Title: Magic Black: Prologue, or If I only could…

Author: NaniErin

Genre: Hurt/Comfort, Tragedy

Rating: M (implied violence and graphic descriptions)

Theme music: Running Up That Hill by Placebo

Setting: AU, immediately after the final battle in Potter-verse

Disclaimer: Not my books, movies or money. My plot, though.

He blinked, swaying on his feet. The sound of his own panting was loud and harsh in his ears and his outstretched hand was trembling, but he didn't look away from the man that lay motionless on the ground before him. He stood there, unmoving, waiting for the man to stand up again – waiting for the man to speak or lift his arm. He waited, but nothing happened.

He blinked again and lowered his arm. In a distant corner of his mind, he started a mental tally of all his pains, sorting trivial twinges from threatening injuries and making note of which needed to be attended to and in what order. He still didn't allow his eyes to stray from the man that lay sprawled before him. He'd be getting up any moment now, he was sure of it.

A soft sound came from behind, the scuff of a boot dragged over flesh, and instinct took over. He spun, raised his wand, and spoke the first two syllables of some ancient phrase or other before he registered what he was seeing. A young man, red-headed, tall, and lanky, and a young lady, eyes wide and hair flying in every direction, stumbled to a sudden stop. They each held a wand. That meant they were threats. His voice trailed off, though, and he frowned. There was something in him that didn't want to hurt these two. That didn't make any sense. He clenched his jaw and refused to lower his hand. They stood motionless, eyes cautious yet hopeful, while he struggled to remember why he wasn't attacking them. His thoughts were moving so slowly.

The girl's gaze moved from him to something behind him and a hopeful smile bloomed across her face. "Is he dead, Harry? Is it over?"

He flinched. Her voice was so loud in the silence.

The red-head's eyes were still wary. They flickered behind him, too, but only for a moment. This one was more observant, more dangerous. He shifted his wand to point more directly at the youth. The other boy raised his hands slowly, palms outward, and spoke in a low, clear voice. "It's okay, Harry. It's just us – just Ron and 'Mione. We're your friends, mate."

He frowned at them. What the youth said – the words sounded right, but the information didn't make any sense. He lowered his arm again, but remained guarded. He tried to swallow. His mouth was dry. He closed his eyes and took a deep, steady breath – in and out – willing his mind to work properly. After a brief mental struggle, he nodded. Yes, that was right – the boy was Ron and the girl was Hermione, they were his friends. Of course they were his friends. They were his best friends. They'd been by his side through everything – from their first run in with a troll to this, the final battle. He'd have been lost a hundred times over without these two. What was he thinking?

Harry opened his eyes and looked back at them. He didn't have the words to explain, but he did offer them a sheepish smile. They seemed to understand. Their faces lit up and they ran to him. They hugged him tight and clapped him on the back and shoulders, pressing on wounds and aggravating pain. He couldn't bring himself to care. He dropped his wand and clung to them, a handful of cloak in either fist. He didn't loosen his hold when they started to pull back. He needed the physical contact – needed to know that they were alive and whole, no missing parts among them. They didn't seem to mind. They stood close to him and each other, smiles stretching into grins. Hermione had one hand resting on Harry's hip – her other hand was entangled with Ron's. Ron's free hand was on Harry's shoulder, alternating between solid pats and comforting squeezes. Maybe they needed the reassurance, too.

They were quick to find their voices again. He smiled when the questions started – some were directed at him and some at each other. He couldn't get his voice to work, so he nodded and shook his head as best he could. Their speech was becoming disjointed, though. Both were talking at the same time, answers and questions spilling out of their mouths faster and faster until neither were intelligible. He grinned as he tried to keep up with what they were saying. The grin turned into a chuckle, and the chuckle turned into outright laughter. He laughed until his sides ached and his knees went weak. Their words dissolved into laughter, too, and the three of them struggled to hold each other up. It didn't work for long. They tumbled to the ground together, a pile of giggles and gasping breaths.

Harry winced at the landing. There was a very sore spot on the left side of his lower back that something was digging into, now that he was on the ground. It damped his chuckling, but not his smile. He closed his eyes and listened to his friends calm and their breathing even out again. They were okay. His friends were alive and whole and not too badly damaged, if appearances could be trusted. They were okay. He was okay. It was over.

He blinked at that last thought and struggled to climb to his feet again. His limbs protested the sudden movements, a small burst of pain erupting from his lower back nearly had him back on the ground, but he clenched his jaw and shoved the distractions away. He had to see – he had to know. Was it true?

At first, all he could see was a man, just one – the one he had been fighting only minutes ago. The man was lying very still – hadn't moved from where he had landed, actually. He stumbled over to it and laid a hand on the nearest bit of bare flesh, only for a moment, before yanking it away. Cold – not the icy cold of the long dead, but not the proper warmth of the living, either.

Harry cocked his head to the side. Had this one ever been truly warm after… after the thing, though? He had been dead for a long time and then he was back, but not the right way. He never looked like he had before he died… maybe other things had changed, too? Harry didn't know, couldn't remember. Pulse – better to check for a pulse. He fumbled with the wrist of the man, and then the neck, but didn't feel any signs of life. No breath coming from the mouth or the nose, either.

Harry laughed. Dead. This one was dead. Voldemort. Voldemort was dead. The fight was over. Harry laughed again – the sound bubbled out of him. It really was over. The fight was over. The war was over. Voldemort was dead!

Harry jumped to his feet and spun around, oblivious to pain or injury. His friends were still in the jumbled heap they had landed in. The looked up at him expectantly. He wanted to shout or crow or cheer or do something else suitably theatric, but his voice wasn't working yet. He settled for another grin. He grinned and nodded his head and that was all Hermione needed. She let out a loud whoop of a sound and threw herself at Ron. She kissed him a dozen times and then hid her face in his shoulder to muffle her laughter. If her laughter began to sound like sobbing after a moment or two, Harry gave no indication that he heard. She had earned at least this much – all of them had. Ron looked dazed. He blinked and looked at the body, then back up to Harry again, asking a silent question. Harry understood. He nodded again. Ron nodded, too, and pulled Hermione closer. Harry looked away to give his friends a moment of privacy.

He looked away from them and his legs nearly gave out.

There were bodies… everywhere. The field was covered in them. Some wore black cloaks and some wore school robes, others only wore slacks and shirts. All of them were filthy – splattered with blood and smeared with dirt and filth. Not one bit of clean cloth as far as he could see, and he could see all the way to the tree line at the far end of the field and to the lake shore and the castle to either side. He recognized that the thoughts weren't appropriate, he knew that with so very many bodies littered about that he should be thinking something more solemn, but he couldn't help thinking that with so much dirty clothing, it would make for an awful lot of laundry to do.

Then, as if there were a switch to be flipped, Harry realized that he could do more than just see them. He could hear them, those injured and dying. He heard shouts and screams, but mostly there was moaning and crying. He heard several voices begging for water and at least one calling out for mother. He could smell them, too. The battle had started before dawn and had continued long into the afternoon. The sun hung hot and heavy in the sky, now, and the field that they had fought on, that they had spent the better part of the day spilling blood and innards and all manner of bodily fluids on, was thick and ripe with the smell of rot and warmed death.

Harry felt his stomach lurch.

No. Too much. There was too much – too much input. He shook his head. Too much pain and death and violence. He didn't want it anymore. He never wanted it. He didn't want to think about the dead. He didn't want to think about who they were or how many he would recognize if their faces were whole and their bodies in one piece. He didn't want to think about how many were dying still. He didn't want to think about anything. He didn't want to think.

He closed his eyes, but the images seemed to be burned onto the backs of his eyelids. And the sounds and the smells. He couldn't figure out how to turn off the sounds and the smells. He couldn't stop it. He needed to stop it.

A noise. Close. A threat.

Harry turned to face the new noise. His arm shot out and his mouth had started forming words before he recognized that something was wrong. His hand. He looked at his hand. His wand. It wasn't there. He didn't have his wand. His eyes moved from his empty hand to the source of the noise. Black robes. White mask streaked with red.

No. Bad. Enemy.

The threat was pointing a wand at his friends, at Ron and Hermione. They were distracted, still. They hadn't heard it, didn't see it. Words were being spoken from behind the mask, high pitched and hoarse. A woman? A youth? Not enough time to warn them. Not enough time to find his wand. Not enough time.

Everything happened in slow motion, then.

He lunged. His mouth warped into a snarl as he moved.

The threat saw him. The wand turned away from the two on the ground to point at him.

His friends saw and made sounds of protest. They began to reach for their wands. Too slow.

A sickly yellow light left the enemy's wand and connected with Harry's chest.

Harry collided with the enemy. He felt a sharp, piercing pain in his shoulder and heard the snap of wood breaking.

Harry felt the vicious satisfaction that came of neutralizing the enemy – he registered the relief that his friends really would be okay – and then there was pain.

Everything was pain.