A/N: This has been, from the beginning, meant as an alternate universe fic. Not that I’m taking a whole lot of liberties with canon, of course—in fact, as the books are published now it would fit—but I knew from the starting that there would be no way that JKR would allow book seven to end in such a way that this scenario would be possible.
Many thanks go to Incurable Romantic for pre-betaing, and Musings for phenomenal beta work (especially helping me patch up those pesky plot holes!).
Just let it stop. Stop. Stop. StopstopstopstopstopstopSTOP!
He opened his eyes, barely a crack. There was a blur standing over him, some combination of red hair and freckles. Ron.
“Harry,” the voice – though strained – was certainly Ron’s. “Harry! Harry look at me!” Two warms hands on his face brought his gaze to look directly at his best friend. The world started to swim.
“Ron, tell Ginny...” he tried to say, but he had no wind. Collapsed lung, he thought. Instead he grunted, painfully.
“You’re okay,” Ron told him, more, it seemed, for Ron’s own benefit than anything else. “Harry, Ginny’s been asking for you—she’s with the healers right now: got on the wrong side of a rather strong Impedimentia curse, nearly threw her five hundred feet. Lucky she landed behind our line. She’ll be fine—all she got was a dislocated shoulder and a broken leg.” He grimaced. “No offense, mate, she looks a helluva lot better than you do right now. Let me tell you, though, she’s making a racket about not being allowed back out to fight. How she means to fight on crutches with an unusable wand arm, I’m not sure, and she better not try!”
This last was growled. Harry was puzzled for a moment. Why can’t they heal her?
As if divining his thoughts, Ron explained. “See, they don’t want to use magic until they find out just what other curses and jinxes she’s under. They tried healing poor Luna’s arm a little earlier and she sprouted an extra set of arms and legs. They’ve got a whole team of healers working on her, but she keeps saying that no one should worry, it’s all from the something-or-other curse that was cast on her whole family because of her great uncle Walter or something like that.” Ron was rambling, Harry knew he was nervous. His injuries must be pretty bad, he thought. Perhaps even as bad as they felt.
A small explosion went off somewhere to his left. “Fighting’s still going,” Ron continued. “You’d be proud; Neville held off three Death Eaters while you were chasing off that Dementor. He’s still out there, keeping Avery off McGonagall while she’s pulling Snape out of the rubble from the North tower. I know, I know, I haven’t figured out why she wanted to save the git in the first place, but there’s McGonagall for you. Still insists that Dumbledore knew what he was talking about. Still no sign of Vol...well, you know. Good thing, too—you’re in no shape to take him the way you are. Next battle.”
Ron glanced up. “Say, what do you reckon is going on over there?” It was a rhetorical question, as Harry was obviously incapable of answering, but it brought his attention to the growing level of noise off to his left. If he could have turned his head he would have, but as it was he had to rely on Ron’s rather sketchy details to figure out what was going on. “Hey, isn’t that Malfoy? Not Draco, but his dad. How’d he get out of Azkaban, I wonder? Damn Ministry employees, don’t know how to properly guard anything.” If Harry could have, he would have pointed out that Ron’s own father was a Ministry employee, but his friend somehow managed to ignore that particular point. “Oh, and Bellatrix, daring to show her ugly face. Oh, and there goes Tonks after her! Nice one Tonks!” he shouted this last, as though the Metamorphmagus could hear him over the battle noise. “Wait no, turn around...oooh, I reckon that hurt! Bellatrix, not Tonks,” he added for Harry’s benefit. “Oh, and look at that, here comes that prat Amycus. You know, the one that tried to curse Ginny, what was it, three years ago? You know, at...” Ron trailed off, and turned to someone out of Harry’s sightline. “The fighting’s getting closer, we need to move faster.”
This was Harry’s first indication that they were moving, though now that he thought about it, he had seen the odd tree branch pass over Ron’s head throughout the conversation. Strange though, that he hadn’t felt any movement...it was then that he realized that he really couldn’t feel anything below his waist; all the pain that he felt was from his chest, a cracked collarbone and a few ribs, the collapsed lung, as well as the various cuts and bruises that went along with those injuries. He tried to move his foot, but really had no idea if he was at all successful. He gave up as Ron turned back to him.
“The battle’s moving toward us. We’re going to try and avoid it through the forest, but in case we can’t—” There was a pause, and Ron looked at him apologetically before covering him with a warm, soft blanket. It took Harry a moment to identify his own Invisibility Cloak. “There’s a Portkey here. I’ll set it to go off in ten minutes unless I deactivate it. It’ll send you back to the Burrow—Mum’s there and she can take care of you until we’re done here.”
“Gih-gih!” Urgently, Harry tried to speak, but a gurgling cough came out instead. His ears roared with the pain in his chest, but he needed to know. He couldn’t leave unless he knew that Ginny would be safe, would get far from the battle. He was lucky, or perhaps just becoming predictable and; Ron knew what he wanted to say.
“Hermione’s with Ginny—she was right near where she landed and carried her to the healers. Don’t worry about them. They know to Portkey out of here if things get bad.” Harry could hear Ron smiling, though his voice was also tinged with worry. “Our girls are going to be fine.”
There was a pause and Harry could just barely make out Ron whispering the incantation before pressing what seemed to be a coin into Harry’s hand. “My DA coin. Knew it would come in handy for something.” Another pause came as Ron obviously struggled with what to say. “If-if I don’t make it back...”
Harry groaned in protest, and coughed again. His lungs felt like fire.
Ron continued after giving Harry a dirty look. “See here, you’re my best mate and if there’s any body better to take care of my little sister, it’s you. I just wish you’d get off this whole noble hero thing and tell her you love her, ‘sall. It’s all fine that you want to protect her and everything, but I’m not so sure that she wants to be protected in the first place.” He’s growing up, Harry thought. We all are. We have to. Then Ron snorted. “Believe me, every time I try I wind up with a bloodied nose or a face full of bat wings. So, really...”
Another explosion, this time off to the right and closer than ever, shook them. Ron continued, more hurriedly. “Take care of Hermione, too. I know she can take care of herself and all, but...still. Tell her I love her.”
Harry wanted to protest that Ron would be fine, that he should tell her himself. Instead an almost angry growl came out. Ron didn’t hear it, though, for the explosion that came right over Harry’s left shoulder. He could hear shouting, recognized Neville’s voice calling “Oi, Ron! Some help here?”
Ron bent once more to speak to Harry. “When you finally get to Voldemort...give him hell. For me.” With that he leapt away, and Harry could hear his shouts among the curses, jinxes, and battle cries flying through the air.
Harry’s frustration grew as the next few moments passed. He heard someone throw a Cruciatus curse, heard the screams as it hit the victim; Harry could see with his mind’s eye the body twitching and curling, the mouth stretched open beyond the limits of the jaw. He saw, in his mind’s eye, Frank and Alice Longbottom as they lay in their beds in St. Mungo’s, forever driven insane by that same curse. He wanted to get up, to help to fight. But he could only lie limply, unable to stand or even speak.
A strange thought came to him: the thought of lying underneath his aunt and uncle’s windowsill, trying to listen in to the television news, to hear of any sort of catastrophe, any strange death. He’d felt so helpless then, too, unable to do anything about the war, stuck, imprisoned, with just the faint hope of the Muggle news stations for any rumor, any hint of what was going on in his world. Just like now, stuck, imprisoned by a body that wouldn’t work, helpless, helpless, helpless...
This was the last thought that stuck with him as a final explosion hit. It was close, so close that a chunk of rock came flying into him, just as he felt, barely, the tugging of the Portkey. He felt nothing more.