December 24th, 1997
She should have been cold.
Snow blanketed the ground and had melted and soaked into her coat and jumper and jeans when she'd fallen out the window, Harry's arms wrapped around her. Adrenaline still pumped in her veins, the memory of the great snake, Nagini, sinking its teeth into Harry's leg and neck. He'd fought though. Struggled and kicked and hexed his way out of the grip of the serpent, grabbing Hermione in an attempt to get them both free of the living Horcrux.
Hermione had aimed her wand at the beast, screamed, "Confringo!" and watched as her spell flew around the room. The wardrobe mirror exploded and sent pieces of glass flying at them. She could still feel the stinging cuts on her cheeks and hairline where she'd been hit. The reverberating heat of the spell burned their skin as they tried to escape; as Harry tried to escape, holding onto Hermione for dear life, even as he screamed and grasped at his forehead with one hand.
Seeing that her best friend was in distress, Hermione gripped her wand tightly, held onto Harry and tried to Disapparate.
"What do you think is going to happen, 'Mione?" Ron asked her in the early days of the hunt; one of the days that felt an age ago when they'd been tucked away in Grimmauld Place, being waited on by Kreacher, proudly bearing his dead master's locket, Harry locked in Sirius's room as he so often was, hoping the room's walls would stop them seeing how scared he was.
They did, though.
"I don't know, Ron," Hermione whispered, frowning as she poked at the rest of the stew in her bowl, the stress of their approaching mission keeping her stomach in knots so tight that it made her too sick to eat.
Gods, if she'd only known.
"All I know is . . . we're here until the end. Good end or bad," she said, chancing a look up at her friend who appeared just as worried as she was. "We need to see to it that Harry makes it through this alive. Even if . . ." she hesitated and sighed.
"Even if it kills us," Ron finished her sentence. He reached out and took her hand in a friendly gesture and she squeezed it tight. "Harry lives," he said firmly.
Hermione nodded. "That's what's important," she agreed, sniffling and wiping at the tears in her eyes. "It's not as though I've been keeping the pair of you alive for the past six years. What's one more?" she said on a laugh that threatened to turn into a sob.
War was taking her tears and her sobs and all her softness and turning it hard. Every tear shed was like fire in a forge, slowly strengthening and tempering her. Running from Death Eaters and dementors and Snatchers had made her alert, bordering on paranoid, and she stopped sleeping through the night somewhere near the second week of September. That was about the time that the food had ran out as well.
While they had fed on wild mushrooms and fat reserves until their ribs showed, the Horcrux they took turns wearing fed on their insecurities, their fears, and fueled their bitterness and anger. It all came to a head somewhere—she thought it was October—but time no longer seemed relevant. All she knew was that Ron had been gone for weeks. She'd stopped counting the days, but with werewolves involved in Voldemort's army, it became important to keep track of the full moon. Two had come and gone since Ron had left them; since the Horcrux took hold of his heart and burned away his loyalty and bravery and filled him up with bitterness.
"Are you staying, or what?"
"I . . ." anguished, she tried to answer him in a way that would make him change his mind; calm him down and have him stay. "Yes—yes, I'm staying, Ron. We said we'd go with Harry. We said we'd help." Harry lives, that's what's important, she tried telling him with her eyes, but he'd stopped looking at her.
She could see it in Ron's eyes. He'd already left them. He'd taken the locket off, but the damage was done. He stared straight through her.
"I get it," he snapped bitterly. "You choose him."
Of course she did. She would always choose Harry Potter. He was her best friend, her brother, their only chance at winning this war. She'd never said the words, but a thousand times in her mind she'd echoed the promise of her life for his if it ever came down to it. Harry lives. Harry lives. She'd said it over and over in her mind, a mantra to keep her determination up.
"Ron, no—please—come back, come back!"
Weeks or months later—two full moons at least—she'd clung to Harry, keeping him alive just as he did the same for her. Too little food, too little sleep, and too much fighting left to do. Godric's Hollow seemed like a risk that was necessary . . . at the time.
Hermione's back hit the snowbank and the breath was knocked from her lungs. She cried and struggled to breathe again, fully aware that Harry was shaking and screaming on top of her, clutching at his forehead with one hand, his neck with the other. When she was finally able to suck in a deep breath, reminding her lungs that she was still alive, she looked up and saw the broken window of Bathilda Bagshot's home above them.
"No," she whispered and grabbed Harry's hand, trying to Disapparate again. When it didn't work, she cried out in frustration. Anti-Disapparation wards. Death Eaters were coming.
Voldemort was coming.
They ran. Ran to the edge of Godric's Hollow where they could maybe get away, but Death Eaters had the little village surrounded. Terrified, they'd instinctively gone to the one place that seemed like a strange safe haven: the remains of Potter Cottage. The grass was waist high and the hedge and weeds had actually overgrown into the house. The right side of the top floor was completely blown apart, letting in the cold night air and the snow. Everything smelled like mould and decay from fifteen years of neglect.
Harry collapsed near the bottom of the staircase, his face sickly grey and his beautiful green eyes dull. Hermione threw up the strongest security wards she could think of and fell to her knees, wrapping her arms around her best friend there on the snow covered floor of his parents' house . . .
She should have been cold.
But Harry's blood was warm, pouring out of his neck and over her hands as she tried to stop him from bleeding to death. Nagini's venom put a stop in all of her efforts. Out of dittany that wasn't even working, Hermione sobbed against Harry's neck, pleading for him to not die because she wasn't ready. Wasn't ready to let him go, wasn't ready to be alone, wasn't ready to admit that she'd failed him.
"I love you, Hermione . . ." he said hoarsely, his voice fading. "You're my . . . my best—"
"I love you—oh, Harry, don't go!" she wept openly, kissing his forehead, right over the scar, wishing she could have rid him of it. "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I was supposed to save you."
He shook his head. "My job to save y-you."
A loud bang echoed around the wards like a cannon blast and Hermione yelped in fear.
"Fight," Harry said, his lips turning blue. "Never give . . ."
"Harry?" Hermione whispered, her voice so soft she could barely hear it herself. She choked back the need to scream her grief to the world. The wards were breaking all around her, she could feel them shattering. Gripping her wand in hand, she hoped that maybe they would have had to dismantle their Anti-Disapparation wards as well in order to properly get through hers.
Harry was . . . Harry was gone . . . and she'd think about that later, about how the light had drifted from his eyes. She'd cry and break but not now; he was gone but she would not let them take his body to parade around as some trophy. She dragged him around the corner as though she could hide behind a nearby wall.
Hermione closed her eyes just as the sounds of shouting became clearer.
"I'm so sorry, Harry."
"Never give up."
"Harry lives," she whispered desperately.
She felt the aching pull of Apparition as her lungs collapsed and her body squeezed in on itself, tighter than ever before. It hurt and she panicked. Panicked more than when she'd accidentally splinched Ron just a few months earlier.
Something was very, very wrong.
When she fell on the other side, not even certain where she was, Hermione took a deep breath and coughed. Her vision was blurry and her hearing muffled. But she was warm. Her wand was in her hand and nothing else. No Harry. She braced herself against a nearby wall as she tried to stand, blinking her eyes repeatedly to regain her sight.
Where am I? she thought to herself as she looked around. Inside a house, that much was certain. It was warm and she could smell food cooking. Pie; cloves, cinnamon, and sugar. She could see out a large window and was surprised to see carved pumpkins instead of Christmas lights. "What?" she mumbled softly to herself.
There was a loud bang and the front door burst open. Hermione held back a scream as she hid back behind the wall again, covering her ears. People were shouting in the other room.
"Lily take Harry . . . go! . . . him! . . . Run! . . . hold him off!"
Footsteps on the stairs. She could feel the vibrations just behind her against the wall.
Hermione looked back around and her eyes widened at the sight of a head of messy, black hair. Her blood ran cold at the sight of the wizard—"Harry?"—standing in the other room with his back facing her. She crawled forward when she saw why he was on his feet.
Dark robes and pale skin, red eyes just like Harry had told her. But instead of the snake-like visage that her best friend had described, this man within her sight was all sharp angles—nose included—with dark, rich hair. He might have been beautiful if he didn't have murder in his eyes; if he weren't grinning about it.
The Dark wizard raised his wand and that was when Hermione realised that Harry's hands were empty.
She screamed the first spell that came to mind. "Confringo!"
The spells collided mid air and exploded, throwing all the occupants of the room backward. Her head hit something hard when she was thrown. She reached up, groaning in pain when she felt wet steel behind her that looked like the leg of a table, covered in what she assumed was her blood.
"My lord!" someone shouted from the other room.
". . . off me!" Voldemort shouted.
". . . doing here? . . . Pete?" another voice mumbled.
". . . tail, deal with these two . . . disappear until you're summoned or I'll . . ."
"Yes, my lord, of course my . . ."
"No, no, Pete, you son of a—"
"I'm sorry, James. Stupefy!"
James? Hermione blinked and forced herself to sit up, aware of a blurry shape coming toward her. She reached for her wand only to have her hand stepped on before she could grab it.
"Who're you?" the person above her asked, a tone of confusion.
Somewhere above them, Hermione could hear echoing screams.
"Not Harry! Please, not Harry! Please—I'll do anything!"
"Stand aside. Stand aside, girl!"
Hermione's eyes widened, the pieces clicking into place. Her vision cleared and she looked up at her own attacker with hateful scorn. Round face, watery eyes, and much less rat-like than the last time she'd seem him. "Wormtail," she snarled through clenched teeth and struck him with her free hand, fingernails raking down the side of his face, drawing blood.
The man jumped up straight, grasping at his face and fumbling nervously with the wand in his hand, eyes wide. "How do you . . . who are you? Never mind," he said, chewing on his bottom lip and aiming his wand, hands shaking. "Stupefy!" he said and missed.
Shocked by the not-at-all stunned girl in front of him, he turned and fled instead of trying for another shot, running out through the front door and Disapparating away.
Hermione clutched her wand and made for the stairs, ignoring the pounding in her head and the way that the room was spinning. She was two steps up the stairs before a loud, "Avada Kedavra!" echoed in the house that was immediately filled with a flood of green light.
"No!" Hermione screamed just as the roof began to collapse. A piece of rubble hit her in the head before her body was buried beneath more.
Before completely losing consciousness, she could faintly hear the cry of a baby.