This is the start of a companion piece to my story, "Shadow Walks". While possibly not totally necessary, it would probably be advisable to read that story first. This is not a sequel, per se, as events in this story do not progress out of events in the other story, but it moves in a tangent - or maybe a parallel - involving the Other Hermione whom our Harry encountered in his travels through the multiverse. "Shadow Walks" moved more or less from canon prior to book 7. "Shadow Walker" takes place in one of the alternate universes depicted in the first story. The AU alters from general canon with Dumbledore's murder by Draco in the Trio's sixth year and the subsequent delay of the Horcrux Hunt. I refer you to chapters 16-19 in "Shadow Walks" as a refresher, if needed.
I had originally contemplated a short two- or three-shot about Other Hermione's search, but decided that she deserved a story too. The story begins at the Final Battle, which occurs three years later than it did in "Shadow Walks"…
Your love is like a shadow on me all of the time.
- Bonnie Tyler, "Total Eclipse of the Heart"
Now that I know what I'm without, you can't just leave me.
-Evanescence, "Bring Me to Life"
"Hermione," His voice was reedy and desperate, vibrating the escaped ringlets around her ear, causing them to swish around her neck like a lover's caress. She turned to look at him, and all the truths that they had never said seemed to be singing from his brilliant eyes.
Someone behind him shouted. The frightened, yet determined crush of people surged forward.
"Hermione," he said again, and it was almost a groan. Trapped in the Army of the Light, his hand found hers, fingers tangled briefly together. He had moved closer; she could feel the heat of him. His lips touched the shell of her ear only slightly - they were best friends, whispering together before battle.
He breathed her name again, one more time, and it was a sigh and a promise. "When this is over, you - we - I want …"
"I know, Harry," she said, stopping to search his eyes with hers, to let him see how she felt, to let herself mirror all the emotions that she now saw swimming in his gaze.
His fingers touched hers again, slid up her arm, leaving trails of fire in their wake. Her breathing quickened, became erratic. His breath was warm on her jaw, on the point of her chin. His eyes burned into hers.
Almost imperceptibly, he leaned forward. Hermione felt her lashes flutter, as her eyes began to close.
He was going to kiss her.
It was the culmination of years of secret longings that she had not admitted she even had - not even to herself. It was going to happen here, in the unlikeliest of places, the most unromantic of company, squashed just outside the Great Hall, with the Order of the Phoenix and all who stood with them, ready to face what ultimately awaited them.
Hermione had been content with the idea of death, at least in the abstract. She had prepared for this day as best she could, had helped prepare Harry as best she could, and she had found herself almost calm. What did it matter, really, if she perished in battle, as long as the sought objectives were attained? What was most important was ensuring Voldemort's utter demise. But now, as this whole new vista opened before her, a path that she had thought closed - or non-existent - she found herself railing a little at the timing. Why must they go save the world now? But she knew she wouldn't expect anything less of him - or of herself.
Her head tilted back ever so slightly. They were not quite touching, but she could feel his radiant heat, spreading outward from where his hand rested on her elbow. His breath had moved upward, and now fanned her face.
The clamor grew deafening. Wands were raised; there were shouts of challenge, claiming triumph, covering fear. Someone was speaking. Hermione thought it might have been Remus Lupin, but she wasn't sure. The voice seemed distant and garbled, as if played at too slow a speed or heard from too far away.
"Promise me…" he said, whispering almost into her mouth, his lips barely skimming hers, still treading that fine line - two friends whispering, just two friends whispering together. She wondered if he were being mindful of the Weasleys sprinkled through the crowd.
"Of course, Harry," she finished, though he did not. He didn't need to. She'd give him anything, sacrifice anything, go anywhere… in spite of - or perhaps because of - the fact that he'd never ask it of her. She had loved him for so long.
His hand slid back down to hers, two jaunty short squeezes, and a feather-light kiss on the cheek - just two friends, just two friends - and the great double doors of Hogwarts began to swing open ponderously.
She saw Harry's chin lift, the dying light from the west now breaking through to glint off of his glasses. She searched for Ron in the crowd, spied his ginger head, gilded fiery copper. He tapped his wand to his temple in silent salute. She nodded back, just one quick downward tug of her chin. They had all said good-bye in the Gryffindor common room earlier.
"One quick murder and this'll all be over, yeah?" Harry quipped at her, twisting his mouth up hopefully, begging for her to find a modicum of humor in what he said. Her instinct was to reprimand him school-marmishly. Harry, don't even joke about such things. Instead she replied,
"We should all be back in time for supper."
The appreciation that lit his eyes did her heart good.
And then Remus and Ron were there, moving into pre-planned formation, and the mass of humanity was moving forward.
And there was no time to say anything else.
The Order of the Phoenix had done their best to prepare for the onslaught. The secret passage to Honeyduke's cellar had been well worn by fighters, planning to approach the castle from Hogsmeade and outflank the Death Eaters. Order members were crouching in almost every available window and turret, trying not to gape at the sheer number of giants, werewolves, trolls, and menacing figures in hoods and cloaks that were arrayed across the Hogwarts green.
Hermione, Harry, and Ron were stationed with the frontal assault, their chief objective to find Voldemort and dispatch him - or allow Harry to dispatch him - as quickly as possible. They were gambling on the premise that there were orders not to harm Harry, that Voldemort wanted the pleasure of murdering Harry personally.
A quiet tide of despair began welling up in Hermione as the two groups of people surged to meet each other. They'd gone through so much in the last three years since they'd finished school: translating and deciphering the meaning behind the cryptic notes Dumbledore had left for them after he'd been so shockingly murdered, poisoned by a bottle of mead, of all things; gradually unearthing the horrific truth of horcruxes, and the lengths to which Voldemort had gone to avoid death - this had involved a rather unpleasant trip to Azkaban prison and an intense session involving former Professor Slughorn, who was being held for the Headmaster's murder, and had been force-fed Veritaserum. It had taken three years, years of frustration and desperation and pain and heartache and death. They had lost many: Percy, Bill, Moody, Professor McGonagall. Somehow the three of them had survived, though Hermione occasionally wondered if her character had been so irrevocably compromised that, even when the war concluded, she'd never be able to reclaim herself.
But a light had dawned at the end of the tunnel. Here it was, facing them at last: the Minotaur, finally looming before them, after they had stumbled, half-blind, cringing and fearful, through the maze for years. There would be no side-stepping, no fleeing, no denying, no retreating - nothing to do now, but fight. Hermione was all too familiar with the dread of a thing being actually worse than the thing itself.
And Harry had touched her, barely kissed her - a promise, a vow of what was to come. Could he possibly, truly love her? Were they really to have a chance? Her heart seized at the tiny tendril of hope, curled it protectively inside herself, tucked it away for safekeeping.
The clash of the fight drove out the remembrance of his whispered words in her ear. The cool twilight wind, bringing with it, not refreshment, but the stench of blood and burned flesh and death, blew away the sensation of his breath caressing her face. The sight of Seamus, with his torso torn open, falling into a puddle of his own blood, blotted out the memory of the desire that had glowed in Harry's eyes.
She hurled herself to the ground as a curse sang over her head. The grass prickled her cheek, dirt slid and caked beneath her fingernails, and her blood thrummed in accelerated response to the staccato race of her heart.
There was no more time to dwell on Harry, to even look sideways at him.
She threw herself into the business of bringing the curtain down on the accursed War.
Her ears rang as she fought, picking her way through the melee, her arm movements emphatic and precise, her wand a slender and slashing brown blur. She could feel the heat of her blood in her face, the surging, thrilling swell of adrenaline, and every now and then an inarticulate cry of rage or effort would reach her ears, and she would realize in astonishment that she was its source. An uncounted number of masked wizards and witches fell before her, and she could not have told anyone afterwards what exactly happened.
And then the entire scenario seemed to come to an abrupt halt. She could have sworn she actually heard the screech of a phonograph needle across vinyl. A frantic toss of her head allowed her a glimpse of Harry and Ron, not unscathed but still standing, just to her left. Harry exchanged an unreadable glance with Ron, and began to move in front of her, pushing her hand down gently, where it had begun to lift, to aim and wield the wand she clenched so tightly that she had left miniature furrows in the slim handle.
Her lips parted, but the protest died in her throat, as she and Ron began to slide toward each other, as if choreographed to do so. Harry did not look back at them, but his spine was straight, his shoulders square, his head lifted. It was clear that he was not afraid, and that irrefutable fact made Hermione even more ashamed of the fear that made her tremble all over.
Voldemort was waiting, and it was as if time had literally stopped. A fell hush draped across the battlefield like heavy, smothering velvet, as everyone waited, knowing too well that this would be the penultimate act, that the end was imminent. A sweeping arc of the Dark Wizard's wand formed a great domed shield, translucent, but preventing anyone from affecting the outcome. A random Death Eater could have easily taken a pot shot at Harry, as he'd moved, totally focused, toward his nemesis, but of course, Voldemort's ego would not have permitted it.
Sweat trickled from Hermione's hairline into her eyes, burning and commingling with the tears. The dome shimmered and swam gelatinously in her vision. She felt Ron's grimy fingers entwine with hers.
And the duel was engaged.
The two men circled each other like wary panthers, each unsure of the proper opening gambit, each searching for something to exploit. Harry's eyes were blazing with a righteous fury that was discernible even through Voldemort's shield. His teeth were gritted, his chest heaved; Hermione could feel herself breathing in tandem with him. For a moment, she let herself recall once again the feather-light whisper of his lips against hers, and when the first curse sang out, it startled her badly.
The spells came with rapid fury, streaking, multi-colored beams of light that either ricocheted erratically - and terrifyingly - off of the dome, or melded into it with a series of crackling pops and hisses. Other than those noises, there was an eerie, near-total silence, as all of the casting was done non-verbally. Hermione was rather astonished at how good Harry had become.
The battle seemed to stretch on for hours. What Harry lacked in experience or in Darkness, he made up for with youth and unconventional thinking. Still, Hermione could tell he was tiring, as his wand arm began to sag, trembling from the strain, and leaving his right side dangerously open to attack. His hair was wringing wet, and there were sweat stains on his clothes. He seemed to be having trouble keeping his glasses in place in front of his eyes, and he reached up an unsteady left hand to adjust them.
Voldemort made his move.
"Harry!" Hermione shrieked involuntarily, although she had no way of knowing whether or not outside sound could even penetrate the dome. Her fingers bit into Ron's.
But then she saw Harry's head snap up, saw the trajectory of his gaze, his wand, saw the trembling cease, and she knew that he was more than aware of what was going on around him.
The fatigue had been an act.
Green light boiled from the tip of Voldemort's wand, aimed like a true arrow toward Harry's chest. The Boy Who Lived stood, feet planted widely, making no attempt to dodge or block or counter-attack.
Hermione knew what they had practiced, knew what Harry held as his trump card, and her heart was still in her throat. Ron's face was as pale as old milk.
At the last possible second, Harry screamed a single word in Latin.
Hermione was holding her breath, without realizing it. The green glow hit the end of Harry's wand for the briefest of moments, and began moving in the opposite direction even faster, as if it had bounced itself off of the wand the way a competitive swimmer turns at the end of a lane. She distantly registered the murmur of voices rising to crescendo like ocean swells.
Voldemort's wand was a blur, red panic in his eyes, and even as his thin lips formed words, the Avada struck the one who'd birthed it, turning, at the last, on its master. His body arced through the air, the parabola ending at the base of the dome, which flickered and shrank into nothingness.
Harry took a cautious step forward, quietly Summoning the Dark Wizard's wand. The silence lay thickly on Hermione's ears like pads of cotton, only to be broken by the crisp snap of Voldemort's wand in Harry's fingers.
Voldemort's gasping inhalation gave fresh fuel to the murmurs. Hermione made an involuntary move toward Harry, as if in warning, but Ron forced her to stay back. The Dark Lord was prone, wandless, his chest sunken in and black from the impact of the rebounded spell. He had obviously been hastily performing some spell to counter the Avada Kedavra, but, while it had kept him from dying immediately, it hadn't been enough, hadn't come in time.
The sullen red light began to fade from his fell eyes; his breaths were effortful and slowing. One by one, muted cries of agony rose up from the field of battle in discordant and despairing chorus, as the Dark Marks began to respond to the fall of their Master. Death Eaters began to wobble and collapse, as what remained of the Order tried to confiscate as many wands as they could.
Ron let go of Hermione's hand, as her eyes slid shut, and she felt the massive cinder-block weight of anxiety lift itself from her chest. Harry swiveled on one heel, turned to look at her, and the brilliant certainty that he had not forgotten their hasty touches in the Great Hall - that, in fact, he had not stopped thinking about it - made her take a half-step back to keep from falling.
She did not know when she had started crying, but she was almost laughing at the same time, a high, shaky, euphoric sound born of fatigue and relief. She knew they had losses, grievous ones, but she could not make herself process anything beyond the fact that he was alive and they had won.
A faint movement teased at the periphery of her vision, and she looked back at their fallen nemesis. One skeletally curved hand still moved, inching its way across to its mate on the other side. It scrabbled blindly for a moment, and Hermione began to think that it was merely a last instinctual movement, with no rational forethought present, when the fingers locked on to a heavy signet ring and gave it a deliberate twist. Barely perceptibly, the lips, though drawing back in the rictus of death, began to move.
Dread initiated an accelerating drumbeat in Hermione's temples, and before her lips had even parted, Harry had gone down, as if clothes-lined.
"Harry!" Her unearthly wail all but shredded the lining from her throat. She felt, rather than saw, Ron whirl at her cry, but she noticed with horrible clarity the two duelists, separated by less than two meters, breathing horribly slowly, in time with each other.
She flung herself toward him, her vision telescoping until she saw just him, only him, noting the dirt stains on the knees of his jeans, the laceration on his arm, the trailing lace of his trainer that had come untied.
"Harry. Oh dear God, Harry. Somebody!" She was reaching for her wand, casting everything she could think of, as fast as she could articulate it, barely feeling the scalding tears wetting her cheeks.
The futility hit her like a Bludger. She could not counter what she did not know. Her questing hands moved over his shoulders, his face, straightening his glasses, tangling in his hair, enfolding his hands in their grip. His skin was clammy.
"Harry, please Harry, stay with me. Stay with me. You promised."
Ron was on his knees beside her.
"What happened?" He seemed as shocked as she. There was movement above and around and behind her. She recognized the voice of Madam Pomfrey.
"I don't know. That ring - he said something, I don't know…" Her voice was watery and incoherent. She held more tightly onto Harry's hand, as if she could will life through her fingertips into his. She pressed her lips to his hands, thought she felt a faint flicker of movement, but when she glanced sharply at his face, his eyes were distant, glassy, unresponsive.
There were clawed hands tearing at her chest. Her face was sticky, her nose was running, and yet she watched his face avidly. Be the Boy Who Lived, please Harry.
Another breath drawn in, shallower and slower, noisy but ineffective. His lips took on a bluish cast. Madam Pomfrey was administering potions and casting spells like someone possessed, but Hermione could dimly hear the resignation in her voice.
The cries from the Death Eaters rose up in even louder cacophony, and Hermione realized that Voldemort had finally ceased to be. At almost exactly the same time - barely a breath later - she felt Harry's fingers go limp in hers.
"No," she breathed, barely audibly. Then louder, "No! NO!"
Madam Pomfrey made a flourish with her wand, and began marking time of death. Hermione felt herself slowly falling apart; she was curling up, like a Morning Glory at twilight, her hair washing across his chest.
The tears began to flow as if a dam had burst, completely obscuring her vision, as she wiped her face with his sleeve. Great gulping, heaving, hysterical sobs were coming from somewhere, and she was vaguely surprised to feel them rattling from her own chest, which felt as achingly empty as if her heart had been physically removed - nay, destroyed.
She could still feel the brush of his lips on her cheek, her ear, her mouth, could still feel the funny jump in her stomach when their hands touched. Now, their hands touched again, but Harry's did not feel, and never would again. Her eyes roved over Harry's face; the blue-gray tinge changed him so much that it hurt. She tried to remember what he looked like, when his dark hair and green eyes added vivid strokes of color to his general pallor, the somber gaze, the flash-quick smile… She gently caressed his hair back from his forehead. The grief was an unbearable load that threatened to grow exponentially, to crush her beneath its insensate weight.
I'll never see him smile at me again, I'll never meet his gaze and know he's thinking exactly what I'm thinking, I'll never have a conversation with him in the middle of the night after everyone else is sleeping. Never had always been a tragic word, she thought, but now it was a weapon, and she slashed mercilessly at herself with it, wanted to choke on it. It's too much, too much… please…
The finality, the enormity of the loss was paralyzing; she was trying desperately to process it, but there was a fist in her gut, clenched fingers around her throat; she couldn't breathe, she couldn't think; she could only touch him, and weep for what was gone.
Gentle hands encircled her upper arms, and she fought their attempt to draw her away.
"Stop it. Stop it. Leave me alone. I can't go; I can't leave him. I promised."
"Hermione… love… he's - he's gone." There were tears in Ron's voice too, and she looked beseechingly up into his face, mourning, with red-rimmed eyes.
"You don't understand. We promised."
"I do understand," he replied. She had never seen him look so old and weary. Her eyes were beseeching him, as if begging him to tell her that it wasn't true, that this hadn't happened.
"Let me stay here, with him, please." He touched her again, tentatively, and she jerked away.
"Hermione, you've got to come on!" Ron's voice was harder now, and it made her angry. When she felt him grip her arms again, with more force, and lift her to her feet, she felt murderous.
"Leave me alone." She bit out the words with furious finality. He ignored her. When she planted her feet, he merely dragged her, leaving several meters of parallel grooves dug into the dirt by her heels.
She started screaming then, not caring who heard, pleading for Harry, stretching her arms out toward him, and calling Ron every foul epithet she could think of.
"Hermione!" Ron's voice was broken, imploring. His eyes and cheeks were as wet and red as hers. "Hermione, you can't do this here, not now, not like this." Her chin trembled mutinously, but she was listening.
"They're going to have to move his - his - him, Hermione." Ron was speaking carefully, so carefully, as if his words were projectiles that might injure her.
"What's the hurry?" She asked tiredly.
"It's not safe. For Merlin's sake, look around you, Hermione." He was standing sentry-like at her back, wand still out, and Hermione felt her insides leap and clench with returned fear.
She looked, slowly, unwillingly, gulping back a sob, and following Ron's terse instruction.
Twilight had long since fallen, and the gray haze of lingering smoke made it seem even darker. Bright white sparks of multiple Lumos spells darted hither and yon around the battlefield. Even in their variable light, Hermione recognized many of the fallen.
"Oh God…" she breathed. There was Parvati Patil, kneeling, weeping over the prone form of her twin. Seamus, she already knew, was gone, and it seemed that Dean had been killed as well. Two Ravenclaws were tumbled close together, face down, so that she could only identify them by house colors. Shiny, blonde hair could have been Luna or Lavender, but the bright and immaculate manicure told the tale. There were two or three fallen that could have had red hair, but the uncertain light made it difficult to tell. It seemed that those in the white-banded robes of the Order far, far outnumbered black-cloaked Death Eaters among the fallen. Those of the Order still standing each clutched five or six confiscated wands in their hands.
Ron let her look until he knew she had understood, then leaned down, speaking into her ear in a low voice.
"I don't know how long the Dark Mark will keep affecting them. Or when they'll realize that they still have us outnumbered. Or when their allies will realize it and come back out of the Forbidden Forest and finish us off." Hermione noted with a start that he was right, and not one non-human remained on the green. "Do you understand what I'm saying?"
She met his eyes, and his gaze was black in the darkness. Her lips quivered, and she clamped them together, and nodded.
She understood. He was saying that they still weren't safe, that their losses were monumental, that even though they'd won - He'd won - that it might not be over. It seemed utterly unfair.
"Madam Pomfrey! Madam Pomfrey!" cried a familiar voice. "Please… Charlie - he's - it looks bad - I tried to - Ron!" There was a shriek and a flying figure, ginger hair streaming out like a scarlet pennant in the wind, hurtled itself into his arms.
"Ginny!' He gasped, hugging her tightly, and then moving away so that he could look into her face.
"Have you seen the others? Mum? Dad?"
Ginny shook her head, and her face twisted as she attempted to force her mouth to make normal words. "I found… Daddy…" The little-girl way she referred to her father pierced Hermione like a rapier blade. "And Charlie… I think he's - " Her throat closed up around the word dying.
Ron's head sagged down between his shoulders, and Hermione stroked her hand absently down his arm, her gaze returning to Harry. The youngest Weasley followed her line of sight.
"So it is true," was all Ginny said, in a dull, dead voice, and that seemed to have drained her completely. The word had evidently begun to filter around, but there was still much to do, ends to tie up, prisoners to deal with. The rational part of Hermione understood this, but the rest of her was impatient and angry.
"Hermione," Ron was speaking again, trying to sound calm, but she could catch the desperate undercurrent. She was supposed to be the strong one, the calm and rational one, the one who held everyone else together. I can't handle this if you fall apart too, he seemed to be saying.
"We should find Remus or - or - " She groped for the name of someone who could still be alive, but managed to keep her voice mostly steady. "If they're - if we can't, then you - then you'll have to take charge, Ron." She tried to smile reassuringly, but her voice wobbled dangerously on his name. Neville had come, and was moving Harry's body under Madam Pomfrey's departing instructions. The mediwitch hastily moved in the direction of Ginny's outstretched arm, but Hermione followed their classmate with her eyes all the way to the great double Doors of Hogwarts.
She remembered the look in Harry's eyes, the way his fingers felt teasing against hers. She felt Ron's hand under her elbow, as they picked their way carefully through the fallen. She knelt beside him, threading her fingers through his hair at the sobs that racked him when the light left Charlie's eyes, and she wondered if there would ever come a time where she wouldn't feel such pain.
Ready for another go?
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