A/N: I'm so happy with the positive response to my first fic "the Ring", so I decided to post this story here as well. This story debuted in Checkmated and isn't finished yet, so my uploads will be slower. My thanks to my Checkmated Beta Buckbeaky. I don't know if she goes to this site, but I want to thank her anyway.

Just a warning, this story is full of angst. It involves a hosepipe Hermione, a depressed Harry and Ron, and the death of a lot of HP characters. It will however, have a happy ending--at least that's what I intend at the end, though I haven't written it yet.

Disclaimer: Nothing in the Harry Potter world belongs to me. Even the title of this story is borrowed from another book.

Closer than Brothers

By Spouse of Orestes

"Brothers by friendship, lady, not by birth."

Orestes to Iphigenia

(Iphigenia in Tauris by Euripides)

Chapter One

The Final Battle

Ron Weasley stared at his best friend with sad eyes. Harry Potter was lying on his back on his four poster bed staring blankly at the ceiling. He had been like that for hours but Ron didn't dare say a word. After almost six years of being Harry's best friend, Ron knew well enough that this was not a time to interrupt Harry's thoughts.

He, Harry and the rest of the members of the Order of the Phoenix earlier met in Dumbledore's office just after midnight a few hours before to plan their final attack on Voldemort. The war had been raging on for the last few months and the casualty toll had been heavy on both sides. The last battle at Hogsmeade just two days ago had been the most devastating so far that it reduced the Order's numbers into a handful. Everyone knew the war couldn't last for very long, what with so few of them left to fight. Dumbledore had made the decision. They would go on the offensive just before sundown at the Riddle House in Little Hangleton. All the remaining Order members as well as the older members of the D.A. were told to be ready to fight in an all or nothing battle. Harry had appeared brave enough during the meeting. When Dumbledore asked him about his opinion, he replied with conviction that he was ready. But Ron knew better. When they left the Dumbledore's office and walked back together to the common room, Ron could see the haunted expression etched on Harry's face. It remained there several hours later.

Ron looked at his watch. It was two hours before dawn but neither he nor Harry had slept a wink. How could they when this could be the last night of their lives? Harry sat up in bed, the first movement he did, and Ron took this as an opening.

"You okay?" He knew it was a stupid question but there was nothing he could think of to say at the moment.

Harry met his eyes and Ron was appalled at his pallid appearance. "Okay in as much as I'm not losing my head knowing I'll probably be dead in a few hours."

Ron fought the urge to cry. He couldn't let Harry brood like this. Sure, they were all scared of dying, but it wouldn't help that they were a bunch of nervous wrecks just hours before battle. They needed to relax. Besides, this was an awful way of spending probably the last time they'd see sunrise.

Ron stood up and felt a firm resolution. "Come on Harry, get up and get your broomstick."

Harry looked at him with a puzzled expression. Ron felt better seeing something other than gloom on his face. "What?"

"We're playing Quidditch, mate. If we're going to die tonight, at least we had one last round of flying."

Harry smiled and followed after him.

It was the still the most amazing feeling in the world. After all these years, Harry could never feel better than being up in the air flying at death-defying speeds. He and Ron had been racing around the Quidditch pitch under moonlight for over hour and in that span of time, he had forgotten all his tension. In the last few minutes, nothing mattered in the world to him—not the fact that so many had died in the last battles, or that more of his friends would die that night, or that he would finally commit the murder he was prophesied to commit or else be murdered himself. All that mattered was that he was sharing this time with the best friend he had ever had.

Ron summoned a quaffle from the opened Quidditch set they had brought along and he challenged Harry to a one-on-one chaser-only competition. For the next fifteen minutes, they tired themselves out trying to outdo each other. When they were exhausted, they flew down to the stands and sat down.

"Good game," Ron said to him as they settled on the cold bench.

"Yeah, one of the best. Thanks for dragging me out here."

"Always willing to race you anytime."

"Reckon, it might be the last," Harry said sadly.

Ron looked at him seriously. "Listen, Harry don't be like that. We'll defeat Voldemort tonight. I'm sure you'll find a way, and when you do, I'll be there beside you." Ron held out his hand and Harry shook it.

"Thanks," he said. Tears were glistening in his eyes but male pride forbade him to let Ron see it. His heart felt light with gratitude. They had endured so much together, risking their lives for each other countless times, yet they still held together with such strong loyalties. He knew without a doubt Ron would die for him if he had to, just as he would die for him. He gave Ron's hand a tug before looking back into the lightening sky. He did the same and Harry knew Ron understood. It was one of those things he had with Ron that no one else—not even Hermione—could share with him.

"Harry! Ron!"

Harry looked down from where the voice came from and squinted in the semi-darkness. Hermione was running towards the stands, her hair and robes flying.

"Hey Hermione!" Ron called out. "Come on up here and join us."

"Alright I'm climbing up!" she shouted back. She made a move to run under the stands to the stairs, when Ron called again.

"Just fly up here, Hermione!"

"I don't have a broom!" she shouted back. "Why don't one of you come down here and pick me up!"

"No need. I got just the thing!" Ron took out his wand and pointed it at her. "WINGARDIUM LEVIOSA!"

Harry laughed as Hermione began to rise several feet up into the air.


She was at level with their stands now, looking very annoyed and windswept.

"Harry, help me!"

Harry finally managed to stop laughing and met Ron's eye. He was grinning evilly and Harry felt the same grin lit up his face. He took out his wand.

"Alright, Hermione. Shall we do it together, Ron?"

Ron's face brightened even more and they said together: "ACCIO HERMIONE!"

Hermione shot forward and fell crashing on them both. For several seconds, they battled to untangle their arms and legs. When Hermione finally managed to extricate herself, she stood and gave them each a smack on the head.

"Don't you ever do that to me again!"

Harry and Ron were still roaring with laughter. "But it was... ha-ha... funny Hermione!" Ron roared.

"Yeah... ha-ha... you looked... ha-ha... hilarious!" Harry managed before he snorted uncontrollably, sending Ron into an even greater fit of giggles. Hermione tried to keep a straight face but she couldn't help it and finally let herself be infected with their laughter.

When they finally calmed down, they sat on the bench. The sun was just beginning to rise and the sky looked magnificent with the colors changing from indigo, receding to blue and ending with yellow. They sat in silence mesmerized by the beauty. Hermione, who sat in the middle, took each of their arms to link with her own pair. She found their hands and she clasped her fingers with theirs.

"I love you," she whispered. Her voice was strained and they knew she was crying. "I love you both."

She turned her face toward Ron and kissed him on the cheek. She did the same to Harry. She looked back towards the sun and sniffled before speaking again. "No matter what happens tonight, promise me we'll still be friends."

Harry couldn't help himself. He flung his arms around her at the same time as Ron did on her other side. They held each other in a group hug as their tears flowed freely. The sun had risen fully but none of them let go.

Harry clutched his wand and braced himself. This was it. They would be entering Voldemort's hideout and there was no turning back. His scar ached and he knew the dark lord was nearer at each step, though he was not aware of their presence yet. Harry made sure of that. He forced himself to calm down and clear his mind. One overly-excited feeling and he could be giving away their plans through his connection with Voldemort. He focused on what was at hand, using years of training in Occlumency to ensure that nothing penetrated.

Lupin had just given the signal and as one they moved, covered by the disillusionment charm.

The sun was still shining brightly and it would not be setting until an hour later. That was good since the dementors never stayed under direct sunlight and were in the shadows in the wooded area away from the house. The aurors that moved in first had driven them away and they were able to enter the open field in front of the house.

Harry saw Tonks take down two guards in utmost silence. So far so good; they hadn't been detected yet. She gave the all-clear signal. He moved forward. He felt Ron and Hermione beside him. Any second now...

A blast of cold hit him all of a sudden, and suddenly Harry was on alert. The dementors! They were back and they were all around them.

"Expecto Patronum!" someone finally shouted. A silver mist appeared out of nowhere and began to charge around the hooded figures that appeared from the woods. Then suddenly, Death Eaters were appearing and there were shouts from the house. It was an ambush!

Spells began to fly everywhere. Members of the Order appeared as they got hit with spells. Harry managed to stay covered, as well as most of the other members of the Order. They had at least the advantage of being almost invisible. Harry let out spell after spell, not stopping or bothering to look what happened to those he hit. He was near the house now. When he got to a window he blasted it open and jumped in. Ron and Hermione jumped in after him and started shouting spells. When they were able to pause momentarily, they disillusioned themselves. They didn't want to risk hitting each other with their spells when they were fighting indoors. Other members of the Order were crashing into the house but more Death Eaters were still appearing.

Harry lost track of time. He was focused on nothing but finding Voldemort and no Death Eater could get in his way. He shouted spells and avoided curses like it was second nature. He felt neither fear nor weariness. All that mattered was survival and attaining his goal.

And then he felt it. His scar burned and he knew Voldemort was near. He rushed onward and came to an enormous kitchen. He found Neville battling with Bellatrix Lestrange in one corner. He felt a surge of anger as he thought of Sirius. But before he could make a move toward her, Neville blasted her with a spell so powerful she crashed into the kitchen counter and remained there unmoving.

He felt his scar burn again and he turned to see a back door leading outside into the cemetery. Voldemort was outside. Ron came hurtling through the kitchen door followed by curses. He quickly stood up and resumed his spell casting like he wasn't even hurt by the blast. There were shouts behind him and Harry knew more Death Eaters were at their heels.

He met Neville's eyes. "I'll cover for you. Go do what you have to do."

Harry nodded and raced to the door. He heard Hermione and Luna shouting behind him and he knew Neville and Ron at least had good allies.

He ran outside and was surprised that it was already dark, save for the moonlight. Everything there was still. A soft, eerie breeze touched his cheeks and he ran forward toward the gravestones. He was startled when he heard someone running a few feet behind him. By instinct, he shot a curse. It slammed into something in the air and deflected to the ground. When the light from his wand disappeared, he saw Ron.

"It's me, Harry!" he said. He had already raised a shield charm around him.

"Ron, what are you doing here?" he asked.

"I'm coming with you. I know he's near."

"Go back Ron! I have to do this alone!" Harry shouted.

"I'm not going to leave you. I promised you that!" Ron shouted back.

Harry didn't want to argue, his scar was throbbing even more painfully now, but he had to get Ron away somehow.

"This is my fate, Ron, not yours!"

"Then it's my fate to stay with you!" Ron declared. Harry looked at his best friend with his face full of conviction and he knew there was nothing he could do to make him leave. Ron would fight beside him to the end. He gave Ron a small smile but a split-second later, he felt his scar sear so painfully that he fell to his knees. And then he saw him: a thin figure with sallow skin and eyes that burned. Before he could react, both his and Ron's wands went flying.

"How touching, Harry, that you have found a true friend." Voldemort hissed in an almost inhuman voice that seemed to echo from inside his head, deafening him with its intensity. "Is he willing to die for you?Crucio!"

The spell didn't hit him but he felt a pain almost like a physical one as Ron screamed in agony. Harry didn't think but tried to hurl himself on Voldemort physically, but he was held back by an invisible force. Ron's screams momentarily stopped.

"A stupid move Harry and a very childish one."

"Leave him alone and deal with me!" Harry shouted. He summoned his wand with his bare hand and shouted "Expelliarmus!" But Voldemort was ready and shouted the Cruciatus curse. Their wands connected and the phoenix song burst forth. Mist-like figures began to appear, but this time Voldemort didn't seem in the least bothered about them. Harry was startled when Voldmort hissed in his head.

"You can't win this, Harry. You'll soon be just like these ghosts."

"You can't frighten me. I can defeat you." Harry thought back to Voldemort.

"Harry, break the connection!" Ron shouted to him from the side. He had his wand at the ready. Harry swiftly broke the connection and launched a spell at the same time as Ron. But Voldemort was quicker and sent their own spells back at them, sending them flying several feet. Harry felt his left elbow break as he fell on the hard ground. He heard Ron crash and gave a cry of pain as he fell face down on a concrete headstone. He felt around him and saw a familiar marker. Tom Riddle Senior's.

"This looks familiar," Voldemort laughed. He put Harry and Ron on a body bind spell, before levitating Ron and sending him crashing down again next to Harry.

"Brothers to the end?" Voldemort taunted him. "I once remembered what a servant of mine told me about you, Harry. He watched your tournament several years ago and he told me this friend of yours was the one person you would miss most. How much would your miss him, Harry?"

"Don't you dare hurt him!" Harry said, energy was surging around him and he broke the body bind. Without even a wand, he shielded Ron and launched a spell. Voldemort avoided it and it hit a gravestone.

"You're getting good," Voldemort spoke with mock-praise. "But it won't be enough to save your friend's life."

"I won't let you kill him!"

"Oh, I'm not going to kill him, Harry. YOU WILL!"

Harry felt the searing in his scar unlike before and all at once he was turning away from Voldemort and looking at Ron who was trying to get up. He summoned his wand, undid the body bind spell on Ron and advanced on him.

"Harry! Harry don't!"

The words meant nothing to him. He felt himself smile. He had the boy trapped, he had broken his leg and he was inching his way back on the dirty ground. What a pathetic little thing he was.

"Harry, it's me!"

He laughed. How would Harry Potter feel if I kill him right there?—No! This was wrong! It's Ron! It's Ron! My best mate!—But he has to die! "Avada—"

"Harry, please!"

Harry screamed with the terrible pain. He felt desperation and triumph at the same time as he fought back. He dropped his wand and Ron took it.

Harry stared at his best friend's face. Ron's eyes were wide with a mixture of fear and anger. The anger won and Ron pointed the wand at his heart.

"Why don't you kill me, Ron?" he hissed at the boy.

"Leave him alone, Riddle! Leave him alone!" Ron shouted at him.

From inside him, he heard the words though they were not coming from his own mouth. "AVADA KEDAVRA!"

He ignored the blinding pain and fought. He felt the evil leave him as he ran to shield Ron from the curse. All that mattered was that Ron would live!

Harry heard Ron scream something before he felt the curse hit him and Voldemort screamed in agony. He could feel his scar burn away to nothingness but his mind was in a blur and he felt himself lift away and enter something. It felt as if he left a shell and came upon another. But this was nothing like entering Voldemort's mind. It was so peaceful and welcoming and full of love for... himself? But it felt so selfless as if he was caring for himself yet like caring for another. And it was so familiar. So Ron.

Then there was a searing pain on the side of his face and he found himself screaming, but it sounded like Ron's voice not his own. He touched his face and felt it burn, a memory of such pain entered his mind. A forgotten memory when he was young—so young he had forgotten. Unable to bear it anymore he shut his eyes and let unconsciousness take him.

Hermione knocked a hooded Death Eater and inched her way outside. She had twisted her left ankle in a fight when she ran to face the last Death Eater. Her path was not clear and she had realized Harry and Ron were missing. She had seen them racing outside and she knew they were going after Voldemort. She reached the door and was halfway out when she felt something in her shudder. A brilliant white light flooded the sky, blinding her for a long time before it was gone. Something had happened!

She groped her way toward the graveyard, as fast as her injured legs could carry her. She heard Ron screaming in agony and saw his form fall to the ground to be hidden by shadows of the crosses and gravestones. She turned to run but her ankle gave way. She crawled her way, on the ground aided only by moonlight. Everything was so still. She was far from the house where the fighting, she presumed, was over. She didn't want to think who won. All that mattered was to get to Harry and Ron.

And then she saw them. Harry and Ron were lying on the ground still as death and a few feet away was a mass of robes burned to a crisp. The smell of rotting flesh came from the direction of the burned robes and she felt like vomiting but fought to control the urge.

She reached Ron first. He was curled in a fetal position, his right leg in an awkward position. He was clutching the side of his face and blood was pouring liberally from what she could tell was a large wound. She hurriedly turned him over was startled to see a lightning-shaped slash that ran from his temple, almost touching his eye, and ended at his neck. She felt his neck for a pulse and cried with relief when she found it. Ron was still alive!

She muttered a spell to stop the blood flow. Her hope was renewed and she gently laid Ron back on the ground and crawled to where Harry lay on his side, his back to her. She gently pulled him to her and turned his face. All at once she saw his eyes. They were an expansive green staring blankly at her.

"Harry?" she gasped, her tears were now running down her cheeks. She felt for his pulse, willing for something there. There was none.

Hermione felt as if a dam had collapsed in her heart as she cradled Harry's head over her chest. She was shaking uncontrollably and her tears wet his forehead, now without the scar he had born since he was barely a year old.

Hermione pulled her head back and screamed his name.