Title: Hope Like Smoke
Summary: Oliver was always one to take action, no matter where he was. But there was always one girl who could tie him in knots.
Rating: PG
Author's Notes: Written for the LJ community hprareexchange, for Nyruserra. It is the first in the 'Hope' series and the 'canon' for all the others in it.

It was all he could do to keep going when he saw the next body he had to lift: Colin Creevey. He faced Neville Longbottom, who shouldn't have looked as surprised as he did; they'd carried so many of their former classmates inside already; but Colin was just a wee scrap of a boy. Oliver blinked, hard. He'd been too young to die.

Oliver shook off the thought. He had to. It was the only way he could keep up the grisly task in the face of all the horrors he'd witnessed in the course of the past hours. Death and destruction were all around him, and he had to go on. Had to. There was no other way. He looked at Neville, whose face was now set in hard lines.

"Oi, Longbottom, you grab the feet," Oliver suggested, not unkindly, but leaving no room for argument. Gently, oh, so gently, he lifted the shoulders of the child, cringing as the head lolled backwards on its limp neck. He shuddered. He had faith in Potter, he did, but he didn't see how this could possibly be working. They'd lost so many already.

He thought back to the days when he'd been playing for the reserve team; life had been blissful, free of worry. If there was a war, it didn't affect him. His fists clenched on the arm he was carrying as he remembered Apparating just in time to escape the raid the Death Eaters had sprung upon the changing room. That match would have decided his career. He was being scouted that day; they were going to let him on the National team, he knew it.

But Quidditch, like so many other things, had become a part of his past now. They were to the steps leading to the massive doors of the castle now, and as they walked up them, Oliver thought he saw a tear in Neville's eye.

"You know what? I can manage him alone, Neville," he said, and he lifted the frail body out of Neville's hands, hoisting it into a fireman's carry as he trudged the familiar path to the Great Hall. He braced himself as he stepped into that room that had once been the seat of so many of his best memories, but would forever be haunted for him by the rows of bodies laid out on the floor. Professor Lupin, and good old Fred Weasley – Oliver choked back tears. There was no time for them now; perhaps there wouldn't be time for them later either, but he'd be damned if he would stand here and sob for those who lost their lives fighting for their freedom.

No, he wouldn't cry, he decided, but he would take a moment to regain his composure. Surely he deserved that much. He stepped into a shadowy alcove outside the Great Hall and thought, with no little trepidation, of the past year.

After the raid, he'd been forced into hiding, of course. His family might be Pure-blooded, but they were Blood Traitors in the eyes of the Death Eaters; The Woods were most known (aside from a fanatical love of Quidditch) for harbouring fugitives of the Death Eaters in the first war against the Dark Lord. His father had died to that end; his mother had been murdered by a raid on their home shortly after the invasion of his training camp. He wondered, guiltily, if he had been the cause for that attack, and how many of his teammates had died because of it.

He'd hidden at the Burrow for a time, and when that became too dangerous, he'd sheltered in Shell Cottage with Bill and Fleur Weasley. It was there, hidden from prying eyes, that he'd come to tire of skulking about, living in terror that he might be next. As those around him fought and died, he'd been over-taken by the urge to do something, anything to strike out against those who had destroyed his family.

As he stood in the recess, he saw something that gave his bruised heart another pang. It was her. She stood there, her brown hair falling in riotous curls around her face, looking for all the world like a lost child. She'd come out of the Great Hall in a hurry, as though she could no longer stand to be in there with her fallen comrades, but as he studied her face, a task that was achingly painful and familiar to him, he realised her eyes were darting to and fro. She was looking for someone.

For one wild moment, he imagined she was looking for him; she'd seen him leave and was going to offer him the comfort that no one else could, the comfort he wanted from no one but her. But it wasn't so. Almost as soon as the hope flared in his breast it was squelched by the sight of Ron Weasley, hurrying after her.

"Do you see him?" he asked her in an urgent whisper Oliver had to strain to hear. She merely shook her head and turned into his arms, which wrapped around her in a way that Oliver knew meant more than friendship. The two broke apart, almost shamefully, and turned to continue their search.

It must be Potter they were looking for, he thought. He hadn't seen the boy for a bit either, come to think of it. But thoughts of what and who the couple was looking for didn't distract him for long; the pang in his chest was more insistent now.

For years he'd watched her; oh, she'd never known it, of course, but he had been fascinated by her intelligent eyes and bushy hair from the moment she'd sat upon the stool in her first year, waiting to be Sorted. The intense concentration on her face as she'd scrunched it up that night had amused him, and as he'd watched her over the course of the year, the amusement became admiration.

It must have been hard for the girl, to be practically a walking textbook in a school of people who learned just what they needed to learn to get by; he'd often wondered why she'd not been Sorted into Ravenclaw, but only at first. In the weeks that followed, while he sat in a darkened corner with his model pitch and thought desperately of new strategies to try to beat the Slytherins with, she'd shown an incredible amount of poise and courage in the common room. He'd begun to admire the little spitfire then. Oh, it was nothing at all like what he'd begun to feel for her as she got older, but it was a respect that he reserved for only the finest players on the Pitch.

There was a fire in the lass, and he had to admire the way she'd wrapped Potter and Weasley around her finger. It was a running joke amongst the older students that the two boys didn't know when they'd well and truly been had by the girl. She'd had them under control, and probably saved their lives on more than one occasion, if the rumours were true; and given the current state of things, he gathered that most of the rumours had been.

It wasn't until he'd seen her at the Quidditch World Cup, after he'd finished with Hogwarts and started playing for Puddlemere, that he'd really noticed her as more than an amusing, fiery lass with a good head on her shoulders. She'd never light a fire in most men's blood, he knew; she was too plain, too outspoken, too damn smart for that. But he clearly recalled looking at her form in her sweater, recalling the sweet curves that were just beginning to develop into womanhood. Of course, he'd felt like a heel as soon as he realised what he was doing. Ogling a schoolgirl! He was ashamed of himself, and talked animatedly to Potter, all the while, in his youthful eagerness, hoping she'd hear and be impressed.

She hadn't, it was clear, and he'd gone back to his tent feeling somewhat dejected. He chuckled ruefully to himself as he recalled a worn leather book that he'd hidden in the bottom of his battered bag, the bag he'd carried with him from place to place over the intervening years. The book contained various newspaper clippings, including those written by the vicious Rita Skeeter, as well as some truly horrid sketches he'd attempted from memory. He shook his head and made to step out of the alcove when the pair reappeared outside the door to the Great Hall.

"I can't find him, Ron." Her voice was frantic. The red-haired Weasley girl was there, too, Oliver realised.

"He's gone alone," Ginny, he thought her name was, whispered quietly. For a second Oliver thought Weasley was going to slap his younger sister and force him out of his hiding place, but he lowered his hand.

"He wouldn't, Ginny; you don't understand," he said grimly, looking to Hermione for reassurance, which she seemed unable to give.

"He – he might have," she stammered, helplessly, and as Oliver saw the hope and light fade from her face, he had to look away. He saw the ruined stone floor of the Entrance Hall, the marble staircase crumbling in places, and doors blasted off their hinges. And he recalled everything he knew of Potter, and was forced to agree with the sprite who'd won his heart when she was just eleven, though she'd never know; Potter might just have gone into those woods alone – and if he had, he would die out there. What hope Oliver had left for the fate of the world disappeared as though it were no more than smoke in the wind.

"He did," Ginny stated firmly, and the other two looked at her as though she were the only anchor they had left, and Oliver could see their hopes drift out of their eyes.

And then came the voice.

"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."

Oliver knew then that nothing he'd done for the past two years had mattered. He didn't believe Voldemort – Harry would never run. Oliver hadn't known him well, but he knew that Harry was a true Gryffindor, and a Gryffindor would never run away.

The next events were jumbled in Oliver's mind. Voldemort was still speaking, and people were rushing to the open doorway to see if it was true, if Harry was really dead. He heard the horrified scream of McGonagall, and the voices of the three he'd been watching, all shouting denials and he knew it must be so. He rushed to join the others, but there was some confusion. He saw Harry lying there in Hagrid's arms, saw Neville defy Voldemort, murder the bloody snake of all things, and suddenly, it was a madhouse again.

Hagrid was shouting for Harry, Harry seemed to be missing. Before he could process this, Oliver found himself locked in a duel with a masked Death Eater, narrowly dodging curses. He heard Molly Weasley shouting at Bellatrix Lestrange, and he had to stifle his laughter to concentrate on the task at hand, when all he really wanted to do was congratulate the old bird – he'd never have imagined she'd had it in her.

In between his frantic parries against his opponent, who was still masked, he searched for the bushy brown hair he knew so well, and saw Bellatrix fall. Oliver could never tell afterwards what exactly happened. He knew that Harry suddenly appeared, and that Harry and Voldemort faced off. And he saw Voldemort fall, and he triumphed with the rest of them afterwards, until a sight met his eyes that caused his heart, if not to break, then to crack, at least a little: Hermione and Ron, walking out of the Great Hall, Hermione glancing around as if to make sure that she wasn't being watched.

He gulped. She'd caught his eye, and he suddenly realised what a prat he must look, mooning after her like some kind of lovesick cow, and he tried to divert his eyes, but the look she gave him was of such compassion, such understanding, that he could do nothing but smile brightly at her. She looked taken aback, and she continued to peer over her shoulder at him until she turned the corner and was lost from sight.

Oliver picked up the bottle of butterbeer some kind House Elf had put in front of him and took a grateful swig. As he swallowed that first bit, drinking a silent toast to Fred Weasley, he acknowledged to himself that there were far worse things than unrequited love.

And besides, if he couldn't get the girl, there was always Quidditch.

Parts of this fanfic were directly quoted from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.