HERMIONE'S TH1RTEEN R3ASONS
Chapter Fifteen: Cassette 7, Side B
AN: This chapter is actually going to contain both Side B, what little contents it had, and the epilogue, which in the original was the last chapter, entitled, "The Next Day (After Mailing the Tapes)". I hope you enjoy it! I've really enjoyed hearing from all of you over the last few weeks as I've been adapting this!
Special thanks to Mi High Lover, ashley4948, A. Deca, JaspersEmotionalGirl, Hyruleepona, The Forgotten Child, love-them-all10, Noodles2, aringle 42, Somnus Verus, kumagers54, and Elizabeth Garrison for reviewing the last chapter! So much love to you all!
The tape clicked over and continued playing. Without Hermione's voice, the slight static hum that constantly played beneath her words sounded louder. Over seven tapes and thirteen stories, her voice was kept at a slight distance by this steady hum in the background.
I let that sound wash over me as I sat there by the bench, my face still pressed against my knees. Everything around me disappeared. The bright moon. The swaying trees. The breeze against my skin, the fading pain in my temple. The sound of the tape winding from one spool to the next, reminded me of everything that had happened, everything that I had heard over the last day.
My breathing began to slow. The tension in my muscles started to relax.
Then, there was a click in the headphones. A slow breath of air.
I opened my eyes to the bright moonlight.
And Hermione, with warmth...
The tape stopped for the final time.
I fought every muscle in my body, begging me to collapse. Begging me not to go to class. To go anywhere else and hide out until tomorrow. But no matter when I went back, the fact remained, eventually I needed to face the other people on the tapes.
I approached the doors to the castle, now wide open for the day. I've walked through them so many times over the past eight years, but today it seemed like a completely different act. Everything seemed different.
I was late, that was different. I was never late for classes.
For two reasons.
One: I waited outside the post office doors. Waited for them to open so that I could mail a shoebox full of tapes. I used a brown paper bag and a roll of spellotape to rewrap it, conveniently forgetting to add my name for the return address. Then I mailed the package to Lavender Brown, changing the way that she'll see life, how she'll see the world, forever.
And two: Professor Slughorn. If I sat there in Potions, with him writing on the board or standing at the desk at the front of the room, directing class like nothing was wrong, the only place I could imagine looking was in the middle of the room, one seat left of center.
The empty seat of Hermione Granger.
People stared at it every day. But today, for me, was profoundly different than yesterday. So I'd take my time in my room, gathering my books. And in the washroom. Or wandering through the halls.
I ascended the huge staircase off of the main hall, then down the adjacent corridor, and then down, down, down, towards the Slytherin common room. And it felt strange, almost sad, to walk through the empty halls. Each step I took sounded so lonely.
I gathered my books, and then left the room, glancing at the discarded wrappings in my trash bin before I shut the door behind me. I shook my head, leaving the common room in a hurry, out of habit. How many times had I sat there, thinking about Hermione Granger? Thinking that I would never have a chance with her.
I had no idea how she felt about me. No idea who she really was. Instead, I believed what other people said about her. And I was afraid of what they might say about me if they knew I liked her.
How many times after the party did I walk these halls, when Hermione was still alive, thinking my chances with her were over? Thinking I said or did something wrong. Too afraid to talk to her again. Too afraid to try.
And then, when she died, the chances disappeared forever.
It all began a few weeks ago, when a map slipped under my door.
I wandered what was in Hermione's room now. Is it empty? Did Filch pack everything into boxes, drop them in a storage cupboard, waiting for her parents to claim them? Or does her room remain untouched, exactly as she left it?
Up two staircases, down another, and then I'm there. I slow, looking down the corridor towards the always-empty door to Potions. Professor Slughorn's classroom. Right there, outside his door, was where I last saw Hermione Granger alive.
I stopped, turning to lean against the wall, and closed my eyes.
Who was I going to see today? Besides me, six people at the school had already heard the tapes. Six people, today, were waiting to see what the tapes had done to me. And over the next week or so, as the tapes move on, I would be doing the same thing to the rest of them.
In the distance, muffled by a wall, came a familiar voice. I slowly opened my eyes. But the voice would never sound friendly again.
"I need someone to take this to the Headmistress' office for me."
Professor Slughorn's voice crepts down the hall straight towards me. The muscles in my shoulders felt tight, heavy, and I pounded my fist against the stone wall.
A chair scraped across the stone floor, followed by footsteps leaving the classroom. My knees felt ready to crumble, waiting for the student to see me and ask why I wasn't in class. At the opposite end of the hall, footsteps were coming up the stairs.
Coming out of Slughorn's class, Blaise nodded his head at me and smiled. The student from the stairs rounded the corner into the hall, almost colliding with Blaise.
She whispered, "I'm sorry," then moved around him to get by.
Blaise looked down at her but didn't respond, just kept up his pace, moving closer to me.
"Alright, Draco?" he said. Then he laughed. "Late for class, huh?"
Beyond him, in the hallway, the girl turned. It was Luna.
The back of my neck started sweating. She looked at me, and I held her gaze for a few steps, and then she turned to keep walking.
Blaise was close now, but I didn't look at him. I motioned for him to move to the side. "Talk to me later," I said.
Last night, on the path between Hogsmeade and the castle, I left without talking to Luna. I wanted to talk with her, I tried to, but I let her slide out of the conversation. Over the years, she'd learned to do that, whether it was intentional or not. She put people off, with her way of speaking. Everyone.
I stepped away from the wall and watched her continue down the hall.
I wanted to say something, to call her name, but my throat tightened.
Part of me wanted to ignore it, to turn around and keep myself busy, doing anything, until Potions was over.
But Luna was walking away down the same stretch of hall where I watched Hermione slip away two weeks ago. On that day, Hermione disappeared into a crowd of students, allowing the tapes to say her goodbye. But I could still hear the footsteps of Luna Lovegoode, sounding weaker and weaker the further she got.
And I started walking toward her.
I passed the open door to Professor Slughorn's room and, in one hurried glance, pulled in more than I expected. The empty seat near the center of the room. Empty for two weeks and for the rest of the year. Another seat, my seat, empty for one day. A dozen faces turned towards me. They recognized me, but they didn't see everything. And there was Professor Slughorn, facing away, but starting to turn.
A flood of emotions rushed through me. Pain and anger. Sadness and pity. But most surprising of all, hope.
I kept walking.
Luna's footsteps were growing louder. And the closer I got to her, the faster I walked, and the lighter I felt. My throat began to relax.
Two steps behind her, I said her name.
AN: It's over. I can hardly believe it. Thanks to all of you who have stuck with me from the beginning of this adaptation to now; through the sporadic updates and the excuses and the lack of explanation and replies... Wow, I suck at this. The point is, thank you! You've all made it quite the journey.
We still have the alternate ending to go, but I'd like you all to understand that this is the real ending, and that anything after this is purely for entertainment purposes to answer "what if..."
Thanks so much, and I hope to see you all again someday! Those of you lurking and waiting for the last chapter to review the story as a whole, now would be that time! I look forward to hearing from everyone, one last time!
The alternate ending will be up ASAP, but I'm not sure when exactly. It'll take longer than most chapters, I think, because it's all original work. Look forward to it! :D