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 Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter and the amazing characters that I wish were real (excluding a few, of course).

 

But I do own Troy Malfoy, and Troy's daddy, Lucifer Malfoy. And Cassie Valeska! The underworld is based off of Dante's Inferno, which I'm sure you're all familiar with!

 

Also I combined this chapter with the Ron/Harry/Ginny chapter! Hope you enjoy that!

  

So now, let us CONTINUE!

 

The October Hollow

By Darkwing731

-

((--Chapter Twenty One--))

Revenge of the Immortal

 

-

 

 

She knew what she had to do now. There was only one chance, and it was for Harry, for Ron, for everyone that she loved. With that thought in mind, and with the image of Draco in her mind, bleeding and nearing the brink of death, Hermione forced herself through the portal, promising herself right then and there that the people that meant everything to her would survive.

 

And as she sunk through the icy surface, she knew that somehow, she would be victorious.

 

 Whatever she expected, this was not it. It was only moments ago that she was forcing herself through an ice cold portal, leaving behind a terrifying and life altering scene. But… but… With a blink of an eye she was here, almost as if she had been dreaming all along, and she had finally woken up.

 

Hermione Granger was standing quite calmly on solid ground. Her eyes took in nothing around her, and yet, all at once, took in everything. Standing on ashen ground as gray as dead, forgotten embers, there were no rocks, no pebbles, nothing. The sky was a swirling mist of gray, red and blue, creating a tormented spiral of colors; the far off distant clouds were raging, unreasonable color and mist, swirling about madly. Hermione could just see the horizon line in the distance, which was dominated by fog and mist. Before her was a dirt path that snaked its way to a river, swirling terribly like the angry clouds above.

 

Behind the clouds, Hermione could see no hint of a celestial orb, whether moon or sun. This did not make sense, because all sense of weakness was gone. An invigorating energy ran through her, coursing through her like blood. She felt strong, able, and temerity overwhelmed her. The wounds which had inflicted her body was absent, along with any pain. But as she had just recently come to understand was that the moonlight brought all of these things upon her, and in this underworld, there was no moon.

 

Casting her eyes to the ground in confusion, Hermione happened to spot something curious in front of her, something that did not quite fit with the deaden world around her. On the ground lay a pulsing white stone, gleaming, translucent, and chatoyant. The moment she was intrigued enough to move towards it, her hands began to sear with a white hot pain. Releasing a surprise cry, she decided it was in her best interest to run to the river and plunge her hands in to cool them down. But the moment she began to pass by the stone, her entire body flung itself forward onto the moonstone, and like magnets, her hands enclosed around it, and the pain disappeared. The spot on her hands where the wounds used to be glowed suddenly, as if someone had slashed white paint on her.

 

And like her hands had been guided by the stone, now was her body; almost as if someone had pulled her to her feet, Hermione felt herself jerked forward. Complying, she followed the lead of the stone, trying to ignore the unease growing within her. In the distance, there was a terrible roar, followed by another before slow fading. Thunder crashed and lightning struck the river's surface; a loud splash echoed the now eerie silence.

 

As she walked, Hermione observed the landscape with narrowed eyes. There were bizarre, mangled trees and roots that rose angrily from the ground, their bark gnarled and twisted. The branches were thin and raggedy, and pointed accusingly at her. The ground among the trunk was broken and cracked, almost as if the earth was holding the tree against its will.

 

Hermione nervously walked faster. Soon, a bend in the road appeared. As Hermione rounded it, she saw that it ended quite abruptly, the bend sinking leisurely into the furious river. Near the end of the drop of the bank was a tall willow tree, gnarled and twisted like its other companions in old age. However, someone was standing beneath it.

 

Holding a long paddle-like pole stood a tall, thin man dressed in a flowing black cloak which brushed the ground. He had a gaunt face, his cheekbones sharp, his eyes sunken, his skin completely hairless. Hermione froze on the spot, not wanting to near the man in case he was any kind of threat to her. There was a long, rickety boat slashing the shoreline as the waves pounded its boards.

 

"Do not fear the unknown," said a quiet, calm voice in her ear. Hermione spun around, petrified, to discover the speaker.

 

The first thought to cross Hermione's mind was that this stranger, this woman, was beautiful. Like the moonstone between Hermione's hands, this woman emitted a faint, pulsing, gleaming light, something caused by both her pristinely white skin and her pure white clothing. A mane of lustrous black hair, captured by a silver headband drew Hermione's attention, however. There on her forehead, carved into the headband, was a crescent moon. And the more Hermione looked, the more it made sense; the woman had a sling of arrows hitched on her shoulder, and a fierce sword buckled at her waist.

 

"Artemis?" Hermione heard herself asking. It was a word, a name, that had escaped her lips without her even realizing. It was a word, a name, that she had known all along.

 

"Yes," the woman, Artemis, answered, a motherly smile now splayed across her lips. Almost hungrily, Hermione looked her over once more, noticing those things which had initially escaped her. The white robes adorning Artemis' body was that of a Greek goddess, a toga tucked and tied carefully. Only briefly noticing her stormy blue eyes, Hermione's eyes were glued to the stone dangling from Artemis' neck.

 

"I have that!" Hermione exclaimed, gesturing to the stone. "It's here—" However hard she tried, the Muggleborn could not pry her hands apart. "—between my hands…"

 

Laughing kindly, Artemis reached out and touched Hermione's hands, sending a shiver of electricity through the girl. All at once, Hermione's hands came loose, and she was able to see the jewel which she protected.

 

"I don't understand," Hermione said quietly, looking at the moonstone. "I don't know what it’s for. And these—these wounds, these little spots, why are they like this?"

 

Artemis did not have to look at the pulsing, circular wounds on Hermione's hands, but simply lifted her own palm in explanation. There, on the Greek goddess, were identical lesions, something that earned a gasp from Hermione.

 

"Then we are the same?" Hermione decided after a moment; Artemis shook her head, grinning.

 

"This is where our power gathers, Hermione. With our hands we can accomplish any magic, for all magic is a form of light derived and harnessed from the Earth," the goddess explained gently. "Your captors did not want you to retaliate against them."

 

"You knew about Lord Voldemort? And the Death Eaters?" Hermione rushed to ask, astounded.

 

"I know everything that happens in your life, Hermione. I have been watching your every footstep," Artemis replied quietly. Without waiting for Hermione to ask why, she continued. "I am your celestial creator. Every witch or wizard is born into a House, you see. The time of their birth echoes the place the sun or moon touches the earth. Yes, it would seem reasonable to say you were born under the Sixth House. However, you were born during the peak of a full moon, something that separated you, as that is a trait of the Thirteenth House."

 

"There are many full moons each year," Hermione interjected, almost meekly. Was she still trying to make excuses for what she was?

 

"This is true," Artemis agreed. "But your birth not only fell under the first harvest moon of the year, but corresponded with the birth of the last Lumerous Witch, despite it being centuries ago."

 

"I'm— I'm confused," Hermione confessed, trying to wrap her mind around this new information.

 

"It becomes much more complicated than it already seems," Artemis informed her gently. "Just know that I have chosen you."

 

"Are there any others?" Hermione asked.

 

"There was," Artemis murmured. "She was recently killed. She did not follow the congenital rules I had set for her, and she was sought out for what she was, just as you were."

 

"Is she here, then?" Hermione questioned, looking around as though the recently deceased witch would appear.

 

"She is not. This is not the true Underworld, but rather a limbo that souls dwell in. She had passed on to the afterlife," Artemis said. To this, the goddess turned and beckoned down the road. "Charon is waiting for us."

 

Hermione knew who Charon was; the ferryman for the River Styx, he ferried only the dead— and for a price. As Hermione followed Artemis to the skeletal man, she suppressed a chill, anxious with the thought of crossing the river of the dead.

 

"Take us to Hades," Artemis commanded, stepping into the boat. When Hermione went to follow suit, the man threw out a painfully thin arm.

 

"This one is not dead," he wheezed, glaring at Hermione.

 

"She holds the Stone," Artemis countered quietly, and Hermione opened her hands to reveal the moonstone. Charon immediately backed away, letting the girl come into the boat. Charon got in behind them, and took the long pole in his bony hands. With a great surge of power, he pushed the boat off from the bank and into the raging waters. Hermione noted, with a jolt of fear, that she could not see the adjacent shore.

 

As they moved into deeper water, Hermione gave a little mew of fear when she looked into the water. Floating corpses hovered there, their eyes white and unseeing, their hands bony and comprised of rotting flesh. It was a relief when the shore was finally in view. Looming above them at a great height was a gothic, distorted castle that seemed to blend in with the raging stormy clouds above it. Several towers stood in the air, dark and foreboding, thrusting their way into the dark clouds. The castle itself seemed like one massive, fierce willow tree as it engulfed the earth beneath it and rose triumphantly from an unfair battle.

 

"We are nearly upon Hades' castle," Artemis said, breaking Hermione's concentration. "There will be many frightening things, things you may never see in the upper world: Cerberus, and the many souls that bitterly await their damnation. You must remember one thing: never give into your fear. You must always rise above it, or it will destroy you."

 

The boat hit the shore, and the Greek goddess leapt out with ease. Hermione mimicked her actions, but tension was building up in her chest. Artemis sternly told Hermione to keep her head down as they walked the gruesome steps of the castle. Keeping her yes on the ground, she listened to the ear-splitting roar of Cerberus, the three-head dog that guarded the castle gateway. Hermione was numbly aware of Artemis's singing as she lulled the creature to sleep, and waited until the giant three-headed dog fell to the ground in a peaceful slumber before looking up.

 

"Come," Artemis beckoned, leading Hermione up the ancient, cracked stairs of the ghostly palace.

 

The castle itself was extremely intimidating, as were its doors. They were carved to depict horrible scenes of death and war, while the gods of Mount Olympus looked down on the events. Once in, the doors with a sudden snap, engulfing everything in darkness. To her left, Artemis' hand glowed, and an orb of light hovered in her hands.

 

"Remember," Artemis whispered. "Do not be frightened."

 

But what was there to be frightened of? No sooner than asking herself this question was she stiff with fear. Almost as if they were born of the dark, deathly pale cadavers began to approach them. Their skin peeling, their bodies rotting, Hermione tried desperately to look away and remain calm, but it was a hard task. The Greek goddess grabbed her hand, tugging her along so she might escape the walking dead. Up the stairs they went, and paused in front of a huge, towering doorway.

 

"Hades and Persephone are ready," Artemis whispered. She pushed open the door, and a rush of dim light greeted Hermione. The goddess tugged Hermione's hand once more, and she followed Artemis into the grand room inside the set of massive doors.

 

Hermione gasped as she looked around; they seemed to be inside a huge cave. The ceilings were high with treacherously hanging stalactites. The pair stood on a ridge in the midst of a sunken. From there was a raised platform, on which two thrones stood and deemed themselves righteous, along with their occupants. One was a girl that looked no older than fifteen, with long golden hair and blue eyes that looked particularly hollow and lifeless. Her clothing, a customary Greek toga, was made of thick white cloth, adorned with a light blue sash around her waist. The girl was leaning as far as she could away from her companion, almost as if he smelled of something foul. Knowing there was no other explanation, this girl had to be Persephone.

 

On the other throne sat a tall, thin man with dark eyes and equally dark hair, tangled and wild. His clothing was wispy and dark, almost as if a thundercloud had formed around him in the shape of a toga. His lipless mouth was frowning, and his sharp eyes were narrowed. Holding himself as if he was of the utmost important, he glared at Hermione and Artemis.

 

"Why have you disrupted me?" the dark man asked icily. This could be none other than Hades himself, lord of the Underworld.

 

"We come on a dire mission," Artemis replied coldly, eyes narrowed.

 

"You are not taking my queen from me. Any more attempts will be as futile as the last—"

 

"I have not come for Persephone," Artemis hissed. The young girl, who had sat upright at the mention of her name, deflated at this news. Hermione felt a tinge of pity for her, and wished that they could steal her from Hades.

 

"Then what do you want?" Hades demanded.

 

Artemis looked to Hermione, giving her an encouraging nod. Hermione, who had been listening to their exchange intently, was caught off guard.

 

"I-I am here to retrieve someone's immortality," Hermione squeaked, flushing with humiliation.

 

"What is their name?" Hades barked, retrieving a scroll from beneath his seat.

 

What was the name? It was on the tip of her tongue, trying to blurt itself before Hermione could control it. But no, she would not— could not— allow Voldemort to become immortal. All of the problems Hermione had left behind with the portal suddenly came swooping down upon her, and the weight that had been lifted with Artemis' presence fell upon her, crushing her.

 

"The name is—" Hermione choked out, trying to keep herself under control.

 

It was now or never. This was her one, and only, chance. Her words came out in a rush, an inarticulate mess that escaped her. But it was her only choice, her only option. There would be war raging soon enough, and even Voldemort himself could not stop the revenge of the immortals.

 

-x-x-x-

 

Before Hermione stood the portal, an ancient arch that was cracked and decrepit, and had seen an unfathomable amount of time. Glowing in her hands was the moonstone, pulsing with the soul it now encapsulated. Not a moment had passed where Hermione had asked herself, did I make the right decision? Have I done the right thing?

 

"I see the concern in your eyes," Artemis said quietly, touching Hermione gently. "You must never worry, you must never regret. This action was made for a reason."

 

"Voldemort will take it from me," Hermione replied, her face crinkling in tearful worry.

 

"He cannot use the stone without your help, Hermione," Artemis reminded her. "Only you have the power to wield it."

 

"But when—"

 

"The time will present itself one day," Artemis cut across her; her eyes were now glued to the portal. "You will know when it is the right time." Turning to look at the portal as well, Hermione realized that the light was getting smaller and darker. The humidity and temperature was rising quickly, and Hermione felt everything grow hotter.

 

The portal was closing.

 

"You have to go back," Artemis said, eyes wide with alarm. As she pushed Hermione towards the arch, she said, "Remember, Hermione, I am always with you. You may never see me again until the wielding of the stone, but until then, I shall watch over you."

 

Hermione nodded, feeling the fear start to grow in her stomach again. With a few well placed steps, Hermione forced herself through the ice cold portal, Artemis' forlorn look the last thing in her eyes, the knowledge that death would be swiftly upon her.

 

-x-x-x-

 

Earlier that night . . .

 

 Harry Potter, Ginny and Ron Weasley were all screaming as they flew through time and space before they finally hit solid ground. All clambering to get on their feet, they crouched low to the ground and hid themselves in the darkness. 

 

The ledge they had landed on jutted out at least twenty feet from where they were standing, before the cliff broke off. Light outlined the edge of the crooked edge, an eerie horizon in the pitch-black night. Behind them was a mountain; boulders perched precariously, threatening to fall at the slightest disturbance, the great mountain went as far as the eye could see before dissolving into the night.

 

Exchanging nervous glances, they pulled out their wands. "Lumos," was muttered simultaneously, and they crept quietly to the edge of the cliff to peer down. Above them, stars winked and the full harvest moon held nothing back, giving them away to any approaching enemies.

 

Ginny gasped slightly at they looked over the edge; from what could be seen nearly seventy feet below, there was a large circle of Death Eaters surrounding a massive fire. There was a stone dais inside the circle of cloaked figures, and shackled to the ground was a thin, motionless figure.  

 

Ron narrowed his eyes and scrutinized the person chained to the ground, realizing it was the only person within the circle. The figure had tattered clothing, no shoes, and messy brown hair that was far too large to be mistaken—

 

"Hermione," Ron croaked. Harry looked at him sharply.

 

"Where?" he demanded, following Ron's eyes.

 

"That person on the ground! That's her!" Ron moaned.

 

"Are you sure?" Ginny asked doubtfully, her concerned face matching Harry's.

 

"Who else would it be?" Harry asked in a quiet voice, although he knew there could be another. His suspicions were confirmed when Ron and Ginny exchanged a forlorn look, both worried for their missing cousin as well.

 

"Look at her! She's— she's glowing! And her hands, look at her hands!" Ron exclaimed, eyes wide with fear. "What's happening to her?"

 

"I don't know," Harry answered truthfully.

 

"It's the moonlight," Ginny answered quietly. The two boys looked at her, confused, but she said nothing more. The three students sat in a pregnant silence, watching Hermione's small figure tremble against the ground.

 

"What do we do now?" Ron asked after a tense moment.

 

It was several heavy moments before he answered. "We wait." Ron shot Ginny a nervous look, but both Weasleys remained silent.

 

An eternity passed, it seemed, before anything happened. Death Eaters stood stock still, their masks flickering in the firelight, while Hermione's strange movements continued, and they watched, puzzled, as her hands seemed to glow bright and strong, like a star she had captured.

 

And then, so suddenly that Harry and Ron jumped, Ginny cried out. Her arm immediately shot out over the ledge, pointing to a tall, robed figure appearing on the scene. Ginny was quivering, Ron's eyes widened, and Harry's body stiffened considerably.

 

"Voldemort," Harry uttered softly, and both of the Weasley children flinched.

 

They watched in utter terror and fascination as the Dark Lord walked to the stone dais. It was a moment before they realized he was speaking, but despite their best efforts they were deaf to his words.

 

"Look at that," Ron murmured as Hermione's movements were exaggerated, perhaps in fear. Voldemort then turned to his Death Eaters, and raised his voice slightly to address them. Harry, Ron, and Ginny could hear him now, although his words, which were not projected very much, still went unheard.

 

The skeletal figure of the Dark Lord turned back to address Hermione, who was now facing him. Ginny clapped a hand to her mouth as she watched Voldemort tense in anger, but the three observers gasped collectively as Hermione screamed, "Kill me then! I don't care if I die!"

 

Voldemort did not shout back, but instead called to one of his followers and waved a hand at them before looking back to Hermione. Harry, Ron and Ginny watched bemused as the Dark Lord addressed a trembling Hermione Granger, but were even more disconcerted when Draco Malfoy was pulled onto the scene. Hermione's head flicked back and forth between Malfoy and the Dark Lord, but whatever she said, they could not hear.

 

"Malfoy?" Ron scoffed, bewildered.

 

"What in Merlin's name is going on?" Ginny moaned, frightened.

 

Harry cautiously picked his words; "I think Voldemort wants Hermione to—"

 

"I don't care whether he lives or not!" Hermione's voice interrupted Harry suddenly, and he stopped short. She began to lose volume, but then—

 

"Potter will be destroyed regardless of your fighting! You cannot save him!" Voldemort's voice cut across her.

 

"Oh no," Harry whispered, horrified. "She can't do this. She can't—"

 

"I will try my hardest then!" Hermione shouted back, her defiant words audible even now.

 

And they knew it was coming before it had happened; Ginny covered her eyes as Voldemort's spidery hand singled out Malfoy, and both Harry and Ron grimaced as Draco Malfoy was pinned to the ground. Malfoy began screaming for Hermione's helped, and Ron was filled with a sick satisfaction that she did not reply, that she did not give in, even as his howls of pain began to fill the night.

  

"I don’t love him!" Hermione's voice snarled. Then, as Voldemort began to jeer at her, they heard his words, despite their best efforts to misconstrue them.

 

"You may not love him, but you love things about him, don’t you? You love the way he looks at you, the way he touches you, the way his hands feel on you, how he—"

 

"Stop it!" Hermione screamed. "That is nothing in comparison to love! Nothing!"

 

It was painful to listen now. None of that could be true, Hermione would never betray her friends— but some part of Harry recognized the truth. He remembered Malfoy reading the letter to Nott, and he knew how desperate Hermione must've been to have her questions answered. It was terrible, and revolting, and horrifying, but it was true.

 

Hermione would not stop there, however; she continued to fight the Dark Lord, to refuse him what he wanted, to disregard Malfoy's wellbeing. And then Voldemort plunged his hands into his robes, and without thinking, Harry turned to Ron.

 

"Silencio!" Harry cried just as "Crucio!" rang throughout the dark night. The echoes of Hermione's screams were matched in a furious writhing as Harry fought the restraints of Ginny and Harry. How dare anyone hurt her!

 

Finally, her screaming subsided. Ron stopped thrashing about and lay still, panting furiously. They released him cautiously, and when Ron threw Harry an enraged look, Harry half-smiled at him.

 

"They would've heard us," Harry explained before Ron could begin his rant, and Ginny agreed with a short nod. "We can't be caught. So please, Ron… Finite."

 

Ron cleared his throat, trying not to glare at Harry, before he turned back to watch the events below. Harry and Ginny followed suit, but they were shortly turning skyward to follow the mesmerized faced of their enemies.

 

They had no time to react before everything around them was an unearthly blinding white; it compressed the space between them, consumed them, and left no mercy. Ginny shrieked, and Ron and Harry threw arms over Ginny as the white light forced its way upon then.

 

Suddenly, there was a deafening roar, and wind pounded Harry and Ron so powerfully that it knocked them over. Harry collapsed on top of Ginny, and Ron was sent hurtling backwards into the as easily as a paper doll. Both screaming in fear, clinging to whatever they could, Harry and Ginny tried desperately not to fall off the edge of the cliff, as now their bodies were halfway over.

 

 But it was no use, as a gust of wind so strong sent both him and Ginny over the edge. Screaming, they tumbled over the side of the ledge and fell down to the next small ledge, where they landed awkwardly and painfully, and remained quite motionless otherwise. Ron was close behind them, however, as he was fighting the wind and trying desperately to save his best friend and little sister. Despite the wind pushing him to and fro, he clawed his was best he could to the cliff's edge. Once his fingers were curled around the rock, however, the wind abruptly stopped.

  

The eerie silence was all that was left in wake of the windstorm. Disregarding his new unease, he pulled himself over the ledge, tumbling downwards to their immobile bodies. Just as he pulled himself to his feet, however, there was a great ripping noise, as if the fabric of time and space were being pulled apart, and Ron gasped as he watched the massive bonfire grow at a monstrous pace. And out of the fire rose something unearthly and terrible; an ancient arch, towering and etched with cracks, stood tall and intimidating. Its tattered veil was fluttering, Ron noticed, despite being a considerable distance away. Hermione's astonished face matched his own, before the fire suddenly went wild and encircled her, trapping her, and her face was set with such fear that Ron's heart seemed to stop.

 

But he had no time to be worried, for just as he considered crying out for her, the earth began to shudder beneath his feet, and the great rumblings of the boulders up above him signaled their arrival. Scrambling to grab Harry and Ginny's unconscious bodies, he pulled them as fast as he could to the wall of the mountainside. Ron started screaming in terror as boulders landed all around him, each one falling with a deafening crunch that seemed to crack the very earth itself.

 

There were massive rocks all around him when it finally stopped, and although he and his two unconscious companions had almost been killed, they were alive. Ron was huddling against the wall, cradling Ginny and Harry's heads against him, knowing that the rest of their bodies could be repaired if need be. When all was at rest, he cautiously released them and crawled forward, slipping between the rocks that had slightly entombed them on the mountainside.

 

Wanting nothing more than to watch Hermione and make sure she was alright, Ron approached the ledge again, peering cautiously over it. He could hear the screaming of Malfoy once more, and realized with a grim thought that the Slytherin was about to die. Only a few moments passed before the hair on his neck stood up suddenly, and a foreboding shiver made him turn around hastily. To his horror stood two Death Eaters, wands up, ready to capture him. Ron did not move, but fear swept through him like no other time in his life.

 

It was only after a long minute that Ron broke his frozen position, and then there were rapid movements as Ron struggled to get his wand and avoid their spell. However, "STUPEFY!" struck him square in the back, and he was unable to escape.

 

Ron was awoken sometime later. Eyes blinking groggily, his head spinning, he was very aware of all the damage his body had recently endured that night, from jumping over cliffs to dodging boulders to being struck by a stunning spell. Just as he was regaining some levelheadedness, he was shoved down on the ground, restrained and gagged. In front of him, someone was pacing impatiently.

 

"But who is it?" said a high, cold voice, sending shivers all over Ron's body.

 

"It's a Weasley, I'm sure of it. But I do not know which one, my lord," replied a silky voice above him. His captor began to handle him roughly, turning him around so that other Death Eaters might guess. Then, Ron was suddenly grateful for the gag in his mouth, because it suppressed his frightened scream; lying next to him, and very much unconscious, was Draco Malfoy. His shoulder was completely ripped open, and crimson blood stained his silver-blonde hair, neck and face. His arms were tied behind his back, and he lay face down on the ground, skin pale and clammy.  

 

Someone was untying the gag from around his head. "You, Weasley!" snarled some cold, drawling voice above him. "What is your first name?" Ron did not answer. He kept both his eyes and his mouth shut, knowing his disobedience would not be taken lightly.

 

"Crucio!"

 

The pain that hit him was excruciating; he had never felt anything remotely like it. He screamed in agony, wriggling on the ground, his bones on fire. It was like death, he thought, or the Hell that plagued one through illness. His soul and body could not hold the immense pain any longer.

 

When it stopped, Ron gasped for breath, his body aching. Tears of shock had escaped his eyes, but with his face pressed into the dirt, he could care less. With each moment, he thought only of Hermione, and hoped that somehow, he was helping her. When they demanded his name again, and he refused, he met the same fate. Only this time, it was ten thousand times worse. When they released him from the prison of anguish, a soft moan escaped him and his eyelashes fluttered. Ron was barely conscious now, and he felt delirious with pain.

 

"Now, Weasley?"

 

"Ron," he croaked without hesitation. He did not want to experience pain like that again.

 

There was a mutter of indignation and a snap of fingers, and the next moment, Ron was being gagged again. He should've fought it, but there was nothing left in him to fight.

 

"This was Granger's old boyfriend, my lord," said a drawling voice off to his right. "Draco's told me all about him."

 

"And what has Draco told you, Troy?" hissed the high, cold voice again; Ron knew it was Lord Voldemort, and despite his lack of energy, he began to quiver in fear.

 

"Well Granger cried on and on about him. But he told me they're rather revolting, but nearly inseparable otherwise," replied the first, Troy. He sounded young and arrogant, much like Draco Malfoy himself.

 

"Excellent," said Voldemort quietly. "Precious time will not be wasted when she returns. She would not risk him for anything."

 

At these words, Ron felt sick to his stomach; Hermione, who would have died to keep Voldemort from his immortality, would be now faced with the fate of Ron's life. And Ron knew, however gut wrenching and miserable it was, that Hermione would do anything to keep Ron alive. This could only mean one thing—

 

Without warning, there was another blast of unearthly light that seemed to fill every particle of space. Ron clamped his eyes shut, yet the light forced its way through his eyelids. The Death Eaters around him were now very still, almost as if had hit them with a body binding charm, but Voldemort rushed to the stone dais, as if he had forgotten his post and was hurrying back. Raising his head a few inches off of the ground, twisting his neck dangerously to see what the commotion was about, Ron's eyes widened with dread and fear. Hermione Granger descended slowly from the stone archway, holding herself in a cautious fashion, and made her way to the end of the fire pathway. She stood before the stone dais, holding herself in a very cautious, erect manner, almost as if she was holding something very fragile and precious, and dropping it would be disastrous.

 

Casting her eyes upward, she faced Voldemort's triumphant gaze with hollow, cold words.  "Let's get this over with."

 

Hermione could barely see any divine feature of the night anymore; stars merely twinkled. The moon was full and orange, daring her to match its beauty.  She felt empty, void, cold and deadened; the absence of Artemis was an aching hole, burning inside of her, an acute reminder that she was forever alone now. She had only one job left to do, and she would be swiftly embraced by death. But, she thought to herself, perhaps death is not the thing I should fear anymore.

 

"Are you ready to complete this, Mudblood?" Voldemort hissed, casting a cruel smile at her. 

 

"Yes," Hermione uttered, her dead eyes cast in shadow.

 

"Show me what you've brought back," he ordered, scrutinizing Hermione as she lifted cupped hands into the air. The only thing that could be seen was a pulsing white light, as if she held an illuminated egg in her hands. This met Voldemort's satisfaction, however, for a victorious smile crept onto his face.

 

"There is only one thing left to do tonight," Voldemort said quietly, though his red eyes gleamed with malice. "And then, I shall dispose of you."

 

Dispose of me? she wondered. Was Voldemort aware that without Hermione, it was impossible to do anything with the stone? The soul that was trapped inside of the moonstone was only reachable by her hands, with her power, and by nothing else.

 

But if he killed her, then he would be condemning himself. And Hermione had been victorious thus far. She would say nothing then, and would die in order to help Harry, and in order to bring down the Dark Lord.

 

Death meant many things, and Hermione knew she should be angry, furious even. Times like this called for tears, tragedy, and grief. But she would have none of it, for she knew that it was useless now. As long as her death was not in vain, there should be no reason to fear death, and there should be no reason to dwell in misery about it.

 

"Give me the stone, Mudblood," Voldemort demanded, breaking Hermione's tragic thoughts. The Dark Lord held out his hand expectantly, and as if she had nothing left to fight for, she simply moved forward to hand it to him, but—

 

"NO!"

 

Her hand froze, only inches above Voldemort's outstretched hands. Her heart seemed to stop. Moments ago there was nothing stopping her death, there was nothing holding her to this living reality, she was ready to leave—

 

But Ron— Ron was here. Snatching back the stone and staring at the boy who had stolen her heart, Hermione gaped at Ron, thrashing about on the sidelines, desperately avoiding the Death Eaters who were trying to quiet him.

 

"Yes, Weasley here appears to be very concerned for you," Voldemort said, almost lazily. "But it is no matter, is it, Mudblood? You would never let him die, would you?"

 

"N-No," Hermione whispered, forcing back the tears and tearing her gaze from Ron. "I will do what I must to protect him." Her words met with a menacing laugh, and even though the icy hand of fear clutched at her throat, she pushed on, knowing she had to see her trickery through until the very end. She moved forward and handed the moonstone to Lord Voldemort, who clutched it protectively once in his possession.

 

"DON'T DO IT, HERMIONE!" Ron screamed, and she felt herself begin to tremble. Somehow, she had to block his voice from her head, or walking into the Valley of Death would be an impossible task.

 

Disregarding Ron's now muffled shouting, Voldemort withdrew a dagger from inside of his cloak, and held it forward for Hermione to take. The Muggleborn did so, fingers trembling. Next, he retrieved a silver cup, placing it on stone pillar at which he stood.

 

"I will give you careful instructions, Mudblood. You must follow them exactly. Or else, he dies," snarled the Dark Lord, eyes snapping on Ron's struggling figure.

 

Ron made an attempt to shout to her again, but with an angry protest was shoved down cruelly to the ground. Hermione watched him helplessly, her body quivering, as he was restrained. Her lip quivered and she fought the urge to scream for him.

  

Trying desperately to distract herself from Ron, Hermione inspected the blade she now held in her hands. Its smooth, liquid-like surface caught every flickering light of the fire. The handle had emeralds and diamonds on it, a snake winding its way around the handle and onto the very surface of the knife itself. The scales were etched in brighter silver, and the tongue protruding from the serpent's mouth looked deadly.

 

How could she be inspecting items when she was moments away from her death? When Ron was right there, begging for her to come to her senses? Why wasn't she cowering in fear? Because Artemis told me not to. And she is watching over me now, Hermione reminded herself firmly. No harm could touch her now, she was impervious to the evil that was about to destroy her. Death would only be a release.

 

The trouble was, how could Hermione convey all of this to Ron? How could she let him know that he had no part in this, he was not the one to make her die? He was a backup, and that was it, not collateral forcing her into a corner. If she died without telling him, he would be haunted by the guilt of her death the rest of his life. And Hermione didn't know if she could live with that thought.

 

What could she do?

 

"Take the dagger in your hands, and—"

 

"Wait," Hermione cut across softly, cowering slightly under the furious look of the Dark Lord. "I just— let me say goodbye to him."

 

Ron, who had been fighting the Death Eaters vainly for the past few minutes, stopped suddenly, his eyes round with fear. With narrowed eyes, Voldemort waved his hands to his followers, shooting Hermione an angry glare.

 

"I reward you this moment only because you have been so subservient and willing thus far," Voldemort hissed. "Make no mistake. I have no pity for you. Enjoy your last moments before death."

 

There was a quick scramble of ropes the quick thudding of feet before Ron and Hermione were suddenly in each other's arms, clinging to one another as if no else mattered in the world. Both their hearts hammered in their chests; the lovers had not seen each other for so very long, it seemed. And now was their last chance to reunite before death ultimately parted them. She buried her head in his shoulder, her arms wrapped around his neck, sobbing uselessly. The words that streamed out of her mouth were incoherent and not at all understandable, but he was nodding and trying vainly not to cry. He thought his heart would burst with sorrow and joy and regret all at the same time. Everything that had happened to Hermione had been his fault. If he had no left her, if he had loved her better, everything would be different. It had taken only moments to destroy her life, and there was only a moment to atone for his mistake, to soothe her, to rescue her, because after that moment, he would never see her again. Only a minute had gone by as they stood in a desperate, hungry embrace that only one another could fill, but it was an eternity of stained happiness, of bitter sweet perfection.

 

"I'm so sorry," he croaked, choking back a sob. "It's all my fault—"

 

"No it's not!" she cried, pulling him closer and kissing his cheeks, wetting them with her own tears. "None of this is your fault!"

           

"But if I hadn't—"

 

"Stop it!" Hermione sobbed, shaking her head defiantly against his words. "I have to do this! For you and Harry and Ginny and—"

 

"I won’t let you die," Ron hissed, his grief now mingled with fury.

 

"This isn’t your decision," she mewed, staring up into his blue eyes. It struck her suddenly how beautiful he was, and how she had taken him for granted.

 

But a moment later, Ron closed the small gap between them, and together they were caught in a greedy, frantic kiss. It was a moment that would remain in her mind, forever and eternally, and was something that could not be snatched away. It would calm her worries and soothe her fears. Ron was here, holding her, loving her, and that was all that mattered. 

  

Suddenly, a pair of strong hands grabbed her; she gave a painful, heartbroken cry of protest as she reached out for Ron's hand as he too was pulled away. He fought against the hooded crowd and threw out his hand to save her, to rescue her. His fingers curled, her fingertips brushing his, their attempt was ruined as their hands missed by mere inches.

 

"NO!" she screamed, trying desperately to grab Ron's hands. He cried out her name and tried to break free and run to her, but he was already being pinned down and restrained.

           

"HERMIONE!"

 

The pair of hands that had grabbed her threw her to the ground by the stone dais. She tried to disregard the burning hole inside of her, she tried to disregard Ron's screaming, but nothing seemed to work. Her indemnity was now gone, stolen, destroyed. She could only move on. She could only remind herself that her life, up until this point, had been good and whole and honest, and her death would not be wasted.

 

Without any hint of sympathy, Voldemort began once more. "Listen very carefully to me as I explain this." His voice was deadly soft. Mutely, she nodded, tears dripping off of her chin.

 

"Take the dagger that I have given you. Slit the wounds on your hands, and then slit the wounds by your neck, but only at the junction of your collarbone." Here, Voldemort paused, staring down at Hermione, who was standing stock still, awaiting further instruction. "When that is done, put your hands on top of one another and then onto your collarbone, making sure each mark of the dagger is aligned."

 

Hermione nodded, inhaling a deep, heavy breath before turning the blade over on her hand.

 

"Hermione, no!" Ron screamed. She could do nothing but watch as he struggled uselessly. "Let them kill me! I don't care what they do to me! Just don't do it!"

 

Clenching her jaw and on the verge of tears again, shook her head."I have to, Ron," she croaked. "I can't let you die! You can't! You have to help Harry!! You have to be there for your sister and Harry! They need you more than me!"

 

Before Ron could shout again, Hermione jabbed the pulsing white wound on her hand, suppressing a gasp at the sharp pain. Turning over the same hand, she nicked the skin, a shallow and innocuous cut.

 

But then—

 

Light burst forth from Hermione's hand, almost as if a continuous beam of light happened to surge right through her. Startled, her eyes wide with shock, she stared at the beautiful light that was escaping her palm.

 

"The next hand!" Voldemort snarled, annoyed with Hermione's fascination.

 

The metal was cold and smooth against her skin, and she felt it would have been easier to pierce her heart instead, for hearing Ron call out her name was heartbreaking. She pressed on though, wishing he would be silenced so that her actions were not hesitant. As she clumsily cut the skin on the other hand, the same thing happened: a beam of light soared out from both sides of her hand, and she felt as if she were wielding some celestial sword.

 

"And now, the last step," Voldemort hissed, grinning wildly. Fearful, she lifted the tip of the dagger—

  

"NO! Don't do it! STOP!" Ron bellowed. He was sobbing and fighting, quickly losing all of his energy. Hermione thought her heart would break and tried her best to ignore his screaming.

 

The tip of the blade was cold and sliced her skin with ease—

 

"DON'T! HERMIONE, STOP! DON'T DO IT!"

 

Her body was shaking worse than ever now as she blocked out his voice forcibly. Steadily, she moved her hands together, watching as the light and energy surged, and the beam doubled in size, escaping into the very heavens above them.

 

 "NO! STOP, HERMIONE!"

 

Her hands, sealed and locked forever, began moving slowly to that precious blood that dripped from her collarbone—

 

 

"HERMIONE! DON'T DO IT! STOP!"

 

But she could not listen to Ron, she could not pause and threaten his life—

 

This is for Harry. This is for Ron. This is for everyone I ever loved

 

As the surge of light touched the blood, it was as if there was no color, no sound, nothing; the earth seemed to explode in a fiery, instantaneous combustion, and that which had been Hermione Granger was now consumed in a fiercely hot white light, burning everything, ravaging the land, blinding those open eyes, destroying everything with its magnanimous light.

 

But despite this phenomenon, despite this unnatural light which stole everything there was to have, Lord Voldemort could be heard screaming with laughter, his wand rising high in the air, summoning all that he wished to take from the body of Hermione Granger, who was suspended in this light, caught, trapped, vanquished—

 

"The Order of the Phoenix is here!" came a tense shout through the light.

 

All at once, the earth was dark again, and the Order was falling like stones out of the sky, jets of light catching Death Eater after Death Eater. Loud spells and curses were flying everywhere as Voldemort's Army silently fled the scene when the Order of the Phoenix finally touched down on the mountain. Ron, watching Hermione's limp body fall to the ground, managed only a hoarse cry before he was stunned and abandoned. The Death Eaters, hastily pulling on their masks, fled the scene. Voldemort, still screeching with laughter, grabbed Hermione's arm and vanished into thin air.

 

-x-x-x-

 

"Where is he?" Lucius breathed, looking over his shoulder. The eldest Malfoy was currently attending to the wounds on Hermione's hand, though reluctantly.

Her body was tossed into the corner of the room, blood gushing from her hands. The light had ravaged her body, for her flesh had been ripped open by the powerful light. Blood was pooling and soaking the robe of the girl next to her.

 

"He should be here any moment," answered Lucifer apprehensively; he was Troy's father.

  

As if awaiting their words, the door burst open, and Voldemort entered, leading a group of Death Eaters. They quickly dispersed, talking in low voices and helping with whatever work was to be done.

 

"Well?" he snapped at Lucius impatiently.

 

"It shows no signs of stopping." Lucius answered quickly, casting his brother a nervous glance.

 

Voldemort looked down at the two women who lay on the floor. He narrowed his eyes at Hermione, debating briefly whether he should use his own magic to heal her. But no, he reminded himself; it can't be used. No magic could be used to heal her now.

  

Voldemort slowly kneeled down at the side of one of the girls restrained to the floor. Staring at them, smirking, he carefully contemplated his next move in consideration to his new prize. Both of their faces, identical in structure, were ghastly pale.

 

"Oh, do I have plans for you," he said softly, his eyes flashing in strategic preparation. Straightening up, Lord Voldemort surveyed the scene. Spotting the blood on Lucius Malfoy's hands, he beckoned his servant. "Draco must stay at Hogwarts. We cannot afford any more suspicion. Make sure he knows nothing and cannot be interrogated; the Ministry will be sure to question him."

 

"Yes, my lord," Lucius answered quickly. Lucius shot the motionless body an anxious glance. "My lord," he began uneasily. "How I am to keep her hidden? The ministry will surely find some way to use her survival against us."

  

The Dark Lord thought for a moment. "When the room is chosen, draw the shades in the house. In darkness she will be hidden—" He paused, eyes glittering darkly; "—And in darkness, she shall stay."

-
-x-x-x-
-


 

Author's Note: Um, so yeah?

 

A huge thanks to Chrysta, once again, for making me finish this! And to all those readers who stuck around!

 

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