes and hair. It had been a sure thing from there, reinforced with every breath. Slytherin and Gryffindor, poison and blood, Potter's eyes and Voldemort's eyes. Green and red had been the reigning colors of his life; it was only fitting that they be the colors of his death as well.
Not quite death, he mused, watching his breath ripple the surface of the blood.
He didn't want to be here anymore. Not in the Shrieking Shack, not in the hazy reality that was the nightmare he could never wake up from. He wanted to be back there, wherever there happened to be when his mind shied away from the green and red.
Dust floated atop the small, separate pool, only a few drops, right next to his eye. He tried to blow on it, breathe on it, change the dust to a word or hint, some kind of declaration.
There was no breath, and the dust stayed still.
Either Through the Negligence Of Those Who Are Alive
She was there before him, this time, looking about her with a fractured innocence that plucked a chord deep within his still chest. He could see tears trying to glitter in her eyes, and he knew that look. When had she had to train herself not to cry?
Glancing about the room, he didn't think it had been before Hogwarts.
"Is this your bedroom?"
She nodded mutely.
It wasn't pink- thank Merlin- but rather the walls were painted in a checkerboard of lavender and powder blue. Unsurprisingly, bookshelves lined well over half the room, filed with Muggle titles. Some were clearly old and battered, paper bindings lovingly repaired with tape. Faded harcovers took their fair share of space, and he didn't have to be familiar with the titles to know that some of them should have been too advanced for her now, much less as a child. Stuffed cats and bears competed for space amidst other treasured mementos atop the bookshelves and white dresser, draped across dancing music boxes or beloved rocks with a particular sparkle to their core.
"You haven't changed it since you started Hogwarts, have you?"
"There didn't seem to be a point," she answered quietly, perching on the edge of the ruffled cranberry bedspread. "Even in the beginning, I was here for so little time, and then I started spending every holiday at school or with the Weasleys."
Fascinated, he watched the single tear tremble on her lashes before trickling down her cheek. His finger caught the glistening moisture at her chin and brought it wonderingly to his tongue. "What's wrong, Hermione?"
"That's not what's wrong."
"At the beginning of the summer, I modified my parents' memories," she confessed in a soft whisper he had to strain to hear. "They don't even know they have a daughter. I'm dying, and they're never going to miss me because they can't remember me!"
"But they're safe," he told her, knowing it was inadequate. "They're safe, Hermione, and you did that."
He chuckled quietly and she turned to him with a vaguely accusing glare. "You grew up too soon and your room never did."
Nodding slowly, she rested her head against his shoulder as he sat beside her. "After Hogwarts started, I felt like a stranger here. The mirrors were silent, the pictures were still, and everywhere the electricity has a kind of hum. I grew up here, felt safe here, and all of a sudden, all I could think about was how bizarre everything seemed. I kept worrying about whether or not my parents were safe, and how much I should tell them."
"How much did you tell them?"
"Not enough," she murmured. "I was afraid they'd try to take me away."
"You could have gone."
"Perhaps," she agreed. "But I would have hated myself forever."
"Hermione Granger never runs from a fight."
"No," she agreed with an almost-smile. "Like every other idiot in my House, I run straight to it."
"You have never been an idiot." She glanced up at him in surprise, and he scowled at her on principle. "Nor have I ever called you one."
"No, just a know-it-all."
"It wasn't knowledge you lacked, Hermione; it was the application. You memorized it, but you didn't process it, not until later. But you learned, eventually."
"That stupid book of yours gave him an unfair advantage."
"He needed the foundation for what he would have to be told later."
"If you weren't dying, if you hadn't had to give him the memories then, would you have told him in the future?"
His arm rose around her shoulder and toyed with a honey-brown curl, releasing the scent into the still air. Hope. "I don't know," he admitted finally. "He was finally learning not to hero-worship his father, but I don't think he liked even the few clues about his- about Lily."
"She'd be proud of you."
"You never knew her."
"No," she agreed pleasantly. "But I think she'd be proud of you."
"I was an idiot for so long."
"You've obviously never seen Harry doing his homework."
He thought he should probably be offended at that comparison, but he was almost dead. It seemed silly to take offense at anything.
"Do you think Ginny will take care of Crookshanks for me?"
"I'm sure she will. Miss Weasley is very conscientious of such things." He stroked her hair down onto her shoulder, releasing more hope. "She took care of as many students as she could during this past year. She has her mother's indomitable spirit."
"But a little more of her father's calm."
She couldn't help but giggle, though she did feel a little guilty. After all, Mrs Weasley had just lost Fred. And the woman had always been a mother-figure to her, except when she and Ron were rowing. Then it was all Hermione's fault and she was dirt underfoot. But still.
"Does this mean we're going to be ghosts?"
"I fervently hope not," he breathed, and she shifted to look up at him curiously. His black eyes went even darker with pain, so dark they were nearly a kind of purple. "Hermione, I-"
His lungs drew in a shuddering breath even as a perennially objective fragment of his mind wondered if he needed to breathe. Her voice, that single word, wasn't a prompt to continue, nor an invitation to halt. It simply was. His name hovered on her lips, welcoming and accepting and there. "I have been in hell for so very long," he managed. "I don't want to be tied to life anymore, and I especially don't want to be constantly haunting the edges of it. I want to be free, for the first time in my life."
Her eyebrow rose, her cheeks turning pink with mischief. "The room of a ten year old girl isn't exactly an expression of freedom."
"No, it's an indication of perversion on my part. Whatever made it come up?"
"Do you think some part of my parents will know?"
He tilted her chin to look into her eyes, showing her all the sincerity he'd never professed in life. Had never felt compelled to profess in life. "I do not believe anyone could know you so intimately and not be affected down to their very soul."
And she sighed as his purple-edged voice washed over her comfortingly.
Or Through Length Of Time Are Forgotten
"Her eyes are closing. Her eyes are closing! Hermione, keep your eyes open! Please!"
"Come on, Mione, stay with us!"
"Dammit, where's the healer?"
"The healer's are all busy, there are a lot of wounded, Harry, dear."
The rest of the Weasleys must have been all right, then, for Mrs Weasley to be sounding so calm.
She wondered about George, though, as she tried to open her eyes to escape the confusing maelstrom of words that had ceased to have meaning. George had lost an ear and Fred was dead, he'd lost himself and then some…how much of George was still alive? Could a person's life be measured out in parts, like a soul into a number of Horcruxes? Numbers and inversions, lists and pages and pages of guesses swam through her brain, wandering back out again on the lavender current of her breath.
"Come on, Mione, please, just stick with us and I swear, I'll study so hard for my NEWTS I'll make you look lazy."
"Her hands are so cold…Hermione, can't you feel my hand?" Ginny was weeping, she thought. Her voice didn't sound as even as it usually did. She was the icy one, the one that knew how to direct her passion into a pursuit. Poor Harry really never had stood a chance, when all was said and done. Was she crying for her or for Fred? For both? Did she merit tears when a brother was balanced in the equation?
Arithmantic figures floated on the back of her eyelids, emblazoned in glowing blue. Their luminescence flared and sparked and extinguished, and she probed the suddenly empty space in her mind like a child with a loose tooth. It didn't hurt, it didn't make her sad or nostalgic. It simply was.
The hole was right, was proper.
It was the next step to fading.
She was becoming part of the stone, but she wasn't becoming heavier. Rather, her body seemed to be breaking apart, infinitesimally small but essential pieces of her dissolving and sinking deep into the stone. She was becoming part of Hogwarts. She wondered if the pieces of herself could travel through the tunnel to him.
She didn't want him to be lonely.
By Their Friends And By All
She was reaching for him before she even realized she existed, but to her relief, he was reaching back. She felt his calloused fingers slide against her palm and opened her eyes. He felt more solid than before, but then, so did she. Not as solid as he did, not fully there, not even as much there, but then, she could be patient. She had eternity, after all. What did it matter if she took a few more minutes at dying?
"I don't know where we are."
"Cornwall, I think," was his response.
"Oh. You recognize it, then?"
"No." He smirked at her, lacing their fingers together. "It just looks like it should be Cornwall."
Remembering the tales of Gorloise's harsh kingdom, the setting for the foundation of so many legends, she smiled an agreement.
The ocean crashed below them, but they were too high up for the spray to reach them. The playful, curious wind tugged at their hair and clothing, wrapping their scents around each other and carrying it out across the violent waters. The cliff's edge stood precariously close to their toes, threatening to crumble at any moment. She wondered what would happen if it did. Could they drown in this state? In this moment of half-existing, could any harm come to them?
The sky overhead was just as violent, roiling and boiling with seething, angry clouds. Jagged lightning burned across the horizon, sending an answering echo of blue-white behind their eyelids.
"They say Merlin helped Uther trick his way into the beautiful Igraine's bed, knowing she was wife of the Duke of Cornwall, in exchange for the child that would be born of the union."
"They also say Uther needed the help."
"I wonder what decides where we are."
"That seems like it would be a dangerous question to explore."
"We have time."
"But do we have temper?"
His low laugh deepened her smile. How strange, to find something so right in something so wrong.
"I wonder if everyone waits like this, as they're dying. Is it only for slow deaths? When does it start? What about lingering illnesses, do they exist between as well?"
"Still questioning, Hermione?"
"Always," she assured with a quick grin.
"Why do I have the feeling that if encounter anyone else, you'll be asking them about their experiences?"
"You're the one who said I needed to learn application."
"What a time to start listening to me."
"There aren't any birds here, have you noticed?" A quick glance at his face and she shook her head. "Of course you have. You're you."
"No birds, no animals, no other people. Just us." His fingers squeezed hers in reflex, acting ahead of his thoughts and words. "Do you mind?"
"I would if I were alone. But I'm with you."
His heart glowed with something that felt suspiciously like purple.
Why purple, he wondered, as he studied her face. She was in profile, gazing out over the choppy sea, and his eyes devoured the delicate bone structure. She wasn't beautiful, not in the customary way, but then, even in his 'improved' state, he was not a handsome man. Absorbed in drinking her in, the answer to his question murmured its way to his brain. Purple, one of the two main colors not represented in any of the Hogwarts Houses. He was glad it wasn't orange. Orange was a little too much like red, and then there would have had to have been green to balance it.
"I wonder if the ocean really goes on forever, or if it's like the field."
"Does it matter?"
"Not really. Listen."
Baffled, he closed his eyes to try and hear whatever she was referring to.
Then he could feel her breath at his throat through the open collar of his shirt, feel her pressed gently up against him, and he heard the wind laughing and whispering. "It sounds like-"
"Home," she finished for him. "It's welcoming us home."
He clasped her to him in amazement, breathing in her hope and the sharp tang of the ocean far below them.
He'd never had a home before.
Spare Them O Lord
There was pain lancing through her. There hadn't been pain before.
There was a new voice, as well, one she couldn't recognize even after she wracked her tired brain. "She's not responding to the spells." The voice sounded as exhausted as her mind was. "I'm sorry, there's just nothing more I can do."
"I won't believe that!" Voices were starting to blur together, but she was willing to stake her life- perhaps something a bit more tangible- that the speaker was Ron. He was generally unwilling to believe anything anyone else told him, even when there was proof."Keep trying!"
"NO! We are NOT letting Hermione DIE!"
She could feel the healer's magic trying to invade her lungs, to push back the decay, but she clung to the wash of purple, purple like his voice. Maybe she should have been fighting, fighting for Ron and Harry and Ginny, fighting for her parents, fighting for herself and for her future, but it was so much easier to just sink back into the stone.
She wished her body would stop yanking her back. Was he lonely? Where did he go when her ties tugged her back? Did his body pull him to the Shrieking Shack at the same time?
"Look, she's smiling, a little."
"That must mean it's working. Keep doing it!"
And then she heard Ginny's voice whisper in her ear."Boys are dumb," she murmured, her tone choked. "If you have to go, Hermione, go knowing I love you. We all do."
Ginny always was smart. She tried harder than ever to move her body, to give them some kind of indication that she was alright, everything was going to be fine. She managed to twitch her finger into Ginny's palm, and the girl squeezed it in silent response. Perhaps it was just as well the redhead didn't relay it to the boys; no sense giving Ron false hope. But at least Ginny knew. Ginny would say her good-byes for her. She would know how to say it, how to keep Harry from spiraling down into one of his black depressions, how to keep Ron from blowing up the castle with everyone in it.
She stopped trying to open her eyes, and simply let the sound carry her off into the haze.
And Remember Thine Own Mercy
This time it was him reaching for her as he came to awareness, and it was him who was gratified by the instant contact, the searching, grasping connection. He recognized where they were before he even finished feeling aware, and he felt the cold weight of fear trickling up his half-formed spine. He didn't want her to see this.
But, of course, she did, and she recognized it.
"That's right; Lily and Petunia lived here before they started school."
Bless her, for finding a diplomatic way of putting it. But then, Hermione had been the one to translate human impulses to the Dunderheaded Duo.
Not letting go of his hand, she walked across the damp soil to the two lonely swings and sat down in the far one.
In Lily's swing.
With his heart in his throat, he sank down onto the one that had been his once Petunia had started avoiding them, when he wasn't pushing Lily's.
"Do you think you'll see her when you get a little closer to being fully dead?"
"I don't know," he whispered.
"Do you want to?"
A long silence.
"…I don't know."
"It never got any easier, did it?"
She squeezed his hand, marveling at how easy it was. How right it was. "I'm sorry."
"For your suffering."
But there wasn't any pity in her voice, just sympathy and compassion. He'd only ever gotten that from Lily before.
But then, there were a remarkable number of similarities between them. Perhaps that was why being with her like this, one on one, no roles to play or duties to fulfill, was so comfortable. In a sense, it was just like being with Lily.
He set them both in motion with a gentle nudge of his boot against the earth.
"I always wanted a swing set," she mused quietly. "My parents were afraid I would fall and hurt myself, or fall behind in my studies, so I was never allowed to have one."
"I'm beginning to understand why you didn't tell them about the war."
"Not as dumb as I look."
His silent laugh vibrated through their hands and brought a smile to her lips. "That troll?"
She rolled her eyes. "I was having a cry in the loo and the boys locked him in with me without realizing it."
"I knew you hadn't gone looking for it. You've always been a bad liar."
"Umbridge believed me when I told her about Dumbledore's weapon."
"Yes, well, that's Umbridge." He twisted slightly on the chains to face her. "You don't call him Headmaster Dumbledore."
"He was always just Dumbledore," she agreed. "I don't know, maybe it had something to do with him being on the back of a chocolate frog card."
"Minerva said you always-"
"-corrected the boys when they didn't call you Professor?" she finished for him, and he nodded, somewhat chagrined to realize she could do so with consistent accuracy. "No matter how nastily you treated us, you were still deserving of our respect because of your position. And then, too, there was everything you'd done for us." A faint blush painted her cheeks, and he wondered what blood there was to cause such a reaction. "I saw it," she told him softly, "even if they refused to."
"I couldn't believe it when you solved my logic puzzle in your first year."
"I bet you were shocked."
"Appalled, actually. Absolutely appalled."
She smiled at him, and he couldn't remember what being appalled felt like.
"It would really have been something, to see what you could become."
"I'm okay where I am, thanks."
"We used to talk about it during the first few years," he found himself saying. "When we were still friends. We talked all the time about coming back here on the holidays. It was what we looked forward to."
"What was she like?" she asked. "Remus and Hagrid, and Dumbledore…they always kind of deified her. What was she really like?"
"She was light," he answered brokenly. "Light and humor and compassion and intelligence. She had a mean streak, but tempered by kindness. Absolutely loyal, protective…being around her was like drinking in summer. I didn't…I didn't know…"
"You didn't know how be around such goodness."
He stared at her, and she gave him a brittle, apologetic smile.
"Harry and I lived alone in a tent for the larger part of a year. There's pretty much nothing that's left unsaid by the end of that. He told me about the Occlumency lessons." She tilted her head to one side and he automatically
braced himself for a whopper; she usually got that look right before she asked a question or offered a theory far too advanced for her years. "That was when he started seeing his parents as people, you know. And when he stopped seeing Remus and Sirius as perfect. He learned a lot that way, even if you wouldn't have wanted it to happen that way."
"There's no privacy in a boarding school."
"Try a tent."
"You would have liked her." He gave her hand another squeeze. "I think you two would have been very good friends."
"I think I would have killed her boyfriend and his friends, and later regretted it."
"I knew I liked you for a reason."
Her laugh floated freely up to the waiting breeze, which promptly seized the bauble and danced with it around the playground. It had a new name to murmur now, fitting Lily into the endless babble of the other two.
When Others Forget To Appeal To It
There was a voice whispering in her ear, a body lying against her side with a comforting warmth. It took a moment for the words to register, but she was relieved that it was Ginny.
"Mum dragged him off to help with Fred, so Harry went, too. I think he feels guilty. Harry, I mean." There was a short silence, her breath tickling the sensitive spot behind Hermione's ear. "Remus and Tonks didn't make it; they're side by side. Poor Teddy, no one's really sure yet what's going to happen to him. He'll probably stay with Mrs Tonks; she already knows how to handle a metamorphmagus. Professor McGonagall had to take Hagrid away; he started crying over you, Hermione, did you feel that?"
She hadn't; she wondered if her mind had been swinging at Spinner's End.
"We put a blanket over you to help you stay warm; Madame Pomfrey didn't think it wise to do a drying charm."
Ginny's hand was soft in hers but for two stripes of callous across her finger and palms. They were so unlike her own, calloused and worn, hardened by a year of living out in the wild.
"I'm pretty sure Harry and I will get married before long. Not like we've talked about it, I mean, but Voldemort's gone. That's the reason he broke up with me, you know? And I hope…I hope I have a daughter, so I can name her after you. Well, not exactly after you. I love you and all, but Hermione is a hell of a name to drag around your life. You complained about it often enough, especially after Viktor. Perdita, I think, so she can kind of be your daughter, too. Although Perdita Potter sounds kind of silly…well, I'll think of something."
She was grateful for Ginny's chatter; it made it easier to lie there without fighting. She could listen, and say her silent goodbyes and know that Ginny heard them and would pass them on the right way.
The sky was lighter now, more lavender than purple. She missed the purple.
She wondered if Perdita, or whatever her name ended up being, would like purple.
She hoped so.
Let The Souls Which Thou Hast Created
"Oh, Great Merciful Lord."
He chuckled as she screwed her eyes shut. Neither noticed reaching for the other's hand. Maybe they hadn't. Maybe they just appeared hand in hand, the way they should be. "Not a sight you wanted, I'm guessing."
He looked around the Muggle classroom and couldn't really see anything particularly malevolent about it, but then, people always perceived things differently. The room was neat and clean, small desks lined in tidy rows facing the broad teacher's desk and chalkboard. Cheap paper decorations were hung over the walls with the kind of cute inspirational posters that usually depicted animal cruelty as a sign of hope. Honestly, what had that kitten ever done to deserve that kind of treatment for a stupid photograph?
"I hated it here," she said in a small voice.
His eyebrow rose at her, but he squeezed her hand in reassurance. "You? Hated school?"
"You know how badly I stuck out at Hogwarts?"
"It was even worse here, at least to me. Hogwarts I should have stood out; I'd never seen magic before, of course I was going to feel like I was from another world. I was. But here…" She gazed up at him with lost eyes. "This was supposed to be my world, and I was just as out of place in it."
"Didn't your instructors-"
"Muggle or magical, teachers don't really change. They stayed out of it unless it actually erupted in violence. I guess it was supposed to train us for the big, scary real world after school."
"Do you know what my first magical manifestation was?" He shook his head, wishing he could erase that look from her eyes. "Harry Apparated to the roof of a building. Ron Stuck a gnome to Bill's face. And what do I do? I expanded my bookcase because I needed more room."
"Harry and Ron were my first friends. I don't mean at Hogwarts. I mean ever. They were the first friends I ever had. Sometimes I wondered if maybe that was why I clung to them so tenaciously, why it hurt so badly when they were angry at me. They were my only friends."
She finally stopped and stared at him, and he gave her a ghost of a smile. "Lily was my first friend. My only friend. I knew too much to know how to make friends with anyone else."
"Knew too much to know," she repeated softly. "That's exactly it."
Sitting on top of one of the small desks and fervently praying it wouldn't tip over or break or anything else embarrassing, he gave her arm a small tug. She came willingly into his arms, resting her head against his shoulder. They stood like that for a time, simply marveling at the comfort to be found in the touch.
"What was your favorite subject?"
"Umm….history and science."
"That's two subjects."
"But I liked both!"
"And who was your favorite instructor?"
She didn't have to think about that one. "Miss Pinkerton. She used to put me off in the corner with more advanced work so that I wouldn't get bored or piss off my classmates."
"I thought about trying to do that for you a few times."
"Too many questions?"
"Too many Slytherins."
She mused over that for a moment and then nodded. "Perhaps it's just as well, really. I didn't get to do much potion making this past year."
"What a waste."
"We achieved what we set to do. Eventually." A sigh trembled on her lips, caressing the hollow of his throat. "Doesn't that make it worth it?"
"I don't think it's a point I can really argue given our current position."
"You in my arms."
He was actually starting to find her blush charming, as unsettling as that was to the stubborn voice in the back of his head.
"If we weren't nearly dead-"
"I don't know," he whispered. And he couldn't even begin to guess. If they had both managed to survive, would they have found this companionableness? He doubted it. She would have married Ronald Weasley, and ultimately been chained to the kitchen with children and a husband who could never hope to understand her brilliance. And he? He would have taken his savings and found somewhere very far away, very isolated, and very secret, so he could spend the rest of his life hiding with his Potions research. But if he had been given a hint of how it could be?
He would have moved heaven and earth to not repeat the mistake he'd made with Lily.
"Does it matter?"
"Not really," she murmured. "It's all academic at this point anyway."
"Are you sorry?"
"To be dying? Not really." He started with surprise, and he could feel her lips curving into a smile. "My life has actively been in danger my entire time in the wizarding world; I don't think I would have had any idea what to do with peace."
"It shouldn't have been that way."
"But it was."
"It was." His arms tightened around her shoulders, and he gave in to the comfortable silence for a time. "I hope they realize how much they need you."
"Ginny will remind them."
"She knows I'm dying. She'll tell them goodbye for me, and she'll keep them thinking of me without it becoming obsessive gloominess." She shook her head, worming as close to him as the desk would allow. "Maybe it's a horrible thing to say, but they'll get over my loss a lot easier than I would get over theirs. They have more people to depend on for things like that, and they don't tend to dwell on things. Well, not most things," she amended with a crooked grin. "If it's a case of petty rage or revenge, they're worse than pitbulls."
"Petunia Evans hated school," he said irrelevantly, and she giggled. "Lily was smart and pretty and charming even at a young age, and she had all the teachers wrapped around her fingers by the second week of classes. So Petunia went the other way. She made herself honestly believe that the ideal woman would have no views or opinions outside of her husband's, and she thought education would only get in the way of that. She did as little as humanly possible and forgot what little she did learn as soon as she could."
"Mrs Dursley made her bed, but from what Harry told me, she actually seems content to lie in it. It's a life that doesn't ask a lot of her, and she can feel superior in a way she didn't when she was younger."
"Circe, Hermione, you could find a way to have compassion for Malfoy, couldn't you?"
She gave him a sheepish smile. It grew broader at his groan. "Harry told me-"
"-about finding Draco crying in the loo. What he was expected to do…that's a lot to put on a kid, and that's all any of us were, despite how we tried to act. Malfoy Senior? I hope he chokes on his caviar. He made his choices. But Draco…that's how he was raised. It's awfully hard to escape how you're raised."
And thinking back on a woman cowering from a burly fist, he knew she said nothing less than absolute truth.
Be Parted From Thee, Their Creator
She was tired of constantly coming back here. How long did the human body cling to life, anyway? But, then, he was still phasing in and out as well, so perhaps there was some comfort to be had in that.
She was just so tired.
She couldn't feel Ginny's hand anymore, but she thought maybe the girl was still there. Ginny wasn't the type to leave before the end, and not being able to feel…maybe she was a little closer. She didn't feel as solid, as real, anymore. She could hear Harry and Ron again, though. Mrs Weasley's diversion must have run its course. Ron was shouting, at her, at anyone who was helping, at anyone who wasn't helping. Harry was quieter, his voice lost in Ron's, but it reached her ears anyway.
"Please don't go."
Her heart clenched, but she couldn't stay. Didn't he see the wave of purple surging deeper with each breath?
Ginny's voice echoed her own thoughts, low and soft and hiding discretely under her brother's volume. "She has to go, Harry. She's in pain."
She wasn't, really, now that they weren't trying to heal her anymore. But Harry didn't need to know that. Ginny knew what she was doing.
"Hermione has done so much for you, Harry. Can you do this one thing for her?"
Her eyes still wouldn't open, but she knew what Harry was doing. What he always did. His emerald eyes- Lily's eyes, whispered a familiar voice- would be flicking back and forth between the two girls. Ron continued on oblivious to the deep silence, but finally, Harry's whisper found its way to her ear.
"I love you, Hermione, and I'll see you again. When you see my parents, and Sirius, and Remus, tell them I love them. And if you see Sn-…if you see Professor Snape…tell him thanks."
Well, how about that. Harry Potter was finally growing up.
May The Souls Of All The Faithful Departed
At first she thought there was some terrible mistake. Her hand was empty and she was still in the Great Hall. But that couldn't be! She felt so real! So solid!
But she wasn't the Hermione she could see lying on the ground, her back flat against the cold tone floor. That Hermione was still in grubby jeans and trainers, thin from being washed too often by magic. She was still in a blood soaked Muggle sweatshirt. Professor McGonagall was kneeling by her, Hermione's head in her lap. Her gnarled, trembling hands stroked sweat-darkened hair off her former student's brow, and her eyes were closed.
Ginny, Harry, and Ron were all kneeling beside her, Neville and Luna hovering nervously off to one side. They'd never really felt like they were fully part of the group, and Hermione wished them a special goodbye just for them. They couldn't hear her, of course, but she felt better for having said it.
Her hand was so horrifically empty. Where was he?
From the corner of her eye, she could see Hagrid re-entering the hall, and the half-giant was bawling loudly. She couldn't make out the limp black bundle in his arms, but others closer to him could. One of them hissed.
Harry leapt to his feet, furiously shoving his glasses back up his nose. "Don't you dare! Don't you dare hiss at him! That man worked tirelessly for us, and gave his life for our cause!"
Disbelieving murmurs shifted around the crowded room, and mostly-solid Hermione drifted closer to see what Harry was so worked up over.
It was Professor Snape.
That's why he wasn't there, why he wasn't standing beside her, his arm around her shoulders or his hand in hers. He was already-
He'd died without waiting for her.
Part of her mind knew that was radically unfair, it wasn't like he could time his death to hers, and maybe hers was just taking too long, but still. He'd gone on. And he hadn't said goodbye.
But Harry's reaction…classic Harry. Not even Professor McGonagall seemed particularly surprised by it. He would probably never like Snape, but he would finally give him ungrudging respect.
As Hagrid gently set the deceased Headmaster on top of a table, Hermione made her way over to his side. Out of habit, she stepped around the others, but she wondered idly if she really needed to. She snaked her fingers into his palm, cold and solid and reassuring.
"Severus…" she whispered. "Please be waiting for me."
"Patience, Miss Granger."
She whirled around in astonishment and came face to knee with a mournful Sir Nicholas. "Nick! You can…you can see me?"
"The nearly dead can see the nearly dead, my dear girl," he told her sadly. "You will be greatly missed, Miss Granger, and not only by the living."
"Thank you," she answered almost soundlessly. "What did you mean? When you told me 'patience'."
"The body has its own time, dear girl. You'll know the moment."
"But I miss him."
Sir Nicholas didn't ask who she meant, nor did he ask how such an affection came to be, and so suddenly. He'd been dead for over five hundred years; he'd seen countless wars, countless battles, seen far too many promising people die. He knew the vagaries of the human spirit, and the way souls tended to find each other in death. Eternity, after all, was a very long time; souls needed to be around like souls. That Miss Granger and the dour Potions Master were like souls was not so very astonishing. He'd seen them both as children, as students, and they'd been remarkably similar.
"And that is why the patience," he reminded her with a small smile. One hand rising to his ruff to keep his neck from sliding, her gave her a deep, courtly bow, and continued on his way to carry the news to the other school ghosts.
There was a strangled sound from the other side of Severus' body and she turned back around to see what it was. All three Malfoys stood there, and she was shocked to see all three grieving for the fallen man. They even seemed to be genuine. Lucius stood with his jaw tightly clenched, his grey eyes red and glittering with suppressed emotions. Narcissa wept delicately into her husband's robes, her thin frame shaking fitfully. And Draco…Draco, who she had only moments before expressed sympathy and compassion for…he seemed to need it now more than ever. He crouched over his godfather's hand, his forehead pressed to the stiff knuckles, and from his throat tore the low keening sound that had caught her attention.
"Good luck, Draco," she whispered. "You'll need it to survive the fallout, I think."
And then she was fading again, and when she should have been thinking goodbye, all she could think of was him.
Through The Mercy Of God, Rest in Peace.
It took her a few breaths to recognize the room in which she now stood. Large and circular, the room had a great stone tablet in its center. In roughly the middle of the tablet, there was a large, rough arch made of the same stone, and from its apex hung a tattered veil of fabric, neither translucent or opaque, neither black nor silver, neither solid nor immaterial, but instead, something that hovered between either and or, something that was everything and nothing and something of a mix.
She'd seen this room in Harry's memories, heard it described when he could finally talk about Sirius' death.
The Department of Mysteries.
She narrowed her eyes against the murmuring hush of sound and wind. She thought she could see figures through the fabric, or was it in the fabric?
"Hello, Tonks," she greeted sadly. "Is Remus here?"
"Right here, Hermione," came the werewolf's tired, hoarse voice. His face came into clearer relief next to his wife's.
"Guess what, Mione, I'm here too!"
She stuck her tongue out at Sirius; she hated that name. His dark eyes twinkled roguishly and he blew her a kiss.
"This is Hermione?" asked a soft, lovely voice. A beautiful redhead gave Sirius an unceremonious push, closely followed by a dark haired young man with narrow oval glasses. "This is Harry's Hermione?"
Remus smiled, his fingers absently threading through the short purple hair at the back of Tonks' neck. "Lily, James, this is Hermione Granger, the brightest witch of her age."
Even as Hermione blushed, Sirius hooted playfully. "Any brains your son has, James, came from Lily and were protected by our Mione!"
Ignoring Padfoot, Lily Evans Potter gave the young woman a serene smile. "For what you've done for Harry, and for Severus, you will always have my gratitude, and my friendship."
"And mine," her husband added from over her shoulder. "Lily, come, step aside a moment."
Lily glanced back behind her and her smile grew. She nodded, she and James moving beside Sirius, across the arch from Remus and Tonks.
Another figure appeared behind them, coming into clarity more slowly than the others had. Her heart beat once, twice, painfully in her chest.
Severus smiled and extended his hand, holding it out to her. "Come home, Hermione."
"Home," she echoed silently, her lips tasting the word. Locking her eyes with his, she took his hand and let him lead her through the fluttering veil.