Daily Prophet Headlines
3rd May, 1998
The Prophecy is Real! The Boy Who Lived Dies - and Lives! We Are Victorious


Fred died.

And Tonks and Professor Lupin and Colin and so had Harry, for that matter.

And Bellatrix.

Hermione had reasoned that, once she faced off with her torturer in a fair fight, she'd be able to hold her own. She was a quick thinker and pretty good with defensive spells, but Bellatrix was more powerful than she’d ever imagined possible. Her black eyes pierced through to Hermione’s soul and the writhing pain seemed to bubble up from inside her, simply from that evil black stare.

Even fighting alongside Ginny and Luna, the trio couldn’t take Bellatrix. In the throes of battle, she tried to use her pain and suffering as leverage against Voldemort's most loyal servant, but instead, she felt herself growing weaker. All her Gryffindor courage, all the sacrifices and giving up Ron and her parents and Hogwarts to look for the horcruxes - she was drained.

It was Molly, in her own fury and rage and grief, that finally put an end to the madness.

Hermione wasn't strong enough.

That was the initial moment Hermione felt the weakness seeping through her. The war was over. The Order had won. But the loss was so great. In all the hours and months and years, she’d never once doubted the veracity of the path she’d chosen. As she stood in The Great Hall and counted the deaths, she awed at her own foolishness and righteousness. Lives were lost and changed and damaged.

She stood with Ron and his family and held them. And when Harry disappeared for a nap and a sandwich, Hermione stayed in the Great Hall and did her best to help out wherever she could. People needed a shoulder to cry on - either from great loss or inexplicable joy.

*

Burnt hair and a dry cough. Nearly two weeks had passed and she held him at Fred’s funeral, the way he had held her after Malfoy Manor. When her parents had watched their Muggle films on WWII, none of the funerals ever showed the dry cough that passed around, from the soot and dust they’d inhaled during the battle. She thought both hers and Ron’s hair would never lose the putrid scent from the Fiendfyre. She couldn’t get used to the smell - or get rid of it, either, though she’d trimmed off the singed parts and washed with every soap imaginable.

He kept her anchored to reality as he collapsed from his grief against her. She rubbed his arm and smoothed his hair and stroked his face. A twinge of guilt took hold as she stared at his freckled hand entwined with hers. Both their hands still bore scratches and cuts from the battle that were healing. Healing. For the millionth time in two weeks, she thought; it could’ve been Ron. They were all fighting together in that corridor when the castle wall exploded. She knew she shouldn’t be, but she was relieved that he hadn’t been the one killed. She squeezed his hand a bit tighter. The sound of quiet cries and not-so-muffled coughs just made Fred’s coffin seem more silent.

He shook with sobs, trying to hold them in for the sake of his parents. And Hermione held her own shudders inside for the sake of Ron.

Fred died.

It’d been different with Sirius and Dumbledore. They both had lived so much, it was almost as if they’d been expecting death - welcoming it. It was easier to accept, but with Fred… Hermione wasn’t sure it is was because he was so young or so close, or so alive.

The following days meant more funerals and memorials and reminders of death - a spiral of death and regret and inexplicable pain at the reality of loss. It was very nearly the same people each time. She stood next to Ron’s side at every one.

The kiss they’d shared during the final battle seemed years and years away. Another lifetime, really, and it simply wasn’t the time to discuss what happened in the past or what was to come of the future or where they were at that very moment. For now it was all dirges and coughs and burnt hair.

*

Dead is not always dead.

The nightmares began a fortnight after the battle. She was at the Burrow, sleeping on a spare cot in Ginny’s room, propriety having been restored to the group. No more did Ron’s solid, frame hold her through the night. Hermione thought sleeping by the rules of proper society would make her feel more normal and the thrumming undercurrent of her mind racing would be replaced by a hint of normality. But his absence simply left her feeling hollow and restless. Her body was used to sleeping with one ear trained on the sounds around her, listening for the curse of a snatcher or worse - a Death Eater who’d discovered their hideout - and that simply couldn’t be switched off in a mere two weeks.

The first time was more of a shadow. A whisper of an idea of the terror that had filled her along with the pain from the cruciatus curse. She woke with a start, wheezing in breaths that were too shallow to get oxygen to her system. The pain reverberated through all her nerve endings and she shook with such force that the cot rumbled against the floorboards.

Fingers braced the metal frame as she willed herself to calm. After several minutes, her heart still thudded relentlessly in her chest, she was at least only shaking in small spurts, rather than violent, aching shudders.

As the physical symptoms wore off and the pounding rush of blood in her ears lessened, she became aware of a distinct whimpering. She held her breath to force herself to stop. The soft sounds continued and it took a moment for her to realize they weren’t coming from her own throat.

Ginny. Crying out for Fred in her sleep.

Hermione crept across the room and halted as she eyed the mound under the blankets that was responsible for the muffled cries. It was much too long to be Ginny, but the bright red hair that peeked out of the top left no doubt. Ginny had again snuck out to the top floor to be with Harry. Hermione didn’t falter. She lifted the blankets and settled in next to him. Ron turned, whining in his sleep and cradled his head against Hermione’s shoulder. She wrapped her arms around and squeezed tight, whispering soothing words in his ear. The whimpers lessened and finally ceased. Hermione felt her heart rate slowing and the warmth and strength of his arms lulled her. Proper society could go to hell.

Ron needed her.


A/N: I really can't think of much to say here, but I always leave an Author's Note, so I felt weird not writing something - haha. Thank you to CambAngst, toomanycurls and kenpo for the amazing reviews on the first chapter. I'd love any feedback on this! Thanks! ♥ Beth

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