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Chapter 1: We Cannot Lose
A/N: "We Cannot Lose" is the Grand Prize winning story for the 2007 HPFF Writer's Duel. It was featured on the HPFF podcast on June 30, 2007, and is available via iTunes or podcastalley, or by clicking 'site links' in the menu above.
Now, a warning: this story is VERY dark and deals rather intimately with death, so be forewarned if you are sensitive (like me). This was written before the release of DH and takes place after HBP.
Lots of love. ~LM
We Cannot Lose
We Apparated to the scene in response to Tonks’ distress signal. A feeble silver wolf had staggered across the dinner table at Grimmauld Place, and then collapsed, diffusing into a grey mist just in front of the homemade birthday cake. There was a moment, no more than a heartbeat, of silence, when everyone had been paralyzed by what they had just seen. No one had ever seen a Patronus behave like that before.
A dying Patronus.
We had all been gathered in Tonks’ honor – even Harry had come, and he flashed me the smallest of smiles. Only two months had passed since I had last seen him, and already I could tell that the burden of his great responsibility had aged him. There were lines around his eyes that I had not seen before, and he seemed tired and withdrawn. But I did not dare reach out for his hand, lest I lose my resolve, or cause him to lose his. And in spite of the space between us, it had been difficult not to feel a small sense of warmth as well, for here we were again, together, for a reason that was not sad and in a room that was not filled with tears. In fact, the basement kitchen at Grimmauld Place had never been so warm. The room was overflowing with pink flowers, pink gifts were piled upon the side tables, and floating, bright pink baubles dazzled the senses. It made my day to hear Harry laugh at the pixies that I had charmed to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ in seven different languages.
But mother had eyed mine and Hermione’s raucous decorations with disapproval.
“Ginny…do you really think all this is appropriate, in light of the times?” She had asked. I felt instantly deflated. True, the fight was going badly. True, the Ministry was in shambles, Hogwarts had been closed and countless lives had been lost to Voldemort’s growing movement. No one felt the desperation more deeply than I and my former school friends, all of whom had been newly inducted into the Order. Ron, Harry, Hermione, the twins and I, we were not yet fighters, but we knew that any day, we could be called into battle and asked to fight like the adults we had suddenly become. And we would go, and we would throw ourselves into the heart of danger as Order members and as defenders of everything that Dumbledore had stood for. At the risk of our lives, we would choose what was right, over what was easy. And in spite of this, my mother had made me feel like a foolish, selfish child in less than three seconds.
It had been Sirius, recently pulled back from the veil by Harry, who came to our defense. “Molly, the girls did a great job. We’ve been mourning for months, we’ve been fighting like mad, and there’s a lot more fighting to come…we deserve this. Tonks deserves this.”
“I just think its… tempting fate, that’s all.” Mother frowned. Sirius had hugged her, and winked at us. I can’t remember if I had grinned or not, relieved that I was not in the wrong and that mother was just over-worrying as usual. If I had only known…
I would have torn the cursed decorations down myself.
But as it was, everyone seemed to agree that a break was in order, and we all made a point to be at that celebration table: Kingsley, mother and father, Alastor, Sirius, Bill and Fleur, McGonagall and Charlie, as well as myself and the other new Order members. I was into my second bottle of butterbeer, Harry, Sirius and the twins were playing cards, and Hermione and Ron were bickering, as per usual, about something unimportant. The rest of the adults were enjoying their wine and tea, and chatting about everything but the usual Order business. It was lovely. It reminded me of a time before we worried about the fate of the wizarding world. Remus was supposed to be arriving with Tonks any minute, at which point we were all supposed to jump up and yell SURPRISE!
But we were the ones who were surprised.
Tonks’ Patronus disappeared, and the room exploded with action. They told us to stay put, but I would not. I glanced at Ron, who grabbed Hermione’s hand and nodded his agreement. He was coming too. Harry and my father were already out the door, chasing Sirius and the others. I tore off my party hat and dashed up the stairs after them, with Fred and George hot on our heels, leaving behind the decorations, the gifts, a trembling Fleur, and the cake that would never be eaten.
The next few moments were a hail of confusion. We raced across the dark street, to the shadowy pines from amongst which we often Disapparated. Wands were drawn and questions were hissed out, (does anyone know where they’ve gone?) and I heard a single location that was agreed upon: Verlaine Park. The Disapparating Order members were like whip cracks, and I too focused hard on that destination, and turned, never questioning where exactly I was going or what might happen there, and never once worrying about my safety.
As soon as we arrived I was unnaturally cold and disoriented. The park was an urban glen, with shrubby woods all around and two large apartment complexes towering in the distance like menacing guards. My eyes adjusted to the dark, and I could see figures in the mist just ahead. Remus Lupin struggled while being held by two masked Death Eaters. A Dementor was gripping his shoulders, its mouth almost upon his. I was frozen in horror - all of my young friends were. But the more experienced Order members were not so naïve as we. They acted instinctively, as one.
Eight voices screamed “Expecto Patronum!” And the air erupted with light so bright I was blinded. Animals of different shapes and sizes bounded and flew forth, attacking and overwhelming the Dementor so that it shrieked in rage and shot off into the night sky. The two Death Eaters cried out at the sudden appearance of so many wand-wielding Order members. They dropped Remus and ran, disapparating before the stunning spells could reach them.
It was the crimson light of one of these failed stunners that illuminated a figure curled up on the ground.
Perhaps I had not seen her before because I had been blinded by the Patronuses, but my eyes could not deny it now. Everyone else seemed to have finally seen her too, because I heard my mother’s bloodcurdling scream, and suddenly we were running, all of us, towards the body and Remus, who was on his hands and knees now, crawling towards her. He reached her side and lay across Tonks, his wracking sobs and desperate pleading shaking the entire world, shaking each and every one of us. We knew by his cries that it was already too late.
And when we reached their side, Sirius scrambled to the ground and gripped Remus fiercely, as if trying to prevent him from joining his mate in soullessness.
Everything moved in slow motion from that point on. Mother cried hysterically…my eldest brother and my father held her up, supporting her through tears of their own. Moody took off his hat and turned away, crushing the black bowler in his hands, while a grief-stricken McGonagall knelt beside Tonks and laid a gentle hand upon her forehead. Even Kingsley Shacklebolt, the most stoic man I have ever known, bowed his head and squeezed his eyes shut in sorrow. And I stared, numb with horror. I had never seen anything like this. I didn’t want to be seeing it. I had certainly studied it in textbooks and answered the question on my Dark Arts OWL with Hermione-like precision, but that had not prepared me for what it looked like to actually see the aftermath of a Dementor’s Kiss.
Tonks was curled up on the ground, her eyes wide, unseeing, inky black pools. She would have appeared, at first glance, to be dead, if not for the fact that her entire body was shivering. Her lips were parted and icy-blue. Her skin had become grey, not unlike the decayed hue of the hands of the creature that had desecrated her. But worst of all was the expression frozen upon her face. Shock. Panic. Horror. Confusion. The worst things a human being could feel permanently marred her lovely features. I felt a sudden urge to scream at her, to shake her and try to wake her up from the nightmare she appeared to be trapped within, for no one should suffer like that, not for a moment, and certainly not for the rest of their natural life. But Tonks was responding to no one and nothing. Not Sirius’ sobs. Not McGonagall’s touch. Not Remus’ desperate pleading.
“No…no…you don’t understand…it should have been me first…” Remus cried. And that was when I broke down too. Through my tears, I could feel George pressing my face against his chest, his hand covering my eyes as if to shield me from the unbearable. George’s lips came to my ear, and he was whispering soothing words to me, while Fred rested his hands on both of our shoulders. But my brothers’ arms and words gave me no comfort. The world was just too, too cold. And when Harry moved stiffly behind Sirius, I could see that he was shivering. He was affected so quietly, so deeply, that his face was eerily blank. Harry shifted his gaze, as if he couldn’t stand to see Tonks’ condition. I wondered if Harry was thinking about how close he had twice come to losing his soul to these vile wraiths, how close he had come to living the nightmare that she now lived.
“We…we can’t leave her like this, Remus.” Whispered Sirius.
“No, I can’t…please…” Remus sobbed. “I can’t do it.”
Do what? I thought vaguely. Then Sirius’ next words chilled me to the bone.
“Moony, you know we have to end this.” He said gently. “She’s suffering. You can see that, can’t you?” Remus whimpered and nodded, and my mother cried out, as if she too suddenly understood what they were talking about. And once again I was frozen with shock. I simply could not believe what I was hearing. This was not a lame horse or a wounded deer that needed to be disposed of. She was Tonks. She was our friend, she was the big sister I never had. She had a cake waiting for her on the kitchen table, and presents to unwrap and laughs and stories yet to share. But even as I thought it, I knew that it was nonsense. I knew there was nothing left for her, nothing left of her – no memories, no senses, no soul, no future. Only a void, and the innate terror of un-being.
“I know it’s hard, Remus, but we need to be merciful. This is the only way we can help her now.” Sirius whispered and fought back tears. “Do you understand me?”
I know. I thought, terrified and awed by my own acquiescence. I understand.
“Yes. I…I do.” Remus replied in a broken voice. He raised his head and turned her face so he could look into Tonks’ blind eyes. “We’re going to help you, Nymphadora. It’ll all be okay, very soon, I give you my word.” He then pressed his forehead against hers, moaning as if his heart was being torn from his chest.
And that was when Harry suddenly burst to life.
“No. No! You can’t! You just can’t! Sirius? Remus?” He cried out, begging them to hear him. “You guys aren’t really going to-?” But Sirius raised a finger to his lips, as if to warn him not to utter the ugly words, and that was answer enough. Harry staggered back as if he had been hit. Then, he crossed his arms and walked off, his face twisted with anguish. Sirius watched him go, but did not follow. No one followed Harry. Even I, who wanted so badly to chase him, to hold him, did not follow him, held back by my own fear and self-doubt.
After a few moments, McGonagall and Sirius helped Remus to stand. Sirius lifted Remus’ wand from the ground and handed it to its owner. Remus immediately dropped the wand, as if it had burned him, and his knees went weak at the full realization of what he was expected to do. “I can’t.” He whispered. “I can’t…raise my wand against her…”
“You’re not hurting her, son.” Said Alastor unexpectedly. “They’ll put her in the hospital and she could live like this for the next eighty years. That’s not a life. Tonks wouldn’t want that.”
“I know.” Remus replied, but he still did not move. “I just…I…I love her…”
“We love her too Remus.” Mother sobbed. “Which is why you have to let her go. You have to help her.”
Sirius looked grim. He closed his eyes, as if trying to make up his mind about something. When he spoke it was like every word was causing him great pain. “It’s okay. I’ll do it… if Remus wants me to.”
There were a few moments of silence, when everyone held their breath. And it struck me, the great reverence that shimmered through each and every one of us. For Sirius to step in to do the unthinkable on his grief-stricken friend’s behalf was likely the greatest sacrifice any of us had ever witnessed. It was certainly a testament to his fierce loyalty and strength of character.
And Remus knew this too. He turned to Sirius and gripped him as if physically placing the task in the hands of his brother. “Please.” Remus said. “I trust you to do it right. Don’t hurt her. Make it painless and…fast.”
“I will.” Sirius’ voice trembled. “I’ll do it right. It won’t hurt. I promise.”
“Arthur!” My mother cried out, as if noticing me and Ron, Hermione and the twins for the first time, “The kids!”
My father stepped away quickly and rounded us all up. He moved the five of us back, up the sloped ground and away from where the others stood. “Everyone, look away, it’s best not to see this.” He said grimly. “Fred, George, hold on to your sister.”
We did as we were told, but when my father turned to watch the adults, I stepped away from my brothers and fixed my eyes upon the scene as well. I could now see Harry in the distance. He was sitting against a tree high upon the opposite ridge, his knees pressed to his chest. Our eyes met briefly, but then he broke contact. He too was watching. We were both too horrified to look away.
The Order members formed a tight circle around Tonks’ form, and I suddenly realized I was watching some sort of ritual. Sirius knelt beside Tonks, and whispered in her ear. Was he asking her pardon for taking her life? By the penitent bow of his head, I was sure of it. Then I saw his hand rest gently upon her chest, his fingers moving ever so slightly, and I gasped. He was feeling for where her heart beat, so he could aim true. When he stood, his palm clenched into a fist and he stared at it, repulsed. He lowered his hand, and then very inconspicuously drew his wand, and held it loosely at his side for a long, long time. No one dared move. No one made a sound. Sirius tilted his head, ever so slightly, to glance at Remus, and I knew why. It was a request for the final permission, or for the eleventh hour reprieve that only Remus, the one who loved Tonks best, could grant.
And when Remus nodded and closed his eyes, he had his answer.
Sirius looked away. “Hold him.” He said numbly. Kingsley and Charlie stepped to either side of Remus and gently, but firmly, took his arms. Did Sirius want Remus held still so that he wouldn’t collapse, or so that he wouldn’t interfere with what was to come? I wondered if it might be both. I thought it most telling that Remus did not even flinch when his two strong colleagues gripped him, as if he understood the reasons for this and did not trust himself either.
And then, a hush came over the night. Even the wind stopped moving. My father folded his hands and bowed his head. And we, who were not supposed to be watching, were all now transfixed by the scene. It was almost beautiful in its peacefulness. I felt Ron take my hand. Soon I realized that Hermione was holding his, and then Fred and George took our hands on either end. The five of us were joined, in a show of unity and support, mirroring the scene around Tonks below. And for the first time, I felt like a member of the Order.
The new Order of the Phoenix.
I looked out across at Harry, wishing he could join us, but it was not meant to be. I knew that the burden of defeating Lord Voldemort lay upon Harry most heavily of all, which made him a man apart from the rest of us. Only I understood that every life that was lost was to him, a personal failure. I loved him in spite of his cruel belief that the longer it took for him to find and defeat the most evil wizard of our time, the more senseless deaths he was allowing to occur. Sadly, Harry was harder on himself than anyone I had ever known, and I was certain that he was nearing the day that he would leave us, and stand alone.
So, I sent two prayers out across the sky that night. One for my Harry, that he would find the peace he needed to begin his journey, and one for my Tonks, that she would find peace at the end of hers.
And then Sirius tensed up, and the atmosphere abruptly changed. His eyes were squeezed shut, and he was breathing deeply, and then heavily, and then faster. I crushed Ron and George’s hands as another piece of acerbic school knowledge assaulted my brain: using an Unforgivable Curse requires a strong desire, a directed will, and great skill. Sirius was getting ready, creating a mental state that would give him the power he needed to cast the terrible spell effectively. He needed to want to do harm. Perhaps he was imagining an enemy at his feet, perhaps even Voldemort himself. He was leaving the reality in which he was supposed to mercifully end the life of a beloved friend, and reaching into the darkest recesses of his mind to wield the wickedness that lurked within us all. Sirius must have found that place, for his face suddenly twisted into something ugly and the air snapped with vile energy. He took two steps back, breaking the circle, his right hand clenched on his wand and his left hand splayed open at his side. Sirius’ head tilted back towards the night sky and he hissed deeply, as if breathing in a molten rage that was being poured upon him from above, as if worshipping some unholy demon of death.
I was terrified.
Remus jerked instinctively forward, sensing, as we all had, what was about to happen, but he was held fast. It happened so quickly, I didn’t even see Sirius open his eyes or raise his wand.
The green light and the rush of wind stunned my senses before I even heard his words.
I fell backwards, pulling the others down with me like reluctant dominoes. When I finally struggled to my feet, I could see Harry across the way, his head in his arms. Remus was released and he collapsed beside Tonks, weeping, and my mother and Minerva McGonagall were instantly at his side. Tonks was still now. Her body was loose, limp, and no longer wracked with terrified tremors. Her face was no longer marred with horror, but her mouth was just slightly agape, as if she had been very recently surprised. Remus gingerly closed her eyes, and she finally looked like she was sleeping. Mercifully, peacefully, sleeping.
While the Order grieved for Tonks, I saw Sirius, who was still frozen on the spot, drop his wand. He clutched his chest as if he was in great physical pain, and then quietly stumbled away from them all, across the grassy field, sinking to his knees once he reached the shelter of the trees. And when he collapsed upon the cool earth, his body was shaking with sobs, likely overwhelmed and horrified by what he had just done. He could take it no more, and nor could I.
And suddenly I wondered what on earth we were doing.
We all began to wonder… why we submitted ourselves to this madness, day after day, risking our lives for thankless strangers and faceless ideals… why being the side of good hurt so much, when the side of bad went ever unchecked, ever unpunished? In my misery, I wanted to throw my defeated hands in the air and scream surrender. I wanted to lie down at the feet of the enemy and beg quarter, or curl up in a dark hole and wait for the world to end.
It was pointless.
It was futile.
It was too much.
I felt my father stand beside me as I wept. He rubbed his glasses on his robe, and placed them gently back upon his face, wiping away a tear with his sleeve as he did so. And I will never, in all my life, forget what he told us that night, for it shaped me, and it shaped the new Order of the Phoenix at a moment when we were almost all lost.
“Kids,” he said hoarsely, “this is why we fight.” He gestured to heartbroken Remus clutching Tonks’ body, and to the grieving Order members, to Harry, alone upon the hill, and to Sirius, broken and fallen upon the earth. “We aren’t fighting the Death Eaters or dark creatures or even You-Know-Who. We’re fighting despair.” He gripped my shoulder. “Always remember that.”
He took a deep breath, straightened his shoulders, and walked back towards the others.
Hermione made a hiccupping sob. She was the first to understand. She tore off down the hill, racing past my father, and threw her arms around Remus, nearly bowling him over with the ferocity of the embrace. He released Tonks and hugged her back with a desperation that matched his pain, and they cried shamelessly, their grief rising and falling with the power of two. Fred and George followed our father to our mother’s side, and I told Ron to go as well, assuring him that I would be okay. The twins helped mother to stand, while Ron removed his sweater and laid it over her shoulders. I could see Minerva McGonagall, very tenderly smoothing Tonks’ hair, tucking it behind her ears and picking away small twigs and bits of dirt. And then, in the distance I saw Harry, still sitting there, alone in his pain.
And suddenly I ran, like the devil was at my heels. I didn’t stop until I was upon him, and I didn’t hesitate to throw my arms around him and press his face into my shoulder and let him cry his hot tears against my neck.
“I can’t do this anymore.” He sobbed.
“You don’t have to do it alone, Harry.” I whispered.
“I love you, Ginny.” He breathed. “You don’t have to do it alone either.” And then, as if we were of the same mind, we both turned and looked at Sirius, still shaking by himself upon the cold, hard earth. And at once, we tore off across the grass, hand in hand, to help him. Harry lifted Sirius’ head off of the ground and spoke words of comfort to him while I squeezed Sirius’ hand, soothing Harry’s godfather with my silence and with every last ounce of my strength.
And as we cared for Sirius at the edge of that glen, I understood what my father had been trying to say. We could not give up, or hide, or surrender, because only then would the war really be lost. It was despair that we were fighting, not just Death Eaters, and dark creatures, and Voldemort. Succumbing to the despair that threatened each and every one of us would be the only defeat. And the fact that we fought on, together, in spite of the horrible pain and sacrifices that were forced upon us, meant that we were winning.
And so no matter what the battle may bring, no matter what Harry and I might face, we will face it together. And if we fight, hand in hand and side by side, leaning on each other and those that we love for support, I know that in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds, we cannot lose.