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You Can't Win the Battle and the War - Chapter 7/12
Illyria, AtS
Chapter 7 - Ron and Hermione: Burning

Ouch… thought Harry as his eyes fluttered open and he was greeted with a cold, dirty blue wall filling his sight and a crick in his neck. He straightened quickly, upsetting his neck further, glanced at his surroundings, and banged his elbow on the door as he fled the stall. He leaned on the opposite stall and breathed deeply, shaking his head to empty it of the blind panic that had filled it as, in his first waking moments, he had dazedly taken in his surroundings. Slowly, his vision cleared. He walked out of the bathroom, carefully not looking in the mirror.


Harry entered the Great Hall to see the tables filled with food and surrounded by people, all eating breakfast. For some of them, he knew, this was the first meal they had eaten in days, and he was glad to see that the same people who had been forced to sleep were eating willingly. He was glad to see George making his way through a plate that had been piled high with food, most likely by his mother. Looking around the hall, he saw that the designation of the house tables was forgotten, and that everyone was sitting with family or friends; no one was alone. The majority of people he saw were clumped tightly with their family, real or makeshift, and even those people who had been sitting alone for days, desperately avoiding anyone and everyone, were hesitantly sitting beside the people they had known their entire lives. It seemed that the few hours of separation had reminded everyone what they had lost and what they still had. No wonder so many of them had been scared to sleep.

Harry glanced around and saw no stragglers, no one sitting alone, no one he needed to talk to. He looked around a moment longer in desperation, before, steeling himself, he made his way between the tables to where Ron and Hermione were sitting at the Hufflepuff table. He passed Ginny on his way through the hall, sitting beside Neville, and ignored the urge to sit beside her and clutch her hand and never let go. He had time, he reminded himself. He had all the time in the world. Time was something he had never had before, the one thing he had gained in this whirlwind of a war. He had time, he told himself firmly, and pushed down the fear that rose in him as he thought it.

As he neared his two friends, he saw they were sitting pressed up against each other, their hands clasped together despite the difficulty this caused in eating, talking in hushed tones. Harry hesitated once again as he heard the breathlessness in their voices, paused with his foot just above the ground, and felt his mind go blank after only a moment of consideration. He shook himself back into consciousness and took the final two steps toward the table, settling onto the bench beside Hermione. Both she and Ron looked up at Harry as he sat.

“Oh, Harry!” Hermione cried, her startled look softening into a smile. Harry saw her lift her arms ever so slightly, as if to fling them around his neck and she occasionally did, but then she dropped them back to her sides, thinking better of it. Ron’s hand wrapped around hers again the moment it touched his. “Harry, where were you last night?” she continued instead. “We thought you’d be in the dorm with us.” Us. There was that word again.

“McGonagall set aside a room for me,” he answered, not using his professor’s first name and not mentioning where he had actually slept.

“Oh…” Hermione looked down. Ron furrowed his brow at Harry over Hermione’s shoulder, eyeing Harry thoughtfully. He met Harry’s eyes and held them for a moment, before looking down.

“Well…did you sleep well?” Hermione asked, recovering. When Harry nodded, she said, “Ron and I were glad to be back in a bed after so long sleeping in a tent.” Harry nodded again, unable to agree as he had hardly been comfortable.

“Harry, you’re glasses – they’re filthy,” Hermione informed him. He ignored her.

“Harry, mate, where’ve you been the past two days?” Ron interjected. “We’ve hardly seen you since you killed You-Know-Who.” Hermione shot him a reproachful look.

“I’ve – had to talk to people,” Harry muttered.

“But Harry,” Hermione beseeched, looking concerned. Harry wished she would stop saying his name. “You’ve done so much – I don’t think you have to do anything now.” Harry blinked at her and shook his head, surprised that she did not understand.

“Don’t you think you deserve a break?” she implored. Harry did not answer, and after a moment she looked down at her food. They said nothing as she and Ron ate, the silence forming a bubble inside the noise that surrounded them, the noise of people talking and laughing throughout the hall.

Finally, Hermione looked back up at Harry anxiously. “Please, at least eat something,” she wheedled. “You’ve got to regain your strength.”

“You did die the other day,” Ron put in, earning himself another reprimanding look from Hermione. “Look, mate,” he continued, dropping the casual tone. Harry noticed that he always said ‘mate’ often when he was uncomfortable. “We’re worried about you. We thought you were dead hardly two days ago, and we haven’t really seen you since. Please just eat something.” Hermione swallowed uncomfortably and stared at her plate, but Ron looked determinedly at Harry, who nodded, but didn’t look away. Ron looked relieved, but held the gaze between them, though it was clear he was doing so with some difficulty. Hermione lifted her head, looking even more relieved than Ron, and began piling food onto Harry’s plate.

They ate in silence, uncertain of what to say to one another, and the tension between them grew even more palpable when Ron made a valiant attempt to discuss Quidditch. Still, Harry was grateful that he tried; the silence was too much to bear. His Quidditch talked turned to meaningless babble, just trying to keep talking, and eventually he lapsed into silence. Harry saw him reach once again for Hermione’s hand, catching it in midair as it rose to meet his. It was with some relief that Harry finally stood and exited the Great Hall, saying goodbye to his two best friends as he left, leaving Hermione in the middle of telling him that he ought to clean his glasses and Ron looking anxiously after him.


Harry stood, the cold of the wind on the back of his arms and his neck, surveying the school. His gaze slid over the grand castle, taking in the holes blasted in the walls, the scorch marks and the shattered windows, the place that had once been his first true home that was now destroyed. He felt the heat of the sun on the back of his head, mingling with his messy black hair to warm his head almost unbearably. He turned his gaze up toward the astronomy tower, recalling as he did the graceful arc of Dumbledore’s frail body as he had fallen a year ago. He saw that now the tower had been blasted apart, a jagged edge of charred stone rising above the rest of the castle, half the height that it had once been.

As the heat on the back of his head and the chill on the back of his neck became too much for Harry to stand, he took a careful step forward, and then another, into the entrance hall of the building; the building that was no longer burning.


Harry entered the bathroom once again, and slowly, hesitantly, carefully stepped into the reach of the mirror. He eyed his own bespectacled face dispassionately, waiting for that delicate balance to break. He turned the cold water on and gently splashed it over his too-hot face, cooling it down, feeling it sizzle with the icy chill of the water.

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