May 2nd, 1998
Cold and wet and shaking.
Hermione couldn't stop herself from clinging to Ron's hands as they sat on the grand staircase. He prompted her more than once, but she couldn't bring herself to speak. She was terrified that, despite hell unleashing all around them, he would ask her about the kiss—the mistake. She didn't think she had it in her to spare Ron's feelings considering what was happening; considering where Harry might—
Looking up at the sound of footsteps, her teary eyes widened at the sight of Harry. Still there. Still alive. She stood, letting go of Ron's hand swiftly and made a break for Harry. "Where have you been?" she demanded, a small part of her tempted to hit him for scaring her so badly.
Ron stepped up to her side, hair still wet from the Chamber of Secrets, sticking to his forehead. "We thought you went into the forest."
Harry stared at her for a long moment before dropping his gaze to the ground. "I'm going there now."
Hermione's heart stopped beating for a split second, just long enough for her to feel the devastating pain of the loss. No, she mouthed silently, meaning to say the words aloud but unable to.
"Are you mad?" Ron wondered. "No! You can't give yourself up to him."
Harry lifted his eyes again, the green looking dull. Fatigue, malnourishment, stress, and the weight of the world had dimmed the spark in his gaze.
"What is it, Harry? What is it you know?"
"There's a reason I can hear them."
Hermione shook her head. No, no, no.
Oh god, no.
"I think I've known for a while."
Tears spilt over onto her cheeks.
"And I think you have too."
She had known. For a while, as he had said. However, denial was powerful enough that even the logical Hermione Granger had found security in pretending that the knowledge she had wasn't real. Couldn't be real. If it was real, then Dumbledore had known—known everything for years—and he'd just been keeping Harry safe and alive for this. She wanted to think that Dumbledore would have tried to find another way. Which meant that if he hadn't . . . then there was no other way.
She wasn't ready to admit that.
Harry sighed when Ron put a hand on his shoulder in silent commiseration. He reached out and took Hermione's fingers, rubbing the pad of his thumb over her knuckles softly. The action just made the tears sting painfully. She looked up and met his gaze, heart clenching tightly in her chest.
"I'll go with you."
She hadn't, of course.
Harry wouldn't have let her.
"Kill the snake," he had said.
She had a job to do.
But now . . . Now she couldn't think of what that was. A high, cold voice pierced the grounds of Hogwarts, and both McGonagall and Ginny were wailing as the Death Eaters approached the battle-torn school.
"Harry Potter is dead!"
She thought she heard herself screaming; she thought she felt herself moving forward, wand raised, but Ron had wrapped his arms around her and pulled her against his chest, holding her tight as she sobbed. She felt him shake against her, crying, filled with grief and rage just like she was. Harry was dead. Their best friend.
Her . . . her everything.
"No, no, no . . ." she cried. "He can't be dead . . . he can't . . ."
"I know," Ron whispered to her, his voice cracking. "We'll kill him, Hermione. We'll kill that snake-faced bastard if it's the last thing we do. I swear it."
Hermione felt someone take her hand, and she turned and looked up to see Neville standing beside them, jaw clenched tight, wand in one hand, his other holding onto her.
"We'll do it for Harry," he said.
He looked frightened and frightening all at once, and she could see how the D.A. had followed his lead that past year. The same way she and Ron had always followed Harry.
She looked over Ron's shoulder to where Harry's body was, limp in Hagrid's arms.
Neville squeezed her hand again, and Ron held her tighter. She couldn't tell which of them were offering the other the strength they needed. Likely both.
They watched in horror as Hagrid put Harry's body on the ground at Voldemort's feet. The pale villain hovered over him, grinning, red eyes glimmering across the grounds. "If he touches Harry's body, I'll—" she began to say but was cut off when Voldemort looked up at the crowd and began to speak.
"You see? Harry Potter is dead! Do you understand now, deluded ones? He was nothing, ever, but a boy who relied on others to sacrifice themselves for him!"
"He beat you!" Ron yelled defiantly, letting go of Hermione and standing taller than ever before.
"He was killed while trying to sneak out of the castle grounds," Voldemort countered, laughing, "killed while trying to save himself—"
Suddenly, Neville let go of her hand and ran forward, eyes blazing and wand drawn.
There was a flash and a loud bang, and Hermione yelled when she saw Neville's body skid across the ground in one direction, his wand in the other. Her heart pounded against her chest, and she could feel the fear right down to her bones at the sight of Neville on the ground, unmoving, right there beside Harry. When Neville finally sat up, wincing in pain, she felt a pang of relief that was all too quickly replaced once more by blinding grief when Harry's body remained still.
Her eyes flickered between Harry and Nagini. The snake had coiled itself affectionately around Voldemort's feet while he placed the Sorting Hat on Neville's head and lit it on fire. People began shouting once more, and the Death Eaters cheered. Bellatrix's laugh echoed loudest of all.
Hermione paid attention to every one of them, remembering the faces of each person who had pulled away the silver masks that normally hid their identities. Bellatrix and the Lestrange brothers; Dolohov and Rowle; Lucius Malfoy, who looked as though he were about to be sick. Narcissa Malfoy stood at this side, her gaze focused away from the scene in front of them, directed at another Death Eater—Yaxley—who was walking forward, wand aimed at the ground in front of him.
Hermione screamed when she saw the man was aiming at Harry's body. "No!"
Yaxley shouted, " Evanesco!"
Voldemort turned, red eyes wide with panic as Harry's body vanished from sight.
All hell broke loose.
Voldemort killed Yaxley on the spot, screaming in a rage as an Entrail-Expelling Curse struck the Death Eater. His body flew in one direction, and his organs in another.
Distraction was the opportunity to strike, and Neville did just that. Pulling the Sorting Hat from his head and reaching inside, he brandished the Sword of Gryffindor and sliced the head right off of Voldemort's final Horcrux.
The battle raged on.
Despite having lost the Chosen One, the Order and remaining members of Dumbledore's Army—as well as countless others who stayed behind to fight—were gaining the upper hand. Bodies of innocent and guilty littered the ground. With an unpredictable leader, the Death Eaters were panicking. Only the already insane seemed to have a handle on the situation. Rodolphus and Rabastan cornered Hermione and Ron, separating them across the Great Hall, where they'd retreated to fight. Kingsley Shacklebolt came to Hermione's aid, while Filius Flitwick assisted Ron.
Someone screamed from across the room, and Hermione looked up in time to see Bellatrix hit Molly Weasley with a curse right in front of both Ginny and George.
She didn't witness what happened next to her friends when Rodolphus struck her in the side with a Slicing Hex. She shouted in pain and collapsed to the ground, hand to her waist where she could already feel blood wetting her palm.
"Centaurs are coming!" a Death Eater shouted as he ran into the Great Hall.
Overwhelmed and suddenly outnumbered, Bellatrix rallied near her Dark Lord as he commanded his army. "Devastate them!" he cried out, an angry sneer firm on his face.
Narcissa Malfoy darted across the room and grabbed Draco by the arm, whispering something in his ear. She slipped a Hawthorn wand into his hand, and he stared at his mother, eyes wide, before nodding quickly. When Lucius reached them, the blond family vanished from sight in the familiar swirl of a Portkey.
Bellatrix's laugh drew Hermione's attention. The deranged witch threw something into the centre of the room and colour exploded out of the small object like a fire—a blue twisting inferno that sucked Dean Thomas and Michael Corner into it, vanishing them with a loud bang. Other Death Eaters across the Great Hall followed suit and threw the grenade-like magical objects in various directions.
"Hermione!" Ron shouted as he ran toward her.
Standing, she made to chase after him, but a firm hand gripped around her forearm, nails digging into the carved flesh there left behind by Bellatrix. Turning, her eyes widened at the sight of Dolohov, who gave her an ugly grin.
"Dark Lord says I get to keep you."
"Reducto!" she yelled, her wand pressed against his sternum. The Death Eater flew backward into a wall, and she turned to run away from him, desperate to reach Ron, refusing to lose anyone else.
A large figure blocked her path, and she stared up into the eyes of Fenrir Greyback.
"Going somewhere, girly?" he asked with a laugh, his yellowed, pointed teeth showing.
"Mine!" Dolohov shouted, coughing, from where he'd crashed into the wall behind her. Fenrir snarled defiantly, looking up at his apparent competition. Dolohov reached into his robes and pulled out the magical object that Hermione was beginning to think of as a Portkey Grenade, and threw it at her.
"No!" Greyback roared and dove out of the way.
Hermione tried to run in the opposite direction, reaching for Ron, who had been held up by Travers on the other side of a collapsed wall. They made eye contact briefly, staring at one another in abject horror as blue light swirled around her. Ron screamed just as she felt the uncomfortable pull behind her navel, tugging her far away from Hogwarts.
She landed on cold, damp concrete, her head hitting the ground hard; the cracking sound of bone on cement echoed in her ears alongside a high-pitched ringing as her vision blurred. She saw bars on a door in the corner and, barely conscious, she flicked her wand—Bellatrix's original wand—in an attempt to free herself. Nothing happened.
She blacked out before she could try again.
When she woke, hours or maybe days later, the room was dark. The wound in her side had been poorly patched up. Her wand was missing.
Before she had a chance to stand to examine her injuries, the door swung open with a loud clank, and Antonin Dolohov stood there, grinning down at her. He was relaxed, clean, and comfortably dressed in a finely made robe that looked nothing like what he'd been wearing during the battle. It made her panic and wonder how long she'd been unconscious.
He said nothing as he stepped inside the room.
Hermione scooted away from him quickly, pressing her back to the cold, stone wall behind her. He opened his mouth to speak, but she cut him off quickly, defiantly lifting her bruised chin and saying, "My friends will come for me."
Dolohov laughed. "Oh, sweet . . . They won't find you. Potter is dead, and so is half your Order. Scattered to the wind and being hunted down like dogs. If any of them make it out alive," he said, kneeling down in front of her, "they'll never be able to find you. This house is under a Fidelius. Got that idea from Dumbledore."
Hermione tried not to widen her eyes so that he could see her fear evident in her gaze. She tried to think of her own research into the Security Charm, but the only out that occurred to her was an image of Peter Pettigrew that flashed through her mind.
As though Dolohov knew what she was thinking, he laughed at her. "I wouldn't count on my Secret Keeper betraying me, little Mudblood."
She glared at him. "You trust someone that implicitly? You're a fool."
He chuckled and ran his knuckles against her jaw. "We'll work on that mouth of yours first, I think," he threatened with a smile. "As for my Secret Keeper, he's the same Secret Keeper as every other Death Eater that has a Fidelius on their home."
A cold chill went up her spine, and tears stung her eyes. Dolohov looked as though he were going to laugh again, so she stared up into his smug face and hissed, "Voldemort."
The Death Eater predictably flinched at the name. He jumped up, looking around as though he fully expected her words to have triggered the Taboo and for someone to Apparate behind him to stab him through the chest. Growling, he turned around and narrowed his eyes at Hermione. "You're going to regret that."
"I'm regretting a lot of things," she said just as his boot connected with the side of her head.
Blackness surrounded her once again.
In her dreams, she thought of Harry . . . dead . . . somewhere peaceful, where there wasn't war. Her heart ached for him, grieved for him, and she unconsciously cried out for him.
"I'll go with you."