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Chapter 1: One
Death hung in the air, a rancid smell that hovered over bodies of the injured and passed, scattering itself all over the grassy lawn and entwining with the crushed grass underfoot. There were so many people, some crouched over figures of friends and lovers, some trying to clear the massive amounts of rubble near the castle. The chaos that had taken place just hours ago was now reinstated with the shouting of the standing and the moaning of the hurt.
There she lay, her dark hair stained with her blood that smelled of copper and salt. She couldn't move. She didn't want to move. Any shifting of her form would result in pain pulsing through her nerves like icy-hot liquid. So she lay there, unable to change her position on the ground, staring with half-opened eyes at the sky above.
Thousands of stars glittered above her, almost chiming together in a laughter she was unable to hear. Soon, she knew she would become one of them, and leave her paralyzed body to the Earth while she floated away to the Heavens.
Her eyelids were heavy and fluttered shut while she choked out a breath. Her lungs were struggling, against what, she wasn't sure. Breathing was beginning to get harder, as if a stone off the castle had been placed on her chest. So she drew in the air around her in short, shallow breaths.
The ground beneath her was cold and hard, and if she opened her eyes she would be able to make out the stains of blood that were not her own. So many people around her were hurting, or, worse, already dead. But there were a few like her: those who were so close to the end, they could almost feel the warm fingers of life leaving them. Indeed, she knew her breaths were numbered. The coldness surrounding her, slowly creeping into her veins, was a sure sign that death was floating patiently above her.
She opened her eyes once more in an attempt to catch a fleeting glance of the night she was lying in. Her lungs were practically choking on the air that filled them, causing her to splutter softly while she breathed. It was almost peaceful, lying there, motionless, while waiting for the skeletal fingers of death to take her away.
But then, just as she was about to close her eyes, perhaps for the last time, she was greeted by a familiar face. Hermione Granger, a girl she never particularly liked, hovered above her. The ice in her nerves was making its way up to her mind, but she fought for just a moment longer, finding comfort in a face she recognized. Hermione said nothing, but licked her lips and began to bend down.
Her mind was becoming numb, a paralysis she couldn't begin to control invading her senses. All of it was closing in on her, the peaceful moments she had once enjoyed had been wiped away entirely to be replaced by a fiery will within. She wasn't ready yet. She didn't want to fade away. So in that moment, she fought.
Pain shot through her like a million tiny icicles as Hermione helped her to stand. It tore at her limbs like nothing she'd ever experienced before, and caused her to cry out in agony. Hermione was saying something beside her as she steadied her shoulders, but her ravaged mind couldn't process it. Her entire world now revolved around the anguished torture every inch of her body was feeling. Again, she let a gut-wrenching scream rip its way through her chest.
Collapsing against Hermione, she allowed herself to be carried and dragged towards the castle's Great Hall. The cold was gradually fading away, now that Hermione had her grip on her. The ringing in her ears and the stone on her lungs were softening slightly, though every time Hermione took a step, pain still shredded her insides. It was unbearable, being carried in such a way that nothing you did could make you feel any better. She had had just about enough of it when they reached the Great Hall's sea of brown tables.
Chatter engulfed her mind, though she couldn't make out what anybody was saying. It was all just a jumble to her, just distorted sound that reached her ears and penetrated her tired brain. She couldn't make sense of it, and it was maddening. The ringing in her ears, which had previously faded, had grown to a shrill frequency, driving itself into every cavity of her psyche and blocking out all other sound.
Before she knew it, Hermione had loosened her hold and was laying her down on a warm wooden surface. The cold was receding from her figure, its icy fingers curling upwards from her clammy skin as it left her form entirely. The stone from the castle had been lifted from her chest, allowing the breathing to continue and the choking to stop.
Eyes open, she glanced around the room she had been placed in. People crowded tables, some lying still and others offering words to warm the soul. The stars were no longer in view, which, surprisingly, was almost a little disappointing to her. She couldn't hear their silent laughter or gaze upon their twinkling faces. No longer could she smell the grass which was permeated with a strangely metallic smell, or listen to the pleas and shouts from the injured lying around her. Instead, she focused on the shrill ringing in her ears and the distorted chatter that surrounded her.
Slowly, a small group of people began to gather around her table, the crowd mostly consisting of dorm-mates and boyfriends past. Each of them was talking, either to her or to others around them, and though she couldn't understand what they were saying, her name could be read passing on their lips.
She closed her eyes again, enjoying the comfort of people surrounding her. Somebody had taken a damp towel to her hair, so that the salty smell of blood no longer trespassed under her nose. She hadn't gone to join the stars as she thought she would, and the ice had been stopped in its tracks. And, although agony still ripped through her when she tried to move, she was alive. And, in that moment, that was all that mattered.