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Chapter 15 : The Broken Goodbye
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Those moments, though infrequent, were the very ones that kept her whole. She had not expected to be back here, with Harry and Ron, with the members of the Order. Back in this house of bitterness and memory. And yet she was, and had been for almost three weeks now. The claustrophobia and constant company all but drove her insane.
She had departed Hogwarts with the other DA members, knowing they would be coming back to the old house, and knowing that their departure would signal the last time they spent within the hallowed halls of the castle. She felt as though she had lost a dear friend with the passing.
Despite the melancholy, she had been eager to see her two friends, so long missed, and yet when the time had come, she found herself feeling more than a little removed. As though the fibre of her emotions, her very core, was being kept elsewhere. Outside of her body and in somebody else's. It was not something she liked to think about in too much detail.
There were times, few and far between, when she found the opportunity to sink into herself. To drown in her thoughts, her morbid recollections. Memories of stolen moments that ought to be forgotten, but that could not possibly be. Not for her. She fed on those thoughts. Thoughts of him. And though she knew that she ought to have let him go, for he was so very unhealthy a fixation for her, she found that she could not.
It was the hardest at night, when she lay between crisp sheets, recalling another night, seemingly a long time gone, when she had been twisted in other sheets, smoother sheets that caressed her skin the way he had.
Skin on skin, smooth legs and firm thighs. Skin so pale, she had thought she had lain with the ghost of him, that he had only been a figment of her imagination, as he now was. She thought perhaps that was all he had ever been. A ghost, and she was to be eternally haunted. But he had been real, that night had been so very real that the memory of his touch, his taste, would wash over her so that the lines between reality and recollection would blur and she felt herself being pulled at both ends. But then the dawn would break through the mist of reverie and dream and call her back to her place in time.
And her place was here, in this musty house plotting and planning and hoping.
And how she wished that it was not.
Harry and Ron had commented on the change in her, the reservation that had never been there before. But they put it down to fear and anxiety of the war ahead. No more, no less. She could not blame them for their oversimplification of her situation; they knew nothing of how her year had passed and the changes it had wrought in her. Seamus, loyal as he was, never said a word.
All in residence at Grimmauld Place had spent their days reading, discussing and preparing in whatever small way they could. And now it was all to come to a climax. Tomorrow. The word wrought small spasms of apprehension and anxiety. It wrought anticipation, and the smallest part of her, tucked deep inside, would ask the question she refused to voice. Would she seem him there? Did she want to?
Hermione was pulled from the weight of her distraction by the slim red-haired girl who ducked her head around the door, an expression of mild bemusement marring her features.
“Hermione… come now.” She spoke the words softly, as though to a child and the curly haired girl heaved a silent sigh before following the former out of the doorway.
Draco sat at the mahogany edge of his bed, gazing around the vastness of his room, uncertainty clenching at him, threatening to swallow him whole. He was not even sure what it was he feared most above all that preyed upon his weary mind. Despite the questionable circumstances of his family and their dark associations, he had lived rather a sheltered existence
And now he feared death. The smell of it followed him, warning him of what was to come, and what had already passed, and he wondered how he had never caught its warning scent before now. He did not want to die. No matter how noble his cause may be deemed to be, was it worth it? No, it was not. Not for him. Yet he knew, with a certainty that was unrelenting, that he would go out there the next day and fight, because that was what he had been raised for.
A muffled sound at the door called his attention to one Pansy Parkinson's entrance. She looked at him for a moment, resting her form against the frame of the door, uninvited and unconcerned. Her expression was carefully blank; a look he knew well for it was his dearest friend. What she said next would be significant, of that he was most certain.
“I understand you better than you think, Draco. I know for instance where you are going tomorrow, what you will be doing.” She paused and gazed at him intently then, her voice not concealing the force of emotion behind her continued words. “I also know what you think of her. I've seen it myself, you know. Why bother, Draco? Why soil yourself with a Mudblood? She'll be dead tomorrow anyway…”
Light popped behind his retina, blurring the image of her staring at the clench of his jaw which replicated the motion of his fist.
“I won't say anything more… I just… wanted you to know what I thought…”
When he did not respond to her comment she slipped out of the room, leaving him to calm the blood that simmered all too closely to the surface. With the closing thud of the heavy door, Draco let his body sink back into the pressed bed coverings. He gazed at the ceiling, attempting to dispel the ache that resided deep within.
Velvet. That was how she had felt. If he closed his eyes and allowed his thoughts to drift beyond the cage he had created, he could almost feel that velvet skin against his, revel in the taste of her that still lingered on his lips.
It was so terribly wrong, so sordid a thing and yet he was so far gone with his infatuation he could not remember why.
The green of leaves and the black of night blurred her vision as she ran. Branches scraped her skin, reaching for her as she willed her legs to hold their hurried pace. She was in the Forbidden Forest – in which part, she did not know. She had been separated from the group earlier in the evening. Hours had passed and yet she ran in circles amid the large clawing trees; the screams of triumph and defeat were both beacon and warning to her.
Fitting, she had thought, that it would all end here, where it had begun for her so many months prior. Caught in her reminiscences, she did not notice the uneven ground until she felt her foot catch on something and her knee gave way beneath her. Restraining the yelp that curdled within, she pushed back the hair plastered across her brow whilst glancing around anxiously.
A distant vortex of screams and curses rang out overhead, but she knew them to be coming from the main fight, a good distance away from her. A crunch of leaves and the high cackle of a woman brought her attention to the sound of whispered curses and flashing lights over her shoulder. Gasping as instinct coursed through her, Hermione swung back to see one Alecto Carrow spread-eagled on the matted soil. A hushed tone called her attention away from the twisted form of the Death Eater.
“You didn't really think I'd let someone else have the honour, did you?” Something once indefinable seared in the pit of her stomach, and licked at the base of her spine. She recognised the symptoms and so was not completely surprised when she whipped her head around to see him.
“You,” she breathed the word nonsensically, her eyes widening as she took him in. She had thought about this moment, when she would see him again. The memories of their last encounter threatened to overwhelm her but she could not let them.
“Yes,” he said, his wand pointing at her, gripped with knuckles whitened by the strain.
So this was what it had come down to. It was as she had always known it would be, wands pointed at one another on either side of the battlefield. She had thought she would feel more conflicted in this moment, but she did not. She found a mind-searing clarity then, and she knew very well that no matter how important her cause was, there were some things she just could not do.
Her body sang with adrenaline as she took a hesitant step forward. The blond boy narrowed his eyes in response and tightened his grip on his wand.
“Granger, what are you doing?” The words were bitten out, as though forced against his will and the strain he must have been feeling.
“Are you going to kill me?” She whispered the words for fear that had she spoken any louder, the crack in her voice would have given her away. She held her wand steady but knew it was futile, she would not use it against him. But she had to know the answer to her question. And that had always been her downfall.
“It's something I’ve been waiting seven years to do. Would you deprive me of that now?”
She tried in vain to hide her fear. Fear of his decision and of her stupidity. Fear of the insanity of the world in which she lived. But she was laid bare; as she gazed at him she made her decision. With wavering hands and shaking knees she allowed her wand arm to drop to her side. It was surrender. And she was not accustomed to it.
“What are you doing?” He hissed the words, the horror clear on his face.
“I can't,” she shook her head as she said it, refusing to crumble under the intensity of his gaze.
Desperation etched itself across his brow, the usually clear grey eyes clouding with disbelief and resignation. “This isn't a game, Granger! It's a war, a battle. Raise your fucking wand.”
She flinched slightly at the harsh inflection of his words, but took a step closer. His wand wavered before he tightened his grip once more.
“Move back. NOW.”
She stood close enough now to feel the light pressure of his wand shaking against her, the cold puffs of air that escaped his lips.
“I don't think you can do it.”
He raised his wand and pressed it to her neck defiantly.
“You don't know that. Fuck, you don't know anything.”
Swallowing jerkily, she held his blazing eyes with hers. And in that long moment all she knew was his gaze on hers. No more. Amid the screams and cries her world had centred itself on him, as it had taken to doing. She wondered desperately if that would be her last memory of him, holding his wand to her throat with the weight of her previous decisions held in the palm of his hand.
She noted the erratic clenching of his jaw, thinking how it echoed the beating of her pulse. His lips were pulled firm in concentration, but it was his eyes that held her. That had always held her. The look held far too much for her to absorb. This man, this boy that had always hidden everything behind cold glances, was just as vulnerable as her in that moment.
She felt herself sinking into his gaze, it was dangerous territory but she had already given herself over. There was no backward step from here. Her heart stopped when the pressure of the slim wood pushed further against her pulse. And then it was gone. He dropped his hand to his side and stood there with a stillness she could not hope to replicate.
And all she could do was breathe him in, as he did her. They did not touch; they did not need to.
“Fuck, Granger,” he murmured, his voice husky with things unsaid.
Then her world shifted again. The scene moved so fast and so slow that she was caught in the crush. Utterly immobile.
“Hermione!” The call rang out from her far left, shattering the moment irrevocably.
Light flashed and she caught the final expression in Malfoy's gaze before the force of the curse had him flying back against a tree. His body lay there slumped in inertia. The sight of him stunned her into action and she ran towards his body. The moment stretched too long, the distance seemed too far.
A swift body intercepted her, hauling her back and whispering words to soothe what was thought to be fear and relief. A shock of red proved her rescuer to be Ron. But who had he saved her from? Draco or herself?
“It's okay, I got him. I got the bastard. You're safe!”
She let herself be dragged by Ron through the forest and debris, feeling nothing but a numbness which settled through her entire being. Everything moved fast then, and at every glance she saw death. How it had ravaged them all. And at every corner she feared more had been taken from her. Each shot of dark hair gave her pause.
“It's time, Hermione.” Ron whispered to her as they trekked
They had done it. They had killed the snake, Nagini, and who knew how many others. And she had not been there. She had been off in her own world, a world she could no longer escape to. She knew she needed to let him go, for the moment at least, and focus on Harry and the task ahead. Her time for pain would come later, if indeed it would come at all.
She had to do her part for Harry, whom she had selfishly forgotten. But he was safe for the moment she knew. With every forward step she took she could feel her ring humming faster, an answering call to his own. It rang with the rhythm of an old magic they had never quite understood.
Hermione felt his life force as strongly as she felt her own and Ron's, but it was of little comfort to her. She had been caught up in Malfoy the whole time – had spent the hours gazing among the duelling partners, searching for a flash of white gold hair.
So much had happened. So many people had died, and yet she had remained oblivious to it all. Her thoughts were fraught.
“This way, Hermione,” Ron said, his voice and his grip on her wrist leading her through the trees in search of their friend. They found him moments later, hidden in a hollow large enough to stow four grown men. Harry was in there with Kingsley Shacklebolt, speaking in rapid and hushed tones.
Hermione's gaze, however, found other points of interest. Namely the large angry gash that stretched the length of Harry's left cheek.
“It's okay. I'm okay,” he said, despite looking more than a little shaken to her. “Are you ready for this? Because I understand if—”
She silenced him quickly. “Harry, we all signed on for this. Don't start questioning that now. Let's just go.”
He looked at her with a measure of uncertainty for a moment and seized her upper arms to inspect her more closely. His startling eyes wore an expression of deep gravity which caused her to feel wearier still.
How she wanted it all to be over. A swift and clean ending. She almost begged for it. For them all. But she could not give in, no matter the strength of the temptation. Harry had fought dangers already, and he had more to come. How could she have so easily forgotten?
She impulsively embraced him and Ron, receiving an awkward pat on the back from the latter. Leaving the shelter of the hollow tree they began the walk to the clearing in which they knew Voldemort to be camped. He would be waiting for them. Left and then right, and left again. She guided her feet down the trail, choosing to focus on them rather than the hordes of crumpled and stilled bodies that were strewn in their path.
They passed many of their comrades still fighting valiantly. Some stayed to fight their battles whilst others joined their march. Hermione had not seen Seamus for hours and only now realised just how much that thought had plagued her. They trudged through tangled vines and bush as more and more Order members joined them; they would be needed to distract Voldemort's entourage.
As they reached the clearing, Hermione realised with no small amount of horror that they were in fact very close to where she had initially been when it had happened. The group stopped silently, aware that the Death Eaters would be expecting them. Disillusionment charms were cast abound and the wizards and witches fanned out, taking silent aim at the surrounding Death Eaters.
A cry rent the air and they knew it was time. She spared a look at her friends, committing their faces to memory before the swell of nausea overtook her.
Screams resounded in her head, an accompaniment of flashing lights followed and then dissipated in the wake of new sounds – the muffled buzz of discussion. She listened to the sounds of life, of reality, and wondered how far away she was from it. Had she survived this anarchism to see another day?
She found no matter the answer, she could not draw relief from it. Her mind was disorientated, her eyes glued shut. Wherever it was she now floated, it was neither life nor dream. And yet in that place of transient reality, amid the cloud and fog of her mind, she recalled the closing moments.
They had all crept forward to greet their ending, whatever it was to be, with Harry at the helm. Silence reined in the clearing and the tension shifted. But they held their stances strong. It was then that they had emerged, Voldemort and his many others. Hermione had felt the fear begin to paralyse her then, but she had broken through it. There had been no other option. Slipping the narrow band over her finger, Hermione breathed deeply to centre herself.
They had all been given jobs. Harry's was to defeat Voldemort, to duel him, as they had always known it would be. For Ron and Hermione the task was to protect him as best they could. Despite Voldemort's belief in his own invincibility, they had known that should something go against his favour, he could very well order one of his Death Eaters to intervene. They could not allow for such a possibility.
So Ron and Hermione were to shield them, using a more advanced version of the protego charm, one that would effectively cage Harry and Voldemort from outside influences. The risk being that Harry was entirely on his own. It was a simple enough charm when used on a small scale, but to achieve what they must, they had to use the full force of their power, of their emotion, of their will.
The rings, so long an enigma to them, were the tools to focus their magic. In theory it was a wonderful idea. Hermione had only hoped that the weight of her emotions would be enough. Her last recollection was of the throbbing which had imbued her, of the strain of holding herself together when the colours popped behind her eyes and her body lifted and sagged.
And no more.
But now she was here, in this strange plane of non-existence and thought. Was she alive, were they all alive? Warmth surrounded her, the warmth of arms lifting her, raising her back from the depths of fatigue. Whispered words of comfort called to her and she felt reality settle once more. Cracking open an eye, she squinted in the overly bright force of day. She experienced a beautiful moment of denial, where what she knew to be truth became dream and nightmare. And then it all crashed around her once more.
She blinked rapidly and began struggling in the arms that held her firm.
“Hermione, settle. It's me, Seamus. You're okay.”
She glanced up at him and stilled, allowing her weary and disorientated form to sag against him.
“Where were you?” she croaked.
“Looking out for you of course.”
She tried to smile but found she could not work her muscles into submission. “What happened? Where is—”
“He did it. Harry did it; You-Know-Who is gone. This war is over.” His gaze seemed to glaze with recollection. “It was…” he seemed overawed.
Relief and disbelief seared her to her core. But it was too easy, she knew. Every war had its losses. This would be no different. “Where is he? And Ron?”
She raised her head to glance around at the media-wizards running frantically between the injured. It was a blur of faces.
“I was just about to bring you over. The Healer gave you some sort of potion, but you probably shouldn't be walking around much anyway. As for Harry, he's in the big Marquee over there and he's fine. A bit dazed I'd wager – been surrounded by fans.”
He grinned in amusement and she could not help but envy him his ability to make light of every situation.
“Ron's still unconscious,” he saw the flash of fear in her clouded gaze and hurried on to continue, “He’s fine – just fatigued according to the healers. Actually I'm more concerned about you.”
He stared intently at her then, and she ducked her head from the onslaught of questions held within his gaze, choosing instead to respond with one of her own.
“Who…” she swallowed dryly, “did anyone else we know…” She let the sentence hang and he looked away for a long moment before returning to hold her gaze.
“A lot of people died, Hermione.”
Her stomach dropped with the weight of meaning expressed in his gaze. She pushed against Seamus, struggling to break out of his firm grip before running out of the clearing and into the forest. She was still disorientated but found that everything looked clearer in the light of day. She could hear Seamus's footsteps and her name upon his lips. She ignored him.
Hermione knew that she should not have even been standing after everything that had happened, that she should heed her Healer's advice. But she could not. Not until she knew for sure.
She ran through the trees much as she had the night before, but things were so very different now. Her breathing was ragged and her sides ached, yet she continued on. Upon approaching the spot she swiftly noted the dried smear of blood on the aged trunk. The loose soil indicated the exact position where his limp form had been strewn. But he was not there. She blinked.
“Hermione.” Seamus came to stand beside her. “He's gone. Ron said you were there when he hit him – said he saved you from him… did he?”
She gazed at him unable to formulate a response.
“The Death Eaters must have taken his body… they did that with a lot of them.”
She glanced back at the spot where he had been and felt her insides crumble. She fell back into Seamus's open embrace and allowed tears to fall freely down her cheeks. Her body shook, racked with pain she had held back. But now it engulfed her completely. She cried endless tears of grief and anguish, of relief. And he held her through it all.
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