"That's absolutely disgusting," I mumble, watching as Ron and his flavor of the week make use of his couch. I have half a mind to walk up and start explaining how kissing like that is the number one way to spread germs, but my other best friend's hand is clamped on my arm so I don't do just that.
"Then quit watching," his deep baritone says smartly in my ear. I roll my eyes.
"Thank you, Captain Obvious!"
After another minute or so of the Tongue Olympics, I turn away. Brushing the hand from my arm, I make my way to the kitchen with Harry in tow.
It is at times like these when our living arrangements become uncomfortable. After graduation, Harry, Ron, and I realized that the Final Battle would be easier to cope with if we stayed together. Hence, the ultra-humongous flat that Harry insisted he pay for himself has been our home for the past six years. It's tucked away into a small village in the countryside, just south of London. It's, by far, the biggest, most expanse house I've ever seen. With four floors, I have to tilt my head back to see anywhere near the roof. It's quite picturesque, actually. Ivy crawls up the white brick walls and slowly curling roses grow up trellises on each side.
The top floor is our general space. It's a cheery sort of place with pal blue walls and soft furniture lying pell-mell across the plush carpet. Harry and Ron's marble wizard's chess set sits on a small table in between two chairs in the corner, next to the towering fireplace. I usually sprawl on the pouf a few feet away, reading a book for the gigantic shelf that the boys transfigured for me.
The third floor is Harry's. You can walk up the stairs and into his small living area, and you automatically relax. "The Den," as he calls it, consists of a coffee table, a looming black marble fireplace, and a soft ebony couch. Pictures of his parents and us are scattered on the mantelpiece, giving it a distinctly cozy feeling that I don't quite get anywhere else. Harry's flat holds the only kitchen in the house, complete with a dining room and breakfast nook, so we all meet there every day for at least breakfast, if we can't make it for any other meal.
Ron has the bottom level, mainly for reasons that are now resting on his couch. Ron, out of the three of us, comes and goes more than Harry and I combined. We decided it would be horrid to have him trumping up and down the spiral staircase at all hours, so we gave him the place closest to the door. The entire floor is your classic bachelor pad: game room, with pool table and dart board; bedroom, with a bed that hasn't been made since he moved in; and a living room, littered with beer bottles. (I swear, the boy wouldn't recognize a cleaning charm if it danced naked on his nose.) And the walls are painted a startlingly bright orange, to show his devotion to his Quidditch team, the Chudley Cannons.
My floor, as you've probably already deduced, is the second one. Harry and Ron, forever thinking of me (and being greatly over-protective), sandwiched me in between them with the philosophy that the only way someone could get to me, with the anti-apparation wards activated, was by going through either one of them.
Not that there's anything wrong with my flat, of course. Where Harry's is darker, and Ron's is so stunningly...orange, mine is a happy medium. The walls are a deep burgundy, but the windows allow a significant amount of light in. My flat is set up the same as Ron's with the exception of my study, which I pointedly refused to make into yet another bachelor hangout for the boys.
I slowly climb the elegant staircase from Ron's flat to Harry's, where I open the door and he follows me inside, closing it behind him. That familiar homey feeling engulfs me as I fold myself into the couch in front of the crackling fire.
Harry asks from the doorway to the kitchen.
"Cocoa would be nice," I suggest as he nods and disappears. I look down at the coffee table, at the tiny picture frame that Harry claims holds his favorite picture. I lean forward and lift it from the table, setting it in my lap. Brushing my fingertips against the glass, I smile at the image: Harry, Ron, and I, sitting in our graduation caps and robes, with me in the middle. Harry and Ron each lean to kiss me on the cheek. I watch with a smile as my photographic self ducks, and the boys' eyes fly open when their lips are mere centimeters apart.
The couch shifts under Harry's weight as he sits at my side, handing me a mug of hot cocoa. I smile over in thanks and set the frame back on the table. Harry sets his own cup on his knee before leaning his head against his hand. His other hand comes up to take off his glasses and rub his eyes, which are shadowed by dark rings. My smile ices over with sternness.
"Why didn't you tell me you were having them again?"
He sighs heavily.
"You know I hate to bother you with them..."
"That doesn't matter; Dr. Sylvan said you should tell someone if they started back up."
"I don't care what the damn shrink said, Hermes."
His tone steers me into silence. After the Final Battle, many of us attended both group and individual counseling, Harry's lasting the longest. Even though it seemed to help him sort out everything, I think the act of spilling his feelings to a complete stranger made him uneasy, and made things worse in the long run.
My sessions, along with Ron's, were often short, sweet, and to the point. Very cut and dried. No emotional breakdowns or mental realignments needed, at least on my part.
Counseling, I found, was an outlet. Where Harry was uncomfortable with sharing things with a stranger, I embraced it, spilling every thought, every emotion, every memory. The atmosphere of the office seemed to comfort me. The feeling of the downy pillows against the back of my head, the lingering scent of used parchment and old books. It became my haven from life, both present and past. Though, I admit, the past still seems to haunt me.
It's funny, really, that I seem so traumatized by the battle. I don't remember much about it, even though I was there through it all; even though I was the key to it all. Most of it was told to me when I woke up afterward.
The last thing I remembered was Voldemort standing between Ron and me. We were shackled and chained to either side of him, binding our fate to his. Both of us, broken and bloody from hours upon hours of torture just hoped for the end.
Perhaps I can remember more than I think.
I remember Harry. He was standing about twenty feet from us. His clothes had been ripped and torn from the onslaught of spells and curses he had taken. His wand was clutched tightly in his hand; his face had instantly paled at the sight of us.
Maybe that was what had startled me the most. I was met with the sight of something I'd never seen in all of our years of friendship...a scared Harry Potter. For years, it had always been just the two of them. Harry Potter versus the Dark Lord. And now we had been pulled into the mix. Or perhaps we had always been there, just off to the side, not knowing our use.
"Here we stand, once and for all. The famous Harry Potter against the powerful Lord Voldemort," the snakelike figure cackled, "I've brought some guests, surely you won't mind."
I saw Harry's eyes flicker to Ron and me, then to the chains magically locked around our wrists and ankles. Voldemort let out another wild stream of laughter.
"You can only imagine how stupid I felt when it came to me. I had spent years searching, trying to find this 'power' you possess, Harry. Just think about how ignorant I felt when I realized it had been right under my nose," he gestured toward the two of us.
"This ends tonight, Harry. Sixteen years of waiting. Sixteen years of being thwarted by someone so insignificant, so weak. And it'll all be over."
Harry's hand tightened around his wand, his knuckles turning white as he glared at the Dark Lord with a gaze of pure hatred that I didn't know he was capable of.
"And for being such a good little boy," Voldemort continued, "I'll spare one of them. Just one. So make your choice wisely. For one can't live while the other survives...much like us, isn't it?"
Harry's eyes grazed the both of us again. They lingered on Ron, who was in considerably worse shape than I was, then shot to me, holding my gaze for only a moment before turning away.
"Let him go," he said in a half-whisper, pointing to Ron.
"Tut, tut, Harry. I'm disappointed. I thought you would choose the Mudblood."
With a flick of his wrist, Ron's bindings disappeared and he fell limply to the ground.
My breath was coming out in short gasps. My heart was resting somewhere along the bottom of my stomach, and my head had begun to spin.
I'm going to die.
A moan escaped Ron's mouth, along with a trickle of blood.
"Pathetic," Lord Voldemort sneered.
But I didn't register any of it. I still couldn't process the thought that, after nearly seven years of friendship, Harry had chosen death as my fate. The magically trained part of my brain scanned through a multitude of words, spells, and potions in the thousands of tomes I had researched through in our quest for the horcruxes, the plethora of information rocketing through my mind in seconds, trying to assure myself that expiration would not be my outcome. The analytical portion of my mind, however, concluded that searching for another explanation was useless. Ron had been Harry's friend first. He'd been the brother, the family, that Harry had never had. I had been second best. I wouldn't live to graduate from Hogwarts. I wouldn't live to get a job, get married, start a family. My life would end here, as many other's lives had.
I searched out Harry's gaze, but he averted his eyes. As if bracing himself, he raised his wand toward Voldemort, so slowly, that I almost didn't sense the motion. The Dark Lord was in his own twisted world, explaining how he would make Harry beg to kill him instead of me. How his plan all along had been to give him a priceless ultimatum: our lives for his.
The Harry I had known for the better part of my life would have jumped on the offer. For years, Dumbledore had prepared him to make the ultimate sacrifice. To save the world meant to die, to give up any hope of a future. Yet the Harry standing before me didn't seem to give it a second thought. Perhaps, giving us up, making Harry choose, was a way of teaching him to let go...
" It's okay," I croaked, my voice hoarse from screaming, interrupting Voldemort's tirade. I didn't much care. I would be gone in a few moments either way.
Harry's shaking hand steadied, and he finally met my eyes, the intensity of his gaze burning a hole through mine. Voldemort never knew what hit him...
There was a flash of green light, an antagonizing scream, blinding pain, then total darkness.
And the next thing I knew, I was waking up. Mr. Weasley sat at my side, beaming down at me with tears in his eyes as he shouted for Ron. I touched my face...I was alive.
Mr. Weasley was instantly replaced by Ron, who was sobbing uncontrollably against my neck, babbling incoherently. It took a while for Ron to calm down, and when he did, he took a seat at the edge of my bed, his hand holding mine in a deathly tight vise grip. I swallowed, wincing at the feeling of a hundred knives being jerked down my throat.
"Harry..." I rasped.
"Shh," Ron cooed, stoking my hair, "You need your rest. Dad just went to get Healer Valdez; it can wait until tomorrow."
"Now," I strained, digging my nails into his palm to get my point across. Didn't he understand that I needed to know what had happened? How I'd survived?
He hissed in pain, and released my hand. He gazed at me for a moment, then pulled out his wand and cast cloaking and silencing charms around my bed and conjured me a glass of water. I held the cup to my lips and fought to keep my eyes opened. It felt as if sandbags were hanging from my lids.
"What happened?" I asked after Ron had taken the goblet from my unsteady hands.
He took a shaky breath, but didn't speak.
"Do you remember when Harry was training with Lupin and Shacklebolt at the beginning of the year, and all of a sudden, his lessons weren't with us anymore? How he said it was because they were teaching him dark defensive spells that he'd need to fight Voldemort."
I nodded, even in my haze, taking note that Ron didn't stutter over the name anymore.
"He lied. They were actually taking him from Grimmauld Place to McGonagall's office to talk to Dumbledore's portrait. He spent all this time learning how to perform this one spell...the Resurrection Charm...have you heard of it?"
I responded with a shake of my head.
"I hadn't either. Apparently it's only been performed successfully by Merlin himself. Even though there isn't a spell powerful enough to awaken the dead, he could take the injuries of someone who was barely alive, and take them upon himself. Then he could use his powers to nurse himself back to health."
My exhaustion was abruptly shoved away by this knowledge.
"But something of that capacity would have taken ages to master and magic beyond anything Harry might possess to carry out."
"It doesn't matter, Hermione. Harry knew that, since the killing curse wasn't meant for either of us, it would kill us slowly. He knew that I wouldn't survive the surge of the curse in the shape I was in. He knew you would be alive."
My head swam for a few moments as I tried to organize this information in my mind.
"You don't mean that-"
Ron's hand tightened over mine.
"Oh, God," I murmured, going into severe panic mode, "Where is he? I have to see him."
I swung my legs over the side of the bed with strength I didn't know I had and lowered myself to the floor.
"I need to see him," I cut in, stumbling as my knees gave out. Ron caught me around my waist just before I hit the floor.
"CAN WE GET A HEALER IN HERE?!" Ron yelled, pulling me up to cradle in his arms. Seconds later, a Mediwitch rushed into the room and began to levitate me back into my bed.
"NO! I have to see him! RON! Please, just let me see him-"
"What's the commotion in here?" Healer Valdez spoke over the noise, his clipboard clutched in his hand.
"She wants to see Mr. Potter, sir, but Mr. Weasley advises against it," the Mediwitch squeaked, pushing up her inch thick spectacles.
"Mr. Weasley," Healer Valdez addressed him, "Are you a relative of Miss Granger?"
"Are you her boyfriend?"
"Are you her husband?"
"I'm not, but-"
"Then you have no say in what Miss Granger does in this hospital while she is conscious."
Ron's mouth opened, as if to retaliate, but he decided against it.
"Ms. Carlisle, would you please conjure Miss Granger a wheelchair and send her to the fourth floor?"
The girl piped, immediately obeying her orders.
It took a few minutes to get up to the Rare Spells Ward, where Harry was held. He had a room to himself where he was being monitored 24/7. Ron offered to go in with Healer Valdez and I, but I insisted he stay out. He hadn't wanted me there in the first place; why should I want him with me?
The sight that met my eyes when the hangings around his bed were drawn back took my breath away. There was no way that this was my Harry. His skin was deathly pale and held an almost bluish tint where the sheen of yellow and purple bruises didn't reach. Gashes and cuts were strewn across his shirtless torso, and a particularly nasty hole in his side made my heart skip a beat. I could vaguely remember Wormtail jamming a dagger into my side as he demanded I tell him the location of Harry's whereabouts.
"What else is wrong?" I choked out.
"He was hemorrhaging. We were able to get that under control. He has some broken ribs, a sprained ankle, and both of his legs are pretty much shattered. If he lives through this, I don't know if he'll ever walk again."
"Why--why hasn't he been healed yet?"
"We've done our best, Miss Granger, but they just won't-"
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN THEY WON'T HEAL!"
"Miss Granger, the spell that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named cast on your wounds to keep them open transferred to Mr. Potter. You must understand. Any of the wounds you had, he's dealing with now. Has been, for the past week."
I didn't care that I'd been out of it for a week. Nor did I care that I suddenly felt light-headed, or that I hadn't eaten anything solid for a week. All I knew was that I had to stay with him. That I couldn't rest until I saw him open his eyes...
"Hermes, are you okay?"
Harry's voice brings me back to the present.
"Yeah," I say, shaking my head to rid myself of the memory, "Just spaced out for a second."
He gives me his trademark grin and throws his arm around my shoulders. I return his smile, leaning my head against his chest and letting the crackling of the fire and the steady rhythm of Harry's heartbeat lull me to sleep.
A/N: Thanks a million to Mabel, my awesome beta, for helping me get this story up. Please review…just push that button…