"Check," Ron said, looking over at a disappointed Hermione.
"Just once," Hermione groaned. "If I could just win once before next week, I'd be happy."
Ron laughed, "That's been your goal ever since first year, hasn't it? Beating me at chess before we leave seventh year? Well, it's never going to happen." He looked her over appraisingly as she contemplated the board. She was biting her lip ever so slightly, the way she always did when she was concentrating. Ron had been envious of those teeth for as long as he could remember. He definitely wouldn't mind a nibble.
He forced himself to look back at the chessboard and put that thought to the back of his mind. It did no good to think like that. No good at all. Nothing would come from it. Ever.
"Go on, then. Make your move," Ron said, kicking her gently under the board.
Harry leaned over from his spot on the sofa and glanced down at the game. He chuckled softly before falling back down and staring once again at the roaring flames in the fireplace. His recent subdued manner was becoming highly frustrating for Ron. He almost would have preferred Harry going off on rants as he had their fifth and sixth years than to pensive state in which he now seemed to be stuck.
"Hey, Harry. Play winner, will you?" Ron suggested.
Harry shrugged indifferently. "Maybe."
Ron sighed slightly, wishing he knew how to help his friend. But before he could think of any tactics for that task, Hermione kicked him rather violently, saying, "Your move."
Ron looked back at the board. He had no idea what Hermione had just done, but no matter. He saw his next move as clear as day. "Checkma-"
But Ron got no further.
The chess pieces rattled and fell to the ground as the tower began to shake. As a deafening boom swept through the common room, Ron‘s eyes rushed to meet Hermione‘s, then they, together, met Harry‘s.
Breathless, Ron watched as Harry sprung from his seat to look out the nearest window.
Ron sat, planted in his seat. It couldn't be what they feared, could it? Not at Hogwarts.
Harry turned slowly back towards the common room with a grave look carved onto his face. "They're coming."
An hour later, Ron was trying to get Hermione to breathe calmly. She was shaking like mad and extremely close to hyperventilating. He couldn't blame her though, not after what had just happened with Malfoy out in the corridor.
Hermione had been trembling continuously for the past five minutes, ever since… ever since the red light of her stunning spell hit Malfoy and he fell back onto the suit of armour, a spear running straight through his black heart.
Ron had grabbed Hermione and got her away from there as fast as he could, leaving a paling Draco Malfoy and a hysterical Pansy Parkinson behind them.
Ron pulled her quietly into an empty corridor so she could regain her composure. She needed to be alert now, but they didn't have much time; Ron heard the fighting in the distance, closer now than it had been even five minutes before.
"Hermione…" Ron began.
"I'm fine, Ron." Hermione said stoutly. She looked anything but fine, but her eyes had come more into focus. "I'm fine," she repeated, looking Ron straight in the eye, resolutely.
Ron didn't have time to decipher whether she really was fine or not as three tall figures in dark hooded cloaks came around the corner at that moment. Death Eaters.
She raced down the corridor, away from the blast, praying her friends weren‘t hurt. Hermione had been separated from Ron after that first scuffle with Death Eaters at least a half hour ago, and she hadn‘t seen Harry in well over twice that.
She didn't know if they were alive or dead. There was no way to know if any of her friends were still breathing, as she hadn't seen anyone for the past fifteen minutes, friend or enemy. Hermione vaguely wondered if anyone was still living.
She ran through the halls of Hogwarts looking for someone—anyone to prove there was still life somewhere. She ran past familiar classrooms filled with memories of years past. She wondered, briefly, if they would all be tainted with this one horrific night.
She wondered how many more deaths she would have to see before this was over as she ran down a flight of stone steps. Would she even make it through the night?
Hermione reached the bottom and started towards the first floor, East Wing, when she found herself suddenly hurled to the ground, her wand flying from her hand. Her attacker straddled her and began clawing and punching Hermione's face all the while screeching "Filthy Mudblood bitch. You killed him! You killed him!"
Hermione stuck her hands out to block the attack and kicked with all her might. It took a minute, but she managed to free herself, and she quickly sprang to her feet and looked to identify her attacker.
"Parkinson," Hermione whispered as the Slytherin got to her knees. An apparently wandless, Pansy Parkinson was panting furiously. Her hair, usually perfectly placed, was wild, and she had a look of insane raw hatred mounted on her face.
The two girls stared at each other for a minute, neither one moving, when suddenly Parkinson lunged forward again. She caught Hermione around her waist causing her to fall back; yet where they should have come in contact with the floor, there was nothing, and the two girls fell slightly farther before hitting the sharp corners of the stairs leading down to the ground floor. Hermione tried to scream out in pain but found she could not. Her left shoulder bore the brunt of the fall and began to burn in agony. The pair continued falling down the flight and Hermione registering dully where her body hit each stair before one final blow to the head as she reached the landing. She groaned and forced herself to remain conscious. She had to get up. If she didn't now she never would.
She rolled onto her right, less painful side, and came face to face with Parkinson's wide-open, lifeless eyes. Letting out a yelp, she pushed herself into a sitting position, shuffling away from the dead Slytherin girl. She felt her hand brush up against something, but barely registered it. All she saw was the unnatural twist in Parkinson's neck and her dead eyes staring coldly up at her.
Hermione forced herself to look down. Her wand was resting next to her hand. She wasn't defenceless anymore.
She struggled to her feet. Even with her head a throbbing mess, she knew full well she couldn't stay here. She took one last look at Parkinson and fled, with a prominent limp, away from the stairwell and into the Muggle Studies wing. She passed by her third year classroom and turned right, down another hallway when she noticed the familiar red hair she was looking for.
She tried to run faster but couldn't. "Ron," she said, at almost a whisper. "Ron!" The second call came a bit louder, though not by much, but it was enough, and the redhead whipped around.
"Hermione," he said in a rasped voice, rushing toward her. "Oh, God." He looked as though he would be sick.
"Ron, you're ok," Hermione said, grabbing him in her arms as soon as he was in reach. "The blast… I didn't know…" but she couldn't go on. She wasn't making sense anymore. Stepping back from the hug, but still holding onto Ron‘s arms, she looked into his eyes, frantic for news. "Harry. Where's Harry?"
"He's fine. I saw him not long ago." Ron said shortly. There was a concern in Ron's eyes Hermione had barely ever seen before. It frightened her. "Oh, Hermione," Ron lifted his hand to her head, and brushed her hair from her face. It was only then that she realized it was soaked with blood. She winced as the pain registered in her head. "What happened?" Ron asked.
"Pansy Parkinson pushed me down the stairs," Hermione said, wincing at the freshness of the memory. She saw an anger enter into Ron's eyes entwined with his concern.
"I'll kill her. Where is she," Ron looked over Hermione's shoulder as though expecting to see her there.
Hermione tried to laugh ironically, but it came out sounding more like a cough. "No need. She's already dead. She fell with me and the fall broke her neck."
An unidentifiable look ran over Ron's face and Hermione had to force herself to remember to breathe. Ron slowly lifted his wand to Hermione's head and muttered a simple disinfecting spell to which Hermione winced as it stung slightly. "It won't stop the bleeding, but it might help…" he said, concern evidently ripping through his voice. It made Hermione weak in the knees.
Then Ron did something he had never done before. He hugged her.
She was stunned. Ron had never voluntarily hugged her before; it had always been she who initiated an embrace.
Suddenly, as though he realized what he had just done, Ron pulled back. Or did he? He was still so close. So very close. She felt his breath hitting her cheek and she looked up into his eyes. They seemed to be on fire, despite their watery blue shade, and his lips were so close… and getting closer.
Yes. This is what she wanted.
Centimetres apart, however, an explosion followed closely by a scream burst out from down the hall. The two Gryffindors broke fiercely apart, turning towards the noise. They glanced quickly at each other, knowing what they had to do, and took off to rejoin the battle.
* * *
Harry didn't know where his friends were. He didn't know if he would ever see them again, alive or dead. But he pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind. Now wasn't the time. Now there was only one thing.
He was here, at Hogwarts. Somewhere in the castle. And Harry would find him and finish this once and for all. He would finish this even if that meant he had to die in the process.
That was his purpose after all, wasn't it? That was what the prophecy said; that damned prophecy that had hurt so many fucking people. The prophecy that killed his parents, that broke down the friendship of the Marauders. The prophecy that got Neville's parents attacked, driving them to insanity. That fucking prophecy that Harry couldn't even bloody well make out fully. No matter how many times he went over it, there wasn't anything definite there.
Either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives….
Those were the words that stuck with Harry the most. Would they both be dead by the end of the night?
It didn't matter. His own life didn't matter now. Harry would kill Voldemort and if that meant he would have to die too, so be it. He was sick of the bullshit.
It was ending tonight.
* * *
Ron rushed into the Great Hall with Hermione at his side. What he saw amazed him and all Ron could do was stare. An entire wall was missing, as well as a good portion of the adjacent wall. Half of the ceiling was gone, while the remaining half was still and devoid of its magic. There were no discernable shapes, no clouds, no moon, no stars. There was nothing. Ron heard Hermione take a sharp intake of breath and he reached out and grabbed her hand.
He wasn't sure what had happened, but there seemed to be a new unspoken understanding between he and Hermione. Ever since they almost kissed in the hallway.
A rather large raindrop fell onto Ron's shoulder, and he could hear more drops falling around him as it began to pour. He felt Hermione's hand slip away as she turned to battle a faceless Death Eater. Ron was about to turn and help her when he spotted something out of the corner of his eye. He turned and had just enough time to yell out a shielding charm as a curse sped towards him.
He recognized the Death Eater as Mulciber. Throwing a hex at him, followed in quick succession by a stunning spell, Mulciber easily blocked the first, but he wasn‘t prepared for the stunning charm that hit him square in the chest. He fell to the floor and Ron quickly bound Mulciber as an extra precaution.
Ron turned around to help Hermione. He didn't want to leave her side. He wanted to protect her, but the place where Hermione had been a few minutes ago was empty. Looking wildly around, trying to get a glimpse of her bushy hair, he was disheartened to see she was nowhere in sight. An overwhelming sinking feeling immersed Ron as horrifying images flashed through his mind. Ron could feel the bile rising, but he swallowed it down and pushed his thoughts to the back of his mind. He couldn't allow himself to think like that. Hermione was fine; she had to be.
A raindrop landed on his nose and Ron realized that it wasn't a raindrop. Looking up to the inanimate ceiling, a chill ran through him. The ceiling looked like it was melting, dropping tears of colour over the battle scene. Ron was struck with the thought that it would be beautiful if it weren't for the fact that the scene was so horrific.
Ron saw his friends, in various states of health, fighting their common enemies. He saw flashes of green and red and blue as spells were thrown in every corner of the hall. Ron started as a bolt of green flew inches from his face. Ron turned ready to defend himself and his friends knowing full well that he would gladly lay down his life to protect the ones he loved.
* * *
Hermione ran over towards his broken body holding out her wand screaming, "Enervate" desperately praying it wasn't what it looked like. She fell to her knees next to Ron's unconscious form frantically muttering the seemingly ineffective spell.
"No!" No, this couldn't be happening. Hermione's wand fell through her fingertips and made a dull thud as it hit the floor. One moment of stillness, waiting for movement. A breath. Anything. Please.
When nothing happened she collapsed onto Ron's terrifyingly still chest.
"Ron! No… no. Enervate…please," she muttered. "Please, Ron, Enervate." She broke down into uncontrollable sobs, muttering incoherent words. It just couldn't be. It couldn't end like this. Ron wasn't… he couldn't be…
But there was a nagging in the back of her mind. He's gone. He's not breathing; and he won't ever take a breath again. Give up, Hermione. It's hopeless.
"No!" Hermione wailed against Ron's chest.
"Hermione?" a voice questioned. She felt the speaker put a hand on her shoulder, which Hermione tried to shake off. She didn't want comfort, she was alive, while Ron wasn't. She didn't deserve comfort.
"Go away. Leave me alone," Hermione whimpered as she started rocking back and forth. "Just go away." She clutched Ron's shirt, now damp with her tears as well as blood shed from both of them.
"Hermione?" the voice repeated. It had a touch of concern, but she didn't want to hear it. It didn't matter; nothing mattered now.
At that moment, the still rock of Ron's body Hermione had been leaning on with her full weight stirred ever so slightly. She froze.
"Hermione?" the voice came again. Only then did she realize where the voice was coming from. Beside her. Beneath her. She knew that voice.
She raised her head tentatively, turning it ever so slightly to her right. Her hair had somehow managed to completely cover her face, but it did not dim the pair of concerned blue eyes staring into hers. A wave of intense relief washed over Hermione, but relief was not strong enough a word. What she was feeling was more powerful than anything she had ever felt before. The tears that had stopped moments ago began flowing freely down her cheeks. Ron awkwardly pulled himself into a sitting position.
"Ron!" she managed before falling back down onto the redhead, this time on his shoulder. "You're alive. You're ok," she breathed hoarsely. And before she realized what she was doing, she raised her head from his shoulder and placed her lips on his. It was fierce and intense. Four years of desire flooded forward as though a dam had been broken and there was nothing left to contain her pent up reserve of emotion. All control was lost. Ron kissed her back with the same amount of wanting, pushing her hair from her face and cupping her chin with his hands.
Electricity flowed through her body as Ron moved his hands to her back, slowly, almost painfully slow. Hermione ran her right hand over his shoulder and up his neck, placing it on the back of his head and pulled, desperate to get as much of Ron as possible. But Ron winced and drew in a painful breath at this sudden movement. Hermione instantly loosened her grasp and it was then she realized that her hand and Ron's head were both caked with blood.
Hermione looked cautiously into Ron's eyes, pushing her stray hair out of her face with her left hand. There was such an intensity of emotion emanating from them, Hermione was sure she would have fallen back to the ground if Ron's arms weren't wrapped firmly around her. The look terrified and exhilarated her at the same time and Hermione wouldn't have traded it for the world.
"I thought you were dead," she said weakly.
"So did I," Ron replied, sounding amazed.
"You're hurt," Hermione found herself saying and she silently cursed her for sounding so stupid. Of course he was hurt; they were all hurt.
Ron looked away, as though ashamed of his injury. "Yeah, well," he tried, his gaze coming to a rest on Hermione's left side. "So are you."
Hermione laughed despite herself, which quickly dissolved into a sob. Ron once again looked Hermione in the eye, with the same intense look he had just given her before. "Hermione," he rasped, desire ringing through his voice.
She leaned forward, drawn by an inexplicable force and once again found her lips resting on Ron's. This kiss, though not as fierce as the first, lacked none of its intensity. It was a more timid, questioning kiss. Hermione found herself being amazed this was finally happening, and no less in a battlefield after a gory fight. She knew Ron was thinking something along the same lines.
They pulled away slowly and Ron gave a noise that sounded very much like a laugh. Hermione opened her eyes and looked questioningly into Ron's eyes, the blue practically absent; his pupils were so large.
"I've been wanting to do that for years," he rasped.
Hermione let out a laugh of her own. "Me too." She pulled him closer for another quick kiss.
They parted, Ron looking at her with a lopsided smile that suddenly flickered. His voice changing to a more serious tone he asked, "Where's Harry? What's happening? Where's Voldemort?"
Hermione let her relief show to Ron as she broke the news, "He's ok, Harry's alive. He…" She swallowed hard, still unable to believe the truth. "He killed Voldemort. Its over. Its over."
Hermione saw relief wash over Ron as well. She pulled him in, dropping her head on his shoulder knowing full well she had no intention of ever letting go.
* * *
Harry looked down at the mass that contained the remains of Voldemort. Cloth and ash. That was all that was left. No flesh. Voldemort wasn't human; there wouldn't be flesh. Harry leaned against the wall and slid down into a sitting position; his elbows leaning on his knees, his head cradled in his hands.
He had done it. And had survived. It was over.
Harry proved he could kill. Several times over, in fact. He felt a sickening rise in his stomach, and hoped he would never have to prove that again.
A tingling sensation started scratching at the backs of his eyes and Harry dug his hands beneath his glasses and pressed deeply into his eyes. He wouldn't do that. He lifted his head, willing his tears to subside and he looked around the Great Hall.
The wreckage, the carnage. Bodies. They were everywhere. Slumped over rocks and tables. Covered in blood and burns. Some wounded, others lifeless. Students and professors among them both. Friends as well as the enemies.
And for what?
There was a fire blazing in a far corner of the Hall. Harry made out Luna standing next to it. She was alive, but next to her was Neville, dead. Harry looked around noting his friends who had not survived, and those who had. But he had yet to see the two people who he called his best friends, and fear began to invade his chest.
And then his eyes caught them and Harry felt a fierce tugging sensation in his chest, replacing the fear, as he was abruptly reminded why they had been fighting. What the war had been about. Harry suddenly felt drained.
Life. They were going to be able to live. In peace, for now. Hopefully.
And love. That most importantly.
He felt a renegade tear fall down his dirt-streaked cheek, but did nothing to banish it; he didn‘t have the energy. Instead he dropped his left arm from his knee and grasped for the small hand of the person sitting next to him. The person, who minutes earlier, risked her life for his. Defending him against Death Eaters as he went after Voldemort. She defended him, as he knew he would have, and would always, defend her.
"Thank you, Ginny," Harry whispered.
She tightened her grasp on Harry's hand and Harry felt her head leaning on his shoulder moments later. He leaned his head on Ginny's and smiled faintly.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
A/N: I owe thanks to several people who have helped bring this fic to where it is now. Many, many thanks to Jalyn, Black Angel, Alex, and GinnylovesHarry (big hugs!). And of course, a big thank you to anyone reading this now! Bisous!!