A/N: I have posted two back to back updates. Please Read Part I first.
Chapter 58: And it All Comes to This: Part II
Ron watched unseeing as George and his mother wept over Fred's inert body. Ginny was sitting on the floor wrapped in Hermione's arms who herself had tears running down her grime and blood stained face. He could not process what was happening anymore, or feel for that matter. He glanced around at the Great Hall, the place that always brought memories of food, friends, warmth and security. Not anymore, though. Ron wondered if he would ever forget the scene that was spread out in front of him. Spell hit walls, blood-stained floor and inert bodies of people they had once laughed and joked with. Even the ones that were alive were all battle worn, bruised and bleeding being tended by the school nurse and a handful of students.
Just the snake, he told himself fiercely staring hard at the face of his dead brother.
Voldemort had snatched enough from them but no more. The Diadem was already finished, killed by the moron Crabbe and his uncontrolled Fiend Fire. Harry perhaps pitied the bloke's death, Ron did not.
Just the bloody snake, he repeated to himself while wiping off the tears that flooded his eyes. They get that blasted reptile and Harry would be closer to ending this all.
He turned at the entrance again wondering how long Harry was going to take to see the memories. Ron had no clue what the slimy Potion master wanted to tell Harry, but if he thought of the man's last moments, he couldn't help feel that there was something crucial they had missed so far. He only hoped it would help them, especially now that their forces were weaker. He pushed the thought aside. The hour was almost up, the battle would soon resume.
The voice echoed out of the walls again in a blood curling tone. But this time there was an unhealthy cheer to it.
"Harry Potter is dead. He was killed as he ran away, trying to save himself while you lay down your lives for him. We bring you his body as proof that your hero is gone. The battle is won. You have lost half of your fighters. My Death Eaters outnumber you, and the Boy Who Lived is finished. There must be no more war. Anyone who continues to resist, man, woman or child, will be slaughtered, as will every member of their family. Come out of the castle now, kneel before me, and you shall be spared. Your parents and children, your brothers and sisters will live and be forgiven, and you will join me in the new world we shall build together."
"HARRY!" he yelled frantically scanning the hall and ran with dread mounting. He was just behind the Professor McGonagall as they all jostled out to the open grounds.
"NO!" screamed McGonagall and Ron almost felt like the ground had slipped from beneath his feet. The battle was over. Everything they had been fighting for, their hope, their leader- his best mate, his brother was now lying dead in the arms of a sobbing Hagrid.
"Harry! HARRY!" He bellowed aloud forcing the pain out as Hermione and Ginny joined him in front of the crowd. Harry couldn't die.
"SILENCE!" cried Voldemort, and there was a bang and a flash of bright light, and the silence was forced upon them all. "It is over! Set him down, Hagrid, at my feet, where he belongs!"
Ron tried to scream, yell obscenities, but his tongue wasn't cooperating.
"You see?" said Voldemort, striding backwards and forward next to where Harry's body lay. "Harry Potter is dead! Do you understand now, deluded ones? He was nothing, ever, but a boy who relied on others to sacrifice themselves for him!"
"He beat you!" yelled Ron, pulling all his strength and the charm broke, and the defenders of Hogwarts were shouting and screaming again until a second, more powerful bang extinguished their voices once more.
"Ronald Weasley? And who do I see next to you, Hermione Granger?" hissed Voldemort dangerously. Ron grabbed Hermione's hand firmly in his.
"Your friend was killed while trying to sneak out of the castle grounds," said Voldemort, and there was a relish in his voice for what he hoped with all his might was a lie. "killed while trying to save himself - "
"You lie! Harry would never do that!"
Voldemort turned to Hermione almost leisurely and Ron's eyes moved past him to the women next to him. She was watching them with eyes in slits, immense hatred flashing in her maniacal features.
"Bellatrix, you did a poor job of breaking them. I expect better this time." Voldemort responded in a slow hiss while stroking Nagini's head.
"With pleasure, My Lord," she responded, not once taking her eyes off Hermione.
"Both- not just him, I don't need her anymore. You are free to play your games." he breathed. But Voldemort broke off: there was a scuffle followed a shout. Neville, scarred and bleeding, walked right in and charged straight at him.
But before the Gryffindor could do more than lift his wand, a spell hit him and he collapsed on the ground, disarmed.
"And who is this?" Voldemort said in his soft snake's hiss. "Who has volunteered to demonstrate what happens to those who continue to fight when the battle is lost?"
Bellatrix gave a delighted laugh, finally looking away from them. Ron, however, watched the snake. It was out of the protection.
Finish the last Horcrux and Voldemort will be a mortal again.
He watched his best mate's inert figure at Voldemort's feet and forced himself to breathe. He would not let Harry die in vain. How could he retrieve the sword without anybody noticing? He heard the disgusting crackle of Bellatrix Lestrange and saw the Sorting Hat had flown down to Voldemort. All the while, he fought to rid himself of the body bind that secured his arms to his sides, putting all his strength and energy into overthrowing the charm.
Voldemort pointed his wand at Neville, who grew rigid and still, then forced the hat onto Neville's head, so that it slipped down below his eyes. From the corner of his eyes, he noticed many from their side were making similar attempts. Urged by hope and pain, he tried harder, the spell broke and he pulled his wand out as many others did the same. But the Death Eaters raised their wands too, holding the fighters of Hogwarts at bay.
"Neville here is now going to demonstrate what happens to anyone foolish enough to continue to oppose me," said Voldemort, and with a flick of his wand, he caused the Sorting Hat to burst into flames.
Screams split the dawn. Neville was a flame, rooted to the spot, unable to move.
And then many things happened at the same moment.
They heard an uproar from the distant boundary of the school as what sounded like hundreds of people came swarming over the out-of-sight walls and pelted toward the castle, uttering loud war cries.
At the same time, Grawp came lumbering around the side of the castle and yelled, "HAGGER!". His cry was answered by roars from Voldemort's giants: they ran at Grawp like bull elephants making the earth quake. Then came hooves and the twangs of bows, and arrows were suddenly falling amongst the Death Eaters, who broke ranks, shouting their surprise.
Amidst all the confusion Ron and Hermione moved ahead, and Neville moved too.
In one swift, fluid motion, Neville broke free of the Body-Bind Curse upon him; the flaming hat fell off him and he drew from its depths something silver, with a glittering, rubied handle – How the sword went from Hermione's bag to inside the hat, Ron didn't know. But he realised it was supposed to present itself to a worthy Gryffindor in need.
The slash of the silver blade could not be heard over the roar of the oncoming crowd or the sounds of the clashing giants or of the stampeding centaurs, and yet, it seemed to draw every eye. With a single stroke, Neville sliced off the great snake's head, which spun high into the air, gleaming in the light flooding from the entrance hall, and Voldemort's mouth was open in a scream of fury that nobody could hear, and the snake's body thudded to the ground at his feet-
The charging centaurs were scattering the Death Eaters, everyone was feeling the giants' stamping feet, and nearer and nearer thundered the reinforcements that had come from who knew where. But they were fighting back. Winged creatures soared above the heads of Voldemort's giants, Thestrals and Buckbeak the hippogriff scratching at their eyes while Grawp punched and pummelled them and now, all of them, defenders of Hogwarts and Death Eaters alike were being forced back into the castle.
The centaurs and the Hogwarts' elves, and the families living in Hogsmeade joined in, the Death Eaters were now on the back foot, terrified and shocked at the ever growing number of attackers.
This could be their final battle and it mattered less now if they lived or died. What was imperative here was to fight till the end and, just in case they couldn't make it, take as many they could with them. Ron shot spell after spell at the enemy, scooting and swerving away from green spells while red and gold jets burst out of his wand, scanning the crowd whenever he could risk it to locate Bellatrix. He remembered every dangerous spell that Hermione had researched and thought of Harry's dead body before he shot them at the men. Perhaps hatred and pain intensified the power of the curses? He didn't know, neither did he care.
Neville joined him and together they took Fenrir Greyback down, the ugly heavy werewolf skidding across the marble floor covered in his own blood.
Then he saw something that almost made his heart stop.
Bellatrix was still fighting, barely fifty yards away from Voldemort, and like her master, she duelled three at once: Hermione, Ginny and Luna, all battling their hardest, but Bellatrix was equal to them. She laughed as she duelled and as he watched a green spell shot dangerously close to Ginny. He pushed and ran ahead and in that time, Bellatrix threw away Luna and Ginny who tumbled. For a second he almost froze, but then, both the girls stirred and forced themselves up and he turned around to notice Bellatrix duelling Hermione alone. Hermione was just holding on battling the hardest but still on the defensive.
"Granger!" spat Bellatrix maliciously. "Where is that pile of shit you took away from the Manor?"
Ron rushed and joined, pushing Luna and Ginny aside, and now it was the two of them against Bellatrix. He had an epiphany that she did not intend to finish them the easy way.
Harry watched in horror as Ron and Hermione battled Bellatrix Lestrange. It was hard to miss the hatred leaching into her maniacal features and he stopped in his dash towards Voldemort to rush towards his friends instead.
"You lied to us for this filth?!" she roared, and Harry struggled to pass through the duelling bodies to get closer, wary of shooting spells lest he hurt someone from his own side.
"Guess what? I'll kill one of you and leave the other to die of heartbreak! I sure have better use of you, Granger," she laughed and raised her wand.
"Or perhaps I'll keep the boy alive to finish what we left incomplete?"
She easily flicked away two simultaneous Stunning Spells before posing her wand.
The decision was made long ago really. Ron saw the intent in her eyes and he did what he knew he would do in a heartbeat for her any day. He didn't know who the Killing spell was aimed at, but he knew he would die a thousand times to save Hermione, even if it was the last thing he did. It was a choice between killing Bellatrix and saving Hermione, possibly it would come to the same thing in the end. But if he could hold the bitch for a while more, Hermione would get that opening to defeat the witch who had taken everything from her. With all the strength he had left, with all the love he felt for Hermione and all the pain he felt losing his best mate and brother, and most importantly with all the determination to keep Hermione safe combined in a single moment, he cast the strongest Shield Charm he possibly could.
Hermione looked at the woman she hated beyond all. The duel so far had proved that Voldemort's commander-in-chief was a master duellist: And once that curse was cast, it would kill one of them.
Bellatrix could kill Ron- finish the task which had been left unfinished in the Manor.
The curse could be aimed at her too. But Hermione could take that for Ron. And if it all came to this one moment before she died, she would use it to save Ron: even at the cost of her life.
She poured all her love for him in the Shield Charm that shot out of her wand, the only thought in her mind: keep Ron safe.
Harry watched as time almost stilled. Two golden spells, shot out of two different wands joined midway turning into an almost flaming golden torch and created one powerful golden shield guarding Ron and Hermione against the woman who had tried killing both of them at some point. He thought every dueller paused in shock and awe, but Harry couldn't risk taking his eyes off them.
"WHAT IS THIS?! " Bellatrix Lestrange screamed, confused, and cast another Killing curse.
The green jet shot out of her wand and hit the barrier, denting it but unable to break it. The protection which glowed even brighter at contact sprang back, and Harry realised that he was seeing the power of sacrifice right in front of his eyes. The green jet raced back towards the person who cast it. There was a moment of horrified realisation in Lestrange's eyes before she dropped dead.
Voldemort screamed and with one powerful spell the three who were duelling him were thrown away.
Harry felt as though he turned into slow motion: he saw McGonagall, Kingsley and Slughorn blasted backwards, flailing and writhing through the air, as Voldemort's fury at the fall of his last, best lieutenant exploded with the force of a bomb, Voldemort raised his wand and directed it at Ron and Hermione.
"Protego!" roared Harry, and the Shield Charm expanded in the middle of the Hall, and Voldemort stared around for the source as Harry pulled off the Invisibility Cloak at last.
Ron lay silently in his bed in the Gryffindor Tower. He didn't feel like talking or crying. He didn't feel anything, couldn't perhaps.
At some point, Harry came back and lay down on his bed. Both the boys glanced at each other for a silent minute before turning away.
The war was won. They had achieved what had seemed impossible. He had thought he would be happy, exhilarated even. But emptiness was all that he could decipher. He thought of Fred, and Remus, Tonks and Collin. He thought of the hundred lifeless bodies that would go back from Hogwarts in coffins and his struggled to breathe.
Ron looked up at her face and she sat down next to him. He scooted towards the wall to give her some space. She placed a tender hand on his cheeks and he closed his eyes at her touch, allowing the accumulated tears to roll down. Hermione discarded her shoes and pulled her legs up; he instinctively pulled the curtains closed. Once inside she lay over him with her head on his chest. After a while, he felt his t-shirt soaking. Still not feeling like speaking, he tangled his fingers in her hair, pulling her in closer, feeling a sigh escape her. She lifted her face and met his eyes with her own teary ones.
"We got through this, we'll get through what lies ahead too," she promised before pressing her lips against his. They cried through the kiss, Ron sobbed as he pulled her into his arms, adjusting himself to press his face at her nape and she pulled him in closer while wrapping her arms around him in a tight embrace.
"We'll be okay." She told him and Ron knew they would.
A/N: That brings us to the end of this story. I feel an immense sense of accomplishment as I write this because there were many occasions when writing this got very tough. But thanks to all of you and your encouragement and reviews, I did complete it. I will start the sequel as promised, but perhaps only by end of Jan, after I wrap up the plot in my head.
Wish you all a Very Happy 2017!