She thought that she'd read her book, look into how to destroy horcruxes, maybe construct a letter to Ron about how he is being an arse, and how dare he run away right when they are the most lost and confused they've ever been. She hoped that Harry would wake up in a few hours, and they'd talk about if he saw anything helpful.

She didn't think she'd spend the day living out her worst nightmare.

At first it wasn't so bad. He started to gasp a little, his eyes moving fast under his eyelids.

She figured there were a number of unpleasant things he'd have to sort through. She didn't envy him. She ran her fingers through his thick hair.

And he seemed to settle a little.

She had gotten towards the end of her book when she noticed that his eyes had stopped moving underneath his eyelids, that he looked rather pale.

She touched his cheek and it was surprisingly cool.

Closing her book, she leaned over him, listened to his breathing, touched the pulse in his neck.

It was all weak. She'd never seen him so pale.

She shakes him. Sends an Rennervate, which does nothing, she knows that it won't. There is no spell to wake him from this potion, he just has to get through it.

But what does that even mean? What if the horcrux is a wall, makes it impossible for him to traverse through himself, and he simply dies from it?

What if she finishes Dumbledore and Voldmort's aims before they even dreamt they could?

I have always been an overachiever.

The thought is venom, acid, burning through her mind as she slides to the floor next to the sofa.

His breathing becomes fainter and fainter, his pulse weaker and weaker.

She can only stare in horror. She did this. This is all her fault. She will never forgive herself.

She slaps his chest, wails in a way that frightens her, she's never made that noise before.

She remembers herself, starts to push down on his chest, breathes into his mouth for him. His breathing remains weak, almost nothing, his pulse is so slow as to throw her into panic in between each soft thump.

She tries again, again. Eventually she lies her head down and in the same voice she wailed in before, screams, "Harry? Harry? Please. Please."

There is a beat, a slight pause, and then he sucks in a gulp of air.

She sobs in relief, watches his chest rise and fall evenly, holds her fingers to his throat to feel the steady beat. Underneath his eyelids his eyes move and move.

She doesn't read or do anything else, she sits on the floor by the sofa and holds one hand to his chest and the other to his throat, and watches his face.

And what faces he makes.

Resignation lines his brow for a while, but then it shifts into something softer, then too soft, so that it looks fragile. And then he's crying, keening sounds, half sobs, tears slides down and down his face. She takes a tissue and wipes them away.

And then, after a little while, he looks happy. First a soft grin, then a full one, genuine and wide, and it would be nice, wonderful even, if it wasn't odd with his eyes closed, if Hermione couldn't remember distinctly her anguish at his fading breath, his dying pulse, the residue of it still circulating in her veins, the fear of it's renewal stinging in her throat.

Her legs went numb awhile ago. She thinks he looks content. She swears his eyes almost open, he looks like he's about to say something, she sits up straighter, a smile at the corners of her mouth.

And then he gasps, a sound of surprise, of pain. His face shifts, he's grimacing, his neck is tense, the sinew straining, but then he relaxes a little, though the grimace doesn't leave.

It doesn't leave the whole time, even as his breathing becomes shallower, even as his heartbeat weakens.

"No. No. Please." She whispers it into his ear, but nothing changes.

She looks into her bag, pulls out a medical text, looks at spells to help breathing, to keep the heart beating. She tries them. Nothing happens.

He keeps his grimace, though he pales further.

Eventually the grimace falls, leaving behind a soft sadness, and the softness of it somehow makes it worse, makes it fit onto his face smoothly, so that's all that's there.

Complete sadness.

She lightly touches the outline of his face, feather touches along his eyebrows, down his nose. His breath is almost entirely gone.

She feels ancient, timeless. Many people have sat here before her, watching in devastation as someone slips away and they can't do anything about it. But this is her first time, and she doesn't know all of the feelings that are rising in her. They push up through her, out of her skin, bigger than her, a cloud around her. She isn't crying. She finds herself humming, presses her forehead to his.

There is one last puff of air out. She waits for another but it doesn't come. She realises she is humming the opening melody to Mozart's Requiem. She used to think it dramatic, would roll her eyes when her dad would put in the tape of it as they were driving wherever.

But now it doesn't seem dramatic enough, because Harry is still and empty below her.

She doesn't understand why the world isn't ending.

Seconds keep slipping away.

"Please." She doesn't recognise her own voice, doesn't want to hear such a broken thing ever again.

And then there's a deep gasp, horrible sounding, ragged, something out of a horror film, a ghost with a widening black maw standing in a mirror.

She sits up. It's Harry. He does it again, followed by a longer, deeper breath, less painful sounding.

It's the best thing she's ever heard.

She puts shaking fingers back onto his neck. His pulse is racing.

She can only watch as Harry sits up, shaky and wincing. He leans against the arm of the sofa and blinks in the dim light of the room. She hadn't noticed that night had fallen and now there's only faint light coming from the low fire behind him.

"Am I dead?" He doesn't look all together here.

She laughs, a bright sound of disbelief. "No. You're here with me."

He looks down at himself, glances around the room with a frown. "Are you dating Ron?"

"What? No."

He's staring at her with suspicion. "And I'm not dead?"

"Not. Not anymore. You were, for a while, I think." Her voice wavers.

He moves his hand out, slowly, very slowly, to hers. His touch is feather light at first, and then he snatches her hand up quickly, as though it will fade away.

"This is the real world then, right? The one with Tom Riddle, and Ron's gone off in a huff, and we kiss now, right?"

She scoots closer, watching his face closely. He keeps blinking at her, then around the room, then down at her hands.

And she doesn't care, it doesn't matter if he's mental now, or anything else, because he's breathing air right in front of her. His eyes are open, his pulse is still racing.

He's alive.

"I love you." She's so relieved she feels light as a feather herself, that everything else is just noise now, and all the important things are here, and she can move weightlessly through the world.

His gaze stills now, looking her in the eye. And then he makes a face she's never seen before, half of grief and pain, half of wonder. When he pulls her forward into a hug, she thinks he might be crying, but after a second, she realises he's laughing. He's laughing loud and clear, not hysterically, not calmly either. Just joy.

And when he pulls back to look at her, every line and panel of his face is lit up with it.

He stands, pulls her up too, pulls her into his arms, and holds her. He leans back, kisses her on the lips, on her forehead, her cheeks, her ears, her neck, where he rests his face and just seems to breathe deeply.

She holds him, her hands not able to rest, rubbing his back, fisting the sides of his shirt, squeezing lightly at the back of his neck.

He continues to breathe against her, and it's the best thing in the world.

Sometime later, he pulls back a little, just staring down at her, all unashamed and soppy.

"What happened?"

For a second his face darkens, but then he seems to shrug it away. "A load of nonsense, really. The main thing to take away though is that it's gone. The horcrux is gone."

No part of her believes that what he went through was a load of nonsense, but she couldn't think of a better distraction than that.

"Gone? What do you mean, gone?"

He pulls away, reaches down for the locket, and then pushes it right up against his scar.

He's still grinning, no pain as the locket bounces lightly off of his forehead. There is no magnetic pull. She leans closer and sees that this scar is lighter, pinker, than it used to be.

She knew he hated it, but it was always sort of eye catching, the jaggedness of it, something angry about it, swelling still, even after all these years, not quite fresh, but not healed over either.

And now it's almost nothing, barely even raised, barely even pink, fading into white on the edges. Just like a sixteen year old scar should be.

"Oh my god." She starts laughing too, pulling him closer, so they are shaking together, in each other's arms, and she touches his face, and they kiss for a while, for a long time, maybe forever.


Ron's staring at Harry's scar.

There are a lot of things that they still need to talk about, but for now, Ron is standing in the sitting room, looking down closely at Harry's scar. Harry is looking back up at him, kind of annoyed, kind of amused.

"So. Just a regular scar now?" It's the first thing he's said to either of them since he has gotten here.

Hermione sent a patronus with instructions coded in a message for Ron to come to a meeting point. They hid under the invisibility cloak until he showed. They stayed hidden until he answered some questions confirming if it was really him. And then they brought him here.

At first Hermione sat down, but then Ron didn't, and so Harry didn't, and now they are standing, and Ron's noticed the scar, right away.

"Yes, I scraped him out like an old wad of gum."

"That easy, huh?" Ron's face is still hard to read.

Harry shrugs, grinning. "Yeah, it wasn't much."

He's been like that, these last week, he smiles easier, real smiles, and laughs more, and doesn't seem bothered by small setbacks.

He's just lighter, now.

"You nearly died twice. You did actually die once." Her voice is exasperated and fond, like she's come into the common room to find them frantically writing essays she finished weeks ago.

He takes a step back from Ron, smiles at her over his shoulder. "But look, still alive." He puts his hands up and shakes them, as though he's making some sort of point.

She rolls her eyes.

"And you two are dating now?"

Harry doesn't stop grinning, but it does change shape, and sits more softly on his face. "Yeah."

Hermione nods, watching Ron carefully.

Ron groans and lies back on the sofa like a tree being felled. He covers his face with his hands for a beat or two, then lets his arms fall to the side rather dramatically.

"I'm an idiot."

Hermione makes a noise to disagree, but Harry snorts loudly over it. "Yeah, you are."

Ron glares at him but Harry just flops next to him on the sofa, sitting in the middle, so that he's looking down at Ron's disgruntled face. "But you're also a lot of other stuff, too."

Ron considers, then nods, and sighing, looks up at the ceiling. "I want to help. You know, to make up for being an arse. Again."

"So help. We still need to get the cup, the diadem and Nagini and destroy them. Not to mention, you know, the man himself."

Ron squints at him. "Diadem?"

Harry nods, "Yeah, when I was kicking out the slimy git's bit of soul, I saw the others. We knew about the Cup, but I saw that it's in the Lestrange's vault in Gringotts, or I guess I saw their crest and looked it up and put two and two together, the crown thing I saw is apparently Ravenclaw's Diadem, which is in the Room of Requirements, and of we know Nagini is always with him, so that should be fun."

Ron looks a little paler. "Right. Okay, so we'll, what? Break into Gringotts, break into Hogwarts, which, by the way, is being run by Snape now-"

"What?" Both Harry and Hermione stand up.

"I know. The world, it's, it's gone rather bonkers, to say the least, while you two have been in here dealing with souls. They're looking for you, you know? My parents hid me when the Ministry came to look for me, showing them the ghoul instead. I still can't believe that worked, those idiots. But there are posters of you everywhere, Harry, Dad showed me some."

Harry looks at her, and they share a frown, and she understands that he feels the same, that they have been rather preoccupied, and they didn't know either, not really, how fast things moved.

"Oh." It comes out sad, and Ron nods like she's said something profound.

"Oh is right." He shakes his head. "Alright. Gringotts, Hogwarts, and then the snake and the man himself. Easy peasy."

Ron sits up straight, and nods to himself, and then very seriously looks from Harry to Hermione.

"I want to actually apologise, first. So, I'm really sorry for storming off like that. I just felt, I don't know, useless and confused about Hermione." He glances up at her, his ears turning red. "I felt stupid the moment I went home. I wasn't useful there either, just kind of in the way, as my parents wouldn't let me go out at all, being a target myself. I just kept thinking about how maybe I wouldn't be as useful as either of you, but at least I could be doing something if I'd just stop to think for two second and, I don't know, grow up." He looks rather disgusted with himself, and while Hermione forgave him a while ago, whatever remaining anger that's left slips away, vapor over water.

"Oh Ron." She stands and moves over next to him, taking his arm.

Harry sits down next to him, on the other side, and puts his hand on his other shoulder. "I'm glad you worked it out, mate. No reason to hate yourself. And now we can get through this like we always have, like a team."

Ron grins at them both, before moving his arms wide and pulling them both close to his lanky frame. "I'll do whatever I can. It's going to be a lot more satisfying now that we know you don't have to go too. And I can also chaperone."

"Chaperone?" Hermione pulls back, away from him, surprised almost, at how nice it feels to make up.

Harry tries to pull back too, but Ron's arm locks down instead, so that Harry's face is squished into his armpit.

"Yeah, can't you two lovebirds get out of hand, go around being disgusting all the time, making kissy faces." Harry says something, and though it's heavily muffled, she can still tell it isn't something nice, and he starts pushing harder at Ron's side. Hermione can feel her cheeks getting hotter.

Ron's grin takes on a familiar edge to it. "Plus, we can't have you two running about, making little wizards and witches at a time like this."

"Ronald Weasley." She gasps, feels ridiculous, like she's a character in a Victorian novel, scandalised. Somehow he always brings that out in her.

Harry yells something that she's fairly certain involves a lot of swear words, before he makes a fist and pulls back, jabbing it sharply into Ron's ribs, who yells and shoves him back. Harry's face is bright red, his glasses skewed.

Ron's rubbing at his side, grimacing. "It's not right that such a scrawny specky git can pack such a punch."

"I'll show you a punch." Harry lunges forward but Ron flies backward with the hardened reflexes of an annoying youngest brother.

And they all squabble for a while, and Hermione feels like maybe none of them have stopped being eleven.

Harry goes to the loo, eventually, and Hermione stands to ask Kreacher about dinner. But Ron put's his arm out, wordlessly stopping her from leaving the room, frowns down at her. He speaks in a low tone. "He seems happy."

"He does, doesn't he?"

"But you said he almost died twice, getting the soul out?" He looks concerned. "I didn't want to bring the mood down by asking, but what happened?"

She almost forgot how nice it was, to have someone to share her Harry related worries with.

"He won't tell me. I really thought - I really thought that he was dead, for a minute there, and all I could do was sit and watch." Her voice wavers, and Ron puts a hand on her shoulder. "It was really, really -" The words won't seem to come out.

"I'm sorry I wasn't there." Ron's voice is soft.

She considers him. It would have been nice, better, to have someone there, she thinks, so that she wouldn't know, in her heart of hearts, what true, pure, loneliness is. But it's too late for that now.

"I'll do better." He says it with a quiet kind of certainty in his voice. And she believes him.

She nods, looking into the middle distance. "He won't tell me what he saw, what happened. He just says that it's not important anymore. And you know, I haven't wanted to push it either, because he does seem happier. Just - I know don't - lighter, somehow."

"We'll keep an eye on him, just like we always do."

They share a look of determination, just as Harry comes out of the bathroom. He glances at their serious faces, and it's like he knows exactly what they were talking about. His face stiffens, and then he kind of shrugs to himself, and clapping his hands together, asks, "So, what's for dinner?"

She knows it will come up again, one way or another, but for now, she just gives him a small smile and asks for Kreacher.

Sometimes it's best to move on.