One by one she unfastened their cloaks and covered up their faces. She went first to Dumbledore, and then Ginny, and Neville, who lay close to Ron. When it came time to cover Ron she found her legs suddenly refused to move once she got to within a few feet of him, and her eyes burned fiercely. With an enormous effort, she willed herself to kneel beside him and reached out to touch his cloak.
But she didn’t want to say goodbye.
Not you, Ron, she thought despairingly, her heart aching. Please. I can’t.
However, looking at his face for a long time made it easier to convince herself that the boy she knew was no longer there, that he had long since left this place. And it made it easier to do what she had to do.
She leaned forward and kissed him, very lightly, on his forehead. His skin was cold and it made her shudder slightly. Some of his red hair got stuck to her lips and she pulled back, smiling and crying at the same time, because she could imagine how Ron might’ve reacted to her kissing him. His face probably would’ve turned as red as his hair. She brushed the tears vainly away from her eyes, but it made no difference, because more were there to replace them. Ron’s forehead was wet with them, and she stroked them away.
An image broke into her mind then; an image of a happier time, like sunlight spilling through the bars of a cage. In it, she saw herself and Victor Krum spinning around the floor of the Great Hall which had been transformed into a ballroom. Her hair was twisted into an elegant knot and her eyes twinkled as they caught the light; she was smiling up at the boy she danced with. To one side, sitting at a table next to a bored-looking Harry Potter holding a bottle of Butterbeer, was Ron. There was a small frown on his face and his mouth was turned downwards in a sullen line. He watched the couple dancing with a look of distaste and anger. His red hair glowed darkly auburn in the candlelight.
Then the image dispersed as suddenly as it had appeared, blown apart as a breath caught on a gust of wind. Hermione stared down at the boy’s face, pale and lifeless now, not a hint of a frown creasing his features. The spell that killed him must have taken him by surprise.
Hot, wet tracks burned their way down her face, pooling into the corners of her mouth. She saw Ron’s face through a blur of tears, as if watching him through a rain-streaked window.
It should have been you, she thought longingly, and with sadness so deep it cut into her stomach like a knife blade. I should have been dancing with you.
Her chin sunk onto her chest and she knelt like that, crying, for some time, until her eyes had cleared enough so that she could see. Carefully, reverently, she leaned forward and unhooked Ron’s school cloak. Drawing it out from underneath him was hard, and she trembled with fresh grief every time his body moved; she had to tug it gradually out with her fingers. Finally it was free, and she laid it over his face and shoulders with one slow movement. As his face disappeared forever beneath the cloak, Hermione felt a part of her die.
She raised herself to her feet with an immense effort, and on legs that felt boneless, unable to support her weight. Somehow, she found the strength to walk, trip, and stagger over to Harry, finally collapsing into the rubble lying around him. She glanced over her shoulder and searched the waning light for Lupin, then found his familiar form lying where she had left it. She stared at him closely for a long time, until she had convinced herself of the slight rise and fall of his chest, and the soft, harsh whisper of his breathing. He was alive.
She turned back to Harry. His face, like Ron’s, and like all of them, was impossibly still and pale. The hair on his forehead had been blown backwards, revealing the zigzag-shaped scar which now looked like an ugly cut in his head. It stood out against the whiteness of his skin. She found that looking at it made her feel ill, so she traced the lines of his face instead, drawing her eyes away from it. In that moment, it seemed necessary to see him; to be a witness, and to honour this boy who had been such a hero to her, and one of her dearest friends. More than that, she needed to see him completely, before she closed her eyes on his face forever.
A slow, steady pulse beat in her throat. She closed her eyes on the warm tears that filled them, finding it suddenly to hard to look. She had laughed with Harry… she had cried for him… it seemed impossible that he would never talk or smile again. His eyes were closed, but not fully. She could glimpse whiteness beneath his almost-closed lids, and the startling green of his irises. It struck her that nothing in real life was ever perfect… nothing had a clean, neat ending. If it did, Harry would not be dead. He would not be lying here with his eyes nearly closed and his legs crumpled and twisted beneath him like broken twigs. That sort of thing never happened in stories… in the end the good guys always won, the bad guys always got their comeuppance.
Not this time.
With grief and sick anger like bile in her mouth, she unfastened the clasp of her own cloak, and spread it tenderly over him, pulling it up to his chest and shoulders. It settled into the folds of his body like a black shroud. She bent down over him, shivering slightly, and pressed her lips against the centre of his forehead. Again, she was revolted and shocked by the coldness of it, but she made herself do it all the same. This was Harry. Her Harry. She needed to remind herself of that, and to try not to flinch at the marble-like pallor and hardness of his flesh.
She pulled away, drawing in a long, slow breath. Her lips were numb with the coldness of his skin. With a final look at his face, she drew her cloak up over it and let it settle against him, the black material sinking into the planes of his face with an almost audible sigh, as if even it, too understood the immense sadness of the act.
A cold chill washed over her, rasing the hair on her arms, as she drew herself up and walked unsteadily across to Lupin. His eyes were closed as she approached, and a sudden desperate fear made her stomach plunge… but then he rolled his head slightly towards her and half-opened his eyes. Looking at him, Hermione realised he didn’t look any different to the corpses scattered around the room, and she sank to her knees in the debris beside him. Lupin was watching her, but she couldn’t meet his eyes. The grief was still too raw.
“I covered them up,” she said in a half-sob, and roughly wiped the tears from her eyes. Lupin swallowed and rolled his head back so that he was staring up at the ceiling. Hermione saw that the blood from his mouth had dripped down his neck and formed a messy smear there, staining the collar of his coat. The amount of it sickened her, and increased the tight panicky sensation in her gut.
“You can’t die, Professor… please don’t leave me here alone…”
Lupin turned to look at her again, though the movement clearly hurt him, and he blinked at her through slightly glazed eyes. His pale forehead was dotted with beads of sweat. The effort of speaking seemed to sap all his strength.
“You must get to… Grimmauld… place. It’s the only…”
“Everyone’s dead!” Hermione cried, half in anger and frustration, and half in fear that Lupin was slipping away. “There’s nobody to go to!”
“Find… Severus...” Lupin started, and then coughed, causing blood to spray over his chin and robes. A bubble of it formed on his lips with the next breath and burst, sending droplets everywhere. Hermione’s stomach lurched at the sight of it. Somehow she managed to fight against the nausea that was threatening to engulf her, and carefully wiped the blood off Lupin’s chin with a shaking hand, using the hem of his robe.
“I’m not leaving you,” she said insistently, though her voice trembled. Snape’s probably dead now, too, she thought, and realised that the thought brought with it new pain. She never thought she’d care what happened to Snape, but after all that had happened… in the end, he had tried to save Harry. He had gone after the Death Eaters at the risk of his own life.
Lupin squeezed his eyes shut and winced, as if a cramp of pain had assaulted him, and when he opened his eyes he was frowning. “Hermione, please… don’t be stupid, girl… they… will come back!” he hissed.
Hermione’s lip twitched, but her eyes burned with fierce determination… and loathing. It felt better to focus her hate on Voldemort than to think about Harry and the others. If she thought about that, she would just want to curl up and die.
“I don’t care. Let them come.” She was surprised at the hate in her voice.
Lupin’s face remained anguished, but he said no more; either because he had no strength to argue or because he knew it was pointless. Hermione surveyed the floor of the Atrium around the golden fountain, whose water had long since stopped running and now sat dry and empty, a forlorn monolith in the center of the room. She glanced anxiously towards the golden gates where the lifts were, but nothing stirred there in the shadows. She shivered again. A draft was seeping in from somewhere in the ceiling, and the room was very cold. She studied Lupin with glazed eyes.
“Is there anything…” she swallowed, a lump in her throat. “Can I do anything? Are you…” she trailed off at the end of the sentence, feeling helpless and afraid. Are you in much pain? was what she had meant to say, but the answer was fairly obvious. Lupin’s breathing laboured shallowly in his throat, his eyes were closed and his forehead was shiny with sweat. Blood caked the skin of his neck and chin.
"I'll be alright,” Lupin said softly, though it was plainly a lie. He was dying, and Hermione knew it. Her soul withered in horror at the thought of it.
“I could get to St. Mungo’s, there’d be supplies there… m-medicine… maybe I could find a spell to set you a splint for your legs, or…”
Lupin’s eyes darted to Hermione’s face but didn’t linger there, he couldn’t stand her lying to herself any more than he could lying to her, but it seemed that she was trying to find some small ounce of courage. She needed to believe that he would live, otherwise… she might give up. Lupin didn’t want her to give up.
“I’m alright, Hermione. Don’t worry about me.”
She stared hard at his face, her eyes brimming again, and nodded silently.
So what do we do now? Just wait for the end?
After a long, terrible moment Hermione realised that was the only thing left to do. She had told Professor Lupin she wouldn’t leave him, and she wouldn’t, not while he was still alive. She wouldn’t… couldn’t let him die here alone, in the darkness, surrounded by fear and emptiness. She would stay with him until the end.
She crawled on her knees towards the head of the golden witch statue, whose wand was lying next to Lupin’s ear, and sat in the debris with her back leaning against it. She gently placed one arm around the back of the Professor’s head and laid her palm flat against his face. The other she rested in her lap. Lupin, staring up at the ceiling, gave another shudder as a spasm of pain passed through him, and her tears overflowed. There was nothing she could do to help him.
“Please go,” he said weakly, his breath getting shorter as his energy drained slowly away. His body, broken by crucio spells, had all but given up the soul within it.
Her fingers slipped in the sweat and blood on his cheek and she looked down at him from above, her hair hanging in her eyes, catching the tears that threatened to fall on him. “I told you I won’t.”
She put her head back and looked up at the ceiling, and noticed for the first time that the beautiful golden characters had stopped their sinuous twisting; they now sat dull and dead against the midnight blue background. It seemed as though the magic in this place had given up, leaving it to whatever dark forces now blighted it with their evil.
Hermione tried not to think of her parents. It only opened up a gaping chasm in her soul that if she fell into, would fall forever, lost in grief and pity. She tried not to think of Harry, Ron, Ginny, Neville… the list of names was endless, and every one of them, if not dead already, was doomed. Voldemort would destroy everyone she loved, until there was nothing left. Just pieces of a broken world.
Hermione closed her eyes, clamping off the flow of tears, though some still leaked out. Lupin’s face shuddered against her hand. She let herself sink into the darkness for a while, and tried to ignore the though that Lupin was dying in her arms, or that she too would soon be dead.
It was almost a relief. She wished it could be over now, like this… on her own terms. Not somebody else’s.
Slowly a thread of anger wormed its way through her being until it filled her, drowning out the sorrow. The anger was the only thing that made her want to keep living. Just to destroy the man… no, the thing- who had done all this. Even though she knew it was impossible for her to win, she let the hatred fill her heart and be consumed by it.
Harry wouldn’t have given up. He would have kept fighting, right until the end.
A noise made her eyes snap open and her head fall forward; someone was coming. Her blood pulsed loudly in her ears. Against her hand, Lupin’s face was cold and still, but she only registered it dimly. Her eyes searched the shadows in the corners of the Atrium, from the watchwizard’s desk to the gates leading to the lifts. A series of loud cracks split the air, causing Hermione’s hand to jump to the pocket of her robe. She drew out her wand with a badly shaking hand as seven dark figures apparated in the gloom at the far end of the hall, beyond the golden fountain.
Now Hermione could feel her heart in her throat, and the chill draft was freezing the sweat on her forehead, sending shivers through her. The figures began to approach her, fanning out in a V-shape, their cloaks sweeping ominously behind them. Their eyes glinted through slitted black hoods.
The fountain separated the Death Eaters from her and Lupin, and she risked a look down at his face, meaning to tell him, bravely, that she would protect him until the end.
Lupin’s face was blank and still, his eyes closed, and the blood had dried on his chin. She froze, and a cold more intense than she had ever felt swept over her heart like a glacier. She listened for his breath, for the twitch of an eyelid… but there was none.
He was dead.
A sob tried to escape her but she held it back, and closed her eyes for a second. Her eyelids burned hotly. In spite of everything she had held out a hope that Lupin might live, somehow. It seemed too unfair that he should die, that they both should die, after everything that had happened. With an aching heart, she realised she might have had a chance to live, if she had gone as Lupin had instructed… but to live for what?
No. I made my choice and I have no regrets.
Slowly the girl raised herself on unsteady legs and stepped out from behind the fountain, standing by Lupin’s feet. She stared at the nearest Death Eater and raised her wand. Her hair hung over her eyes in damp ringlets, her hand shook, but her eyes blazed with loathing and defiance.
“Tell your master he can go to hell,” Hermione said viciously.
In the split seconds that followed, the first Death Eater’s eyes seemed to narrow behind the slitted holes in his hood, as though he was smiling. He raised his wand and spat out a contemptuous word, only half of which Hermione heard.
The spell hit her before it registered in her brain, and she was dead before the wand fell limply from her hand and clattered on the floor. She fell backwards, her hair streaming over her face, and her head hit the rocks by Lupin’s feet. Her wand rolled across the dark, polished wooden floor, arcing around in a wide circle until it slowly came to rest against a chunk of rock.
Her lids lay flat and still against her eyes, her face calm despite the violence of her death. Her mouth was slightly open, frozen around the spell she had been about to cast. Her soul now sped through the darkness towards freedom; through the veil towards the light.
Did I dream this belief?
Or did I believe this dream?
Now I can find relief
-Peter Gabriel, I Grieve
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