Chapter Six_ The Time For Action
Hermione lured Ron into a dark, quiet corner of the library, away from any prying eyes. Ron went easy, his lips surrendering to hers at once. It was only one day since Hermione's mind broke through the memory charm and they felt they had a lot of lost time to make up. While Hermione was busy showing Ron just how fun the library could be, Harry was finding out he was about to go on the very important and dangerous trip Dumbledore had told him about. He had little time to lose before he went and wanted to do everything he could to keep his friends safe, while Dumbledore was away from the castle that night. He had a bad feeling something was going to go down, specifically with Malfoy.
"Ron, Hermione!" he called breathlessly, catching them on their way into the portrait opening. "I don't have much time…"
Ron and Hermione did what Harry asked and watched for Malfoy. They enlisted the help of Neville, Ginny, and Luna as well. Ron told Hermione to go with Luna and watch out for Snape. He thought it was safer to have her away from whatever Malfoy was up to. If Harry was right and Snape was involved, it was very unlikely he would do anything to hurt Hermione, while Malfoy was much more of a loose cannon. It was hard for Ron to separate himself from her, not knowing if something bad was about to happen, but he knew Hermione could handle herself with a wand. When Malfoy gave him and the other two the slip he began to panic. Loud commotions that sounded like fighting had him moving at a fast pace to see what had happened. Heading toward the Astronomy tower he felt some relief when they ran into members of the Order, but it was short lived— Greyback and Death Eaters were upon them as well.
"Hermione!" he called, when he saw her small frame come into view. He ran toward her, desperately, reaching her in just enough time to push her out of the way of a treacherous curse, hurtling their way. He shielded her with his body while rubble and debris fell around them. The room was erupting in destruction. Everywhere he turned there were Death Eaters and flying curses. He stood up with her, his back to hers, holding her hand, as they deflected curses and sent out some of their own. They cautiously made their way to an empty corridor to regroup.
"Stay here. I have to check on Bill," he ordered.
"No. I can't stay here with all that going on. I have to help."
"Hermione— no— it's too dangerous."
"If you're going, than so I am," she replied defiantly, following him out. It only took a few steps before they were dodging more wild curses. Suddenly, Hermione tripped, bringing them both down.
"Luna!" she cried, realizing she had fallen over her. She appeared injured, but conscious.
"You have to get her out of here, before something happens to her. I'll watch your back." This time Hermione listened to him.
"Don't do anything stupid, Ronald Weasley," she told him sternly. He kissed her forehead fervently and then he was gone. Hermione dragged Luna to a safe hiding spot and then went back out to join the fight. She stepped into the collapsing space, at the bottom of the tower stairs, just in time to deflect a jinx heading right for Ginny. She ran over to her, thinking it was safer if they were together. She looked up to see Ron running past them, unaware of the two of them standing there. She also noticed a Death Eater following close behind him.
"Ron!" she called, anxiously. She chased after him and caught up just in time to see, from the other side of the room, a seething killing curse strike Ron right in the chest, sending him flying back into the stone wall. The Death eater who sent it was long gone before Ron hit the floor.
"Noo!" she shouted, sliding down next to him and shaking him. "Ron— no—don't leave me. You can't die, I just got you back. Ron, please. Please—" She was sobbing into his chest, but Ron didn't stir; his skin already ice cold.
"Hermione, you have to get away from him. The wall is collapsing. It's going to crush you both," Neville told her, pulling on her arm.
"No. No. I won't leave him. Help me with him. We need to move him."
"There's nothing we can do for him now, you have to think about yourself. Come on," Neville said sadly, releasing her hold from Ron and dragging her away.
Seconds later the wall gave out, burying Ron underneath. Hermione let out a devastating wail, stumbling as she was pulled further from him. Neville passed Hermione off to Ginny, but she hardly noticed anything. She just kept repeating, "no, no, no," under her breath. Ginny led Hermione outside where others were gathered, they were both crying softly. Hermione glanced around as though she was going to see Ron popped out from somewhere, but then she replayed the scene of his death again in her head and her heart tore excruciatingly once again.
"I can't breathe…I can't—" she gasped, "Ron," she moaned, her eyes rolling back. The pain in her heart kept growing and growing, and Hermione felt like she was drowning. The pain was too intense. The darkness was seeping in, and she couldn't fight it off any longer, rather, she welcomed it. Ron was gone and all that was left of her heart were the remaining shattered pieces that cut into her like knives. She thought she tasted blood in her mouth, as she felt the shallowness of her last breath, and then she recalled nothing.
"…Can you hear me?" the mournful voice asked angrily. "Open your eyes. I've already lost you too many times. I refuse to lose you again. Now wake up. Come on, Hermione. Breathe— Don't you dare give up now. You can beat this. You have to hold on. Listen to my voice. Come back to me."
Hermione could hear Ron's frantic voice, but couldn't find her voice to respond. Was she dead? she wondered confused. But why did he sound like that, then?He wasn't making sense. She could feel Ron's hand tightly gripped around hers and tried to squeeze it back, but felt too weak. She couldn't comprehend what if this was real, or if this was all a dream or delusion. She saw Ron die before her eyes and yet it was his voice in her ear now.
"She's breathing shallow and her heartbeat sounds so weak. You have to do something," he begged McGonagall, peering up at her from the ground where he cradled Hermione. "Hermione, please wake up. I'm all right. I know what you think you saw, but it wasn't me… I'm right here. Hermione, can you hear me?" He was pulled away so they could perform reviving charms, but after what felt like forever, Hermione was showing no signs of improvement.
"We should get her inside and in bed," said McGonagall, worried.
"Her lips are turning blue," said Tonks, clasping Lupin's arm.
"No!" shouted Ron, falling back down beside her. He placed his mouth over hers and breathed out. He repeated his actions a few times, whispering her name in between. He was relieved when he saw her chest rise again, but he was still trembling with fear.
"You're supposed to keep my heart safe, remember. It's yours. It's no use to me without you," he whispered in her ear. "So, you can't go anywhere without it. And you can't leave me alone, 'Mione. I need you. You are my heart. I love you." He hugged himself close to her, his tears dampening her cheek. He held her tightly, knowing the second he let go would be the second he completely became unraveled.
Only at the weakest breath, may the broken heart be restore. If love proves true, one heart replaced by another, accrued.
"R-o-n," a weak gently voice spoke from beneath him.
His face instantly shot up, his gasp turning into a brilliant smile, while his voice shook with relief-filled laughter. He kissed away the tears staining her face, then pulled back to take in the stunning depth to her hazel brown eyes, that seconds before he feared he would never see again.
"Are we dead?" she asked blithely, as she gazed at him in amazement.
"No," he laughed, "you're stuck with me."
"Good," she replied easily, then added mystified, "But I saw you. I was there. I saw it happen and…"
"No, that wasn't me. It was a decoy to get to us. I'll explain everything later, but I would feel a lot better if I could get you inside. You need to rest." Hermione's eyes closed as Ron lifted her off the ground. She was barely cognizant of the growing crowd or the emerging sadness suffocating the air, but she felt safe in Ron's arms, and with the promise that he wouldn't leave her side, she fell asleep.
"You're here," said Hermione beaming, just waking up in the bustling hospital ward of Hogwarts.
"Course I am. I said I would be." He was almost offended by the idea of him being anywhere else.
"I mean you're here, it wasn't just a wonderful dream." She sat up, taking in her surroundings.
"How are you? Do you hurt much?"
"Actually, I feel great, I mean, I ache all over, but on the bright side, no more curse, and I feel like myself again."
"Still love me?"
"Eh—" she teased, smiling deviously, "What, almost dying wasn't proof enough… speaking of which, how is everyone else? Is anyone…"
"Bill's a mess— Greyback got his teeth in him, people got hurt last night, scrapes and bruises mostly, a few broken bones…" he paused for a long moment, knowing it would be hard to hear. "Are you sure you're well enough for this?" he asked wearily.
"Ron, what is it? Is it Harry? Ginny? Are they all right? Oh, god, tell me what happened."
"Dumbledore got hurt?" she asked surprised. Ron shook his head, miserably.
"I don't understand."
"Snape got him on the Astronomy tower. Harry was right all along. Hermione, Dumbledore is gone. He's dead." She clasped her hand over her mouth in horror, unable to speak. She couldn't believe it, Dumbledore couldn't be dead, she thought.
"I let him go. I was supposed to keep track of him and he ran out, telling us to check on Professor Flitwick. I was so stupid. I just let him go. If I hadn't," she whispered wretchedly, blaming herself. Ron stepped in, cutting her off, not allowing her to blame herself for this.
"If you had tried anything, Snape would have taken you too. There was nothing you could have done."
"I just can't believe he's gone."
"I guess we're really on our own now. We have to stay together. Wherever Harry is going now, we can't let him go alone."
"About that, how is it you're here when I saw you get hit by that killing curse?" The thought gave her shivers, seeing the scene play over again in her mind.
"We think Malfoy must have somehow got a hold of some of my hair and gave it to the Death Eaters to make a Polyjuice Potion. I don't know why he chose me, maybe he just took a chance when he saw one, or maybe it was the red hair. There were two decoys posing as myself. They thought they could confuse us and make us susceptible to their ploy. What you saw in the stairwell was just another Death Eater who got hit by one of his own, you have to remember that."
She pulled him onto her small bed with her, tucking herself under his arm. "It's a bit easier when I have you with me."
Ron seemed hesitant as Hermione secured herself to him and she became self conscious as to why he was acting that way, so she called him on it. "I'm afraid I'm going to damage you or something. You've been through a lot," he confessed.
"I'm tougher than I look and I feel better every minute. See—," she said and then suddenly grabbed his arms and pinned him under her. He easily wrestled her back to their original position, only this time he wasn't afraid to hold her to him, snugly. She laid her head across his chest, pressing her ear over his heart, concentrating on its sound.
"I thought I was going to lose you," he murmured truthfully, dropping the pretense that he was untroubled by last night's events. "I've never been so afraid in my life. I felt you slipping away and I was helpless to do anything about it." He traced random patterns on her arm lightly with his finger tips as he spoke. Hermione turned in his arms suddenly and slapped his chest roughly.
"Ow." His tone was bemused, wondering where that came from.
"Helpless?" she remarked incredulously, "I'm here right now because you refused to let me go. Your love broke the curse; it brought me back." He couldn't keep a straight face as she reproached him for being so idiotic; her face was so adorable when she corrected him. His curious smile caused her to break off her heartfelt rant, flushing. "You can't get me worked up like that," she said trying not to crack a smile, but failing.
"I guess I'll have to find a better way to get you all worked up," he replied deviously. She irrupted in a fit of giggles as his hands attacked her. She was only silenced when his mouth locked onto hers and his hands began moving in a whole different way, which produced a whole other sound from her. Their kissing only ended when they were interrupted Madam Pomfrey pulled back the curtain to check on her patient. As soon as the curtain was closed again they were back to their private sanctuary, where no one could reach them, at least for a little while longer.