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 22

Chapter Summary:
And so it begins: the final battle...
Author's Note:
Sorry this has taken so long. I tried to do this all in one chapter to not leave you with a cliffhanger, but it's been too long and Heather, my fabulous beta, found the perfect place to cut the chapter in half! So here it is! Enjoy!

When destiny calls you

You must be strong

I may not be with you

But you've got to hold on

They'll see in time

I know

We'll show them together


Hermione knew the instant that the Portkey abruptly and rudely dumped her to her destination that this was not the place she expected the final battle between Voldemort and Harry to occur. Granted, all that she could see at the moment was the faded green of untended grass and soft small mounds of dirt, but there was just something in the air that made Hermione feel a little ill at ease. For a moment, she thought that she had made a mistake in conjuring the Portkey, but then she remembered that it was only once in a blue moon that Hermione Granger performed shoddy spellwork.

She pulled herself up to a crouched position and took a quick, considering glance about her. That fast look told her that her instincts had been right; this was not where she had expected to be led. She had landed behind a large brush of bramble a little way off from a large house that shone alone in the moonlight. The house was surrounded by an idyllic white picket fence, and had a cobblestone path leading from the gate to the front door. On either side of the path were lavender, buttercup-yellow, and baby pink flowers, and beyond them, carefully maintained green grass. There was only one large tree that obstructed the view of the house itself, underneath which sat a wooden bench. A white trellis intertwined with ivy stood on the left side of the house. It led to the back portion of the yard. The darkness of night couldn't hide the surprising beauty of the house itself--an impressively large two-story Tudor red brick house with white columns and cream trim decorating the windows and doors. It looked like something straight out of one of the many novels Hermione had read in her youth that took place in the scenic English countryside. Why on earth would Harry be here?

"Oh bloody hell," Ginny whispered as she slowly got to her feet, gaping at the home in front of them. "He didn't."

"Did what?" Hermione asked edgily, wishing for the millionth time that her wand was securely in her pocket.

"It's the house in his photographs," Ginny said as though entranced, although her fingers were twitching with fury as though she was just itching to slap somebody. "It's his house."

For a moment, Hermione thought Ginny was referring to the Riddle manor where Voldemort had used her to lure clueless Order members almost a year and a half ago, but then she realized that Ginny was suggesting something even more disturbing. "Harry's house?"

"Godric's Hollow is the name of the town Harry was born in," Ginny recalled ruefully, not believing that she hadn't put two and two together when she had seen those words scribed into the gilded surface of the Galleon. She had just been so distracted and worried when the Galleon had finally glowed hot that she hadn't been thinking clearly. She had just followed Hermione--she should have known that Voldemort would do something this sadistic. It was the final nail in Harry's coffin: to make him fight in the place of his parents' death.

Hermione's thoughts were rather similar to her friend's, and her stomach was also jumping about nervously, but she was not about to let that get to her. Swallowing hard, she glanced about her again to make sure that the coast was still clear. "Come on," she whispered. "Get the cloak."

Ginny nodded and pawed through the magically expanded pocket of her robes, still eying Harry's childhood home. When Hermione had returned to her dormitory to retrieve the Galleon she had charmed over two years ago, she had found the Invisibility Cloak sitting on her window seat; apparently, Ron wasn't the only one who was willing to fly to her window late at night. It must have taken a bit of time for the Galleon to glow hot, so Hermione and Ginny had used the time to tersely catch each other up on the past few weeks. Ginny had heard all about Hermione's time at the Malfoy's, while Hermione had learned about the attack on Hogwarts, how the Death Eaters had tried to assassinate Dumbledore and had successfully blinded Luna, and how Dumbledore had miraculously survived, because--well, he's Dumbledore. Then, Dumbledore had decided to remain hidden for the past several weeks to make everyone think that he was dead. Hermione now knew that convincing the world that you had died wasn't that difficult to do. After all, the Malfoys had managed to convince everyone that she had died. Although he was apparently dead to the Death Eaters, Dumbledore had managed to keep busy. He had covertly overseen the rebuilding of Hogwarts, and had secretly helped protect Professor Lupin, who had to stand trial for reckless endangerment and other ridiculous charges that he had fortunately been cleared of. He had also continued to lead the Order and coach Harry's training--Harry, of course, had remained at Hogwarts during the time it had been closed.

Hermione followed Ginny under the cloak, and although trembling knees hindered both girls, they successfully snuck through the charming gate and up the path to the front door. The house had obviously been deserted for years, and there was absolutely no one in sight, but it was several long moments and numerous deep, steadying breaths later before Ginny could even move her hand to turn the doorknob. They had absolutely no idea what lay within, and it terrified both girls to their very souls.

With an unsettlingly loud squeak of protest, the slightly rusted hinges creaked as the door swung wide open. Moonlight illuminated the darkened foyer of the mansion. The entrance hallway must have been a beautifully decorated room long ago, but years and decay had eroded the life out of the room. The ornate but tasteful chandelier was almost completely encased in spider webs, the plush, maroon carpeting had been eaten away by hungry moths and mice, and the surfaces of the once rich mahogany end tables were coated with a thick layer of dust. The wallpaper was peeling off of the walls, and in its place were chunks of mold that had grown over the years. However still, despite the dilapidated state of the house, a clear picture of Harry as a young toddler taking his first steps in this room flashed in Hermione's mind. Hermione knew, of course, that Harry probably hadn't taken his first steps in the foyer, but there was just something about this house that screamed with the essence of Harry. It was painfully obvious that he belonged here, and that his childhood should have been spent in these rooms, with a supportive family who showered him with the love that he had never known before arriving at Hogwarts.

With a lump in her throat, Hermione glanced over at Ginny, who was looking about the room as though she wanted to memorize every detail--even though it was evidently tugging on her heartstrings, as well. He has that now, she reminded herself. He has us. Now he just needed to be reminded of that before it was too late.

There was a smattering of different sized footprints clearly visible in the dust-encased carpet that all led in different directions. Besides the stairs leading to the first floor of the house, there were three other possible exits out of the foyer, all leading to other rooms that were all obscured by darkness. The vast majority of the footprints, however, seemed to lead up the stairs, and before Hermione could point this out to Ginny, she was already slipping in front of Hermione to lead the way.

The girls were now in a long quiet hallway--it was still quite unnervingly silent and still--and Ginny randomly took a right and went down to the door at the end of the hall. The door was wide open, and no sound came from inside. Assuming that it was all clear, the girls stepped into the dark room, a slight breeze tickling their cheeks. Ginny closed the door quietly behind them. Instinctively, Hermione's hand came up to reach for a light switch. To her surprise, her fingers finally found one. With a click, the lights snapped on, and Ginny blinked repeatedly from the harshness of the sudden bright light--Muggle commodities such as electricity were still a mystery to her. Hermione, however, couldn't explain--she had instantly frozen when the items in the mystery room were revealed, one hand covering up her gaping mouth.

They were standing in Harry's nursery.

This was where it had happened--this was the spot where a one-year old Harry had stopped the most powerful sorcerer in the world, and this was where Harry's mum had died. Someone had actually died in this room. A room that was supposed to have been filled with love, cheer, new life, and hope was now shrouded in darkness, despair, and death. Hermione hated that someone had been vile enough to kill the joy of a newborn's nursery in such an awful way. Despite the danger, she slipped out from underneath the Invisibility Cloak and walked over to the crib at the center of the room, wrapping her hands around two of the bars. She stared with a wistful smile at the moons and stars decorating Harry's baby blanket and sheets. They still lined the crib. Both were still relatively intact and unscathed by the decay of time, and Hermione wondered if she should take the blanket with her, since Harry might want to keep it. He seemed to always want anything that in someway pertained to the happier life he could never remember. Ginny came up to Hermione's side and wordlessly picked up the blanket, rubbing it against her cheek.

Hermione's thoughts strayed from the baby blanket as she noticed for the first time that her hair was swinging to the right side from a steady, strong gust of wind--a window must be open. She glanced to the left and promptly gasped. The window and the wall around it were gone--it appeared as though there had been some sort of explosion. "Ginny," she said sharply before striding over to the side of the house to inspect the gaping hole. Ginny gasped, shocked that she had missed the very obvious hole in the wall, and followed. Debris and broken glass littered the ground, and with a painful wrench of her already writhing stomach, Hermione noticed that there was a Harry-sized indentation in the pile of rubble. She quickly scanned the surrounding area for some sort of indication of where Harry had gone after falling out of the window. Harry's parent's home came complete with sprawling expanse of England's trademark, gently rolling hills. Beyond them lay a darkened grove of trees that reminded Hermione of the Forbidden Forest. It was a remarkably clear night, and the moonlight shone brightly, so they should have been able to see if anyone was outdoors. But there was no one to be seen. The grounds were completely deserted--this whole house was completely deserted.

"What the hell is going on here?" Ginny whispered after a quiet moment. "Where is everyone?"

"I don't know," Hermione said anxiously. The air was positively heavy with a tangible, unbearable aura of apprehension--something horrible was going to happen, she was certain of it. But how could it if no one was here? She backed away from the window, eyes resting on the human-sized dent below her. "We haven't checked the other rooms or downstairs," Hermione reminded Ginny and herself. "They might be in one of them."

"Hermione," Ginny asked as Hermione returned to center of the room to collect the fallen Invisibility Cloak. "What exactly are we going to do when we find Harry and Ron?"

Hermione bit her lip. "I have no idea," she admitted. "I don't have a plan." Her stomach bobbed and lurched as she instinctively pictured Ron's reaction to this confession. "I thought that you would take Harry and I would take Ron, but what precisely we'd do with them--I-I don't know." She instinctively smoothed the glittering cloak she was now holding. "But I'll think of something when I see them--I'm sure I will," she added somewhat convincingly, although at the moment she was internally doubting her quick, sharp mind. It had been rather reckless and ridiculous to run off after Harry like this without a single notion of what to do in the first place. How many other stupid mistakes would she be making tonight?

"So we need to keep searching then?" Ginny asked without a trace of fear in her voice and her head high.

It comforted her a great deal that at least someone was calm, so Hermione also raised her chin and nodded determinedly. "Let's get moving," she added. She threw the cloak over her and Ginny so they could sneak out of the nursery without detection.

It wasn't until they had checked all of the rooms upstairs and were halfway down the stairs that they finally knew for certain that someone else was in the house. A low murmur of voices reached both girls' ears--low, angry, harsh voices arguing quietly but furiously in some unseen corner of one of the several rooms on the lower floor. Ginny held out an arm to stop Hermione from continuing down the stairs so they could attempt to make out precisely where the voices were coming from.

And that's when he stepped out into foyer.

Hermione had been waiting to see him for so long that she physically hurt from longing. He had become so much a part of her that he was absolutely essential to living. She had once been glad they had broken up so they could learn how to live without each other, because it had frightened her how dependent she was on him. But now, although she knew she could indeed function and live without him, she also knew that if she did have to go on without him, she would never be the same again. Something in her would die along with him, and life as she knew it would be changed irrevocably for the worse. She was back to being utterly dependent on him again, but the vast difference this time was that it no longer frightened her. On the contrary, it thrilled her to have another person that connected to her. She had gone through hell and back, and she would probably have to journey back into the depths of hell once again within the next ten minutes, but just for a moment, at the sight of his freckled, wonderfully familiar face, she was floating up to heaven.

The moment passed when Ginny let out a soft gasp and started to instinctively go to her brother. Hermione didn't know what told her to do it, but one of the smartest things Hermione did all night was to fling out her arm to block Ginny's path. Ginny stumbled slightly when Hermione's elbow unintentionally jabbed her stomach quite forcefully, but Hermione didn't notice. Her temporary euphoria had vanished, and she was currently tumbling head over heels back to earth. Currently, Ron Weasley was not the man he had grown up to be. On this horribly distorted earth that the excessive fear of Voldemort had produced, Ron Weasley was a Death Eater.

She knew it the first second she saw his eyes flickering in the candlelight. They were the same shape and color, but the intent behind them, the soul that clearly shone out from underneath the baby blue, was clearly not her beloved Ron's. The soul of a dark and sadistic man lay behind those eyes, someone who reveled in power and strength, who enjoyed manipulating others, who got off on spreading fear throughout the hearts of good men, and who didn't care that the world crumbled and fell as long as he had his fingers tightly ensnared around the reigns of power. This person standing in the foyer with a mask of impatience plastered across his face was everything that Ron was not, and it was like she was staring at a complete stranger who just happened to resemble the boy she loved with all of her heart.

Ron was gone.

Hermione didn't even realize she wasn't breathing until she actually swayed slightly from oxygen deprivation. Ron had been trying so hard to get away from Voldemort's mind control--she had felt in the dream how desperately and valiantly he had been trying to break free, but it just flat out wasn't enough. Sometimes, good couldn't always prevail; evil wins the day, and the good die young. It was grim statement, but Hermione couldn't help thinking it was true as she continued to watch Ron for a sign that somewhere deep inside there was still at least a tiny spark of the boy she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. There just had to be a way, Hermione thought rather desperately as Ron rolled his eyes and strode back to a dark doorway with a completely unfamiliar gait and rhythm.

"Come on then," Ron barked. His voice sounded like Ron's, but the intent behind the words was so unlike him that it was very evident that someone else was residing in Ron's skin. "We don't have all day."

Slightly trembling fingers grabbed Hermione's sleeve and tugged. "He's acting like Tom," Ginny revealed shakily in a barely audible voice.

Hermione tilted to her head to the side so she could inspect Ron with careful consideration. Was he? Ron was walking to the bottom of the stairs, his head high as his eyes roved up and down the carpeted stairway. His stride was long and cocky, and as he moved, Hermione was strongly reminded of the arrogant aura Tom Riddle had exuded as he circled Harry like a hawk. The comparison caused Hermione's stomach to writhe once again--it just would not stop twisting; honestly, it was a miracle that she hadn't yet developed an ulcer from the constant influx of worry and stress that defined her life.

"All right, Weasley, stop your--" Bellatrix Lestrange stopped in mid-sentence as she wandered in the foyer. She had entered with the utmost nonchalance, but when her eyes caught on Ron's rigid shoulders, she too tensed up. "Rodlophus! Antonin!" she barked warningly.

"Someone's here," Ron explained slowly, one foot on the bottom stair as he stared in Hermione and Ginny's vicinity. "I heard them, and--" He stopped again, cocking his head to the side as his gaze shifted slightly to the left. He was now looking right where Hermione stood. She knew that she and Ginny really should be backing silently up the stairs and hiding in one of the rooms upstairs until his suspicions faded, but she couldn't bring herself to move. She had waited so long to see him again, but this wasn't him at all--it was a complete stranger who bore a striking resemblance to him. Still, Hermione couldn't walk away from him just yet, in case the impossible hope came true and the real Ron shone out from underneath the blue eyes. However, all she could see was coldness and animosity. Damn it, where the hell was the boy she wanted to spend the rest of her life with?

Bellatrix's husband, and much to Hermione's dismay, Antonin Dolohov, had now joined them in the hallway. When Hermione realized that all four of them had drawn their wands, she knew that the time to get the hell away from there was right now. Ginny tugged on her sleeve as she took a careful step backward, and Hermione followed sync, the bottom of her shoe scraping almost soundlessly against the edge of the stair. She and Ginny both froze at the sound and held their breaths. Not blinking, she tried to will everything she had into finding Ron as she had in the dream. Don't give us up, don't give us up, don't give us up...

"Hear that?" Ron whispered hoarsely as he took another step up, wand at the ready. If he fired a curse now, it would hit Hermione square in the forehead.

"No," Bella replied, sounding very bored. Rodolophus also pocketed his wand with impatience as he glanced toward the front door.

"I did." Dolohov joined Ron on the bottom stair with the trademark scowl that still plagued her dreams every so often. Hermione bit the inside of her lip as she watched Ron stand alongside the notorious Death Eater who had killed so many people. She remembered all of the times that Ron's face had twisted in fury whenever Dolohov's name had come up, but now he was standing next to the man as if they were comrades, as if they were equals. Ron never would have done that. And if he was willing to fight along with Dolohov, Hermione didn't think that Ron would have any qualms about turning her in to Dolohov.

They couldn't go up the stairs any faster without increasing the risk of tripping on the hem of the cloak, so Hermione knew that although she and Ginny had resumed backing up the stairs, if Ron or anyone else uttered a curse, there would be no escape. Ginny had her wand out and ready to perform the Protection Shield, but Hermione knew it wouldn't do any good--the Death Eaters would still know that she and Ginny were there, and four against two were not very good odds, especially since only one of them had a wand.

After a few tense, long seconds of a horrible standstill, Rodolphus decided that enough was enough and pulled on Ron's arm with a scowl. "It's almost time. You should be getting out there."

Ron let out an angry sneer and violently whipped his arm away. "Don't be giving me any orders," he snapped in a haughty, waspish voice that even Draco Malfoy would have envied.

Dolohov appeared to be rather annoyed with Ron's cockiness and muttered something furiously under his breath. Bellatrix, on the other hand, looked positively aroused by Ron's behavior. She actually had the gall to sidle up to Ron and close her fingers possessively around his bicep.

"I'm so glad you finally came around," she told Ron gleefully. Bella shot a sideways, triumphant look over at her husband, as if challenging him to do something about her blatant flirtation. Rodolphus was staring at Ron with an expression similar to the one Ron himself had given Viktor Krum once upon a time. The only difference was that Hermione had a feeling that Rodolphus would be perfectly willing to tear Ron from limb to limb for even harboring feelings for Bella.

"He's going to be such fun," Bella predicted, her hand now fluffing through Ron's hair. If Ron was aware of Bella's fingers traveling over him, he didn't show it, since he was back to staring with suspicion at the spot where Hermione stood. He knows, Hermione realized with a start. She wasn't sure which surprised her the most--that Ron could still empathically sense her in this state, or that Ron hadn't alerted the others to her presence.

Rodolphus looked ready to commit bloody murder, but some more muttered words from Dolohov managed to appease the Death Eater. Dolohov cleared his throat and glared meaningfully at Ron. "He's right though--we should get moving."

"Fine," Ron said flatly after a few more seconds of studying the space where Hermione was pressed up against the wall with her heart in her throat. He turned sharply on his heel and marched out of the foyer. Dolohov begrudgingly followed. Bella tried to keep up with Ron's long legs, but her husband's deft hands stopped her, and Hermione and Ginny had to endure several moments of nauseated agony as a desperate husband tried to prove to his wife that he was just as much of a man as a young, powerful wizard like Ron Weasley.

Hermione could only stand so much of the groping hands and wandering tongues before having to avert her eyes. She waited until she heard their panting stop, and their footsteps faded until finally a door slammed shut. She counted to three inside of her head for good measure before continuing to feel her way down the stairs with Ginny at her side. She had a feeling that Ron would lead them directly to Harry, and maybe, when she was somewhat reassured that her two best friends were alive, she could finally figure out how the devil she was going to get them out of this situation.

Ginny and Hermione tiptoed cautiously into the room Ron and the others had disappeared into to. They discovered that it was a kitchen with a beige and dark brown tiled floor, walls with peeling white paint, an island in the center of the room that held the rusty and dusty stove, and a large amount of filthy counter space that held various kitchen appliances. Shabby wooden stools lay overturned on the floor near one door that led to another room in the house, and another door obviously led outside into the backyard.

Hermione silently slipped out from under the robe once again so she could test one door, letting Ginny try the other one under the safety of the cloak. She knew it probably wasn't the most prudent course of action, but time was a precious commodity at this point. They needed to find Ron and Harry now. Her door led down a rickety flight of stairs to what must be a basement. It was too dim to see if the stairs had been recently trodden upon, and with a glance over her shoulder, Hermione could tell from the anxiously puzzled expression on Ginny's face that she couldn't tell if Ron and the others had gone through her door to the outside. Hermione looked at the two doors while chewing on her lip. They needed to make a decision fast, and not only that, but they needed to make the right decision. They couldn't afford to make any more mistakes. It was getting too close to the deadline.


And they had just made another horrible, possibly fatal, mistake.

Hermione's stomach was twisting and writhing faster than humanly possible. A Death Eater was standing in the doorway that she and Ginny had entered through moments earlier. How could she have been so stupid? Of course there had to be more Death Eaters in the house besides the Lestranges and Dolohov, and the false assumption that she was safe for the moment might now be the last mistake she ever made. His wand was up and aimed at her heart, and Hermione knew that she wouldn't be able to get out of the way in time. Her mind instinctively flew back to the Department of Mysteries, and the ghost of the purple flame that had ripped through her ribcage flared up. There had been no hope of escape then, and there wasn't any now for her or Ginny.


The temporary paralysis vanished instantly when Ginny threw off the Invisibility Cloak and kicked it aside to get a better aim at the intruder. The Death Eater blinked in surprise at the abrupt appearance of another girl in the dilapidated kitchen, and this gave Hermione the opportunity to whirl and duck at the same time, eyes scanning frantically for something, anything she could use as a weapon to defend herself.

But that became completely unnecessary when the Death Eater who had just sent a curse over in Ginny's direction suddenly stiffened and slumped to the floor in a limp heap, unconscious. Ginny, who had crouched down to the floor to avoid the curse, was shocked, but still managed to jump back up with an outstretched hand. A second Death Eater, alerted by the commotion, stepped over his unconscious cohort into the kitchen, his wand down by his side.

Hermione's eyes widened when she realized what had just happened. "Stop!" Hermione suddenly hissed before Ginny could make use of her infamous Bat-Bogey Curse. Ginny didn't acknowledge that she had heard Hermione's frantic order, and even if she did, it was clear she had no intention of heeding it. The first curse went awry as the second Death Eater ducked, and Hermione managed to leap across the room in time to pull Ginny's arm down before she could repeat the curse. Ginny twisted and squirmed, but Hermione ignored her friend and just stared determinedly at Peter Pettigrew.

"They're outside," Peter Pettigrew relayed without hesitation. He nodded toward the window over the sink. "In the forest. The trees that are marked with crosses will lead you straight to them."

Hermione didn't even waste time saying thank you. She darted around Ginny, and threw open the door before she realized that Ginny was taking the time to give Pettigrew the appreciation he deserved for not turning them in. Ginny had been thoughtfully watching Pettigrew all of this time. She had, after all, never seen the dumpy man who had betrayed Harry's parents before, and she was quite curious once her intuition had told her who she was gaping at. However, despite all that he had done to Harry and countless others, Ginny couldn't help taking the time to let him know how much she appreciated his aid.

All Ginny Weasley did was simply sprint over to Pettigrew, throw her arms around his neck, and drop a infinitely grateful kiss on his cheek, but it was enough. From the expression on Pettigrew's face, Hermione guessed that Wormtail hadn't experienced that sort of unrestrained affection in a long time, and it had obviously touched him deeply. He touched a hand to the spot where Ginny had kissed him with pained curiosity while Ginny raced past Hermione out onto the porch. Hermione shot Pettigrew one last look as she stooped down to retrieve the cloak, then slammed the door behind her as she too jumped down the porch steps and sprinted across the yard toward the woods.

She wasn't typically an athletic person, but tonight, Hermione felt as though she were the fastest runner in the world, and yet at the same time, she also felt as though she just couldn't get there fast enough. She didn't know how she could even see the marks leading the way to their best friends, since the trees were all whipping by her in a massive blur as she ran faster than the infamously speedy Snitch. But somehow, she knew just when and how to weave, wind, and twist her way through the foliage. More importantly, she knew just when to come to a screeching halt at the edge of a clearing. She ducked down to the ground, breathing hard. Ginny practically fell down next to her, panting heavily and whimpering quietly when she saw the odd assortment of people that had gathered in the woods behind the Potters' house.

Ron, Dolohov, and the Lestranges had all arrived and appeared to be waiting for someone else. Ron was standing nearest to them with his wand out, tapping against the side of his leg as he paced with impatience. The Lestranges were still kissing and making up, much to everyone's disgust, but that sight no longer disturbed Hermione and Ginny. Actually, it was Dolohov's current actions that were the most upsetting. He was kneeling in front of a tree trunk, speaking quietly to someone that had been chained to a tree trunk.

Ginny gulped audibly, her eyes flashing in a way that reminded Hermione horribly of the way Ron had looked when Percy had died. "Mum."

Molly Weasley's face was limp, defeated, and exhausted, with deep lines of grief weathering her usually kindly and pretty features as she slouched against the trunk of the tree she was shackled to. Dolohov continued to speak as he then reached out to toy with Mrs. Weasley's robes, and Ginny let out a quiet growl of fury that the foul creature had the nerve to actually touch a pointy finger to her mother's cheek. Hermione, on the other hand, was watching Ron, who was noticeably keeping his back to his mother. If she hadn't been convinced that something was seriously wrong with Ron earlier, she would have been now. Ron would never turn his back on someone he loved. Her chest tight, Hermione didn't think she could obsess over how to get Ron back any longer, so she focused on Mrs. Weasley instead. Hermione didn't know how or when the Death Eaters had lured Mrs. Weasley to Godric's Hollow. All she knew was that it complicated things a great deal.

"We've got to get her out," Ginny whispered furiously, jaw stubbornly set. She scanned the group of Death Eaters in a manner eerily reminiscent of the way Harry gauged a situation. "You still can pick a lock, right?"

"Yes," Hermione answered with slight puzzlement. Ginny just nodded and tossed the Invisibility Cloak over her friend. "Get her," she added forcefully, and much to Hermione's chagrin, she climbed to her feet and boldly stepped out into the open.

"Wow," Ginny exclaimed loudly in a loud, falsely cheery voice as she pretended to survey the scene for the first time. "And I thought I was going to be late to the party! But the two guests of honor haven't even arrived yet, so I must be right on time." She gave everyone a wide, cheeky smile that Hermione knew she had learned from her twin brothers. "How is everyone?"

At first, everyone was too shocked at Ginny's ostentatious arrival to even move, but Hermione knew it would only be a matter of time before the Death Eaters realized that the one girl who could save Harry Potter was apparently completely vulnerable. Pulling the cloak more securely over her crouched body, she made her way as quickly and quietly as possible through the bramble over to the tree that Mrs. Weasley was chained to. She hung back until Dolohov had lumbered away from Mrs. Weasley to inspect Ginny. Then, she carefully crouched down and laid a hand on Mrs. Weasley's shoulder. The tired woman flinched instantly at the sudden contact.

"Mrs. Weasley, it's me," Hermione whispered reassuringly into her boyfriend's mother's ear.

"Hermione?" Mrs. Weasley breathed in disbelief. Hermione had forgotten that the vast majority of the world thought that she was dead, and she wished she had the time to tell Mrs. Weasley the whole story. In fact, Hermione rather wished that she could go home and tell her own parents the whole story, but instead, Hermione just yanked one of her trusty bobby pins out of her snarled hair and began to fumble with the lock.

It was rather unnerving that the Death Eaters still hadn't jumped into action, but Hermione could only hope that it was a good sign. Ginny was mouthing off primarily to Bella Lestrange, the only one who had stepped forward with her wand out. Her husband and Dolohov were both just watching Ginny suspiciously but appeared to have no intent to harm the girl, and Ron had turned his back completely to the scene. Hermione wondered if he was having a difficult time processing all of this, and if that were true, maybe there was hope after all of getting Ron back.

Mrs. Weasley's thoughts must have been on a similar wavelength as Hermione's, for, without moving her lips, she whispered anxiously to Hermione, "You have to get him back."

"I will," Hermione promised as she continued to twist and poke at the latch. She fastened her eyes on Ron's back while blindly picking the lock, wondering if he could feel her presence, as he had seemed to in the house. If he could, that would mean that she could connect with him empathically, and that would make a world of difference in bringing him back home.

"Well, as much fun as the witty repartee is," Bella drawled, "we need to get down to business." Her loud, shrill voice caused Hermione's eyes to rove back to the female Death Eater who was now standing much too close to Ginny. She traced the tip of her wand on Ginny's throat, ignoring the fact that Ginny's wand was at her neck. Rodolophus had stepped forward the moment his wife was held at wandpoint, but Dolohov and Ron still remained oddly detached from the situation. "Your wand, little Weasley, if you please."

"Actually, I'll pass, thanks," Ginny retorted without blinking or backing down. "I'd love to have your wand, though."

"Ginevra!" Molly Weasley instinctively and worriedly scolded her daughter for her cheek in the face of such danger.

Bellatrix Lestrange, however, was completely unfazed by Ginny's rejoinder. "Do you remember what we did to your little friend?" Bella asked Ginny with a sugary-fake tone. Ginny stiffened and clenched her teeth but didn't rise to the bait. "The one with the pretty eyes?" A smirk crossed her pale, drawn face. "Of course, she won't be needing those anymore, now will she?"

Ginny's cheeks were red as Ron's ears became whenever he was furious, but Ginny still didn't allow herself to let Bella see how much the jibes against Luna infuriated her. "What's with you and the word 'little'?" she demanded instead. "Little Weasley, little friend--you seem to like that word way too much." Ginny's eyes wandered over to Rodolphus. "Perhaps you're trying to tell everyone something about a certain someone."

Now Hermione wished that she could scold Ginny for her audacity. It was one thing to cause a distraction, but it was another to willingly endanger your life by being flat out impudent and stupid.

Rodolphus growled something inaudible, but Bella only smiled. "As a matter of fact, yes," she answered honestly with a twisted smile. Her free hand shot out to grab Ginny's hair. Ginny's head was forcefully pulled to the side, and her grip on her wand unconsciously slackened, so it was quite easy for Rodolphus to step forward and knock it from her hand. Mrs. Weasley grunted and struggled against the chains, and Hermione forced herself to look away and devote all of her energy on loosening the lock. Normally, she was quite adept at picking locks, but tonight, she was completely lacking the necessary concentration. But she kept on straining and trying; there was no way that she was going to allow Ginny and Mrs. Weasley to be executed by these horrible people.

"Let go," Ginny ordered furiously. She had brought both hands to Bella's wrist in a vain attempt to pry the fingers from their painful grip. Bella dug the tip of her wand deeper into Ginny's neck, but her eyes were now in a completely different direction, eyes shining with fervent delight.

"Potter," Bellatrix proclaimed cheerily. "Potter, look who came to see you!"

Hermione's head jerked up from the padlock. Harry. He had just been led into the clearing--or to be more precise, he had been dragged into the clearing. Two burly unidentifiable Death Eaters had just deposited Harry onto the ground, and Dolohov was pulling him by the ankle over to one of the trees so that he could be shackled to it in the same manner that Mrs. Weasley was chained. It sickened Hermione to watch Harry lie so helpless on the ground, but from the pallor of his face, the torn and bloody clothing, and the clearly visible cuts and bruises, Hermione didn't think even the strongest wizard would be able to function properly in that condition. Harry did manage to raise his head at Bella's words, and Hermione could actually see his heart freeze in his chest at the sight of Ginny in Bella's grasp. Harry had to be thinking that this horrible woman had already taken one very dear person away from him, and from the look of things, she was about to do it again.

"Let her go," Harry got out, but his voice was so weak that not even the forceful reminder that he was the Boy-Who-Lived wouldn't be enough to make his argument convincing. Dolohov just laughed and kicked Harry in the ribs. Harry's head dropped forward, his chin falling heavily to his chest, and he didn't even try to speak again. It was the first time that Hermione had ever seen Harry rendered completely useless.

"Well done," Rodolphus Lestrange praised with surprise as he eyed a motionless Harry. "I didn't expect you to be able to incapacitate him." He stepped away from Ginny to peer at the bruises and blood on Harry's face. "He's proven to be quite difficult to restrain in the past."

"Ah, it was a piece of treacle tart," a gravely voice bragged as he dropped his hood, revealing the lean, bitter face of William Macnair. "Dropped like hippogriff-dung he did."

"Suppose that's what happens when you're all alone in the world, eh, Potter?" Dolohov kicked out again, this time catching Harry in the stomach. Harry gasped and instinctively jerked from the impact, but other than that, he made no other movement or sound. In fact, if his eyes weren't open, Hermione would have feared that he had passed out by this point. Hermione couldn't help just watching Harry for a moment, not believing that he was actually just lying there. She had never seen Harry so defeated and vulnerable as he was right now. It was driving Hermione mad to watch these imbeciles just abuse Harry like this, and she wasn't the only one affected. The repeated kicking was sending Ginny into a wild frenzy. She actually managed to escape from Bella's tight hold, eyes blazing, and hair practically cackling with furious magical energy that only caused the others to laugh.

"You Weasleys would be so much more useful if you'd just use your anger more often," Bella chided to Ginny as she impatiently pushed the younger girl into Rodlophus' eager arms. Ginny flinched and gagged when the older man practically salivated at the opportunity to press closer to her, and Mrs. Weasley almost broke free of her restraints without Hermione loosening the lock. This was proving to be one of the most difficult locks to pick yet, and Hermione just wished she could toss it to the ground in frustration and get Ron to do it for her. Bella turned her back on her husband and cocked her head with a coy smile at Ron, who was staring at Harry unremorsefully. "Isn't that right, Ronald?"

"Yes," Ron agreed haughtily, sharply breaking eye contact with Harry. Something inside of Hermione wavered and trembled, and she blinked hard at the onslaught. Being around Harry was making it difficult for Voldemort to keep Ron in his control. For a split second, he had slipped. Hermione squared her shoulders as she finally unlocked Mrs. Weasley's chains and got to her feet. Ron was still fighting, and she was prepared to help him win his battle every step of the way.

Mrs. Weasley remained on the ground, pretending to still be tied so that she could take her attackers by surprise. Hermione cautiously made her way across the uneven terrain, and scarcely breathing lest Dolohov could hear her, kneeled down next to Harry's tree. She didn't dare even whisper, so she could only hope that when she placed her hand on his shoulder, Harry knew who she was.

Now that she was so close to him, she couldn't believe how bad he'd been beaten. There were masses of small cuts from rings thudding into his face, almost black burns from the Cruciatus curse, purplish-blue fresh bruises, and already swollen lumps on his skull and torso. It was rather unbelievable that Voldemort would allow his minions to abuse Harry this way. Hermione had thought that Voldemort would want to personally inflict as much pain upon Harry as humanly possible. But perhaps this was what Voldemort really wanted--perhaps he was just as afraid to face Harry, as Harry was to fight him. Being the coward that he was, had enlisted a few mindless drones to do the majority of the dirty work for him. He had told them to beat Harry into submission before he arrived so he could finish Harry off in one simple sweep and take credit for it.

Harry discretely lolled his head to the side toward her and away from Dolohov. "Hermione?" he risked hissing under his breath.

Hermione just squeezed his shoulder in answer. She wished she could tell him that she was here for him, but it just wasn't possible. She would just have to set to work. Shifting her position to get at a better angle, Hermione pulled out another bobby pin and prepared to pick the lock as quietly and carefully as humanly possible.

Except that it didn't need to be picked.

Hermione stared down at the unlocked padlock for a moment before smiling. Son of a bitch, she thought. Harry Potter really was the most amazing wizard she had ever met. How was it possible that he was able to use wandless magic even when he had the living daylights repeatedly knocked out of him?

"Ron," Harry hid quietly in a well-disguised cough of pain. Hermione glanced about her to ensure that no one else noticed the message he was trying to send her. Dolohov looked a bit suspicious, but he did wander away from Harry as he became more interested in watching his cohorts try to restrain a still wildly struggling Ginny Weasley. Harry's eyes remained on Ginny the entire time, and Hermione knew if they had the time, she would have seen the full extent of his rage for allowing Ginny to once again go willingly into danger.

She waited until Dolohov was a bit farther away before whispering, "I know," before getting to her feet. Ron was standing to the side, keeping his wand on Ginny, just in case she managed to break free again. The momentary lapse Hermione had felt earlier was completely gone now, and if possible, Hermione realized as she frowned with concentration, it now felt as though Ron had gone even deeper. But why...

Harry flinched so violently that it looked as though he was having some sort of fit, and with another wrench of her stomach, Hermione now knew the answer to the question she had asked only a moment earlier.

"He's mad," Harry got out through tightly gritted teeth, arms twitching in a vain effort to hold a comforting hand over his now throbbing scar. Hermione immediately performed the action for him, her stomach jumping as the scar pulsated with wild heat beneath her cold hands. "He's really mad."

That was stating the obvious, as the air practically exploded with hot fury as Lord Voldemort barreled his way into the clearing. His eyes shot daggers as he scanned the crowd. The stark abruptness of seeing his twisted face again jolted Hermione into stunned inertia. She knew he was coming, of course, but now that he was here the tenuous ray of hope that had spurted up with Ron's brief slip back to reality vanished. If Voldemort were here, his hold over Ron would be even stronger. Ron's mind would therefore become a battlefield, a duel between the infamous Lord Voldemort himself and the hotheaded Ron Weasley, along with a Muggle-born Head Girl--who at this moment was not sure that she had the tenacity and courage to win the fight.

Harry reluctantly moved his head away from Hermione's hand, and the motion broke Hermione's train of thought. "Go," Harry mouthed desperately to Hermione. He forced himself to straighten up and find a way to divert Voldemort's attention away from the girl under the Invisibility Cloak who was ducking behind the tree trunk. Hermione closed her eyes as she leaned her back against the tree, praying that Voldemort had been too angry to use his power to see through Invisibility Cloaks. She had stayed in his line of sight far too long, and she simply had to remain hidden if she wanted the opportunity to try to bring Ron back. But if he had seen her, all would be lost, and the feeble plan that her super-organized mind had been frantically trying to concoct would fail before it was even enacted.

"We have a guest, I see," Voldemort snapped in a cold voice that contrasted frighteningly to the fiery heat he had produced with his arrival. "I thought that you were supposed to take care of her."

Ginny, Hermione thought with a mixture of horror and guilty relief. The fact that Voldemort had only said a guest meant that he had no idea that she was here. There was still hope of breaking the spell and saving the world.

"My emissary wasn't able to make it, I'm afraid," Lucius Malfoy drawled out impatiently. "There were other vital matters to attend to before tonight."

"I made it clear that the girl was our top priority," Voldemort reminded Lucius furiously. Hermione frowned as she sidled over to the edge of the trunk, carefully poking her head around to take a peek. Voldemort and Lucius weren't the only people to arrive--loads of Death Eaters that Hermione vaguely recognized from years of reading awful Daily Prophet articles, and the few that she had the misfortune of meeting face-to-face, were also clustered in the clearing. There were also a few more people that couldn't be much older than Hermione herself. Initiation must have gone as planned, which meant that the attack on Hogwarts with a fresh army was now horrendously imminent. Hermione wished she had the time to glance at her watch, although she didn't dare take her eyes off of the scene unfolding before her. She just hoped that they had enough time to save the Hogwarts and the rest of the world all before sunrise.

All of the Death Eaters--Ron included--had dropped to one knee in reverence upon Voldemort's arrival. Voldemort himself was standing next to the tree Ginny was tied to, towering in an inferno of rage over his seemingly loyal subjects.

"I misunderstood, Master," Lucius apologized humbly. His face, however, which was averted away from his so-called master, clearly expressed that he wasn't the least bit sorry and knew perfectly well that getting Ginny out of the way was Voldemort's top priority. It just wasn't his top priority.

Voldemort didn't indicate that he heard or believed Lucius' apology. Rather, the razor-thin slits that couldn't conceal the piercing coldness of his red eyes were now on Mrs. Weasley. "Where's the werewolf?"

At that moment, Hermione couldn't help hating Lord Voldemort more than ever. That's why they had taken Mrs. Weasley. They had planned for Harry to not only be betrayed by his best friend, but they were also going to force him to watch the death of his parents all over again by killing Professor Lupin and Mrs. Weasley.

"We couldn't locate him, Master," Dolohov spoke up. "We believe he's under the protection of the Ministry."

"You couldn't locate him?" Voldemort repeated incredulously.

If Hermione had been shocked by Voldemort's discomposure at the Malfoy Manor, that was nothing compared to how desperately irate the sorcerer was now. His carefully laid plans were unraveling faster than a hippogriff molts in August, and even the most powerful dark sorcerer in over a century couldn't stop the disintegration.

"The Ministry will want to watch him closely, my Lord, he did spend almost two months in our captivity. They'll want to question him--"

Voldemort just waved his hand and the lips of the weedy middle-aged man, who Hermione assumed was Theodore Nott's father, magically melted and fused together, making him incapable of speech. Everyone winced, but no one made any move to help the now silenced wizard. Most of the surrounding Death Eaters seemed terrifyingly awed by their master's fury, but it was the well-disguised roll of Lucius Malfoy's eyes that caught Hermione's attention and reminded her of something very important.

"Well, we'll just have to make due with what we have," Voldemort bit out, flecks of furious spit splaying out of his mouth with every harsh syllable he uttered.

Hermione chewed on her lip anxiously, wondering if the feeble plan that was formulating in her mind could actually work.

"We do have this one," Voldemort commented as he turned his back to Harry, Hermione, and the Death Eaters to face Ginny directly. Ginny had started to struggle against her restraints once again, but the moment Voldemort's eyes shone toward her, she froze in place.

Harry stiffened instantly, but before he could do anything stupid or brilliant, Hermione dropped down to her knees and cupped a hand to Harry's ear, whispering hastily.

"You're a wild one, aren't you?" Voldemort's snake-like fingers crept forward to graze Ginny's cheek and she was so frightened that she actually let him caress her jawbone.

Harry physically choked as he realized that the one man who he reviled, despised, and feared more than anything was touching the one girl that was going to love until the day he died. But he couldn't do anything about it yet, so he just gritted his teeth, seethed with suppressed fury, and listened as Hermione continued to lay out her plan.

"Tom adored you, you know," he added with a trace of underlying perverseness. "I felt how he lusted for you." Ginny was finally able to pull herself away from his chilling touch, and he chuckled at her lackluster defiance. "I can see what he saw in you. Your tenacity is certainly appealing."

Hermione pulled away from Harry, glancing across the clearing to make sure that Mrs. Weasley had managed to contain herself from revealing that her chains were unlocked. This wouldn't work if Mrs. Weasley sprung into action too early. By some miracle, Mrs. Weasley's logic and Order training overshadowed her fierce love for her children, and she was still biding her time. Harry crooked his finger to relock her chains just in case.

"Go. To. Hell," Ginny got out in a voice rough and husky with fear.

Hermione now was stepping lightly and swiftly over the bramble and fallen branches, counting silently in her head: one, two, three...

The earlier chuckling intensified to an outright guffaw, and several of the other Death Eaters felt obligated to join in. Voldemort's voice was starting to make Hermione feel more than a little sick inside. She wondered if he had this effect on everyone.

She now reached Mrs. Weasley, and as she had done with Harry a few moments earlier, stooped down and with hands cupped around her boyfriend's mother's ear, she began to hurriedly whisper, all the while still counting silently. Twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two...

Ginny cringed as Voldemort abruptly bent forward so that his face was three inches away from hers. "My dear," he crooned vehemently, "you will be going there much, much sooner than I."

The second Harry was certain that Mrs. Weasley understood the plan he swiftly twitched his finger again to free her from the chains. It took longer than Hermione expected to explain the whole scenario to Mrs. Weasley, and when she got to her feet, she stumbled, legs momentarily weak with anxiety. Forty-four, forty-five, forty-six...

"Oh, yeah?" Ginny retorted, no longer cowering. She was actually leaning closer to him.

...forty-seven, forty-eight...

"Twenty Galleons says you don't make it through the night," Ginny challenged with her voice chock full of the vigor and vim that her twin brothers possessed. And then she gave him a wide, sardonic smile.


"What about you, Harry? You want to get in on this?"


Hermione dropped down into a crouched position in the exact spot she needed to be just in the nick of time. She had needed to make it over to the other side of the clearing before Voldemort turned around, just in case he detected her. But now all she had to do was wait; at this moment, as always, it was all up to Harry.

"Yeah," Harry replied cheekily. He waited until Voldemort had turned deliberately around to face him before jerking his arms out to the side to break his restraints. There were a few audible gasps of surprise as a multitude of wands swung up in Harry's direction, but he remained nonplussed as he rose to his feet. "Yeah, I think I will."

The eerie mirthless laughter was escaping from the back of Voldemort's throat. "Good boy," he praised cruelly, "we're making things interesting this time, aren't we?" He gestured dismissively and the Death Eaters obediently jumped backward, creating a clear pathway between the two foes. Cold red eyes met brilliant green ones, and for a moment, it was as though they were hurling insults and bitter animosity toward each other only through their eye contact.

"We are," Harry finally concurred, his hoarse voice breaking the spell. "And things are about to get loads more interesting in just a moment." He paused meaningfully for a split second before nodding over toward Lucius Malfoy. "You know he's plotting against you, right?"

Harry was noticeably trembling as he took a defiant step forward, but then again, Voldemort didn't appear to be very calm himself. Sparks were almost literally shooting from his eyes as he took in Harry's accusation. "You lie," he spat.

"Is that so?" Harry retorted dryly, not moving a muscle or backing down.

Lucius growled, his face contorted grotesquely with unadulterated enmity, and moved his hand as though he was ready to strike or seize his wand. His movement, however, was impeded by a swift wave of Voldemort's hand. Voldemort's eyes never strayed from Harry, and he stared back unblinkingly. From the blank expression on his face, Hermione assumed that Harry was allowing Voldemort to probe into his mind so that he could see for himself that Lucius was lying. Harry knew that his argument would be infinitely more effective and disturbing if it was solely conveyed through the power of Occlumency.

The two enemies simply stared at each other for several agonizingly long moments. Hermione couldn't even imagine what battle was waging between the two extremely talented, powerful minds. Harry's cheek muscle was twitching, indicating that whatever was going on, it was starting to take a toll on him. But she couldn't help him, she once again had to hunker down and just wait until it was her turn to step in and help. No one could interfere right now, even if they wanted to. So many people had joined the fight on either side, but when it boiled down to it, the only two people who could fight were Harry and Voldemort. Everyone else could help their respective leaders and support them, but they could only help so much. Sometimes, they just had to wait, and as much as Hermione hated being helpless, this was one of those moments.

It was as though the air stood still in anticipation. The trees ceased to sway from side to side, the leaves stopped rustling on the ground, the crickets stopped singing, and the whole world froze in place, waiting, and wondering what would be next. Harry had made a bold, risky move in the final showdown, and Hermione could only desperately pray under her breath that the gamble would pay off.

Abruptly, Voldemort wheeled on Lucius. Words weren't necessary. It was evident in his eyes who he believed.

"He's lying, Master!" Lucius protested wildly. Hermione had seen a Malfoy's eyes shine with perverse pleasure, anger, and hatred, but this was the first time she had ever seen the Malfoy blue gleam with stark, naked fear. Harry let out a silent gasp and swallowed hard, his breathing slightly labored. For the first time, he had won one of the small battles; the years of draining, awful Occlumency lessons had finally paid off.

"You swore to me that Riddle was a mistake!" Voldemort raged. Apparently, he was not used to being rebelled against, and the realization that he did not hold absolute power over his subjects terrified him. Hermione almost sagged all the way to the ground with relief--it was working. "You swore allegiance to ME!" As he had earlier at the Malfoy Manor, Voldemort threw up his hand and allowed his fury to unleash itself onto Lucius's now writhing, screaming form. "That is NOT something you--take--lightly!" He began to tremble, and Hermione realized for the first time how old and decrepit the infamous Lord Voldemort really was. "WHO ELSE?" he screamed. "WHO HAS JOINED HIM?" The strikingly chilling red eyes scanned all of his Death Eaters, and strayed nowhere near Harry, who seized the opportunity to crook a finger. "DON'T HIDE IT FROM ME--I KNOW--I KNOW EVERYTHING!"

All Hermione could do was stare--she had thought that seeing Harry lose control the time he had faced Riddle was frightening, but this was infinitely worse. There were no restraints or ties that would hold this man back, because he had no one in his life to pull him back to reality. He had no one to love, so he would forever be lost to his rage, and now it was all being unleashed--unchecked, and uninhibited. She was about to witness the full power of hatred right before her terrified eyes.

His skeletal chest noticeably heaving underneath his robes, Lord Voldemort flung both hands in the air, his hood falling away so that for the first time, several people saw his wizened, gnarled, and pale face. The sight of it made everyone gasp as they became hit with waves of nausea, terror, shock, fury, pain, and every negative emotion that existed--his face exuded it all. It was the face of an old, bitter, disgusting man who had willingly given himself to pure evil. It was the face of a dementor, a demon, a banshee, and it defied description. No one can accurately describe what it looks like to stare the devil in the face.

Everyone was cringing, so no one realized what Voldemort had planned until he let out a high-pitched, shrill scream that could have shattered glass. The rage erupted out of him like Mount Vesuvius, and all of the Death Eaters collapsed to the forest floor as the hot flames penetrated their skin and fried their bones. More screams were now piercing the night, but this time they were cries of indescribable, all-consuming pain.

And in the midst of all the chaos, that's when it happened.

Harry's hands were in the air too, one extended toward the huddle of Death Eaters moaning on the ground, and the other beckoning desperately across the clearing. Two wands flew from Death Eater's pockets to drop into Harry's awaiting hand, while Ginny was lifted clear off of the ground, the recently unlocked chains dropping uselessly to the base of the tree as she practically flew over the crowd. Harry deftly caught both the wands and the girl, and after slapping one of the wands into Ginny's hand, he shoved her behind him. Then he stepped over to the side to pitch Mrs. Weasley's wand to her as she too shook off the chains and got to her feet. Before anyone knew it, there was now an armed wizard, and two armed witches, waiting to annihilate any Death Eater that dared to cross their path.

And Hermione? Hermione was crouching down low, soundlessly jogging her way into the clearing. Since she had picked this position to watch very precisely, it was easier than expected to stoop down, grab Ron's collar and drag him into the woods. With all of the hubbub, no one even noticed Ron slip away by an invisible intruder. He weakly twisted and struggled, but he was still inhibited by the aftereffects of the curse that had just been inflicted upon him. Hermione bit her lip momentarily as she pulled Ron along, giving Harry one last look. Good luck, she thought at Harry as she left him to save the world on his own.

Author notes: Hope it was worth the wait!

Next up: The battle continues...who will win...