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Quiet Corner

Disclaimer: This is just some fanfiction fun with characters from JK Rowling's universe.

"Follow Me Home"

steaming mug

Hermione was at the bottom of the ocean. Everything felt heavy, black, endless. Consciousness slowly curled tendrils towards her, bringing with it the first inklings of pain and memory. She ignored them at first. The nothingness was peaceful, a refuge. However, she felt herself being tugged to the surface of consciousness. As she broke the surface, her body took a huge, gasping breath, as if taking in air for the first time. With that breath, full awareness and the memory of the last moments slammed into her with the force of an icy wave. Harry!

 

Hermione tried to leap up to run to him, but her body would not obey. A cacophony of pain sprang to life inside her, making it difficult to move. She looked across the cavernous dungeon and saw Harry’s crumpled form, motionless on the stone floor. A shot of adrenalin flooded her veins. She was at his side in seconds. She reached for his hand and was shocked to find it ice cold. “Harry!” Her voice echoed around the chamber, but he didn’t respond. She looked for a pulse in his wrist, but couldn’t find one. Trying not to panic, she felt for it in his neck. For a moment she couldn’t breathe. After much too long, she felt a sluggish pulse and with it let out the breath she was holding. He might not be conscious, but at least his heart was still beating. She tentatively placed her hand on his chest, to reassure herself that he was breathing. The rise and fall of his chest was slow and shallow, but at least it was there. She bent close to his ear and whispered, “Harry, can you hear me? Wake up!” Harry lay limp and unresponsive, as firelight from torches on the walls danced on his pale skin in a mockery of color and movement. I won’t lose you now! she thought.

 

Hermione reached into her robes and was relieved to find her wand still there. However, the moment she touched it, she knew it wouldn’t work. The familiar faint hum of energy she always felt when she handled it was gone. She muttered, “Lumos!” just to be sure, but nothing happened. In the Final Battle, the very last spell Harry cast was the magical equivalent of an electromagnetic pulse, wiping out all magic in the immediate vicinity. The blast had finished Voldemort, but it had also knocked everyone else there completely out. Harry had warned her it might come to that, but they hadn’t had time to work out what would happen if it did. She hoped he would regain consciousness soon. She wasn’t sure what, if anything, she could do if he didn’t.

 

Content for now that Harry was at least alive and would stay that way for the next few minutes, Hermione went to check on the others. Ron wasn’t far from Harry, having been at his side every moment of the Battle. Hermione was profoundly grateful to see he wasn’t hurt too badly, but was only out cold like everyone else.

 

Hermione surveyed the scene. The dungeon was strewn with unconscious forms, some friend, some foe. Many of the DA were there, along with most of the Order. The Death Eaters took the worst of it, the majority of them dead. Unfortunately there were losses on the good side as well. Hermione only allowed herself a few tears for the fallen, and forced herself into survival mode. There were those that she could help, and she needed to keep herself together to do so.

 

She finished checking everyone else, staunching wounds when needed, using strips torn from robes. She was glad of the muggle first aid training her parents insisted she had. Unfortunately, Hermione was still the only one conscious. She wished she could have rennervated some of those who were not as badly hurt. Someone needed to send word that the Battle was over, and those with more serious wounds needed to be evacuated. She didn’t want to leave everyone there unconscious and alone, and she was hoping they would all begin to regain consciousness soon. There wasn’t much Hermione could do now but wait.

 

She walked back to Harry and knelt down next to him. Needing to touch him, she took his hand in hers, and slowly leaned over him to gently kiss his forehead. Her lips brushed his scar, and it was as if she’d unwittingly touched a portkey. Everything began to spin and became a blur. The stone floor seemed to drop away, giving Hermione the sensation of being suspended mid-air. As suddenly as it started, the spinning stopped and everything went black. She still had the unsettling feeling of nothing beneath her feet. She couldn’t see anything, and was extremely disoriented. She groped blindly for her wand, but as her fingers brushed it, she knew it was still useless. She felt panic start to grip her, but she fought it down with the only weapon she knew she had: logic.

 

Think Hermione! Four tasks immediately became clear. She needed to figure out a way to see, and where she was, if she was safe, and how to get back to Harry as quickly as possible. Hermione tried to look around in the total darkness, but it was difficult without any reference to what was up or down. In the back of her mind, Harry, light… Harry,  light… played an urgent refrain. Several more frustrating minutes dragged by as she kept trying to see, and get her bearings. Then something small and indistinct, like a little point of light, flickered into her vision. Thinking it might be just her imagination or wishful thinking, she was relieved when the object seemed to steady and stay in focus as she looked at it. She wanted to move closer to it, to see what it was. It seemed to be growing bigger. She felt a very odd sensation, as if somehow she had shifted her place in time and space, yet she knew she hadn’t walked anywhere; especially since there wasn’t any ground under her feet to walk on. The light, which now seemed to be a softly glowing, ivory colored orb about the size of an apple, was bouncing around about level with Hermione’s face. She got the distinct impression it was trying to tell her something. Her intuition was telling her to reach for it, touch it, but trusting her intuition was still not exactly second nature for Hermione. Throughout the last year she had followed Harry into some extremely dangerous situations during their quest for the Horcruxes. She had learned that “trusting her gut,” was often the difference between life and death. However, when presented with a problem, she still was most comfortable diving into a book to look for an answer. Right now was yet another time she very much wished she had some sort of reference for the current situation. However, there wasn’t much she could do now except take a deep breath and hope for the best. She slowly reached out for the orb, which was now dancing around excitedly.

 

The orb felt soft and tingly, like a small pocket of warm air charged by a thunderstorm. The moment she touched it, she knew that the orb had not gotten bigger; it was Hermione that had moved towards it. She also knew that simply her wanting to go to the orb had somehow brought her right to it. It was as if the orb was communicating with her by instantly registering information in her mind. It was disconcerting, but she couldn’t help but be impressed by the efficiency of it. As soon as she started to wonder if the orb could hear her thoughts, she was answered with the knowledge that it could hear whatever she wanted it to. There were so many things Hermione wanted to know, it was difficult to make herself focus on one particular thing at a time. Amazingly, if the orb had them, the answers to her questions were immediately there in her head.

 

With the orb’s help, she now at least had a source of light and a place to start. As far as she could tell, the place was sort of like an empty pensieve. It was more of a mental and emotional plane, rather than a physical one. Hermione wondered if everything was black because there were no memories in it. She also wondered how she got there, and how on earth she would get back. It seemed that touching Harry’s scar brought her here. Harry…

 

Thinking of him anew brought a fresh pang of emotion. The hardships of the last year had brought them closer than ever. She and Harry and Ron were beyond just a team. The trio worked seamlessly, each complimenting the others’ strengths and weaknesses. They functioned without thought, communicating with each other on a level beyond words.

 

Throughout that year, Hermione had not wanted to do anything that would upset the equilibrium between them. She thought maybe attraction to either Ron or Harry would tip the balance one way or another, and possibly damage their unity as friends. Harry had left Ginny behind, sacrificing his own happiness with her to keep her safe. Hermione hardly thought it would be fair for her and Ron to have one another in that way, even though she knew Harry would have insisted he was fine with it. He wouldn’t have wanted them to make that sacrifice just because he had.

 

The truth was, in some ways she had wished she could be with them both. After everything they’d been through together, at times it was hard to know where one of them stopped and the other began. The three of them had an intimacy that could only have resulted from the shared trials they had endured. It seemed impossible someone on the outside could comprehend what it was like. It also seemed impossible for three to be divided into two. Together, Harry and Ron were her everything. How could she be with anyone else? How could she be with just one of them?

 

So it went they each made sure that as close as they all became, certain lines were never crossed. As playful and physically affectionate as they were with one another, and as deep an intimacy as they all shared, it was never sexual. And then…

 

Dawn was breaking over a battle scarred night. The three of them had returned to Grimmauld Place after a hard fought battle over one of the few remaining Horcruxes. Ron fell asleep almost immediately. It never ceased to amaze Harry and Hermione how Ron could always eat or sleep under any circumstances. The two of them, however, were still wide awake. Harry looked at Hermione, and tilted his head towards the stairs leading to the roof. Hermione smiled and nodded. They went up onto the roof to watch the sun rise. Sitting side by side, both with their legs drawn up and their arms around their knees, they sat in companionable silence. It was wonderful, Hermione thought, how so often they didn’t need to speak to communicate.

 

It was a bit chilly in the predawn, so Harry motioned for Hermione to sit in front of him. She nestled in, as he put his arms around her and rested his chin on her shoulder. Everything felt so peaceful. There was evil out in the world still, but for now it could wait. Hermione wished she could freeze this moment, this feeling of warmth and quiet, with the beauty of deep copper and rose beginning to streak across the eastern sky.

 

She was sure she was dreaming. Without knowing how it began, she and Harry were kissing. His lips were so soft and warm, his kisses deep and sweet. Hermione sank into them, giving herself completely to the moment, to Harry.

 

As if thinking of him had conjured him, Harry appeared before her in the blackness, and Hermione was jolted back to the present. “Harry!” She went to throw her arms around him in a flying tackle sort of hug, but wound up hitting and bouncing off of, what? He was in a sitting position, legs crossed, staring out into space. She tried again to touch him, but there seemed to be some sort of space around him that she couldn’t get through, almost as though someone put an Imperturbable Charm on him. She called out to him again, but he didn’t seem to hear her. His eyes were eerily vacant, like an abandoned house with all its lights still on. Hermione felt a sob of anger, frustration, and sadness welling up in her throat. She resolutely pushed it down, and instead focused on getting through to Harry.

 

Silence. Stillness. Void. Numb. Had it always been this way? Did it matter? Time at once stood still, yet stretched on into infinity in all directions. What was direction? Up and down were only tricks we played on ourselves in order to stay upright. Drifting was peaceful, easy, painless. “Harry…” the thought bobbed on the edge of his awareness like a leaf at the edge of a rippling lake. “Harry…” That used to mean something. His existence seemed to blur around the edges and was beginning to fade into the infinity around him. It would be so easy to dissolve into nothingness…

 

“Harry!” Something was tugging at him. The vague notion that his attention was needed buzzed in his mind like tiny gnat. He ignored it, yet it grew more insistent. Something was nudging him, but he didn’t want to move, he didn’t want to be. He was content to let himself be lost, safe from pain, safe from everything…

 

Hermione watched horrified as Harry’s form began to blur and fade. Panic gripped her as she screamed his name and beat against an invisible wall she couldn’t even feel. She felt a comforting brush on her cheek. The orb was fluttering next to her. Hermione knew there had to be a way to reach Harry, and that getting hysterical was not going to help. The orb’s presence was soothing, and also bolstering.

 

Hermione took stock. Time was short. Before long Harry might disappear completely. Whatever she did, she would have to act almost immediately. Magic was no good. Physicality was no good either, since the normal rules of physics didn’t seem to apply. What did that leave? Will. It was her need for the light that brought her attention to the orb, then her desire to examine it that moved her to it. Maybe… she thought, and took a deep steadying breath. As she exhaled, she focused all of her energy on wanting to get through the barrier. In a blink, the barrier was gone and she was at Harry’s side. “Harry!” Hermione’s thrill at having gotten through was quickly extinguished as Harry sat, still vacant and unresponsive. She reached for him, but her hand passed right through him. “No!” she cried. Harry was becoming increasingly blurry and indistinct.

 

The orb was pulsing, trying to get her attention. Hermione reached out her hand, and the orb settled into her palm. His scar… Hermione reasoned that it had been her contact with Harry’s scar that transported her here. Maybe if she tried touching it again… She moved her hand to his forehead, but again she simply passed through him. Concentrate, WILL it to happen. Hermione tried again, this time wanting with all her heart to touch Harry. This time, her fingers met solid skin.

 

He felt himself on the brink of infinity, ready to dissolve. Letting go was the beginning of unending bliss. But he was not alone. A presence appeared before him, and it was trying to hold him back. He felt a pull where his forehead would be, that is, if he were still solid and had a forehead. He was mostly just energy now, with only a vague memory of his body and who he used to be.

 

He tried ignoring the pull, but he soon realized the presence would not be ignored. He would have to free himself before he could move on. Reluctantly, he fixed his awareness on the presence. It solidified into a human female form. He had to force himself to try to make sense of it. There was sound coming from the female. He realized she was speaking to him. The sounds had no meaning.

 

At Hermione’s touch, Harry began to solidify. “Harry, can you hear me? It’s me, Hermione.” His eyes shifted to her, but remained distant and unfocused. His expression was odd, as if he’d never seen another person before and was trying to figure out what she was. Afraid he would start to fade again if she let go, Hermione kept her fingertip on Harry’s scar. “Nod if you can understand me.” He didn’t move.

 

Hermione sighed, disappointed. It seemed every step would be a struggle. One thing at a time, baby steps… Again she gathered her will and focused on her desire that Harry understand her.

 

A pulse of energy centered in his forehead invaded him. He felt jolted somehow, drawn back from the comfort of his previous state. Someone was touching him. Touch… an odd sensation, something from another world he used to inhabit. The female was touching him. He could see her more clearly now, a young woman with brown eyes and brown hair. “Who are you and would you please move your finger?”

 

Hermione couldn’t decide if she wanted to laugh or cry. She withdrew her finger and was relieved when Harry stayed solid. “It’s Hermione.”

 

Hermione… That name carried with it the echo of something deeply beautiful and sweet, something he knew he ought to remember, but that evaded him like dispersing smoke.

 

She took his silence as lack of recognition. “You don’t remember, do you?” she asked, crestfallen.

 

He was irritated, irritated at being pulled back from the brink of release, irritated that this young woman stirred something in him he couldn’t ignore, or worse, remember. He looked at her, for the first time really taking her in. She stood before him, with the look of someone toughened through hardship, strong and ready for anything. Yet, there was also something very vulnerable, something heartbreakingly sincere. He tried to grasp what it was in her expression that was reaching out to him on some deeper level. The harder he tried, the more it eluded him. As he struggled, he saw a mixture of sadness and hope on her face, and in her eyes, her beautiful, coffee colored eyes…

 

Love… Seeing it there in her eyes, so strongly, was more than he could take. It set off something deep within him, tripping emotions like landmines exploding in his soul. Love and pain were inextricably mixed. Love, pain, death… His emotions felt like white hot pain inside him. He cried out, doubling over.

 

Hermione rushed to try to help him, her voice strained with urgent concern. “What’s wrong?”

 

At her approach, the pain intensified immeasurably. Still doubled over, Harry reflexively pushed her away with one hand. “Get away from me!” he yelled. Hermione backed away from him, tears starting to run down her cheeks. As she moved farther away, his pain seemed to ease somewhat. He slowly straightened up. He spoke without looking at her, “Please go.”

 

It was all she could do not to lose it completely and start sobbing. Her heart was shattering. The thought that he didn’t want her was worse than a thousand hexes. All she wanted was to bring Harry, her best friend, her everything, back to her, back home. She felt the soft warmth of the orb near her hand. Don’t give up. Believe in your love for him, and in his love for you. Go slowly. Use your will. She also wouldn’t forget her old companion, logic. “Please let me stay,” Hermione said as calmly as she could. “I’ll keep my distance, if that helps.”

 

He slowly turned his head and looked at her. He relaxed a fraction when no new jolt of pain struck. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t know what happened. Things are odd here. I can’t seem to remember things, or at least, when I do…” He shrugged. “You called me something. Harry. That’s me?”

 

Hermione nodded. She was still incredibly sad, but hopeful now that he at least let her stay. His eyes no longer looked so strange and unfocused. However, there was a distance in them that sent fresh ripples of anguish through her when she looked into them. She battled the feeling by staying focused on figuring out where they were and how to get out. She hoped maybe Harry knew something that could help. “Do you know where we are, or how to leave?”

 

Harry thought for a moment before answering. “No. Not exactly. I was about to leave, but…” He wasn’t sure how to describe the state he’d been in. “It wasn’t that I was going anywhere, I was just going.” He looked away, anger at being brought back there, and at his emotions for plaguing him, seeped back into him.

 

Hermione wanted so badly to reach out to him, but was afraid she might set him off somehow. It was difficult for her to see him wanting to disappear. Maybe if she could get him out of here… “I have an idea,” she said. “In this place, we can will things to happen, if we try hard enough. I think if we both concentrate, we can get back.”

 

The gaze he turned on her was unfathomable. “Back to what?” There was an edge in his voice. “Pain? Suffering? Loss? Death?”

 

Hermione was stunned. She bit her lip not to start crying again. Hermione’s voice shook. “But it’s over now…”

 

“It’s never over!” he yelled. “The things I’ve seen, the people I’ve lost, every horrid moment is etched in my brain, playing over and over! I was about to go somewhere, away from the memories and the hurt. Away from everything. You forced me back!” His eyes flashed with hurt and anger.

 

“You were about to cease to exist!” Hermione was livid now. “I can’t believe you would run away from the people you love, who love you!”

 

Harry looked as if he was going to shout something back, but stopped himself. He steeled himself for a blow of pain and moved to Hermione, inches away from her. He looked right into her eyes. The suffering and longing, and also now guilt she saw there was too much. She wanted to turn away but knew she mustn’t. He whispered to her, “If you love me, let me go.” She shook her head mutely. His eyes continued to hold hers, pleading. “It’s agony for me to be this close to you, and it’s clearly agony for you to be near me now. I’m begging you, for the sake of whatever it was we had…”

 

Harry screamed. Hermione had grabbed his wrist with all her force. Pain seared through him. With her other hand, Hermione touched his scar. The pain stopped. “If it’s a battle of wills you want, Harry, that’s what you’ll get! It might be your will to run away, but it’s my will that you won’t leave until you truly understand exactly what it is you’re leaving.” Her eyes flashed. “Your pain is gone because of my strength of will. I’m going to show you some things Harry, and if by the time I’m done you want your pain and want your escape, you’re free to have them both!” They stared at one another, their breath coming hard and fast.

 

“Fine.”

 

Hermione took her finger away from Harry’s head, then eased her grip on his wrist, but didn’t let go. “Walk with me,” she said.

 

Harry began to protest, “But there’s no ground…” his voice trailed off as he looked around and realized they were no longer in a black void. Suddenly he felt wet sand beneath his now bare feet. They were on a beautiful beach, with soft sand and a gentle shoreline that stretched on farther than they could see. The air was balmy with sea breeze, and the water soothing. The sea was a deep aquamarine with frothy white foam on the breaking waves. Hermione smiled slightly to herself, pleased with the environment she had created.

 

There was no need for the orb’s light now. As Hermione held it in her palm, she realized she knew what, or rather who the orb was. It was part of herself, her intuition. Her logical side had needed a way to tap into her intuitive side, to guide her and light the way, and in this place, it was able to manifest itself externally as the orb. The orb fluttered happily at Hermione’s realization, then with a soft pop! was gone.

 

Hermione pointed to the sky and said to Harry, “Look.”

 

He looked up and saw what he realized was a much younger version himself, Hermione, and a red headed boy. Hermione leaned towards Harry. “That’s Ron, your best mate,” she said softly. The scene played out across the sky. The three of them were in school together, talking and laughing. Harry watched as he and Ron saved Hermione from a troll, then as Ron and Hermione helped Harry through a series of challenges in order to outwit a dark wizard and protect a blood red stone.

 

Harry and Hermione walked along, as scene after scene unfolded. He watched as he and Hermione and Ron helped one another out through their years at Hogwarts. Part of Harry wanted to remember, but a much larger part found it too difficult. Pain was starting to creep back into him.

 

Distracted, Harry let Hermione slip her hand from his wrist, intertwining her fingers with his, unaware of the effect the memories were having on him. She thought she had saved the best memories for last. Instead of in the sky, she sent them, orb-fashioned, right into his mind. They were of all their most intimate moments, from their first kiss, to the first time they made love - passionate, yet tender and sweet - to their coupling before the final confrontation with Voldemort, when they thought it could be their last, and to all the times in between. Immediately pain coursed through Harry like the worst Cruciatus curse he’d ever endured. Harry wrenched his hand from Hermione’s and screamed at her, “What are you doing to me?” Now clearly in agony, he continued to yell, gasping for breath. “I can’t be who I was! You can’t just will me to be who you want me to be, to feel what you want me to feel! Our love is gone! Every bit of love I had was spent wiping out that hideous monster. He took it all with him. Now all that’s left is pain!”

 

Hermione was in shock, numb with disbelief, stunned with the impossibility of the situation. For one of the very few times in her life, she was speechless. The soothing water on the beautiful beach turned into a raging sea. A violent storm moved in as lightening pierced the sky, thunder ripping the air to shreds. The memories of love and friendship were gone, replaced by every horrific thing Harry had ever experienced, starting with his parents death, leading through to the last spell of the Final Battle.

***

In the dungeon, people were starting to come to. There were quiet moans and groans as the pain of injuries started to register. Lupin was the first of the Order fully conscious. He dragged himself off the ground and immediately went over to Hermione and Harry. Ron was already bending over them both, checking for signs of life.

 

Hermione was kneeling over Harry, with her head resting on his chest. Both were ice cold, with slow pulses and shallow breathing.

 

“What happened to them?” Lupin asked.

 

Ron shook his head as Luna drifted over to join him. “I don’t know. I just woke up and found them like this.” He looked around. “That last spell…” He trailed off, shaking his head again.

 

Lupin checked Hermione and Harry over. He pointed his wand at Hermione. “Rennervate!” Nothing happened. He thought for a moment. “Of course. The spell Harry cast obliterated magic in the immediate vicinity. Hopefully it’s temporary…”

***

The angry waves were starting to crash around Harry, but he didn’t seem to notice. Hermione was seemingly riveted to the spot where she stood. Harry leveled a look at her more ugly than she ever thought he was capable of. It catapulted her into a realm beyond pain or reason. Harry’s voice was ragged with emotion. “This is your fault. If you had just let me go, I’d be free instead of in this world of pain!” As the waves began to sweep him away, she reached for him, hoping to rescue him from the emotions threatening to drown him. He shoved her with everything he had left. She was thrown back, and at the same time felt something yanking her away.

 

“No!” Hermione’s scream echoed around the dungeon as she looked up into Ron, Lupin, and Luna’s startled faces. She was kneeling by Harry’s still near-lifeless form.

 

“Not exactly the reaction we were expecting,” Ron said unevenly.

 

Hermione felt like every second she was in the dungeon decreased her chances of bringing Harry back. She tried explaining as quickly as she could. “Harry’s lost in something like a pensieve, and I have to go back and get him before he’s gone completely.”

 

Only Luna had an understanding expression, nodding sympathetically.

 

“We could rennervate Harry,” suggested Lupin. “That should pull him back.”

“I think that might snap the connection between his spirit and his body. We can’t take that chance.” Urgency strained Hermione’s voice. “I’ll explain later, but I need to go now. Whatever you do, don’t rennervate me again!”

 

“We can’t just leave you and Harry wherever it is you’re going,” Lupin said. “You both need to see healers as soon as possible. I’ll give you ten minutes.”

 

Hermione looked as if she was about to argue, but decided not to waste the time. “Fine.” She bent to kiss Harry’s scar, and as her lips began to brush it, she felt Ron’s hand grasp her arm firmly. “I’m going with you,” he said. And they were gone.

 

They found themselves in empty blackness. “What the…?” Ron started. “Lumos!

 

“Magic doesn’t work here.” Hermione conjured her orb. At Ron’s puzzled look, she concentrated a moment, sending an explanation of everything that had happened, and everything she knew about where they were, right into his mind.

 

“Whoa,” Ron said slowly, rubbing his temples for a few moments. So if we just want to find Harry badly enough, we will?”

 

“We should. Are you ready?”

 

Ron nodded, and within moments he and Hermione found themselves coughing and choking in the middle of deep, churning water. They both spotted Harry a few yards away, and started swimming towards him. He was drifting on the surface, looking directly up with glassy eyes.

 

“Can we do something about all this water?” Ron shouted over the roar of the storm raging overhead.

 

“I hope so,” Hermione answered as they reached Harry. Ron and Hermione followed his gaze to the sky. Images were flashing at random, in between the bolts of lightening. They were the same horrid scenes from Harry’s life that were playing when Hermione had been yanked back to the dungeon. Harry seemed hypnotized by them. “Harry!” Hermione shouted. No response.

 

“Let’s do something about this water!” Ron shouted.

 

Hermione nodded, concentrating. Nothing happened.

 

“Why isn’t this working?” asked Ron.

 

Hermione shook her head. “I don’t know!” She thought for a moment. “Maybe if we’re touching him-” She touched Harry’s scar and instantly was in agony. She couldn’t think for the sheer intensity of the rage and depths of loss. She wanted nothing more than for it to stop.

 

Suddenly it did. Everything went quiet. Things were fading away, going soft and warm and black. She was sinking blissfully into deep oblivion. And then-

 

“Hermione!” Ron’s hand on her arm jolted her back to the stormy sea. There was panic in his eyes. “Hermione, talk to me!”

 

“What happened?” She felt slightly groggy, as if she’d been drugged. She looked over to see Harry still unresponsive.

 

Ron was visibly shaken. “You started screaming, then both of you started to sink. I was barely able to drag you both back up.”

 

Hermione rubbed her eyes with the heels of her palms. “It was awful. He’s stuck reliving these heinous memories. He’s completely lost in them. After just a taste of it, I just wanted to…” She looked far away for a moment, then shook herself back to the present. “We have to try again.”

 

Ron looked at Hermione. He said slowly, “Hermione, I think we should go back.”

 

She couldn’t believe her ears. “What?! We can’t just leave him here!”

 

“And we can’t get him out, either!”

 

“You would abandon Harry, just like that! Your best friend, who’s risked his life for you, and would die for you!”

 

With great effort, Ron managed to stay calm. “I can’t believe you would think that of me, after everything we’ve been through! I mean Hermione, let’s go back for help. The Order, St. Mungo’s-”

 

“No,” she said flatly. “I will not leave him!”

 

“I won’t lose you both! He dragged you down, and I was barely able to keep you both from sinking.” Seeing the look on her face, he continued quickly. “I’m not suggesting abandoning Harry – he’s my best friend, too! – but we can’t do this alone.”

 

“I can bring him back!”

 

“Not from here, not like this.”

 

Hermione was fighting it, shaking her head, but some part of her knew Ron was right.

 

His voice was as soft as it could be, while trying to be heard over the storm. “We can’t tread water forever, and they’re going to rennervate us soon if we don’t come back.”

 

Hermione nodded.

 

Ron gave her a bolstering smile, then concentrated on willing himself out.

***

“Bloody hell!” Ron looked over to see Hermione still slumped over Harry, both still unconscious. He quickly pulled out his wand, pointing it at Hermione. “Rennervate!

***

This time Hermione was ready. She battled through the flashes of pain and memories. She found Harry wandering among them, lost. She tried to get his attention, but he stared through her, unaware of her presence. She gathered up her will, trying again with everything she had to make him see her. For a fleeting moment, she thought she saw his eyes flick to hers, and then-

 

With a scream close to a growl, Hermione jumped up and lunged at Ron, attacking him with her fists, punching him all over his upper body. Ron let her.

 

“It doesn’t look good,” the hushed voice of one of the St. Mungo’s healers said. “Of course we’ll make room in the Janus Thickey ward…”

 

The mention of the long term ward reached Hermione. She quit her assault on Ron and turned around to see several healers hovering around Harry. “What’s going on?”

 

The healers nervously exchanged looks. A petite blond seemed to have been nominated to answer. She looked up at Hermione and said, “Of course it’s too early to tell, but I’ll be honest. It doesn’t look good. And also,” she looked at the other healers, who shook their heads. She looked back at Hermione, with a defiant glance at her fellow healers. “You should know, he’s got the look of one who doesn’t want to come back. Recovery is extremely rare in those cases.”

 

Something in Hermione snapped. After everything they’d gone through over the last seven years, this was ridiculous. Utterly unacceptable! She stormed over to Harry, dropping back to her knees. “By Merlin, Harry you incredible prat! I am not going to let you get away with this! You are not going to leave me!” She planted her lips on his and kissed him with every fiber of her being.

***

“Harry… Harry!” A woman’s voice cut through the nightmares Harry was reliving. Harry focused on that voice. It was warm and soothing. “Harry my sweet boy…”

 

“Mum?” He managed to pull his attention away from the haunting images. A pretty woman with long red hair and beautiful green eyes was smiling at Harry. Harry smiled in return, and for the first time since he could remember, was flooded with happiness and relief. “I knew I’d be with you again one day!”

 

Lily’s smile faded slightly. “But not today.”

 

“Aren’t you here to take me with you?” Harry asked, hopefully.

 

Lily shook her head. “I’m here to remind you there are living people who love you and need you.”

 

“But it hurts too much.”

 

Her voice was so soft and comforting. Harry wanted to curl up in it and never come out. “I know honey. But I can help you with that.” She gathered Harry into her arms. It was truly heaven for him. He felt as if he were an innocent baby again, with no thoughts or worries, experiencing only his mother’s love and the comfort of her arms. Her caresses seemed to wash away the anguish, the memories. He couldn’t say how long he was there in the shelter of his mother’s love, but it felt like lifetimes.

 

He sighed dreamily. “I wish I could stay.”

 

She patted his back. “I know. I’ve missed you so much. Dying for you was easy. Not being able to be with you has been the hard part.” She pulled back just enough so Harry could see her face. “It’s not time for you to go yet though.”

 

“How do I get back, then?”

 

Lily smiled. “If you look, you will see there’s someone to lead the way.” She tightened her arms around Harry, then released him. “My love is always with you, my son!”

 

“And mine with you, Mum!”

 

As Lily faded away, Harry noticed an ivory colored orb of light moving towards him. He instinctively held out his hand. It settled in his palm, and he realized he knew the orb would lead him back. It fluttered happily and set off ahead of Harry.

 

As he followed the orb, he realized that he wouldn’t forget the horrors that had almost consumed him, but he could leave them behind, and make room for better things.

 

The orb led him through the memories Hermione had tried to send him. This time he remembered without pain, and rather, with boundless joy. He let himself get carried away with every look, every touch, every kiss…

 

Her lips felt so real… And so did the dungeon floor under his back. A thrill of excitement ran through him as he threw his arms around Hermione. She let out a cry of ecstatic relief, muffled against his lips. He returned her kisses with all the joy and passion he possessed, incredibly grateful to be there, with her.

 

After what seemed like a lovely long time, Harry looked up at Hermione with unutterable tenderness. Tears of joy began streaming down both their faces. There was so much he wanted to say to her, so much he wanted to thank her for, but words failed him. He looked in her eyes, and saw that somehow she knew. Knew everything he wanted to say, everything he felt. She smiled the most beautiful smile Harry had every seen. Harry was home.

 

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