Jinxes and hexes are flying over their heads. Ron and Hermione crouch in a hollowed-out crater, a toppled gravestone providing enough of an overhang to completely hide them from view.
Things are not going well.
"You think Harry found Voldemort?" Hermione whispers. The spellcasting above is so loud that she doesn't need to whisper, but the shake of her voice indicates that stealth isn't the reason for her volume.
"Sure," Ron answers. He grabs Hermione's hand and squeezes. "He'll be fine."
Hermione nods quickly, overenthusiastic, releasing pent up energy.
Ron squeezes her hand harder, this time not releasing his grip. "He'll be fine."
"I know, I know," Hermione gasps.
Ron loops a hand around her neck and pulls her to him. He kisses her, something that's very new to them but always seems to settle their nerves, which often seems like a contradiction to Ron.
Hermione looks up. The gravestone covering shifts and a dusting of dirt rains down after a thump that sounds like a body. She closes her eyes and Ron can almost hear her anguish that they should have to live through this.
"I know how Harry's parents must have felt," she says.
They lock eyes and Ron knows what she means. All anyone wants to do is protect Harry.
Harry's parents, Sirius, Dumbledore—they all died to protect Harry.
"Sometimes I wonder how we were pulled into this," Ron says nearly under his breath.
He thinks maybe Hermione is too afraid to agree; if she does, he might be forced to grab her and run away from the battle. She doesn't need to be here; she doesn't need to die. She shouldn't be here. Hermione is books and facts, frizzy hair and a crisp set of clean robes, a perfect flick and swish of a wand and a clever spell to get out of trouble. She isn't dirt and death and mayhem. He wants to take her away from all this and protect her the same way he wants to protect Harry.
Except he can't take Harry away from this. Destiny, prophecies, determination, and sheer heroism mean that Harry has to see this to the end. Just like first year, when Harry had to confront Voldemort and protect the philosopher's stone, there isn't anyone else who can fight this battle.
Ron and Hermione have to help him.
Ron swallows and picks up his wand, momentarily resting by his thigh. "The Order needs us."
Hermione's jaw sets and she nods grimly. "If we die . . ."
A smile ghosts over Ron's lips but doesn't reach his eyes.
Hermione pushes out through the small gap in the overhang. She touches the gravestone gingerly as though it will jinx her. It's quiet; the fighting has moved off towards the right of their position. Hermione gasps, the sound cutting off in her throat as she tries to be quiet.
Ron quickly pushes up behind her. He faces the opposite direction from her, his wand pointed, ready to cast a spell.
Hermione taps his shoulder and he glances over his shoulder. Draco Malfoy and Tonks are both lying lifeless on the ground—stunned or dead, Ron isn't sure; he's not happy to see either of them like this. Malfoy has never been his favorite person, but even Ron has learned that in times of war you accept the help that is given.
There's a Death Eater lying a bit farther away from them; he looks petrified, Ron wishes death had claimed this man instead.
Hermione moves the few feet to Tonks, running her hands over the still face, feeling under the nose for breath. Malfoy is crumpled next to the gravestone covering the hollow. Ron squats next to Malfoy, performing the same ministrations Hermione performs on Tonks. They both sigh; Tonks and Malfoy are stunned, not dead.
"Do we leave them?" Ron hisses.
Hermione looks between the two still forms and then up to where the sounds of the fight continue.
"We have to." Her eyes glint with the same determination that both aggravate and enchant Ron. "For Harry."
Ron stands and then helps her up. Together they run towards the sounds of the fighting. Against every survival instinct telling them to run away, they follow the screams and the curses, the glinting zips of magic from wands, and just hope that they can buy their friend enough time so that when the smoke clears Voldemort and his Death Eaters will be defeated and this will finally be over—not just for Harry, but for them as well.