She was beyond tired, she could feel weariness settling into her bones.
She saw the almost imperceptible slump in Harry's shoulders and the smallest of hitches in Ron's gait as they ran; they were just as tired, each pulling from physical reserves they didn't even know they had. This was a test of their determination to not rely solely on their magical abilities. This mission alone tested the validity of their Harry-imposed early-morning runs, Hermione's willingness to learn the basics of hand-to-hand combat for emergency moments, and Ron's reluctant, yet dedicated rationing of his sweet intake.
Hours of running, dodging, rolling, hiding and casting spell after spell against Death Eaters was taking its toll on them all.
She knew the war wouldn't last much longer, but right now they were all so tired that even five minutes was too long!
Voldemort was running on empty, The Order knew that for sure. His followers were becoming fewer every day; some realizing the error of their ways but most perishing from the effects of practicing too much evil magic.
But there were still enough followers that it would take two teams to eradicate them all; the Infamous-Trio and the Order.
They had separated from the Order several hours ago, leaving the older witches and wizards to raid the main facility of Voldemort's followers and lay waste to those practicing within. And, like usual, it left Harry, Ron and Hermione to act as 'bait' and fend off any wayward Death Eaters.
Of course, for them nothing ever went as planned.
The Order's attack into the lair hadn't been unexpected and the dank castle used by Voldemort and his men had been extensively booby-trapped, both inside and out. It seemed that an alarm had been set up for any magic outside of the Dark Lord's castle-walls.
Harry had taken down two Death Eaters before a warning had sounded.
And that's when it began: the running and dodging, the rolling and jumping, all interspersed with spell after spell and curse after curse.
"There's only three left," she heard Harry mutter as they all sped out of the woods and into a clearing.
"One for each of us, then," Hermione suggested logically.
"Harry's already had 12! You're up to 11, Hermione! I get two so we're all even. Harry sit this one out!" Ron suggested as they tried to find the best offensive position.
"Its not a competition," Hermione grumbled, stopping short as she looked in front of them.
Ron gulped audibly. "I take it back," he said, counting well over ten Death Eaters approaching them from the woods on the opposite side of the clearing. "Harry, you'll have to pitch in—I'll just owe you if that's alright, mate."
Harry nodded, his attention focused entirely on the Death Eaters.
As if by some silent command they all moved back to back, creating a triangle with their bodies. They each had their own vantage point of the Death Eaters surrounding them.
"This would have been better ten minutes ago," Harry groused. "I'm a little worn out now."
"Told you we should have taken up jogging," Ron agreed.
"Boys!" Hermione hissed. "A little focus here, please!"
The words no sooner left her mouth than a Death Eater raised its wand and cast out at Harry, a bolt of red magic coursing towards his frame.
They both turned to take out the Death Eater, but it was too late. Harry's figure crumpled to the ground in a heap.
"Bastard!" Hermione shrieked, turning to cast on the Death Eater who had struck-down Harry.
As she spun towards the Death Eater, Ron rushed to keep his back to hers, not allowing a vulnerable target to open up. Despite the dire circumstances, he couldn't help but smirk at her language and how he seemed to be rubbing off on her.
His smirk was soon replaced with a look of utter horror when he took in the number of Death Eaters closing in on them. The Death Eaters all raised their wands and leveled them at the two young adults. He watched their mouths begin to form what would no doubt be a horrific and painful curse.
He couldn't even bark out a warning for Hermione to duck before he caught a flash of light out of the corner of his eye and his ears were assaulted by a variety of profane words he'd never known before. They were all drowned, however, by two voices he knew to belong to Snape and Lupin screaming a very impassioned "No."
Sparks of red magic flew from the wands of the Death Eaters just as flashes of blue were emitted by the members of the Order. The bolts of magic flew towards Ron and Hermione, meeting above their heads and battling fiercely, the air filled with hissing and popping as the two factions warred.
The bolts zigged and zagged in battle before suddenly plummeting and enveloping Hermione and Ron in a cocoon of purple magic.
She felt the electric shock of the magic surround her, coursing through her and setting every nerve ending on fire.
Her mouth opened as a scream bubbled up in her throat, but she was unable to speak. Out of the corner of her eye and through her blurred vision, she saw his body convulsing; blue eyes rapidly twitching and freckled body contorting against unknown forces.
She tried to reach out for him, her fingers forcing their way through the intensely thick magically-charged air. Their fingertips touched briefly, just the quickest of glances, and it was the last thing she knew.
Their bodies fell to the earth, landing tangled together, not two feet from where Harry had crumpled earlier.
There was a blur of red hair as Ron sat bolt up right in bed. He gasped for breath once before his face contorted and he leaned over next to the bed and emptied his stomach into the bucket next to his bed.
In the bedroom next door, an identical scene carried out with Hermione.
They both ran their hands over their eyes and into their hair, muttering "Bullocks," as they each took another deep breath, calming their bodies.
"Well, that was a pleasant wake up," a voice said softly from the corner.
"Gin?" Hermione asked, her voice thick from disuse.
"Yeah," the younger girl said softly. "Good to see you awake."
"How long- what happened- Ron? Harry? Is everyone-?" Hermione started as a battery of questions flooded her mind.
"They're fine," Ginny said, quickly calming Hermione. "Ron's right next door with Mum, he's been out as long as you have."
"He's up," Molly Weasley excitedly informed her daughter. "Oh, merciful Merlin! And you are as well!" A broad smile spread across the woman's features as she took in the sight of the child she considered an adopted daughter sitting up awake and alert. She bustled into the room quickly and pressed her lips to Hermione's forehead in her loving and motherly fashion before turning and quickly returning to Ron's room.
Ginny smiled softly. "Neat timing."
Hermione pushed her hair out of her face with one hand, looking closely at the other and the abrasions, burns and scald marks along her skin. "No wonder I'm sore," she said more to herself than to her redheaded friend.
"Let's get you freshened up and get some Pepper-up potion into you. When you're up for it, we'll move you and Ron down to the sitting room. I'm sure you're full of questions," Ginny said with a friendly chuckle. She dampened a cloth in the antique basin on the dresser and handed over to her former schoolmate. "Your clothes are at your flat, but I've got some that should fit you. Think you'll need any help?"
Hermione took a quick mental inventory of her body's condition. Sore didn't begin to cover it; it was as if every bone and muscle in her body had decided to go on an immediate whining spree and they were all complaining- loudly!
"No… I think I'll be ok-" she tried to stand and wobbled just a bit. "But just in case, don't go far."
They sat on the sofa, pressing shoulders against each other, neither able to fully sit up for long periods of time without some support.
Harry was across from them, lounging comfortably in the large armchair.
"So you don't remember anything?" he asked again, quirking an eyebrow at them both.
Ron shrugged. "I remember feeling like I had just played Quidditch for three weeks straight, I was so tired. We were running forever it seemed."
Brown hair bobbed as the witch agreed. "I was just plum wiped out, Harry. I don't know that I could have gone for much longer. All I remember is the Death Eaters coming from nowhere, it seemed, then surrounding us and then one casting on you… then –"
"Then you cursed," Ron said with a small chuckle. "You called one a bastard. I remember because I was so proud that I was rubbing off on you."
Hermione's brown eyes rolled dramatically. "Mmm, I'm rather proud myself, Ron."
It took a few seconds before Ron's patented look passed over his features as he realized Hermione was not particularly proud of herself at all.
Harry grinned at his two best friends, having missed their squabbles over the last few days while they had been unconscious. "Is that it, Hermione? All you remember?"
"No," she said softly, frowning as she continued. "I think I recall turning and casting on the one who knocked you out. Then - then I saw them all raise their wands and they all cast on us at once. I thought I heard Snape's voice about that time, but I'm not sure. Oh! Ron, I saw your face- you looked like you were dying; it was horrid." A shaky sigh finished off her words as Hermione snuggled deeper into the sofa's cushion, trying to gain some sense of security.
"I'm alright, Hermione," Ron replied in a soft voice, laying his arm lightly over her shoulders. "But come to think of it, we likely shouldn't be. Harry- why are we alright?"
The young wizard removed his glasses and scrubbed his eyes quickly before returning the spectacles to his face. "I was out for most of it, too," he said, prefacing the story, "but Lupin came by days ago and filled me in. He said that the Order arrived just as the Death Eaters were about to cast. Snape, Lupin, Tonks—everyone cast at the same time, Death Eaters and the Order. The Order cast a counter-curse to the Death Eaters' magic; there were too many Death Eaters to try to wipe them out."
"Oh," Hermione said softly, as if it all became clear to her with that piece of news.
"This is why I never took Arithmancy class. This sort of rot makes my brain hurt," Ron searched his friends' eyes, trying to decipher any meaning at all. Deflated at not picking it up as quickly as Hermione, he said, "I'm lost. What am I missing here?"
"The two magics- good and evil- met in the air above us, Ron, I remember that. There were sparks and – the air was so thick with magic it was hard to breathe," she said softly.
Harry continued. "Lupin said they tried to keep the magic away from you all but they couldn't hold its position. He said that you all got caught in the cross fire; the magic encapsulated you both."
Ron gulped almost audibly. "Evil magic?"
"Both good and evil," Hermione said.
"It was the best they could do to save you, keeping up with the counter curse," Harry said, looking at his hands instead of at his friends.
"I'm sure they did the best they could," Hermione offered.
"Well- hopefully it wasn't all for nothing," Ron piped in. "How'd it go at the castle? Did they get everyone taken care of?" he asked, referring to the mission the Order had been on while the three had acted as bait.
"By the end of it all, we gave them more than enough time," was Harry's only reply. "Should take them almost a year to get up fighting power again—looks like we get an extended vacation."
Ron simply nodded, his red hair falling into his face briefly before he pushed it away with his least-injured hand.
As if waiting for her cue, Mrs. Weasley entered the room with her wand at the ready, glasses, a pitcher of lemonade and a plate of cookies floating in behind her. "Get everyone up to speed, then, Harry?"
"Almost," he said. "Just about to mention the hours you spent playing Healer, Mrs. Weasley."
The woman chuckled slightly as she poured drinks for everyone and passed the cookie-plate around. "Longest days of my life," she said. "A mother hates to see her children suffer!"
Hermione felt her cheeks redden. She knew she had been all but adopted into the Weasley family, but it was still a bit unnerving to hear it so plainly stated.
"Sorry, Mum" Ron muttered, taking a 'muggle' (chocolate chip) cookie for Hermione and Spinach flavored one for himself before setting the plate down.
"Its alright, dear. You're fine now and that's all I can ask for. Just a few bumps and bruises and a little bit of burning to your skin; we did what we could, but the burns wouldn't heal right off. They've been getting better but, well, of course Arthur thinks that letting the body heal itself the Muggle way is the best choice but -"
"Mum," Ron interrupted softly, reminding his mother that both Harry and Hermione had been raised in Muggle houses.
Mrs. Weasley looked up quickly and embarrassment briefly colored her cheeks. "Oh, yes, well, I suppose a few days of Muggle healing won't hurt any of us. After all, it served you both well for eleven years, didn't it?" she said, regarding both Harry and Hermione with loving gazes before excusing herself from the room.
Ron waited until she left the room. "So what happened to get us out from the magical 'bubble?'" he asked.
His friend shrugged. "They wouldn't say. They just said you were out mainly unharmed and we should consider ourselves lucky."
She sighed deeply before speaking. "Its ok, Harry. I feel perfectly normal, except for feeling like a heard of Hippogriffs ran over me. I'm sure we'll be fine again in no time- no lingering side effects."