Chapter 1 : A Last Battle Tale: In The Face Of Fear
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Disclaimer: These characters are not mine. The places are not mine. Winged Spwatlers and the plot, however, are mine.
Torrents of rain fell to the earth as lightning flared and thunder roared. It made the looming castle of Hogwarts seem less than cheerful. Almost foreboding, one might say.
The students that were in this castle were in groups. No one fancied being alone on a night as dark as this one. On this night particularly, the eve of the Last Battle with the Dark Lord, the students were quiet, but together.
“Tell them to stay together and sleep if they can. Administer any sleep potions needed for these soldiers.” Dumbledore had quietly ordered the staff of Hogwarts earlier that night.
All the students remaining in each house (most were Sixth and Seventh years, with a trickle of Fifth and Fourth) gathered in their respective Common Rooms gravely. The serious silence that had taken hold of many, if not all, of the students only added to the eerie mood of the castle.
However, there was a handful of students not residing in their Common Rooms at the moment. Harry Potter, now in his last and Seventh year at Hogwarts, had been the one to suggest moving to an old favourite place, the Room of Requirement, and was followed easily by Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Neville. Luna Lovegood had been in the room already, her hair touching the ground as she lay upside down on a couch waiting for them.
“I knew you were coming.” She had stated as she rolled herself upright, “the Winged Spwatlers* came just before you got here and told me.”
Harry shared a look with Ron and they both glanced at Hermione, who was stubbornly tight-lipped.
The torch-lit room was equipped with beds, pulled together, for each person, as well as a table with a pitcher of Pumpkin Juice on it along with some fruits and vegetables, and peanut butter sandwiches for Ron.
The six friends lounged lazily, or so it seemed. You see, no more preparation needed to be made for the Last Battle which was to occur at dusk on the following day. Dumbledore’s Army had only to wait, and sleep, knowing of a horror that waited at their next waking. Each of the six leaned on each other for support, but at the same time they dealt with it in their own way.
Neville’s face was pasty white, and he was wearing three jumpers plus a cloak and was still shaking. Ginny was curled up, her head on Ron’s leg, and she was clutching a pillow as she stared distantly at the wall with moist eyes. Ron was absently looking at his sister, his throat parched, his stomach rumbling, and his mouth was moving silently as he went over spell after spell in his head. Hermione was reading Hogwarst: A History, for what she was convinced was her last time, and randomly she would shakily pronounce a useless fact about Hogwarts.
“Hogwarts was a place for incurably criminal boys for a spell in the Dark Ages. Funny, isn’t that Harry?” Harry had only raised an eyebrow in response to that piece of information.
Luna herself looked calm. Almost as if she couldn’t care less, but she was staring fixedly at Harry who was clutching his wand, biting his thumb nail and glaring angrily at the floor.
“Harry,” Neville pronounced thickly after Hermione’s latest fact Did you know that the Hogwarts school song was written for Helga Hufflepuff by her 8 year old twins on Mother’s Day? “Are you scared?”
Harry stopped biting his nails and looked up as everyone peered at him, waiting for an answer. “I’ve been scared for the past 2 years of my life.” Harry admitted heavily.
Luna continued staring, Hermione nodded, and a tear dribbled from Ginny’s eyelash.
“My Gran,” Neville started slowly, wrapping the comforter of his bed around him as well, “says that she wishes she were here to help, but since she’s too old she says that I have to take her place. My Gran says I shouldn’t be scared at all because my parents were never scared, and they’re still…alive.”
Ginny’s chin quivered, and Ron stopped going over spells and was instead looking at his suddenly interesting hands.
Neville’s eyes swiftly filled with tears, his lips became harder to move the way he wanted them to, “But I don’t call that alive. I want to fight, but I’m afraid of ending up like them. What if I get tortured- you know- and can’t remember anything? Give all you guys candy wrappers when you come visit me in St. Mungo’s. And what if I di—“
“No, Neville.” Hermione sprung from her chair and she went to the crying boy, wrapping her arms around him. “We won’t let that happen.”
When no one else said anything, Hermione glared around sharply.
“We’re in this together.” Was what Harry offered, and that was the last thing that was said.
Not long after Neville was asleep, his face still wet with tears. Hermione laid him down and made him comfortable, as a mother would her child. Ron lifted his head to see Hermione look at her hands, which were slightly shaking, angrily cross her arms and walk over to Luna who still on the couch but asleep in a most unusual way. Hermione pulled a blanket off an empty bed and covered Luna with it.
Hermione then turned and looked at Harry, who was almost asleep on top of the covers of his bed. She went over to her best friend and soothed his sleepy whines as she helped him under the covers. Ron closed his eyes and looked away as Hermione sat on Harry’s bed, gazing at him as she pushed the unruly bangs off his face.
Ron was not one to admit himself to be the jealous type (He was not even one to admit that he actually Liked Hermione), but when he realized that he was silently cursing Harry because Hermione was touching him, he sighed and opened his eyes. He looked down at Ginny, who was curled up at his side under his arm. Seeing as both Ginny and his arm were asleep, he decided that it was time to move. Carefully he laid Ginny down and tucked her in, as Hermione was doing to the others.
Ron looked up as he slid from the bed. His brown eyes darted around the room.
Hermione was gone.
Eyebrows narrowed in confusion as Ron noted that everyone else was asleep, and he was pretty sure that it was Neville and Luna who were snoring. This of course meant that he had no clue where the darned girl had gotten to.
Ron made sure that he had his wand in his jeans pocket – they were all dressed as muggles – before heading towards the door. His stomach stopped him however, with a huge argumentative grumble. Ron charged back to the table holding the snacks and grabbed one of the peanut butter sandwiches, stuffing half of it into his mouth in one bite before leaving the Room in search of Hermione.
“Library.” Ron whispered with his mouthful of sandwich. And his feet traced their way towards the library when he suddenly stopped. Anything Hermione Required, even in reading material, would have been in the Room of Requirement.
Where in Godric’s sweet name would that girl go?
And then it hit him. It was as if a huge hand slapped him upside the head.
Hermione often went to the Astronomy Tower whenever they weren’t able to leave the castle. This pretty much encompassed the past two years, so for Ron to not know where Hermione’d gone…well, never mind, that’s Ron.
Ron finally reached the stairs to the Astronomy Tower after finishing his sandwich and enduring five minutes of trying to get the mental picture of Neville’s earlier outburst etched out of his brain. Ron went up the stairs slowly, idly wondering why it really wasn’t Neville’s words that bothered him the most, but it was that afterwards Hermione had easily wrapped her arms around the boy.
Ron shook his head at his stupidity. Instead of feeling sorry for Neville, he was worrying about the girl—Ron grumbled at himself.
Ron always lost track of the amount of stairs he’d already gone up when going up the Astronomy Tower Stairs. It was a wretchedly long climb up the closed in spiral staircase. This time was no different, and Ron slowly kept at it, until:
“Oww! Bloody wooden—“ Ron trailed off as he stumbled back a couple steps and raised a hand to his head which had banged into the trapdoor at the top of the stairs.
Clenching his teeth together, the tall, weary-looking 17 year old soldier unlatched the door, pulled down the ladder, and was hit full in the face with a downpour of rain and tidbits of hail as he climbed out from the stairwell.
Ron pulled his wand from his pocket and brought that hand up to shield his eyes. He would have felt completely blind had it not been for the flickering light to the left of him. Leaving the trap-door open, he turned and froze when he saw Hermione.
The girl was lying on her back, her left hand shielding her eyes so she could see, her right hand clutching her wand, and she seemed to be casting spells that made the hail cruising for her face blow-up in small balls of fire.
Ron caught himself before he let the word ‘Cool’ escape his lips and he went to stand over his soaking wet friend, already dripping wet himself.
“Hermione?” Ron shouted in the middle of a huge thunder crash.
The brown hair of the Head Girl of Hogwarts was flattened to the floor of the tower. Her clothes were plastered to her skin, Ron couldn’t help but notice, and what he could see of her face was sharp eyes, clenched-together lips, and narrowed eyebrows.
Ron gaped slightly, she was plainly ignoring him. “Hermione!”
The girl suddenly rolled away from Ron, shoved her wand in her back pocket, pushed herself onto her hands and knees, and after wiping her face with a hand she crawled over to the open trapdoor and proceeded to climb down the ladder.
Ron stood stock still in the midst of the raging storm, dumbstruck. It was as if she’d just put an Impediment Charm on him. A particularly large piece of hail hit his forehead, breaking the spell.
“Wait!” Ron called, turning and barging as fast as he could down the ladder.
Hermione did not wait though. Ron bounded down the stairs two by two, and luckily he caught up with Hermione, who was trying to get away as fast as she could.
“Hermione, wait! Where are you going? Hermione, stop!” Ron grabbed a hold of Hermione’s arm and spun her around to face him, her hair flinging to her face as he did so. She shrieked as she almost lost her footing, but Ron’s hold onto her helped her to keep balanced.
With a huff, Hermione wiped the wet strands of hair off of her face, and she glared at Ron. “What is it, Ronald?”
“Why are you—I mean, where were you—No. I mean: I was worried, Hermione.” Ron managed to get out as he caught his breath.
“Worried?” Hermione laughed sullenly. “Why were you worried?”
Ron slowly let go of Hermione, he pushed his dripping bangs off his forehead. Confusion, set in by the girl in front of him, showed plainly in his eyes and he didn’t know how to answer.
“Tell me why!” Hermione demanded, her eyes narrowing fast.
“I don’t know Hermione!” Ron said immediately. He noticed that Hermione’s hands were clenched into white-knuckled fists and went on, “I didn’t know if you wanted to be by yourself because of Neville’s thing, or if you’d been captured by some Death Eaters, or killed, or—“
“Of course! I was gone, so obviously I’d been killed.” Hermione, now sarcastic to no end, had turned to the wall and stepped one foot down to the next step.
Ron stepped down one step too, to make sure that Hermione wasn’t trying to escape talking again. Even though, of course, everything Hermione was saying was something Ron had no idea how to deal with.
“Have you thought about it though?” Hermione turned back and looked up at Ron, and took a step up closer to him so that her face was now no more then an inch away from his chest. “I’m going to die tomorrow anyways. So if I was dead now, if I had gone and gotten myself killed it wouldn’t really have been a bad thing. You see, because then tomorrow the Death Eaters would have one less person to kill. It’d save them some energy, see.”
Hermione’s voice lowered in volume, but it contained a certainty in it that made the hairs on the back of Ron’s neck stand straight. Ron watched, horrified, in the torch-lit stairwell as Hermione nodded her agreement to herself.
Mumbling, Hermione stepped down, turned away from Ron and headed down the stairs.
“You are not going to die tomorrow.” Ron called after Hermione with finality as he followed her, though he still felt confused.
“Is that so?” Hermione demanded as she wheeled around, causing Ron to stop suddenly with a silent Whoa.
“You didn’t seem so certain of that earlier.” Hermione stood, her hands on her hips, glowering at Ron. “Everyone is scared, Ronald. Neville lost it. He’s out of his mind scared. Ginny was pretty much crying the whole time, she wasn’t even strong enough to be away from you and you know it. Luna didn’t say anything stupid the whole time. She had no words of ‘wisdom’ for us, no optimistic thoughts. I had to force Harry to comfort Neville, and what he came up with wasn’t even good! You’re scared you won’t remember spells. You’re scared you won’t be able to protect Ginny. You’re scared you’ll blank in front of the enemy wands or you’ll do something stupid like last time we fought face to face with Death Eaters that’ll make you be a burden to everyone else! You are scared the most!”
Hermione jabbed a finger at Ron’s chest at her last shrill accusation, and Ron sat down heavily at the weight of it. He could only gaze up at the angry Hermione, his mouth open, his eyes wide, his mind blank of any thought.
“The biggest storm I’ve ever seen is happening right now outside, and it’s echoing how scared we are. Everyone knows we’re scared. And I am sick of pulling you guys together. I worry about you and Harry non-stop, and that I can deal with, but…” Hermione’s voice trailed off. Ron noticed that her angry face was sliding away slowly as her eyes moistened, and this wetness wasn’t from the rain.
“You’re scared out of your mind this time.” Ron finished for Hermione. A tear leaked from one of Hermione’s brilliant brown eyes before she had time to wipe it away and resume her angry expression.
Her wet clothes squeaked as the girl crossed her arms and turned away yet again, continuing down the stairs.
“That’s never stopped us before!” Ron exclaimed, this time he was certain of what he was saying. And it was true too. “We’re always this scared, and we always pull through.”
“That’s because every time we’ve had to face something, or any time Harry’s had to face something, someone else comes and helps us pull through!” Hermione burst, turning around again.
Her voice rose in volume once more. If she was going to say this, if she was going to end all hope for her Dear Ron, she only wanted to say it once. “I’m sorry, Ron. But face it. Anyone that wants to help us will be there tomorrow beside us. There will be no more rescues. There aren’t anymore people waiting at the sidelines ready to be subbed in. We will only have One Chance, and basically, we never get anything right the first time around.”
“But Hermione, we aren’t going to be fighting like them.” Ron said softly, confused for once that he was seeing and understanding something that Hermione didn’t. “We’re going to be fighting together. We’re fighting for each other, to save each other. We’re not fighting just to kill.”
“How do you know, Ron?” Hermione demanded, her face washed of emotion, “Well, Ronald? How do you know that we won’t have selfish people who’ll go off killing people instead of making sure someone they’d seen get hurt was ok?”
“Well…” Ron began, he licked his lips, though there was still rain water moistening them.
“Tell me how you know.”
“How come you’re all of a sudden so smart, how do you know this?”
“Hermione, listen to—“
“Just say it.”
“Hermione!” Ron roared as he stood up in frustration. His outburst was a little louder then he’d expected, but it had startled Hermione into silence. “I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ll have you know that I will die before I let anyone near you on that battle field.”
Ron loomed over Hermione, who was a few steps below him, and shook slightly in the silence. Hermione looked calm as she gazed at Ron, noticing a drop of water drip from the end of his nose.
“Well then,” Hermione said, pausing to wring out her hair a bit, “I guess it’s a good thing that we won’t have to worry our families about funeral expenses since we’re both going to rot on the battle field tomorrow.”
Ron’s breath caught in his throat with shock, and it felt as if his heart had just been ripped out and stomped on. He watched as Hermione turned and slowly moved farther from him step by step.
Ron couldn’t help it as his vision blurred. He didn’t even try to stop the tears as they crawled down his cheeks while he watched Hermione slowly walk from him.
Hermione had not gone even six steps, however, when one of her hands reached for the wall to steady herself, and she limply collapsed against it and slid down to the step.
Ron was there not a moment later, he gathered the smaller girl into his arms. “Hermione.”
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Ron.” Hermione wrapped her arms around Ron’s neck, welcoming his warmth to her now shivering and sobbing body. “I didn’t mean it.”
“I know. It’s ok.” Ron said, relieved that Hermione hadn’t meant it at all. The tears on Ron’s cheeks turned from those of pain to those of thankfulness.
“I’m just scared…” Hermione sobbed into Ron’s shoulder.
“Me too. We’re all scared.” Ron whispered truthfully, “But I swear we’re all in this together. I won’t leave you on the field tomorrow Hermione.”
Hermione didn’t say anything in response, her sobs still racked her body and Ron was still somewhat shocked. This was the first time Ron had gotten a good look at what was going on in Hermione’s head. He couldn’t bear to think that she had dealt with it by herself for such a long time.
Ron never wanted her to deal with anything like this by herself ever again. He never wanted her to ever have to cry like this again. He was going to do something so that he was always there to protect her, to hold her just like this.
Eventually Hermione’s sobs slowed and her breathing even out. Sitting on Ron’s lap in his protective arms, Hermione let out one last shuddering breath before falling into a light sleep.
Ron wiped his eyes, trying to make himself look presentable, then smiled ruefully. Both he and Hermione were sopping wet with tears in their clothes and…Ron looked at Hermione.
He gently picked a small black thing off of Hermione’s nose and examined it closely before tossing it aside with a grin.
“Hmmm?” Hermione asked sleepily without opening her eyes.
“Oh,” Ron said cheerily, “You had a piece of charred hail on your nose.”
Ron felt a rush when Hermione’s lips turned into a small smile. He stood up, Hermione still in his arms, and started down the steps. “I’m going back to the Room, alright?”
“Mmmm.” Was how Hermione replied.
The walk back to the Room of Requirement was soothing for Ron and Hermione. The closeness of the other helped each one, and the time alone together was needed, even if nothing was said.
Finally back in the Room, which now conveniently sported a new fireplace to help warm up the shivering pair, Ron placed Hermione in her bed, which was near the fireplace, and covered her with her blankets. After making sure she was nestled in comfortably, Ron started towards his own bed.
“Ron?” A tired voice asked.
Ron had almost answered instantaneously with Yes, dear? but he covered it by clearing his throat and awkwardly whispering, “Yes?”
“You didn’t have to say you’d stay with me the whole time during the battle.” Hermione said lightly, but with mile-long meaning in the sentence.
“But I said it already.” Ron stated. He gulped and went on, “And I meant it. And I promise I won’t leave you.”
“Even if you tell me not to, it won’t matter. ‘Cause I, er…” Ron was glad that most of his face was hidden in the firelight, “…I care about you a lot Hermione.”
“Promise?” Hermione whispered after a moment, and Ron almost jumped for joy at the hope he heard in her voice.
“I promise.” Ron said in such a way that he heard Hermione giggle. “I promise I care about you, and I promise I won’t leave you.”
Even though it would probably count as the worst night in Ron and Hermione’s lives, Ron was positive that it also counted as the best night ever in his life. He turned towards his bed again, but a soft, damp hand caught his jeans before he got far.
“You promised you wouldn’t leave me, Ron.” Hermione said timidly, “So don’t.”
A weird sensation that Ron had never felt before reared through him as he gulped and took off his shoes and socks. He laid them by the fire, then crawled into the bed and welcomed the small wet embrace that Hermione eagerly offered.
Ron can’t remember what time they fell asleep that night. And Hermione doesn’t know if she had ever stopped shaking. Not from being cold, mind you. Not one more word was offered that night. Eventually the both fell asleep in the arms of the other. And in the face of fear, they closed their eyes. Both had decided to worry about things as they were happening, and clearly all that was happening at that moment was something good.
*Winged Spwatlers: Small creatures, travel in groups, will run 'errands' for people(Spy for someone, be on the look-out for someone) but wants a reward, and will get revenge if they don't get a reward. Spwatlers are real, and they run extrememly fast for having such little legs. It is a legend that there are Spwatlers with Wings, but Luna obviously believes in them, so why shouldn't you? Oh yes...I made them up, so you can use them if you want, but give me credit please.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I don't really like the name I chose for this. If you have a better idea, please let me know and I will consider the suggestion. Thank you so much. Also, I wrote this a couple days BEFORE Half-Blood Prince came out, so obviously it wouldn't really happen like this realistically anymore. But I still like to think that it might.