Chapter 37: True Grief
A disbelieving quiet clung to the area, only broken by Tom’s raspy, dark amusement.
“Harry Potter is dead!“
Said dead person fought desperately to keep himself still, to hold the charade as long as possible and use this element of surprise to engage Tom once again, only on a more equal footing. It was no easy task, especially when he heard Ginny, his beautiful Ginny, give the most mournful cry, followed by Ron and Hermione gasping in denial.
It’d been a risk to take the killing curse, to allow himself to be hit by the green death. But it’d been a calculated one, a risk that Headmaster Dumbledore’s portrait had convinced him was necessary.
Harry remembered to earlier that evening. Infiltrating Hogwarts had gone better than any of them had expected. When Harry had made the bold declaration of taking back the wizarding school, he’d been expecting more opposition from his housemates, particularly Remus and the Slytherins. But surprisingly, they’d agreed – not that they wanted to go in wands ablaze, but they hadn’t argued over storming the castle. In fact, Harry suspected that Hermione’s capture had even Lucius ready to throw caution to the wind.
Not that they didn’t have an ace in the hole with Gryffindor’s sword. When he spotted that little treasure while on his firebolt in the Lestrange vault, he swore it had been fate. The sword would be invaluable in destroying the last of Voldemort’s horcruxes, hopefully before the dark wizard even made it to the school himself. The diadem was likely there, they knew, but they’d have to hurry and find it before the attack began, otherwise they’d be spread too thin trying to find it while simultaneously fending off Death Eaters.
Luckily, getting into Hogwarts was as simple as apparating to Hogsmeade and taking the secret passage under Honeydukes. They’d managed to get word to McGonagall beforehand who’d then proceeded to rouse their supporters within the castle in preparation of overthrowing the Death Eater scum who had taken over their beloved school. It certainly hadn’t been easy, but expelling the Death Eaters hadn’t been a horrible feat. Injuries were sustained, but there’d been no causalities. The Death Eaters were clearly unprepared for them, never suspecting that they’d be attacked on the same evening they’d launched their own trap.
Shortly after liberating the castle, the inner circle of the Order of the Phoenix found themselves strategizing in the Headmaster’s office, only to find Albus Dumbledore’s previously snoring visage was awake and quite clearly waiting for them.
Harry fought a grimace as he remembered the old wizard’s suspicions that Harry, too, was a horcrux. An accidental one created by using the death of his own parents. Even more horrifying was that Dumbledore couldn’t confirm it with any certainty – it’d been merely a strong hunch, an affinity the wizard had felt with Harry that Albus had only ever felt when dealing with Tom Riddle.
Harry nearly shuddered at the thought, but managed to remain still even as the Death Eaters began to shout in victory. He wouldn’t have much longer before one came too close, too suspicious, and he’d have to give up the charade, but he knew to wait as long as possible.
The duel with Voldemort had been hard, naturally. Harry knew the dark wizard wielded more power than him – he was just a boy, after all, nearly a man. More than that, it’d been hard to stay focused on Voldemort knowing his friends and family were battling for their lives, especially Hermione who he’d known to be wandless.
At the thought of his once bushy haired friend, Harry felt his determination swell. It’d been hard to ignore what Voldemort had said about her being the cause for his parents’ deaths. But Lucius had been sure to warn him before he left for the clearing that it was a tactic the dark wizard was very likely to use, not only to hurt Harry, but to wound Hermione just as much.
Harry’d seen the devastation in his friend and had wished to console her. He’d come to terms a while ago with her past and knew Hermione to be what she’d always been to him, a solid friend, an unwavering sister. She was the one who saved their necks time after time. She was the only one who stood by him when his name had come out of the Triwizard cup. She was always the one looking out for his best interest, even when he didn’t want her to. Hermione was not the cause for the tragedy in Harry’s life, he knew it as surely as he knew the horcrux within him was dead, his connection to Voldemort having gone dark. No, Hermione was the reason he was still alive. She saved him time and time again.
And he had a feeling that she’d save him once more tonight.
“Hermione!” Voldemort ordered. “Confirm his death for these fools, for yourself. Then take your place by my side!”
In the charged silence, Harry felt the dull thud of footsteps reverberating on the forest floor as they came closer to him. He was more sorry than he could say for his friend. While a large part of him cringed at the idea, he knew Hermione’s love for Tom Riddle had been true. That she’d seen a side of him no one else had, or ever would. Even more, he could see there was still a part of Tom Riddle existing inside Lord Voldemort that cared for her. He’d felt it in his connection before the curse succeeded in ending it and destroying the horcrux within him. Even behind the madness and darkness, Harry could see a possessive light in the dark wizard’s eyes when he looked at Hermione, a jealousy when he’d look from her to Harry. And Harry knew that possessiveness and jealousy were a thin line from obsession, an obsession possibly sprung from love.
Keeping his eyes closed, Harry could sense who he assumed to be his friend leaning over him. Small hands lifted him, teased his hair away from his face. A dark shadow lingered over him as he felt her bring his face alongside his, cheek to cheek. He could feel her tears there, the wetness sticking them together as he felt her fingers press firmly to his neck, feeling the steady thrum of his heartbeat.
She froze. His breathing stopped.
Don’t give us away, Hermione. You can do this, his mind sang.
Her cheek pressed even firmer against him as she turned, her lips grazing his ear as she whispered so softly even he almost didn’t hear her, “Be ready.”
He did nothing to acknowledge her, no flick of his fingers against hers, no muscle twitch in his face as he fought to smile reassuringly for her.
I will be ready, he thought to her, hoping that she could feel his resolve. I will be.
As Hermione made her way to Tom’s side, she fought to control her emotions, knowing that her husband was entirely too adept at reading her.
“He’s dead,” she lied, her voice ringing in the forest clearing.
She cringed at Ginny’s wail, at Remus’s chest-wracking sobs. But she ignored the guilt for causing that kind of pain to her friends and moved closer to Thomas, never breaking his gaze. They would forgive her the small betrayal, she knew. They would understand what she and Harry did – that they had to keep this element of surprise.
For the life of her, she had no clue why Tom’s curse hadn’t killed her friend, but she’d certainly felt the determination rolling off of Harry. She suspected he knew what had happened, that he’d even expected it.
“Who will be the first to bow to me and my lady? Lay down your wands and I will spare your lives in her name!”
She would’ve felt flattered he was willing to spare what was left of her friends if she’d actually believed he would. Tom was a master manipulator and right now, she was certain he was trying to manipulate her into conceding to him. Giving in to him and accepting the role he wanted her to be.
But the time for weakness was over. In a way, she’d already said goodbye to her husband earlier in the nightscape. It was time to stop dancing the fence of loyalties, of pretending to herself that her Thomas was still in there.
It was time to stop being weak and embrace what fate had dealt to her. No more denial. No more pretending. She was Hermione Riddle, wife to the Dark Lord – but she bowed to no one.
“Don’t,” she said, her eyes turning hard as they bore into Thomas. He quirked his head, a small smile turning his lips up on one side. “Harry is dead, but we will fight to the death. We will fight to honor him. We will not bow to you, Thomas.”
A general murmur picked up, wizards gripping wands and preparing for battle again.
“You dare speak to your Lord in such a manner? You are nothing! Nothing but a flithy mudblood!” Bellatrix stormed closer to them, her eyes wild and bloodthirsty.
“He is no lord of mine,” Hermione spoke clearly, evenly. “I gave no pledge.”
“Ah, but you did, my dear. You pledged yourself to me the day you married me,” Tom seemed amused at her defiance, confident in his victory.
“Then you have pledged yourself to me as well, Thomas,” she countered. “You had to have known, even if you wanted otherwise, you had to have known that I wouldn’t give in to this.”
“Now Bella, calm yourself,” Voldemort hissed. “She is your lady. I will bring her to task for her defiance, but it is not your place to question her.”
“Yes, Bella,” Hermione smirked, hoping the Harry was ready, hoping that their allies had taken her words to heart. She was risking death by angering the crazy witch as she had no wand to defend herself, but if Harry was paying attention as she hoped… “Be a good pet and do shut up.”
Predictably, Bellatrix could not control herself and she immediately launched a vicious slicing hex at Hermione.
The spell rebounded, nearly hitting Bellatrix.
Silence reigned as everyone stared at the boy who had cast the spell.
“Enough Tom,” Harry said, he was standing tall, determination hanging on him like a cloak. “We finish this once and for all. Just you and me.”
Hermione stared at her friend, feeling proud of his courage. He was ready, as she’d told him to be. He looked honed and ready to duel – like a weapon, she suddenly thought. Harry was a weapon newly forged, ready to fight.
Thomas looked furiously at Harry before turning to her. His eyes were vivid red and accusing. Her wrist ached and throbbed and before she knew what was happening, Tom slipped into her mind with a silent legilimens. Instead of rifling through her thoughts, she saw the vision of his past self, staring her down. She felt a hint of his fingers across her cheek and saw the glimmer of what could’ve been tears as she stared into his green eyes that burned with betrayal.
“This is what you’ve decided, then?” his sibilant voice touched her thoughts.
Even though she knew it was the nightscape allowing him to grant them this brief moment on the battlefield, Hermione allowed herself to lean into the ghost of his touch, knowing it would be the last time she felt it.
“Yes, Thomas,” she whispered. “This is the way it must be.”
She felt his mind rear back from hers, taking the visage of her husband and breaking the spell.
“So be it! Avada Kedavra!”
Harry and Tom’s spells overlapped and connected in a way they hadn’t in the previous duel. Immediately, the vibrant gold light priori incantatum formed, showering the field with sparks as it erupted into a dome around Harry and Voldemort, Hermione herself trapped in the forcefield.
She could see the light of their respective spells, each trying to overtake the other. Just as Tom’s killing curse pushed closer to Harry, she’d see Harry rebound in his strength and force it back towards Tom. They were both too strong and stubborn to give in, Hermione feared that they had finally come to a stalemate.
And they very well could’ve been if Bellatrix Lestrange hadn’t made herself known.
Hermione couldn’t see what was going on outside the golden hue of the priori effect, but she also hadn’t seen Bellatrix was also in the dome, having been standing too close to Tom when the effect started.
Hermione collapsed with a scream as Lestrange’s curse hit true. It felt like someone was flaying her skin and sticking red hot pokers under her nails. Through the pain, she could see Bellatrix creeping closer to her, a fanatical gleam in her eyes. Hermione knew what was coming. She knew the witch was going to kill her.
“You were never worthy!” Bellatrix shouted, smiling as Hermione writhed under her curse. “I will replace you at his side, and the world will know true greatness! Avada-”
It had not been Hermione or Harry who’d screamed. Bellatrix lifted her curse and looked to her master in horror. Gasping, shuddering with pain, Hermione managed to tilt her head and see Thomas – her Thomas – looking at her from behind red eyes. Red eyes that dimmed as they stared at her until a dark forest green bled into his gaze.
Tom had always had beautiful eyes.
“Hermione,” he muttered softly, pleadingly.
“No!” Bellatrix squealed, furious. “It should be me, me! Avada-”
“My love,” she saw his lips mouth the words, but she couldn’t hear him over Bellatrix’s horrible shrieking and the pain ringing in her ears. She might have even imagined it.
Tom had moved quicker than humanly possible. With firm resolve, he’d pushed his curse closer to Harry, buying enough time to break the connection and send a killing curse to Bellatrix Lestrange. His aim, even in the mere seconds he’d had, proved true. Hermione looked up, prone on the floor as pain lingered in every part of her body and soul. The green light illuminated the witch, bathing her in an ghostly glow before she collapsed to the earth, dead.
Hermione’s eyes flickered to Tom. They stared at each other, green eyes meeting brown, before Harry’s spell – free of the priori incantatum stalemate – pushed Tom’s previous killing curse into him.
There was an odd quirking of Tom’s lips, before he too collapsed. Dead.
The golden glow of priori incantatum dissipated. A strange humming echoed in her ears, and Hermione was oblivious to all except the memory of the last few moments. The memory of her Thomas bleeding through Lord Voldemort vissage, willingly opening himself to death in order to save her.
She crawled to the crumpled body of her husband, ignoring every ache and pain that protested the movement. With a strength she didn’t know she still possessed, Hermione lifted his head to her lap and stared down at him. His pallid features were turning grey, his face completely slack as though he was sleeping. There was only the slight curling of his lip upwards on the right side that hinted of his usual smirk. Like even in death, he had somehow won.
She startled as a hand gripped her shoulder. Looking up, she met Harry’s sympathetic eyes. “You saved us, Hermione.”
Tears welled and spilled unashamedly from her eyes as she stared at her friend before looking back down at her husband. And it had been her husband, in the end. Not Lord Voldemort, but her beautiful Thomas who had broken the connection to Harry.
Her Thomas who had saved her. Who had accepted death to save her life.
“It wasn’t me,” she whispered hoarsely. “It was him. He saved us.”
Harry didn’t deny it even if he couldn’t fathom the truth of her words.
Lord Voldemort had allowed himself to be killed, so that he could save Hermione. By saving Hermione, he saved them all from living in his darkness.
Around them, Death Eaters were being subdued by the Order. Some were attempting to flee as Order members gave chase. Many were staring over at her in shock, in horror.
Ignoring them all, even Harry, Hermione looked back down at her husband. Bringing a hand to his lips, she smiled softly through her tears and pain. “I love you,” she whispered breathlessly. “By saving me, you saved us all.”
Her heart bled for his loss, and Hermione gave herself in to true grief, knowing nothing else.