Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by J.K. Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros. Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's note: I want to thank everyone who read, rated, alerted, faved, and reviewed. Only an epilogue left, which may take me a bit longer than a week to post because I started writing it over again. Hopefully I'll be done within the next two weeks.
With special thanks to Serpent in Red for betaing. Since I added some bits after her beta, because those parts proved to be a nightmare adding them to the epilogue, any errors are mine and mine alone. I didn't want to make you alll wait, so I'll add in her corrections later.
'Oh Godric,' whispered Ginny, staring at the destruction of Azkaban. She clutched her wand more firmly.
'We should've brought more people,' Neville conjectured.
'No shit,' Ginny said. 'Tell that to my "I have to be the one to do this" husband.'
'I allowed you two to come with me. Now shush,' Harry ordered as they slowly moved indoors.
Allowed, mouthed Ginny and Neville to each other behind Harry's back as if they would've ever allowed him to go alone.
They quickly scanned the area, taking in the damage, the statuesque Aurors, and the unconscious and injured people. It was unnervingly quiet.
'Stay behind me,' Harry whispered, walking towards the motionless, kneeling Ron. 'He has to be nearby for those bands to still work.'
'Are you sure about that?' Neville stated.
Harry paused. 'I hope so. Otherwise, we have two even bigger problems.'
Ginny slapped Ron on the back of the head.
'Eh!' Ron objected. 'Harry, Ginny, Neville!'
'Shhhh…' Harry hissed, frantically looking around, his wand at the ready.
'Well, at least my idiot brother can still talk,' Ginny mocked.
Harry waved his wand at the band.
'That won't work. Katie already tried,' Ron said.
'Where is your backup?'
'Standing right here,' Neville said, ignoring Ron's look of disbelief. 'Now what?'
'That's all you brought?' Ron said in a hushed angry voice.
'Fat lot of good all your backup did you,' Ginny snarked, waving at the kneeling and unconscious crowd. 'Besides, you know Harry.'
Ron groaned. 'Seriously, Harry, how many times do we have to tell you that you don't have to do this alone?'
'Because you're so much help right now. Where is Riddle?' Harry asked.
'He went through that corridor. I think he killed the Malfoys. Not sure, maybe he just tortured them, but I heard a lot of screaming and then silence. Can't say I didn't enjoy that.'
'Ron,' Harry admonished, sounding an awful lot like Molly Weasley. 'Narcissa saved my life.'
'The Malfoys?' Neville said, frowning, looking from Ginny to Harry to Ron.
'Lucius was supposed to be released today,' Ginny explained to Neville.
'Yeah,' Ginny replied, shrugging. 'Rich people. You know how it goes.'
'Guys,' Harry interrupted. 'Why were they still here, Ron? I doubt Narcissa was late.'
Ron clearly couldn't care less about the Malfoys. 'Something about his stuff being misplaced. Whatever. Guess this time they weren't fast enough in slithering out of their messes.'
'Poor Draco,' Ginny said. 'Or was he here, too?'
'Nah, he wouldn't have been. He broke with his father fully,' Neville said. 'Astoria wasn't good enough, so—'
'Can we focus on Riddle?' Harry intervened.
'Hey, you started going on about the Malfoys,' Ginny said.
'Yeah, I know. Sorry, but …' Harry trailed off.
'Yeah, we need to know where Riddle is,' Ginny finished, nodding.
They all looked at Ron.
'I suppose he's with Hermione now. She's in the warden's office on the right. I suppose, since I didn't see a dramatic theatrical departure, they're still in there.'
Ginny and Harry exchanged a look. 'How do you want to handle that?' Ginny asked, looking worried.
'I'm still trying to process that she's married to him,' Neville said, scratching his head with his wand.
'I'll go in there. You two get everybody here to safety,' Harry ordered.
'Bad idea. He'll kill you on sight,' Neville said.
'He won't be able to,' Ron said.
'Yes, he will,' said Ginny. 'Harry, you're not protected by that piece of Riddle's soul inside of you anymore.'
'No,' Ron said, 'but you're protected by Hermione. All three of you are.'
'He wanted to hurt me. Wouldn't work. Then he mumbled some shit about how he couldn't hurt people Hermione cared about,' Ron grinned. 'Obviously frustrated.'
'So he can hurt people she doesn't know or people she dislikes,' Ginny said.
Neville, Ginny and Harry looked around. 'Hostages,' they said simultaneously.
'Looks like you were right, Harry,' Neville said, whipping his wand above his head, 'we'll start evacuating those we can and hide the rest.'
'Do it quickly.'
Ginny grabbed Harry and kissed him fiercely on the mouth. Harry pulled her closer.
'Seriously, guys,' Ron said. 'Seriously? You think now is the time?'
They completely ignored him, snogging each other senseless.
'Right before my very eyes when I can't look away,' Ron quipped.
An ear-piercing scream came from the warden's office. The desperation was unlike they ever heard before, not even when Hermione had been tortured by Lestrange. It made them feel cold to the marrow of their bones.
'Hermione!' Harry said, running into action.
Ginny and Neville followed right behind him, plans of evacuation forgotten. Harry blasted the warden's office door off its hinges. He stopped in his tracks, Ginny and Neville bumping into him.
The sight he saw would remain with him for the rest of his life. There was blood splattered everywhere: the table, the floor, the couch, everything, even the ceiling had a dark-red spray on it. Front and center of it sat a blood-soaked Hermione, clutching the lifeless body of Tom Riddle to her chest, her hand still around the letter opener that she'd used to stab him in the neck. Her eyes stared off in the distance, not even seeing the newly arrived company.
'No, no, no,' Hermione kept muttering, rocking Tom's body. 'I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Come back to me. No, no, no. I'm so sorry.'
'Oh Godric, no,' said Ginny, her hand to her mouth.
'Is he really dead?' Neville asked, whispering.
'Looks like it,' whispered Harry.
Neville made a garbled noise of doubt.
'Please no,' Hermione mumbled, her face a blood and tear-stained mess, 'no, no, no.'
'Poor Hermione,' Ginny said.
'This shouldn't have fallen on her,' Harry said angrily.
'If nobody is going to check if he's really dead, I am,' said Neville.
'No,' said Harry, blocking Nevillle in his path with his arm. 'I'll do it. Get that wand that's on the floor, will you?' He nodded in the direction of the piece of wood lying next to the couch.
'Accio!' said Neville, catching the wand in his other hand, while Harry moved slowly to Hermione and Riddle.
'Hermione,' Harry said tentatively.
There was no reaction. She just kept on rocking Riddle's body. Harry held his wand pointed at Riddle and placed a hand on Hermione's shoulder. 'Hermione?'
It was like he wasn't even there. He worriedly glanced over his shoulder to Ginny before performing a quick diagnostic spell. It showed Riddle was stone cold, a hundred percent dead this time. Harry pocketed his wand, and grabbed Hermione by both shoulders, halting her movement. 'Hermione,' he said more insistently.
She looked up at him, eyes haunting. 'I did it, Harry. I killed him.' There was a pause in which Hermione first looked at him with a brief shimmer of hope in her eyes as if she were waiting for him to counter that statement and tell her everything was going to be fine, and then, there was resignation as they silently acknowledged it. 'Oh god, I killed him!'
Hermione buried herself into Tom's body, wailing loudly. Harry cringed. He let go of her, hopelessly turning around to his wife for what to do. Ginny was already there, placing her hand on his shoulder and squeezing it. He was lost for words and didn't know how to make this alright. She was his friend, and he'd failed her. This couldn't, wouldn't, shouldn't have fallen on her to do. He should've been here. This was his job, the prophecy had said so, not his best friend. This shouldn't have destroyed his best friend.
'I killed him. I killed him. I killed him. I killed him.'
'Blimey!' Ron said, standing in the doorway and lowering his wand. He looked back over his shoulder at the shocked Aurors, staring into the chamber. 'Stand down y'all. All clear. Go help the others with the injured.' Ron looked back at Harry and tossed up the Shield Charm Enhancer. 'That explains why this thing stopped working.' He side eyed Riddle's body. 'You checked ...?'
'He's dead,' Harry acknowledged, looking back at Hermione.
Annoyed, Harry glared at him.
'Just asking. It is him after all,' Ron replied, taking in the situation on the couch. 'Then again, it is her, too. She never does anything half, does she?' he added softly.
'No, she doesn't,' Ginny answered quietly. 'I don't think you here would be helpful, Ron.'
Ron slowly nodded. Once more, he looked around and shook his head. 'Take care of her, will you?' Before they could reply, he'd turned around and almost bumped into Narcissa Malfoy who was staring into the room with a severely hateful yet satisfying expression on her face.
'Good riddance,' Narcissa said coldly.
Ron grabbed the woman's arm and pulled her with him as he left.
'I killed him. I killed him. I killed him. I killed him. No, no, no, no.'
'She can't stay here like this,' Neville whispered.
'You're right, but how? I don't want to make it worse for her,' Harry said
'I don't think it can get any worse. Let me,' Ginny said, gently pushing Harry out of the way.
'Hermione, honey?' Ginny said softly, lowering herself onto her heels and putting her hands on Hermione's arms. 'It is time.'
Hermione looked into her eyes. 'He's gone, Gin.'
'What did I do?' Hermione looked down, watching the letter opener in her bloodstained hands.
Ginny placed her hand on Hermione's, slowly taking the letter opener from her and handing that behind her back to Harry. 'What you had to do.'
Hermione looked at her. 'You know.'
'Yeah, I know. I understand. It's alright to feel this pain, Hermione.'
'I told you that.'
'Yeah, you did. So listen to the smartest witch of her age and do as she said.'
Hermione gave her a weak smile, then looked back at the dead body of her husband on her lap in sorrow. 'I don't want to let go. I can't let go.'
'Yes, you can,' Ginny said strongly.
'If I let go, it means he's truly gone.'
'He is gone, Hermione. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry for your loss.'
'My loss …'
Hermione stared at Riddle's face; it had a blankness in it that it never had before. How could she have ever thought his face was expressionless? So unobservant of her. This was death. True and absolute nothingness. There was nobody home anymore. He was gone.
'Please take him,' Hermione whispered, suddenly wanting to get away. 'Please, take him, get him away from me!' she repeated frantically, starting to push at the body.
Harry jumped in, grabbing an arm and pulling Tom away. Neville quickly assisted, and together, they lifted the body and placed it a couple of feet away on the floor. Ginny had grabbed Hermione and pulled her to her feet, holding her tightly into a hug.
'Is he truly dead?' McGregor's businesslike voice rang through the room. She was rubbing the back of her head in obvious pain.
'Not now, Katie,' Harry said, irritated. If they had listened to Hermione, none of this would've happened. His friend wouldn't be hurt beyond belief.
Katie looked from Hermione clutching onto Ginny for dear life to the body on the floor, and nodded, resignation sinking in. 'Get her home and cleaned up, I'll deal with this when she's gone.' She shook her head and left, mumbling, 'What a fucking mess.'
Yeah, your mess, Harry thought before turning back to Hermione. He walked to her and Ginny and took a hold of them both. The three of them stood there, for how long he couldn't remember. It seemed a lifetime.
'Is any of that blood yours, Hermione?' Neville asked carefully as if he were approaching a skittish animal. He was awkwardly standing a little to the side of the three of them. He hadn't wanted to interfere in the private moment but felt it was important enough to not keep being overlooked. Hermione was pregnant after all.
Harry and Ginny leaned back, checking out Hermione questioningly.
'No, none of this is mine. I'm fine.' Her lip started quivering. 'He would never hurt me.'
Her tears started streaming again, and Neville wanted to hit himself. Ginny looped her arm around Hermione's shoulder. 'Let's get you home.'
Harry nodded. 'I'll see to it that we can leave undisturbed. Wait a second.'
He walked out, handing Ron the bloodied letter opener in a plastic bag. He nodded towards Katie who was arguing with Warden Walken in the distance. 'Make sure all the evidence goes to the Auror Office.'
'She's going to use her authority regarding Riddle's imprisonment to obtain everything,' Ron said, looking back at the head of the Unspeakables' department, too.
'Her authority is regarding his imprisonment. There's nobody to imprison anymore.'
'I know that. You know that. Katie knows that, which is exactly why she will want to run point on this investigation.'
'Her involvement is exactly the reason you can deny her access to everything. Tell her this can't look like a coverup. The Auror Office has full jurisdiction now that there has been a fatality.'
'She's not going to like that.'
'Right now I can't give a crap about McGregor's feelings. Make sure this gets done by the book, Ron. This mess mustn't get any worse than it already is.'
'Don't worry about it. I'll get it done. I already have Jonesy interviewing Narcissa about Lucius's death.'
Harry scratched his head. 'I'm surprised he let her live.'
Ron shrugged. 'Perhaps he wanted her to suffer first? Whatever the reason is, I don't really care. You just take care of Hermione.'
'Will do. Thanks for handling this.'
'Don't mention it.' Ron paused, scratching his neck. 'I should've listened to her. I was so sure Riddle had her fooled.'
'He manipulated the entire situation so everyone would not believe Hermione,' Harry replied. 'And you did contact me, so a part of you did believe her.'
'Yeah, but I still feel like I could've done more.'
'We all feel that way, Ron. I feel that way. Nothing to do about that now. We've got to move forward.'
'I hope Hermione can.'
'Let's first get her off this island and into some clean clothes. Actually that's what I came out to do. I need to secure her transportation off the island.'
'You're going to walk with her through all these people in the state she's in?'
'She needs to go home.'
Ron pointed upward to the clouded sky. 'Does that look like Riddle left any active wards standing?'
Harry slapped his forehead. 'I'm such an idiot. Thanks, Ron.'
'What was that Katie just asked Boot to do about Hermione's marital documents?' Ron said, frowning.
'Huh?' Harry replied, not having heard it.
'Don't worry,' Ron said, slapping his arm. 'I'll deal with it; whatever it is.'
'Okay,' Harry said, doubtfully looking back at McGregor before turning on his heels, and swiftly, pacing back to the office. 'We can Apparate to the car from here.'
'Good,' Ginny said, turning to Hermione. 'Ready?'
Hermione clasped her hand, sending her a weak smile. 'Ready.'
If Harry had taken one good look at his old friend right before he apparated them away, he would've seen an all too familiar sight in the way her lips curled and her eyes darkened in malicious amusement
Alas, he never did.