AN: I do not own Harry Potter. The toys belong to JKR; she just lets us play with them.
The Tonks’ home was engulfed in flames. With a wicked grin, a still singed Greyback growled “Mosmordre.” The Dark Mark erupted over what had become a funeral pyre.
“The broadcast is over,” Dolohov informed Yaxley as they watched Greyback conclude his grisly task. Although Voldemort hadn’t Imperiused the announcer, he knew that, eventually, such a report would go out over the wireless. He’d been counting on it. When it did, he loosed Yaxley. “What now?” Dolohov asked.
Yaxley replied, “We wait for the Dark Lord to clench his teeth.” Turning to the other Death Eaters around him, he ordered, “Cover. Now.”
Within minutes Ron and Hermione Apparated outside the Tonks home. They hadn’t even struck the tent in their rush to save Teddy.
“Merlin, too late!” Ron mourned as he tried to take in this new devilry.
Before either of them could utter another word, the darkened sky began to shimmer and flash ominously.
Hermione gasped. They felt a tingling sensation and then an added weight, as if the burden on their already anguished souls had manifested as a physical thing.
Without warning, Yaxley and his Death Eaters struck. Curses just missed the pair, flying through the space between them. Then a Reducto curse landed at their feet, sending them flying in different directions.
Bloodied and dirty, Ron came up fighting, “Bombarda!” Two Death Eaters were thrown backwards as two more moved for their flanks.
“Protego! Reducto!” Hermione shouted, shielding Ron from the two new Death Eaters and then blasting them out of the way. Unseen by her, Dolohov Apparated just behind Hermione. Raising his wand, he began to hurl the killing curse.
But Ron caught the movement out of the corner of his eye. “EXPULSO!”
All of Ron’s rage and grief were poured into the spell. Dolohov evaporated in a blinding red explosion. The sheer force of the blast leveled all of the Death Eaters surrounding them. Ron leapt to Hermione, grabbed her arm and turned on the spot.
He was expecting to see the tent at their clearing. Instead he saw the Tonks’ home, burning, only 200 yards away from the spot they had just left.
“The rules have just changed.” Her voice was heavy with dread.
Another blast rocked them backwards as Death Eaters Apparated, again surrounding them. This time it was Hermione who loosed the first riposte, “Reducto!” Clutching Ron, she turned on the spot. Again, they could move only yards, not miles, away.
“There!” Yaxley shouted, pointing to the clearing they had Disapparated to.
Hermione turned on the spot again, giving she and Ron some desperately needed breathing space.
Panting, Ron sputtered “How?” They had Apparated behind a retaining wall in the middle of a field, offering little cover. They crouched behind it, nonetheless.
“It must be the Teeth. He’s tightening his grip,” she said between gasps for breath. “We can only Apparate within line of sight.”
Not far away, they heard the distinct popping noise of Apparating Death Eaters.
“Brilliant,” Ron muttered quietly. He used the Four-Point spell. Finding east, he looked to the edge of the horizon. He could barely make out a copse of trees. “There,” gesturing, he grabbed Hermione’s hand, hoping they could keep up this pace.
They Apparated right on top of two waiting Death Eaters. The wind was knocked out of one as he collapsed under Ron and Hermione’s combined weight. The second hefted his wand, but chose to shout to his cohorts rather than cast a spell: “Here!!”
Ron and Hermione took advantage of the hesitation, cursing them both, “Impedimenta! Incarcerous!”
Ever the chess master, Ron realized that Yaxley had rapidly changed his tactics, pre-positioning dark wizards in every direction within line of sight, hoping to catch them when they appeared.
Ron grabbed Hermione’s hand and again turned on the spot. They emerged behind some trees on the far side of a small lake. Three Death Eaters Apparated only yards away. Almost without thinking, Hermione cast curse after curse at them, as Ron kept shield charms up, deflecting the counter curses. They were too drained to Disapparate immediately, so they stood their ground. Finally, Hermione shouted, “Ron. Now!” as she took his hand and turned on the spot.
They appeared several hundred yards to the south, right in front of Rookwood. Even before they took their footing, the Death Eater shouted, “Sectumsempra!”
Ron didn’t have time to react. He staggered backward, collapsing as blood gushed down his face and searing pain coursed through his head.
Hermione focused her fury, “Reducto!” blasting Rookwood into a tree. The Death Eater kicked once and sputtered, as blood gushed from his mouth. Then his eyes turned to the heavens, lifeless.
“Ron?!” she ran to him, crouching by his side. He was covered in blood; he wasn’t moving. “RON!” Hermione shook him, applying pressure to the head wound.
Slowly, he regained his senses. “Glancing blow. I think I’m okay.” Hermione sighed in relief. Realizing how vulnerable they were, she looked frantically around them for the next assault.
Then panic rose in his voice, “Hermione . . . I can’t see.”
“You’ve blood in your eyes. I’m putting the Dittany in your hand.” He opened the bottle and poured it on his forehead, letting it cascade into his eyes, trying to wash them clear.
Three more Death Eaters Apparated in front of them. Ron still couldn’t see well enough to fight. Three against one, Hermione made up her mind in an instant. We have to go. “Protego!” Hermione shouted, blocking the Expulso curse that would have vaporized them both. She grabbed Ron’s hand and turned on the spot.
When they appeared, Hermione realized they hadn’t moved far enough at all. “Can you see?” she asked, with not a little worry in her voice.
“Yes. I think so. Reducto!” His aim was off, but one of the Apparating Death Eaters was blown backwards. A second caught Hermione’s Expulso curse in the shoulder. Once again, Hermione grabbed Ron’s hand and turned on the spot.
All day, this pattern repeated itself. Sometimes they tried Disapparating several times in succession, but doing this was exhausting. If they were too weak to properly Disapparate, they ran the risk of splinching. When their strength started to wane, they were forced to hold their position. Then the Death Eaters would close the distance and the hexes would fly again. It was taking a steady toll on them. The concussion from the exploding curses had threatened to break bones, but so far they were only battered and bloody. The wound on Ron’s forehead refused to permanently close, despite their numerous attempts to put Dittany on it whenever they had the chance.
As they dueled, for what seemed like the hundredth time in as many hours, Ron made a silent prayer: Harry, mate, it’s bad. Really bad. The light’s failing and soon we won’t be able to see far enough to get any distance between us and them. I don’t know how much longer I can do this. I don’t know how much longer I can hold out. Blocking a jinx meant for Hermione, he chanced a fleeting look at her, taking his eyes off the battle. Her raven locks flew as she sent barrage after barrage of spells at their enemies; her bruised and dirty face displayed grim determination. I love her mate. I don’t deserve her, but she loves me too. I have to get us out of here. I have to protect her. Harry, I don’t know how I’m going to do this.
As if in answer to his prayer, the dark clouds parted, ever so slightly. Just on the edge of the now expanded horizon he saw some kind of muggle tower, a light flashing on top. Ron realized, from there, he could see for miles, even in the gloom that now passed for twilight.
Just as Hermione was blasted into him by an errant curse, Ron turned on the spot, dragging her with him. From the top of the tower, clutching his nearly unconscious love close to him, Ron tried to find the spot at the absolute limits of his vision to the east. Focusing on it, a fraction of a second later they Disapparated. Once there, Ron Disapparated again to the limits of the horizon to the south. Desperately, he scanned their surroundings. THERE! Just at the edge of his vision he saw a partially collapsed muggle barn, covered by trees. The foliage masked it in such a way that it could only be seen from where he was standing. He hoped the same would be true even in the dim daylight. At the limits of his strength, he Disapparated one last time.
Gently, he lay Hermione down on the loose hay in the barn’s loft. She looked horribly worn, with dark circles under her eyes and bruises visible all over her body. Her jeans and jumper were dirty and spattered with some of Ron’s blood. But, she was rapidly coming to her senses.
“Ron, I’m fine.”
“Just lie there.”
“No, we have to check this place out. It might not be safe.”
“I’ll do it. Just stay still. Please.” The tenderness of his voice stopped her from arguing.
The barn was blessedly empty. After putting the protective spells in place, he returned, kneeling by her side.
“Hermione, are you alright?”
Hermione brushed some of Ron’s matted, bloody hair out of his eyes. His concern couldn’t mask the exhaustion etched in his face; neither could the gore and grime.
She gave him a weak, but reassuring smile. “I think so. The last blast caught me pretty hard.” She winced as she tried to rise.
“Look. Lie back, you have to teach me how to do that diagnostio thing.”
She sighed. “Here, take my hand.” Together, they moved her wand as she made the incantation.
“No broken bones. No internal injuries. Ron, I’m pretty sure I’m just . . .” She trailed off, looking as if she’d been confunded.