To anyone who has been reading this for months, I'm so sorry this final update is long overdue. It has been an extremely busy few months for me, and I didn't want to rush the ending or make it feel forced. So all I can say is thank you for your patience and I hope this end product was worth the wait.
You guys have been awesome, and I seriously appreciate the feedback and everything during this long journey. I'm pretty excited to say that I'm finally done my first story! As always, anything you recognize belongs to J.K. Rowling.
PS: To anyone who read this before it was complete, I added on to the end of chapter 37 because I thought the chapter lengths/splits worked better that way. So if you haven't checked that out, please read that first. Thanks!
EDIT- Edited what I posted last night. I feel better about it the way it is now, so I'm glad for the adjustments. Hope you guys agree!
Chapter 38: Together
The Dark Lord's words echoed across the grounds and hung in the air.
"Potter can't be dead!"
Voices called out, some Harry recognized and others he didn't, but in the eruption of noise it was mostly drowned out.
"Silence!" Voldemort roared, and with a bang the crowd was forced to obey him. "Harry Potter is dead."
For several moments, Harry couldn't hear much of anything. Not being able to open his eyes was nearly killing him; he was desperate to see who was still standing.
Voldemort lifted the spell off of him, and he limply fell to the ground with a thump. Determined to remain motionless, Harry waited for something to happen, his muscles impossibly tense.
His mind was racing as he struggled to come up with some sort of plan. He was sure Nagini was still alive. The snake had been near Voldemort last he'd seen, although it was no longer in its protective bubble.
"Harry Potter was not your hero. He was never a hero. He died trying to escape his fate- trying to save himself while you carelessly threw away your-"
Voldemort stopped short as suddenly the sounds of a scuffle broke out. There were a few shouts and flashes, followed by a thud.
Harry felt his stomach drop, his body full of adrenaline and ready to act at a moment's notice.
"Well now, what is this…?" Voldemort asked, his voice laced with amusement. "Do we have a volunteer to demonstrate what will happen to those who continue to struggle?"
A sickeningly happy laugh pierced the early morning air. Harry didn't need to look to identify it as Bellatrix.
"The boy is Neville Longbottom, my Lord! The son of the Aurors, remember?"
Harry opened his eyes a miniscule amount, just enough to get a glimpse of what was going on. Neville was pushing himself to his feet, which looked to be a great effort after whatever he'd been hit with. It seemed as though the crowd defending Hogwarts was being subdued or held back somehow by the Death Eaters.
"Ah, yes, of course. I remember now," Voldemort said. His sinister eyes raked over the boy before him. "But you are a pureblood, are you not?" Voldemort asked Neville, who was standing in front of an army of Death Eaters, without so much as a wand. Harry nearly winced as he noticed this. They must have disarmed him when he broke free from the crowd.
"So what if I am?" Neville responded defiantly, his voice carrying in the space between the factions.
"You have shown great bravery, and you come of noble blood. You would make a valuable Death Eater. We need your kind, Neville Longbottom."
Harry had only a moment to be surprised before Neville responded.
"I'll join you when hell freezes over," he shouted fiercely. "For Dumbledore!"
An answering cheer erupted from the crowd, despite the Silencing Charm Voldemort had placed upon them. It seemed his spell was unable to hold completely.
"Very well," Voldemort answered in a voice that sent a shiver up Harry's spine, and an icy chill of dread throughout his body. There was a danger in his falsely calm voice now, a tone that Harry knew well."If that is your choice, Longbottom, on your head be it."
Voldemort waved his wand and from somewhere up in Hogwarts castle, the Sorting Hat flew into his waiting hand.
"There will be no more Sorting; there will be no more Houses. The banner of my noble ancestor, Salazar Slytherin, will suffice for everyone. Wouldn't you agree, Neville Longbottom?"
Harry could sense something was about to happen before it did. And a moment later, his fears were confirmed. Voldemort pointed his wand at Neville, who became rigid and still, and then forced the old hat onto Neville's head. Movement from the crowd of survivors in front of Hogwarts caused more Death Eaters to raise their wands to hold them back.
"Alright, Neville, let's show everyone what happens to those who continue to oppose me," said Voldemort. With a flick of his wand the hat sitting atop Neville's head burst into flames.
Screams pierced the air, and Neville was stuck rooted to the spot, unable to move. Harry couldn't just watch this anymore, he had to do something.
And then several things happened in quick succession.
Arrows whizzed by, and rained down on the Death Eaters, who broke ranks, looking around in confusion for the source of the attack. Giant crashes were heard in the distance, closer to the forest. Harry grabbed his invisibility cloak from under his clothes, swung it over himself, and sprang to his feet.
At the same time, Neville moved, too.
Breaking free of the curse that bound him, Neville lunged forward. The Sorting Hat fell from his head, and he pulled from it a silver blade.
In one slice, Nagini was cut in two, the head of Voldemort's prized snake falling to the ground a foot from its body. The attention of the rushing, chaotic crowd was almost immediately drawn to the snake now lying dead at the Dark Lord's feet, whose mouth opened in a silent scream of fury.
Still hidden under the invisibility cloak, Harry cast a shield charm between Voldemort and Neville before anything else could happen. Then over the loud sounds of the battle of beasts raging in the background (centaurs and giants, from what Harry could tell), came a loud yell.
"Harry!" the shout came from Professor McGonagall, "Where is Harry?"
Chaos immediately followed. The centaurs made a charge forward and further scattered the Death Eaters, people were fleeing from the giants who were fast approaching, and it seemed reinforcements were flying in from the air, though for whose side, Harry couldn't yet tell.
The wizards were forced into the castle to avoid the clashing beasts outside, and Harry, still hidden under the cloak, began shooting spells at any Death Eaters he spotted.
Along with the tide of the crowd, Harry was pushed into the entrance area of the castle, still hidden, his eyes searching frantically for Voldemort, wanting desperately to end it before any more lives were lost.
As he scanned the room, he saw Bellatrix sending a curse at a young student, only to have McGonagall step in and protect her.
"You will not harm any more students," McGonagall said forcefully.
Bellatrix laughed maniacally, eyeing the one who dared challenge her.
McGonagall flourished her wand, sending a flurry of curses at Bellatrix. Harry could tell instinctively that she was holding back, probably out of fear of hitting any of the students or allies caught up in other battles nearby.
"And what will they do when I've killed you?" Bellatrix taunted, a smile on her face that made Harry pause. He knew from the look that she truly meant to kill. "When you have joined the old fool- I wonder, would you like to be buried next to him?"
Slowly, the other battles came to an end and most of the survivors moved to the outer edges of the room, watching several more heated duels which continued on.
McGonagall attacked aggressively now, and the look of Bellatrix's face quickly changed to one of serious concentration, then worry.
Harry found his attention consumed by their duel, and impressed by the skill of both witches. Minerva side-stepped a particularly powerful spell Bellatrix sent her way, and followed immediately with one of her own.
A jet of light slipped under Bellatrix's arm and found its mark right in the center of her chest, and Bellatrix fell, never to rise again.
Harry's eyes finally found Voldemort as he roared with fury of the loss of one of his most loyal followers.
The Dark Lord rounded back on Ginny and Luna, who were huddled together, their wands out, shielding a barely conscious Neville. As Voldemort raised his wand again, Harry knew he had to act.
"Protego!" Harry shouted, and a powerful shield charm exploded in front of them just in time to deflect Voldemort's curse. Angered, the Dark Lord turned to find their defender.
Harry pulled his father's cloak off, finally revealing himself and staring into the eyes of his parents' murderer. Any remaining duels around them subsided to a halt, followed by cheers of "Harry!" and "He's alive!" then whispers, and eventually silence. The whole room seemed to be holding its breath, on edge, tensely waiting for what would happen next.
But Harry only saw Voldemort; everything surrounding them became merely a blur.
This was it- everything, for years of his life, since he had been marked as a baby and lost his parents, had been leading up to this moment.
"I don't want anyone else to jump in- it's got to be like this," Harry said to no one in particular, his voice echoing off the walls in the silence. His body felt electric, like a live wire.
"Potter says that now," Voldemort said, "but how many have you hid behind? How many have died for you?" Harry winced slightly as the words hit too close to home. "Who will you use as a shield today?"
"No one," Harry answered, his voice strong and sure. "There are no more Horcruxes to keep you alive now. It's just you and me."
Voldemort seemed to react for a moment, but only just.
"It's never been just you and me, Harry. You've always had someone else to protect you. And you've let them- let them all throw their lives away to save yourself. But I wonder, Harry," Voldemort asked in a different voice, "how many of those fighting here today would still believe in you if they knew what you have done?"
Harry's jaw clenched, but he wouldn't give in to Voldemort's tactics. Years of his life had been taken away by this man. The horrible things he had been forced to do flashed through his mind.
"What you forced me to do?" Harry forced out in a dangerous tone. "I don't care if they believe in me," he said. Hermione's face and words of encouragement flowed into his mind, and his confidence surged. If no one else believed him, she would be enough- more than enough. "After today, it won't matter what they think. You'll be gone, and they can live and believe whatever they want."
"You are so confident that you, a mere boy, can defeat me?" the Dark Lord questioned. "I can perform magic you have never dreamed of. So what makes you think you can defeat me?"
Getting frustrated with the meaningless conversation, Harry answered honestly and strongly. "I have something worth fighting for."
The challenge in Harry's voice was evident.
He wanted the conversation over. He wanted action.
He wanted to finish this.
"Well, then let's see if that is enough for you to defeat me," Voldemort said slowly, and Harry sensed something coming a moment before it happened.
Something wicked filled the eyes of his parents' murderer, and Harry stared right back into those deep, red eyes, his own a determined green and shining fiercely.
Anger filled Harry in that last moment, an intense, shocking anger at everything he had been put through when he was younger, and everything he and Hermione had endured to end this evil man.
When they moved, it was as if in slow motion.
But once the sound of the Dark Lord's voice ripped through the air, everything rushed back up to speed.
"Avada Kedavra!" they shouted at the same time.
The spells collided in mid-air and for a terrifyingly long moment, nothing happened.
Then an explosion of green light and sound filled the air with an electric quality. Harry had to shield his eyes, but squinted, trying to keep his eyes on his enemy.
Behind him, a cloak swished. Harry froze, paralyzed.
"Are you truly ready to die, Harry?" Voldemort whispered menacingly.
The Dark Lord was right behind him. He felt the tip of a wand against the back of his neck.
His heart was pounding in his chest; he could hardly breathe.
Taking the only chance he had, and acting mostly on instinct, Harry quickly spun to the side, bringing one of his arms up to grab Voldemort's wand arm. As Harry had hoped, his reflexes were quicker.
With all of his anger and desire to end the torture he had been put through, Harry slammed into Voldemort, bringing them both to the ground. He was still holding the Dark Lord's wand arm and he quickly twisted it at an unforgiving angle.
A short roar of pain left the evil wizard as his wand was forced from him.
Harry knew that wouldn't mean much for long. He had to act now.
He jabbed his wand into the one who had caused him so much pain, holding him down as best he could with his left arm. Part of him, somewhere deep within, wondered for a fleeting moment if this was right- for him to kill, but it was pushed down by the much stronger part of him that needed to end this, to stop the anger threatening to consume him.
"Avada Kedavra!" Harry shouted into the silence, the spell immediately entering the Dark Lord's chest.
Harry as he watched, frozen, as the life left the evil wizard's eyes.
He had killed him. He was a murderer.
There were long seconds of stunned silence, suddenly ended as a great uproar surrounded Harry. But it was muffled in his ears, his world still spinning, his mind grasping at smoke, trying desperately to make sense of what had just happened.
He had done it. It was over.
But as the crowd rushed in on him, full mostly of faces he had never even seen before, the relief didn't come.
Had he done the right thing? Part of him couldn't feel guilty about what he had done. Another part of him screamed that he had taken a life.
Then reality crashed in on him so suddenly he almost couldn't breathe and he knew the main reason he didn't feel a sense of calm.
He hadn't seen her.
People were patting his back, briefly hugging any part of him they could reach, congratulating him, smiles on their faces.
She wasn't close to him, he knew that. He would have known if she was.
His eyes scanned the crowd slowly, purposefully, wanting to be sure not to miss her even though he knew he wouldn't.
With every face he passed, his stomach clenched a little tighter. Fear that he would not see her standing in the crowd gripped his heart.
And then finally, his eyes met a pair of wonderfully familiar brown eyes.
She was standing a little ways back, watching as the others, strangers, rushed to him, smiling gently, beautifully.
He let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, and slowly a smile tugged at the corners of his lips.
People walked in front of her, arms passed across their line of vision, but his eyes remained on hers until he was grinning like he was the luckiest guy alive.
And for the first time in his life, he felt like it might be true.
For the next few hours, at least what felt like hours, Harry walked around meeting many of the survivors, giving condolences to those who had lost loved ones, thanking everyone for helping to fight against Voldemort and the Death Eaters.
No one seemed to fault him for using an Unforgiveable Curse. Some uncertainty lingered in Harry now that his anger was completely gone, but he felt surprisingly little other than exhaustion.
It all went by in a daze. Harry trudged walked along, being pulled in different directions, completely spent but doing his best to mask it with a smile. All the attention made him uncomfortable, but without all these people fighting the Dark Lord would have been much more difficult if not impossible.
And Hogwarts would have likely been destroyed or torn apart from the inside. Hermione's school and home for years.
In the time since he had won, she had crossed his mind more times than he could count. But despite being constantly in his thoughts, he hadn't had a moment to talk to her with everything else going on and being pulled in so many other directions.
His eyes had found her a few times while he was walking around, sitting with the Weasleys, talking with McGonagall, hugging Luna and Neville.
Sometimes, her eyes would look over to find him watching her and she would smile slightly, but she didn't approach him.
Eventually, Harry managed to slip quietly out of the Great Hall, relieved for the peace and soft sounds of the morning outside. Walking around had only solidified the lives that had been lost in Harry's mind, so the calm he felt was mixed with feelings of fatigue and melancholy.
Tired feet led him toward the lake, and slowly he lowered himself to sit back against a tree, his eyes looking out over the calm water.
Harry simply sat there without much sense of how much time had passed. His thoughts drifted across memories of the last few months, and of the years before. So much had changed; he had changed.
After a while, he heard someone approaching. Quickly, his senses perked up and he became more alert.
Their footsteps stopped next to him, and he looked up to find a familiar face.
Hermione stood there, looking down at him with a small smile. Harry scrambled to his feet, the fogginess of his mind suddenly gone as he looked at her.
A hundred things to say, questions to ask, ran through Harry's mind, but he couldn't decide on one to voice. This was new territory for him, for them, and he didn't know how to act.
"Hi," Hermione said finally, interrupting Harry's thoughts.
Her smile was contagious, and he immediately felt reassured that he had made the right choice to come back. Not that he had doubted it before.
"Hi," he answered, feeling extremely silly but not really knowing what else to say.
He watched her face closely, and it seemed like she was nervous, too.
"When I was talking to Ginny I saw you leave. I figured you might want some peace and quiet, so I didn't follow right away, but then you didn't come back, so I thought I'd come and see if you would like some company."
She managed to keep her voice steady, but Harry could see the uncertainty in her eyes.
"Sure," Harry said.
When Harry didn't respond further, Hermione continued, her tone different now, her words slower, a bit more cautious.
"You know," Hermione said, looking at Harry closely, "I think Ginny's got a crush on you… since you saved her before."
Her expression was light-hearted, but he could sense the question behind her statement, too, in the way she was looking at him.
"She hardly knows me," he responded, clearly sounding uninterested. "She seems nice and all, but…" he trailed off, not sure how exactly to say that he just didn't like her that way. "I'm sure it will pass."
There was a pause, and suddenly Hermione wouldn't look at him for more than half a second.
"There might be… someone else you saved who fancies you, too," she told him quietly. Her eyes glanced up at him to see his reaction.
Harry felt his heart speed up; he was pretty sure he knew where she was going with this, and the thought of it made him both terrified and extremely happy.
"Really?" he asked, not surprised that his voice came out shaky and hopeful. Sure, they had kissed, but that was different- he was about to die- now everything was different.
Her brown eyes searched his, and instead of an answer, she took a half-step forward, closer to him. Feeling the butterflies in his stomach, Harry shifted a little closer, too, in response.
He noticed her take a breath before she reached out a hand and lightly touched his face. After a moment, her hand slid to rest against the base of his neck, on his shoulder, and she leaned forward, closing the distance between them, pressing her lips to his.
Harry responded to the kiss, emotions swelling in his chest.
When Hermione pulled back a few seconds later, Harry had to remind himself to breathe.
She looked away from him shyly, her cheeks tinted red, but Harry could see the small grin on her face. When her eyes found his again, he gave her a nervous smile, his heart soaring.
Something was still nagging at him, though, and he unexpectedly felt the need for her approval.
"I killed him," Harry said quietly, his eyes looking into hers. He needed to know what she thought, to know if this changed who he was in her eyes.
"I know," Hermione answered firmly. "You did what you had to do. You saved us all."
Reaching forward, Harry pulled her into a hug. For a while he simply stood there, holding her close to him, hardly able to believe everything that had happened. Hermione leaned into him, her arms around him just as tightly.
Part of Harry wanted to say something then- whisper something honest and meaningful- but he decided that for now he was content just to hold her in his arms. There would be time for that later.
The realization that there would, in fact, be time for that later hit Harry with a strong wave of emotion, and he squeezed her just a little tighter.
Gently, she pulled back to look at him, her eyes, her smile- everything about her content and happy. Harry simply looked back into her eyes, feeling the same things he saw in her.
In that moment, Harry realized that was where it had all started… something about her had reached out to him and pulled him out of the darkness. And as he looked into the beautiful eyes of the witch who had just kissed him, Harry couldn't help but feel like whatever happened, he would be okay as long as they were together.
Harry smiled, his green eyes shining, and this time, he was the one to close the distance between them.