Minerva McGonagall stood watching in the Entrance Hall of Hogwarts castle. There had always been students who would sneak out of their dormitories. They had also been known to rendezvous in broom cupboards and unused classrooms. That is why we have Argus and an occasional teacher or prefect patrolling.
But never had students disappeared from the castle all together. Oh, those Weasley twins, Fred and George had run off from the Castle when Umbridge had played at High Inquisitor, but that was in broad daylight, seen by everyone. She was worried. With other students she might be inclined to think they'd taken their tryst to other accommodations. But not Mr. Longbottom and Miss Weasley. They were not a couple. And given the current situation with You-Know-Who holding his reign of terror . . .
That's what frightened her so much. These two had been part of the group that two years ago had flouted the Dark Lord and kept him from getting his hands on the prophecy. Could he have found a way into the castle and managed to spirit them away? That thought was unthinkable.
She noticed movement on the castle grounds and watched with relief as Ginny and Neville trudged slowly up the path from the gate to Hogwarts castle. They looked exhausted. Miss Weasley, in particular, appeared as if she would fall asleep on her feet if she didn't keep moving. She felt for them, but must make them aware of how serious their rule-breaking was.
As the two stepped into the Entrance Hall, the Headmistress stepped out of the shadows. 'Miss Weasley, Mr. Longbottom, what is the meaning of this? Out of the castle in the middle of the night? This is a most serious matter. Please follow me.' Before either could say a word, she turned and walked quickly up the stairs and down the corridor to the statue of the gargoyle that guarded the staircase entrance to her office.
'Glenlivet.' The gargoyle, suddenly alive, sprang to the side. The wall behind it separated to reveal the spiral staircase behind.
'After you,' McGonagall murmured.
The two students, one looking sullen and the other a bit fearful, stepped onto the staircase and rode up to the top. They stepped off and waited before the polished oak door with a brass knocker.
Headmistress McGonagall stepped to the front of the little group and opened the door. Motioning the two students in, she stepped around the enormous, claw-footed desk and sat in the high-backed chair that had once served Dumbledore during his many years as Headmaster.
'Now, I believe you two have some explaining to do. Where have you been, and what have you been doing? You have some nerve to be off gallivanting in the middle of the night. What would Mr. Potter think, Miss Weasley, if he knew you were out who knows where with another young man? Come, come; explain yourselves.'
At the mention of Harry, fire burned in Ginny's eyes. 'Mr. Potter knows exactly where I was and whom I was with.'
Neville murmured softly, 'We were with Harry … Voldemort is dead.'
McGonagall's head turned suddenly to the young man. 'What did you say?' It wasn't that she hadn't heard him; she simply could not believe what she had heard. Could it be possible? I know the prophecy had to do with Harry … and that Albus had set him to some task. That's why he and his two friends, Ronald and Hermione, didn't attend Hogwarts this year.
Ginny smirked. 'You don't need a hearing aid. You heard him right.'
'We went to where Harry was.' Neville continued. 'Ginny and Luna found a curse in the Restricted Section of the library.'
The Headmistress turned her stern gaze back to the young witch. 'I don't suppose you had permission to be there.'
Neville went on. 'And Ginny and I took it to Harry. Then V-v-v-voldemort showed up with Bellatrix Lestrange, Lucius Malfoy, and Peter Pettigrew.'
McGonagall's eyes grew wide at the mention of the Dark Lord, though her lips showed a brief smile at Longbottom's bravery in saying the name. He is so different from the little boy who couldn't keep tabs on his pet frog, Trevor, Minerva thought as she remembered the stuttering, forgetful boy who seemed to always be hunting for that frog. His friendship with Harry has helped him so much.
'Harry, Ron, Hermione, and I used the curse to defeat them.' Neville bowed his head and barely spoke the next words. 'We saw them die. We killed them.'
The Headmistress blinked back a tear as she observed the boy's distress. 'There, there, it's over now. If you hadn't acted, I'm sure they would not have hesitated to use the Killing Curse on you.' They're practically still children. How could such responsibility fall to them?
She then turned to the fiery red-head. 'And you, Miss Weasley, what role did you play?'
Ginny raised her chin defiantly and then, with a slight smirk, 'I nicked his socks.'
Headmistress McGonagall sat in stunned silence for a moment. 'You did what?'
'Luna saw in a vision where Voldemort was hiding – she has the Inner Eye, you know. I went there just after midnight, sneaked in, and took every sock I could find. The curse Luna and I found wouldn't work if the heel were covered in cloth, so I nicked his socks.'
'Miss Weasley, I don't know what to say. I am simply amazed.' Such a brash young lady she is. Mr. Potter will certainly have his hands full with this one. But then he is even more certainly lucky that she is so bold; otherwise he might not still be alive.
'Then I overheard him talking with Wormtail about their plans. He knew Harry was in Godric's Hollow. He was going to get Malfoy and Lestrange and go there to kill Harry. When I heard that, I knew I had to go to Malfoy Manor – that's where he said they were hiding – and get their socks, too. If I hadn't, they would've survived and been able. . . .' The thought of what might've happened to Harry was too much for Ginny in her exhausted state. She began weeping, bitter sobs the only sound coming from her now.
All sternness was gone from the Headmistress now. She was horrified at the thought of what could have happened to these children. But she was very proud of them, too. Gryffindors, every one of them – her Gryffindors. Well, not hers anymore as she was the Headmistress now. But her heart was bursting with pride at the thought of what her students had accomplished, at the incredible bravery they had evinced in facing the most horrible Dark Wizard in ages. She quickly rose and went to comfort Ginny.
'There, there, child. It's over now. He's all right, and you're all right. Everybody is going to be safe now, thanks to you. Go on up to your dormitory and get some rest now. No, on second thought, perhaps Madame Pomfrey should have a look at you. I'll contact your parents. Perhaps it would be good for you to spend a few days at home resting.'
'Mr. Longbottom, would you mind taking Miss Weasley to the hospital wing? I'll make sure that Madam Pomfrey is expecting you.'
Minerva McGonagall heaved a great sigh as she watched the two leave her office – Ginny leaning heavily on Neville – and disappear as the staircase took them down. She had feared the worst and hoped that by some miracle the two would be found alive. But she had never imagined that they would not only return in such good shape but more so as heroes.
After Ginny and Neville left, Harry and the two friends remaining with him walked cautiously across the field to examine the bodies. Hermione waved her wand, murmuring a diagnostic spell over each body in turn. She turned to the two boys and nodded. There was no doubt – there was no sign of life or, more importantly, of magic; they were dead and gone for good.
Ron began to whoop and holler again. He grabbed Hermione and twirled around the field with her in his arms in a joyous dance. Then he kissed her soundly on the lips. Harry smiled wanly. If only that could be Ginny and me ... He pushed that thought quickly out his mind. It was clear that Ginny was too angry to let him that close; maybe when she cools off a little.
Hermione blushed and pushed him away. 'Not here, Ron. Not in front of Harry.'
'Aw, come on. He won't mind.' Ron again took her lips tenderly and passionately in his.
Harry turned away from the antics of his two friends and made his way back to the ruined cottage that had been his childhood home. He just couldn't feel the joy they did. Voldemort was gone, but it seemed as if a great weight still sat upon his shoulders. And there was a great hollow in the centre of his chest – an emptiness that just ached to be filled. He walked around to the side, near a grove of trees, and knelt before two simple, wooden crosses in the ground. 'Mum, Dad, it's over. He's gone. It took awhile, but I've repaid him for killing you two . . . and trying to kill me. I only wish you were here to show me how to be happy . . . how to live, really live and not just survive.' Harry choked back the tears that were beginning to leak from his eyes.
Harry turned to see Hermione watching him. He knew she understood his grief. Voldemort's Death Eaters had finally caught up with her parents. It had started out as a simple Muggle-baiting event. But when they realized who they had caught, it had turned very ugly. He and Ron had not allowed Hermione to see the bodies. They were too mutilated. Harry couldn't stand the thought of that being the last memory she had of her parents.
Hermione whispered something to Ron and walked over to join Harry by the graves. 'All right, Harry?'
'I know I should be celebrating our victory. I just can' help thinking of everything … no, everyone, I've lost along the way – your parents, Charlie, Dumbledore, Sirius, Cedric . . . my parents.' Harry was sobbing now.
Hermione knelt beside Harry, wrapped her arms around him and began rubbing his back. 'I know, Harry, it's not easy. It seems wrong to say I understand. I mean . . . yes, I've lost my parents, but you've been through so much more. But don't you think they'd want to you to go on with your life and be happy?'
'But I've got no one.' Harry fought to regain control of his emotions.
'No, Harry, that's not true; there are so many who love you. Look, Ron and I are here; we've been with you the whole way, haven't we?'
'It's not the same – you two have each other. I don't have anyone now,' Harry moaned, the ache in his chest growing stronger.
'Harry,' Hermione whispered softly, a smile ghosting across her lips, 'haven't you forgotten about a certain red-haired, freckled someone?'
Harry glared at Hermione. 'You're mad, Hermione. You saw how she was about ready to hex me then, didn't you?'
'No, Harry.' Harry hadn't seen Ron come up. 'It's you who's cracked, mate. We already told you that her being so upset is a good sign. It means she cares.'
'Yes, Harry,' Hermione agreed. 'Ginny was hurt when you broke it off with her. And then you made it worse by not talking to her at Bill's wedding. But the simple fact is that she wouldn't be hurting as badly as she is if she didn't care for you. She's so angry because she was so hurt, and she was hurt because she cares so much.'
'Yeah, stop being a git, mate, and you'll see. She'll come around.'
Harry sighed. Maybe they were right.
'Come on, now. You need some rest. Let me go find Tonks or Shacklebolt and take care of notifying the Aurors. Let Hermione take you back to The Burrow, so's you can rest. You haven't had a proper night's sleep in months what with all of our chasing around after the Deathly Hallows.'
Harry nodded in agreement. As Ron turned to send his Patronus off to summon the Order, Harry and Hermione quietly Apparated away from the field.
A/N: I want to thank Sherylyn for her hard work in betaing this. Everyone, please give her a round of applause for all she does for PS. I also want to thank hwimsey for again taking the time to read and comment and for allowing me to 'borrow' (What's that? Oh, all right, 'steal') the password to Headmistress McGonagall's office. These two challenged me to make this story much better than I first wrote it. Any weaknesses that remain are due to my own stubbornness and ineptitude.
I know Hermione's parents don't die in DH, but I started this many moons before that came out and decided to keep it how it was since the story was already AU anyway. The same applies to the graves not being by the cottage and Harry not speaking to Ginny at the wedding.