Their escape from Hogwarts had been a near miracle. Hours afterward, in an exhausted stupor, Ron recalled the dreadful sights of Harry’s lifeless form being brought before the castle, of Neville, the sorting hat humiliatingly forced over his head, burning alive in the wake of Voldemort’s rage and of an horrifically injured McGonagall, ushering the ever dwindling number of defenders back through the main gates into the Great Hall. All the while, he and Hermione were fighting through their pain to keep their remaining friends alive. Nagini was nowhere to be seen.
Harry’s death, followed by Neville’s horrific end had taken the very heart of the defenders. Ron remembered grimly how Hagrid had cursed the centaurs for their ambivalence. Even the people of Hogsmeade, save Aberforth, seemed too frightened or too disinterested to come to their aid.
Ron hadn’t even had time to process the litany of tragedies as he, Hermione and an unconscious Hagrid huddled in a cave near the Northumberland border. Hagrid had collapsed not long after they reached safety. Dazed and bloodied, this had been their first chance to rest in the day since the Battle had ended. Battle? Ron scoffed to himself in anguish and disgust. It was a bloody disaster.
He didn’t dare risk starting a fire, despite the now constant rain and gloom that seemed to have spread like a disease over the landscape. He simply didn’t trust the protective charms, at least not this shortly after their escape.
They tended to Hagrid as best they could. Hermione cast Diagnostio Corpus over the half-giant’s body; she had learned the charm at Shell Cottage, before they broke into Gringotts. It revealed severe burns, broken bones and the internal damage that they had both feared. It was only Hagrid’s mighty heart that had kept him moving until they found shelter. There was little they could do for him.
Wearily, Hermione began to deal with a nasty wound on Ron’s arm, Dittany in hand. That was when she lost what little control she had left. “Oh my gods, Ron. We’re the only ones left.”
Ron put his arms around her as she cried, inconsolably, into his shoulder. For ages, it seemed, they clung to each other that way, grieving. Finally, it was Ron who broke the silence.
“Did . . . did you see any of my family make it out?” Ron asked the question he’d been dreading to ask for the past few hours.
Hermione choked back a sob, and, with a great effort, shook her head no. “Ron, I’m so sorry,” she said through her tears.
Ron was numb. The last of the Weasleys couldn’t fathom the horror of it all. Clinging to each other, Ron and Hermione collapsed into a fitful sleep of exhaustion. Unwillingly, Ron found his dreams dragged him back to those final, agonizing minutes of the Battle in the Great Hall . . .
“Back! All of you! Back to the Hall!” McGonagall shouted.
The survivors obeyed, dragging the dead and wounded with them as curses exploded around them.
Kingsley cried out, “Form a line! We mustn’t let them enter unopposed!” Hurriedly he began to organize the defenses, Aberforth and Wood taking his cue.
Within seconds, the gates exploded in a rain of splinters. The first of the Death Eaters breached the entrance. The spells and curses flew, all restraint cast aside. The dead lay in pools of black blood.
Arthur Weasley fought like a lion, the corpses of Death Eaters piling around him. Until Rowle, Yaxley and Greyback unleashed curse after curse at him, throwing him backwards off his feet.
“Dad!” Bill screamed, rushing to his father’s side, Fleur close behind. “Expulso!” Bill blasted the attacking Death Eaters into the far wall.
Trying to buy Bill time, Hagrid advanced on Yaxley, Rowle and Greyback, as they regained their feet. The evil trio cast a blur of curses at the half-giant as he charged them, screaming in his rage. No use, Hagrid pummeled them mercilessly, ignoring his injuries.
As Hagrid crushed the life out of Rowle, Greyback and Yaxley gave ground. But even Hagrid’s great strength could not turn the tide. Nor could the house elves, which had joined the fight, lead by Kreacher. The Death Eaters’ numbers were simply too great.
In moments, Slughorn, Flitwick and Sprout succumbed to killing curses. Wood, Finnegan and Cho, lay lifeless beside them. A bloodied McGonagall fought desperately beside the fallen, but it was no use, she was drowned under a wave of curses. There was no safe place; everywhere, the defenders fought in vain, for their lives.
It was then that Bellatrix cast her wrath upon Hermione, who had stumbled in the chaos trying to reach McGonogall. A battered Ginny and Luna squared off against her, trying to cut off her advance.
“Avada Kedavra!” Bellatrix shrilled. The curse sailed by Ginny’s head and caught Hermione in the midsection. Shocked and crumpling, the look on Hermione’s face displayed her amazement that life still coursed through her veins.
Ron rushed to her, grabbed her under her arms and pulled her toward the corridor, Bellatrix in hot pursuit. “Mione!” he screamed through his tears, “Not you, not after all this! Please, say something!”
Hermione, weakly stared into Ron’s watering blue eyes, “I’m alive.” Ron turned on Bellatrix, murder in his heart. But his mother had other plans.
“YOU BITCH!” Molly screamed, entering the fray. Dueling to kill, Molly loosed her vengeance upon Bellatrix who struggled to counter the onslaught of Molly’s rage.
It lasted only seconds; Bellatrix’s curses were seemingly ineffective as Molly dealt the deathblow. Bellatrix LeStrange collapsed in a heap. Whatever thing it was that animated her body in life made a demonic hiss as it escaped into the ether.
An agonized scream escaped Voldemort’s lips when his most faithful lieutenant expired. Rising to his full height, he cowardly unleashed the killing curse at Molly Weasley’s back. Struck between the shoulder blades, Molly slumped to the floor, lifeless.
Bill, cradling his dying father’s head as tears streamed down Fleur’s cheeks, looked on in utter disbelief. Ron, George, Ginny, Charlie and Percy, crestfallen, stared at their lifeless mother.
Bill turned on his mother’s murderer, “BASTARD!!” As if a call to arms, the Weasleys turned as one and charged Voldemort, who had begun to advance on Ron and Hermione.
Voldemort cackled, “Infernalis Conflagratio!”
Fiendfyre erupted from his wand. Friend and foe alike was consumed in a conflagration that knew no bounds. Most of the Death Eaters managed to escape as they were nearest the exits, but the few remaining defenders of Hogwarts were caught out in the open. Kingsley desperately tried to contain the blast with a shield charm as the flames consumed him.
Only Hagrid acted quickly enough to save lives. Grabbing Ron and Hermione, who were nearest the corridor, he shielded them from the fire as he rushed toward the Room of Requirement. Ron struggled mightily against Hagrid’s tree-like arm, trying to rejoin his family.
“‘T’s over. We gotter get out!”
“HAGRID, NO!!!” Ron screamed out in his sleep, bringing Hermione out of her own haunted dreams with a start, wand in hand.
Overcome with grief and guilt, Ron was crying and shaking uncontrollably. Without a thought, Hermione pulled him close to her, cradling him in her arms.
“It’s okay. It’s over. We’re alive,” she consoled.
“I shouldn’t be,” he sobbed. “I should’ve died with them.”
With no words to assuage his anguish, Hermione silently rocked her broken love.
AN: I do not own Harry Potter. The toys belong to JKR; she just lets us play with them.
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