DISCLAIMER: Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger and all other Harry Potter characters are property of JK Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. Thanks Jo, for being an author who allows people like me to have fun exploring the different paths your characters could travel down.
Most of the bodies lying in the Great Hall looked peaceful and undisturbed. There was no blood on them, no evidence of the curse that inflicted the fatal damage, just pale bodies laying there devoid of life. Colin Creevey simply looked like he was sleeping on a blanket of bed curtains. But Lavender was different. Ron stood over her still body, his hand clinched around Hermione's, and couldn't even tell if she was dead or not. Her face was nearly unrecognizable behind the deep gashes and dried blood, and it was impossible to tell beneath all the torn flesh and blood whether she did indeed belong among the line of dead or in the hospital wing with Madame Pomfrey. His eyes glanced over the maimed body of the girl he had spent a large part of last year snogging. The girl who, like so many others, had bravely stayed to defend Hogwarts and had paid a horrible price for it. Though barely an hour had actually passed since the horrific battle had ended, and Voldemort had crumpled to the ground, it felt like longer to Ron.
There was Luca Caruso and Matthew Kettletoft. Anthony Goldstein, a member of the D.A who Ron had just exchanged words with no more than ten hours ago, and Jack Sloper, whose dark stubble disguised the fact that he was only sixteen years old.
"Did I tell you about when he knocked himself out with his own bat?" Ron turned to Hermione as he looked at Jack, whose body was lying beside Lavender. His shaggy hair fell in front of his closed eyes and his lips were parted slightly like he was about to say something, even though Ron knew he wouldn't ever say anything again. "Him and Kirke were bloody awful." The corners of his mouth raised slightly at the memory of Sloper's brief stint on the Gryffindor Quidditch team. "He was so excited to play. He said he was the first one from his family to be on a House team."
His sweaty hand clamped a bit tighter around Hermione's as he turned his attention back to Lavender. Her blonde hair was matted with blood, and three large slashes ran horizontally across her face, one just barely missing her eyelids. Her delicate hands, which had been folded neatly across her body, had deep gashes that looked as if they were the result of futile attempts to fight off her attacker. The sight wrenched his stomach, and he was about to turn away when he detected an unmistakable twitch in her left hand.
"Hermione." He froze and stared long and hard at Lavender. Her hand did not move again, but he was sure he had just seen her take a breath. "Hermione, I think she's alive."
"She couldn't be." Hermione narrowed her eyes and looked closely at the body lying among the dead. A gasp sounded from Hermione's lips and the horrified look on her face confirmed Ron's suspicions.
"Help!" he called out blindly, looking desperately around the Great Hall for assistance. "We need some help here!"
"Help!" Hermione shouted loudly in the direction of the platform where the wounded were being tended. "Somebody help, she's alive!" A trio of witches, Hannah Abbott and Parvati Patil among them, came running over.
They reacted quickly, pushing Ron and Hermione aside as they made a beeline to Lavender. Ron watched dumbly as one put a wand to her wrist and another to her temple. Their actions were urgent and they spoke to each other in hushed and serious tones. He wondered if Parvati could even tell in all her haste that the mauled individual she was tending to was her best friend.
The methodical way they reacted looked as if they'd done it a thousand times already that morning. He felt useless and could only stand rooted to the floor as they watched Lavender float to the raised platform where the healers had gathered.
"Do you know what even happened to her?" he murmured though he was quite sure of the only creature that could inflict such gruesome injuries.
"She fell off the balcony." Hermione shuddered. "And then Greyback…"
Ron winced at the mention of the name. He glanced around the hall, past grieving families and friends until his eyes rested momentarily on his own. They'd all been together before hell broke loose this morning, but now they were scattered in tiny pockets around the Great Hall.
Ginny was seated on a bench, sobbing into his mum's chest on one side of the room. Percy sat numbly in the opposite corner with his head in his hands. His dad stood stiffly beside Bill and Charlie, and then, almost as if he was keeping watch over Fred, there was George. He sat on the cold stone floor beside his twin, his hand resting protectively over the sheet that covered him. Ron squeezed his eyes shut and looked away.
"Do you want to join them?" Hermione asked quietly.
Ron opened his mouth to respond but no sound came out. Instead, he took in a shaky breath and lifted his eyes to the enchanted ceiling. He was surprised to see the morning sky was clear and cloudless. He thought to himself that he'd much prefer clouds. The ceiling itself wasn't even whole anymore. The great ribbed vaults had come crashing down in places and the back half was completely blown out. His eyes darted around the hall. Everywhere he looked something was broken, dead, or destroyed. There was the house elf with the fatal gash across his chest he hoped Hermione hadn't seen and a chestnut centaur whose left foreleg was twisted at a grotesque angle. The great fireplace on the far wall had collapsed in on itself, and the winged sculptures that held up the many oil lamps had been blasted from the wall in places. The platform where their headmaster used to sit held a group of makeshift Healers now gathered around Lavender Brown. The hall was completely unrecognizable from the one that had welcomed him every September. Everywhere he looked there was just so much loss.
And yet all around signs of life slowly began to emerge. The faint sound of laughter even broke out from next to one of the shattered windows where students were throwing food into Grawp's open mouth. Ron jerked his head toward the sound, horrified by the laughter when there were at least fifty bodies still lying in the Hall.
Seeming to detect his agitation, Hermione slowly led him by the hand into a corner away from the dead. A torch on the wall had fallen, taking much of the masonry with it. She lowered her body onto a nearby bench and tugged on his arm, as if to encourage him to do the same, but he continued to stand and stare silently into the rubble.
"We got him." Ron spoke numbly, his eyes getting lost in the pile of stone. "Me and Neville."
"Got who?" Hermione asked, sounding quite confused at his random remark.
"Greyback," he clarified softly.
"Killed him, you mean?" She gasped. He gave a slight nod of the head but still did not meet her gaze.
"Crushed his head with a bit of Lachlan the Lanky." His voice was neither boastful nor remorseful; there was only a sense of resigned indifference at what he'd done.
"You probably saved a lot of lives," Hermione offered.
Ron simply continued staring into the rubble. The streaks on his face from the tears that had fallen last night after his brother fell were still evident, pale lines down a battle-worn face caked in dirt and grime.
He wondered if she remembered restraining him behind the curtains last night while he struggled against her maniacally. He could really only recall the night in bits and pieces. There was the portrait in the Hogs Head they'd passed through and the sink tap where he'd whispered Parseltongue. He recalled the terrible shriek that had sounded from Helga Hufflepuff's cup as Hermione plunged the basilisk fang into it, and he remembered the all too brief feeling of her lips on his not longer after. And then Harry was dragging Fred behind a statue and the night got fuzzy. All he could coherently remember was Hermione trying desperately to keep him focused on the job at hand.
"Not when it counted." He tried to pull the tears that now threatened to fall back inside him, the anger evident in his voice.
"You can't possibly think that, Ron. There wasn't anything you ─"
"Yeah, I could have ─"
"You couldn't have," Hermione insisted. His chin trembled and the muscles in his face hurt as he stared into the pile of rubble, unable to get the image of his brother's smiling unmoving face out of his head. Before last night, the only time he'd come close to crying in front of Hermione had been Dumbledore's funeral. Then he had managed to keep most of his tears obscured from view while he held her against him, but he had failed last night. He refused to fail again now. Stiffly, he finally lowered his body to rest beside her on the bench.
They sat and stared into the crumbled masonry in silence. The sheer physical presence of Hermione's body radiated a warmth through him, relaxing his entire being.
It felt good not to need to talk. The way she leaned into his shoulder, almost like her body was keeping him upright, reminded him of the way he'd done the same to her back at Shell Cottage. Though it had been no more than a month ago, Dobby's funeral was still fresh in his mind. She had been so weak then he had practically had to carry her to the outskirts of the garden to Dobby's grave. Now it was she who was supporting his weight. He glanced down at their entwined hands that rested in his lap and thought about how many times he'd come close to losing her in the past few months. To losing Harry. To losing his entire family. He felt a stab deep in his chest as the thought crossed his mind that he had been lucky to only lose Fred.
He snorted, disgusted at himself for even thinking that anything about this could be lucky.
"Do you suppose he was in pain at all?" He broke the silence.
"No." She lowered her head to his shoulder. "No, I - I think it was quick."
Ron tilted his head so it rested against hers, comforted only slightly by her words. Minutes passed by in silence and still they sat there. Eventually, Ron glanced to Hermione, wondering if she had fallen asleep against him.
"Do you reckon we should look for Harry?" A wave of guilt washed over him that he hadn't thought of looking for his friend before. Parents, students, teachers, elves, and centaurs had slowly started trickling into the hall. Even the occasional suit of armor, whose enchantments had yet to wear off, came clanking in, but there was no sign of Harry.
Professor McGonagall had begun returning the House tables to their rightful places and conversation filled the cavernous hall once again. A mournful wail would occasionally sound above the crowd, but the room gradually began to resemble the Great Hall on any other typical May morning. The aroma of freshly cooked breakfast even began to waft through the hall as a house elf or two walked by with trays loaded with bacon and toast. The sight reminded Ron how different everything was. The world had shifted. Everything - from the way Hermione leaned against him, breathing softly into his shoulder to the "thank you" that sounded from behind them as food was delivered - seemed to show it.
"Maybe he wants to be alone," Hermione murmured. She sounded as content as Ron to simply sit together amid the rubble for the rest of the morning. No sooner had she spoken the words then Harry's voice sounded over her shoulder.