So... I randomly finished this. To the reviewers… Honestly, going back every once in a while and reading your reviews kept me going at this after all these years. I owe you guys so much for this. Thank you, thank you for critiques, comments, and support. Please let me know any additional thoughts you may have, as I'll certainly read them. I can't believe it's finally finished!
Summary: AU. Years after his defeat of Voldemort, Harry Potter remains a willing and secret prisoner of the Ministry, but not all is what it seems. Harry has a plan, and the world will never be the same.
The Prisoner's Cipher
They stared at each other for the longest second. No thoughts existed in Hermione's head as she lost herself in the periwinkle blue eyes she'd never thought she'd see again.
Before emotion could take form into what would inevitably be hope, the bright blue eyes began to get blurry, smaller, agonizingly swimming out of her view.
And with that - he, it, they - were gone. Only blurs of colors remained and she felt herself fall once more upon the floor.
The bold dismissal laid bare Hermione's state even more than before, as slow-rolling tears making their way down her cheeks awakened her other senses. The momentary clarity had dissipated and her grief shot straight to the back of her throat. Vision blurred and spun once more.
She could not breath without dry sobs wracking her body. She did not hurt, not in the physical sense. She felt raw, exposed in a terribly susceptible manner, and so very, very weak…
With the greatest of efforts, she pushed up with her arms so her upper body wavered above the floor. She desperately hoped it would steady the dizziness that threatened to overwhelm her. She could only barely make out the sharp runes cutting her palms as she struggled to keep herself up, her entire body shaking from the effort.
Where had he gone? Had she dreamed it? Was this what Harry experienced? False visions of the heart? Perceived inner desires?
Fear clenched her heart.
Would this be what it would be like from now on?
The horrors of what she had just undertaken began to truly down upon her, and she closed her eyes as though it would hide her from the world.
What… have I done?!
Hermione, despite all she had been through, had not yet reached a low like the one she now wallowed in. She had lost faith in Harry, in her situation, in hope, but had never once lost faith in herself.
She now lacked the ability to even believe what she told herself. The consequences of that were truly terrifying.
Hermione felt herself breaking down from the inside out, unpeeling.
An undetermined time passed as her eyes closed and she clasped her chest with her arms.
It was then a spark, an inner strength - logic came through. Her oldest companion. It would not let her down.
She had seen Dumbledore.
This had not been made up – it made sense – she had long suspected Dumbledore to still be alive, she had seen him get up, alive in the memory. What else had Harry been searching for but him?
She opened her eyes once more - she had to find him!
Her head still spun, but the beginnings of clarity greeted her eyes as she saw the dark purple robes of Dumbledore swishing back and forth as he bent down one place after another, inspecting the floor.
"Professor… " her voice was cracked and hoarse. It came out as a loud whisper.
The deep moon-purple robes – in and out of her view - did not move towards her, instead bustling about the floor she now sat up upon. Blurred dark oak filled her vision once more.
Had he not heard her?
Did he truly not exist?
No. He is real. I'll call out once more.
She blinked. Breathing was ragged, somewhere she could register her eyes twitching randomly. She did not know how long she sat there.
But, slowly minute noises began to settle upon her ears – noises one never really notices but are always present. The gentle swish of her robes as her labored breathing pushed her chest up and down, the slight grating noises Dumbledore's footwear made across the ingrained runes upon the floor, her breathing… she breathed…
Dumbledore – Albus Dumbledore –very much alive! The moon-purple hue of his robes once again took shape within her field of vision. The hope and fervor that hadn't quite come to fruition earlier came to her with full force.
She realized she hadn't felt like this since her teenage years – hope and inspiration from a clear mentor. Excitement began to take hold of her - He would help her!
With monumental effort she turned upon her side, her body still mostly unresponsive. Casting her eyes upward she espied her old Headmaster, half moon glasses peering intensely at some other spot in the room.
"Professor! Professor, please… please help me. Dumbledore…"
And her heart hung upon dangerous precipices, the blind hope from earlier teetering, belief in herself wavering.
And finally, he gave her his attention.
Dumbledore's head turned slowly, his eyes closed heavily for a second, reopening to meet her avid gaze of hope and expectation.
Her vision and senses came back to her so intensely at that moment it took her breath away.
Dumbledore's expression, sparkled not with benign awareness as remembered, but with conflicted emotion – Grim, sad. Tragic even. Wrapped in a veil element of confusion – an abject dullness that slightly obscured all that one saw through it.
Yet, between these whirlpools of emotion – a clear and singular purpose lingered there, stark and strong despite what surrounded it – and it bore a calculating and crazed element that thoroughly spooked her.
"Ms. Granger, forgive me…" his voice wasn't as she remembered it. It was tinny, winded, and off.
"What help I am capable of giving, I must give to myself. You'll have to trust that by extension it is help to you as well… I- I just… " his eyes flitted to her own, away and back again. And he closed his eyes for a heavy moment, "Please, please do not look at me like that, child. I am not that man."
Icy pangs of apprehension took ahold of Hermione.
Something was wrong. Very, very wrong.
Dumbledore did not stutter. Dumbledore did not speak selfishly. Dumbledore did not repeat words. Her gaze snapped up to him to verify her quaking fears.
A tight, worried smile placed itself upon Dumbledore's face, "And, if I truly were to indulge myself, I'd rather you not look at me like that either. But even then… who knows. Not I. I know only what I am to do, not what I want." Despite the semblance of his characteristic wit, it held no warmth and he immediately turned back to whatever held his attention before.
His sparkling blue eyes she had held completely synonymous with Dumbledore's famed personality. Now they lied to her.
She began to involuntarily scoot away from him, but he continued undeterred and unaware, despite having his attention elsewhere "I have a certain amount of control, yes."
She breathed heavily, fear lacing her face making it higher pitched than usual, "And… but, what do you mean Professor?"
"I have enough to do what's needed, and not linger."
Hermione had nothing to say to this, only stared. Her body ached and her heart now sat still, chilled.
She looked upon him once more.
And realized she did not know him.
This was not the Dumbledore she once knew.
Whether he had changed, or was a shade of him former self, she had no clue. But something was simply off. She was so acutely aware of it - it occluded her senses and made her realize nothing else. Dumbledore didn't speak like this. He didn't speak so fast, so bumbled, so confused.
Dumbledore talked like he was in control, and this was not the case. Dumbledore was not nervous.
They suddenly locked eyes and Hermione held her breath, and immediately stopped scooting away, merely staring.
"Of course I'm not in control" Hermione's body straightened, "and I must say my abilities at Leglimency have not wavered either. By Merlin child, you were looking right at me what else was I to do? An unmitigated invitation! But yes, of course I'm off – but I'm being repetitive. I have only one purpose here. "
It then hit her who she was seeing. Why she was seeing who she was seeing. And what state exactly this person was in. This was Albus Dumbledore in front of her – murdered and brought back to life. The last time she had seen him, Harry had been bringing him back to life within this very room.
And yet he now lived.
In the same fashion Harry lived his life with a severed and reborn soul.
It was only natural that Dumbledore be subjected to the same horrific inner manifestations as Harry had. Where had he been all these years?
She looked with growing fear at the form in front of her – the once great warlock, one of the greatest to ever have lived – now bent in front of her, scurrying with anxious, feverish intent – looking over the floor.
He was mad. Completely and utterly mad.
There was no other answer. She had seen his eyes – that unfocused blank gaze of sheer absurdity. She now recognized that look – it was a look Harry carried at times, when his madness would take over. And yet, Dumbledore had a purpose within him, that she knew. Something drove him… but what…
Slowly but surely the desire and need to get away possessed her. As an icy room quiets, covers, and converts a warm object it washed over her with frigid awareness. Her breathing increased and her eyes darted towards the door.
She made sudden eye contact with Dumbledore. He was smiling, yet still wearing a countenance that gave no warmth, only measured recognition.
"I see it has hit you, quick as you always were, it offers no surprise." And he gazed at her, seemingly seeing through her. And with a slight closing of his eye lids, spoke once more in a different voice, "But then again – did you not see, not feel the way it affected your best friend? He, a much greater and purer person than I? It only makes sense for me to have been subjected as well. But alas, purer by no means suggests control."
She looked at him, clueless.
Dumbledore looked back at her, almost with an expression of disbelief at her not following his train of thought completely, "His past was dark, Ms. Granger, obscenely so. All the usual suspects – abusive and tragic formative events, persistent and latent dark thoughts, and even the necessary losses occurred. Only action was lacking to complete the one way ticket, until the obvious catalyst. Then those evil tendencies became real."
What he said made sense, but what it suggested was much more ambiguous, "and what of you Professor… what of you?"
Dumbledore relaxed, breathing in deeply. "And what of me?" he gave a tight-lipped smile, much like Professor McGonagall used to. "What of me indeed… Harry always made the conscious choice to not do evil, my good and my bad were always premeditated. Harry grew into his power. I did not. I always had it, and most certainly knew how to use it."
"Just not when."
The statement completely floored her, its swift unexpected nature throwing her off completely. His next statement even more so.
"Not much separated Grindenwald and I, not much at all. By lucky chance the only thing that made the difference was something I had and lost."
Only intense eye contact broke the silence that followed.
"Her name was Ariana," and before she could draw any reaction he continued "and that was also premeditated, no matter what way I spin it."
Hermione's eyes went wide with surprise and a slew of possibilities of what he was saying came to mind but Dumbledore talked once more.
"But this is not perhaps the question at hand, merely the preface. For every one has inner demons, some lying dormant within the confines of emotion and ability, some crafted from tragic experiences and personal choices. Structure and moral conviction keep these demons in check in a constant state of warfare and yet – "
He gestured emphatically with his arm around the room, but her eyes never left him.
"Here we are! With that structure, that moral conviction ruptured and confused. And what beautiful irony, in this room none-the-less!"
Hermione's rational hold on the situation was fast becoming lost, and said the only thing that her mind could conjure.
"But where does that leave you? Me? ..." Her body was stiff and taught in tension and confusion.
Dumbledore said plainly, "That depends."
And his eyes sparkled, and she felt fear course through her veins. She knew that look. It was a mischievous look, wild, and feral. The look someone gets when they're reckless with the power and skill to conduct situations as they see fit.
And to see this errant brashness in Dumbledore was downright the most terrifying thing Hermione had ever seen. Her breath escaped her and she screamed silently.
Hadn't Harry told her to run?
She whipped her head around to see her best friend's prostrate form, and then back to Dumbledore, causing great dizziness. 'Run' Harry had said, and she had promised him. But now as she stared at his fallen form… It only took her a millisecond to realize that she wasn't going to.
She was raw, torn, and purely instinctual in her present state, and she knew where her allegiance lay. With complete disregard to the Dumbledore looming above her, she scrambled, tripping and falling many times – scraping and cutting herself upon the sharply carved runes. Harry's fallen body became clearer the closer she got.
And she threw herself upon him, embracing him in a way she hadn't in over ten years. It was beyond a guilty pleasure, a desire, a need beyond thought. Ten thousand forms of closure and inner peace locked and inextricably intertwined themselves within her. Never had so much emotion filled her entire being, as though her entire body, heart, and soul exuded bright and physical light – filling the room.
In her arms she cradled the unresponsive head, the soft and unruly curls of Harry Potter.
The tenderness of his vulnerability, the softness of the moment completely overrode years of forced emotional barricades. Here, here was what she had wanted to do every day since he'd left them, protected them, forgot them, and betrayed them.
Barely lucid, she poured her gaze upon his face and drank in the rarity of the sight. His face was more wrinkled then she thought – lines of worry and stress were evident. A thin scar was upon his forehead, almost touching his trademark lightning one. He was more gaunt then she knew he had been just months ago.
And because of it, he was more human, more relatable, and more Harry - and she buried her face into his neck, unable to hold herself together and cried uncontrollably, clutching him as though he were an injured baby bird with the protective strength of a mother holding her child.
A million images flew through her mind as her heart registered with shock she was once again holding her first and truest friend – the troll incident, seeing him when she had been un-petrified in the infirmary, flying upon the hippogryph, his face when playing quidditch, him and Ron laughing at nothing…
The images gave her no respite, and her wracking sobs took control of her completely.
She cried and cried, giving no heed, and indeed having no ability to remotely tell how long.
She came to not from the sound of her heartbeat, but another's.
The immaculate survivor. Harry!
Gasping for breath and thoroughly spent, she lifted her neck to look down upon Harry. Sure enough his chest was rising up and down – painfully slow.
A long rasping, ragged breath – as though someone were being suffocated and taking their last desperate breath – escaped through his throat.
"Harry! No! It's me!" And she cradled his head to her chest, pulling his torso upward and straightening his back. Hoping against hope it would aid his current state.
"Breathe Harry, Breathe!" she said, panic beginning to take over, yet strangely intertwined with the benign feeling of simply being able to help him.
His eyelids creased together tighter, pain evident –
" No! Keep going! Harry!" She moved to perform some standard medical maneuvers but was interrupted abruptly.
"I'm sorry Hermione, but that is my cue to intervene" and she felt herself forcefully pushed with a snap of magic to the ground several feet away. Not harshly, but emphatically. Her fingers desperately sought out to still hold on to Harry – even as she soared in the air - she had just found him again!
It was like she was witnessing him die, losing her physical hold on him – and she fought the curse with all she had, scrambling on the floor, clawing and scraping her way back towards Harry.
But Dumbledore was too strong, she simply saw all black momentarily as another spell hit her and she crumpled to the floor once more. Tears streaking, breathing shallow and rapid, she gaze back to where she was.
Fear shot through her heart as she found herself locked in with the intense, piercing gaze of Dumbledore and fear and Harry's plead for her to run echoed in her mind.
"Oh no, I sincerely doubt I am the one you'll be needing to run from. Although I thoroughly suggest following his advice. I am undoubtedly dangerous – more so than I have been in a long, long time - but I have control. Barely. And let us both hope it is enough. One thing needs to be accomplished here, perhaps by the both of us, and the other I can most certainly do myself."
And he paused, and she saw a weariness and an emotional capacity in him that had not been present before. Hope bloomed within her heart.
He continued, "For Harry… he was lost before, I am simply unable to comprehend what he has come to now. Twice his soul has been sundered by physical means."
As if in response to her thoughts, he followed with "There are many other ways to break one's soul that do not require an incantation."
Silence pervaded room as Dumbledore's statement sunk in.
"If this brings you any sort of solace Ms. Granger, you aren't going to suffer our fate. You'll beat it," and he gestured lightly towards Harry, "you've already proven you have the fiber and strength to do so."
And he turned towards her once more, wand aloft. Yet he was not looking at her, but several feet away from her where wand lay, strewn after she had forced away from Harry.
His wand twitched, and her wand spun through the air, landing softly upon her lap.
"Consider my words, Ms. Granger" he said, a semblance of kindness and compassion creeping in, "Leave. Go. You have no means to help him or yourself here so heed his advice and go. I cannot impress upon you enough the severity of the chaotic elements that are at play here – within myself, within Harry, and what may happen in between. I feel myself right now, inexplicably. And I shall take advantage of it by telling you to flee, for your good and for Harry and mine. I retract my earlier statement concerning your future - run, Ms. Granger, and you'll make it. I truly wish you the best."
So convictive was his voice she nearly unthinkingly complied.
Yet, it took her next to no time to make her decision. No one was going to take her away from her best friend again.
Dumbledore merely looked at her sadly, a sudden clearness in his gaze, "And that, Ms. Granger is why you won't suffer our fate" he motioned to Harry and himself, "Your moral structure and vindication is an inspiration, I reiterate my earlier statement."
A sudden gasp broke their reverie, and it revealed Harry tightening in the fetal position, his wheezing painful to listen to. Dumbledore pivoted, all action, and gestured sharply with his wand.
"- and yet, as inspirational as those qualities may be, they are by no means a safety guarantee. You're on your own now."
Suddenly, Harry was suspended in the air, but only partially. His legs lay mostly limp on the floor, knees bent slightly, while his upper body floated. Occasional twitches in his legs and tiny whimpers were the only signs of struggle, and of life.
Dumbledore loomed above him, arm slightly raised and wand elegantly pointed down at a slight angle. He simply stared at Harry.
Minutes ticked by.
Slowly, Hermione could hear Dumbledore's breathing increase in frequency and noise. His feet began to shift, his fingers clenched and unclenched. Harry's body simply floated limp and his head lolled with soft, painful indications of life rasping through his throat. Dumbledore seemed to be hesitating, unsure of his current decision. He suddenly swooshed away from Harry and began intently staring at the runes, whipping his head from direction to direction. Hermione could literally feel his genius at work. Every once in a while he would glance up at Harry, raise his wand and reapply some wordless spell – presumably to maintain the invisible hold on Harry.
He returned to stand in front of Harry in a short while. His gaze unwavering. Hermione could see sweat to bead upon his temples.
Determination was evident in his face, although he committed no action besides his feet shuffling in slow, random cadences. It was inexplicably unnerving.
She felt as though she should stop him – she did not know his intentions. But he had sounded so much like the Dumbledore of old a minute ago, and she couldn't quite shake off what he had once been.
What was his goal here? She had seen the closeness between Dumbledore and Harry – but forces were at work here that she did not understand.
Harry continued to emit light gagging, rasping sounds with intermittent twitches. His eyes had not yet opened.
Dumbledore quickly changed that fact with a subtle twitch of his wand.
Harry's head was thrown back and a massive gasp of air emitted from his mouth. His legs straightened and he struggled against his invisible reins. She could see his eyes – wide open – gaze upwards into the ceiling.
Harry's rasping gasp finally stopped as his head lolled to the point where his chin was on his chest.
His eyes were closed once more.
Dumbledore stood completely un-phased, merely taking a few staggered steps forward towards Harrys still form. He looked up, an act of slight impatience, although his eyes showed a myriad of emotions. Wild emotions. The inner battle to control them was strikingly evident.
When Dumbledore spoke, he spoke with familiarity but a terse tone.
"Hermione, I need your help."
She looked up, not expecting his last statement.
"Since you've elected to stay… I've looked over these runes – I can interpret most of them – I get the gist to say the least. After all, I helped him create many of them. And I know you've studied them, there's no way you and I could both be here had you not. These last lines, over here – "
She panicked. She didn't trust his intents. She may not know what they were, but she knew she didn't trust them. His rough treatment of Harry was indication enough.
Dumbledore merely peered at her, "No?"
"No! I won't have you hurt him. Why are you here, I don't trust you!"
Dumbledore laughed in a short huff, "Of course you don't. Neither do I. But for this, you must. You haven't the strength to oppose what will wake up in seconds! You think it is Harry, but it is as much him as I am of me! We are shades Hermione, bodily manifestations of what once was, not even real! Come now, let us not be insipid, but practical instead. We need to know what is going on here. Now." Snaps of magic were starting to crack in the air. Hermione grasped her wand tighter.
"Did you write these runes? Answer me!"
"No! I didn't!"
"But you can read them."
"Yes! Probably yes, but I'm not going to read them for you!"
Dumbledore took a deep breath, "Hermione. Runes in a warding scheme always – always – have an exit clause."
Hermione was now standing, hastily casting defensive measures about her body. Dumbledore gave it no heed.
"I don't know what you're saying."
"That's because you are not thinking. Child - What I'm saying is that this runic ward has been activated. The circulant pattern suggests that, and that tail – " he pointed at a handlebar of runes sticking out of the circle of runes "heavily suggests that it has not yet done all it is supposed to do. An exit clause."
Hermione breathed in and out, mulling over the revelation in her mind. It wasn't done? What else could be done?
"You didn't know it was there did you? You realize that he has written in something to happen to us, that is contingent on – and he pointed a rune – upon his waking?"
The questions were rhetorical and both knew it. A tiny feeling of doom made its place within her chest.
"Promise to me you won't hurt him."
"I'm not going to promise that at all."
"Then I won't help you."
"He's killed your schoolmates, amongst others. He'd probably get to you given enough time."
"Compelled by forces he could not control, born of good intent."
"Ah so he showed you his memories did he? Clever. But those same forces govern me, why not trust me? I've killed no one."
"My greatest enemy still lives, what of Harry's? Your reasoning is flawed. Is the Weasley stubbornness so contagious? I do not remember you being so opposed to simple logic."
Hermione bristled, but an inner voice was beginning to be heard amongst the cries of her heart.
He shifted so his body faced hers completely. "Minus you of course, there is only one person here between Harry and I that has the higher moral awareness and vindication to do what's right, and it is not Harry. Pause for a second, and try to see the right path here, before I myself forget it."
"No one needs to kill anyone here! Death is never a solution!" she shrieked. Dumbledore did not even bother to acknowledge she had finally voiced out loud his intentions.
"Yes, normally. But for those where death is never an option… well, the methods need be rearranged."
"Promise to not kill him, and I will read the runes."
"I can't do that Hermione. You're endangering both of us by not reading the runes and you're endangering the world by letting him live. You're assuming he'd make the right choice. He hasn't and he won't. I am not even certain he'll even be rational."
"I will be gentle. He'd want this."
"Harry is a survivor, he's come this far. And what of you? Should you not be put down as well?!"
Hermione was now standing up tall, wand brandished in a defensive position. Dumbledore or not, she would protect her own, despite her heart sitting in her throat.
"I am no longer a part of this world, and I have no wish to join it."
"And so – after murdering Harry – you'd leave it? Would you end it? If both your so-called instability is so latent with danger, could you end it?"
They stared at each other for long seconds. She had no read on him.
"This does not have to end with murder."
"I think it is in everyone's interest – Harry's included – that the stochasticity of the situation be eliminated."
"Let him wake! Let him speak. Surely you must have something – anything – to say after all these years –"
"Yes! Yes, the evidence that you've seen the memories has been laid sufficiently, I grant you. But, as they say, what has passed is past. We do not want him waking up. I would not be talking to the Harry I want to, nor am I the man I once was. Surely, you know this. Think, Hermione. Think. "
"I cannot stand by and watch the murder of my… my first and best friend on the unexplained whim of someone who is supposed to be dead!"
Dumbledore peered at her over the top of his half-moon glasses. A familiar twinkle was just able to come to his eyes.
But it was cold.
"Unexplained? Whim?" Dumbledore shook his head with a nearly patronizing smirk.
"You mentioned 'forces' that compelled him that he could not control… you do realize that those forces came from within himself? These were not external forces, this was not Voldemort's will or some other devilish spirit – No! These forces were of his own volition, his own self! Nothing was created here, only released!"
He was taking measured steps toward her.
"Come Hermione, and think. He is both unhinged and no longer the man you know. I am not the man you know and I know with deadly certainty – pun most certainly intended - that he is many, many stages past me. Consistency is the measure of a man, and neither he nor I have any of that. Forget your schoolyard fantasies and look at reality. Time to grow out of the past Hermione, the present has no place for it."
The weight of his speech fell upon her, and gave her pause. She recognized it for what it was.
But by no means did it entail her abandoning her friend to be murdered. The fire relit within her eyes. Dumbledore did not miss it.
"This is a choice that should be made by him. No one else's."
"And you mean to tell me he's in the right state of mind now to make that not-quote-so paltry decision? When he's failed to do so before?"
"Would you make the decision?"
"I most certainly would – Do you see a trail of victims in my wake?"
Hermione had no answer to this. Again it was the truth. But it was not right.
"Murder is not the solution here."
"Would terming it 'righteous murder' make this decision more compelling?"
Hermione scoffed, was that supposed to be humorous?
Dumbledore closed his eyes as he would with a petulant child, "You're reasoning with the unreasonable."
With flinty eyes he looked at Hermione, "Perhaps I am approaching this incorrectly. Hermione, am I right in assuming you know the basics of Occlumency?"
Hermione nodded, his abrupt refusal to acknowledge her emotional plea burning a hole.
"When learning, it is exceedingly rare for someone to be able to simply 'clear all thought,' as most people's mind's are simply not organized enough to abstain from emotion in times of duress."
Hermione simply stared, listening but impatient. She was aware of this knowledge.
"So people find a physical, tangible place to form their inner sanctuary of nothingness. For some it's an endless beach, others a desert, and so on and so forth. Ironically enough, a good foothold on Occlumency is generally acquired by the mastering of an emotionally stable place, rather than the absence of emotion. Absence of it would be ideal of course…"
"But impossible," Hermione intoned,
Dumbledore gave a slight affirmative nod. Hermione patiently waited for Dumbledore to continue.
"Do you know what Harry's place is, Hermione?"
The question sent a chill through her body, and she gave it serious thought.
"Something with flying? He loved flying. So perhaps the sky above the Hogwarts pitch?"
Dumbledore "An apt guess, and indeed it was a place Harry and I tried to focus on when he was learning."
"But it was not good enough. It worked, but not when the Leglimency attack was large in scale. Hermione… Harry, for as pure as he was, as golden as his heart was… he was never a happy person. I tried as hard as I could to give him what happiness our life could afford, but…"
Their eyes met briefly, and unspoken understanding was conveyed. He continued.
"Shadows followed him at every step, dogged his every day trials, and were always present during his successes. Happiness was a scarce luxury, not a facet of life. Not an expectation, not a hope – but an occurrence. Flying was an escape, a haven - no doubt - but it was not an instinctive place for him, and when a mental attack is skilled and harsh, such a place is simply not good enough."
"Harry was a man whose entire character is defined by an iron will shrouded with silent grief guided with nearly blind moral conviction. There is one and only one place in his past where all of these characteristics were molded from fire and hardened by dire experience. He was forged there, and it has made him into one of the most accomplished Occlumens of all times, from the sheer expansiveness of utter determination within the void this place gives."
Hermione breath was hitched, "Professor, I don't…"
"Harry's relatives forced him to live in a broom cupboard for nearly eleven years underneath their staircase. The darkness of that small living space is where Harry has now most certainly hidden himself within. It is his safe place. Where he forged all the traits that made him the man we knew and loved."
"Now… what has happened is this metaphysical blasphemy has meddled with this. It allows these dark thoughts to run rampant, untethered by what our formative lives have previously tied them down to. At random and sporadic times. It is – trust me – completely unpredictable. And for a man like Harry who's darkness runs deep and pervasive… well you've seen the result and you will – and I have no doubt about this – see it once more at some point after he wakes. He has no control over this, I'm sorry but there is no other way to deal with this."
"I… I do understand what your saying," and she did. "But I cannot murder, I cannot… Professor," she gulped as a sudden strength of heart took her, "-Professor you have not seen him in the past couple days. He's different, he's been... different. I know I've seen the real Harry there. You can't say anything against this, you simply can't. We both know that of everyone here, I would be the one to be the best judge of true character.
"You, " and it still, on a childlike level, gave her a sense of disbelief she was going to tell off Albus Dumbledore like this, "don't even know your true self, and Harry certainly doesn't either. But I do. I know him! And what I felt was it, it's still there Professor! The control may not be, but he is still there!"
Dumbledore's lips thinned, as his head tilted upward faintly.
"How, and I beg of you Professor Dumbledore, how can you murder Harry? Because he is in there, he is. And he's trapped, and he's confused, and ever so dangerous – I know – but you and I both know he's a survivor, he never quits. And both you and I know that he is an inherent loner, but more than anyone else he needs his loved ones… his friends. This was a battle he only ever fought by himself, and lost. But what if he had help? What if he had me? You? You both could work for yourselves. Could you not help each other? Think of the good you two could bring upon our world? You say he lacks structure, well we are his structure! Professor, please."
Tears began to form, but her voice was strong.
Dumbledore stayed silent. Only the shallow, raspy breathing of Harry – still hanging midair, slowly rotating clockwise could be heard.
She could see the myriad of emotions playing in his eyes. Suddenly a resolution could be seen as his face tightened and his eyes turned flinty.
"Professor –" but he interrupted her. And his answer had absolutely nothing to do the impassioned speech she had given.
The dismissal was stunningly cold, and she knew then that he had only one purpose here. To kill Harry. Nothing she could say would move him.
How had he put it? "Reasoning with the unreasonable."
"Let us pretend for the moment that those issues I just discussed don't exist. Let us instead look at another one, equally as dangerous. Synonymous, even." He paced several yards away, nearing the outside of the circular array of runes she and Harry had laid at the center of before the event had occurred.
He gestured below him, completely ignoring the looks of desperation desolation upon her face.
"This tail… or "the lever" as it is called amongst the professionals… let me just state blatantly that I can't read the runes in this tail – there are emblems here that were born into creation far after my time I was with Harry. But I do know what yew," and his wand highlighted the rune, "-entails and I most certainly know what a serpent skull," another highlight appeared, "-suggests, so if you could kindly aid in protecting what would inevitably be both our interests, in particular this very worrying muggle cutlery knife insigna –"
A rasping scream interrupted their conversation. Both turned momentarily to see Harry, who had broken Dumbledore's magic holding him mid air. He was on his knees, head bowed gasping with dreadful intensity. His wand was rolling slowly away from him, his arms visibly shaking form holding himself up.
With trepidation she turned back to Dumbledore who was already staring at her. Dumbledore never wavered in his gaze to her, and a sense of resignation came upon his stance.
"And now... Too late."
She didn't have time to think about the fortuitous comment, for Dumbledore whipped around and a laser of white light straight towards Harry's throat.
She knew that spell. Harry had used it multiple times – when escaping and on the bird and it had only one intent – to kill.
She looked towards Harry's face to beseech him somehow – in some impossible manner – to move, dodge, get away from that killing light.
And she found him looking right back at her.
They made painful, bloodshot eye contact. She knew right away that he was not in a calm state of mind. His eyes were absolutely livid, his iris flitting back and forth with frightening speed.
The white light of the incoming spell lit up his bright green eyes eerily, casting hard edges on the now evident tears pooling in his eyes and flowing down his face.
She saw his eyes widen in fear as he became aware of the spell – the color, the type, and its intent. It wasn't a rational recognition, simply a reactive one that recognized whatever in front of him was danger.
She wanted to close her eyes but couldn't.
Her heart screamed in triumph as Harry screamed and threw his hand up and a mostly translucent white shield burst into existence just before the spell hit him. A painful bang echoed across the room as the shield stopped the spell, but dissipated immediately upon contact and Harry was thrown with extreme violence upon the wall a dozen feet behind him.
Dumbledore wasted no time and steadily pulsed the wall with a powerful blue spell that plumed dust into the air, which he quickly morphed into a swirling maelstrom in front him and banished towards Harry with frightening speed. It was dark and unable to be seen through.
Harry was only just getting up, in terrible shape. He was whimpering, his back arched and his churning feet slipping, trying to gain purchase on the dusty floor.
The cloud of dust shot towards Harry – changing colors from light grey to dark black to a shiny metallic color.
And it's most prodigal pupil commanding it.
Harry never once took his eyes off of his former mentor, despite the obvious pain his body was in. His mouth was moving but she could not hear what he was saying – it didn't look like spells or an incantation.
He was still crying, even amidst the sounds of battle she could hear his heaving cries. A scream of terror broke his lips as he saw the incoming miniscule projectiles, and he just barely brought the cabinet and its books down over and in front of him with a desperate swipe of his hand. She got a glimpse of his unused wand laying uselessly upon the floor several yards away. Harry had not even the presence of mind to consider using it.
As subtly as she could managed she silently summoned Harry's wand to her, hoping against hope she'd be able to give it back to him.
The books and cabinet took the brunt of nearly all of the thousands of tiny metallic missiles careening towards him. But not all. Audible cries of pain could be heard as a few pierced his body.
The rest of the cabinets were now falling – the noise loud and unbearable. Harry was still moving his lips but its noises could not be heard as he scrambled away on all fours. Both tears and blood were now soaking the hems of his shirt. Dumbledore had his wand up, and Hermione knew this would be the end. Harry had taken his eyes off Dumbledore and was scrambling – still on all fours – towards the far corner.
Harry had no presence of mind whatsoever. He was reduced to an animal – a wounded animal. It was so simplistically terrible to behold it froze her heart. Even Dumbledore paused. His wand arm falling slightly.
Harry was now crying uncontrollably in the corner, scrunched into the fetal position, his livid bloodshot eyes scanning uncontrollably around the room as sharp whimpers escaped his cracked, dried lips. Snaps of magic and random cracks upon the walls around him appeared randomly and violently.
Both Hermione and Dumbledore stared in muted disbelief at what was left.
As if sensing the immediate danger was gone, Harry uncurled little by little out of the fetal position. His fearful eyes squinting in pain and fear at the tall figure in front of him. His arms still hugged his body so tightly she could see his muscles straining from the task.
She could not see Dumbledore's expression, but his posture was an almost defeated one. Both so soul-torn, but both so painfully human…
The only sounds were of Harry's whimpers, and the sporadic quivers of his feet, kicking the loose debris and books that laid around him.
Dumbledore's sudden straightening in posture rang every alarm bell in her body.
"Professor! No, you –"
His eyes, were hallowed, gaunt, and motionless.
Spinning quickly, he cast a slow, almost misty spell towards Harry. She knew this spell – mediwizards used it when no hope was left for terminal patients – it stopped the blood flow and killed the patient painlessly within a few seconds.
She had to think fast – she was in no position to do something that Dumbledore wouldn't circumvent immediately. And the spell was nearing Harry fast, she could see his fear-ridden eyes watch it with unknowing fascination. Her mind was in no position to be inventive, she needed more time and it was much much too late – Her love for him cried out to him, her need to protect the boy in him that she now knew he possessed –
And in that instant Harry's eyes snapped to hers, she saw – felt – the wild craze that held him shatter into a million pieces and he gazed at her as him.
She could not even begin to describe the warmth that took ahold of her body.
And at once he shoved both hands forward and solid black shield sprung into existence and the white spell dissipated. An instant later the shield was blasted towards Dumbledore at the same time as she banished Harry's wand directly to him, which he caught with two hands.
Dumbledore paid no attention to the incoming shield – he paid attention to her. Still in the outreach of casting the banishing spell, she found herself blasted fifteen feet into the wall behind her by a bright blue spell as Dumbledore – with his left hand – caught the shield in the air with magic and slammed it down into the floor with malice, where it lay stuck in the wooden tiles.
She screamed in agony, having broken at least several bones upon the impact. The spell still held her upon the wall, stuck like a fly. She could see Harry out of the corner of her eye, casting a deluge of protective measures upon himself. But her attention was ripped from him as she saw the scattered pages in front of her – from the fallen bookcases - whipping into mini-tornados that began forming into man-like creatures, starting from the feet.
Fear coursed through her. Two man-like creatures, shaped by paper, began to morph into a harder material and several spells splashed into them putting in various and unknown defensive and protective measures. With startling quickness, they stood straight up with expressionless faces and pinned her to the wall just as she felt the original spell holding her weaken. Her escape opportunities were completely nullified.
Harry then began casting veritable rainbow of spells – as quickly and precisely as she had ever seen. And it made sense, when fighting one prone to transfiguration the only way to beat them was to not let them think. Hope grew within Hermione - the spark of awareness had now set in within Harry. The survival instinct so pivotal to his persona now flickered alive – she could see it in his posture.
Harry was very specifically choosing spells of concentrated power that provided minimal debris and scatter - as well as casting vanishing spells on as many objects as he could.
Do not give transfigurers things to work with.
Dumbledore was weaving his wand with quick and articulate gestures, his wrist doing all the movement while Harry's arms did most of his. A silver shield appeared in front of him, spinning slightly. It would change colors as Harry's spell repertoire changed as well. Harry's aim soon diversified as it aimed for Dumbledore's feet, head, side, as well as frontal attacks. He even heaved a slew of spells followed by a crafty blue spell that he shot at a 45 degree angle away from Dumbledore that angled off of a metal shard on the side of the room heading straight towards Dumbledore's exposed side.
Dumbledore, who was still dealing with the set of spells Harry had sent before it, was caught completely by surprise and was forced to whip around deflect the spell off the tip of his wand with a enormous BANG!
Both Hermione and Harry saw the opening. Spell deflection was a tricky, slow, and ultimately useless technique that one used on someone of very subpar competence or in desperate times –which this was.
Harry promptly shot his first truly powerful spell as a bright cerulean beam poured out from his wand impacting Dumbledore who just managed to summon a black shield in front of him and backpedaled frantically.
Then, both Harry and Dumbledore made the same motions on opposite sides of the room – a large swooping gesture and what no other description would suffice but pure magic poured out from both of them and met each other in the middle with an ear-splitting roar. Three times they did this. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. And wild amounts of magic crackled and dissipated in the air. Harry looked by far better off and on the last one he ended his casting with a powerful flourish and Dumbledore was cast backwards violently.
A spell from Dumbledore's wand shot upwards and missed Harry completely.
Harry took an aggressive step forward but suddenly saw what Hermione had not yet – Dumbledore's shot had not in fact missed.
Hermione craned her neck upwards as much as she could – a swirling windstorm of wood splinters, books, pages, and other debris completely covered the ceiling. looking like the foreboding storm it was.
Harry's distraction of power and quickness had failed – Dumbledore had kept his presence of mind.
Hermione's mouth went dry with fear as all of it vortexed towards and around Harry who swept his wand in a forceful hammer fashion and bright white orb burst into existence around him as he disappeared in the maelstrom.
The swirling mass of objects became darker and darker as the objects disintegrated and became finer and finer pieces of the whole.
Dumbledore, recovered from the blast, was on one knee, eyes closed and hand and wand out as though conducting an orchestra from afar. Blood trickled from his forehead.
Simultaneously objects all around the room were rising, floating with ethereal precision, casting themselves into the tornado as though fuel to the fire. Harry was no where to be seen.
It was a terrifying command of magic and mind and it was happening in nearly complete silence.
The tornado was getting darker, faster, and more compact. Suddenly all the debris folded up like an umbrella in the wind, shaping itself into a mushroom cloud. Hermione got her first glimpse of Harry – he was no longer standing, he was on the ground, the white orb now a dome, his eyes strained and clear bereavement across is features. His eyes looked in desperation as the top of the mushroom cloud above him hardened into dark titanium and came speeding down upon Harry to smash him into smithereens. Dumbledore towered, now standing at the other side of the room, his wand arm forward having been extended in an emphatic downwards sweep.
Harry whipped up onto one knee and threw both of his hands into the air as though recreating the legend of Atlas. She did not see what type or color of spell left his body but the black hammer hit him with an enormous cracking sound and dust scattered in an exploding disk around the room.
Harry's lone silhouette, bent but standing was evident.
He had stopped it.
And wasted no time casting his wand towards the ground, blowing the solidified debris that had nearly killed him back into the millions of particles it had been constructed from. Her vision went black as it completely covered the room.
It did not, however, hide her senses from hearing the telltale sound of a spell hitting flesh nearly a second or two later.
Seconds passed by, minutes, and finally the dust began to settle. The sight that met her was Harry, standing with his head slightly bowed.
And Dumbledore, lying motionless upon the floor, dark red blood staining the fabric of his robes.
The silence was deafening.
She only then noticed that her guardians had gone and she lay upon the floor. Everything was covered in a light grey film of dust.
A wracking sigh left Harry's lips, and he took slow steps towards Dumbledore's fallen body. He tapped his chest with his wand and his body became free of dust. His steps left footprints.
When he reached Dumbledore he kneeled, immediately touching Dumbledore's robes with his wand and the dust left him as well. Harry pocketed his wand, picked up Dumbledore's fallen one, and pocketed that as well.
Hermione watched with bated breath.
Harry looked upon Dumbledore with an unreadable expression. Suddenly, he stooped even lower, slipping his arms underneath Dumbledore's body and hoisted him up. The tenderness of the act melted Hermione's heart.
Wizards can do a lot with magic – indeed they often take it for granted. But when a wizard forgoes the wand - or perhaps a wave of the hand for the more talented – to do something physically, the action is usually of a purposeful and intimate nature.
This was no different.
With the deference of one holding a baby, Harry carried Dumbledore's limp form to the center of the room. It was only then that Hermione truly saw how ancient, how brittle Dumbledore looked. Indeed, it wasn't even how he looked; he actually was that unimaginably old. The fragility that he now showcased was jarring.
A small wave of Harry's fingers cleared the area of the dormant dust, revealing once more the runes written upon the floor, somehow avoiding any damage during the fight.
Harry laid Dumbledore gently upon the floor, gulping visibly as he stayed upon his knees. He stared at Dumbledore for the longest time before taking out his wand and pointing it at Dumbledore's face.
Hermione feared the worst, "Harry."
Harry turned his head towards her, and the warmth of his eyes was like a cool glass of water on a hot summer day. What she saw was feeling – calm, conscious, feeling.
"It's okay Hermione."
And she believed him.
And soon a steady breeze of air could be seen streaming out of Harry's wand as he gently and artfully blew the rest of the dust out of Dumbledore face and hair. The manner in which his old, wiry hair flowed in such a brittle, stickily fashion made Hermione's heart melt.
Hermione could no longer take being the observer, and after taking away the dust over herself, she limped over to the two figures. Harry and her made eye contact once more as she sat down beside him.
He gave her a measured look, and a small tight-lipped smile.
"You did it."
It took her several long moments to realize he was talking about the runic soul process, and she nodded her acceptance.
They stared at each other for another long second as Hermione was barraged by the feelings of ease she felt around Harry. It was terrifyingly comforting, and it instantly reminded her of the old days.
Harry turned back to Dumbledore and grabbed his hand, turning it upside. Putting two fingers upon the inside of his wrist. Looking back to Hermione, he said "He's still alive, see?"
And she could see, the slow pulse evident upon his thin arms.
He stood, digging into his robes and procuring Dumbledore's wand, and tossed it to her. He began to walk away and he met her questioning eyes with a glance that asked for patience.
She returned Dumbledore's wand to his hand, closing his fingers upon it. She could see his fingers clench once they felt the wand in their grasp. Looking up, she could see shallow and slow movements of his chest.
He looked so old.
Somehow feeling as if she shouldn't be so close, Hermione backed up several feet and sat down.
Harry entered the room once more through what used to be the sturdy wooden door. He was carrying something small in his hand and went immediately to Dumbledore.
Dumbledore's eyes blearily opened, and with shaky fingers, released the grip on his wand as it clattered to the ground.
Harry's hands grasped the now free hand of his mentor. Dumbledore painfully angled his head to look more directly at Harry, the effort it took him to do so was immense.
His gaze was strong, hard, and accusing.
Hermione did not know what he was asking but Harry apparently did, "I can do it, I know this."
Dumbledore's eyes closed, and he nodded his head looking at Harry, for the first time, with warmth and recognition. Both of their eyes flicked to her and back.
A smile graced his face. And Harrys.
"Well my boy… here we are."
"Here we are."
Their smiles became a bit wider, even as their eyes became a hint sadder.
The stared at each other for a long while. What apologies might have been said, what things they could have caught up on, what thanks could have been given… all were done in that heavy silence, and an air of acceptance and resolution took over the area.
The hand Harry was holding Dumbledore's moved and turned Dumbledore's hand upward, palm open. And upon Harry placed what he had left to get upon Dumbledore's.
It was a comb. A dark blue comb of no particular specialness except for the emblazoned letters "Ariana" engraved upon on it.
Dumbledore could not see it, due to his lying position, but his whole body stiffened and took a sharp intake of breath when his fingers traced over the etchings, and his hand clenched it as though his life depended on it.
Harry rushed to lift Dumbledore's head, which he cradled. Dumbledore's faded strength was clear, his body limp even in the semi upright position. His arms fell loosely upon the floor, but his hand clenched the comb even as his eyes drank the sight of it.
All three of them sat in silence for some time.
Even Harry turned his eyes with surprise on Dumbledore.
"Ariana… after… it was impossible to make her happy, her preferences and likes were changeable from second to second… completely irrational and without pattern."
His fingers traced the comb's body.
"But one thing made her happy, without fail. Aberforth never shied from nontraditional company, including Muggles. He procured at one point some Muggle candy, and brought it at home with him. On whim, he gave them to Ariana."
He paused, a sad smile coming across his face. "It was the first time she had been truly happy in years. She loved the taste of lemon drops and never failed to have her mood improved upon having them."
A dark shadow cast itself upon his face, "As I was told by Aberforth, I was not there to see it the first time nor nearly any of the others."
Harry's hand clasped Dumbledore's which still held the comb.
"Although I did get to see her face light up to them one time, when I had returned from my travels and was lucky enough to see Aberforth give her one. It is a painful memory, as are all with her."
Harry's brow creased with painful understanding.
"I kept lemon drops in my office and with me at all times. It served as a constant reminder of what the lack of compassion, care and love can do to you. No matter what I worked on upon my desk, no matter what wonders I came up with and created there, no matter what dignitary or figure came to my office to speak I always had them, there with me - offering it to my guests as a subtle, humbling reminder."
Dumbledore's head leans back further, a lone tear streaking from his eyes. A set of wracking coughs shake his body. His sad set of eyes looked upon Harry's, and they stared at each other a long while.
Harry eyes were roiling with emotion, "What you failed as a brother, you have succeeded as a father figure to me. Albus, take peace in that if nothing else and hear me when I say thank you."
And he took Dumbledore's nearly lifeless hand, still grasping the comb, and put it over his chest and held it with both of his hands.
Tears are now steadily falling from Dumbledore's eyes as he and Harry make eye contact once more and a watery smiles graced their lips.
Hermione, Harry sat there in complete silence for an untold length of time as Albus Dumbledore, his body and soul, passed from the world completely.
When there was finally movement, it was Harry. He moved ever so slightly, loosening his grasp upon Dumbledore's hand, placing it gently upon Dumbledore's unmoving chest.
He shifted, looking Hermione in the eye.
He looked vulnerable, and tired beyond measure.
Sad eyes looked at her, and she closed the few feet between them and embraced him, overcome as she was with the moment.
It was therefore, an inexplicable surprise when he hugged her back. No tears were shed by him, only wracking sighs and deep, measured breaths.
After a long time, the parted sitting inches from each others. She studied his face as though looking at an inscrutable puzzle. He kept his eyes down, his breathing shallow. Every once in a while flexing his fingers as though trying to regain feeling.
Hermione put her hand upon his lower thigh, silently asking him to give some sort of indication of how he was. The familiarity that they possessed, even after all that had happened was mind blowing, but she chose not to think about it and just focus on what the moment required.
All Harry did was sigh once more and give her an almost pleading glance.
"Harry." The intimacy of simply being able to say his name to him in such a tender, friendly manner jarred her, and it seemed to do so more to him as he replied in an emotional tone, "Hermione."
"What now Harry?"
He only shook his head silently, desperation beginning to take hold of his features.
"What now Harry…" she repeated, "How do you… what do you, we…" the inadequacy of words to capture the breadth of the situation turned her voice into silence. She had no idea what to say, let alone do.
Harry now had his chin nearly touching his chest, unable to answer. Perhaps even unable to process the words she was saying.
"I didn't want to become this."
Her eyes snapped to his face, which was still downward.
" – no good person does."
"So when you loose your soul Hermione, have it all tattered up and thrown to the wind you're left with nothing, everything. Feelings, driven pride, deprived thoughts, and general cluelessness. You want nothing but to feel yourself. And how does one do that? You listen to yourself. You follow your instincts and what you believe your heart to be telling you."
He gulped, and looked up once more, but his eyes were far, far away.
"Losing your soul, I suppose is a misnomer, as it's never lost. Nothing's lost, only you've forgotten how to use what it's comprised of. Imagine our heart, soul, and mind filled with tendencies of both love and evil – structured and partitioned through trial and tribulation. Now take away all structure."
"It starts as small things… thought experiments, recasting of past events, perspective considerations that you would have never thought to have done before. And so it gnaws at you – slowly burns with warm embers until it has eroded you to the point where your current state is your state. Thoughts and philosophies turn to actions, actions into crimes, crimes into normalcy."
"I suppose unlucky circumstance played a direct role in my formation. When it happened, I was in the middle of a war, as we all were. War makes evil deeds come out of good men, even if they're done for good. That darkened me. And you know how isolated I had become after Albus was murdered. I brought him back to life but could not find him… I knew he was somewhere at Hogwarts, but he I believe put himself into a stupor until our procedure jarred him to waken."
He shook his head, "I am rambling. The point was that I was alone, nothing around me reminded me of who I was, the decisions I should make. Only my all encompassing obsession with beating a creature far more evil than me kept me in line, a functioning shade of my past self. My path to eradicating him left me scarred in so many ways, I was demented. And when Voldemort was gone I was completely unstable. Not all the deaths on our side in that final battle were inflicted by Death Eaters, Hermione… I isolated myself in fear of what I would do. I knew the thoughts in my head, the feelings in my heart were wrong."
Another deep sigh shook his entire body. Hermione gave him a slight squeeze in encouragement. Hermione could tell he was no longer just talking to her, he was talking to himself, to Dumbledore, and to the situation in general. Sweat was beading off of his forehead and his hands were trembling.
"And yet - still you listen to yourself. What else could I do? And well… you know the result. I can remember murdering Neville – every part of it. The planning, the execution, and the success. And the worst part? I can remember feeling the act of doing it as completely rationale! Feeling happy! As much as I now detest the very idea! I can't even… Gods, Hermione... Fuck."
Fear coursed through her, but she held on still. She knew he needed her.
"And this goes for every crime I've committed. I have no control, and… I don't even… I don't even know who I am but I know what I've done!"
"Harry," she said, barely a whisper.
"And why Neville? Why anyone?! But Neville especially, the paragon of innocence and goodness? What sick perverted evil part of my psyche – because it is a part of me – fixated on him and enjoyed his death?! Is this normal, is this –"
"Harry," she said a little more forcefully.
"—Fuck! And to be able to feel in full the revulsion of what you did, days later, when for some reason I am stable?! Myself again?! It is torture, it is an absolute living nightmare!"
"Harry!" and his bloodshot eyes whipped towards hers, his pupils dilating insanely.
"Harry… " he had calmed down only marginally, "Harry almost every night after you left I thought of you, your safety, and the goodness of your personality. Ron as well. At the speeches we gave after the final victory, I always gave a testament to trueness of your integrity and character."
His eyes focused on her with fire-like intensity.
"And at my wedding… we gave thanks to the boy who was brave enough, had the heart big enough to save an insufferable know-it-all from a troll and loneliness."
"My point Harry, " her heart beat wildly in her chest as she moved closer, looking into his emerald eyes, and placed her hand upon his heart, "is that you may not know yourself. But I do, Harry. I do."
She could feel his body pulsing with emotion, and saw the swells of tears come up into his eyes, the tightening of his lips to prevent any moan of agony that might escape him.
She could feel him trying to believe in her words.
"Come away with me Harry, come away from this place and come home! Come to us, I – we – will make you better. I know who you are, what you should be, we can do this!"
He made the motions as if to speak for several silent seconds, but then he simply broke.
Tears streamed down his face as his body shook. His teeth gritted together as heaves of agony wracked him.
And she held him, foreheads touching as she felt her own tears fall down her cheeks.
And slowly, the heaves turned into small shivers and the indiscriminate noises into shallow breathing.
"Hermione –" his voice was raspy, "You didn't even mention the battle you yourself will face."
Surprise hit her, she truly hadn't.
"But really – I must tell you – you'll beat it. Everyone has evil, a dark side that you must do continual battle with. It's just bigger for some. Mine is expansive. Albus knew that. But where I was angry, he felt remorse. Those are our pervading underlying feelings, the former being much more volatile. "
"But you… but you, despite being ostracized and made fun of – you were smart, you still are, and with the uncanny ability to empathize with self awareness. This you would do in the same situation that I would simply feel and stew with anger. You were always surrounded by love in some form, and I've seen in your mind Hermione – you are surrounded by love now. I manipulated that love to get out of my prison, so trust me I am well aware of the strength of love you possess around you and by Gods do I know the love that you possess in yourself."
Her heart leapt to her throat at this statement, its implications spinning amidst the euphoria of glowing praise and compliments.
"But know that you are not immune. It does not hit right away Hermione – you are and will function on essentially "muscle memory" at times. So surround yourself with those whom you love, and who you love as well. They will help define you and remind you when you yourself have forgotten."
"Then come" her conviction was absolute in this.
Harry looked at her in true confusion.
"Then come, follow your own advice. 'Surround myself' you said, and I'm trying. Come. You will define me, and I will define you."
True desperation was on Harry's face.
He stared at her. His face appallingly bleak as they stared at each other merely inches away.
She jumped only a little – she recognized his touch – as he ran his hands over her back and arms, causing her to shiver, as his magic poured into her, healing her wounds from earlier.
The desperation had not left his face.
"I need a moment."
And small gestures of his hand cleared the debris near a far wall. And a push punched a human-sized hole.
Sunshine shone through, highlighting the crazy swirls of dust particles in its beam. Both Harry and Hermione squinted, unable to take the sudden light, and a light breeze graced their skin with its presence.
"Go ahead, step outside, soak it in. Breathe. It has been far too long for you, I've kept you, now just give me a moment…"
She looked with undisguised longing, she could see the rolling meadows, stone fences, and the general signs of life outside. Her heart yearned for it. She looked back at Harry.
"Go," his face unreadable, "I… just need to be alone for a moment."
She looked at him, at Dumbledore. She nodded slowly, her senses not quite giving her an accurate reading on what was occurring. Slowly she lifted her head and kissed his forehead, lingering for the sweetest second as her hand gently clasped the back of his neck.
She picked herself up and made her way towards the hole.
She turned around halfway, expecting Harry to be looking at Dumbledore, but instead he was looking straight at her. Desperation was no longer on his face, something else far deeper now took its place. He nodded for her to continue. It's okay, he was saying.
But deep down she knew it wasn't. And as she reached the makeshift doorway the breeze hit her like a cold drink on a summer day. She felt run over her body and her eyes drank in the life that surrounded her – grass, sun, wind, and the sky.
But it still wasn't enough to shake the creeping feeling of doom that now held her heart. She turned around once more.
"I can help you."
His gaze was softened, not looking far away, but looking at her. A small smile formed itself upon his face.
"You already have."
She stood there, unsure what to do.
"But I'm afraid it's too late for what you've in mind. It's been written, one could say. And it's about time I've faced my fate."
And before she could do anything, he flicked his fingers and she felt herself gently pushed across the threshold of the door, even as she steadied herself only inches past it.
At that moment she saw a set of runes – the same ones Dumbledore had stared at and questioned her for so long – light up with a fierce light.
And all the circles of runes burst into huge, vibrant, autumn-colored flames.
She screamed and screamed and made her way back into the room but the intensity and heat of the flames kept her back – the flames shooting completely vertically creating a cylindrical volume of fire.
Harry was nowhere to be seen. No other sounds could be heard but the deafening energy of the inferno.
She began casting all the fire quelling spells she knew – water, sand, spells meant for magical fires, kitchen spells – nothing worked. Nothing.
In frustration she cast herself upon the ground, beating it with her fists, tears streaming down in rivulets.
Why, why had he done that!? She was there for him, she could have helped him, helped each other! She had just gotten him back…
She cried as she had never cried before.
Still the flames burned.
She did not know how long she lay there.
Suddenly, she heard a sound that had not been heard since the Battle of Hogwarts.
Her heart lifted.
Through teary eyes she saw him swoop through the hole in the wall, landing near her with refined elegance. Still crying she reached out to him, and Fawkes nuzzled into her palm.
"Fawkes," she managed to croak out, her throat thick with grief. Her vision was spinning.
He held out his talon, and she grasped his leg.
It was that moment she knew Harry was gone forever.
Barely aware of her surroundings, so overcome by trauma as she was, she watched with a surreal third person view of herself as she was pulled gracefully out of the room, up, up into the air.
She saw the roof collapse, the flames dim in intensity, turning into normal flames that immediately begun to set the modest house she had been in, aflame.
That house became smaller and smaller as Fawkes carried her away, the smoke billowing out into the countryside.
Fawkes' song was still piercing the sunny sky with its strength and brilliance.
Hermione closed her eyes, succumbing to the sound of it, and was aware of no more.