a Harry Potter fanfiction by Dejana Talis
-not to be used without permission-
This was written before "Deathly Hallows" was released.
It was midnight. A full moon shone down on a landscape cast in quicksilver, the trees looming eerily in a monochrome of pale light and inky shadow. It was July 31st, and it was Harry's birthday.
This was sure to be the bleakest birthday Harry had ever had, even over all the years he'd spent with the Dursleys. There could be no parties this year, no presents. It was unlikely his friends would even mention the occasion, under the circumstances. This was not the time for celebration and far from the place.
Harry shivered slightly and pulled his cloak more tightly around his shoulders. Even before he was a wizard, he never would've imagined a birthday as empty as this. He'd thought it couldn't possibly be worse than lying on the floor on some God-forsaken rock, starving and freezing and drawing eleven candles in the dirt. Now he was seventeen, and he was camped out in an unfamiliar country on his way to face an unspeakable evil.
He had to chuckle under his breath at the irony of it all. Six years ago tonight, Hagrid had broken down his door and made - so he thought - all his wildest dreams come true. He'd never imagined the magical world he was going to might be worse than life with the Dursleys. Thinking back on that wide-eyed, unsuspecting boy - so smug at being better than his hated relatives, so excited to be going off to a wizard school - Harry wanted to shake some sense into him.
From across the flickering campfire, Hermione was watching him with a touch of worry. When Harry caught her eye she looked about to question him, but he stopped her with a slight shake of his head. Hermione could be worse than their old professors when it came to interrogation, and if he started talking, it was bound to turn into another babble of thanks. It had gotten to the point where it didn't even mean anything anymore, where Hermione would only roll her eyes and shake her head at him.
Harry was incredibly grateful to have Hermione with him, whether she let him say so or not. With Voldemort watching everywhere for any display of magic, the little party had to rely on Muggle skills to travel undetected. Harry could start a fire well enough with a bundle of matches, but if Hermione hadn't been there to tell them which mushrooms were safe to eat, he didn't know what they would have done.
It was funny now to think back on their first year at Hogwarts and how annoyed he and Ron had been by Hermione's bossy, know-it-all behavior. The same brains that had irritated them so much at first had saved their lives many times. It had been a rather close call; if circumstances had been different, Hermione might never have become their friend and wouldn't be sitting here right now, accompanying them on this journey...
Suddenly, that thought brought an icy nausea to Harry's stomach.
Ron stirred at the sound of his voice, and Harry sucked in his breath. The last thing they needed was for Ron to wake up screaming again. Hermione gently laid her hand on the flash of red hair lying in her lap, and in a moment Ron was back to sleeping soundly. Harry hoped he was dreaming of better times for once.
They were all so different now from whom they once had been. Ron had always been much braver than he'd let on, but that summer he'd paid dearly for it. Nothing Harry or Hermione said would persuade him to go home, even when the flashbacks had him kicking at bushes and hiding from trees. These days he couldn't sleep if Hermione was separated from him. At least they had each other. Harry wondered what Ginny was doing now... but couldn't spare a moment for that thought, as Hermione was waiting for him to continue.
"I'm sorry," he said.
Whatever Hermione had been expecting to hear, an apology was clearly last on the list. Her eyes narrowed in confusion and she opened her mouth to speak, but Harry held up a hand and rushed on.
"I'm sorry I got you into this."
"Harry, we've discussed this-"
"That's not what I mean!"
Harry's voice was rising. Ron made a small sound; Hermione's hand stilled on his hair, and she shot Harry a warning look.
"This wasn't your fight, it never was," Harry continued more quietly. "Ron and I were mates from the beginning, but all you ever wanted was to follow the rules and get good marks. We got you into it, every time, and now we - I - got you into this. This wasn't your fight, and now you're off to... to..."
Harry had avoided this line of thought ever since they decided to leave Hogwarts, had avoided that word at all costs, as if refusing to think it made them invincible. Now that the thought was there, it hit him relentlessly, refusing to be pushed aside. They were inexperienced wizards, barely old enough to Apparate, and they were seeking an evil more powerful than any sorcerer alive. It was foolish to think they were going to anything but their deaths. Just that summer, Ron had faced more horrors at seventeen than any man should have to face in his entire lifetime. And it was Harry's fault. They were his best friends, and he was taking them to their deaths.
The image of Hermione's cold grey face, frozen by the basilisk all those years ago, surfaced in his memory. A narrow escape then and nothing compared to what they were going to now. Even if Harry survived, what would the Weasleys say, and the Grangers, when he brought back the lifeless bodies of their children-
"I'm a Gryffindor."
Harry blinked. The image of Hermione's dead, empty face swimming before his eyes filled with new warmth and life, became the living, breathing girl - woman - seated across from him, her cheeks rosy in the firelight.
"I had the brains for Ravenclaw, but the Sorting Hat chose me for Gryffindor," said Hermione. "'Brave at heart,' remember? It knew I had more in me than facts and figures, Harry. It knew I had this in me."
The familiar sentiment rose up within Harry again, no less true for all the times he said it.
"I'm glad to have you with me, Hermione."
"You can stop saying that anytime," she replied crossly. "This isn't only your fight anymore."
Harry didn't respond to that. His mind was on the Sorting Hat. For someone who put no stock in Divination, Hermione's words sounded rather supportive of destiny. Had all this really been meant to happen? Had they been meant for this end from the very beginning? Because of a prophecy, Voldemort had destroyed Harry's life, and because he was a wizard, it was likely to come to an early end. Were his friends controlled by the same invisible strings?
"It's not fair, is it?" he said, a half-smile twisting his lips. "Here we are, trying to do what our betters can't. We didn't start this mess, but we're the ones stuck sorting it out."
"There's no one else to do it," said Hermione bluntly. She picked up a twig and tossed it into the fire. Her gaze focused on the flickering flames, and Harry could no longer meet her eyes. Hermione was certainly unusual. She looked at the facts and left it at that, never hesitating, never leaving room for doubt. As a Muggle, with a mind like hers she could have gone on to do anything she liked. Didn't she ever think about that?
"Do you ever regret it?" asked Harry quietly. Do you ever regret being my friend?
She looked up at him with a face he knew well; fiercely serious, but without a trace of superiority. It was a face that found answers and saved lives, a face that had always jogged Harry and Ron out of any uncertainty.
"Not for a minute." The sharp expression softened. "Harry, you know better. You'd be the first to tell me all I've ever wanted was to be best at everything. I'll be part of the team that finally defeats Voldemort once and for all. I'll be in the history books forever. What could be better than that?"
Harry had to chuckle at that, a genuine laugh without a trace of sarcasm - how long had it been since he last laughed? It was true; Hermione was likely to get her own page in the next edition of her precious Hogwarts, A History.
"It's the same for Ron," Hermione went on. She looked down at the lanky Weasley, still fast asleep with his head in her lap. "His mirror fantasy came true. Out of all his brothers, he's best of them all."
Harry didn't ask when Ron had told her what he had seen in the Mirror of Erised during their first year at Hogwarts, before they were friends. There was very little anymore that Hermione didn't know about Ron. Harry looked away as she leaned down to press her forehead against Ron's, her fingers finding his beneath the blanket. Only when Ron was asleep would Hermione treat him so tenderly. During the day it was business as usual between them, bickering and name-calling and teasing... no matter how badly Hermione wanted to do otherwise. Anything to help Ron feel more normal.
If Ron never fully recovered, Harry would never forgive himself. Maybe this really was what they wanted, but they deserved more, so much more. Anyone who faced death for a friend deserved nothing less in return.
Harry lay down and pulled his cloak and blanket around him, trying to get comfortable on the rough ground. He felt cold, even when he shuffled closer to the fire, and he missed Ginny so much his chest ached. It was for the best, of course. He couldn't let anything distract him from what he was about to do. He trusted Ron and Hermione to have his back, but when it came down to it, their love for each other was a weakness Voldemort could use against them. It was best if Harry had nothing to lose.
He was glad to have his friends along, but in the end, Harry was sure he'd have to face Voldemort alone. It had always been that way, all the way back to a baby crying in the looming shadow of the Dark Lord. This time, however, things would be different. This time, Harry would be far from helpless. This time, none of his loved ones would die. This time... he had no special protection. No mother, no phoenix, no Army, no Dumbledore. There was no one left to rely on but himself.
Professor Dumbledore had once told him death was like going to sleep after a long day.
It had been a very long day indeed.
Harry Potter and its associated characters and canon are the property of J.K. Rowling.