Standard disclaimers apply!
I do not own Harry Potter. I have nothing to do with Scholastic, Warner Bros or Bloomsbury. I'm not JKR and I am certainly not making any profit out of this.
The dead lay in a row in the middle of the hall. Harry could not see Fred's body, because his family surrounded him. George was kneeling at his head. Mrs Weasley was lying across Fred's chest, her body shaking. Mr Weasley stroking her hair while tears cascaded down his cheeks.
Without a word to Harry, Ron and Hermione walked away. Harry saw Hermione approach Ginny, whose face was swollen and blotchy, and hug her. Ron joined Bill, Fleur and Percy, who flung an arm around Ron's shoulders.
Unable to look at Fred any longer – or at George, when it came down to it, Ron chose to instead look at Hermione.
The one bright spot in this utterly devastating moment.
He didn't think he could stand it much longer – this wasn't supposed to happen! How could Fred be ... he couldn't even think it. It was just so wrong.
Here she was now, coming to stand next to him and then her arms circling him. He wanted to cling tightly, succumb to this overwhelming feeling of horror – he needed to weep the way his mother was ... he almost envied her, envied that she could lose herself like that. He couldn't even imagine it – to lose a child.
Losing a brother was ... indescribably ... indescribably what? He couldn't even come up with a word to fit. Losing a child had to be so much more.
He didn't just lose a brother. Fred was the one George had always been with, always – since their first spark of life in their mother's womb.
Ron wanted to scream and yell. Fall to the floor and flail about like a small child indulging in a tantrum – make it all go away by sheer force of his temper.
But he couldn't, and it wouldn't.
He couldn't let go of himself yet, no matter how much the soft arms around him tempted him.
That would come later – it would have to – but now he had to keep a grip on what little restraint he had left.
He mouthed the word silently, for once not stumbling over it.
Hatred surged through him and he revelled in it.
Was this how Harry felt when he thought of his parents? The life he might have had.
Voldemort was responsible for all this.
Voldemort could not be allowed to draw breath for a moment longer.
Ron knew it was all down to Harry, and he had absolute faith in his best friend.
Voldemort would die, and they could go back to living their lives the way they were meant to be.
Harry could have the life he deserved, not the one forced on him by a psychopathic mad-man.
Hermione could continue to learn and excel in everything she set her brilliant mind too.
His own family could ... learn to survive the gaping hole left in it. Somehow.
He stared around the Great Hall. Students – friends or otherwise, their lives cut short. Lupin and Tonks, gone. What would happen to little Teddy?
No. He didn't have time to grieve yet. There was still too much to do ... and their time was running out.
He pulled Hermione away from his family, not wanting to be overheard. "Have you seen Harry?" he asked without preamble.
"No." Her face was wet with tears and tight with worry. "He went up to see Snape's memory, I think. I haven't seen him since. You don't think ..."
Just then Neville appeared beside them, tenderly laying down another of the dead. "Mandy Brocklehurst," he told them, closing her eyes, "I didn't really know her, did you?"
"Only by sight," Hermione said, while Ron shook his head.
"I saw Harry, just before," Neville went on, straightening his back with a groan. "He said – he told me to kill the snake."
Hermione uttered a little cry and buried her head in Ron's chest. He stroked her hair and swallowed hard, ignoring the fact that the bottom seemed to have dropped from his stomach. "Right ... right ..." he nodded, "he's right. The snake needs to die. If you get the chance, kill the snake."
The castle shook suddenly, dust and bits of rubble trickling down around them, and a cold voice filled the air.
"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."
Neville, Ron and Hermione stared at each other in horror.
"The battle is won. You have lost half of your fighters. My Death Eaters outnumber you and the Boy Who Lived is finished. There must be no more war. Anyone who continues to resist, man, woman or child, will be slaughtered, as will every member of their family. Come out of the castle, now, kneel before me, and you shall be spared. Your parents and children, your brothers and sisters will live, and be forgiven, and you will join me in the new world we shall build together."
"He's lying!" Neville spat out. "He thinks he can scare us into giving up easily."
"Just wait a minute, mate," Ron grabbed Neville's arm when it looked as though Neville was about to rush outside. "Just wait. Let's see what he's got up his sleeve first."
All three crept forward carefully – but were pushed to the side by Professor McGonagall, who was rushing down the steps, Ginny close at her heels.