The hunt for the remaining Horcruxes went something like this for one Mr Ron Billius Weasley.
"Hey Ron, do you mind looking through these notes from Bill about Gringotts?"
"Hey, would you mind double checking the potion ingredients, just to make sure that we have everything for the Polyjuice? Yes, of course I've already checked, but I just want a different eye to look it over."
"Ron, do you think that book is in the library? Do you mind looking for me?"
He would usually look at Hermione very suspiciously if he had heard those questions from her at any other part of their friendship. The Hermione he knew wouldn't ever have asked him to do those things. But the Hermione he knew wasn't sucking face with Harry whenever there' a spare moment.
They're relentless. He feels sorry, deeply, for everyone in the Gryffindor common room for his and Lavender behavior, 6th year. He understands now. He repents, but yet, there they are. Grinning at each other. Harry winks at her from across the room sometimes, nauseating.
He thinks they might be worse than he and Lavender were, really. Because at least they were just overly enthusiastic in exploring the number of ways they could stick their tongues in each other's faces. Harry and Hermione, outside of the smallest of pecks, actually don't kiss in front of him.
She doesn't sit in his lap, he doesn't pull her close all the time. They hold hands a lot, but not in a very showy kind of way. They don't make cooing sounds and call each other babe all the time. In a lot of ways it's all just the same, Hermione rolling her eyes to the ceiling, silently pleading for patience as he and Harry snort over how a potion has to use both shagbark and cuckhold herb.
What it really is, is how they look at each other. Their eyes met across the room, little grins come to their faces, and they just seem...lighter, happier, somehow. Less giddy, less a childish fit of passion, the way two teenagers should be looking, but steadier. Surer. Like time is spreading out before them, and they can stroll together, take anything as it comes. After all, the war is still raging on and nothing at all is guaranteed.
But certain, necessary, immediate death is no longer guaranteed. And for them, and for Ron too, in a different way, it means the difference between a clock ticking down the time and the possibility of anything. Harry doesn't have to die. And now anything is possible, his life, though still steeped in danger, no longer must end there.
The unknown tastes like eternity, smooth and sweet, and they smile it to each other across the room.
So yeah, slightly more personal than some tonsil tennis.
Eventually, they no longer have to make up excuses for him to leave. He just understands that when the looks linger, just go do something else for a bit.
And as the months wear on and the plan to work with a Goblin of Bill's acquaintance starts taking a terrifying shape, he considers himself a pro at reading the room and finding some sort of solitary activity.
One time though he realises that he left his wand in the other room. He doesn't want to leave it there for a couple of reasons. One, it just isn't wise to be anywhere without your wand and two, there is a book about Gringotts' traps up on a high shelf and frankly he doesn't want to drag the ladder from the clear other side of the room over to it. So.
He sighs, braces himself as he rounds the corner, prepared to cough loudly and grimace his way through the image of his two friends pulling apart like two wet plungers.
But just as he takes in a deep breath to cough, he pauses and looks. They are just standing by the fireplace, leaning against the mantelpiece. Hermione is laughing lightly at something, Harry has the very tips of her hair in his fingers, and he's slowly, absently, wrapping one finger with it. He leans forward and lightly kisses her forehead as she's saying something, and she pauses, and Harry shrugs, and they continue talking, smiling all the while.
Oh. Alright then. But I want to be the best man at the wedding, and at least one of their children will have to have the middle name Billius. Can you be godfather to more than one child? Or are they supposed to be different godparents for each, I've never been very clear on that.
Ron clears his throat. Harry and Hermione start a little, clearly being pulled from their own little world.
"Sorry. Forgot my wand."
Harry frowns at him, but Hermione just sighs and steps away. "We should really get back on topic anyway, thanks Ron."
"Yeah. Thanks Ron." Harry's tone is rather different to hers as they turn towards the library.
They work with Griphook, who is looking for the sword of Gryffindor that Bellatrix is rumored to have stored in her vault. He doesn't trust them, is a touch bitter about the Ministry's increasing harshness towards Goblins. He knows that they aren't all the same, that they aren't all on the same side, but he doesn't seem to fully believe it on some level. And so when the sword is a fake, he leaves them there to rot.
But they don't rot. Instead they are gasping for air by a lake as they watch a pale and scarred dragon fly away.
Shivering in the early winter air, they eventually gain their breath, dry their clothes. Harry places the cup next to the locket and they start to hum, a dissonant sort of sound that grates and puts everyone on edge and is also, terribly, terribly sad at the same time. Harry stuffs them into the pouch Hagrid gave to him.
Harry sighs, a puff of air spiraling out in front of him. "Would you both like to know what happened when I took the potion?"
They both nod, and Ron tries to glance at Hermione, but she's staring too intentionally at Harry. They both take a second to put heating charms on themselves, looking at their friend as he stares across the lake.
"I saw a bunch of stuff- It's not important. I mean it is, or it was, but it's not anymore. That's really what I learned. All of my past brought me here, to now, and it mattered, and doesn't have to stop being important, but it's about, I don't know how to explain, it's about moving through it. That's already all happened, and it's about getting through it and moving on, and - and I don't know, giving a shit about what's my life now, I suppose. Because when I got stuck, I almost died, that first time that I almost died while looking for Voldemort's soul. I needed to talk to Dumbledore, but I didn't want to. But I had to. It was- it was all rather difficult. It didn't seem to matter how much it was in my own head, that I knew it wasn't really real. It was real enough, it was one of- that whole thing was one of the hardest- What I'm saying is that it took real courage to get through, almost more than I had. And You-Know-Who is a coward. I mean, really, a just tremendous coward.
"The Horcruxes are all loops- the things you don't want to face, memories you don't want to understand. So I had to destroy his too, because he never will. And while I was doing it, I saw hell. Or if it wasn't hell, then hell should be replaced with what I saw." He pauses, swallows, the lingering shadow that sometimes layers his otherwise lighter face passes over him, but it slides away, and he just looks contemplative, somber, across the lake. He shakes his head and looks at them instead. "And hell is a deep cold, not just nothing, but the opposite of being, of - of connection. And he did it to himself. He tore apart his own soul so that he can't move on, so that they can't leave, but they can't just be either. It's really, really horrifying. I would die a thousand times, over and over, have everyone on earth die with their soul intact then have them have that be their future. And so." He pulls the pouch away from himself, a little, frowning down at it. "And so - I guess. I just wanted you two to understand what it means. What it means when we kill these things. And we have to. But it's really - It's really horrifying. I wish. I don't know. He killed my parents. I watched him kill my parents over and over again, his own memory-"
Horrified sounds leave him, and he hears it echoed from Hermione, she moves towards Harry, but he just waves his hands in front of him, almost impatient. "Wait. That's not. I just need to get this out. I watched him kill them, and I killed him, at least once, just out of pure fury. He's a monster and a coward. I just wish he hadn't done this to himself. I wish he could fix it somehow. Because I just can't wish this on anyone. I kind of hope that they soul pieces sort of just float around and eventually find each other, so he can go to regular hell, or whatever happens to people like him."
He's looking at them with a pleading sort of expression. "I've just been carrying it around. I wanted to explain, at least a little, what this idiot has done to himself. Everything else makes sense, everything else just feels better, everything feels so much better now. But this is just a sad ugliness. And that arrogant coward doesn't even know, doesn't understand what he's done. And he won't, not until it's too late. If he understood even just a little, if he regretted it at all- But- that's just not in him anymore."
He stands, and they do too. He tucks the pouch back unto his shirt. "What I'm really getting at is that we should finish this quickly and be done with the evil bastard."
He knows what Harry just said was important. He knows it in his bones. But he doesn't really understand. And he's not sure if he wants to. He's sad that Harry does. And though Harry seems bothered by it, he's pretty okay with You-Know-Who finding out.
They apparate into Hogsmeade, they get pulled quickly into Hog's Head Inn, they talk with Dumbledore's brother. It's all moving very fast, and Hermione is frightened of what might happen next, but some part of her mind is still on Harry, his pleading expression, the lake shimmering behind him.
It doesn't really make sense to her. She knows Harry is a good person, one of the best people in this whole world probably, though she knows she's a little biased. There is a line though, between being a good person and being so understanding, so sweet, that it all becomes meaningless. A person who says that they wish Voldemort would turn over a new leaf would be, in Hermione's opinion, an idiot. Past nice into not understanding the gravity of situations, past kind into a strange kind of cruelty, that they wouldn't also be angry at what he's done and who he is and what he stands for. It would seem empty and shallow.
That wasn't what that was. That wasn't Harry trying his hardest to be saint-like. He isn't some simpering sheltered idiot who doesn't understand. No one understands better than him.
But that doesn't change what she saw, there.
Harry Potter genuinely pitties Voldemort. He knows that he has to be stopped, he plans to stop him. He knows he's evil. She's still reeling at the idea that he witnessed his parents getting murdered, not just once but over and over again.
And it just doesn't make sense to her, how he has that in him for such a person.
She knows it does to him. He was saying something important, she knows that in her bones. She wants to understand, she doesn't want to leave him there by himself, that knowledge alone on his shoulders. But right now, she doesn't understand. She wants to, very much.
They go through a painting. And for the first time since Harry's spoken by the lake, she's pulled away from her thoughts on it.
Because they're there, all her friends. Most of them. They're standing in a group, Neville is saying something emphatically when he turns to look at them and his face pales.
The rest turn to look as well. Pandemonium ensues. She doesn't think she's hugged so many people in her life. Eventually the noise dies down, and they are all looking at them. Or more specifically, Harry.
And Harry looks uncomfortable, puts his hand on the back of his neck. But then he shakes his head and scoffs a little to himself. He shoulders square, and he's looking at everyone, taking turns looking at them in the eye. "Right. So. You-Know-Who cut his soul up into little pieces and placed them here and there. He can't die until they are all gone. We've got two in here." He taps the pouch hanging from his neck. "There is one in this very room, actually, then there is one in a snake that he always has with him, and then himself, of course. There were a couple of other ones, but they're already gone. So, what I'm thinking is that we get this room changed around and you all can help me find Ravenclaw's diadem, then we're going to think about how to destroy these. But we should have some people getting all the teachers, whoever needs to know, ready, because I have a feeling that he's going to know pretty soon what's happening and Hogwarts needs to get ready for whenever he shows up here."
Seamus starts tentatively raising his hand in the middle of the crowd, then seems to shake his head at himself and takes a different approach. "Oi. Does that mean that he can feel when the soul bits are being killed? How does he know?"
Harry sighs. "I think he kind of knows, but not really. No, the clue will be that we broke into the vault in Gringotts where one of them was hidden and then escaped on the back of a dragon."
"What?" Lavender sways where she's standing.
"Yeah, we exploded out through the roof, it was mad." Ron looks a little amazed, like he hadn't just done it a few hours ago, himself.
Neville shakes his head, puts his hands to his face. "What - Why - You three are always so. That's a story. Completely barking." Then he stops, takes a breath. "Alright, you heard them. Harry, if you'd think about what room it's in?"
It doesn't take long. Hermione doesn't feel like she's even had a breath. She woke up this morning, had eggs and toast, robbed a bank, and now, in the same day, here she is, holding the Diadem that Ginny found and handed over like she was passing a rotting corpse of a rat.
The group resembles. Luna asks, almost absently, "So. How do we destroy these?"
Harry's mouth falls open. There's silence.
"You don't know how to destroy them?" Seamus is incredulous.
"We hadn't gotten to that part yet!" Ron's scratching at the back of his head.
Hermione takes a deep breath. "Yes. I mean, kind of. I've been practising a little. A lot, just the canceling charm, of course, so I don't really know if I can do it. But I figured I should at least try. I mean, we have no idea what else to do."
Everyone's staring at her now. Ron and Harry the most, Harry starts shaking his head, aghast at this thought she's been keeping to herself, lost at what it might mean.
The whole room gasps, and for a second Hermione feels like she's doing a very dramatic play.
"It's the only thing we know will work-"
"Hermione, that could burn down the whole castle-"
"That's dark magic, that is, you really have to know how to concentrate-"
"What on earth is FiendFyre-"
"Just listen, there's a charm to -"
"I don't think that it's worth killing everyone in the castle to get rid of some of his soul, I mean-"
"Please just listen, there is a charm to-"
"Hey, if it really starts going, maybe we could just throw the bastard and his snake in the bonfire too-"
"LISTEN TO ME. NOW." Hermione's never tried for a shouting sort of authoritative voice before. It doesn't quite work, a bit more screechy than she was hoping for. It does the job though.
"As I was saying. I think that everyone should move on to part B of this plan and get the forces rallied. I'm going to ask the room for the safest place possible to try this spell, give it a go, and hopefully destroy these. There's a charm to cease the fire that I've been practising. So. That's what's going to happen. If that fails, everyone leaves this room immediately. The room itself should shut it down before it can spread further. Clear?"
There's a pause, solemn nods. The rest of the group wishes her luck and then gather around the gold coins she made for the DA and by the painting they came through.
Hermione concentrates, and a small stone door appears in the wall. Harry stands next to her. "I'll go with you."
Ron stands behind him, nodding. She feels a swell of affection, but shakes her head.
"Why would you do that? You can't help with the spell."
"But maybe we can help you get out of the room."
"Look, I'm not really asking. You go, I go." Harry has a stubborn set to his eyebrows.
She really doesn't want to try alone, but - "I can't risk it."
"I'll just sneak in, anyway, you know I'm coming with."
"I'll lock the door behind me."
"That would be incredibly stupid."
"So don't make me do that then."
Harry's scowling now. She leans closer, whispers in his ear. "It's my turn now."
He clutches at her elbows. "I don't like it."
"I never did either. It'll be fine, Harry. Just let me try."
His scowl changes shape, looks more inward. He pulls out the cup and the locket and hands them to her, slowly, reluctantly. "Maybe I can think of something else."
"We don't have time."
Ron scoops her up in a hug, mutters in her ear. "Neither of us would be letting this happen at all if we both didn't know you're the best witch either of us has ever met, you know?"
Hermione pulls back, smiles up at him. "Neither of you let me do anything, to be clear."
Harry is silent, his scowl now muted, flattened into a grimace. He walks with her to the stone door. "If you don't come out, I'm going to go in there."
She reaches up, touches his check. "Don't be stupid."
He shrugs, "You know I can't help myself."
"I'll be fine." She sounds almost confident, even to herself.
"I know." He leans down, kisses her lightly. There's a gasp somewhere behind them that sounds a lot like Lavender.
She grins up at him before turning towards the door.
On the other side is just a large stone room. But there is a heavy sort of magic encasing every stone. She touches the wall, feels something, almost tangible, but not quite. The room must be very fortified. She places the Horcruxes down carefully.
She takes a deep breath and says the spell clearly.
Out bursts a life, a fire, rage and power, certainty, one purpose, clear and true, to consume, to destroy, to eat everything in its path. She has almost never felt something with one whole heart before the way this fire has. It's uncomplicatedness is almost beautiful, somehow entrancing, and some part of her wants to succumb to it, the same way some part of her wants to walk into storms she sees coming the distance. Next to it, she is nothing.
But she has felt something with her whole heart before, something stronger than this fire, and she holds on to it, even as her heart beats with the desire for destruction, guided by the perfect intentions of this living creature she just pulled forward.
It struggles for a minute, it wants to turn into a horse, into an eagle, but it doesn't, and she holds and holds, and eventually it shifts and settles, and in front of her is a huge flaming sword. She laughs, something primal, complete, and she swings her arm down, and the sword follows, and slices through the Horcruxes with ease. They bellow and shriek, the sound terrible. The door bursts open behind her, and she glances back to Harry's terrified face, sees how he looks amazed, transfixed, by the swords burning in front of her, the burnt empty carcasses of perverted valuable historical artifacts on the floor.
Hermione turns forward, concentrates, and the fire burns out, ceases, it's not even too hard, as the spell never got away from her to begin with.
The room is hot with gone flames. There is a strange metallic smell in the air.
Harry steps into the room, grin spreading wider and wider, "Massive-Firey-Sword-Woman."
Hermione smiles back, "That's right." She flips her hair over her shoulder.
A/N: Alright. I brushed right over a lot of stuff. Just a ton of stuff that I didn't really care to get into. Luna hasn't been kidnapped yet, and Griphook hasn't either, so I just did some hand-waving. It kind of happened like canon? Don't think too much on it, but if anything is genuinely confusing you in a, I don't understand what happened, kind of way, and not in a, hey, that's a plot hole, because if they did that now, then the other thing couldn't have happened until later because in the books, etc., kind of way, please do let me know! One more chapter, btw!