"Fire is never a gentle master."
Proverbs

Chapter 2 Ten Feet to Freedom

Amidst the shambles of a broken forest, buried deep beneath half charred limbs and the ash of a thousand forever lost boughs, a spot of green re-awakened his senses.

A small shred of artificial light had snaked its way down, through the debris, to fall upon several shoots of dust covered grass.

George Weasley stirred.

The first sensation that met him was one of total numbness. He was aware of being sprawled out, enveloped in unearthly darkness, yet that was all.

He felt nothing...

Then his lungs cried out for air.

A hacking cough racked his battered body, his mouth gasping for air that the hard impact had driven from his lungs, and it all came flooding back.

A thousand nerves screamed in unison, sending white hot messages through his now tingling limbs. The numbness was being replaced by blinding pain.

His fingers grasped at the ground beneath him, meeting only splintery ash. Panic ebbed at the edge of his dazed mind, and he frantically searched beneath the rubble for something familiar, something solid to hold onto.

The only grass to be seen, or felt, lay directly beneath his blood covered nose.

The very grass bent down, weighted with thick coagulations.

He jerked at the sight, his hand smacking into something, though he could not see what. His blurred vision could barely discern anything, for the debris covering him blocked out all semblance of light save for the one wavering ray.

He clenched his fist, instinctively knowing his palm had been punctured, but as he turned to look, he realized he could not.

He could barely move at all.

Somewhere between this realization and the darkness, George began to panic.

He was trapped.

Trapped beneath the rubble.

Trapped beneath the oppressive weight of his memory.

Trapped beneath all the fiery wave had demolished.

All of this hit him within seconds of consciousness.

Hyperventilating, his mouth flapped like a suffocating fish on land.

Oxygen dwindled from the air. He was sure of it. All there was to draw forth into his desperate lungs was more filth and powdery ash. It was like choking on thousands of tiny rocks.

Feeling was returning to him. He could feel something pressing down hard against his spine, and the realization that he was being crushed sent his limbs floundering amidst the indistinguishable objects.

He needed to get out. He needed to escape. He needed air.

It was then that he heard the first signs of life above, and the shards shifted around him.

He could move.

Someone was walking around up there, and their very footsteps had dislodged the wreckage impeding his movements.

He was not the only survivor.

Merlin he wasn't alone...

A strange calm filled him, his pattern of breath easing.

He wasn't alone. Someone else was up there, searching for survivors, and they would be needing help.

He'd be damned if he let them search alone.

Flexing his muscles testingly, he began taking an inventory of his body. It was painstakingly slow, too slow, but parts of him still reeled from the shock of impact.

He would not fathom the burns. He did not want to.

Everything was in order. Everything save for his left foot, which was caught beneath a fallen tree.

He had not even known it was there.

Drawing pained breath between his teeth he went to work, kicking the wood with his freed foot, yanking with his other.

Eventually, after what seemed like hours, he managed to wiggle his left foot free of the timber pinning it. When everything had shifted, its pressure must have lightened. Now only his shoe remained caught beneath it.

Laboriously he reached heavenwards, if there were a heaven at all, and blindly grasped the still searing object that pinned him to the ground. It was metal, of that he was certain, for it cut and dug into his back, ripping what was left of his robes as he pushed it away.

His hands slipped, and for one agonizing moment he thought it would come crashing back down upon him. Perhaps there was a good, for his hands caught a good grip, sparing him the pain it would have caused. If it had cut into him again, he was not entirely sure he would have had the strength for a second try.

Determinedly he kept one hand behind his head, holding the object in place, and with a care and patience he had not known himself to before possess, George flipped his body over till he lay on his back, pushing himself out from under what he now saw to be one of the shield's the younger students had been using.

He hadn't remembered those things being so heavy...

Drawing his legs to his torso, till he lay curled in an awkward fetal position, George removed himself from harms way, before letting the shield fall to the ground.

The charred body of a small first year clattered to the ground with it.

The bile he had been choking back could be withheld no longer, and his hacking, dust filled vomits filled the air.

"Oye! I think I heard something!"

The nearby voice forgotten, he continued hacking till the ground lay littered with something other than gray ash.

His body had been shielded from the blast by a fallen shield.

The poor child on the other side of it had not been so lucky.

"Hey! Hey! Is someone down there?"

The unfamiliar voice continued shouting, and it took several moments for George to comprehend that it was him they were shouting for.

Finally, drawing his eyes away from the withered form before him, he turned his eyes heavenward once again, finally taking in the full extent of the wreckage trapping him in.

"I see someone! I see someone!"

Above him was an interlacing latticework of stone and timber, an organized chaos that would crush him if dislodged too far. It was only a story high at the most, but the distance might as well have stretched to the astronomy tower.

It was so compact that there was no room for him to even stand, and a sudden fear struck him.

If he touched anything the entire network could come careening down around him. He was amazed it hadn't already.

Claustrophobia set in.

Right now he was the one who needed the rescuing.

His voice gruff and rasping he called to them, and after what seemed like days, those above him began shouting instructions at him.

Piece by piece the wizards above began levitating the rubble away, wrapping ropes around fallen trees to ensure they held in place. The rescuers were taking no chances.

While they worked, the most primitive of urges hit him. He squirmed his body as far as he dared, sacrificing modesty for safety, and relieved himself.

Finally enough of the rubble had been removed to create a small shaft stretching upwards. Accepting a rope offered by those above, he wrapped it around his waist, threading it through his belt loops, and began his ascent, shimming carefully in the darkness. His only light came from a levitated orb high above where the workers stood, but little of it reached him.

He soon discovered a hidden danger in his ascent.

Ash.

It covered everything, making his footholds slippery, and there were more than a few scares.

Ten feet to freedom.

As he craned his neck, looking upwards through the shaft, the moon appeared.

Then disappeared...

A burnt hand reached down, grasping his own, and tugged.

For the first time in over four hours, George's bloodshot eyes met the night sky in all it's glory.

For a long moment he stood there, panting with exertion, allowing the rescuer to steady his unstable feet. But eventually, as his breathing eased, he summoned the strength to look at the world before him.

He watched it with detached clarity.

The looming walls of Hogwarts stood less than half a pitch away. How he had been flung so far, yet lived, he did not know, but in certain places, holes had been blasted through its stone exterior. Dim pinpoints of light could be seen within, moving around.

Voldemort's fury had been strong enough to demolish the protective preservation spells surrounding the castle.

And all within its path...

The fact that students had been sheltering within its walls when it hit, had not yet sunk in.

He swallowed, ignoring the perspiration trickling into his eyes, and turned away. He was unable to take in the horrid visage any longer.

His once mischievous orbs would be forever dulled by the site that met him. The once lush grounds lay dead and barren, for the debris lay piled high nearest the school, sloping off into a blackened ash beach where the Forbidden Forest had once forebodingly stood.

The fiery wave had completely seared all that had fallen under it's path, flinging all that had ridden upon it's wave, as he had done, nearest to the school, where he now stood at the apex of the debris.

Uprooted trees, dirt, dust, and stone lay beneath him.

And so did people...

"Sir..." The sudden intrusion jolted him. But the man he leant upon seemed not to notice. A sad smile was fixed on the man's weatherworn face, and he spoke so formally that George had the sudden inclination to laugh out loud. Here they were, amidst hell itself, and a man twice his age was calling him of all people sir. Sir indeed...

The man continued smiling strangely. "Sir it'z not safe 'ere..."

"George..." He rasped out, barely recognizing his own parched voice. "The name's George."

The kindly man smiled, dark eyes showing a spark of life beneath his soot covered face. "Trevor. I'm glad yer alright George, but we need ta get ya out of 'ere."

George smiled, not wanting to go. If he could he would stand there forever. He wasn't ready to face what he had just seen. Not yet anyways.

"You know I knew a boy named Neville," He rasped, breathing in the foul, smoke filled air. "He had a toad named Trevor."

Trevor's sad smile was back. "Did he now? I'm sure 'e still has 'em."

George could only shake his head, a dark feeling sweeping over him.

Mutely he allowed Trevor to lead him over the rubble, following the older man's steps carefully, for their path was precarious. There were places, as they made their descent, where one foul slip would send him careening back down into the black hole from which he had been unearthed.

Placing one bare foot in front of the other, for somewhere along the line he had lost both of his shoes and one sock, he tried to not think about Neville.

The pudgy fellow never stood a chance. He had already fallen, and unlike George, who had been standing and was flung with it, the wave would have swept right over the fallen Gryffindor.

Ron had been kneeling besides him...

A dry sob caught in George's throat, and he froze in place.

A cool night breeze brushed against him, disrupting the gray as ash dust, sending it scattering like sand across a beachfront.

Only here the beachfront was gray and the ocean black, with pools of fire bubbling up, for beneath the ocean of ash a hidden inferno still burned.

If there were other survivors they had very little time.

"I want to help," He wheezed loudly, watching Trevor stop.

He expected the older man to protest, to tell him he was too young to make a difference. He had heard the same phrase too many times to count over the past year.

Trevor instead eyed him appraisingly. "We better get dat 'ere burn taken care of. And find you som' shoes. It's hazardous enough walkin' aroun' with 'em let alone without 'em."

George nodded, following him with renewed vigor across the grounds.

"What do we do first?" He rasped above the flames.

Trevor marched purposely ahead, his Muggle plaid shirt ruffling in the wind.

"Save 'em George. It's de only thing we can do."