Strains of melancholy music drifted listlessly through the air, the weather gloomy as befitted a British morning. It was not the only reason for the wet day, the rain having brutally spattered the place and creating a grey atmosphere. They all wore black. Some were decked out in simple robes; others were extravagantly attired in velvet or satin embroidered with silver or emeralds in commemoration of the one they were here for. It did not matter that he would not have wanted it this way. It did not matter that they had just gone through a war that tore their worlds into shreds of pain and misery. It did not matter that many of their loved ones were now dead and gone.
Eighteen. Dead at eighteen. Many of the women muttered compassionately about the ill-fated child, expressing hopes that he had lived on. How tragic, one whispered, her eyes filled with sad pity as she cast a look at those who were closer to the grave – obviously the friends of the deceased. He had had no family. Those who survived had renounced him many years ago, and his adopted family had come. They looked nothing like him, but loved him like a brother and son of their blood.
“I shouldn’t have let him go alone,” Ron whispered, laying a bouquet of lilies-of-the-valley on the coffin that had not been lowered into the ground, biting his lip, his blue eyes shiny with tears. And overwhelming guilt. “I shouldn’t have gotten angry at him.” Hermione had no words to add to his soliloquy, choosing simply to stare at the coffin which housed her deceased best friend whom she would never see again. And she had never told him how she felt, how her mood would lift up when he smiled, how each twinkle sent breaths running through her and her blood like quicksilver and how she could not help but blush at times when he touched her hand in a purely friendly gesture of comfort. She had never had a chance.
“I should have told him,” Hermione mumbled. For some reason, her tears were stifled, her sobs silenced even when each and every fibre of her being was swiftly being drenched in ice, her eyes on fire as the tears fought to come out even though they were non-existent. The world was cold and each comforting soothing touch was painful. She did not want their kind words. She wanted him to be alive. She had not gotten him flowers. She knew he would prefer something special. Bending down, she laid his beloved Firebolt on the grave. It would lie with him as he was trapped in soil and wood, never able to fly until he rose to heaven. “I never did.”
“Told him what?” Ron was openly crying now, the tears sliding down his cheeks with enviable ease. The twins were offering sorrowful bows and bright fireworks in the shape of his face to commemorate his memory. Percy gave the boy he had barely known a stiff military bow, holding his first child, Harry, in his arms. His namesake. Hermione chuckled mirthlessly. Poor, oblivious Ron. Even at the peak of Susan Bones’ enormous crush on him he had not noticed until Harry, great wonderful Harry tricked him into a date with her. Susan Bones had become Susan Weasley, and was standing behind Ron now, her hand barely reaching his shoulder to offer comfort in distress.
“I loved him,” she said softly, the words barely audible. It was so easy to say it now to his corpse, cold as death in that black coffin of his that would never match his hair in darkness. It did him no justice. She knew for a fact that he had no corpse, but it was fun to compare metaphorically. He had just disappeared, Voldemort’s dead body incinerated without ceremony and cast into the sea, while his wand lay honoured in the Ministry of Magic. He had died for them.
“I’m sorry, Hermione,” Ron replied feebly, his face struck with a stricken and surprised expression as he realized the implications of that statement. Harry had often confided in him, and when the entire Cho debacle had ended, it had seemed painful but was not. He was the same Harry in a few days. He squeezed her hand and Hermione gave him a grateful smile. Hermione’s silent mourning was interrupted by a tap on the shoulder from Susan, who pointed in the direction of an approaching person.
Cho Chang was dressed in an elegant cheongsam, a grey cloak wrapped around her curvaceous body. Her hair was twisted up in a bun and her face bore the same sad expression that most of the funeral-goers had on their features. Small raindrops had begun to fall, and Ron cast an Impervius spell for Hermione, who seemed to have forgotten her wand and smarts ever since that horrible day a battered Snape had informed them of Harry’s disappearance.
There was no trace of Mr. Potter. Only his wand was left.
She had collapsed, fainted dead away as her face had gone ashen and her lips white, shaking. Waking only hours later, she had gone under siege by reporters who wished to interview the next best thing if Harry was gone. Ron was hidden away, Susan disappeared, and she was the next in line. Snape had dispersed all of them with a glare, promising to hex them to hell if they did not stop harassing her. And to think she had not shed a tear since then, despite having turned into a robot who mechanically arranged all the Hogwarts business. Her passion for teaching was dissipated, her yearning for life and love gone into thin air. Even the students at Hogwarts had become worried about their beloved Charms professor. She had lost weight since then. Cho, however, looked as elegantly beautiful as ever. She would never match up to her.
“I’m sorry, Hermione,” Cho greeted quietly. Hermione was slightly taller, but the hunch in her had become more and more distinct as she slumped both physically and emotionally. She tried to speak politely, form a reply, but her lips were frozen. Cho had an umbrella, and in her other hand she gripped something white and thin. A package; an envelope that seemed thicker than it should.
“Why are you here?” Ron asked rudely, straight to the point. Cho looked shocked for a moment, before turning her attention back to Hermione. Apparently they still bore dislike for her for dumping Harry right after a traumatic encounter with Voldemort, which he had barely lived through.
“To deliver something,” she said nonchalantly, holding up the letter. “Harry wanted you to have this, Hermione. He asked me to hand it to you if anything happened.”
“If,” Hermione finally found the strength to speak. She laughed bitterly. “Why didn’t he specify when?”
“He told me he would try his very best to stay alive,” Cho smiled mysteriously, her dark eyes seemingly hiding something from Hermione. “And he told me something else, but it won’t be convenient to reveal it before you’ve read the letter. It’s private, by the way. Read it when you’re alone.” And she was gone in a swish of her cloak, the rain not seeming to affect her. Ron put an arm around Hermione’s shoulder, trying to placate her as best as he could.
It felt cold too.
Everything felt cold.
She was led away by Ron to somewhere warmer where she could dry up. There was no resistance, for she had nothing left to fight for. She had sustained minor injuries in the battle while protecting students from some Death Eaters whom had sneaked into Hogwarts, almost breaking the impregnable barriers which had held. The hours that she had spent with Harry and Dumbledore and everyone else tirelessly enhancing them had worked well, preventing Death Eaters from entering. And the yearning for him had gotten stronger the closer he was to her, laughing and smiling about the next Quidditch match to be held, whether Slytherin or Gryffindor would win, trivial issues and topics that had not concerned nor interested her. His voice had been the focal point.
She would never hear it again. No squeaking changes in puberty, no screams of pain, no cries of joy, no laughter, no tears, no sobs, no whimpers, no words, no ‘I love you’ that she had hoped for with every touch of his hand and every smile and every glance. The letter felt solid in her hand. It was a much larger package than just a letter, she supposed. It contained a book, most likely. Trust Harry to appeal to her bookish instinct even when facing death. She held it close to her chest, feeling its warmth against the cold that surrounded her as she shut her eyes tight, remembering each and every feature of his face. Ron stopped abruptly and she was roused from her silent reverie, her brown eyes focusing on a still bandage-swathed Snape, whose grim features remained safely unhappy and sour, as horrible and alive as ever. He would not die, his reed-thin voice remaining there to continue lecturing students. Not like him.
“My condolences, Miss Granger, Mr. Weasley,” he said quietly, the usual sarcasm and poison in his tone destroyed. The war had harmed many, and some said death was the best thing that had happened. Snape’s head now bore a new scar that he covered with his greasy hair. He still wore black, and remained sombre as ever. It was good to know some things never changed, Hermione thought.
“Oh, offer your condolences when you so obviously hated him! Quit faking, Snape,” Ron snarled, spitting the words out angrily as he glared at Snape. He had not noticed the change in tone. His grip around Hermione’s shoulders, the one that had been steadying her and helping her not fall; the friendly grasp of an old friend, tightened as though to protect her. Susan flanked her on the other side. “Get lost if you have nothing to say, or maybe you could go wash your hair in the rain.”
“Despite what you may think, I did not hate Mr. Potter. My actions were necessary to secure my loyalty to my Lord, to continue my spying,” Snape explained patiently, and Hermione realized that if he had not been hiding behind the mask of a Death Eater, he would have made a good teacher, however disagreeable and perfectionist he was. “Concerning your question about my hair, I spilled a potion on it when I was young. It never washed out.” Hermione could not help but laugh out loud, her giggles taking her over as she almost choked, doubling over as the laughter grew stronger. Snape stared at her strangely before nodding gravely and leaving. Ron gripped her tightly, steadying her.
“Don’t you think it’s funny?” Hermione gasped between laughs, the tears leaking out. She had not cried for Harry, but she cried for something as trivial as Snape having spilled a potion in his hair. Susan’s lips were perched in a grim line, and her eyes were beginning to line with worry as she glanced at Ron, who shook his head.
“Hermione, please, stop laughing,” he pleaded piteously, but his pleads fell on deaf ears, the laughter only getting stronger as Hermione collapsed on hands and knees, the hilarity inducing a stitch in her waist as she clutched desperately at the water in the gutter.
“Don’t you think it’s funny?” she managed before breaking into painful sobs, each and every whimper stabbing her friends in their hearts. “Why don’t you laugh, Ron?” Ron bent down and enveloped her in a silent hug; Susan joining him seconds later as the sobs grew stronger.
“He should have been here to laugh with us, Ron, it’s just not fair!” she choked out, her eyes filling with furious injustice at heaven and fate and everything out there. “He should have lived.”
“Hush, hush,” Susan soothed, smoothing Hermione’s hair as Ron rocked her in his arms. She was beating at his chest determinedly as though it would make Harry come alive again; her cries of pain screaming out terribly from her throat, her robes rumpled and dirty beyond belief. “It’s okay, it’ll be okay…”
“He’s gone,” Hermione repeated, the litany ringing into her brain and branding itself on her cells in each and every corner of her mind, reminding her that the only man she had ever loved was dead without even a little knowledge that she loved him. A small part of her mind laughed at her silly behaviour, so different from bookish, follow-the-rule-to-the-letter Hermione Granger who scored straight As in everything. That Hermione would not have fallen in the streets, crying like a lunatic. That Hermione was a strong person.
She felt so weak that she did not even seem to feel the strength that kept her sobs in her heart, only the sinking, choking pain that was swiftly encroaching and the cold ground and rain.
And there was only this Hermione left, a mindless shell of movement and food and drink that could be compared to a person kissed by a Dementor, left without a soul and trapped in existence without meaning. She found herself surprised at the intensity of the love she felt for him. Never had she thought she could feel anything this strong. But she did. Never had she thought this would ever happen. She had been the one who had endlessly told Harry that there would be a life after the battles and war, that he could live on instead of becoming yet another martyr.
It hadn’t come true.
Perhaps Trelawney had been right.
She had expected a long letter explaining why he had to leave and fight Voldemort, or ranting on about Ron being insensitive, or even asking her for advice on girls or spells. It was a very simple letter, consisting of exactly four words. One was her name, and she ruled that out. She had almost screamed with joy when she had read the next three, wonderful words. Was it the sixteenth time she had recited them? She had already put them into her mind, those three beautiful words inscribed by his own hand. He had always been blunt.
Hermione, I love you.
She clutched the letter tightly to her chest, feeling the tears well up once again. This time, they were truly tears of joy and not sorrow. He loved, no, had loved her. He had loved goody-two-shoes Hermione, his best friend who had thought him as far as the top of the sky she strove to reach. The sheer elation that had filled her entire being was something she had never felt before. And she would never hear him whisper them to her in moments of passion, never hear him laugh and say that she was beautiful at her lowest – those little moments that had been lost because she had been too late to tell him. To tell him before he was gone. The regret swelled in her chest, and she turned her attention to the small book enclosed in the envelope. It was a nondescript notebook, a spiral one with a gray hard cover. She opened it hesitantly, knowing it was most likely the last treasure she would ever have that was closest to him.
His handwriting covering the entire first page only led more tears out of her eyes as she smiled, tracing the letters with a delicate finger. July 31st, 1995. It was the day Sirius had given him the notebook after hearing about the Triwizard Tournament and its tragic events. His bold writing was still there in the mess of writing that was uniquely Harry.
Write down your nightmares and dreams.
The lovable mutt,
Indeed, Harry had taken to the habit well. The first entry was labelled Dream in red ink, describing the euphoria of having something to write on other than essays he had to complete for his professors. She sniffed, thinking of his smile as he told her about the diary Sirius had sent him. He had always appeared strong, not wanting his friends to worry even after Ron had walked in on him having a nightmare, his scar burning red. She sighed, flipping to the next page. Nightmare. It detailed the repetition of the graveyard’s events in his dreams, wondering why he had asked Cedric to take the cup with him. She felt closer to him than she had in the past two traumatic weeks.
July 15th, 1996
Professor Dumbledore moved Aunt Petunia, Dudley and me to a house near Hermione. He said that it’ll be of help to have a witch nearby. Frankly, I’m not sure how an underage witch can do magic without getting caught.
Hermione chuckled, touching gently the various scrawls of Hermione on the page, and then gaping at the next few passages. They all detailed how beautiful she was, and how lovely her smile was, and so on. Harry had spent that day’s diary page expounding her virtues. She bit her lip, feeling the tears come as she read the names he had scribbled at the end. He had tagged his surname to her first name. She wanted to scream into the night that she loved him, yell to the stars and the heavens to inform him of that particular fact, but he could no longer hear unless she buried herself in that empty coffin of his and breathed in his smell until there was no more air. She cried as she hugged her pillow to her chest together with the diary, wishing beyond all hopes that he was alive.
Darkness. Light. They alternated as she stepped into the dream-world, wondering where she was. Her dreams usually put her in lovely meadows and clouds, not this strange virtual reality. Strong gusts of wind mussed up her hair.
She backed away into a wall, knocking her head painfully against it.
Harry’s voice, carried by the wind as though from far away. She tried to run towards it, trying to catch the wind that contained his voice. He was dead, she knew, and yet he did not feel dead.
I’m here! She tried to yell, but her lips were clamped together by something that tasted wet and salty. She was dressed in forbidding black, covered and almost smothered all over by the thick cloth, the hood that covered her head slowly tightening until she could not breathe.
She turned, and saw Harry, right behind her.
Harry! She tried to scream, but her mouth remained shut. She ran towards him, meaning to embrace and then kiss him, but she knocked into the same barrier that she felt previously.
I’m here, Hermione –
Where? She wanted to ask, the desperation growing as he smiled cryptically behind the glass wall that separated them.
I’m still here, Hermione –
Come back, Harry, please! She yelled soundlessly, screaming the thoughts inside her head. I need you.
I know –
The sound was drifting away now, and he seemed to be taken further and further away even though his face was still pressed against the wall, his features almost distorted by the pressure the glass had on him.
Wait for me –
Harry, where are you! She shouted hoarsely, her lips slippery with a wet liquid that felt strange against her mouth. She banged on the glass, almost crying as she wished for him to hear her.
I’m still here, Hermione –
Yes, he was still here, she thought miserably. But he was behind a glass wall that separated them, something that was impenetrable. She tried to break the glass but could not.
Are you a witch or not?
She pulled out her wand and tried the most powerful charms she knew, almost crying in frustration as the glass remained unharmed. Harry only smiled sadly, pressing a kiss against the glass.
I’m still here, Hermione –
It seemed to convey some message to her, but she could not decipher it. Right now, she only wanted him near her, as close as possible, telling her that the world was warm, that the world was alive and she was alive and he was alive too.
Yes, he was near. So near, and yet so far away. She could only press a lingering kiss against the glass as he faded away.
Dust stained his cheeks, and darkness marred his vision, the black inky nothingness flooding his existence. The complete absence of light except for the stars and the moon’s weak reflected light that illuminated his world that seemed to consist of only the wet grassy ground he lay on, his torn and blood-stained robes taken from him. He could feel the smooth fabric of the shirt Hermione had forked out much money to buy as a birthday present for him and the old jeans that Arabella Figg had altered from him. He had had them ever since Dudley threw away his first pair of children’s jeans at six. He had been enormous, and Harry only a small child with an emaciated physique. He recalled the birthday parties he had been forced to endure, the painful smack of Aunt Marge’s stick on his knees when they played games at those horrific parties where he had only been a punching bag for them.
Freak! You don’t deserve our hospitality
The words flashed in his mind as he recalled the words Aunt Petunia had screamed at him at the top of her lungs in summer after sixth year, a day before the attack on Privet Drive. Dumbledore had arrived in time to save her, but Uncle Vernon had died of a heart attack. Dudley had been at Piers’ home, thankfully. Or maybe not, he smiled. He had gotten used to those simple variations of words they used to scream at him. They had moved Petunia and Dudley to a house near Hermione, to act as extra protection. The Weasleys’ had not had enough space. He had seen her for the first time that summer, and immediately knew something had changed. Abruptly the world became more colourful, her eyes shining an amazing shade of cinnamon brown that he had never seen before. Her hair had been tamed slightly, but they still hung down in curls that matched her formerly uncontrollable locks. His mouth had dropped open.
Dudley’s remark about her being an ugly hag of a witch had induced him to give him a black eye that day, and after many letters complaining about his newly-acquired habit of staring at Hermione for hours to Sirius, he had diagnosed his problem. He had fallen in love with his best friend, unconsciously of course, a long time ago. It had just taken one more look at her to awaken them. At times when he embarrassed himself by saying silly stuff in front of her he would wonder if she knew, if she would laugh at his stupid delusions. He had never expected someone as perfect as her would love him. It would be nice, though. It would be the world. He had kept quiet about it, preferring no one know about his love for her. Cho had broken up with him that year, but it had not felt painful at all. Instead, it was a relief, for their relationship had become a forced one, driven by the rumours that ran around in the school. It had been pretty amicable, though Ron did not seem to think so.
“Awake, Scarhead?” a familiarly mocking voice came from his right, jerking him out of his silent reverie. Silver locks and a smirk, coupled with cold grey eyes. Draco Malfoy. “I see those sepapives…”
“Sedatives,” Harry corrected, wondering why proudly pure-blood Malfoy would mention Muggle drugs. In fact, he had not known that Malfoy knew what sedatives were used for. It was a shock to him.
“Sedatives, sepapives, whatever,” Malfoy said off-handedly. “Anyway, they were pretty useful…put you out for pretty long. It’s been weeks and we’ve had to feed you water by forcing you mouth open.”
“We?” Harry asked, dumbfounded. Malfoy had an accomplice? They must have kidnapped him from the scene when he had defeated Voldemort, but why? Malfoy was a Death Eater – perhaps he was out to kill him. But Death Eaters generally had no knowledge of Muggle things, and it was implausible at best. He did recall Snape mentioning another spy in the circle.
“Yes, idiot, we,” a feminine voice snapped from behind him. Fiery red locks hung down over him as the woman knelt down beside him, offering him a cup of water as he sat up. He knew her.
“Ginny?” he gasped, his mouth as far open as it would go as he stared alternately between Ginny and Malfoy, wondering why they were here together. Could Ginny be a Death Eater? But her forearm was bare; she had pledged loyalty to the Order of the Phoenix a long time ago. It was impossible.
“Who else do I look like?” Ginny challenged, a smile on her face. “You had better drink. We couldn’t force your mouth open just now, that’s why Draco decided he would kick you in the butt to try waking you.”
“Didn’t work, though,” Draco sighed mock-dramatically. “He woke up on his own.”
“You…you abducted me?” Harry asked in disbelief, gaping at them. They had no reason to kidnap him at all. “How long has it been since I fought Voldemort?”
“Two weeks,” Ginny replied promptly. “They were holding your funeral yesterday, in fact.” Harry’s eyes darted around in frantic worry. If they believed he was dead, then Cho would have passed the package to Hermione. He slumped, burying his head in his knees, wondering what had made him write the letter in the first place. Ron had argued with him that night, and he had suddenly acquired steely resolve to rid the world of Voldemort once and for all. Then he had sat down and picked up his quill.
“Oh bloody hell,” he mumbled, rocking himself. How would Hermione react to it? It was bound to be drastic. And the small book he had enclosed…“Oh no.” His last words were echoed by Malfoy, who seemed to have heard something bad approaching. His grey eyes had sprung up in alert, and he was gathering things frantically from the noise that was generated.
“We’ve got to go, Harry…hurry!” Ginny whispered as she put out the lamp that had been providing some dim light at the back of the cave that they were hiding in. Harry stood up, stretching his tired muscles. He had not gotten up in weeks, and his stomach was ravenous.
“They’re coming, Potter! Hold on to us!” Draco muttered warningly as he grasped one of Harry’s hands, Ginny catching the other. In a swift second, they had Apparated.