It's strange how sometimes, the best and worst day of your life are one in the same.
That day I thought I'd lost everything. And I could never explain that feeling in words. But I suppose it's sufficient to say that at that moment, I wished that I was dead.
I think it was Dumbledore who once said that we shouldn't pity the dead, we should pity the living.
No truer words have ever been spoken.
Hermione and Ron sat, waiting on edge for Harry to return from Ravenclaw Tower.
"We should have gone with him," she said, biting her nail furiously. "What if something happens? Something always happens."
"Just try and relax, okay? I'm sure he's fine," Ron replied.
"But—the Carrows. And Snape...What if he gets caught?" she asked breathlessly.
"He won't," Ron said, trying to reassure her. "He's got the Cloak and the Map. He'd have to be a complete idiot to get caught."
Hermione nodded, but continued to chew at her nails with vigour.
"I don't even get a 'hello,' then?" said a sudden voice behind her.
Ron and Hermione looked up simultaneously to see the face of Ginny Weasley staring down at them.
"Ginny!" they both exclaimed, momentarily forgetting their worries as they engulfed her into a hug.
It felt like centuries since Hermione had last seen her, and a nostalgic sense of warmth seemed to instantly overwhelm her as she looked into the girl's familiar brown eyes.
"You have no idea how much I've missed you two prats," Ginny said, after letting go of Ron. "And I shouldn't, mind you. I should be furious. How could leave without even saying goodbye?"
Ron looked at her guiltily. "We didn't mean to Ginny, honestly."
"Then why did you do it?"
"It was the only choice we had," Hermione insisted. "They were coming for Harry. If we'd stayed even a second longer you would have all been in danger."
Ron nodded his head vigorously in agreement, causing Ginny to roll her eyes. She didn't say anything for a moment, but crossed her arms in obvious dissatisfaction. "Mum was devastated," she muttered quietly, looking away.
The unspoken 'so was I' lingered at the end of her sentence, and Hermione couldn't help but feel her own guilt well up inside of her.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, staring into the girl's glassy looking eyes.
"Me too, Gin," Ron spoke up.
Ginny wiped at her eyes surreptitiously before turning back to face them. "Well, I haven't forgiven you, yet," she said, stubbornly. "But I'm glad you're all back—and in one piece. What's this thing Harry's trying to find, anyway?"
"Something that's going to help us kill You-Know-Who," Ron answered.
"Like a weapon?"
"Sort of," Hermione said. "It's keeping him alive. And if we can find it and destroy it, then Harry can destroy him."
Ginny paused, seemingly very interested in the sleeve of her jumper. "Harry's really got to do it, then?" she asked quietly, swallowing hard.
Hermione mentally slapped herself for letting such a thing slip. She and Ron exchanged a quick look before he gave her the slightest of nods to continue. After all, what was the point of hiding it now? Most people had guessed correctly, anyway.
"Yes...it has to be Harry," Hermione said carefully.
Ginny seemed to visibly deflate at these words, her face growing paler by the second.
"Could you both just...leave me alone for a moment," she interrupted shakily. "Please."
Hermione watched her walk to an isolated corner of the room and collapse down against the wall, her face buried in her hands and her elbows on her knees. She knew what it felt like—the hopelessness. It was the same way she felt the moment she'd first learned about the prophesy. Like everything was bleak and impossible.
But they'd all lived a lifetime since then. So much had happened and so much had changed. And Ginny didn't even realize that they were almost near the end now, closer than they'd ever been.
"I should go talk to her," Ron said, quietly, his eyes set in determination.
"No...I'll do it," Hermione responded, placing her arm out to stop him.
He instantly relaxed. "Good, because I honestly would have no idea what to say," he admitted.
She sniffed in amusement. "I figured as much. Here, just think of a way to destroy this while I'm gone," she said, stuffing the purple knapsack that held Hufflepuff's cup into his chest.
"Oh, is that all?" he mumbled.
She ignored him, quietly making her way over to the distressed looking redhead in the corner, and pausing for a moment in front of her.
"Are you just going to stare at me, or are you going to sit down?"
Hermione took a seat, and then moved to lift Ginny's head carefully out of her hands. There were tear stains running the length of her freckled face and her eyes were puffy.
"It's not a death sentence, you know," she said softly.
Ginny turned her head away, refusing to meet her eyes. "Might as well be."
Hermione stared intently at her. "I know you don't mean that."
A few more tears escaped Ginny's eyes, but she wiped them away quickly. "I want to believe in him, Hermione, I really do. But...it just seems so impossible. How can he do it? He's only seventeen..."
"Harry's not like most people his age, though, is he?" she responded. "Look, when I first found out, I was terrified, too. I tried to be optimistic and tell myself that everything would be okay, but some days I still felt like it was all hopeless."
"But it's not like that anymore," she continued. "Because now we know how to get rid of him. And we will get rid of him. Harry will."
"But how can you be sure?" Ginny asked roughly.
Hermione glanced away.
"I can't," she uttered.
She couldn't. There was no way in the world she could be sure of anything. From the moment Harry first told them of the Prophesy and every single day after that, all she could do was hope. And hope and hope until hoping became like breathing and she required it to live. There was no room for doubt or uncertainty. She needed to believe that he would survive.
Because a life without Harry...it was unfathomable.
"I just can't afford to think any differently, though," she continued, finally. "If I do, then...then I go mad. But that's not an option, not now. Not when Harry needs me."
Ginny ran both her hands through her hair, taking a deep breath in. "And what if he doesn't need me?" she asked hollowly. "Who do I stay strong for then?"
"You stay strong for yourself," Hermione replied fervently, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "That's the most important thing you can do right now."
"And you're wrong," she added a moment later. "Harry does need you."
Ginny threw her a disbelieving look.
"He needs you to protect yourself, to stay safe," she explained, causing the girl to give a humourless laugh.
"Don't look at me like that, I mean it! He can't afford to lose any more people that he loves. And I don't care what may have happened between the two of you. No matter what, you're still his friend."
"Well, why is my life more important than anyone else's?" she immediately shot back.
"That's not what this is about, Ginny. He doesn't want anyone to risk their lives for him."
"So, what about you and Ron, then? Are you not considered people?"
"That's different," Hermione said, brushing her off.
"How?" Ginny practically shouted. "Please, enlighten me on how that's so different! What, is it because he trusts you? Because you're the 'Golden Trio'? Because you're stuck to each other like glue and he can't even wipe his nose without asking you—"
"Stop it," Hermione said suddenly with an almost frightening seriousness.
Ginny clenched her teeth with a scowl, but remained silent.
"Do you think it was easy?" she then asked quietly. "Trying to make him understand that he could actually depend on someone other than himself? It took years, Ginny, and he still doesn't get it sometimes. I know you may have feelings for him—you may even love him. But right now, you're going to have to accept that Ron and I have simply been there longer."
Ginny visibly swallowed as she stared down into her hands, her once creased forehead relaxing in defeat. "I guess I was too busy sticking my elbow in butter dishes and sending him Valentine's Day cards," she said with a hint of bitterness.
"You were eleven."
"I was pathetic."
"You had a crush."
"I was pathetic."
Hermione sighed. "Well, at least you grew out of it."
Ginny continued staring into her hands for a long while as if contemplating something. Then finally she spoke: "Did he ever mention me at all...while you guys were gone?"
The two girls made eye contact for a moment before Hermione shifted her glance away.
If she was being honest...no, he hadn't. And this was something that surprised her slightly. It had been clear that Harry still had feelings for Ginny even after he'd broken up with her. And yet, not once in the past several months had he ever brought this subject up.
At least, not to her anyway...maybe he just kept it to himself and thought about her constantly.
Why wouldn't he tell me, though? Surely he'd want to tell someone? And it's not like he could tell Ron...Even if the prat hadn't left, Ginny's still his sister. I'm not sure that would really go over well...
But then...maybe he wasn't thinking about her at all...
Hermione entertained this possibility for the briefest of moments before the all too familiar feeling of guilt squeezed uncomfortably at her insides. She tried unsuccessfully to ignore the sensation of pleasure that had run through her at the thought. The thought that Harry no longer fancied Ginny...the foolish, selfish thought...
And even if it were true, why should that help her? It's not as if he would start fancying her instead.
No matter what Luna says...
Hermione immediately felt something stir inside of her. That conversation at Shell Cottage with Luna...It was the first time that even an ounce of hope had passed through her. At the possibility that maybe, maybe Harry felt something for her more than friendship.
But just as soon as that hope came, it then evaporated.
Why? She wasn't sure. But she didn't give it much thought. There were far more pressing things to think about, after all.
Her desires were insignificant.
But as Hermione stared at the girl in front of her, she slowly began to realize something. To Ginny, the desire to be with Harry was anything but insignificant. It was her world. She had no horcruxes or hallows or prophesies to invade her mind. The risk of death was near, but it was never present. And while she was by no means naive or ignorant or even privileged, she still lived a life that she could call her own.
Hermione was not as fortunate in that respect. Nor Harry or even Ron, for that matter. Because for the last several months, their lives had not truly belonged to them. They'd belonged to the war.
And it was this small fact alone that caused her to envy the girl sitting in front of her for just the briefest of moments. But it also made her equally unsure of how to respond.
If she said no, Ginny would surely be crushed.
If she said yes...well, it would be a lie, first of all. And second of all...
It would give her hope.
So, is that a good thing...or a bad thing?
She took an uncomfortable gulp of air, and then opened her mouth to speak. "Ginny, I..."
Both girls snapped their heads up to see Ron hurry towards them, his eyes bright and his ears red with what seemed to be excitement.
"What is it, what's wrong?" she asked, taken aback.
"I need to talk to you," he said quickly. Then throwing a significant glance toward Ginny's direction, he added: "In private."
Ginny merely rolled her eyes, looking slightly put out but not saying anything. Hermione threw her an apologetic look before Ron all but dragged her to the other side of the room.
She heard him mutter a quick muffliato, and then he turned to face her with that same look of excitement.
"What, did you find another horcrux while I was gone?" she asked sardonically.
Hermione frowned. "Don't play games with me, Ronald Weasley."
"All right, so what is it?" she said.
Ron smiled smugly, as if enjoying the fact that he knew something Hermione didn't. However, a quick glare thrown his way caused him to clear his throat and say, "Hufflepuff's Cup, I know how we can get rid of it."
"How?" she demanded breathlessly.
"Well, I was thinking about the horcruxes that have already been destroyed. The ring and the locket—those were with the sword of Gryffindor, right?"
"Right..." she replied slowly.
"So, that leaves—"
"Exactly," Ron responded, his excitement growing. "And how did Harry destroy that one?"
"Basilisk venom," Hermione whispered to herself, her pulse increasing as she rapidly reached the conclusion in her mind.
"Ron, that's brilliant!" she exclaimed suddenly. "We can get basilisk venom from the Chamber of Secrets!"
The redhead pretended to brush off the compliment as if he was being modest, but that didn't stop the wide grin from spreading across his face. "It was just common sense, really. So, come on then, let's go!" he said, grabbing Hermione by the hand and pulling her towards the door.
"Wait!" she called suddenly, pulling him back. "We can't go yet. How are we supposed to get in? We need Harry, don't we?"
"Oh, about that," Ron said, dropping her hand. "I was thinking. Parseltongue is just another language, isn't it?"
"So, there's no reason why I can't just imitate it," he stated. "I'm sure if I try a couple of times I can make that same hissing noise Harry used when he opened the locket."
Hermione was doubtful, however. "I don't know, Ron...I don't feel like Parseltongue is a language you can just imitate. I mean if that were the case, then all dark witches and wizards would have learned it by now. It just seems unlikely, don't you think?"
Ron sighed heavily. "I know it's unlikely. But we have to try, don't we?" he said earnestly. "Harry's not here right now, so we've got to take matters into our own hands. You said yourself that he didn't have to do this all alone. We can help, Hermione!"
She stood quiet for a moment, surprised at Ron's sudden change in behaviour. It was different, that was for sure. He just seemed entirely different.
There was a steely determination in his eyes and an air of confidence about him that she'd never seen before. A sort of confidence that forced her to trust every word that came out of his mouth. It was the first time in her life that Hermione felt she could actually depend on him.
And it was a good feeling, a liberating feeling. Maybe she didn't have to do this all alone, either.
"You're right. We do have to try," she responded finally.
Then, placing her hand in his, Hermione stated clearly, "Lead the way."
They stood in front of the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets, Ron with his eyes shut in concentration and Hermione anxiously staring between him and the stubborn unmoving door.
It had only been about five minutes, but with each of his failed attempts she was starting to grow more and more discouraged.
"Maybe it knows you're not a real Parselmouth?"
But as soon as the words left her lips, the two stone snakes on the door slithered into life and a noise like a heavy bolt being unlocked echoed throughout the large tunnel.
Hermione couldn't believe her eyes. "Ron, you did it!" she shrieked excitedly, throwing her arms around him in a tight hug.
He stumbled back a bit, whether from the sudden weight or the shock, though, she couldn't tell. But she quickly let go, choosing not to acknowledge the fact that he had immediately turned red as a tomato.
Ron cleared his throat. "Shall we?" he said, gesturing toward the entrance.
She nodded, following right behind him as he climbed into the chamber. The ceiling was high and the marble stone floor echoed ominously with every step they took. But the worst part was the air. It was dank and musty and smelled strongly of mildew and rot.
"There it is," Ron said softly from beside her.
She followed his gaze to the end of the chamber and immediately let out a horrified gasp.
There lay the decaying corpse of a snake that looked about twenty metres in length and as thick as an oak trunk. It was quite possibly the most terrifying thing she had ever laid eyes on.
As they walked silently toward the dead creature at the end of the hall, Hermione couldn't help but wonder how a twelve year old boy could ever find the courage to stand in its midst, let alone slay it. A whole new admiration for Harry surged within her heart.
"How did he do it?" Ron said in a somewhat awestruck tone, voicing her own thoughts.
Now that they were closer, they could clearly see the spot where the sword of Gryffindor had been thrust through the Basilisk's head.
"Fawkes blinded it," she answered faintly.
"I don't care if Fawkes dressed it in a pinafore and made it sing nursery rhymes. If I saw this thing coming, I'd be heading the opposite direction," Ron declared.
"Then let's be thankful that it was you stuck behind the wall of rubble with Lockhart and not Harry," Hermione said, rolling her eyes.
Ron merely shrugged, crouching down to take a better look at the Basilisk's mouth. "Blimey, look at these fangs," he exclaimed.
He reached over to grab hold of one of them and pulled roughly, an unpleasant squelching noise erupting as it parted from the head. He then stood up and turned to face her, his entire demeanour growing serious as he threw her a significant look.
With slightly shaking hands, Hermione reached into her bag and pulled out Hufflepuff's cup. She motioned for Ron to take it, but he shook his head.
"What?" she asked.
"It's your turn, Hermione," he responded.
She stared at him with her eyes wide and mouth slightly open. "I-I don't think..."
But he quickly silenced her by placing the large fang in her hand. She looked down at it for a moment, and then back up at him.
"All you have to do is stab it," he explained. "If I can do it, then you sure as hell can."
His voice was filled with such conviction, that Hermione found herself once again left with no choice but to believe him.
So, she took a deep breath in and nodded determinedly.
Placing the cup on the ground, she positioned the Basilisk fang carefully in her hand.
The sooner I do this, the sooner it'll all be over.
There'll only be two horcruxes left...
Two horcruxes and it'll all be over...
The image of a triumphant Harry burned before her eyes, and she felt her heart physically shudder with the yearning to make it a reality.
And she could. She could make it a reality.
Feeling a sudden unknown source of energy course through her veins at the thought, Hermione raised her arm high and used all her strength to plunge the fang straight through the cup.
As soon as it made contact, she felt herself being thrown back by some invisible force. And as her body met with the cold, hard stone floor, a burst of light erupted, causing a painful contrast to the once dark chamber.
Then after a moment, it was gone.
Hermione just sat there, breathing heavily.
She heard footsteps running toward her and looked up to see Ron kneel down in front of her.
"Are you okay?" he asked, placing a hand on her shoulder.
"Yes," she breathed.
His face then relaxed into a wide grin. "You did it, Hermione, you destroyed it!"
They stared at each other for a moment. And then, for a reason unbeknownst to either of them, they both erupted in to a fit of laughter.
Maybe it was the stress of the situation, maybe it was the happiness over their success, or maybe they'd both just gone mad. Hermione wasn't sure, and she didn't care enough to figure it out. For now, it just felt good.
When the last of their laughs finally dissipated off the walls, Ron stood up and walked over to the Basilisk, collecting as many fangs from the dead creature as he could carry in his arms.
"Don't forget that," he said, gesturing his head to the now destroyed cup on the floor.
"Can't we just leave it here?" she suggested, not too keen on making a keepsake out of it.
"Are you barmy?" he said. "And miss the opportunity to see Harry wet himself as we hand it over? No, thank you."
"I'm sure he'll be equally excited if we just tell him," she argued, stuffing it inside her bag nonetheless.
"Maybe, but this will be so much more satisfying," he said. "Now come on, let's get the hell out of here before this thing decides to wake up from the dead."
She didn't need telling twice, and the two of them all but ran out of the chamber without once looking back.
After they exited through the girls' lavatory, they continued running all the way to the seventh floor corridor until they turned a final corner and came face to face with none other than Harry.
Hermione's heart immediately leapt within her chest.
"Where the hell have you been?" he shouted, looking like he was caught between wanting to hug them or pounce on them in fury.
"Chamber of Secrets," said Ron.
"It was Ron, all Ron's idea!" Hermione said.
And she set out to explain all that had occurred after he left, the rush of exhilaration over destroying the horcrux still threatening to overtake her.
"So..." Harry said, struggling to keep up. "So..."
"So we're another horcrux down," said Ron. "Hermione stabbed it. Thought she should. She hasn't had the pleasure yet."
Ron gestured for her to show him, and as she pulled out the mangled remains of Hufflepuff's cup, Harry's eyes were instantly alight with excitement.
"Genius!" he yelled.
Ron threw her a smug look that clearly said 'I told you so', but she merely rolled her eyes.
"So, what's new with you?"
Harry quickly filled them in on the information he'd learned about the diadem as they raced toward the Room of Requirement. "I know what it looks like, and I know where it is," he said, talking fast. "He hid it exactly where I hid my old Potions book. Come on."
When they reached the Room, they found Ginny waiting there impatiently and looking quite bored.
"Ginny," said Harry, "I'm sorry, but we need you to leave. Just for a bit. Then you can come back in."
She looked up at him, a simply delightful expression spreading across her features as she rushed to leave her sanctuary.
"And then you can come back in!" he shouted after her as she ran up the steps.
Harry groaned but turned back to face them.
"Hang on a moment!" said Ron sharply. "We've forgotten someone!"
Hermione furrowed her eyebrows in confusion. "Who?"
"The house-elves, they'll all be down in the kitchen, won't they?" he said seriously. "We should tell them to get out. We don't want any more Dobbies, do we? We can't order them to die for us."
She stared him, her mouth slightly open in disbelief.
Ron had just succeeded in thoroughly surprising her for the second time that hour.
He just seemed so different.
Not at all like the immature, tactless boy she had grown up with the past several years. Who had abandoned her and Harry and who had destroyed her trust.
He didn't pick meaningless fights with her anymore, he didn't constantly whine and complain, he wasn't selfish. And sure, perhaps he was only trying to make up for what he'd done. But somehow...it just didn't feel that way. She could see it in his character, in the way he held himself, the way his eyes shone bright with all it took was one mistake to shake his entire world. To convince him that it was time to grow up.
He hadn't changed. He'd matured.
And Hermione couldn't help but feel immensely proud of him because of it.
With a slight smile spreading on her face, she hurried over to Ron to engulf him in a warm hug and place a small peck on his cheek. However, as soon as she reached him, he started in surprise, turning his head to face her at the very last second, and causing her lips to land directly on his.
Hermione's eyes immediately widened in horror and her entire body and mind seemed to freeze with shock.
Our lips are touching. Our lips are touching. WHY ARE OUR LIPS TOUCHING!?
Breaking out of her momentary paralysis, she stepped away from him so quickly it was as if he'd stung her. A look of uneasiness formed on her face, but luckily, or perhaps unluckily, his eyes were closed.
She vaguely heard Harry say something, but was too caught up in the whirlwind that was her mind to register what it was.
Her eyes immediately widened again.
Oh my God! Harry!
Hermione turned around to look at him, her face burning up in a way it had never done before in his presence.
He just saw all of that...
Harry just saw me put my lips on Ron's lips...
They made eye contact for a moment and she willed him to understand that it was all an accident, but he quickly looked away.
Hermione felt her heart sink. She couldn't explain why, but she felt as if she'd disappointed him somehow. And there was an immensely uncomfortable feeling growing within the pit of her stomach at the thought.
She didn't dare look at Ron, too afraid to see what his reaction might be. She could guess that his face was probably as red as hers was, but for an entirely different reason.
Just don't think about it right now. Don't think about it right now. Think about it later. You'll explain everything later! Hermione thought wildly as the three of them raced back inside the newly transformed room of requirement.
Even though it killed her inside to know that she wasn't able to justify herself, Hermione was forced to fight this gnawing need. It was quite clear that the situation in the castle was growing worse by the second, and the last thing they needed to focus on was her feelings.
"Let's split up," Harry said, as they entered a room the size of a cathedral filled with objects hidden by thousands of long-gone students. "Look for a stone bust of an old man wearing a wig and a tiara!"
The three sped off up adjacent aisles.
"Old man, tiara, old man, tiara," Hermione muttered to herself as she screwed her eyes in concentration. Everywhere she turned there were piles of nonsensical junk, but she willed herself to take in every speck of it, her heart beating furiously in her ears all the while.
She continued in this manner for some time until she thought she detected voices up ahead. Figuring it must be Harry and Ron, she chose to ignore it.
However, no sooner had she made this decision than an entire mountain of old furniture, broken trunks, old books and robes, began to slowly totter next to her. Hermione let out a piercing scream as she stumbled backwards, trying to avoid being crushed by the innumerable objects crashing to the ground.
But as she covered her head and ducked out of the way, the wall instantly seemed to steady itself back its original state.
Breathing heavily, she carefully stood back up and edged her way nearer to the voices that seemed to be getting louder.
"I'm not killing him, am I?" yelled a voice.
Hermione squinted her eyes, hiding herself behind a large pile of broken chairs. She could see the figures of Malfoy and Crabbe, and she slowly started to make her way closer to the group, careful not to make the slightest noise.
"But if I can, I will, the Dark Lord wants him dead anyway, what's the diff—?"
"Stupefy!" she yelled suddenly, sending a jet of red light straight toward Crabbe's head, only just missing him as Malfoy quickly pulled him out of the way.
Crabbe turned to look directly at her, and his face immediately screwed up in a threatening glare. "It's that Mudblood! Avada Kedavra!"
Hermione dived out of the way, colliding painfully with large pile of books. But she only gave herself a second to recover as she quickly stood back up and shot another Stunning Spell at Goyle.
But before she could make another move, something stopped her.
It was the air. It felt...hot. Really hot.
She turned her head to the side just a fraction, but that was all it took.
Flames. Flames like she'd never seen, licking up the sides of the junk bulwarks, which were crumbling to soot at their touch.
"HARRY!" she screamed.
He whipped his head around and both of them stood shocked for a moment as they saw Ron and Crabbe running as hard as they could up the aisle toward them.
"What can we do?" Hermione screamed desperately as all six occupants of the room, Malfoy dragging a Stunned Goyle, pelted away from the fire that seemed intent on killing them.
Harry looked around wildly, sweat pouring down his face from the heat of the room.
"Here!" he yelled suddenly.
He seized a pair of heavy-looking broomsticks from the nearest pile of junk and threw one to Ron, who immediately pulled Hermione onto it behind him. Harry swung his leg over the second broom and, with hard kicks to the ground, they soared up in the air, missing by metres the horned beak of a flaming raptor that snapped its jaws at them.
She couldn't see Malfoy, Crabbe, or Goyle anywhere, and with an uncomfortable lurch, she realized that Goyle was probably slowing them down. Goyle...whom she had Stunned.
No...no, they couldn't die because of her. No...
Hermione closed her eyes, trying desperately to fight away the treacherous tears.
"It's—too—dangerous—!" she heard Ron yell suddenly.
Snapping her eyes open, she looked down to see Harry trying and failing to grasp Malfoy's arm. He was still holding on to the unconscious Goyle and the weight of both of them was just too much for Harry to handle.
NO! Hermione's mind screamed.
She wanted to yell out to Harry. To pull him away. This was her fault, this was all her fault. She should be the one risking her life. Not Harry! Not Harry!
"Ron! Ron, we have to help him!" she cried madly, shaking his shoulder. "We have to grab Goyle!"
Clenching his teeth resolutely, Ron turned the broom around swiftly and headed straight toward them.
"IF WE DIE FOR THEM, I'LL KILL YOU, HARRY!" he roared.
As soon as they reached them, she and Ron dragged the unconscious Goyle onto their broom and rose into the air once more as Malfoy clambered up behind Harry.
With one last look to make sure Harry had safely extracted himself from the firestorm below, Ron leaned down flat against the broom and sped off towards the exit.
All three of them tumbled down onto the ground as they made it into the corridor.
Hermione carefully laid Goyle's body on the ground, before leaning back against the wall and panting and coughing along with Ron.
A second later, Harry and Malfoy appeared through the door as well and she was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief.
But as soon as the momentary relief passed through her, it was quickly replaced by a fresh set of panic. Yells and shouts and the unmistakable noises of duelling filled the corridor: the Death Eaters had finally penetrated Hogwarts. Harry, Ron, and Hermione quickly spotted Percy and Fred battling the masked and hooded men and ran forward to help.
A sort of terror cut through her as she saw an unmistakable green light whiz just passed Percy's shoulder. Her breath had caught in her throat, and she had to shake her head to clear it and focus on the task before her.
"Stupefy!" she yelled, aiming at the Death Eater who had his eyes set on Fred. The curse missed him by nearly a centimetre, but unfortunately succeeded in alerting him to her presence.
He immediately turned around, aiming his wand directly above her heart. Before either of them could react, however, a brilliant and catastrophic sound erupted around them. The air seemed to explode. Hermione felt herself being violently thrown back as the corridor around them was quite literally blown away.
The world around her suddenly went black. She was buried beneath all the wreckage and she could scarcely hear what was happening around her. But as she struggled to catch her breath and slow her rapidly beating heart, she could clearly make out one terrible, agonizing cry.
She couldn't know who the cry belonged to, but it was enough to make her heart instantly shudder with fear. And with a strength she didn't know she possessed, Hermione broke through the layer of stone threatening to crush her and struggled to her feet.
She saw Harry quickly make his way over to her, and she had never been so happy to see him alive. He grabbed on to her hand as they staggered and stumbled over the wood and stone.
"No—no—no!" someone was shouting. "No! Fred! No!"
Hermione clasped a hand to her mouth as she took in the sight before her.
Happy, mischievous, playful, annoying, funny, wonderful Fred.
No, he couldn't just die. He wasn't supposed to die. Fred couldn't die!
Hermione's mind screamed these same thoughts over and over again as fast tears streamed down her cheeks.
She watched as Percy and Ron kneeled beside their brother, Percy shaking him incessantly as if he could somehow wake him. As if this was somehow a joke.
Oh, how she wished it was a joke! How she wished Fred would wake and yell out with amusement dancing in his eyes that he'd once again fooled them. She would give anything for it to be a joke.
But it wasn't.
Hermione sat there on the bench with tears steadily falling down her face. She saw no point in wiping them away anymore. New ones would just replace the old, after all.
She, Harry, and Ron had entered the Great Hall not too long ago to discover the agonizing number of people now lying lifeless on the ground.
Fred, Lupin, Tonks.
It was all too much.
She watched as the large group of Weasleys huddled protectively around Fred's body weeping endless tears. It was all wrong. The Weasleys weren't meant to weep like that. They weren't supposed to weep. They were supposed to happy. They were supposed to be together, all together, always.
"Hermione," Ron choked out, suddenly. "Where's Harry?"
Hermione looked to the end of the hall where she'd last seen him not five minutes previously. But he was gone.
"Hermione..." he said again, with worry clearly etched in his tone.
"He must be here somewhere," she said suddenly, standing up. "He wouldn't just leave without telling us."
But even as she said the words, a familiar feeling of terror pierced through her, multiplied a hundredfold.
"What is it, what's wrong?" Ginny asked, looking up at both of them with puffy eyes.
"Ron?" Mrs. Weasley asked weakly.
He hesitated slightly before answering. "I-It's Harry. We don't know where he is."
"What do you mean, you don't know where he is?" Ginny asked in a deadly tone.
"He was right here, where could he have gone?" Hermione said barely above a whisper.
Her mind was already formulating a thousand bad scenarios, each one of them getting worse by the second. She could hear everyone arguing around her, but couldn't seem to register a word they were saying.
Where was Harry?
Where was he?
Where was he?
Then suddenly a thought popped up in her mind. "Ron!" she nearly shouted. "The memories from Snape! What if he took them to the pensieve?"
Without a word, Ron grabbed her arm as he raced out of the Great Hall at breakneck speed, leading her all the way to the Headmaster's office. They stumbled quickly up the spiral staircase, and Hermione nearly blasted the door off its hinges as she shouted out a powerful "Alohamora".
When they stepped into the room, however, it was quite empty.
"He was here, Ron," she said, shakily, taking in the pensieve that was still sitting on the desk.
Ron slammed his fist hard on one of the tables, making several silver instruments clatter to the ground.
"WHAT'S HE PLAYING AT!?" he shouted, grabbing the entire table and throwing it to the floor, as well.
Hermione choked back a sob. "M-maybe he went down to the Great Hall. We should go check," she said feebly.
"YOU KNOW WHERE HE WENT, HERMIONE!" Ron cried, looking slightly crazed. "YOU KNOW AS WELL AS I DO!"
"No..." Hermione whispered, her eyes blurring from the tears. "No, you're wrong. Harry wouldn't do that."
Throwing himself against the wall, Ron slid down to the ground and wept freely into his arms. "There's still one horcrux left, Hermione, what was he thinking?"
"Ron, stop it! Stop it, right now!" she demanded, taking his arm and pulling him up to face her. "We're going down to the Great Hall, and if he's not there, then we're going to go look for him!"
"You-Know-Who threatened him," Ron said shakily. "He said he would kill all of us if Harry didn't go to him. You know Harry could never stand that."
"Then we have to go and help him, don't we?" she stated, desperately attempting to block the image of a dead Harry from her mind.
Ron nodded, seeming to pull himself back together as the two of them hurried down the spiral staircase and back to the Great Hall.
But once again they were met with Harry's distressing absence.
"Did you find him? Where is he?" Ginny demanded immediately as they approached the group of Weasleys.
Upon seeing the troubled looks on Ron and Hermione's faces, Mrs. Weasley immediately let out a long wail. "No...no! I can't lose any more of my children, I can't!"
Hermione could feel her knees threatening to give in as the reality of the situation finally seemed to set in upon her.
She had to go out and find him. She had to save him. He was walking into a death trap! She had always known the moment would come when he would have to face off with Voldemort, but she had never imagined it would be like this!
Ron was right, there was still one horcrux left. What was Harry thinking?
Hermione heard shouting and was suddenly taken out of her stupor.
"Ronald Weasley, you will do no such thing!" Mrs. Weasley yelled.
"Harry could be dying!" he yelled back.
"Ron, your mother's right," Mr. Weasley said, looking much older than usual. "The Order will go out and look for him, this isn't your responsibility."
"No, no it's not. It's Harry's, isn't it? It's all Harry's bloody responsibility, isn't it!? Ron bellowed. "Well, I'm sick and tired of watching my best friend have to sacrifice his life for the rest of the world. I'M SICK OF IT!"
Ron raced toward the end of the hall before his parents could stop him, and without a second thought Hermione sprinted to join him.
She was going to save Harry or die trying.
However, before they could even reach the Entrance Hall, a terrible voice emitted throughout the large room, echoing off the ancient walls and sending shivers up every person's spine.
"Harry Potter is dead...We bring you his body as proof that your hero is gone...The battle is won...Come out of the castle now, kneel before me, and you shall be spared."
Several screams and shouts erupted around her, but all Hermione could do was stand there. Her legs like lead. Her stomach like stone. Her mind going completely blank and her heart beating like a useless drum in her ears.
As if by an unknown force, her legs were carrying her out of the castle along with everyone else. By why were they doing that? Why were they leaving the castle? This wasn't real...None of this was real. They had to go back and wait for Harry. Harry would come because she had to tell him. She had to tell him everything. That he was her best friend. He was her first friend. She had to tell him how he saved her from a lifetime of pain and loneliness and insecurity. She had to tell him that he made her feel comfortable and strong and safe. She had to tell him that she needed him. More than anyone. More than anything. And she had to tell him that she loved him. She had to!
No, no this wasn't real.
Hermione whipped her head around left and right to see tears flowing freely down everyone's faces as they shouted out.
Then she saw him.
Cradled tenderly in Hagrid's large arms.
And just like that she dropped down to her knees and let out a terrible scream that left her vocal chords raw.
"Harry! HARRY!" she cried out to him, willing him to answer her.
But he would never answer her again.
Wracking sobs instantly took over her body at the thought. She would never hear his voice again. She would never hear his beautiful laughter or see his beautiful smile. She would never look into his eyes and see him looking back. His eyes. His beautiful, beautiful green eyes.
"No...no, no, no, no, no," she whimpered like a small child.
She felt someone's arms lift her up gently, but she didn't care to look. Her face was in her hands as tears flowed from her eyes like an eternal spring.
"SILENCE!" cried Voldemort. "It is over! Set him down, Hagrid, at my feet, where he belongs!"
A new very different emotion swelled within Hermione's heart. Anger. Raw, hot anger. And she welcomed it.
"He beat you!" a voice yelled next to her. And she realized it was Ron's. Ron had been the one who'd picked her up.
Wiping away at her eyes, she stared at Voldemort with all the ferocity she could muster. If looks could kill, she had no doubt that him and his demented souls would all be destroyed.
As Voldemort continued to talk, she felt Ron turn her body to face him. "We have to end this," he said barely above a whisper. His eyes were red-rimmed and his face was pale, but he had an almost feral look about him. "We have to do it for Harry."
Hermione nodded as several more tears spilled down her face.
He was right. She couldn't waste away, not now, not yet. She had to be strong.
After everything was over, after Voldemort was gone, only then would she allow herself to think.
However, no sooner had they made the silent decision, then Neville took them all by surprise and destroyed the very last horcrux himself.
Nagini was gone.
Voldemort was mortal.
And there were hundreds of people just waiting in line to kill him.
Chaos reigned. The charging centaurs were scattering the Death Eaters, everyone was fleeing the giants' stamping feet, and nearer and nearer thundered the reinforcements that had come from who knew where. Defenders of Hogwarts and Death Eaters alike, were being forced back into the castle.
Hermione was throwing curses at Death Eaters every which way, putting all her power and energy into each spell. She fired at such a rapid succession that her mind had stopped working and in its place her instinct had taken over.
She fought with purpose. She fought to avenge Harry and to make him proud. It was because of him she could even stand a chance again all these Death Eaters. It was because of him that she, Ron, Ginny, Luna, Neville, Seamus, Dean, Hannah, and so many others were now holding their own against dark wizards more than twice their age.
They owed Harry everything, especially their lives.
She, Ginny, and Luna were now fiercely battling against Bellatrix, and as a Killing Curse missed Ginny by nearly a centimetre, Hermione could feel the same white hot rage surge within her.
No. No one else was going to die tonight.
Hermione was just about to shout a powerful curse at Bellatrix when someone else got to her first.
"NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!"
Mrs. Weasley threw off her cloak as she ran, freeing her arms.
"OUT OF MY WAY!" shouted Mrs. Weasley to the three girls, and with a swipe of her wand she began to duel.
"You—will—never—touch—our—children—again!" screamed Mrs. Weasley.
After very heavy duelling, one of Mrs. Weasley's curses soared beneath Bellatrix's outstretched arm and hit her squarely in the chest, directly over her heart.
Voldemort instantly screamed as his last, best lieutenant exploded with the force of a bomb. Hermione watched as if in slow motion as he raised his wand and directed it at Molly Weasley.
"No..." Hermione said breathlessly.
She whipped her head around at the sound of his voice. The voice she never thought she'd hear again.
The hall erupted in a cacophony of screams and shouts, and Hermione had to lean against a table to keep herself from falling down.
He was there. He was right there in front of her. She felt every nerve in her body tingle with elation at the sight of him and she prayed with all her heart that this was real.
Because if it wasn't...Hermione dared not think of that.
She watched as Harry and Voldemort began to circle each other, each with pure looks of loathing on their faces. They were talking about things, a lot of things. But Hermione could barely process any of it as her eyes followed Harry's every move, willing herself to memorize him in case this really was a dream.
"So it all comes down to this, doesn't it?" whispered Harry. "Does the wand in your hand know its last master was Disarmed? Because if it does...I am the true master of the Elder Wand."
Hermione watched in bated breath as Voldemort's green jet met Harry's red one.
Then all of a sudden the Elder Wand flew high across the enchanted ceiling, spinning through the air toward its true master. And Harry caught the wand in his free hand as Voldemort fell backward, arms splayed, the slit pupils of scarlet eyes rolling upward.
She dared not blink lest this phantom of Harry evaporate before her eyes.
Was it really over?
Could it really be true?
And just like that, the tumult broke around Harry as the screams and the cheers and the roars of the watchers rent the air.
Finally realizing that this was indeed reality, Hermione sprinted toward Harry to engulf him in the most powerful hug she had ever given him.
Ron had quickly sped up to meet them, as his arms wrapped around Harry as well.
She closed her eyes as she held him close to her, never wanting to let go, never wanting to say goodbye. She could feel crowds of people fighting to seize him, pull him, hug some part of him, determined to touch the Boy Who Lived. But still, she refused to let go.
She never wanted to let go.
A/N: Okay, so I know this a thousand years late buttttt, in my slight defense, my laptop was attacked by a virus shortly after posting the last chapter and it took some time to fix. Not two months time, obviously, but still SOME time. So, yeah. Sorry! If you're still here and reading this, thank you so much for being patient! I really really really hope you liked this chapter. It is the last one of direct canon *wink wink* so yeah...from here on out, it's my own story line. Quite scary isn't it? Hopefully you enjoy what I have in store...we shall see. Once again, thanks so much for reading and sticking around! Have an awesome, spectacular day :)