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Sacrifice Par Amarth

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This story is No. 3 in the series "Twist of Fate". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Part 3 of ToF Trilogy- What if Glory wasn't the hell God that was driven out of her hell dimension, but rather the two gods that opposed her? Buffy and crew are about to find out first hand how two lesser hell gods aren't necessarily better than one.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > Pretender
Harry Potter > Buffy-Centered
LisetteFR1522146,09471819,58914 Aug 0328 Sep 03Yes

Chapter 20

Illustration
Sacrifice Par Amarth: Chapter 20
by Lisette

Legalese: See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings.

O o O o O o O

As the warm winter sun glinted off of his messy black hair, Harry curiously took in the large double doors as he stepped up the cracked sidewalk, his hands stuffed into the deep pockets of his light leather jacket. It was disorienting to instantaneously travel from one place to another when the climates were so startlingly different. While both locations were currently locked in the throes of winter, one was buried beneath mountains of snow while the other thrived amongst green grass and the occasional winter flower. And if this was the typical climate for this region, it was no wonder that Buffy had complained so much when first coming to Hogwarts. Her native Californian winter was almost likened to England's spring or fall.... her California.

Harry paused in his steps as he slowly looked at the quiet neighborhood that opened behind him. Sunnydale, California. The Hellmouth. This was Buffy's stomping grounds, a town that had borne witness to many of her greatest battles. To this town and its inhabitants, Buffy Summers was the Slayer - a powerful warrior that fought against the darkness that plagued the deceptively sleepy, California town. She was their slayer, their missing hero, and he was a stranger. He was nothing to these people. No wizarding prodigy. No child that had defeated the darkest Dark Lord of their times. He wasn't anything but another young man strolling down a sidewalk, paused before a massive house and tormented by memories and thoughts of darker days and nights. By all rights, his first visit to Sunnydale should have been at Buffy's side. It was her right to introduce him to her world as he had done for her. But circumstance had stolen away that opportunity and now he entered the town alone.

Shaking away his troubled thoughts, Harry resolutely continued down the cracked walk, his eyes straying once more to the large doors that loomed imposingly before him. Curious despite himself, his eyes traced over the large muggle home as he lifted his hand to the ornate, curved handle and released the heavy metal to fall against the brass knocker with a resounding thud that echoed within the large structure before him. Immediately he heard voices from within before one of the large doors was pulled open, revealing a familiar tall, dark-haired young man whose shoulder was so heavily swathed in bandages that he looked malformed and misshapen.

"Harry!" Xander exclaimed, his brown eyes growing wide as he took in the wizard that stood before him. While it had been a little over a month since Christmas and the last time he had seen Buffy's boyfriend, it still seemed as though an age or more had gone by. After all, it had only been little over a week since the Hell Gods had descended down upon them with a vengeance, sending Faith into yet another coma and leaving the Scoobies to once more bear the heavy mantle of keeping the Hellmouth in order until the new slayer arrived. A week that had become an eternity in and of itself. "What are you doing here?" he asked as he smiled at the dark-haired teen, sharp eyes taking in the black duffel that was draped over Harry's shoulder with a questioning glance.

"Madam Pomfrey sent me with some potions for you and Faith," Harry explained as he absently patted the large bag.

Instantly Xander straightened, his expression brightening as he began dancing upon the balls of his feet. "You can wake her up?" he asked, his heart tightening in his chest at the thought of finally restoring their slayer to them. For while Faith had never exactly been like a Buffy in the lives of the Scoobies, over the past year she had found her own place in their lives - a place that left a gaping hole with her absence.

Wincing, Harry quickly shook his head as he fervently berated himself for his misleading words. With his own world torn apart and everything balancing on the fine rim between hope and the dismal reality that they led, he could understand all to well the crushing blow his words had just unleashed upon Buffy's old friend. "I'm sorry," he whispered, his hand tightening on the small bag as he forced himself not to back away. "Madam Pomfrey said that the brain is too delicate and that it isn't safe for magic to mix with it," he explained, bravely struggling on in the face of Xander's disappointment. "The potions are to help with her other injuries, and your shoulder as well," he added, smiling tentatively as he offered the bag before him as a sort of peace offering.

Forcing down the sharp waves of disappointment, Xander flashed Harry a weak grin as he accepted the duffel with his good hand. And then, as a thick silence settled over them, Xander stared at Harry blankly for a moment before he quickly flushed and stepped back, pushing the door open and beckoning him through in a silent, unspoken invitation.

"Thanks," Harry murmured, nodding his head curtly at the Scooby as he stepped past and into the dimly light foyer beyond. Curious, his eyes swept over the massive marble room, the likes of which he had never seen before.

Seeing his fascination, Xander grinned wryly at the teen. "Deadboy's place," he explained as he, too, looked around the massive foyer that led into the large living room. There were so many memories associated with the mansion - some good, many more quite bad. Buffy had sent Angel to Hell in the very next room, and yet that same room had also seen the final resistance that the Scoobies launched against the Centre in their efforts to reclaim their missing slayer. "With Faith's house gone, Wesley said we could stay at the mansion... it's not like Deadboy's going to be using it anytime soon," he added, his expression grim as he turned away from the living room and began leading him down a darkened hallway. "So... took a bullet for the Buffster," he stated, obviously striving for some common ground as he led the wizard further into the large building. "How was that for you?"

Smiling wryly at his companion, Harry allowed one hand to gently rest over the recently mended wound. "Probably much the same as it was for you to be the pincushion to a Hell God."

"Shish kabob," Xander corrected as he led the way down a twisting hall. "After sticking me he tried to roast me alive," he added by way of explanation as he stepped into a spacious and brightly lit kitchen, only to be pushed to the side as Willow threw herself at their unexpected guest.

"Harry!" Willow greeted as she grinned unabashedly at the dark-haired teen, her eyes dancing beneath skin that was covered in mottled bruises, some fresher than others, and fading cuts and scratches. "What are you doing here?"

"Bringing healing potions from Madam Pomfrey," Harry returned with a light grin as he disentangled himself from the slender redhead. "Although," he added as he cast a critical gaze over Willow's battered features, and the equally battered form of Tara from where the gentle wiccan was watching the reunion from the nearby kitchen table, "it looks as though I should have brought more."

"Nah, it's just taking us a bit longer to get back in stride," Xander replied, casually waving away Harry's concern as he settled himself on a nearby chair, dropping the full duffel on top of a pile of books as he began sorting through the different glass bottles within.

"Besides," Willow added as she moved to Xander's side and took the bag from him, "the new slayer should be arriving within the week."

"Hopefully," Tara added with a shy smile as she abandoned the ancient text that she had been perusing. "Things h-have actually been kind of quiet here," she continued as she waved away the meticulously labeled potion that Willow had placed before her.

"Slow?" Harry returned as he pointedly looked from one battered form to another.

"Short purple demon with six arms and four clubs," Xander supplied as he pointed at the picture of a spiked demon from the text before him. "He gave us a little bit of trouble last night," he added, shrugging slightly as his expression sobered. "Has there been any word about Buffy?" he asked, changing the flow of the conversation so quickly that Harry didn't have the chance to steel his heart from the pain that the simple question wrought. "Because I'm sure that you didn't come all this way just to bring us potions, did you?"

"No, I didn't," Harry agreed, his voice solemn as he turned until he was looking at the two wiccans that had settled opposite of them. "I actually came to see Willow and Tara."

"Why?" Willow returned, her curiosity piqued.

"Because we have little time and I need your help with something."

O o O o O o O

Buffy's head fell back against the cold, corrugated metal behind her with a dull thump that echoed throughout her small prison. Lifting it, she paused for a moment as she absently tugged at the thick metal cuffs that locked her wrist to the frame of the mattress, before allowing her head to fall back yet again with another hollow thump.

Lift the head.

Jingle the cuffs.

Let it fall.

Lift the head.

Jingle the cuffs.

Let it fall.

Lift the head.

Jingle the cuffs.

Let it fall.

It was a monotonous sequence that Buffy had begun hours.. perhaps even days ago. Locked as she was inside the small, cramped room of what had to be some miscellaneous warehouse, keeping track of the time was nearly impossible. Thus she tracked its passage with the simple routine she had formed - and all the while her thoughts whirled around her like a tornado on a hot, sticky night.

Bertrone was asking for a sacrifice.

Her sacrifice.

He claimed that it would save the world - that it would save those that she loved.

The only downfall was that Buffy wouldn't be around to enjoy it.

This small sacrifice that he was asking her to make meant so many things... so many nevers: never laughing with her friends, never training with Giles, never kissing Harry.... it meant embracing whatever came after this life, if anything at all.

It meant death.

For someone who had technically died before, Buffy was beginning to understand that she had no desire to do so again. She had no desire to say goodbye to everyone that she loved. She had no desire to go quietly into the darkness. All in all, she wasn't done living yet.

She was only nineteen years old and as she faced death, she found herself coming to the conclusion that she wanted to see what the next nineteen years had in store - or fifty for that matter. Maybe even ninety. And while her calling as the Slayer pretty much ensured that she was going to bite it sooner or later, as the hours began to pass by with the dull thump of her head and the jingle of her chains, Buffy was coming to realize that dying in a battle where she was fighting to her last breath was a whole hell of a lot different than willingly stepping up and saying, 'here, please kill me now.'

"This sucks," Buffy muttered, her soft words sounding like a booming toll in the small, tomb-like room.

And suck it did.

The selfish part of her - the part that had been buried once she had been called - was busy whining about the fact that she was sick of taking one for the home team. She was sick of allowing Fate to walk all over her in order to satisfy itself. So she was the slayer. Fine then, she would go out each night and fight the fight in order to save hundreds of thousands of people that didn't even know that she existed. That didn't care about her or her damn sacrifices. Somehow she had even found someone to share this fight with her - but did that mean that she had to be Fate's butt-monkey?

"Butt monkey," Buffy murmured, snorting softly as she thought wistfully of her long-time Scooby friend. Xander had once claimed that he felt as though he was someone's cosmic butt monkey, what with his habit of falling for the absolute worst people - such as evil mummy girls and bug teachers. Yet...

How was it that Xander, a perfectly ordinary guy in every way possible, acted repeatedly as Fate's butt-monkey... and yet kept coming back for more? He wasn't a slayer. He wasn't a wizard. He wasn't a Wiccan or even a watcher. He was simply Xander Harris, zeppo and normal guy extraordinaire who happened to have a slayer and a Wiccan for best friends. A guy who chummed around with werewolves and associated with wizards and watchers. He was Joe Shmoe and yet he took everything that fate threw at him with a bit of good-natured griping... and yet he took it all. Xander had never once backed out from a fight, even when the odds were insurmountably against them. He had never taken the easy way out... and he had done it all in order to help his friends.

Buffy wearily closed her eyes as she allowed her head to thump back against the wall behind her... and didn't lift it again. She was being petty, selfish, and adolescent - and she knew it. More than anything, though, she was being human - and that was a luxury that a Slayer couldn't afford. While Xander didn't need to do the things that he did, she did have to, because whether she liked it or not, Fate had picked her to be the Slayer and it was her duty to do what needed to be done in order for everyone else to see another day. More importantly, even if she wasn't the Slayer and it wasn't her job to do so... the decision wasn't really a decision at all for the simple fact that her friends needed her. Unless she did as Bertrone asked... unless she sacrificed herself, she was letting down everyone who depended on her. Everyone that she loved. True, the world wouldn't end if she didn't acquiesce to the Hell Gods' demands and use her innate keyness to open their damn portal, but the Hell Gods would certainly make sure that she and everyone that she loved and cared about lived to regret that decision. In other words, she would be giving the Gods another five hundred years to take their wrath out upon her world. And that was no choice at all.

Straightening slightly on her small cot, Buffy once more played with the chains that were holding her captive - and then broke the restraining metal with a sharp jerk of her flexed arm, sending the chains clattering noisily to the floor. Absently massaging her bruised wrist, the small slayer slid from the worn cot and turned towards the only door to her prison - and nodded at the two Hell Gods and the former watcher that quietly entered the small room and stood impassively before her. "I've made my decision," she stated, her words even as her green eyes slid over the Hellish duo before finally lighting on the watcher that, predictably enough, watched her with guarded gray eyes. "I'll open your door on the condition that you close it once they're through," she stated, her voice hard as she locked eyes with Bertrone.

"Then tomorrow the ritual will be done," Bertrone murmured, noting how the girl jerked slightly in shock at his confirmation of just how long she had sat in the darkness, stewing over her decision.

"Tomorrow," Buffy agreed, her expression wavering as the enormity of her fate swept over her thin frame - a frame that had only grown thinner during her forced captivity. "Tomorrow and it will all be over," she murmured, her eyes dropping down to the ripped and bloodied clothes she still wore - her soft words just idle background noise to her thunderous thoughts. "Can I say goodbye?" she asked, eyes lifting and seeking out the compassionate eyes of the French watcher, even as she studiously ignored her tormentors who stood beside him.

Frowning, Bertrone glanced quickly to Dahmascus and Serantine before slowly shaking his head. "I... would not think it wise," he murmured as he struggled to speak around the lump in his throat. The slayer that stood before him was not the same slayer that he had known, albeit briefly. Instead, the person that stood before him, clothed in blood-stained loose-fitting pants and a tattered tank top, seemed more girl than woman, her blonde hair lank and dirty as it hung around features that were far too pale and pointed. "They care for you too much to see reason. They would never allow you to go through with what must be done."

Buffy's head slowly dipped down, her hair sliding forward to form a curtain around her wan features. He was right, of course, for even though she wanted nothing more than to see everyone one last time, to hug each and every one of them and tell them how much she loved them... to do so would only prevent her from doing what needed to be done. Not only would they never let her go, but she would never be able to leave them. "Where are we?" she asked, her scattered thoughts flitting from one thing to another.

"Sunnydale," Bertrone admitted, watching as the girl resignedly nodded her head.

"I thought so," she admitted, her eyes falling down to the pale hands that she had unwittingly wrapped around her slender frame. "Can I at least go one place? There's one person that I would like to see... someone that won't be able to stop me."

O o O o O o O

Ten months... ten months since she had last walked the shadowed paths of one of the many cemeteries that filled her small town. And when you were only nineteen years old, ten months might as well of been a lifetime. Then again, ten months seemed insignificant to how it had felt to once more walk in Sunnydale after five months of imprisonment within the Centre. All a matter of perspective, she supposed, for she was a prisoner once more.

A slight smile lifting her lips, Buffy took in the familiar smell of the winter flowers that dotted the many graves that she and her three companions silently filed past, the full moon glinting down upon her bowed head. Surprisingly enough, it had been relatively easy to convince Dahmascus and Serantine to allow her this visit, and even though she had been forced to accept their company as an escort, as well as Bertrone himself, she was hardly complaining. While it had been ten months since she had last walked free in Sunnydale, it had been close to a week since she had last walked free at all. A week of emotional and physical torture, the wounds that could, long since magically healed and masked behind empty green eyes. Yet more important than all of her time spent away and locked in captivity, came the realization that come this time tomorrow night, she wouldn't even be alive to enjoy any of it, captivity included.

Buffy forced her troubled thoughts away and led her silent companions across the crisp winter grass, her breath pluming before her in the unnaturally chill night air. Even though it had been so long since her last visit, she moved with a feline grace as she navigated around the tombstone-littered landscape with ease, her mind a million miles away from the places through which she walked. Instead, she found the odd memory filtering past her vision - better times when she had walked a similar route in the company of so many different people. Giles. Willow. Xander. Angel. Faith. All people that meant the world to her... people that could have been hurt or killed because of her... and people that she would now never see again.

Yet even that dismal thought was driven away as they crested a final rise, her mother's grave becoming visible in the distance - as well as that of the familiar tall, lanky silhouette of the boy she loved. "Harry," Buffy murmured, her heart stopping in her chest as she watched him move through the familiar tombstones until his eyes settled upon the one that belonged to her mother. Forgetting everything but the boy that she had missed so desperately in the past few days - the one that she had thought lost to her forever - Buffy began to move towards him - only to stop as she realized that the Hell Gods had recognized Harry as well, and were moving forward with much different intentions.

Without uttering a sound that surely would have broken the stillness of the night and alerted Harry to their presence, the small slayer quickly moved forward until she was standing before Dahmascus and Serantine, quietly protecting him by ensuring that he would never know of their presence - even as her heart ached for him. With a firm tilt of her chin and her narrowed green eyes, she silently conveyed her intentions to the Hell Gods, and with a slow, measured nod of their heads, the creatures accepted her terms. Yet despite the pitying frown that Bertrone leveled in her direction, Buffy still found herself unable to completely turn back from the unexpected gift of Harry standing before her. Instead, she found herself moving deeper into the shadows of a nearby tree, her eyes locked on the boy that stood quietly before her mother's grave.

With a soft sigh, Harry awkwardly bent before the large, granite tomb, one hand gingerly wrapped around the smooth leather at his waist while the other gently placed a large bouquet of winter flowers at the base of the glimmering tomb. Slowly straightening, he stared at the words etched into the smooth stone for an immeasurable moment before quietly clearing his throat. "Even though I've, uh... I've known many people who have died," he stated, his clear voice sounding unnaturally loud in the quiet night, "I've never really been to someone's grave before. Not even my own parents. But I... I think that Buffy would have wanted me to."

Harry curtly shook his head as he idly glanced down at the hand that was clenched beside him. "You see, I love your daughter. A lot," he continued, his eyes slowly lifting until they were once more tracing the elegant curve of the etched letters. "And she said that she loves me too," he murmured as he shifted absently. "And I know that she loves you, more than anything and I wish... I wish that I would have had a chance to know you," he added, a small smile lifting his lips. "Buffy talks about you all the time and... well I never knew my mother, but I'd imagine that she would have been a lot like you. And... I just wanted to let you know that I will find her. I love her and I promise to take care of her.... I'll make sure that nothing bad ever happens to her," he promised, his eyes glistening in the bright moonlight. "I will do everything in my power to make sure of this," he vowed before bending low to straighten the flowers one last time before turning away and disappearing into the quiet night.

From her place in the shadows, Buffy felt the cold tear track down her pale cheek as she watched Harry's lean figure fade away. "Goodbye," she murmured, her word the softest breath of air as she ignored her body's pleadings to chase after him, if for no other reason than to hold him one last time. But she was doing this so that her loved ones could live, and she wouldn't jeopardize that, no matter the selfish reason.

Purposely turning away from her mother's grave, Buffy nodded curtly to her escort before starting back the way that they had come. "Let's get out of here," she muttered, her words full of forced neutrality as she briskly crossed the green expanse. "We have a ritual to prepare for."

O o O o O o O

Rubbing his tired eyes, Harry quietly let himself into the old mansion and slipped into the darkened living room - and froze as three sets of anxious eyes lifted from the various books that they were studying and locked onto his bent form. "I thought that you would have been asleep by now," he murmured as he casually draped his thin leather jacket across a nearby armchair and settled heavily into one of the old patterned chairs that dotted the massive room.

"Nah," Xander protested as he made a point to go back to studying the book that was conveniently perched in his lap. "No rest for the wicked. We're studying the.. uh... Bugaley Demon," he stated as he read the first demon-looking name that popped out of the small, scrawled text.

"The Bugaley Demon?" Harry returned, arching a fine brow beneath his perpetually messy black hair as Willow frantically nodded, even as Tara pointedly rolled her eyes.

"No, we weren't," the gentle Wiccan countered as she snapped her book closed with a loud thud. "We wanted to make sure that you were all right," she admitted as she stared at him in open compassion - something that the wizard couldn't help but once more be amazed with. Wwhile he had only been staying with Buffy's friends for a few days now, working around the clock to perfect the strange Wiccan techniques that Willow and Tara employed, he still felt as though he had been embraced by the Scoobies to the point where Tara had even fallen into a strange sort of mothering role with him - a relatively common occurrence for the slender Wiccan, if Xander was to be believed.

Smiling wryly, Harry dipped his head in the older girl's direction. "I'm fine," he assured as he began to roll his neck to try and work out the kinks that so many nights of so little sleep had caused. "It was just something that I had to do," he added before quickly changing the subject, his smile growing forced. "Any word yet from the others?"

However, his question seemed to have been the wrong one to ask as identical frowns pulled at the lips of the three Scoobies before they were quickly hidden behind false smiles. "They should be arriving tomorrow afternoon," Willow offered as she shifted in her chair.

"Oh - and Sirius wanted to warn you that one of your old Professors, Professor Snape, is insisting that he tag along," Xander added as a large grimace pulled at Harry's features.

"Snape?" he queried, shaking his head quickly. "Bloody brilliant. He probably just wants to make sure that we don't mess this up," he muttered as he crossly abandoned his chair.

Seeing this, Tara exchanged quick glances with the others before hesitantly offering the last bit of news that had come with the strange fire call from Harry's godfather a few hours before. "And... Gregor is coming."

"What?" Harry demanded, his jaw hitting the floor as he turned incredulous eyes to the gentle witch.

"Giles says that they can't really refuse him," Willow explained as she shot her friends nervous glances. If there was even one thing that they had learned from Harry during the past few days, it was his intense dislike of General Gregor after his blatant campaign for Buffy's death. "This was his battle long before it was ours-"

"But I don't trust him," Harry cut in, his eyes flashing.

"Neither do we," Xander agreed as he nodded to the two girls. "But we don't have a choice in the matter. We'll just have to make sure that he doesn't have a reason to do things his way."

Sighing, Harry wearily ran a hand through his unruly hair as his thoughts whirled around him. The ritual was going to happen tomorrow night, whether he was ready for it or not. And was he even ready? He had only been given a mere few days to try and see if Wiccan magic could really be employed by a wizard. A few days to try and see if he could make the impossible possible once more - and he honestly didn't know if it was really a thing that he could ever be ready for. But now he didn't have a choice. The reinforcements would be arriving tomorrow in the form of his family, friends and... Snape. And now Gregor as well. The man that wanted Buffy dead more than any other would be present on the critical night when so many things could already go wrong.

Curtly shaking his head, Harry quickly reached for his leather jacket and thrust his arms in the sleeves. "I'm heading out," he muttered as he roughly forced the zipper into the clasp.

"Where?" Willow asked, her words hesitant as she shifted uneasily beside her girlfriend.

"I want to visit Ron and Hermione," he explained as he finally fit the zipper into its place and pulled the metal up the long track.

"But the Centre's in Delaware," Xander pointed out as he settled back into the soft cushions of the couch. "Do you have a portkey or something?"

"Better," Harry returned as he disappeared with a sharp crack that echoed in the large living room and around the cavernous mansion, leaving a startled Scooby gang in his wake.

"Freaking disappearing wizards."

O o O o O o O

Striving for a patience that had long been waning, and forced instead to rely upon a bravery that was legendary for her school house, Hermione Granger slowly lifted the spoonful of pureed vegetables and gingerly brought them to Ron's waiting lips - only to have the spoon knocked aside, spilling the putrid green substance all over the sheets that covered Ron's tall frame. "Ron," she sighed, closing her eyes briefly as she mentally counted to ten before patiently reaching for her wand to begin cleaning away the mess. "You need to stop that now. You must eat some-" she began, her gentle admonishment forgotten as the bowl of what Jarod had insisted was food, was quickly thrown across the room and splattering the wall beside Celeste's bed with the green paste. "Ron!" she gasped, her hazel eyes lifting to find Ron's beautiful eyes locked on her for the first time in days.

Feeling her heart begin to pound in her chest as her hope began to soar, she couldn't help but lean closer to the boy that she loved as his whispered name fell from her lips - only to be rocked aside as one of the large, gentle hands that she loved so much struck her in a biting slap that nearly knocked her from the bed with its force. Softly crying out as the tears burned her eyes, Hermione held a small hand to her cheek as she stared at Ron in hurt confusion - confusion that caused her mounting hope to plummet and form a hard rock in her stomach.

"Dirty, dirty whore," Ron muttered, his eyes beginning to skip all around the spacious room as he once more failed to recognize the girl that sat by his side.

Feeling a sob choke in her throat, Hermione could only stare at her boyfriend in stunned silence as Molly Weasley quietly settled a motherly hand on the girl's small shoulder. "Here now, why don't you let me have a try for a while?" she asked, forcing a smile past her own tears as she gently pulled the girl from the bed and pushed her towards the open door.

Nodding absently, Hermione wrapped her arms protectively around her waist as she slowly backed towards the door, trying her best to ignore Ginny's pitying glance from where she tended to the slayer, apparently having much the same luck, as well as those of Sydney and Jarod from where they sat beside Miss Parker. Yet much to Hermione's dismay, her escape was soon blocked by the soft planes of the person who stood in the doorway behind her. Hastily wiping away her tears, Hermione quickly turned - only to freeze as she lifted her eyes to meet those of the best friend that she hadn't seen in weeks. "H-Harry," she stammered, her face beginning to flush as she realized with a sinking heart that he had to of witnessed the entire episode - one that had become all too common in the days since she and the Weasleys had followed Ron to the Centre in hopes of somehow helping to restore to him what had been lost. A fruitless hope.

Yet whatever excuses that she had been about to make were quickly forgotten as Harry gently drew her against his chest, his long arms wrapping around her slender waist and holding her against his chest. "I know," he murmured, his words a soft whisper against her ear as he brushed a gentle kiss on the crown of her frizzy head.

And with this small admission, Hermione found whatever barriers that she had erected quickly shatter as the sobs that she had been suppressing for so long began to wrack her lean form, her hot tears staining the fine leather of his jacket as she clung to this small piece of the past that she had shared with Ron. "It's so hard," she whispered in between frantic gasps of breath, her hands twisting in the material of Harry's coat as his arms tightened around her. "I know that he's in there somewhere. I know it! But... I don't know how to bring him back," she admitted as she nuzzled her head against Harry's chest. "After... after it happened to Celeste, I-I-I had researched for so long, trying so hard to find a way to help... but I can't help," she admitted with a muffled sob as she slowly tilted her tear-stained eyes up until they were locked upon Harry's haunted face. "None of us can. I just have to face the fact. Ron is gone."
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