A/N: Here we are. The end. Thanks for everyone who's stuck around for the whole ride, thanks to all of you who have reviewed and said lovely things. I hope you enjoy this last chapter. There may be some oneshots involving this arc in the future, because I've grown far too attached to this Sirius and this Hermione, so keep an eye out for those. Thanks again. =]
Before the Dawn.
He's not sure what shocks him the most.
She's gone, he knows that much. He can't register it yet; he hasn't been back to the house, hasn't seen the once-there-now-not feeling that has bled its way through the entire place - half eaten meals, notes on counter tops, discarded outfits, half made beds.
He's still in custody, but he wonders whether he'd have gone back even if he wasn't.
She knew, all along, from the second he met her, she knew how it would end.
And still she let herself fall.
That shocks him. Hermione is (was, he must get used to saying was) sensible, she doesn't (didn't) fall for men who are going to be locked up for twelve years then die a couple of years after that. He knows that curse was meant for him, he knows it better than anybody else. That lingering look of relief, frozen on her face as she fell through the veil told him so.
He looked behind it, even tried to go through it, but Harry stopped him, without even realising he'd just seen one of his best friends die. She was nobody to Harry, nobody at all.
And yet because of her, he still has a godfather, he still has some sort of bottom-of-the-barrel family.
Because of her, Sirius is now awaiting confirmation that he has been cleared of all charges. He's lived long enough to be a free man.
He hasn't cried yet. This shocks him too. He's screamed and he's yelled but the tears haven't made an appearance yet. He wonders if he still has the ability to cry, after everything. He wants to cry, he feels he owes it to her. He feels that he ought to be sobbing endlessly, that he ought to be inconsolable, but there's nothing.
He's just empty.
Dumbledore has been to see him. His words breezed through Sirius' head, not stopping to settle in.
What can he possibly say that can make this okay?
He tells him his grief makes him human.
Sirius spends the hours following Dumbledore's visit in his animagus form.
He doesn't feel any less empty.
Harry too, has stopped by. He wants to know who the woman was, but Sirius can't say. He can't say that she's the same person as his sixteen year old best friend. It's wrong.
For the first time ever, Sirius wants Harry to leave him alone. His excitement about Sirius' imminent freedom far outweighs his grief for the woman who saved his godfather. Sirius doesn't want to hear about any of that. He feels like the entire world ought to have stopped and taken notice. He feels as though every single person, every single creature, wizard or muggle, human or beast, ought to bow their heads as a mark of respect, but they don't.
Life goes on regardless.
Remus says nothing. He simply sits with Sirius, head in his hands as they share the emptiness that has taken up residence in both of their hearts. This is, perhaps, the only thing that Sirius can really appreciate from a visitor, and Remus is the only one who truly understands the gravity of the situation.
As if Dumbledore hasn't been cruel enough already, he sends her to see Sirius. She has no idea about what is to come, about what she means to him and what he will, one day, mean to her.
She has no idea that she will lay down her life for him.
She holds his hand, in that very pure and caring way that he hasn't seen much of since the first war. She is still remarkably untainted by the world.
He wonders how long it is until she disappears, and the selfish part of him hopes that it's soon. She's bound to be around for most of the summer, just as she was last year. It wasn't too tough back then. She was still alive.
"Who was she?" she asks delicately.
He looks at her, turning his head away quickly when he realises he's lingering too long on her eyes.
"Would you have done the same?" he asks, staring at the floor. "For someone you loved?"
"Did she know then? Harry said she just apparated right into it, like an accident."
"She knew," he said grimly. "She'd always known."
"Well I suppose she had a long time to think about it then," she reasons, with unfaltering logic in the face of things that are so illogical. He's always loved her for that. He's always found it endearing.
"But would you have done it?" he's desperate to know. He needs to know if she regrets it, if she even canregret things, wherever she is now. She's probably with James and Lily, and his heart burns with envy at the thought of the three of them, all together.
"I suppose if it was somebody I loved, then yes. Without a doubt."
He closes his eyes and the first tear drips onto the floor. After that they come easily, and Hermione rubs his back in soothing motions.
Voldemort and his death eaters have been knocking off the people he cares most about, one by one,for the past fifteen years. When he realises that Harry is probably going to be next, the tears come even harder. His only consolation is that he knows Hermione lives long enough to be sent back to him. Her death has only increased the security surrounding her future. She is safer than everybody else on the planet - she doesn't die until three days ago, after all.
The thing that shocks him the most, (or amazes him, he's not quite sure which he's feeling) more than the fact that she's gone, or the fact that she always knew, more than the fact that she loved him despite everything, is that she never broke the rules for James, nor for Lily. She wouldn't even break the rules so he could catch Peter, and prevent all of this from happening all over again.
She broke the rules for him.
He'd be proud of her if she hadn't ended up dead.