“I hold the line, the line of strength that pulls me from the fear”.
- Peter Gabriel, San Jacinto
“She’ll be alright. Just stay here, don’t try to move her. We’ll be back soon.”
Sounds. Voices. Voices in the dark. She was drifting in blackness; she was lost in the void. Something bad had just taken place, but she didn’t fully remember what it was. Something to do with her friends. There had been a fight. Harry… Ron…
Hermione opened her eyes with a harsh, tearing gasp that rattled down her throat and made her eyes water. There was darkness and dim pools of light. She was half-lying, propped up against a cold wall. She felt numb all over, as if she had been lying in a bath of ice cubes; her fingers clawed unfeelingly at the air. For a moment she didn’t know where she was. Then Ron came into view, his familiar freckled face hovering over her with a look of pale anxiety.
“You’re awake. Bloody hell, you scared me Hermione. Can you sit up?”
“I don’t know,” she replied in a hoarse whisper. The darkness seemed to be closing in on them from all sides. They were in a large, high-ceilinged room, and there were stars swimming overhead. She didn’t understand. “Where are we? Where’s Harry?”
“You hit your head when you fell I think,” Ron mumbled, kneeling next to her. His hands gripped her arms gently. Not really knowing what to do with them, he pulled them away. “We’re in the Great Hall. Harry’s gone off with Dumbledore; they’re putting colloportus spells on all the doors.”
Hermione gazed at him stupidly, and then suddenly the memories came back with a rush, fragmented but powerful. She reeled back against the wall. “Hogwarts… V-Voldemort is here… there were Death Eaters outside…”
“Yeah, Snape and McGonagall are still fighting them off.” He paused, and in the sudden silence, she realised she could hear the sound of distant screams and bangs. She shuddered, and clutched out at Ron’s arm instinctively.
“What about… the students?”
Ron swallowed. “In the dungeons. Those that couldn’t be transported out of here. Some of the teachers are setting up portkeys right now.”
Hermione nodded, though still feeling feverish and panicky, and tried to push herself off the wall. Pain exploded in her left leg and she shrieked. Ron jerked away from her, his forehead shiny with sweat. “You shouldn’t t-try to move,” he stuttered quickly, reaching out in a calming gesture but not touching her. “Dumbledore said I should stay here with you until he gets back. Make sure you don’t move.”
Hermione nodded, squeezing her eyes shut against the pain in her leg. She remembered running, flashes of light and noise. Running away from Gryffindor Tower. That was where the attack had started. She had fallen on the staircase and broken her leg. Someone must have helped her here. Eyes brimming over, she looked up at Ron and saw the fear on his face for the first time. “Is this it, Ron? Is this the war? Has it started?”
Ron opened his mouth to answer, his eyes dark with trepidation, but a sudden noise stopped him. It sounded like breaking glass, and it was very faint, from somewhere high above them. Hermione’s heart started to pound. She felt her face grow hot with fear. “Ron…” she whispered, not knowing what it was she meant to say; only that she was terribly afraid, and she hoped that noise didn’t mean someone had breached the castle’s defences.
“Did they get inside?”
“Yes. they did.”
Ron jerked his head around so violently that the rest of his body followed, and he rolled over onto his backside, collapsing next to Hermione. The girl’s eyes were fixed on the dais at the end of the hall near the staff table. A long, dark figure stood in the shadows at the end of the table, near the doorway to the antechamber. Hermione gasped as the thing moved forward, stepping into the light cast by the swirling lights overhead. Her skin seemed to shrivel up in horror at the sight of it.
It was Voldemort. He was wearing some kind of dark robe like a monk’s habit, with a hood that left only his flat, pale face visible. His slitted snake’s eyes pierced her own, glittering darkly. “My Death Eaters are swarming the castle as we speak,” he drawled, his voice sending a shudder of loathing through her body. “Your precious school and its students are not long for this world, now. I suggest you tell me where Harry Potter is so I may decide to have mercy, and kill you quickly.” As he spoke he seemed to slink across the hall, moving between the House tables in long, slow strides.
Hermione’s heart was drumming now, so loud she could hear it in her ears, feel it in her throat. How did he get in? How did he get inside? Her mind kept saying, over and over, stupidly. Beside her Ron seemed to be holding his breath; he was frozen, immobile, and deathly pale. Voldemort continued to approach and then stopped some distance away, and his hands moved beneath his robe. He brought out his wand, raising it slowly, and pointed it right at her.
“Are you going to tell me, girl? Or do I have to force it out of you? How about a little demonstration-” he jerked his wand towards Ron.
“No!” She screamed, a surge of panic rising in her throat, and she tried to lunge forward but her leg flared in agony. She fell back again, panting. Tears were running unnoticed down her cheeks. She didn’t even realise it. “Don’t you dare!”
Voldemort smiled, and it was like watching a wolf bare its fangs after a kill. She started to shake all over, hating herself for it, but unable to help it. This was it. This was really the end. She was going to die.
In the next few instants, time seemed to slow down to a crawl, and many thoughts ran through Hermione’s mind, none of them there for more than an instant, but flaring and dying like the last pulses of a beating heart. She saw herself running through the Department of Mysteries with Ron, Neville, Harry, Ginny, and Luna. Watching from the stands of the stadium as Harry flitted through the air on his broomstick above a monstrous black dragon, crouched low over its eggs, and thought, please be careful, Harry, please be careful… then she was sitting in the Common room in her favourite armchair, with Ron and Harry, and she was laughing, laughing… now standing in a dingy, dim room in a ramshackle old house, standing beside Ron who was gazing fearfully across the room at Sirius Black… she was eating breakfast in the Great Hall, she was worried about her NEWT levels, she was shouting at Draco Malfoy, hugging Harry, crying alone in the girl’s bathroom, kissing her father on the cheek, looking out the window of the Hogwarts Express and seeing her breath fog on the glass…
She saw all this in the space of a few moments, and when she came back to herself with a jolt, she found her cheeks wet with tears, and a terrible anger in the pit of her stomach. I won’t let all of that be for nothing!!! she thought vehemently, staring back at Voldemort, who appeared to be saying something, but she couldn’t hear the words. She didn’t care what the words were. They meant nothing now. All that mattered was her friends.
All the hurt you’ve caused. All the pain. What’s it all for? What’s the POINT? You were human once. Why do you hate so much? I don’t understand. Don’t you realise it’s all pointless, all of this hating? What do you WANT? Why won’t you leave us ALONE? You think you’re strong, you think you’re mighty. Think you’re better than us. But you’re not, you’re nothing, you’re not even a man anymore. What happened to you, Tom?
Why do you hate?
Do you even know yourself?
And in the deepest recess of her heart, she found herself pitying the thing that stood before her. The thing that was once a man. No humanity showed in his eyes now. He was something else. He was wrong. He was beyond her pity, it meant nothing.
She found herself hating him.
Voldemort had finished speaking. He was glaring at her, incensed now, as if demanding an answer to something. Ron was still sitting motionless beside her, but she could hear him breathing in tiny gulps of air. He was scared. So was she. But she wasn’t going to give in… she wasn’t going to let the fear become her.
Slowly she reached out and fumbled beside her; planting her hand on his arm, then her fingers crawled down it until they curled around his hand. She gripped it hard. The fear had made her chest tighten and her breath short, but she felt madly exhilarated at the same time; her eyes flashed at Voldemort defiantly. His wand swivelled around until it rested on her.
She wished for her wand. It was buried in her robes somewhere, no time to fetch it now. Ron made no attempt to go for his. There was no time.
Maybe someone would come.
Maybe they would both die.
She squeezed Ron’s hand and at the same time, a tear leaked from her eye, and she whispered, “I hate you, Voldemort.”
Voldemort’s head twitched to one side, in a gesture that was curiously human, and his eyes regarded her coldly, speculatively.
“I wish you’d die.”
“Do you?” He said in a monotone.
“Yes. Do you even know why you hate me so much?”
Voldemort’s eyes narrowed. It looked as though he was having an internal battle with himself, struggling to decide whether to let her speak for a few more moments or kill one of them. Decisions, decisions.
“My purposes are my own and are not worthy to be discussed with the likes of you, Mudblood. Do not try to stall me with pointless questions. Tell me where the boy is. Now. Or your friend will die. One limb at a time.”
“Hermione…” Ron said in a strained, stretched voice, as if the word was pulled from his mouth on a string.
“It’s alright, Ron. They’ll come. Someone will come,” she whispered, and felt his hand twitch in hers.
“You can’t tell him where Harry-”
“I won’t”, she said quickly, feeling a chill wash over her. Her head felt faint. “I won’t.”
Voldemort smiled again, with that same predatory malice. “So be it,” he said silkily.
Hermione threw herself off the wall and landed with half her body on Ron’s lap. He shouted, “NO!” And tried to push her away, but she clung on to him, her fingers digging into his arms.
“Hermione!” He choked, struggling with her, trying to peel her off. She was going to get herself killed.
“No,” she sobbed, fighting against him. Ron was strong, but he was weakened by fear and shock, and she could feel him shaking all over. “I won’t let him!”
Then suddenly Ron stopped fighting; it was as if all the energy suddenly drained out of him, and his hands fell away. She closed her eyes and pressed her face against his chest, and waited.
Waited for the end.
She wasn’t afraid any more. Everything seemed clear; it was as if someone had guided her to this point… she realised her whole life may have been leading up to this. To saving Ron. If she could protect him from the first spell, maybe the others would come back in time.
Maybe he would be saved.
That was all that mattered now.
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