She'd imagined this hour differently. She'd imagined cheers and impromptu fireworks and embraces and laughter. She'd imagined seeing Harry and Ginny kissing, hearing Luna say something ridiculous about how the Wrackspurts had come to her aid during battle, laughing at some joke told by the twins, and feeling Ron's arms wrapped tightly around her waist. She'd imagined everyone cramped into the Great Hall with mugs of Butterbeer in celebration of the Dark Lord's death.
The scene in front of her wasn't the scene from her imagination. Hermione fought back tears as she took in the sobs, the tears, and the lifeless bodies surrounding her.
Harry had hidden himself under his cloak and gone off somewhere unnoticed by most, thanks to Luna's clever distraction. He needed to be alone, and Hermione could give him that. There were no jokes spilling from the twins' lips. There were no twins. There was only Fred's body, and George who refused to leave his dead brother's side.
There was no feeling of accomplishment. There was no, "We did it." There was no laughter. There were no mugs of Butterbeer. Not in the Great Hall. Not amongst all the death.
Hermione wrapped her arms around herself, as though trying to keep from falling apart. She'd never expected to see so much death; so much pain. Her cuts and bruises meant nothing. In the corner of the hall, a Ravenclaw student was having his severed arm bandaged. By a broken window, a Hufflepuff was crying out in pain as a bottle of Skele-Gro worked its magic. Her eyes wandered away from the Weasleys, down the line of the dead, until her heart gave a powerful lurch. There were Lupin and Tonks, holding hands even in death.
She could've joined Ron in mourning, but she didn't. It would've been wrong of her; it would've been an intrusion. She needed the feel of his arms around her, his warmth pressed into her, his lips on hers, but he needed his family, not her. And so she turned away, a large lump building in her throat as she realized that the line of the dead continued across the room.
There was no way for her to make herself useful in that moment, and so she walked down the line, no longer forcing her tears back. Most bodies were surrounded by friends and family, mourning and crying. Hermione did her best to avoid going too close to those.
Her knees buckled under her as her eyes caught Dennis Creevey, sobbing as he held Colin's head in his lap. His fingers ran through his brother's hair.
"Come on, Colin," he managed through his tears. "Come on, open your eyes. You have to see this, Colin. Harry defeated Voldemort. The Wizarding World's all better now. Dumbledore's Army won! We won, Colin, we won! You - you just have to see this. Colin, come on…"
Hermione's hand flew to cover her mouth before a sob could escape. Her stomach was in knots - painful, horrible knots. As she neared the end of the row, she felt as though she could vomit.
Many of the bodies looked unharmed. A girl in a Ravenclaw tie looked so peaceful, she could have just settled down into a dreamless slumber after a long day of Quidditch practice. Hermione conjured a wreath of lilies for her. She did this for everyone who laid on the floor of the Great Hall with no friends or family in sight, except for a Gryffindor student, obviously too young to have been fighting, who looked like she'd appreciate tulips more than lilies.
Hermione instantly recognized the last person in the line. Much unlike the majority of the dead, it was obvious that this girl had suffered. Unable to force herself forward, Hermione sank down beside the lifeless body of Lavender Brown.
To say that Fenrir Greyback had damaged Lavender was an understatement. Her previously soft, brown hair was matted with blood that still dripped from her neck. A chunk of her sweater and shoulder were gone. From the way her arm was twisted, Hermione assumed it was broken. Lavender's eyes were still open, silently questioning why Hermione hadn't blasted the werewolf away before he'd done so much damage.
"E - episkey," Hermione whispered, pointing her wand at Lavender's neck as several of her tears hit the floor. The spell stopped the bleeding, but the wound remained red and visible. She repeated the spell with Lavender's shoulder, but it made even less of a difference.
"Aguamenti." She pointed her wand at Lavender's hair, washing away as much of the blood as she could. Hermione scooped water into her hand and carefully poured it over the wounds on Lavender's face, half expecting the girl to awaken with a shudder when the cold water hit her cheek. She didn't.
"He didn't get your face, Lavender," she said almost hysterically as her tears began to mingle with the water. "That's good, right? You have such a pretty face. It would've been a shame if - if - "
Hermione found herself unable to muster the composure to complete the sentence, and instead allowed herself to double over in a fit of tears.
"If only - I'd gotten - there sooner!" Each pair of words was punctuated by a loud sob. Hermione's hands ran through Lavender's hair; the hair that had always looked perfect in drastic comparison to her own.
It was so blatantly unfair. Lavender may have been irritating. She may have been the kind of girl who fell far too deeply in love far too quickly. She may have put Hermione through emotional turmoil in their sixth year.
But Lavender had not been a bad person. She had been brave; a true Gryffindor. She had fought valiantly until the very end. She had deserved to walk away from the battle relatively unscathed and gone on to fall in love, get married, have a family, and be happy. Lavender Brown had not deserved to die.
"You - deserved - so much - better, Lavender," Hermione sobbed. "This - this is my fault!"
The shaky voice was unmistakably his. Hermione didn't bother to look up, and by the time she collapsed to the side, he was already there to catch her before she hit the ground.
"Oh, Ron," she said, her tears staining the front of his shirt. "She - Lavender was so young. She was a good person, and - and she didn't deserve this!"
"None of them did," he said, his fingers finding their way through her unruly hair.
"They didn't!" Hermione was no longer sitting. Ron had pulled her into a standing position, but she was unable to support herself. His arms wrapped around her as she leaned into him. She felt so small against him. "Colin… Colin Creevey wasn't even of age! And - and Lupin! Tonks! They'd just - just been married, had Teddy. Fred!" Ron allowed a single tear to roll down his face at the mention of his brother, and then bit his lip to prevent any more from falling. "It's not fair.
"But, Ron, I could've saved her! I was - I was right there! If I'd been quicker; just a few seconds quicker - "
His lips silenced her. If she hadn't been able to support herself before, someone may as well have cast a permanent Jelly-Legs Jinx on her in that moment.
"Hermione Granger," said Ron in a halfhearted, scolding tone, "you're smarter than that. There are some things that just… that can't be helped. You can't blame yourself."
Hermione tore her eyes away from his and turned her head to look back at Lavender. Still shaking, she pulled her wand from her front pocket and conjured a purple sheet to cover her with.
"She was so young," she whispered, sounding as though she'd just run a marathon without training and was dangerously out of breath. "Her favorite color was purple. Her and Parvati filled out a questionnaire in Witch Weekly back in our third year. I - I remember that her favorite color was purple."
Ron took his hand in hers and squeezed, using his other hand to wipe the tears from her face. Hermione managed a smile for him.
"How's about we go find Harry, then?" he suggested. "I think he's had enough alone time, don't you?"
"Honestly, Ronald, the poor boy just defeated the greatest dark wizard of all time," she said, sniffling a bit as she tried to laugh. "He deserves all the alone time he wants."
He smiled. "Still think he's had enough of it. Besides, we're his best friends. Ought to at least make sure he's not about to jump off a tower, right?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "You go on ahead." She gave his cheek a quick peck. "I'll catch up in a minute."
Pretending as though his face hadn't turned as red as his hair where she kissed him, Ron nodded nonchalantly and turned to head out of the Great Hall. It was only then that Hermione realized the atmosphere had changed. The majority of the injured had been cured and sat on tables, joking and sharing battle stories. The mourning seemed slightly appeased. Many, including George, had stepped away from their lost loved ones and seemed almost stable.
Hermione turned her attention back to Lavender. The sheet folded just under her chin, leaving her face bare. Now that the worst of her injuries were hidden, she looked as undamaged and tranquil as the Ravenclaw girl from earlier. She might've been sleeping.
A single white rose erupted out of the tip of Hermione's wand. She tucked it behind Lavender's ear.
"Lovely as ever, Lav," she said, blinking back the tears in her eyes. Hermione lifted the sheet so that it covered Lavender's face, and pocketed her wand.
The sun was shining through the broken windows of the Great Hall, pouring warmth onto the students and professors that remained. Hermione saw Ron return with Harry. Before she could even take her first step in their direction, Ginny had flung herself at Harry, kissing him before demanding that he never frighten her that way ever again. Not far from them, a small crowd of students laughed as George told a joke.
Hermione reached her friends, and Ron immediately snaked his arm around her waist.
"Watch out, watch out!" called Madam Pomfrey as she entered the room, dozens of floating mugs behind her. "Hot Butterbeer coming through!"
Mugs zoomed into the hands of everyone in the hall. Hermione took a sip of hers, feeling comforted by the warmth as it made its way down her throat.
"Oh, hey, Luna," Harry said as she approached. She was covered in ash and dirt from head to toe, but didn't seem to mind. "What have you been up to?"
"Not much, really," she said in her usual, airy voice. "I was just telling Dean a fascinating story. Say, did the Wrackspurts come to aid any of you in battle, as well?"