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It's been real. Thanks for everything.
All my love,
Ron Weasley put his arms around his sister. They'd lost so much. A brother. Two brothers – Fred and Harry. His best friend since the day they'd met. And Ginny seemed utterly lost without the presence of the headstrong green-eyed boy. It was worse for her than it had been those empty seven months, because now she knew that he was dead. She had seen it happen.
Harry had been so confident.
If Voldemort was going to die anyway... couldn't the world have left Harry to them?
Ron had no doubt that it wasn't fair, but right then, standing in the Kitchens, numbed by shock, all he could feel was a massive wave of relief. It rolled out the tension in every inch of him, and he was hugging his sister and kissing his mother and crying and everyone in sight was unified in sheer joy. Just for that second, the loss of Harry Potter was overshadowed.
Professor McGonagall was doing something to the wards she'd set up at the portrait hole. The Fortinbras' Membrane was folding down on itself until it vanished with a tiny pop, and the other wards sucked themselves away with swishing noises, and as McGonagall opened the portrait wide onto the deserted hallway, it hit them all again – it was over.
Lord Voldemort was dead.
Ron raised his fist and found himself yelling in victory, and a chorus of yells joined him, joyous yells, and they spilled out into the hallway and ran up to the Entrance Hall.
The Death Eaters were running out of the great doors in the Entrance Hall, which flew open with a bang. Glorious light cascaded in, stretching from floor to heavens in long, mist-illuminated rays. Ron squinted. He hadn't seen light like that in a long time – and the dark figures fleeing down the lawn were being pursued by Kingsley Shacklebolt, by McGonagall, by his mother.
Ron found his mouth spreading wide in a smile as he looked up at the sky. This is for you, mate. This was for Harry Potter.
Ron turned and it was like the breath was knocked out of him.
Descending the sweeping staircase was a thin, tall man, whose last patches of red hair had lost their violent color. He looked more tired than Ron had ever seen.
"Dad," Ron said quietly. Next to him, Ginny and Bill turned around, and Ginny grabbed George by the shoulder. Percy was the last to turn, his stern face losing all its jaded cynicism as he saw his father coming down the steps.
They sprinted up the stairs and closed their father in the tightest hug they had ever given anyone, and the only thing missing was Mrs. Weasley, who was still running down the lawn, incapacitating Death Eater after Death Eater.
And they cried for Harry and they cried for themselves. "It's over," said Percy, and he was just realizing it. "It's over."
Hermione lifted him by herself. She carried him out into the deserted Kitchens, which were hushed in the aftermath of the happy cheers, and laid his lifeless body on a table.
She looked up at the broken windows. The grey sky glimmered through the gaps in the grime-covered glass, and the cheerless color somehow reinforced the leaden weight inside her.
I have no doubt, Hermione, that you shall move on. She closed her eyes.
It hurt, the sudden, pervasive fear. Fear at a life without him? Fear at herself without him?
Herself without him. Yes, that was the phrase she'd been hunting for, the one that made her feel like she was going to throw up. Hermione pressed the heels of her hands onto her closed eyes, trying to massage away the tears. It was over. Everything was finally over – but Hermione couldn't focus on anything more besides this being over.
It had been perhaps fifteen minutes. He was cool to the touch, now. His eyes were still clear, like liquid chocolate, but there was nothing behind them.
As she examined his still features, tenderness swelled inside her. She surveyed his expression, the expression he'd died with. Blank. Blank, like he'd been forced to live his whole life. But she'd seen that tiny smile at the edge of his lips before he'd said the words, before every muscle in his body had gone lax. She'd seen the love in his eyes, the knowledge that this was a rational decision, the right thing to do.
Hermione kept stroking the back of his hand with her thumb. Tom Marvolo Riddle, the most enigmatic person she would ever know. She smoothed down his hair until it was perfect again.
It was strange to think of the little things. He couldn't breathe anymore. The air in his lungs was closed and stale and would live there until he rotted. He couldn't think, either. That brain inside his skull was nothing more than tissue. These hands, these perfectly tapering fingers, could never hold anything again. The muscles of his arms could never contract as he lifted a book to hand it to her. His right eyebrow would never lift itself questioningly again. Those sculpted lips could never quiver in derisive laughter, could never smirk, could never part and spill the words she wanted to hear. Or words she didn't want to hear. There was nothing behind this handsome face – not anymore. It was just a face, now. It was not Tom Riddle.
Hermione was on the very edge of the bench, and suddenly she toppled over the edge and was kneeling on the ground, her innards twisting in pain.
One of her hands grappled with her frizzy hair. Get it together, Hermione Granger. She sucked in a deep breath and tried to force back the pain, which was radiating out from the very center of her body. It was nothing she'd ever felt before. It was the uncomfortable yank of a Portkey, multiplied a thousand times.
Hermione stood slowly, closing her eyes, taking a deep, shaking, painful breath that cut to the bottom of her lungs and spiked back those hot inconsistent tears. She cast one last glance at the prone figure on the table. No more. Tom Riddle was dead, and the earlier she managed to accept it, the better it would be for her.
Though God knew it hadn't really hit her yet.
She left him lying on the table, leaving part of herself with him, and walked out of the Kitchens.
As she moved slowly through the hallways, she could hear echoes of joy resounding around the stone walls. It made her feel almost sick, but a faint smile made its way onto her lips nonetheless, as if she were trying to fool anyone who might have been watching.
She walked up a set of stairs and found herself in the Entrance Hall. The Grand Staircase glowed self-conscious in that new light through the doors, the light that practically blinded her.
Everyone else had left the building. Everyone was walking down the lawn, or was descending those steps in front of the doors. There were people leaving that Hermione hadn't seen – people they hadn't managed to coax out of hiding. They were all going out into that world. A world free from the Dark Lord.
She leaned backwards against the staircase's rail and sat down, an entirely unprompted feeling coursing through her – joy.
It grew and grew until she thought she might burst, but the other half of her heart was so heavy that it weighed her down. The torn feeling made her start to cry, and she wasn't sure whether it was in joy or in misery.
She stood and stalked to that doorway, but she couldn't go through, because her hand found the doorframe. That huge, wooden post, surely a whole tree. That same one she'd leaned against as he'd approached her. Hermione's face contorted in pain, and she trailed one finger down the wood. This archway, where they'd spoken late into the night, where he'd said that he'd like to get to know her better, where he'd been so shocked when she'd dared to call his bluff.
Hermione's eyes lowered themselves to the ground, and she leaned her forehead against the wood as she recalled every moment they'd had. Every moment she could draw upon to stave off her anguish.
That unbidden joy within her grew into elation, and simultaneously the depression sank down into the very deepest trench of utter misery.
This building, sacred to Tom Riddle, Jr., housed his memory now. Housed his... his corpse. Hermione swallowed.
How had he felt when he'd done his first charm with a wand? How had he felt brewing his first potion? Such talent, rivaled only by Albus Dumbledore... gone... I will miss everything about you so much – your arrogance, your intellect, your kiss, your smile, your honor... She composed the eulogy inside her head for the funeral she knew he would never receive. Only when she was able to force herself back down to the Kitchens to retrieve his body would he even be buried, probably. There would be no recognition for him, no glory, although Hermione fully intended to tell the Order the sacrifice he'd made – the sacrifice that had proved beyond shadow of a doubt that he'd loved her.
Tell them I loved you more than I loved myself.
Eyes still shut, Hermione tilted her head and faced back the way she'd come. These halls of Hogwarts, so familiar, so dreaded, so loved. Could they ever look the same to her again?
She wondered what she'd see when she opened her eyes. Would she see the place of her nightmares? Would she see an imagined glimmer of the in-between world, in all its perfection? Would she see the place of arching wonder that she'd seen her first time setting foot inside Hogwarts? The identity of the school had undergone so much twisted transformation, and the cool dark red inside her eyelids shielded her from whatever she might think.
Hermione opened her eyes, but she couldn't focus on the dusty, dimly-lit hallway in front of her for just what it was. She could only see what it meant.
She turned back to the sun and stepped into the new world.
The funeral for Harry James Potter was held on April 20th in a remote area of Great Britain. Nearly three million witches and wizards flooded the area to pay respects to one of the bravest wizards who had ever lived. It had been perpetuated, in the general public, that Harry had killed Voldemort, and Hermione did not correct it, and it would be written in the annals of history.
Hermione started by writing Percy daily. He was the only one, initially, who would read what she wrote, but eventually contributions from George, Charlie and Bill started to trickle in, and then Mr. Weasley and Ginny, and then, finally, Ron and Mrs. Weasley. Hermione explained that the true reason Voldemort had died was that Tom had cast the Killing Curse on himself.
They didn't care.
None of the Order cared.
They could not sympathize with the dead they believed unredeemed.
But in the end, Hermione knew his sacrifice didn't need approval. It ran deeper than credit, deeper than hearsay, deeper than even respect. Its true worth had burned her to the core with its purity, and perhaps it was better that only they two would ever understand what it truly meant. What it meant for him to have done it.
Tom Marvolo Riddle, Jr. is in the dark.
He swims through it.
He kicks at the creature that clutches to his ankles, the fraction of himself that refuses to heal.
Its grip weakens and eventually drops away ...
He is free.
he leaves that dark fragment behind in the depths of time –
and his soul soars.
he rises through the
NOTE: The original ending can be found in my profile under Tied for Last: Original Ending. (Creative titling, I know.)
Thank you so much for taking this journey with me. I've learned so much about writing. And, um, about the internet. And I hope you enjoyed the trip as thoroughly as I did – every word, every minute, every second.
With love, as always,