He hadn't felt this hopeful since that night in the tent.
That night where he could imagine a future for himself, one where he was happy, free of pain.
But, he knows it is far from his grasp.
Whereas here, here he saw a future for the people he had grown up with, the people who had come to follow him.
His people, an entire community.
This hope, even if it was short-lived, was more than enough to keep him going.
Not that she wasn't doing this already.
"Don't kill him before ol' Voldy gets a chance." Neville chuckled, guiding Harry towards the centre of the room. "Go on Harry, tell them what you need." The blonde boy encouraged, patting his shoulders, the emerald-eyed boy shifted awkwardly, gaze shifting towards the ground.
"Erm-" He started, scratching his cheek. "We– uh, we don't actually know what we're looking for, per-say. Rather, know there is something." Harry finished, rather pathetically.
There was a pause as if they were waiting for one of his famous witty comments.
"Ye'v got te be kiddin' mate." Came a voice from the side, Seamus was looking at the trio, bemused.
"We know it has something to do with the founders of Hogwarts." Hermione stated before Harry could try and think of a response. "A Horcrux, which contains part of V-Voldemort's soul."
"The freaky git sliced up his soul?" Spluttered a tall, blonde Ravenclaw Harry didn't recognise.
"Got your answer now haven't you." Spat Ron quietly, resulting in a subtle smack from Hermione.
"Yes, he did." The brunette witch confirmed, proceeding, "We believe he somehow obtained various items that belonged to three of the founders but failed to do so with the sword of Gryffindor. We are only aware of two items, Salazar's locket, as we were able to destroy it, and Helga's cup"
"You mean.." The group snapped their heads towards the shaky voice, it was Terry Boots. "You mean Hufflepuff's cup?" He asked, eyes filled with worry and curiosity. Hermione nodded.
"Yes –" Hermione resumed "–and we're trying to find out what he could have taken from Ravenclaw–"
"You must mean the Lost Diadem of Ravenclaw." A faraway voice interrupted, Harry felt Ron jump up swiftly behind him.
"Luna?!" The red-haired wizard croaked, the group parting to let the witch through.
"Hello, Ronald." She smiled.
Ron quickly brushed past his best friend and collided with the small blonde in front of them, wrapping his arms around her petite figure and burying his relieved expression in the crook of her neck, she returned the hug just as fiercely. "Thank Merlin you're alright." His muffled voice whispered, oblivious of those around him.
Harry watched in awe, happy for his best friend, he knew Ron had been struggling since the trio had left her at Darco Manor.
His train of thought halted when he felt two fingers brush against his own, snapping his head to the side he saw Hermione had come to stand beside him, her cheeks tinted red as she watched the couple embrace.
At the simple touch, the future he had imagined suddenly plagued his thoughts once more.
His eyes slid closed momentarily, the urge to slip back into that moment was so inviting.
The sound of the music, the smell of her perfume, the feel of her body against his as they slowly moved around the tent –
He forced his tired eyes open.
You can't do that to her.
"Harry," The voice of his best mate broke him from his thoughts, "Luna reckons she knows where to start looking for the diadem." The long-nosed boy explained. "You and Hermione can head down to the Chamber of Secrets and grab a bunch of Basilisk fangs–"
"Why didn't I think of that!" Hermione cursed.
–and meet us back here–"
"It seems like we won't be able to do that." Luna mused; cutting him off while unaware of the growing uncertainty.
"Why not?" Another familiar voice snapped, Ginny, who looked more annoyed than concerned.
"Professor Snape knows Harry was spotted in Hogsmead."
O - O - O - O - O - O
"What are you waiting for?" Pansy's sharp voice filled the hall, clearly willing to do exactly what had been ordered. "Somebody grab him!"
Immediately at her words he felt a familiar hand slip into his own, a whiff of vanilla and sweat filled the boy's nostrils as she stood in front of him, holding his body behind her. He barely noticed others from the crowd had begun standing on all sides of him, creating a barrier around him.
They were not sacrificing their Harry tonight.
"STUDENTS OUT OF BED!" He heard Filch bellow as he limped into the Great Hall, holding his demon cat to his chest, "STUDENTS IN THE CORRIDORS!"
"They are supposed to be out of bed you blithering idiot!" McGonagall exclaimed in annoyance, stomping her foot.
"Oh." The squib paused, looking sheepish, "Sorry, ma'am"
"As it is, , your arrival is most opportune. If you would, I would like you to please to escort both Miss. Parkinson and the rest of Slytherin House from the hall." She strode past the gaping group of snakes.
"And exactly where is it I will be escorting them to ma'am?"
A smirk threatened her lips, "The dungeons would do."
And so, with a cheer from the remaining students, the Slytherins were escorted towards their common room. Harry knew that many members of the infamous house had relatives and parents who were death eaters, to expect them to fight would be cruel.
"I presume you have a reason for returning, Potter, what is it you need?" The new headmaster put a hand on his shoulder. Harry gave a strained smile.
"Time, professor." He begged, "As much As you can get me." She nodded, instructing him to do what he needed whilst she secured the castle.
"Ron, – " He addressed the tallboy directly, "– you go with Luna and try and find out where the diadem is–"
"But, how will we know what it looks like? Only you seem to know what's what."
"Take this, " He shoved his hand into his back pocket, proceeding to present a crumbled fold of parchment, the Marauders Map.
"That way you can find us and we can find it and destroy it."
The older boy nodded, stepping back and taking Luna's hand in his own. "Stay safe you two."
"And you," Hermione voices anxiously, again finding her place beside Harry. "Let's go."
O - O - O - O - O - O
They watched as the serpent covered basins separate to reveal the familiar entrance. Hermione paled at the depth.
"It's just a slide, honest. I'll catch you at the bottom." He reassured her, Emerald meeting Hazel.
"Okay... Alright, it's just– how unhinged do you have to be to place your "secret layer" below a girls bathroom?"
"I guess it's the last place people would look." He went to stand by the edge when small hands gripped his arm.
"Hey, " Harry whispered, placing an auspicious hand atop hers, "It's going to be okay, don't think, just jump."
He felt the girl beside him soften her stance, she held her head higher. "On a count of three I'll go, and you follow. Ready?" He saw her auburn curls bounce as she nodded.
"One…" She let go of his arm.
"Two…" He turned his head, focusing on the hole.
"Three!" Quickly, he jumped, feeling gravity pull him down. Screams filled the tunnel as he heard Hermione follow behind him.
Harry was more prepared this time, holding his arms to his chest and squeezing his eyes shut to avoid the flashing lights that bled through the cracks as they plummeted down the slide. The star seeker held his breath, trying to block the stench of rotting flesh.
After mere seconds, he flew forward, landing on the now cemented bed of bones.
He had barely pushed himself up when he had a sudden wave of Déjà vu.
Shaped rather petite and bushy.
"Oh!" The bookworm sprung to her feet, her face bright red. "Harry, are you alright? I'm sorry, I feel like I'm always landing or falling onto you." She offered her practised hand which he took and pulled himself to his feet.
They didn't let go.
"So this is where you and Ron saved Ginny," she pondered, taking in her surroundings. "Is this where you take all your girls, hm?" Her voice was laced with nervous laughter.
"Why yes, Miss. Granger, only the best." the Gryffindors came to a halt. "We're here."
The door looked as grand as ever, almost like a guard placed precisely to frighten those unworthy away.
He felt like he was twelve again, naively following the words of a Horcrux set to kill him.
Wonderful to have such beautifully common memories of childhood to reminisce.
The boy shifted his spectacles upon his nose before taking a deep breath, concentrating.
"Open." Harry Hissed.
At his words, each snake upon the metal slowly slithered back with a click, unlocking the door and slowly slowing the pair to enter. They did so briskly.
"Ron was right." The brightest witch of her age gawked at the creature near the end of the slippery path, continuing "You really killed that thing, Harry?"
"Barely…" He grunted, squeezing her hand as they heard far away explosions begin to sound, the battle had begun.
The walk to the remains was tense, nerve-wracking. Echoes filled the enclosure with every step, rebounding from the cavern walls.
Once at what was left of the beast, the green-eyed boy cautiously gripped one of the rotting fangs, tugging it harder to remove it..
"Do be careful, Harry. Don't get scraped by it again, Fawkes isn't around to help us this time." Hermione warned him.
At her words, he felt a tingle in his arm. Like an itch, right where he had been struck all those years ago.
He had already destroyed a Horcrux here, he couldn't do it again.
"You need to do it, Mione." He declared, turning to a bewildered expression, she had gone white.
"I- I can't!" She spluttered, almost dropping the cup she had retrieved from her beaded bag. Harry grabbed her free hand, placing the fang within it.
"Yes, you can Hermione. I know you can."
Her brown eyes looked uncertain, timid. Still, she dropped to her knees, Harry followed.
"I just hope there's enough venom left to do the trick." Harry voiced, anxiously.
"When you're ready." He held the cup still, locking on her gaze.
She raised her hand steadily. Hesitating.
She did, and with one more look to the man in front of her, she needed no more encouragement.
Hermione lined up the tip, and once again raised her right arm, counting down under her breath.
She hadn't even gotten to two when thick black smoke started leaking from the cup.
Harry felt his heart rise to his throat – "HERMIONE STAB IT QUICKLY–"
The area around the cup exploded, the smoke violently screaming through the air like ink seeping into water. The pair were flown several feet away from each other as water began to swirl beside them. Harry watched in horror as Hermione was enveloped in smoke, completely blinding her.
"I can't take it anymore Harry." Ron's voice filled his ears, so cold and unfamiliar. "I told you we should have never saved her from that troll, all she does is boss the two of us around. Why did we even let her come?" He saw the figure of his best friend from his place on the floor. He wanted to be sick when he saw the silver picture of himself step forward.
"I honestly don't know." He heard himself sneer. "We would be so much better on our own without her breathing down our throats."
"No…" He tried weakly, hearing Hermione mutter something similar.
"We're actually glad she sent us away. Her spell was the best thing we could have ever asked for." Harry recognized the voice, and clearly, Hermione did too.
"Dad?..." He heard the bushy-haired girl moan weakly.
"Don't listen, Mione! Stab the cup! Stab it!"
"Finally able to live in a world without her freakishness." Her mother spat, resembling the tone he had once heard daily from his relatives.
"For once I agree with the disgusting muggles." Malfoy came forward now, his infamous look of disgust stained across his face. "It's nice to see you've come to your pureblood senses, Weasley, and you too Potter. At least your father was a Pureblood." Emerald eyes watched in horror as the ghost-like Draco Malfoy stepped forward, looking a sobbing Hermione directly in the eye. "To think she hoped you'd make the same mistake he made; loving a filthy Mudblood."
Harry felt filthy at the confession, like he was invading her thoughts. He shook his head, looking away at the sound of her cries.
"Not to mention she thought she had a chance against me, ugly rat. " Now Ginny came forward, Harry could feel the pain radiating from the girl, Harry could barely make out her collapsed figure. "Afterall, I was the one he kissed, I am the one he loves."
"No! Hermione no, I never loved Ginny! I don't love her!" His cries fell on dead ears, Hermione couldn't take her eyes off the figures in front of her, head-snapping left and right. He felt evil to have caused her this sort of pain.
"Oh I would never be with her, why would I want to be with anyone who betrays me as she did?–".
"–You didn't betray me–!"
"–She is nothing but a failure, a snobby failure–"
"–No!" Hermione sobbed, her voice shaking violently.
"I will never." Harry heard his voice become louder, stabbing each syllable like a knife, the waves of the water crashing behind him. "Ever. Love her."
"NO! NO HERMIONE STAB THE CUP! HERMIONE I DO LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU HERMIONE WE ALL LOVE YOU. I LOVE YOU SO MUCH HERMIONE JUST STAB THE CUP! " Harry screamed so loud his throat felt raw, he saw Hermione's head turn so rapidly he thought it was a wonder she had not broken her neck, tear-filled chocolate eyes stared at him.
She looked so broken.
"Hermione! I do love you! Just stab the cup, please! It's going to be okay!" He saw her make the decision in those same tear-filled eyes; and watched her scramble to her feet.
She stormed straight into the fog as fast as she could, dropping to her knees in front of the Horcrux, raising the fang above her head with both hands. With what seemed like every once of her being, she thrust the weapon down, slicing through the metal with a satisfying crunch.
There was an ear-piercing scream as Harry felt himself fall backwards, he could feel Voldemort's pain as the cup, along with the taunting spirits within it, began to wail.
He had barely noticed Hermione had rushed to his side, desperately pulling him to his feet as the water and fog began to collide with one another, rising to the ceiling of the chamber. His mind felt numb as the witch tried to alert him of the danger, yanking him by his hand once he was on his feet.
His mind cleared when he found himself drenched, the cup had given up its fight, resulting in the water plummeting over the pair of them, leaving them both gasping for air.
The two of them stood there, silently. Attempting to steady themselves and process what had just unfolded.
But Harry could not shake this feeling.
He felt a tug.
We almost died.
His body absently turned to hers.
If we're going to die tonight…
He saw her turn her head slightly, hesitating.
The one thing...
He felt the tether pull, his arm reached for her slowly.
I want to do…
They locked eyes.
Is kiss you.
Neither of them knew who moved first, but within seconds, they had thrown themselves at each other; slamming their lips together in a bruising kiss.
Harry flung his arms around the shorter girl's body, pulling her against his chest as his mouth overpowered hers in a flutter of foreign emotions.
He felt Hermione force her hands straight into his raven curls, tugging at them and groaning in pleasure as he deepened the kiss. Harry responded by continuing ministrations, his hands continuing to roam her back.
After several minutes of pouring seven years worth of tension into this long-awaited kiss, they began to slow.
Not wanting to pull away, Harry placed one last kiss on a bright red Hermione's lips.
The pair stood even more out of breath than before the kiss began, arms still wrapped tightly around one another.
The awkwardness sparked amusement as laughter bubbled out of the pair, their forehead resting against one another.
Harry pulled the girl into a hug, silently conveying how sorry he was for not warning her about the possibility of the Horcrux manipulating her, and for letting her feel like he didn't love her.
Of course, it took a war to bring him to his senses.