Hermione Granger Ron Weasley
Romance Action
Multiple Eras
Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Order of the Phoenix Quidditch Through the Ages Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Published: 06/06/2004
Updated: 01/06/2005
Words: 243,073
Chapters: 26
Hits: 84,040

Hermione Granger and the Beginning of the End

Ann Margaret

Story Summary:
This is the story of the beginning of the trio's last months at Hogwarts, the beginning of the end of their childhood and the end of the war. But will good prevail? Will they survive? And why the hell did Ron Weasley throw away his relationship with Hermione? Once again, a lot more action, darker, but perhaps this time we shall have a happy ending...or not...

Chapter 18

Chapter Summary:
So what's going on with Harry and Ron in the Forest? Is Ron ok? What about the other students--where is Ginny? A few surprises, a few characters we haven't seen in a long time, and as a warning, a pretty intense scene of violence. It's the beginning of the end....
Author's Note:
Hi all! Sorry it's been a while since my last update; life is crazy at college! Anyway, just as a warning for anyone with a sensitive stomach, there is a scene of violence that I think is pretty intense, but if that doesn't make you afraid, read on, friends...

To my left I saw time

Flash and fall it seemed to swallow you

I could love you like the sister

I never had

And you live and you try

I could never find another

If you walk me to the car park

I won't go

And we live and we try

There was heart and lust between us

I will love you

I won' t let go

"Undercover" by Pete Yorn


"Come on, Remus," Harry Potter muttered as he paused to catch his breath, one hand resting on his knee and the other leaning against the tree he was standing next to. "Give me something."

He heard Ron jog up behind him. "Anything?" Ron managed to get out despite his labored breathing. He brushed away the sweaty red hair that had been flopping into his eyes and tried desperately to get air into his lungs.

"Nothing," Harry admitted glumly as he straightened up. He couldn't help frowning when he realized for the first time how sweaty, disheveled, and exhausted Ron looked. He had never seen Ron appear so ill. "You all right?"

"Yeah," Ron answered after a long pause. He suppressed a grimace as he straightened up. "What now?"

"I dunno," Harry took a few steps forward into the nearby glen, jumping down onto the dirt from the massive, gnarled roots he had been standing on. He vaguely recalled being here once before--on his first visit to the forest. Harry, along with Malfoy and Fang had found a shadowy reflection of Voldemort sucking the silvery blood of a slaughtered unicorn straight from its cut throat. "Remus could be anywhere, and I reckon that he could stay away until morning, but I just have to be sure, you know?" Harry swiped at a trickle of sweat that was running down the side of his face before hastily taking off his glasses to clean them on his robe. "Why don't you head back, Ron--I'm sure Hermione could use your help dealing with all of the Gryffindors."

Somewhat unsteadily, Ron dropped down off of the tree roots so that he, too, could inspect the small clearing for a sign of Remus. The moonlight revealed his face to be two shades paler than normal, but Ron was resolutely shaking his head. "Hermione'd kill me if I left you out here by yourself," Ron insisted. "Not to mention what my sister'd do to me." He glanced over at Harry. "Believe me, those two are the last people I'd ever want to be royally hacked off at me. I'm better off here."

Harry still thought that Ron would be better off back at Hogwarts where he'd be safe, or probably even in the hospital wing, but he had to admit that he was really grateful to have Ron with him. When he was still a kid and living with the Dursleys, the one wish he had had besides meeting his parents was to have a friend--just one friend to stand by him no matter what. He just wanted to have someone that stuck with him, regardless of what Dudley told the kids in school about him, and to help him whenever Dudley and his gang tried to beat him up. He had hoped to find that friend when he had learned he was going to Hogwarts, but that hope had faded when he learned that he was some sort of celebrity. Harry had never wanted to stand out, since he had already been somewhat famous in primary school as Dudley's scrawny weird cousin, and he had been disappointed when he learned that he would be famous at Hogwarts, too. He thought that everyone would treat him like some sort of star rather than as the normal friend that he had always wanted to be.

But Ron had exceeded all of Harry's hopes and expectations. Although he had been momentarily star-struck by Harry's fame, once he gotten over it, the two had been a perfect match. After his awful life with the Dursleys, Harry had never imagined that a friend could be as great as Ron, or Hermione, for that matter. Although she certainly had annoyed the hell out of him when he had first met her, she had become an integral part of Harry's life, and flawlessly completed a band of friends that Harry couldn't even conceive of living without. And that was why, although a huge part of him wanted to keep Ron and Hermione as far away from the danger he was constantly in, he never prevented them from coming along if they chose to. As awful as it was to have them in the line of fire just for being his friends, when it came time to run off into battle, they were at the top of a very short list of people he wanted to have by his side.

Harry rather wished that Hermione was out here with them right now--she probably would have thought of a brilliant way of finding Remus by now. But he knew it was probably for the best. Ron had been going on and on for days now about how Hermione was getting sick, and running around the Forbidden Forest probably wouldn't help her feel any better.

Hermione's current state was the main reason that Harry was a bit surprised that Ron didn't take him up on the offer to return the castle. Even a moron could tell that Ron always had Hermione on his mind, and considering that Ron hadn't seen her in over an hour, and that there could very well be Death Eaters running around the school, Harry reckoned that Ron would want to go check on her. It made Harry feel pretty good that even though he could sense that Ron wanted to see her, he was perfectly content to follow Harry throughout the depths of the Forbidden Forest until they completed their task. To Ron, being a loyal friend came as naturally and as easily as breathing.

"Right," Harry finally spoke aloud, peering through the gloom of the darkened glen. "Let's try over here." He started to walk away, but when he didn't hear Ron's footsteps behind him, he turned back around. He was planning on making a cheeky remark or urging Ron to hurry up, but those plans were slapped from his head when he saw his best friend, doubled over with one of his hands clapped over his forehead. "Ron?" he asked sharply. "What's up?" He barreled back over to Ron and took him by the shoulder. Ron's knees gave out and Harry went to the ground with him, stomach in knots when he realized what this was reminding him of. It was exactly how he reacted whenever his scar hurt.

Ron's face was a twisted grimace of excruciating pain. His breath was coming out in fast, short, sporadic spurts between his gnashed teeth, and his face was now a ghastly, stark white. "Not now," he begged to no one in particular as he brought his other hand to the side of his head. His fingers mashed into his hair and his eyes grew wild with fierce desperation as he continued to mumble incoherently between his clenched teeth.

"Ron?" Harry pressed edgily. "Ron?"

Harry's voice brought Ron slightly back into himself, and he was able to lift his head ever so slightly in Harry's direction. "Sorry, mate," he bit out, chest twitching as if every syllable he pronounced caused his entire body to undergo a severe electrical current. "I--tried--but I--can't." His stomach heaved in as though an invisible fist punched him in his abdomen. He seemed to be unable to use the gift of speech any longer, and from the intense concentration that flickered in Ron's eyes, Harry wondered if he was trying to communicate with Hermione in some way to let her know that something was wrong.

"Ron?" Harry tried again, but when he shook his shoulder once again, Ron let out a strangled gasp and pitched forward. Harry's forehead positively exploded with pain. With a cry, he instinctively backpedaled away from Ron on his hands and knees. He didn't stop moving until the pain abruptly vanished, but he remained on the forest floor for several moments, one hand still over his throbbing scar. Harry knew he had to get up and check on Ron. The pain in his scar could only indicate the presence of the particular person that Harry wanted to keep away from his friends at all costs, but he couldn't move. There was a horrible nauseated feeling engulfing his stomach and his limbs were still shaking. Lying flat on his back, Harry took several deep breaths and let out a low groan. It was positively cruel that although his scar hurt him before, it never got any less painful.

Finally, he pushed himself up. Still half stooped over from the splitting headache, Harry stumbled back to Ron and fell to his knees with exhausted relief. He stopped focusing on his scar when he saw that Ron had sprawled out onto the ground on his stomach, face limp and eyes closed. Harry hastily tried rapidly shaking Ron's shoulders, and even resorting to slapping his friend lightly in the face. But it was no use--Ron was out cold.


"Ginny, what are you doing?" Neville Longbottom muttered as he heard her sleeping bag unzip and the soft ruffle of the thick cloth sliding against the stone floor.

"Go back to sleep, Neville," Ginny whispered as she pulled the jumper she had folded into a pillow back over her head. "Prefect business."

Neville complied and within seconds, he was snoring again. Ginny slipped on her shoes as she tied her hair back and checked to make sure that her wand was in its proper place. She didn't know exactly why she was sneaking out of here well after midnight, but something just told her that she had to check things out on her own. Harry and Ron hadn't joined any of the students in the Great Hall, and Hermione appeared to have disappeared as well. She considered going over to ask Malfoy where Hermione was, but she decided against it. He was absently twirling his wand, looking very satisfied with himself. Since she was about to sneak away, she decided to not call his attention to her. Luckily, she had strategically placed her sleeping bag five feet away from the nearest exit. Hunching down low, Ginny quickly darted to the doorway and slipped through it before Malfoy could spot her.

Now what, she thought as she paused in the main hallway and looked about. It was completely deserted. In fact, Ginny frowned, it was oddly deserted. Hermione had coerced her into actually reading the prefect handbook, so she knew that the proper procedure in times like these would be to have someone posted at the main entrance to the Great Hall. But no one was there. Anyone could race into the Great Hall and attack all of the students who were helplessly sleeping away.

Ginny's breath tightened at the thought and she pulled out her wand. If no one was going to guard the door, she might as well do it. Besides, she would be able to see Harry and Ron as soon as they returned. She began to pace back and forth in front of the door, eyes roving for any sign of danger. Ginny knew well enough that releasing Professor Lupin onto the grounds could very well be some sort of distraction for a more sinister purpose. The question was, what could they be doing?

Ginny had only been on patrol for about twenty minutes when she heard a sound besides her own footsteps. A door was creaking open. She quickly sprung into action--dropping to her knees as Harry had taught her in D.A. with her wand outstretched, ready to roll out of the way if necessary. Her stomach was rapidly pumping up and down with nerves, but her hand was steady. There was no way she was going to let any Death Eaters get into her school.

"Ginny, please," Luna Lovegood whispered, completely unfazed to find a wand pointed at her. "It's just me."

Ginny's whole body sagged with relief as she got back up to her feet. "You scared me," she chided with annoyance. She frowned and found herself unintentionally using Hermione's prefect voice. "Why are you out here, Luna?" Ginny asked. "You should be asleep."

Luna sighed heavily as she pulled out the wand that was tucked behind her ear. "They're coming," Luna murmured distractedly.

Ginny's stomach clenched again. "Who?" Luna didn't answer. She just stiffened, turned, and peered down the dark corridor. Ginny licked her dry lips as she moved to Luna's side, scanning the hallway for a sign of danger. "Luna, are you sure?"

"Positive," Luna said in that dreamy but strong voice of hers that Ginny had over time come to recognize as the one she used whenever she was driven by her uncanny instincts. Ginny had become more and more suspicious of her friend's innate powers, so she decided once again to ask the question that she must have asked a thousand times in the bizarre hope that she would finally get a coherent answer.

"Luna, are you a Seer?"

But this time, Luna actually gave an answer instead of giggling airily as she typically did. "Of course." Luna gave her a sideways glance. "You've known all along--you didn't need me to tell you."

Ginny did, but the answer still took her quite aback. "So--you-you have prophesies and everything?"

"No," Luna said patiently. "I'm not like Professor Trelawney. I have dreams and I foresee what will come if the future continues its present course."

"And what's to come?" Ginny asked, although part of her didn't want to hear he answer.

Luna let out a long sigh. "Death."


"Ron!" Harry tried again before going for his wand to try to enervate him. "Just hang on, Ron," he muttered with a slightly panicked edge to his voice. "We'll get you out of here--" He broke off as his fingers only grazed the lining of his pocket: his wand was gone.

Swearing with a vulgarity that only an angry Weasley could match, Harry frantically spun around, his heart sinking back to its normal resting place when he spotted his wand lying on the forest floor about twenty feet away. It must have fallen out when he had collapsed from the pain in his scar. He darted over, scooped it up, and whirled back around in a matter of seconds. However, that was all the time someone needed to emerge from the mist and gloom to crouch down by Ron's side.

At first Harry had frozen stock-still in surprise, but then quickly snapped himself out of it. "Hey!" The man was quickly driven away from Ron by a well-placed shower of sparks, and Harry kept his wand trained on the figure that was now slowing rising to his feet with his hands in the air. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" Harry almost spat out.

"Just calm down, lad," the man said in a calm voice that reminded Harry painfully of Remus. "I'm here to help."

Harry's eyes narrowed. The white mist was obscuring his view of the intruder's face, so he took a few careful steps forward to take a better look. He hadn't seen the tall, sandy-haired man before in any of his previous run-ins with Death Eaters, but that didn't mean anything. The man, however, had yet to catch sight of the famous scar marring Harry's forehead and his eyes widened in disbelief.

"You're Harry Potter?"

"That's what I've been told," Harry said flatly. "And you are?"

"My name is Pollex Fairfax," the man said very evenly. "I'm here to help."

Harry's brow furrowed as he tried to remember where he had heard that name before. "Pollex--" His eyes suddenly lit up recognition. "You're that bounty hunter that's here for Grawp."

"How did you know--?" Pollex began before letting out a small chuckle. "Oh, her." He shook his head. "I knew the groundskeeper didn't have a dog named after you."

Harry didn't even try to pretend that he knew what the bounty hunter was talking about. "Where's your brother?" he demanded, risking a glance over his shoulder to make sure he wasn't about to get jumped from behind.

Pollex's face blanched in a way that Harry quite recognized--it was the one he used when he was trying to hide how he really felt. "He was killed," he said in a voice devoid of any emotion. "Your centaurs discovered us a few months ago."

Harry's first instincts were to offer his sympathies, but he remembered in time that it wasn't proper procedure to offer your sympathies to a prisoner. His voice, however, became much less harsh and suspicious. Hermione had mentioned that she didn't think that the two bounty hunters were bad people--she had actually said that the one brother had been awfully nice to her. And they had let Hermione go last year. They could have hurt her or even killed her, but Harry didn't want to think about that. Instead, he quickly got back to business. "What are you doing here?"

Pollex hesitated. "Right now, I'm here to help your friend." He nodded over to Ron's still form. "It's Ron, isn't it?"

"Yeah." Suspicion again clouded Harry's voice, and his wariness mounted when Pollex turned slightly toward Ron, giving Harry a clear view of the crossbow slung across his back. "Stay where you are!" Harry ordered. Pollex froze in confusion and Harry gestured to the crossbow with his wand. "Put it on the ground." Pollex let out a small sigh, but he immediately obeyed. "Are you still trying to kill Grawp?" Harry had been shocked to hear that only two men were trying to take on a giant all by themselves, but going up against one alone was suicide, not to mention just plain stupid.

"No," Pollex said in a hollow voice. "I have new orders."

Something in the pit of Harry's stomach twisted as if he knew what Pollex's next answer would be before he even voiced the question aloud. "What are you here for?"

"A werewolf," Pollex answered as his quick trained eyes roved the glen for a sign of Remus. "I'm here to take care of that werewolf."


"Death?" Ginny repeated sharply although a little squeak at the end of the word gave away how scared she was. "Who's going to die?"

"It's not clear--I don't know everything," Luna said impatiently. "But the veil is waiting."

"The veil?" Ginny was a bit annoyed at herself for just repeating Luna's words over and over again, but she couldn't help herself. This was just so bizarre. "That veil we saw in the Department of Mysteries?"

"That veil wasn't the real veil," Luna explained. "It's the only physical manifestation of the real, intangible veil that we will all pass through when our time comes."

"When our--" Ginny cut herself off before she could continue her annoying habit.

"It's fluttering in the breeze," Luna said quietly, her eyes faraway and distant. "It's waiting."

Goosebumps rose on Ginny's suddenly chilled skin. That veil had been utterly frightening when she had first saw it in fourth-year. She didn't know what it was about that veil, but it just called to her, as if she had heard a voice calling out to her from the other side of the curtain, urging her to pass through and join the owners of those eerie whispers on the other side. She vaguely recalled wanting desperately to pass through, but something held her back. Another voice had reminded her that it wasn't her time to pass through, and before she knew it, Hermione's hand had been on her arm and they were out of the room. The look on Hermione's face had clearly indicated that she was quite shaken by their reactions to the veil. Everyone had been entranced by it except for Hermione and Ron, and if it hadn't been for their presence of sound mind, Ginny was certain that Harry for sure would have passed through. He had been so drawn to it--

And then it hit her.

"It calls for the people who have been brushed with death, doesn't it?" Ginny demanded with a sickening twist of her stomach. "Harry was called to it because of Cedric, you and Neville both have seen people die, and I--" Ginny found that she didn't need to nor wanted to finish her sentence. "Hermione and Ron hadn't been affected by death yet, so it didn't call to them, right?" She paused. "But now..."

"Now, if Ronald and Hermione saw the veil, they too would be lured to it," Luna finished for her. "Death may be an awful thing, but it has the voice of a Siren. Once you've heard the song and survived, its song becomes harder and harder to resist until one day we pass through and are dashed upon the rocks."

Ginny shivered. As entrancing as Death's swan song was, she was not ready to die. "Hang on," Ginny suddenly said sharply. "Hermione would see the veil?" As far as she knew, Hermione hadn't almost been killed--unless she was in trouble right now.

Her heart twisted at the thought, but Luna shook her head to allay Ginny's worst fears. Luna studied her friend with sympathetic wide eyes. "You have no idea how close Hermione came that night in the Department of Mysteries, do you?" Ginny shook her head mutely. "She has no recollection, of course, but she saw the veil. She heard the song, and if it weren't for Ronald she would have passed through."

Ginny's jaw dropped in horror. She knew that Hermione had been the most badly hurt that night in the Department of Mysteries, but she had no idea that it had been that bad. She wondered if Ron had any idea that he had saved Hermione's life just by being there. She knew that her brother, although never actually wanting Hermione to be in trouble, felt responsible for her. He'd stupidly felt guilty for getting cursed and being unable to help Hermione straightaway.

"When you hear the song, see the veil, and escape," Luna continued somberly, "you have no memory of it. But when you hear it again," Luna swallowed hard. "It all comes back to you."

Ginny just watched her friend in tense silence. She had never seen Luna this frank and scared, and she sensed that Luna just wanted to talk and have someone listen to her for once. Most people just dismissed Luna without really hearing what she was saying.

"I hear it," Luna said in her dreamy, flat voice. Ginny was struck suddenly with the realization that that voice was just an act--Luna had to speak in an expressionless voice, because most of the things she saw and felt were so awful and surreal that she had to take emotion out of it, otherwise she'd go mad. "I hear it in my sleep when it sings for someone, and then I try my best to make sure that the song goes unheard by anyone else. Although it is so beautiful--it--there's a ghastliness underneath it all that no one should ever hear until it's really our time to pass through the veil."

Ginny's chest was starting to grow tight with painful sympathy. "It's not fair," Ginny commented under her breath. "It's not fair that you have to hear it all the time." Ginny's voice started to rise as she got more and more passionate about the injustice of Luna's fate. "I mean, you're just a kid--you're like Harry, and it's just not fair that you have to go through all of this and not have a normal life. You deserve to have that and not have the fate of others resting on your shoulders--"

Luna hummed "Weasley is Our King" for several moments before continuing to speak. "It's singing again." Her eyes became very glassy. "It's calling for her, and she's listening."

Ginny grabbed Luna's shoulders and shook her as hard as she could until Luna's eyes returned to normal. "Who?" she demanded fiercely. "Tell me who it's calling for so I can stop it!"

Luna smiled faintly in grim acceptance of her fate. "Me."


"Harry, stop!"

Harry jerked as his wand flew out of his hand and into the waiting fingers of Albus Dumbledore. Dumbledore stared at him steadily with those unwavering blue eyes of his before calmly surveying the now bound and gagged bounty hunter wriggling on the ground. "I see you found a new friend," he commented casually. He handed Harry's wand back to him. "I apologize for my haste, but I did not know--"

"It's fine," Harry dismissed Dumbledore's earnest apology. He knew Dumbledore had only disarmed him because he was afraid that Harry was about to make a mistake by killing someone who was not Voldemort. The biggest obstacle he had to overcome in all of his training was to get over his temper and his urge to fiercely go after those that hurt him or his loved ones. While that method was all very good for a Death Eater, it was not the way that Dumbledore felt was necessary to defeat Voldemort. If defeating Voldemort was meant to be easy, anyone could do it, and he wouldn't have been the bloody chosen one. Dumbledore had always worked to ensure that Harry wouldn't attack out of anger, and Harry reckoned that from Dumbledore's vantage point, it looked as though he had been attacking Pollex out of fury.

Harry had to admit that he had been momentarily furious when he learned that Pollex was hired to kill Remus, but all he had done was tie him up to make sure that he wouldn't go after his friend. He had planned on taking Ron and Pollex out of the Forest and leaving Pollex in Hagrid's hut while he got Ron to the hospital wing. But now that Dumbledore was here, Harry knew that things were going to be loads easier.

Without another word, Dumbledore turned away from Pollex and kneeled down next to Ron. "And what happened here?"

Harry quickly fell to his knees on Ron's other side. He was still way too pale. "I dunno--he just keeled over. He was looking really peaky, and then he just collapsed and said that he was sorry but he couldn't do it, and then he--" Harry gestured silently at Ron's motionless form.

"That's what Miss Granger told me," Dumbledore said thoughtfully as he raised one of Ron's eyelids. Harry started slightly, although he reckoned he really wasn't that surprised. Ron and Hermione's empathic connection could be scarily accurate at times. "Quite a gift your friends have," Dumbledore mused as his long fingers moved to take Ron's pulse.

"Yeah," Harry agreed before remembering that he left out a very important fact about Ron's collapse. "Professor, right when Ron keeled over, my scar hurt."

Dumbledore's head moved sharply to stare at him, and Harry's stomach clenched. It wasn't often that he actually saw Dumbledore scared. "Are you certain, Harry?"

"Yeah," Harry answered.

Dumbledore sighed wearily. "I was afraid of this," he murmured almost inaudibly. Harry was about to ask what Dumbledore meant, but the headmaster quickly interrupted. "Harry, I will need your help. I know you're aware that the Awakening spell typically only works to reverse the effects of Stunning someone, but I think it may be adequate in this case." Harry nodded as he pointed his wand at Ron's chest, but Dumbledore's words prevented him from carrying on. "But Harry, this will take a great deal of that willpower we've been working on. When saying the incantation, I need you to focus very closely on Ron--on everything you know about him, understand?"

Harry nodded and frowned slightly when Dumbledore sheathed his wand and laid his hand on Ron's forehead. "Aren't you going to do the spell with me?"

"I am," Dumbledore sounded a bit winded as he kept his hand firmly on Ron's head and closed his eyes. "Whenever you are ready, Harry."

A few years earlier, Harry would have automatically performed the incantation without a moment's thought. But now, he pointed his wand at Ron and allowed himself to take a few moments to concentrate on Ron, his best mate, his first friend ever. He allowed himself to remember how Ron looked the first moment he ever saw him at King's Cross, already towering over his twin brothers at the age of eleven. He remembered the very first sight of his bright carrot-colored hair, long nose, smattering of freckles, and the smudge of dirt across his nose that Hermione and Mrs. Weasley had both chided him for having.

Random images flashed in Harry's mind: Ron stuffing his face with candy as he told Harry everything he knew about Quidditch, the look of awe on his freckled face as Ron watched Harry slip on a glittering cloak and disappear for the first time, the fierce determination on the twelve-year-old's face when he willingly stepped into the white square to be bashed on the side of the head by a giant chess queen. He thought of the nauseated horror on his friend's face whenever he saw a spider--whether it be a tiny, garden spider or a giant Acromantula, and how Ron had pushed him out of the way so that Padfoot's jaws clamped around his arm instead of Harry's. He remembered the look of shock Ron had worn when he recognized Hermione at the Yule Ball, the pride and joy plastered all over his face as he gleefully told Harry he had made the Quidditch team, the bemused expression he'd worn as he reached up to touch the spot where a bushy-haired girl stood on her tiptoes to lightly kiss him. He saw Ron hobbling into the Great Hall after being kidnapped, and his pleased expression as the entire school burst out into applause at seeing him alive and well, saw Ron lying on the bed in their dormitory laughing as they discussed their future after Hogwarts, and thought of the light that Ron got in his eyes whenever he talked about Hermione.

He heard Ron's voice in his mind: "Mind if I sit here--everywhere else is full", "Bloody hell!", "I don't like spiders", "Can I see Uranus, Lavender?", "If you want to kill Harry, you're going to have to kill us too!", "What's spew?", "Wet, isn't it?", "You'd think a bit of kissing would cheer her up", "Such a lovely, sweet-tempered girl", "Son of a bitch!", "As many times as I've just gone with whatever you've told me and not asked any questions, I hope that you'd do the same for me", "VOL.DE.MORT--I did it!", "Or maybe you want to snog my sister again,", "Sorry, mate, I--tried--but I--can't."...

And he thought about every single thing that he associated with Ron: chess, chocolate frogs, Martin Migg comic books, Chudley Cannons, Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, Quidditch, a turquoise flying Ford Anglia, fake Divination homework, spiders, Devil's Snare, Scabbers, his Firebolt, a Sneakoscope, the Whomping Willow, Pig, Nifflers, a Viktor Krum action figure with its arm snapped off, Ominoculars, Fluffy, S.P.E.W. badges that they had never worn, thestrals, Portkeys, Potter Stinks badges, gillyweed, centaurs, ice cream, the Weasley clock, garden gnomes, Errol, poorly knitted house-elf hats, the Invisibility Cloak...

Everything that Ron touched, everything that Ron looked at, everything that Ron spoke to or about, everything that Ron was flashed vividly in Harry's mind, and he finally, fully realized just what Ron was to him. He was the friend that he had always dreamed of, the brother he might have had if his parents had survived--he was family.

Harry finally had a family, and it was with that realization that Harry aimed his wand at Ron's chest. With all the love that the two men had never voiced to each other out of fear of not being masculine, he uttered the incantation, watched the green light hit Ron square in the chest, and simply prayed.


Ginny had fallen back into the habit of repeating what Luna said. "You?"

Luna continued to smile serenely. "Hermione didn't tell you about why your brother had been here, did she?"

As always when Percy was mentioned, her stomach heaved as though she had just been punched. "Percy came for you?" she whispered in disbelief. She had already heard about all of the horrible things that Percy had done or had planned to do, and she wasn't sure she was prepared to hear yet another awful thing.

Luna studied her. "You have the gift of forgiveness," she noted in her throaty voice. "Never lose that."


Suddenly and painfully, there was no time to pursue this conversation with Luna any longer. The Front Doors of Hogwarts had just been flung open, and Ginny immediately flew down the stairs that she had first stood on in eager anticipation of entering the Great Hall to be Sorted. Luna followed close at her heels, and both girls crouched behind a post to watch three Death Eaters almost casually stroll into Hogwarts as if they were entering a pub in their home village. They had their hoods up, so it was impossible to identify their faces. She'd just have to pull their hoods down and take a look after she Stunned them to the next century, Ginny thought as she pulled out her wand. Her jaw was clenched in a way that many people commented made her look quite similar to Fred and George.

"Okay," Ginny whispered. "I'll take the two on the left, you take the one on the right, got it?"

Luna nodded, but when Ginny tensed to spring out of their hiding place, Luna grabbed her arm. "Wait," she hissed. "Does anything about this feel wrong to you?"

Ginny was about to roll her eyes and say no, but then she paused to think like Harry had taught her. Three armed Death Eaters had just walked inside in plain view of everyone--there was nothing covert and furtive about their entrance in the slightest, and that defied all Death Eater policy. This could only mean one thing--it was a part of a plan.

That plan became evidently clear to both girls when it was cruelly put into action. A ray of white-hot, yellow light exploded into the pillar they were crouching behind. Ginny let out a shout as the heat seared into her face, and she flung herself onto the landing out of the way. Luna, however, was not so lucky, since the only place she could go was over the banister. She just held onto the slick banister for dear life, leaning her body as far away from the now crumbling pillar as possible.

The three Death Eaters trained their wands on the two girls, but a cool voice stopped them. "Carry on," the voice ordered sharply. "We'll take care of these two lovely ladies."

Ginny's vision had been obscured by bright, vivid stars when her head had cracked into the floor, so she only heard the lumbering footsteps of the three Death Eaters passing her on the landing as they headed up the stairs to the Great Hall. The Hall, Ginny gasped as her stomach completely left her body. The entire student body was in the Great Hall, and now three Death Eaters were on the way up there. She leapt up to her feet despite her still cloudy vision, but before she could make her way after them, her hair was seized, her arm was twisted behind her back, and her wand was relieved from her fingertips.

"Why don't you stay right here with me, dear?" Ginny couldn't see who was holding her, but she felt his bumpy nose brush the side of her neck, and his breath caused rigid goosebumps to flare up all over. "Pretty thing like you," he cooed almost inaudibly.

"Rodolphus, darling, we have work to do."

Ginny had been about to stomp on the bastard's foot and prove to him that although she was the shortest and youngest Weasley, she was still perfectly capable of kicking his ass, but the woman's voice stopped her. Her vision finally swam into complete focus, and it trained on the hollow, gaunt face of Bellatrix Lestrange. Bella had pushed Luna to the floor and was standing over her with her wand at the girl's throat. Her maniacal eyes, however, were resting on Ginny and her husband. Their eyes met for a moment and Ginny was hurtled back in time, standing in the dusty prophesy room of the Department of Mysteries, gasping in horror as this pale, thin woman with her cackling voice spoke to her cohorts, "Very well--take the smallest one. Let him watch while we torture the little girl. I'll do it."

She hadn't, of course, but she had done something infinitely worse: she had killed Sirius. Ginny's chest heaved at the recollection of hearing Neville tell her that the woman from the prophesy room had cursed Sirius and he had fallen through the veil. This woman had taken Sirius away from Harry. Harry's hollow, deadened, grief-stricken eyes flashed in her painful memory, and Ginny fervently wished that at this moment she could do some serious damage to Bellatrix Lestrange if by the smallest chance it would somehow ease Harry's pain at losing his godfather.

Bella recognized Ginny as well. "Little Weasley!" she crooned. She looked Ginny up and down. "You've certainly done some growing up, haven't you?" Ginny snarled and struggled, but Rodolphus only tightened his arms around her and moved his face so close to her neck that she could feel his teeth against her skin. Bella rolled her eyes. "Keep your wand in your pants, darling!"

"Oh, nothing wrong with havin' a bit of fun," Rodolphus said dismissively. Ginny violently shuddered when the tip of his tongue protruded from his mouth to take a considering lick at the skin of her neck. "You certainly did with that other Weasley."

Bella smoothed her hair and a self-satisfied smile crossed her face. "Yes, well, that was different. I only had my fun after the job was completed."

Ginny twisted and jerked harder than ever, infinitely relieved that Hermione was not here to hear Bella speak of trying to get into Ron's robes. Hermione, she thought suddenly, craning her neck up the stairs. If those Death Eaters were in the Great Hall by now, Hermione would have to be leading the students to safety all by herself, because she knew that Malfoy would be anything but helpful. She had to get out of here to help protect the students....

"Mrs. Lestrange?" One of the three Death Eaters had tentatively returned to the stairs. "The doors are locked."

Bella rolled her eyes impatiently again. "Well, open them."

"That's impossible," the Death Eater said with obvious trepidation. "It's protected by a password."

"WHAT?" Bella shrieked in fury.

"Dear," Rodolphus spoke up quietly. "We have an inside connection remember?"

Bella's anger instantly dissipated and she smiled sweetly at her husband. That smile had be one of the most disgusting things Ginny had ever seen. "Right." Her eyes were back on Ginny--actually they were on Ginny's chest. "Besides, we have this one." She strode over to Ginny, and Ginny was powerless to stop her from flicking her prefect badge. "Prefect, this one is." Her eyes burned intently into Ginny's. "She'll tell you the password."

Ginny rose her chin defiantly and her voice was high with fear and disbelief. "Are you kidding me?" Ginny protested violently. "I'm not telling you anything!" She actually had no idea what the password was--most likely only a teacher could open the doors, or someone could open it from the inside, but they didn't have to know that. If she could keep them distracted, she could prolong their attack and increase the chance of a teacher, or Dumbledore, or Harry arriving to save the day.

Bella arched her eyebrows sadistically. "Is that right? You won't tell us anything?" Her voice mockingly took on Ginny's frantic tone. "That's too bad, little Weasley." She stepped back from Ginny and over to Luna who had sat up but not made any effort to try to escape. "I was going to send you away before I started work on this one, but now I'm afraid you're going to have to watch."

Luna raised her eyes to evenly match Bella's feverish, dark ones, and Ginny fought so hard this time that she actually managed to elude Rodolphus' grasp for a split second before he regained his hold on her. "Wait, wait, wait!" Ginny shouted desperately. "If I tell you, will you let her go?!"

"No," Bella said immediately. "I'm under orders. You will watch and then you will tell us, otherwise we will do the same to you. Now stand up," she ordered Luna sharply. The Ravenclaw complied, her face completely blank and unperturbed. Her eyes were distant once again as if she had traveled to a completely different place, and all that remained here was her body staring blankly ahead.

"Luna, don't listen to it!" Ginny shrieked at the top of her lungs. "Don't listen to the song--you can fight it! You can change fate!"

Bella ignored her, but Luna came slightly back into herself and smiled over at Ginny. "It already has," she reassured her.

Luna's view of Ginny was obstructed by Bella's hand as she slapped her cheek, so she was forced to look at the maniacal Death Eater. "You are Luna Lovegood?" she demanded.

"Yes," Luna answered evenly.

"The Seer who has been talking to Potter?"

"That's me," Luna said almost cheerfully.

Bella's lips twisted in a begrudgingly impressed smirk. "Well, well, well, a true Seer."

Bella just stared at Luna for a long moment. Ginny held her breath as she tried to elbow Rodolphus in the stomach, but it was no use--she was trapped, and Luna was on her own. "Luna," she tried again, but Rodolphus, bored with her futile struggling, roughly wrapped one arm extraordinarily tight around her waist while bringing a hand over her mouth. Ginny was really glad that she had been holding her breath, because from the amount of moisture now clamped over her face, she had a feeling she would have choked on the smell of sweat.

"Well, Seer," Bella said slowly as her wand came up. Luna raised her chin even higher in the air, serenely ready to take whatever was about to fire out of the end of that wand. "Can you See this?"

With two quick jabs, identical blue flames of bright, searing fire shot out and struck Luna in each of her wide, luminous, formally beautiful eyes. Luna couldn't help shrieking with pain as her hands came up to keep the blood and gore from sliding down her face and she stumbled backward in agony. She fell against the banister for support, somehow still managing to stay on her feet, but with a well-placed kick from Bella, Luna was sent toppling over the banister, silently tumbling to the floor several feet below.

Ginny had been screaming into Rodolphus' meaty palm ever since she saw the flames shoot out from Bella's wand, but she couldn't find the strength to struggle. The sight of the blood slipping past Luna's fingers had made her knees give out, and although Ginny very much wanted to break free and go help her friend, her stomach turned. If it wasn't for the arm around her waist, she would have dropped to her knees. Rodolphus, knowing she was helpless, laughed and let her go. Ginny fell to the floor, a hand over her mouth as she heaved, thoroughly nauseated and horrified beyond words.

A pair of high-heeled boots came into her vision as Bella practically stood on top of her. "Get up and tell us the password or you join her."

Ginny heaved again so she had to remain crouched on all fours, but her mind wasn't on Luna. She was back at home in the Burrow, a mere ten-year-old who had been utterly bored because all of her brothers were off at school or work. Bill had shown up for a surprise visit and told her in a serious tone that he needed to teach her something very important. Curious, she had followed, and she had proceeded to learn precisely how to punch the living daylights out of any boy who tried to have his way with her. Bill had claimed he wanted her to be prepared when she went to Hogwarts and had all the boys flocking after her.

So Ginny was perfectly prepared when Bella's hand came down to grip her under the shoulder and try to heave her to her feet. She waited a few seconds, getting to a half-crouched position before swinging her fist up in the vicious upper-cut that Bill had taught her. The feel of Bella's lower row of rotting teeth cracking against her upper ones was one of the most satisfying sounds of Ginny's life. Stunned, the woman dazedly recoiled, and Ginny seized her chance to dive for the wand in Bella's tenuous grip.

But she never made it in time. A portion of her hair was seized by strong fingers once again, and she was jerked back toward Rodolphus. He whirled her around, hand still in her hair, chest heaving with rage. "You are fortunate, little one," he hissed with intense ire, "that I do not hit women."

Ginny's response was to promptly spit in the disgusting man's face, and the next thing she knew, knuckles were thudding into her lower cheek. Since the fingers had left her hair, she was actually flying in the air--her feet had left the ground--and she smashed into the banister, the wood cracking and splintering under the impact.

"I do, however, hit stupid girls!" Rodolphus roared as he wiped the saliva from his cheeks. Bella had recovered by this point and was striding over to yank Ginny to her feet, but Ginny was ready for her. Her foot lashed out to kick Bella right in the patella, but the fierce movement caused Ginny to fall backward, tumbling and somersaulting a third of the way down the stone stairs. She caught herself painfully by thrusting out her elbows and landing flat on her back, head facing down the stairs. Her muscles were screaming with protest and her head was positively throbbing by this point, so when Bella's wand flew up, Ginny knew there was no possible way she could move out of the way in time. This is it, she thought vaguely as she still managed to raise her chin the way Luna had done. She was not going to die without letting the bitch know that she despised every ounce of her being.

Funny, Ginny thought as she panted and waited for death, I don't hear that song Luna talked about.

That was the precise moment that a booming, authoritative voice echoed throughout the entire corridor. "Get back!"


Harry had known that this was coming--he had known the minute he had heard Lupin howl that Remus would be used as a distraction for something infinitely more sinister. So he very well should have been prepared when he staggered back into Hogwarts to find Death Eaters in his beloved school. He really shouldn't be this shocked and scared. However, he was not prepared to see his godfather's murderer standing on the front stairs, her wand pointed straight at a red-haired girl sprawled out on the stairs below--the girl who he just happened to be completely over the moon for. He jerked, prepared to run and dive in front of the curse if necessary, but Dumbledore waved him back and strode forward to the bottom of the stairs.

"Get back!"

Ron stirred sleepily against Harry's shoulder and raised his head slightly. "Harry, what's goin' on?"

"Nothing," Harry reassured as he hefted Ron's arm more securely around his shoulder to keep him standing upright. Somehow, miraculously, Dumbledore's spell had worked, and Ron had woken up with a splitting headache, shaky memory, and dazed eyes. He was extremely disoriented and confused and took to mumbling a bit madly under his breath, but at least he was awake and moving. Severus Snape had Ron's other arm around his shoulder, but Harry could sense that his professor wanted to follow Dumbledore, who was slowly walking up the stairs with his own wand out and that jaunty twinkle in his eyes that seemed so unusual for a man his age. After getting Ron to his feet, Dumbledore and Harry had run into Snape and Hagrid. Hagrid was currently keeping guard over Pollex in his hut, while Dumbledore, Harry, and Snape had returned to the castle to get Ron medical help.

Harry shifted Ron's weight so that all of it was on his shoulder and nodded at Snape. Snape scowled in lieu of thank you before striding over to stare down Bellatrix and Rodolphus. Harry's breath came out in a huge rush of relief when Dumbledore reached Ginny's level and calmly reached down to help her to her feet. Ginny had to lean against the banister for a moment, nodding at her headmaster to let him know she was all right. Thank God, Harry breathed. If anything had happened to Ginny--

His stomach jolted when Ginny suddenly tripped as she tried to run down the stairs. Her face twisted with a pained grimace of annoyance. She took a moment to catch her breath before placing both hands on the side of the banister, hoisting herself up, and vaulting herself over the side. Dumbledore didn't notice, and Snape, although confused and concerned, couldn't follow, so Harry knew it was up to him.

"Ron," he said as calmly as he could manage. "We've got to go help Ginny."

Ron lifted his heavy head even higher. "Ginny?" he asked in extreme bewilderment.

"Come on," Harry urged as he helped Ron walk over to the other side of the stairwell. Although he wanted nothing more than to just break out into a run, he stayed with Ron until he could carefully tip him off of his shoulders and sit him down. "I'll be right back," he reassured before sprinting over to Ginny's huddled form on the floor. "Ginny?" He didn't even bother trying to hide the sheer desperation in his voice as he threw himself down on his knees and whirled her around by her shoulders.

Tears were streaked all over her face. It was ghastly pale except for a purple-blue bruise that was rising in a pained lump on her lower left cheek, but she jerked away fiercely. He couldn't stop his fingers from coming up to wipe away the tears and touch the bruise in a vain attempt to alleviate the pain it had to be causing her, but Ginny pulled away from him. "We've got to help her--" she gasped out as she took Harry by the forearm and steered him around so that he could see what she was crouching in front of.

Harry's stomach folded and churned at the sight of Luna Lovegood lying on her side with her hands over her eyes. Her fingers, wrists, and lower arms were coated with black, sticky blood, and her mouth was open, trying desperately to gasp in air to her quivering lungs. She had brought her knees up to her stomach and was curled up on the floor in a fetal position, moaning with the little breath that she had. Harry couldn't see what was under Luna's fingers, but he had a feeling that he really didn't want to.

As disgusting and awful as the sight was, Harry somehow just knew what needed to be done. "Ginny," he said quietly as he managed to stand up and take Ginny under her shoulders. Her face was growing more pale by the second, so Harry knew she had to be going into shock from the horrendous sight. "Don't look anymore." He set her on her feet and held her tightly when she wobbled and swayed. Ginny had Luna's blood all over her jumper and skirt, and Harry swallowed hard at the sight of it--it could have been hers. "Come on," he said gently. "Go sit with Ron and let me take care of this." Ginny was still very slow to move and she couldn't seem to tear her eyes away from Luna. Her entire body quivered in Harry's grasp. "Ginny," Harry said more firmly but with no less tenderness. "Please?"

Ginny raised her eyes to Harry's, staring him full in the face, and from the way her lower lip trembled, Harry wanted nothing more than to take her in his arms and just let her cry to her heart's content. But they couldn't do that now, and they both knew it, so Ginny just nodded and shuffled over to Ron, her footsteps quickening when she realized that her brother was hurt.

Harry cautiously knelt down next to Luna, and once again he let his instincts wash over him. He ignored the wand that was in his pocket and with intense concentration, waved his hand over Luna's blinded eyes. Bandages appeared out of nowhere and wrapped around and around her limp head--she couldn't afford to lose anymore blood. Harry waited until the white gauze finished twining itself around Luna's skull before carefully pulling her hands away from her face. The bandages magically tightened even more around Luna's eyes, and Harry carefully draped her arms around his neck so that he could lift her up in his arms. Luna groaned as she rolled lifelessly into Harry. She must have finally passed out from the loss of blood. Luna's warm sticky blood was sticking to his neck and shoulders, but he ignored the shiver that the contact produced. He glanced up at the stairs to see that Dumbledore, Snape, Bellatrix, and Rodolphus were still there. His eyes unconsciously narrowed at the sight of Bellatrix and his chest hitched. There was nothing he would have liked more than to go rip Bellatrix's nasty little head off her foul neck. But not yet, he decided grimly. He could take the back way to the hospital wing, drop Luna and Ron off, and then go find that bitch who had taken Sirius from him.


Ginny didn't know how on earth she got Ron up to the hospital wing in the state she was in. Perhaps it was some inner strength that she had stashed deep down inside of her that she never knew existed. Perhaps it was some act of fate, since it was not her time to pass through the veil. Or perhaps it was because Harry Potter was at her side. Whatever the reason, Ginny somehow mustered the fortitude to take up the majority of Ron's weight on her shoulders and help him up four flights of stairs and down two long corridors to the hospital wing. Harry led the way silently, cradling a horribly still Luna Lovegood in his arms. He had somehow managed to bandage her wounds, but his shirt front, neck, and shoulders were still black with the blood that coated the hands that were now slung around his neck. Her stomach was already churning at the sight of one of her dear friends so horribly hurt, but what made her go into a dry heave was the thought of Harry's blood dripping in crimson-black rivulets across his skin.

"Gin?" Ron slurred as he felt her body convulse. He was so pale--Ginny had never seen Ron look this awful before, and it made her stomach twist and knot even more. It seemed like everything horrible happened to Ron. It killed her, because he was her big brother--he was her favorite big brother--even though, according to her mother, she wasn't supposed to have favorites. Her other brothers were fantastic, of course, but there was just something about Ron. For example, here he was, dreadfully injured and hurt in some way, yet he still noticed when she had gone into one little dry heave.

Harry spun around instantly at Ron's words, but Ginny had already straightened up. "I'm fine," she whispered. Harry gazed at her a moment longer before quickening his pace, so that he had barreled his way into the hospital wing about ten paces ahead of Ginny. By the time she reached the swinging doors, Harry had already laid Luna down on the nearest bed and had come back to help her heave Ron into the bed next to Luna's.

"I'll get Pomfrey," Harry said as he jogged over to the nurse's office.

Ginny nodded absently as she sat down on the side of Ron's bed. Ron had closed his eyes again, but from the way he was moaning and whispering under his breath, he couldn't be unconscious. Ginny bit her still trembling lip as she pushed Ron's sweaty, matted hair out of his face. He jerked slightly at her touch and rolled over on his back. His voice grew louder, and Ginny realized that he wasn't really speaking--he was just repeating Hermione's name in a desperate plea over and over again. She sighed as her eyes started to burn. It really amazed her that the youngest and probably most thick-headed Weasley boy was the first one to fall in love with a girl, in just the way that a girl always dreamed of being loved.

When Harry came out with the confused, wizened nurse, Ginny had stood up and was crossing toward the door. "I'll be right back," she called over her shoulder.

"Erm, no you won't." Harry insisted sharply as he practically skidded on the slick floor to grab her arm and turn her back. "What do you think you're doing?"

"I'm going to get Hermione," Ginny explained. A bit of her old fire returned to her voice. "He needs her."

Harry blanched as he glanced back at Ron, knowing that Ginny was perfectly right. "But Hermione knows," he said suddenly. "Hermione was the one who sent Dumbledore to us. She knows Ron's hurt."

"So why isn't she here?" Ginny finished quietly for Harry.

"And another thing." Harry nodded his head toward Madame Pomfrey who had first gone to Luna. "She had no idea that all of this was going on--no one told her."

"What?" Ginny asked in disbelief. "How could she not know?!"

Harry shook his head to indicate that he didn't have an answer, and his mind was already on another disturbing question. "Where are all the teachers?" Harry demanded. "I've only seen Snape and Dumbledore, and Hagrid's outside, but where the hell is everyone else?"

"They--they went to search the school," Ginny hastily explained, although she was starting to understand why Harry was getting so worked up. "They ushered us all into the Great Hall while they searched."

Harry raked a hand through his hair. "There're seven secret passageways to get into Hogwarts," he theorized. "Thanks to Pettigrew, they know about all of them."

"So they used them all and are now picking off teachers one by one?" Ginny gasped. Harry nodded grimly. "So the students are helpless." She swallowed hard. "So you're helpless."

"They don't want me," Harry contradicted. "Voldemort wants me for himself, and he's not here. They're here for someone else." He gestured sadly at Luna.

"Just for Luna? Or do you think they're here for others as well?" Ginny asked quietly.

Harry stiffened as a horrible thought hit him. The picture of the Muggle girls chained up in the Malfoys' dungeon sprung into his already troubled mind. "Hermione."

At the sound of her name, Ron jerked up into a sitting position with an anguished cry and promptly almost fell off the bed. Ginny flew back to his side to try to push him back in with Madame Pomfrey's help, but Ron's delirious eyes only rested on Ginny. "I can't find her, Gin," he whispered wildly. Tears were rolling down his face and Ginny had to sniff hard. She hadn't seen her brother cry since his teddy bear had been turned into a giant spider. "She's gone."

"You don't know that, Ron," Ginny replied. She kept her hand on his forehead as their mother did when they were sick as children. "She's going to come see you, I'm sure she will."

"No, no, no." Ron shook his head vehemently. "I can't find her and I can always find her."

Ginny glanced over at Harry in confusion. He was standing at the foot of Ron's bed with that grim, determined, lets-go-kick-some-ass face. "The empath thing," Harry said flatly. "He can't find her empathically." He had been gripping the bars at the foot of Ron's bed so tight that his knuckles were white, but with a rough shove, he started to streak toward the door.

Ginny would have moved to join him, but Ron was trying to get out and follow Harry himself. She had to grab him by the shoulders. "Ron, no!" She pushed him down as if he were nothing but a two-year-old child. "You can't go!"

"She needs me!" Ron roared with more fire than Ginny would have thought humanly possible from someone that weak. However, the power of love had given him the fuel to be able to climb out of bed and go to the door. Madame Pomfrey looked like she was ready to chain Ron to the bed, but Harry got there first and forcefully led Ron back to his bed.

"Ron," he said quickly and tersely. "Ron, listen to me." He paused until he was certain that he had his undivided attention. "You're sick. I know she needs you. She needs you more than anyone, so she needs you to get better. You may be able to be there for her tonight, but that could be it if you don't get the proper medical care. If you save her tonight, you may not be able to be there for her ever again." Ron actually turned green at the thought of never seeing Hermione again, and he sank deeper into his pillows with a nauseated moan. Harry's hand came down to firmly clamp Ron on the shoulder. "You and I love Hermione in two completely different ways, but that doesn't mean that I wouldn't walk through fire for her, too. You know I'd do anything for her, so let me take care of her tonight. Then you can have her for the rest of your life, ok?"

Ron stared carefully at Harry for a long moment before nodding slowly. Harry nodded back and started to go, but Ron grabbed his hand to stop him. It wasn't quite a farewell handshake since they didn't actually pump hands, but the look exchanged between the two spoke more than any handshake or embrace ever could. Harry nodded one more time before turning and racing out of the hospital wing.

Madame Pomfrey let out a sigh of relief that the young Potter boy was out of her infirmary and returned to silently caring for Luna. Ron's eyes were drifting closed again, his brow contorted and fresh beads of sweat popping up on his feverish forehead. Ginny moved her hand to smooth his hair one more time before kissing his forehead. "I'll be back," she promised. With that, she turned to follow Harry out of the hospital wing.


Harry had decided to check the Great Hall first, but all he found was absolute pandemonium. It appeared as though the doors to the Great Hall had been blasted off of the hinges, and they lay in crumbled ruins. Students were milling about in a frightened frenzy, some huddled over injured friends who had been hurt by falling debris. Harry paused by the door to check for a sign of Hermione and to see if anyone were seriously injured. Seeing nothing, he hastily started for the front stairwell, but stopped dead at the sight that met him.

There weren't any stairs. The stairs had caved in completely, and his feet were only inches away from the edge of a long fall down into a humongous pile of rubble. Atop of the mound of debris were the charred and broken remains of the massive, ornate front doors. It was as though the front of Hogwarts had been blown apart in a massive explosion, and the odd thing was that Harry hadn't heard a sound.

"Harry!" Neville and Seamus skidded up to him and began talking as one, pointing down at the wreckage.

"It was awful--"

"--just blew up--"

"--came in here--"

"--they're everywhere--"


"--D.A. really came in handy--"

"--and then Dumbledore--"

"What about Dumbledore?" Harry interrupted sharply, catching Neville's grief-stricken tone at the name of their Headmaster.

Seamus swallowed hard and just shook his head. Neville gibbered for another moment before finally managing a coherent statement. "We saw the whole thing. They blew apart the doors to the Great Hall first, and then started trying to curse a whole load of students. Some of the Slytherins were even helping them. Then Dumbledore came up and just yelled at them to stop, and Snape was with him. Then McGonagall came running up out of nowhere with blood all over her, and then all five of them just pointed their wands at them, and it just exploded without a sound--"

"The stairs?" Harry clarified, staring down at the wreckage. He was starting to feel more than a little sick. "Dumbledore, Snape, and McGonagall were all on the stairs when they blew up?"

"Yeah," Seamus said weakly. "The teachers are trying to dig them out, but there's not much--" He broke off and closed his weary eyes.

Harry's head felt really light as if he were floating above all of this insanity. It couldn't be real--the three most crucial members of the Order couldn't have been assassinated just like that. They were three of the most talented and powerful wizards and witches ever, and their lives couldn't just end like that, in a flash of light and a crumble of stone.

Harry brought his hands up to his hair and squeezed his short black strands as hard as he could. That was exactly how lives ended--Cedric, Sirius, and Dean's lives had all ended with a snap of their fingers, and in one split second they ceased to exist. It was over for them, and now it was over for Dumbledore, Snape, and McGonagall. Now it was bloody over for all of them. He may be the chosen one and all that rubbish, but not without them. It was all over. The war was over. They had lost.


Cool, lovely, slim, wonderful hands were on his arms. "Harry? Harry?" The hand passed over his forehead and touched his scar, and for the first time in his life, his scar felt full of life and wonderful. "What the hell did you say to him?" Ginny snapped. He knew that she wasn't speaking to him, so he just kept his eyes closed and reveled in the sensation of her fingers on his skin.

"We told him what happened and he just keeled over--how were we supposed to know that it was going to make him pass out!" Seamus was defending himself.

"Well, what happened?" Ginny demanded impatiently, still keeping her hand ever moving in a soothing, reassuring manner all over Harry's hot face, and her other hand rested on his arm to prevent him from falling all the way to the ground--for the first time, Harry realized that he had fallen to his knees upon hearing the news of the three professor's deaths. He didn't want to listen as Neville told the story again, so he closed his mind until he felt Ginny take his glasses off.

"Harry?" she asked again in the gentle voice she had used earlier. Harry rubbed his eyes exhaustedly, glad that Ginny had thought to take his glasses off. When his hands fell away from his face, he risked opening his eyes and found Ginny kneeling right in front of him, cleaning his glasses for him on the hem of his shirt. She hadn't been this close to him in a long time, and it was so glorious that Harry just wanted to forget about all the insanity and hellishness that had just happened and fall completely and utterly into her, and to hell with his plan to save the world. Who needed the world if he had her?

"Harry, we don't know anything yet," she reassured him softly. "Here." She handed him back his glasses and gestured to the edge. "Take a look." Harry craned his neck to look at the wreckage again, and this time, he spotted the many teachers who were desperately digging their way through the wreckage to find the fallen professors. "Most of them only got stunned by the Death Eaters," Ginny said quietly. "They only wanted Luna and Dumbledore, and right afterward they left. They're gone now." Harry couldn't stop a quiet moan from falling out of his throat when she smoothed back his sweat-soaked hair. "They're gone, and Dumbledore, Snape, and McGonagall could have survived. Dumbledore's the strongest wizard in the world remember? It's not over yet." She ran her hand down to the side of his face to make him look at her. "Never think it's over, understand me?"

Harry nodded somewhat dumbly. It was odd that here they were in this horrible situation within what was supposed to be the safest haven in the world, and all he could think about was how beautiful the girl in front of him looked at this moment. It was stupid, and he knew it was stupid, but it didn't stop him from thinking it.

"Now come on," Ginny urged as she pulled Harry back to his feet. "We've got to find Hermione."


They found her over an hour later in the prefects' meeting room. They didn't know why she had gone in there in the midst of all the chaos, but for some reason, she had gone there alone and met her downfall. She had heard the Siren song of Death and gone through the veil.

Hermione Granger was dead.

Ginny was still crying over two hours later, sitting in the chair next to Ron's bed, hunched over and gasping for breath through her sobs. Hermione was probably her best friend, the kindest, most responsible, smartest, most brilliant girl Ginny had ever known. Ginny had always wanted a big sister she could look up to and idolize, and although she never wanted to be like Hermione since she was quite content to be her more carefree, spontaneous self, Hermione had been that sister.

And now she was gone.

What killed Ginny the most was that at any minute, Ron could wake up and ask why she was crying. She would have to tell him then, and that would be the most heartbreaking moment of her life. Because Ron loved Hermione more than Ginny thought was humanly possible, and she didn't know how he was going to cope with having her cruelly ripped away like this. But then again, it was questionable whether Ron would ever wake up. Madame Pomfrey had told them that he had passed out soon after she and Harry had left him, and although she had tried her best to revive him, he was unresponsive. Harry had hollowly explained what had happened in the forest and had tried again to wake Ron up, but his concentration was obviously shattered so he had been unsuccessful. Harry wouldn't be able to wake Ron up until his shock over Hermione's death had worn off, if it ever did.

They didn't even know why she was dead. They had just found her stone cold, with no breath in her lungs, no color in her face, no heartbeat beneath her chest. There was no sign of violence or use of magic against her. It actually looked as though she were sleeping. Madame Pomfrey was too busy with the countless other injured students to give Hermione a thorough examination, although the nurse had mentioned that she had a theory about what had happened that she would divulge at a later time when she had time to properly explain it.

Harry was leaning against the wall next to Ron's bed, too numb to move. Ginny's heart broke to watch him try to keep control of himself. He hadn't been able to stop himself from crying out and screaming in horror when he had found Hermione behind the front desk in the prefect's room. He had fallen to his knees beside her and tried desperately to wake her up while Ginny had just stood, too numb to even cry, until she had finally spoken up to tell Harry that it was no use. That was when Ginny had finally been able to cry--when she actually had to say aloud that Hermione was dead. Still, Harry had heartbreakingly stared down into Hermione's motionless face, but his hand had been groping in the air for something. Ginny had been puzzled until his hand had finally brushed hers and then she had understood. She had pressed her hand into his and the gesture had pushed her over the edge. She had fallen down onto the ground almost on top of him, but it didn't matter. Harry had just held on to her as fiercely as she to him, and they had just cried and clung until Harry had finally been able to find the strength, for the second time during the course of this long night, to lift a limp girl into his arms and carry her up to the hospital wing.

And now that the long, horrendous night was over, and as the light of the early dawn crept through the windows, the first rays of sunshine brought anything but a hopeful feeling about the day that dawned ahead of them. Hermione was dead. Ron was unconscious again and may not ever wake up. Luna was blind. Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Snape could all be dead. And there was nothing anyone could do to change any of that.

Or could they?

Author notes: Yeah, I'm sure all of you hate me now since I have now just left the biggest cliffhanger EVER =)

But thanks for reading even if you do hate me!

Next: What the hell is going on?