I Take All the Blame

Chapter 17

Every road that I've been down
The only truth that I have found,
There's only one thing I can't live without--
You...


~lyrics from "You" by Rascal Flatts


The travelling went by slowly. I was on the very first broom, along with Malfoy himself. Without the adrenaline that I had had earlier, when I was bent on saving Harry and Ron, my fear of heights returned. I contemplated purposely vomiting on Malfoy behind me, but decided that it would be best if I didn't convince him to push me off.

After thirty minutes of flying, I instructed the Death Eaters to land in a small clearing beneath us. Instinctively, I looked around, searching for a possible way to escape. Malfoy noticed the darting of my eyes and laughed menacingly.

"Don't even think about it, Mrs. Rollins," he said, smirking. "Even a witch as gifted as yourself can't escape sixty Death Eaters—especially when she's unarmed and doesn't have any back-up."

The Death Eaters let out simultaneous laughter, but I was hardly conscious of it. My heart began to beat slightly faster and I tried to hide my excitement.

All sixty Death Eaters were here.

Which meant that Harry and Ron weren't being guarded.

My mind was racing. If I could somehow escape, there would be nothing stopping me from freeing my two best friends. Even if I didn't escape, Harry and Ron would probably be able to themselves. Their lives wouldn't be in danger, no matter what happened to me in the end.

My thoughts returned to the present with a sudden pain to my wrists. Malfoy had incinerated the rope with his wand, freeing my hands. I turned slowly to face him, and he eyed me expectantly.

"Well?" he asked, his voice becoming slightly threatening. "Where is it?"

"In a tree," I responded curtly.

Immediately, every single Death Eater was searching the tiny clearing as if the fountain of youth were somehow concealed within the trees. Some began climbing, others looked near the ground. There weren't many hollow trees in this particular clearing, but all of them were searched thoroughly.

I felt anxiety as I waited for them to realize I had led them to the wrong spot. I could tell Malfoy was getting increasingly impatient, and he was just about ready to kill me and search the whole forest himself.

That was exactly what I wanted him to do.

I was not going to hand him all three hallows. Without the third, he wouldn't have the same amount of power as he would otherwise. It didn't matter that he didn't understand how to use them or their significance to the magical world; I couldn't hand him that kind of power. Too long I had avoided my responsibilities to the magical world, all because of my selfish desires—I should have been focusing on how I could help rid the world of this evil instead of hiding behind charmed walls. I knew that I truly had loved Nick, but he was right—he shouldn't have asked me to give up this part of my life, and I shouldn't have given in.

Today I was repenting of my sin. I was going to protect the magical world—my world—to the end of my life.

Eventually, the Death Eaters gave up their search and returned to the small clearing, each and every one of them glaring straight at me. I stared straight ahead, refusing to acknowledge their presence.

Malfoy turned on me, his eyes furious. "Where is it?"

I tried to keep myself calm as I waited for him to get it all over with. "Parts of the forest look very similar. I must have accidentally brought you to the wrong spot."

I saw the veins in his neck pulsating. "GIVE IT TO ME!"

I silently shook my head.

He screamed in frustration, causing many of the Death Eaters to back away in fear. I involuntarily took a step backward as he pointed his wand at my chest.

I heard screaming before he even uttered a spell, and spun around to see acromantulas attacking the Death Eaters. Immediately, chaos ensued. Turning back around, I saw Malfoy with his eyes wide open, staring up at the creatures above him.

This was my chance.

I dashed forward, hardly thinking about what I was doing. There was a broom lying unclaimed at the base of a nearby tree. I snatched it up and mounted it, kicking off from the ground almost instantaneously. Remembering that it was Zabini who had my wand, I swooped down to the ground, where he was whimpering as the giant spiders neared him. No one seemed to notice my flight until I pulled my wand out of his back pocket. His eyes met mine in amazement and he screamed.

"SHE'S ESCAPING!"

Curses flew in my direction, all of them missing in the confusion. I only glimpsed a few of the Death Eaters attempt to mount brooms before they were stopped by the acromantulas, then turned my face away from the scene below me, concentrating on my destination, my goal—to save my best friends.

To save the one I loved.

The flight into the forbidden forest had seemed to take hours, but the flight back felt like seconds. Before I knew it, I was back at the entrance of the cave, this time clear of any guards. I half fell off of my broom before I began running through the tunnels, desperate to find my friends. They twisted and turned in so many directions that I felt I would be lost in the maze for the rest of eternity.

Until I heard a familiar voice.

"Harry, we HAVE to get out of here!"

I thought my heart was going to burst out of my body with the joy of hearing his voice. I ran faster in the direction of his voice, pulled by an unidentified force toward his prison.

"We've tried everything—"

"Then we need to try HARDER! Hermione needs us!"

I turned a corner, and suddenly they were there. Harry was the first to see me, his green eyes wide and his mouth slightly ajar. I finally stopped running as Ron turned and our eyes met. They were filled with fire and determination, love and friendship, loyalty and bravery, and so many more emotions that I could barely understand. It seemed impossible that I had ever accused him of having the emotional range of a teaspoon.

I felt tears roll down my cheek as he smiled. I began running once more, eager to free my friends, to embrace Ron.

"CRUCIO!"

I shrieked in pain. Everything became a blur as my body fell to the ground and began convulsing. I heard Ron scream my name and struggled to call out to him, but the only sound that could escape my lips was a bloodcurdling scream. It felt as if the pain would never end, as if I would be subject to this torture for the rest of eternity.

The curse was lifted. I lay awkwardly on the ground, trying to catch my breath, until I was pulled up from the floor by a powerful hand.

"WHERE IS IT?"

Malfoy's face was inches away from mine. The room had gone completely silent, and all the emotions of joy and happiness felt seconds before were gone and replaced by fear. His eyes looked as if they were about to pop out of their sockets, and his teeth were clenched in anger and frustration.

Refusing to speak to him, I simply spit in his face. He roared in rage, throwing me back to the ground.

"CRUCIO!"

The pain seemed to last longer this time than the first. Once the curse was lifted, I glimpsed Ron's face, tears streaming down his cheeks, powerless to save me from this torture.

"LEAD ME TO THE STONE!" Malfoy insisted.

Again, I did not respond, and again, I began screaming as my body was pulled in every which direction. Why didn't he just kill me? When was he going to realize I would never lead him to the stone?

The curse was lifted once again. I whimpered as he knelt down next to me.

"Last chance."

Sobbing, I shook my head. He stood, enraged, and pointed his wand at me once more. This time I knew the curse would be fatal.

When they say your life flashes before your eyes, it's entirely true. I experienced it to some degree when Katie attempted to kill me, and I experienced it once more at this moment. I saw the Troll on Halloween, the Yule Ball, the Department of Mysteries, Nick in the Grocery, Harry's defeat of Voldemort, my wedding, my burning house, and countless other images flash through my mind. I saw Harry's face, full of horror for his friend. My eyes met Ron's, filled with just as much pain as I had been feeling. I closed my eyes and felt once again the feeling of Ron's lips against mine, holding onto that feeling with everything I had.

"AVADA KADAVRA!"

As the green light approached me rapidly, I felt a violent push to the side. Confused and weak, I struggled to my feet to see Alia lying where I had been, completely still. I blinked, barely comprehending the scene before me. She must have followed Malfoy and myself back to the cave, feeling she had to atone for the evil she had done, had to help save those she imprisoned. She ran in at the moment that I was about to lose my life, glimpsed the sadness and pain on Ron's face, and made a decision.

Alia had died to save my life.

Malfoy, although shocked, threw back his head and laughed at the young girl lying dead on the dirt. Recognizing yet another opportunity, I ran forward and seized Malfoy's hand, violently yanking the horcrux off of his ring finger.

He screamed in pain and tumbled to the ground, sending a stinging curse towards me as he fell. The ring fell out of my hand to the ground, directly in front of Malfoy. Having lost his source of power that he had been dependent on for the last three years, he reached weakly in an effort to retrieve it. Much to his dismay, it burst into flames right before his eyes. He sat up quickly and stared at me, my wand pointed at the ashes that had been the last horcrux.

"You were never meant for this, Malfoy," I said softly. "You're too much of a coward."

His eyes narrowed and he screamed in fury. Scrambling to his feet, he pointed his wand at me.

"You'll pay!" he shrieked, sending curse after curse in my direction. I was blocking them sufficiently, but his power was increasing with each spell. He eventually backed me up against the wall, his eyes blazing.

"EXPELLIARMUS!" I chanted.

He flew across the tunnel and hit the wall opposite me. His wand hit the ground before he did, and snapped in two. He stared at me blankly, his own nature slowly returning to his body. He looked around at the dungeon, and his face contorted in disgust. I could almost see him remembering everything he had done over the past three years, executing his father, torturing innocent muggles and wizards, striking fear into the hearts of everyone around him.

The memory of killing a defenseless husband and child.

He forced himself to meet my eyes. I saw genuine pain across his face. He seemed to have grown older in just a moment. He knew what he had done to me and my family, and he couldn't bear to face me because of it.

"Granger," he whispered, "Did…did I really…"

"No," I replied, almost forcing myself to say the words, though I knew they were true. "Voldemort did."

He rubbed his temples as I knelt by Alia's body. Her face for once seemed peaceful; she had come to terms with herself in the moments before her death, had repented of any evil she had done towards anyone else.

I sighed and turned to see Malfoy standing.

"I can't believe—" he stammered.

"You might want to get out of here," I suggested, nodding towards the cell at the end of the tunnel. "The two of them don't tend to forgive.

Malfoy followed my advice as Harry yelled in protest.

"You letting him go?!" Harry bellowed. "After all he's done?"

"He didn't really do it," I said in my defense, still debating whether or not I should have let him go.

"What are you talking about, Hermione! He destroyed everything important to you—"

"NO, he didn't!" I responded, frustrated. "Voldemort did!"

"Hermione, Voldemort's dead—"

"Now, he is!" I responded, gesturing to the ashes on the floor. "It was another horcrux, Harry! None of that was Draco Malfoy."

The hall was completely silent. Again, I met Ron's eyes, and realized that he hadn't said anything since I told Malfoy to run.

Seemingly reading my mind, Ron forced himself to smirk. "I knew that if you weren't going to kill him yourself, there was probably a good reason."

I heard myself laugh despite the tragedy and death around me. His eyes sparkled with laughter and excitement.

"So are you going to let us out of here, or what?"

I unlocked the cell with my wand and immediately began running towards Ron, and he to me. We met halfway and shared the most passionate kiss I had ever experienced and probably ever will experience in my lifetime. The world seemed to stop turning; we forgot everything that was happening around us and sent all of our energy into letting the other know how much we loved them. I sighed as we parted, and he wrapped me up in a tight embrace. He was shaking with relief.

"I can't believe Alia saved you," Ron whispered as Harry knelt by her body.

I smiled. "She did it for you."

I felt his arms relax a little. After another moment, he sighed and released me.

"This isn't right, Hermione," he said softly. "I'm sorry if Alia or I made you think I—"

I felt my heart skip a beat. "Do you not love me, Ron?"

He sighed. "Hermione, I've always loved you. I just don't want to hurt you."

"How could you ever hurt me?"

He shook his head and looked into the distance. "I wasn't trying to make you feel this way, Hermione, I swear! I just wanted to be a good friend!"

"And you have been."

"You're husband died just three weeks ago," he whispered, backing away slightly. "I can't take you away from him this way."

"You're not," I replied, pulling him closer to me. I felt him shiver as I leaned forward. I kissed his cheek and whispered in his ear before again meeting his lips.

"Trust me."

***

A/N: Are you on your feet? Are you politely applauding in your seats? Are you leaving the theatre, disgusted by what you just saw? Whichever it is, I can't tell you how happy I am you were here for the performance! Have a nice night, and please come back to see our other shows anytime, such as "Fallen Redemption," "Kissed by Death," and "Victim of Prophecy." Thanks for coming along this journey with me; I hope you found it worth your time, and I hope you stay for the short epilogue!

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