Mena R. Baines
Hermione could feel herself waking up and nearing solid ground for the first time in hours. Her legs were sore from merely sitting, her back ached from leaning against Harry’s the whole way home. Her head was full of him—the smell of his hair, the curve of the bones in his back, and the fact that he would soon be gone.
She didn’t want to open her eyes. She felt her feet hit the ground behind his, and let herself crumble backwards, softly to the earth. Harry’s hands slipped carefully under her back and lifted her slightly.
" Hermione?" he whispered. His voice sounded ten years older than it had at the beginning of term. But it was soft for her, and concerned. She pretended to be asleep, and felt him pick her up and carry her from the place they’d landed. The air around her grew cooler, and she cracked her eyelids as Harry laid her gently down beneath a tree at the edge of the forest.
" Harry," she sat up quickly and grabbed his collar, " Are you going in?" He stared at her for a minute, confused.
" No…," he said, wiping the sweat from her forehead. " We just got back. Are you alright? I thought maybe you fainted."
" It’s hot out here," Hermione mumbled, still fuzzy from sleep.
" Damn right it is," Harry said, pulling off his flannel shirt and sitting next to her against the tree. " Too hot. Something’s gone wrong since we left."
" Something ELSE," Hermione muttered, beginning to adopt his fed-up attitude. They were both quiet for awhile, staring up the hill at the castle in the distance. The battle hadn’t even begun yet, not officially, and Hermione already felt drained. She could only image that Harry felt the same after the ordeal with his father, she didn’t dare ask.
" At least I’m home," Harry said. He sounded very far away, and Hermione wasn’t sure if it was his voice, or something in herself. " This place is my home. Only one I remember, anyway."
Hermione didn’t have anything to say about that. She felt Hogwarts had cheated them somehow. It had drawn them in when it should have told them to run. She felt tricked, and furthermore, trapped by this place.
" I’m trying to think of my best memory," he said, " Something to take with me," he looked at her and grinned. " There were so many things…good in different ways. Like my first night here, it was too good to even believe—that big, soft bed." He looked back at the castle, " I never knew anything like that before," he said wistfully.
Hermione folded her arms over her chest.
" Or," he said, " You. On that rock—do you remember that night?"
Of course she knew what he was talking about. But she was tired. And the light was so soft—she just wanted to sleep, felt like she hadn’t slept all term. She shook her head.
" Well," he said, " It was one night toward the beginning of term. You and I, well, for some reason we were outside in the rain. And…" he trailed off, looking at her. " Are you alright?" he asked again.
Hermione could only stare back at him. She wasn’t alright but she didn’t want to admit it, and she didn’t want to lie.
" Let’s just go inside, Harry," she said, her voice already defeated. He helped her up, both of them knowing what she really meant. Let’s just get this over with.
Inside the castle things were still, and heavy with the early heat. Hermione let Harry take her arm and pull her half-conscious through the halls. She knew her sleepiness was somehow and effect of the situation with Voldemort, but she couldn’t be made to care.
Everyone they passed in the hall nodded nervously to Harry, as if he were a stunt man about to take some giant, death-defying leap. Pavartti Patil walked by and ducked her head, finally burdened with the serious of their plight. Hermione saw him reach out and briefly touch her shoulder. He was almost a religious figure to them, he was their savoir. Pavartti lifted her head and brought her hands to her mouth, not attempting words.
When they finally reached Gryffindor Tower, Ron was waiting in the common room. Someone had made tea for their arrival, but it was ignored as the three friends stood awkwardly together in the middle of the room.
" How was it?" Ron needn’t have asked, the result of Harry’s reunion with his father was on both of the traveler’s faces.
" We spoke briefly," Harry said, in a voice that was low, almost hiding from Hermione’s ears, which were fuzzy with the cataplexy of exhaustion. " He understood that I had a job to do." Harry added. Hermione couldn’t help but notice the calm in his voice. It was a striking and sudden change.
" Hey," she felt Ron’s arms go around her, " Let’s get you to bed, huh?" He looked to Harry for an explanation.
" She’s tired." All he could was state the obvious. Hermione slumped against Ron.
" Shan’t you say goodbye?" Ron asked Harry. Hermione tried to open her eyes but couldn’t. She heard Harry walking away.
Goodbye, she thought sadly, as Ron carried her off.
Hermione drifted violently in and out of sleep. She was lying on her stomach in her bed, curtains pulled shut, Rosa away helping to decorate for the end of the year dance. With all that was going on, it did seem ridiculous to have a dance, but it was supposedly going to help raise moral for the battle ahead.
" You don’t suppose they’ll enlist the rest of us?" Hermione heard voices whispering up and down the corridors as she dozed.
" What choice do we have?" she heard Cho Chang bark at one point, " If we want to survive we may have to fight."
Well that will make it easier for me! Hermione thought morbidly, what use have I got in surviving? If the time comes for us to fight, Harry will already have been killed. Or turned. But Hermione was beginning to think that the latter was unlikely. He seemed prepared to die, not to make a lifestyle change.
She continued to fall asleep and then jerk awake, thinking she felt Harry lying beside her or sitting on the end of the bed. But each time her eyes flew open the room was empty. She hadn’t even seen her resident ghost, Ellie, since she’d returned. Perhaps even she had preparations for the battle ahead.
Fin had narrowly escaped death once today already. He sat in the corner of his master’s make-shift fortress, keeping an eye on Lucius Malfoy’s trembling blond son while his father conversed with the dark Lord.
Voldemort had promised an early death for his boy servant after Fin had let the werewolf form of his former prisoner escape. He had learned that the man was known as Remus Lupin, and that he was one of Harry’s teachers. Had he not injured him so that the man was beyond the realm of comprehension, his Master said he would have killed Fin on the spot. He still might, in fact, but he had plans for Fin first.
" A sure-fire way to turn the boy," Voldemort was telling Lucius. He eyed Fin maliciously. " He has no other family."
Fin curled his arms around his legs and pulled them to his chest, dipping his head and making himself as small as possible. He felt confused and light-headed. The battle for Potter’s earth-bound soul was to take place soon, and apparently he would play a bigger part in it than he had thought. This news came with a mixture of elation and despair. The master seemed to have his heart set on weakening the boy and then turning him to a Dark Arts master. Fin had other plans. A quick and un-timely death for Potter, even if it meant Fin’s subsequent termination. He couldn’t shake the feeling that Potter had robbed him of something even greater than the chance to succeed the Dark Lord. And he would pay with his life.
He wasn’t looking forward to the battle in the least, but he was anticipating his inevitable death with great joy. In death he would be with Marielle, where he belonged—and perhaps even with his long-lost parents. He had never known him, but they could possibly be the only people in this world and the next who could love him. Death would be his sanctuary.
" Get to your feet!" Lucius screamed at his son. The boy, shaking, stood on wobbly legs. He did not look his father in the eye.
" You will help us bring Potter down, as you’ve always wanted to," Lucius instructed. " By transferring your power to this boy he will fight."
" But father," the boy said weakly, " I don’t know how to do a power transfer." Lucius was not happy with this news. He drew his hand back and slapped his son across the face, sending him spinning to the floor.
Fin decided to be bold.
" I don’t need his power," he said in his most immodest tone, " I can defeat Potter myself."
" It’s a little late for humility, I suppose," he muttered with a wicked grin,
" Never mind, Fin—this is merely a right of passage for young Draco. If he hopes to be Potter’s second in command he must learn how to sacrifice for the sake of our Empire."
Fin was taken aback—his master had almost spoken to him as an equal. He waited for a blast from the old man’s evil power, or at least a splitting headache, but no punishment came for his brashness.
" Draco," Lucius sneered, " Get up." The boy struggled to pull himself up, but he was weak from malnutrition. Voldemort had theories about fasting clearing the body of original thought and mutinous ideas.
Fin went to help him up, but Voldemort grabbed his arm.
" Get up, I say!" Lucius screamed, kicking the boy in the stomach. Fin winced. He was used to that kind of abuse, but the young Malfoy was weaker, and soft.
" Go tend to your weapons," Voldemort muttered, pushing Fin aside. " We’ll tend to this insolent youth."
" Explain," Fin said, " Why we need him here at all?"
Lucius turned quickly to Fin, " He’s my son," he growled, " He WILL be with me in this moment of glory." Fin heard Draco let out an almost silent sob. He spun around and walked from the room, unable to shake the feeling that this moment they were about to face was less glorious and more desperate. A desperate thrust for Potter, their last chance, their savior as much as he was the savior for the common good.
Well anyway, Fin’s plans weren’t so desperate. He walked brusquely down the corridor of the provisional forest hideout, conjuring small fire spells in his hand. The battle to come, the battle to come. He pushed all other thoughts from his head.
It was dark when Hermione finally woke. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been asleep, but the girl’s dorm appeared to have completely emptied out. It took her eyes a moment to adjust, and when they did she noticed that one other person was still hanging around. Rosa sat in the corner of the room with her knees pulled up to her chest. She looked ghostly and pale—unfamiliar.
" Hey," she said, her voice soft and broken, " Hey, Herm-oine, you awake?"
" Oh," Hermione said slowly, pulling her legs over the side of the bed so they touched the floor, " Is it over?"
" What?" Rosa stood up on shaky legs. Her dress was tattered and dingy, and Hermione could’ve sworn it was the same one she was wearing when she and Harry had left three days ago.
" Nothing," Hermione said, combing her fingers through her hair.
" It’s so dark in here," she said, and Rosa sat next to her on the bed, " Why don’t you turn on some lights?"
" Oh," Rosa said, looking distant, " I hadn’t realized." Hermione could see in her eyes that Draco’s kidnapping had broken her. She’d heard about it briefly upon returning, and hadn’t had a chance to talk to Rosa about it yet.
" Darling," Hermione said, putting a comforting arm around her friend’s shoulder, " Don’t give up yet."
" I can’t help it, Herm-oine," Rosa said in a whisper, not looking at her. " I feel like I’ve… lost."
" Well," Hermione said, trying to get off the subject and lose the shake in her voice, " I guess we’ve missed the dance," she said with a sardonic laugh, " As if this atmosphere called for one in the first place."
" Yeah," Rosa said quietly. " You should see the dress I bought…" she trailed off. " Of course, that was a couple of…weeks? ago I think. I’ve lost track."
" Before everything happened, anyway," Hermione answered for her with a quick and forced smile, standing up. " Hey, listen," she said, giving Rosa’s hair a half-hearted tug. It was stringy and limp, highly unlike her usual silken mane. " I’m going to go down and see if they have any refreshments left over from the party. You want anything? I could get you a muffin, or…something…"
" Sure," Rosa said, but Hermione wasn’t sure she’d even heard the question. Impulsively, she leaned down and kissed her friend on the forehead.
" It’s going to be okay," she whispered to her as she walked away, choking on her words. Liar, what a liar I am, she thought, pushing out of the room and leaving Rosa—or the shell that had been Rosa—alone.
Hermione took the back hallways to the Great Hall, where the dance had been held. The few students—mostly younger kids that were still partly in the dark about the situation—were on their way back to their dorms, sticking close together, and in large groups. Even if they weren’t completely sure what was going on, they could certainly sense that there was trouble afoot.
She sighed and dragged her feet as she moved toward the Great Hall. I’ve missed the dance, she thought sourly, looking down at her dirty jeans and t-shirt. The same thing she’d been wearing since she’d left with Harry.
Harry. Where was he now? Was he still alive? She didn’t even know. McGonagall and Dumbledore had left to try and access the situation before she returned. Lupin was in bad shape, not able to communicate. The other teachers hadn’t been too keen on keeping her up to date—and neither had Harry, for that matter. For all she knew she’d never see him again.
" Hey there," someone behind her said suddenly, and Hermione gasped. She whirled around to see a young woman smiling at her. Thinking at first that it was Ellie, Hermione was relived when she realized that she wasn’t. The woman was small and pretty with red hair pulled back in a messy bun, and she looked vaguely familiar. Hermione had some notion that she might serve lunch in the Great Hall, but she couldn’t be bothered with giving it too much thought at the moment.
" Pick your chin up, girl," she said to Hermione.
" What for?" Hermione muttered.
The woman grinned and shrugged. Hermione was disgusted by her apparently relentless cheerfulness. " For the sake of appearances?" she answered.
" Appearances, huh?" Hermione said, looking down at her shoes, " Well I look and feel like hell, anyway, so what’s the use hiding it? There’s no one around anyway. Cept’ you."
The woman laughed sweetly. " Don’t be so sure," she said with a wink. Hermione felt strange—faint—for a moment, and then she looked down at her feet again to steady herself, and gasped. She was wearing white shoes, and a full white shirt fell around her ankles. The woman had preformed some kind of spell on her—she was wearing a sleek white dressed and her hair was neatly combed.
" How—" Hermione began, astounded, as she had not seen one slight of wrist or flick of wand. She touched the dress to make sure the silky fabric was really there.
" Nice necklace," the impish woman said with another wink and giggle.
" Thank you," Hermione said, breathless, as she noticed for the first time the young woman’s eyes. They were… Harry’s.
" Come here, sweetie," Lily Potter said, taking Hermione by the shoulders and leading her carefully onto the balcony that over-looked the Great Hall, " It’s okay," she assured, as Hermione’s face turned white, " I won’t hurt you."
" I, I know," Hermione stuttered, " You’re not the first… ghost I’ve met."
" Oh that’s right!" Lily said, " Is that dreadful Professor Binns still here? I suppose he is. Well I’m certainly not here for good like him. Just to give you a message." With that she pointed down at the Great Hall below, where one of the last songs of the evening was playing on a scratchy sound system, while a few dawdling couples stood about chatting and drinking foaming fruit juice. And there stood Harry.