Author's Notes: So, the third in the 'Shattered' series.

Smmmmokin!

Chessboard

"The saddest thing about a sudden death is that we cannot all die at once. When someone goes, they are always leaving someone else behind. No matter how tragic their death, it is the people left behind who suffer the most." -Cat Calls

I find myself sitting in an almost empty common room. Harry is beside me, silent; both of us are staring unseeingly into the fireplace. It jumps and licks the walls of its containment. Red and blue flames curl into shapeless forms and then melt back into a morphed version of what it originally was.

I watch my coveted chess set lie smoldering just past the grate. Flames lick its sides and the wood screams and collapses. A strange feeling of satisfaction wells up in my stomach as my most prized possession is lost forever to my need to destroy.

"Ron." It's said softly, almost like a scold. "Ron…what did you do?" I don't answer, and feel Harry's eyes on my face. The silence seems to separate us even more than we are, stretching across miles and miles of space that is only in my mind. It is heavy and thick like a duvet in the middle of August. He lets out a half-snort, half-sigh. "Ron, answer me."

"I didn't want it anymore," I say flatly. "Figured I might as well recycle."

Harry runs his fingers through his hair. "And this doesn't have anything to do with Hermione, would it?" His voice is soft and cajoling and I hate it.

I turn sharply to glare at him. "No," I snap, "why would it? She's fine. She's not dead. So why should this have anything to do with her?" His eyes, dark as always, turn a shade blacker.

"Ron," he murmurs, as though chastising me. "She's been gone almost two months—"

"Harry, shut up," I snarl. "If they haven't found a body, there is no body, all right? And if there is no body than she is still alive. You can give up hope, but I'm not!"

I don't understand how he can be so calm about this. How he can be so detached. The world is ending around us, crumbling down onto its weak foundation, and he is just sitting there, looking at me like for all the world like Hermione is just around the corner and not…

Not…

"I…" He trails off, biting his lip and looking at his hands. "Christ, Ron, they found her. All right? They found her, with all the others."

I shut my eyes slowly, my heart freezing over. "Where?"

His voice is soft, as though he hadn't lost his best friend as well. As though I'm the only one going through it. "In a mass grave—" his voice registers disgust, "—mass grave. It was a hole. And they were just—thrown in, like it didn't even matter—" His voice chokes. "I'm sorry."

And I want to hit him, because he should be feeling worse. He should be feeling like he just had the wind knocked out of him, and he can't breathe because there is no air. And there isn't any, really, but even if there is, Hermione isn't breathing it because—my God—she's dead and she isn't coming back.

Hermione Granger is dead. Hermione is dead. 'Mione—brilliant, know-it-all, annoyingly perfect 'Mione—is dead, and she'll never be alive again. She'll never laugh, or roll her eyes, or say, "Honestly!" She won't ever come with us on one of our crazy adventures, or cheer for me in Quidditch ever again, and her eyes will never get that slightly scary, devilish look in her eyes as they had when she caught Rita Skeeter as a beetle and kept her locked up in a jar. And she'll never get full marks on an exam or study or—

Good God, she'll never read again.

"…Ron?" Harry is looking at me closely, as though trying to determine if I understood him. "Ron, look at me." I turn my eyes up to his. His face is twisted into sympathy and it fuels strange fury inside of me. He is sitting there, in all his Harry Potter glory, being strong and noble and heroic and I want to hit him because he doesn't have to be, not in front of me, and not when Hermione is dead.

"She's dead, Harry." My voice is strong and it doesn't waver and I look him right in the eye. He doesn't blink.

"I know."

I shake my head angrily. "No, you don't! Hermione is dead! How can you just sit there?"

His jaw sets. "I already grieved, all right? It's your turn."

"You've got a warped idea of grief, Harry," I tell him. "It's not something that you just…you just do…it's there, it's forever, and it fades but it's never really gone because the only way to get rid of it would be to bring Hermione back but you can't so the grief is always going to be there."

He sighs. "I know," he murmurs, "I know better than anyone. But I can't—I can't let it take over anymore. Voldemort is gone, Ron. It's what she would have—"

"Don't say it," I growl. His eyes are so dark and so sad. I just don't know what to do. That was Hermione's job, the emotional thing, and I don't—I've never—

"How would you know? Huh? How do you know what she would have wanted, she's never been dead before—"

"Damnit, Ron!" He yells then, leaping to his feet. I echo his motion, standing inches from him. "Stop saying it like that!"

"Like what?" I challenge. "Like it's true?"

"No, like you want to make it hurt more!" I fall silent, breathing heavily. Our breathing matches in its rhythm and it's almost like music, the pained in, out that echoes around the room. Heat from the flames pad at my feet and wrap around my legs. It travels upwards until it's surrounding me and I feel like I'm suffocating.

I look down. "That's not…" My voice dispels the stuffy air and Harry takes a step back. He seems to melt into the furniture as he collapses. "She wasn't…" I feel my frustration build. "It wasn't supposed to be her," I finally murmur. "This is our fault, Harry; ours. She was ours and we didn't take care of her well enough; we didn't love and appreciate her enough. We should have stopped that because she's our friend, and now she'll never grow up and it's our fault."

Harry's heavy-lidded eyes meet mine. "No, Ron, it's not. Hermione died just the way she wanted…the best…noble…" He trails off. "...No, sod that. She's dead and it's heartbreaking but you can't blame yourself. You can't, because she wouldn't."

I feel a dangerous pain shoot up my nose but tell myself its not tears because I've seen to much pain to cry. "I don't know what to do, Harry. I've only known for a few minutes and I'm already lost."

His eyes search my face and he nods slowly. Pools of emerald green gather and spill down his cheeks. I feel my own eyes agreeing and my cheeks grow wet. "You have me," he murmurs sadly, "And I have you. And, right now, that's going to have to be enough."

And I smile tremulously at him, because he's my best friend and although God, I hate him sometimes, I still love him as only best mates can. And he may not be the woman I was going to spend my life with, but he's family, and that will have to do.

For a moment, I see Hermione's face in the fire. She winks at me and smiles her completely unique, Hermione smile. Then it is gone, and the last of my chess set is lost to the raging heat of the flame.