"Perhaps it would help if you were both to get ready for the day. Our perspective on the war has been dramatically altered by recent events." McGonagall was brusque, more so than usual. I sensed she was upset, and every instinct I had was telling me to run and never look back. I knew, intuitively, what had happened and I didn't want to know for sure, for it to be real. Because if it was real, I just wanted to shut down. I didn't want to keep pressing on, figuring out the potion, wondering where Harry was. What we were fighting for would have lost so much meaning. McGonagall was right though. We had to go forward. This was war and there would be casualties.
"Quite right, Professor. But first when you say you found Ron do you mean-?"
"Yes, Miss Granger, we found his body. "I felt, for the briefest moment the world slip out from under me. I walked mechanically up the stairs, to the bedroom. I was vaguely aware that I was in shock. I was trying desperately to regain control over my emotions. I was aware of Severus opening the door, a look of concern etched upon his face.
"Hermione, are you alright?" The question was perfectly idiotic and he knew it.
"I'll be ok," I managed to gasp out. It was all I could do to repeat to myself that this was war and there would invariably be casualties.
"I can tell Minerva to come back later. That you need some time."
"No, Severus. This is war. There isn't time for that." There was an edge in my voice I was unaccustomed to.
"That doesn't mean-"
"Yes it does. Now please, go downstairs, make some tea, and give me a few moments to compose myself. I'll be down shortly." Severus left the room, doing as he was told, for once. This was war. There would be casualties. This changed everything. It had gone, in a split second, from this was the right side and I was at the epicenter of it because one of my best friends was the epicenter to the fact they had killed Ron, probably after torturing him. I would destroy them and everything they stood for. I allowed myself a few more choked sobs before I splashed cold water on my face, got dressed, and went downstairs.
"Ah, I was just telling Severus the implications of last night's events may be for us."
"Ronald Weasley was found in the Ministry. We tracked him there. By the time we got there any Death Eaters that had been there were gone. We have no way of knowing what information they may have gathered from Mr. Weasley or from the archives of the Ministry. We do, however, have every reason to believe that Ministry of Magic had indeed fallen, and that Voldemort is in the process of his endgame." Neither Severus nor I had been informed of the raid, or the fact that the Order had been trying to track down Ron. I bit my tongue, knowing an outburst now would do nothing to help my cause. I realized, vaguely that McGonagall was still talking.
"Now, assuming that battle –the final battle-is coming we are missing two crucial elements. A guaranteed way to destroy the Horcruxes and Harry Potter." I saw several flaws in the Order's analysis of the situation, first and foremost the one that Ron had talked. The Death Eaters, of all things, were not stupid. If he was useful to them they would have kept him alive. Now, however, was not the time to analyze the whole situation, just my own role in it. It was high time I quit thinking like a student and started thinking like a soldier.
"The potion is coming along as well as can be expected considering we lost six months of work during the attack."
"Double your efforts. We will attack as soon as we find Potter." Although McGonagall was proving herself to be an apt commander, the thought that they would attack first remained heavy in the room.
"Yes, ma'am." I said it without thinking. I was hell-bent on revenge. The justice bit of it no longer mattered, especially if we could no longer trust the Ministry. She rose to leave. I imagined there was more that she had told Severus while I had been upstairs, and I took the liberty of assuming I would be informed of what I needed to know shortly.
"By the way, Severus, Hagrid found your do wandering the grounds after the attack. He is perfectly safe."
"Thank you. I trust he is in good hands for now." I though briefly of the loving wolfhound and felt badly that I had not thought of him before. Severus had no doubt been worried about his familiar during the time we had been at his home, and he had not said anything. I brushed my fears about the state of my personal life aside. Those were concerns for another time. If we wanted to remain of the offensive then there was a limited time to successful complete the potion. I could only hope that Harry had found the other Horcruxes in his absence and that we could devise a way to retrieve the one we had left at Hogwarts.
"Severus, when will we have the Mandrake root?"
"Two days. Pomona managed to save a handful of the plants." I let out a sight of exasperation. I didn't want to wait around for another thirty-six hours. I wanted to get started on the latest batch of potion now, and I needed to be useful- to figure out what the problem was.
"Despite Minerva's urgency there is still time."
"No, there isn't. Ronald is dead, and for all we know Harry is too. We don't know who could be next." He could. I wouldn't say it aloud; articulate my fear of losing him.
"Perhaps you would like to go to the Burrow. I'm sure Molly would appreciate the company."
"She just lost her son. I highly doubt she is up to entertaining."
"No, but she is up to seeing someone who cared deeply for her son, and who defended when all evidence pointed to the contrary." I knew he was right, but I had no urge to go the Weasley's today. More than anything I just wished to be alone for a few hours, something had had since I came here, and I needed desperately.
"I just need some time alone, Severus." He looked at me deeply, almost as if he was judging if I was okay to leave alone for any significant period of time.
"Very well then"
A/N: I'm not overjoyed with the ending of this chapter, but it will help segway into the next chapter. We're in the home stretch now, about another 7 or so chapters until the end! Also I hope that the illusion to Charlie answered Ice Roza's question (as well as assured anyone else who was worried about our favorite Irish wolfhound).