Chapter 1 : Before the Dawn
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Ron wasn't sure why Snape's death was affecting him so strongly. Ron had always hated him after all. Maybe it was just the pure brutality behind his demise. Hadn't Snape been Voldemort's strongest ally? Yet, even he wasn't allowed a quick, merciful death.
The sight that met his open eyes was nearly as haunting as that which greeted him when they were closed. Everywhere, signs of the battle were visible. Discarded robes, debris from the castle, patches of ground, bald and smoking from curses that missed their mark. Ron was grateful that it was still dark and his view was obstructed. He was sure he didn't want to see the rest, the reminders of what had been lost.
As they entered the school, it was strangely quiet.
"Where is everyone?" whispered Hermione.
Without thinking, Ron led them to the Great Hall. Somehow he knew that's where everyone would be, and he knew they would have to face what was there sooner or later. As he reached the doorway, he hesitated briefly, taking in his surroundings until his gaze settled upon the place where his family gathered.
'Fred...' he murmured and made his way towards them. Percy flung an arm around Ron's shoulders as he drew near. Everything else faded away as the realization that Fred was really gone washed over him. Nothing else seemed to matter. The sadness and rage that Ron had been holding in broke free as he sank to his knees, overwhelmed by anguished sobs. It wasn't fair. His family had finally been reunited. Made whole again for the first time in years. It had only lasted for a few moments and now Fred was gone. The Weasleys were broken. There could be no going back.
His sobs were exhausted more quickly than he would have believed possible. In their wake, Ron felt nothing but a numb sense of hopelessness and despair so vast that he felt paralyzed. Time ceased to mean anything as he stared dully at the place where George sat huddled at Fred's shoulder. Fred was gone, and he would never return.
Ron was pulled from his stupor as George sprung to his feet without warning. "I can't just sit here anymore," he muttered to no one in particular, a reckless determination etched upon his face. "People need our help." Without a backwards glance, he stalked across the hall and out through the doorway. Ron was dumbfounded as he stared numbly after his brother for several seconds. He was distracted by a flicker of movement as Ginny rose from her place as well. She glanced around at her family, then followed George's path out the door. Ron's gaze followed her until she was out of sight, then retraced her path back to its origin.
Hermione was huddled on the floor, knees pulled up to her chest. Her eyes were flickering around the hall, taking in all of the pain and despair. She looked hopelessly lost, tears streaming from her eyes. Ron couldn't bear seeing her like this. Could it have really been mere hours since they had shared their glorious first kiss? In that moment, it had felt like everything was right with the world. He was invincible. They both were. But now they sat with tear streaks down their dirt-encrusted faces, snapped back to the reality of their situation. This was a war and there was no guarantee that any of them would make it out alive.
At that moment, Ron wanted nothing more than to throw his arms around Hermione, kiss away her tears, and tell her that everything was alright. But it wasn't alright, and it might never be again. His eyes darted restlessly around the hall. So many dead and wounded. Even if they won, how could they ever recover from this? His gaze settled on the two figures lying next to Fred: Remus and Tonks. Ron's stomach gave a strange jolt, then numbness overwhelmed him again. So much loss, he couldn't even begin to comprehend it all.
Voldemort's words echoed in his mind, "Give me Harry Potter and none shall be harmed."
If only Ha-- Ron cut himself off, disgusted that he had even begun that thought. Harry was his best mate, his brother. Ron would die for him a hundred times over, and knew that Harry would do the same.
Harry...where was Harry? For the first time, Ron allowed himself to really look around. He expected to see Harry hanging back, alone. The entire Weasley clan considered Harry one of them, but he still had a hard time including himself in family moments. Still, losing Fred would be like losing a brother to Harry as well. On top of that, he was bound to see everything in the hall as his fault. Ron felt another sick jolt to his stomach as he realized how close he had come to having the same thought. None of this was Harry's fault. He always took too much upon himself. If Harry thought that there was even the slightest possibility that something could be done to stop all this bloodshed and protect these people, Ron knew that Harry wouldn't hesitate.
Ron's stomach dropped before he was even aware of the reason. His eyes kept scanning the hall, but Harry was no where in sight. Stop it, Weasley, Ron thought to himself frantically, no sense jumping to the worst conclusion. You're in enough trouble without inventing more.
Still, he leapt to his feet and made his way toward Hermione. Leaning over her, he spoke urgently near her ear, "Where's Harry?"
Hermione started and glanced around. "I-I don't know. Maybe he's under the cloak." She climbed unsteadily to her feet, struggling to gain control over her emotions. Ron reached out to steady her and Hermione threw herself into his arms.
"Oh, Ron, it's too much. What are we going to do?"
Ron held her tightly for a moment. He was just as lost as she was, but now was not the time to worry about the future. There were enough problems to deal with in the present. "I don't know, love, but we'll do it together," he replied, planting a kiss on the top of her head. "Right now, we need to find Harry. We need to end this."
Hermione pulled back and wiped her eyes. "Right," she replied. "Well, knowing Harry, the last thing he would have wanted was to face people right now, so he probably would've gone somewhere he could be alone."
Ron felt the knot in his stomach relax. Of course, he just went to collect his thoughts, come up with a new plan. He glanced around at the crowded hall. "Well, by the look of things, that's anywhere but here."
Hermione chewed her lower lip and seemed to be deep in thought. "Dumbledore's will said that he left most of his things to Hogwarts, right? So that means that his pensieve is probably still in the headmaster's office." Ron looked at her blankly. "The memories that Snape left, Ron?" Hermione said, in an exasperated tone. "Harry probably went to look at them."
Of course! Ron thought, a sense of relief flooding through him. He grabbed Hermione's hand and pulled her across the hall and in the direction of Dumbledore's old office. Harry had always been too curious for his own good. He would want to know what Snape had left him. Even in the midst of all this chaos, Harry would not have been able to resist the pull of those memories.
Ron and Hermione skidded to a stop before the stone gargoyle.
Ron glanced at Hermione for assistance, but she shrugged and shook her head. Neither of them had any clue what Snape would have set as his password.
"Look, it's kind of an emergency," Ron replied. "In case you haven't noticed, the castle is under attack!"
"No one enters without a password."
"Please," Hermione tried gently, "our friend is in there and he needs our help."
"No one is inside," the gargoyle replied. "The last visitor, a young man, left shortly before you arrived."
Ron glanced at Hermione, confused. If Harry wasn't here, where would he have gone? Her eyes were wide in horror.
'I shall wait for one hour in the Forbidden Forest', Voldemort's voice reverberated inside Ron's head. Harry couldn't...but Ron knew in his heart exactly where he had gone.
"Bloody git," Ron cursed under his breath. He grabbed Hermione by the hand and once again pulled her down the corridor. She put up no resistance and the two of them ran side by side through the entrance hall and onto the grounds.
Maybe he hadn't been gone long, maybe they could still stop him, find another way. Or maybe they were just overreacting. Maybe Harry had just slipped away to be alone with his thoughts...to plot a way to kill Nagini. Even in his head, Ron knew his thoughts were futile, but they were all he had. He was so lost in these thoughts that he didn't see Neville until he had almost run into him.
"Ron, Hermione! Where are you going? What is it? Can I help?"
"Sorry, Neville," Ron replied, breathlessly, "we're in a bit of a hurry. You haven't seen Harry, have you?"
"Harry? Yeah, he went past here just a few minutes ago. Said it was part of the plan."
Ron felt the color drain from his face. He didn't dare look at Hermione, but he felt her grip tighten on his hand.
Neville's eyes darted between the two of them. "H-he said it was part of the plan," he repeated feebly, as understanding flickered across his features. "Oh no...he's gone out there, hasn't he?" Neville turned toward the forest, his eyes quickly scanning the horizon, searching for any sign of Harry's form.
Ron could hardly remain on his feet. He was suddenly exhausted. He had been running purely on adrenaline and hope, but now both had been ripped from him.
He felt Hermione's hand go limp in his own and his arm fell lamely to his side.
Harry had always been a hero, even more so because he had never considered himself one. An image flashed through Ron's mind. Harry, back in first year glaring at him and Hermione, insisting that he had to go after the stone, had to stop Voldemort. Even at eleven, even before he understood the extent of what Voldemort had done and was capable of doing, Harry was willing to sacrifice himself to stop him. How could they have ever thought that Harry would sit by when there was even the slightest glimmer of a chance that he could do something?
"I should've known. I should've stopped him," Neville moaned, pulling Ron out of his thoughts. Neville's voice trembled with the threat of tears and suddenly, Ron had enough. He grabbed Neville by the front of his robes and glared at him directly in the eye.
"This isn't your fault!" Ron spit out. "No one can stop Harry when he gets a thought in his head. The stupid, obsessive, bloody git!"
A firm pressure fell upon Ron's arm and he realized he had been shaking Neville with each word, tears streaming down both their faces.
"Sorry," Ron muttered, releasing Neville and quickly wiping his face. He turned to Hermione, who still had her hand lying cautiously upon his arm. They locked eyes and Ron could tell that they were sharing the same thoughts. If Harry had gone off to meet Voldemort, then they had to try to follow him. They couldn't let him face this alone.
"He said to kill the snake!" Neville called after their retreating forms.
"Yeah, great, you do that Neville," Ron muttered, distracted as he continued his trek toward the forest, Hermione at his side.
"And where are you two going?" A voice stopped them in their tracks. Ginny approached out of the darkness.
She stopped in front of them and examined their faces. "Harry's gone off to do something stupid and heroic again, hasn't he?"
All Ron could do was stare, stunned at his sister and her cool demeanor. He knew that she loved Harry, always had, but here she was, cool and aloof as if it didn't really matter where Harry had gone. Through his shock, he heard Hermione's answer.
"He's gone to turn himself over to Voldemort."
Ginny nodded. "Can't say I'm surprised. He's always doing things like that. Always trying to be noble and save the world. It was only a matter of time, really."
Ron's eyes flashed. He glared at his sister, anger pulsing through his veins. How could she be so calm? He opened his mouth to release a tirade when he met her eyes. They were brimming with tears that she was fighting to control. Her calm exterior was covering the storm of emotions battling within her. This was killing her, but she wasn't giving in. All of the anger, sadness, and despair vanished from Ron and was replaced with a grim determination. He realized their plan was pointless. They couldn't follow Harry any further. This was something he had to do alone.
"He's gone where we can't follow," Ron muttered at last. He felt Hermione squeeze his hand.
"He's made his choice," she added, her voice thick with tears.
The three of them stared off into the forest for several moments, lost in their own thoughts. Ron shook himself. This wasn't over, but he knew it would all overwhelm him if he stayed still for another moment.
"Come on," he said, tugging on Hermione's hand gently and reaching his other out towards Ginny. "We need to get back. This isn't the first time Harry has faced Voldemort, and he's always made it back before. He'll be fine." Ron willed himself to believe his own words, but he couldn't quite manage it. He took a deep breath to steady his voice before continuing. "Harry's done his part, now we have to finish this." Hermione wiped her face and nodded at him, determination burning in her eyes.
"God speed, Harry," Ginny murmured. Then she reached out and took Ron's offered hand. Together, they turned their backs on the forest and made their way back toward the castle. Harry had made his choice, but the battle wasn't over yet.
A/N: I've written a bit of a companion piece to this story called This Ends Today if you're interested. It takes place shortly after this story ends and is a collection of various characters' reactions to Harry's 'death'. As always, my sincerest thanks for reading and my deepest, undying gratitude to J.K. Rowling for creating these characters and letting us play with them. I hope I do them justice.
"Where is everyone?" whispered Hermione.
"Give me Harry Potter and none shall be harmed."
"I shall wait for one hour in the Forbidden Forest."
-- page 660
All quotes taken from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (U.S. edition)