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Chapter 64 : 63 - Go Gently Into The Night
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The path from the boundary into the forest was dark, and the lack of stars made for a very guarded jog onto the grounds. About half way in, I detected voices, and the forest floor trembled with the pounding of hooves. The Centaurs were on the move. They had no love for wizards and would not choose sides, but I knew they would defend their home against any intruder. The Order had been warned to stay out of the woods, and Severus made mention that the Dark Lord planned to gather his people in a clearing not far from Hagrid’s old hut. This could work in our favour. As I passed an ancient oak and leaped over an unearthed root, my path was blocked by a formidable, imposing figure.
“Humans in the forest. This is not wise,” Ronan stood tall, looking down on me.
I took a step back, one foot behind, one in front, and bowed deeply to the Centaur. “I mean no harm, and do not wish to trespass. Danger is coming tonight. It is in the stars. My help will be needed at the castle.”
He eyed me dauntingly. “You have been permitted in the forest in the past, and show proper respect for my race. Go with caution, Human. We have read the same stars,” Ronan replied as he stepped out of my way.
“Thank you,” I bowed again and continued to jog through the dense vegetation, grateful for the moment to rationality from the habitually hostile creature.
Nearing the glade where I had once witnessed Severus bully Professor Quirrell, I slowed and eased my way around the trees, sensing an approaching presence. A caw sounded from above as a frightening, black spectre swooped to the ground, taking form. His knees buckled, and he crumbled to the earth, face in hands. The caw sounded again from a branch above my head, and the man looked up.
“Rough night?” I asked emerging from the shadows.
Severus quietly groaned, and I could feel his turmoil. “Potter is in the castle. Longbottom and the others have been hiding in the Room of Requirement and will join him in the fight. He knows where to go?”
“He knows to go to Ravenclaw Tower. I didn’t know where the diadem was, but the Grey Lady should help.”
Severus nodded and stood, gathering himself. “As will the portraits. The old Headmasters have rallied and will seek him out. McGonagall has summoned the other Heads and will mobilize the school into a defensive posture. I overheard that they will evacuate all under-aged students and those who do not wish to fight.” Severus’ chin jutted out, and I could see his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed. “They chased me out,” his lip curled in annoyance. “The Dark Lord has been summoned. I must go to him. I will try to slow him down. Why are you here?” his brow furrowed as if the thought suddenly struck him.
“I’m going to the castle. Poppy will need my help, and I’ll be close should you need me.”
He shook his head and stood poker straight. “That was foolish,” he chastised sharply. “You’ll be in the thick of the fight. You could be harmed.”
“I’m obligated to help Potter fulfil his destiny,” I countered defiantly.
“You’ve done your duty. He’s on his own now. I’m certain that the Headmasters can guide him if need be. Go home, Daniella,” he urged, the concern in his eyes belying his stern posture.
“I can’t. I have to be here.” My response was firm.
A caw drew our attention to the sleek raven in the tree.
Something’s coming, he warned.
Stay with your Master, I sent as the bird took flight to higher branches.
Reaching out to my husband, we grasped onto each other, feeling our hearts unite and reverberate in the still air around us.
“Ti amo, cara,” Severus whispered into my hair. “You’ve always been there for me.”
“Ti amo, caro,” I whispered in return, “I always will.”
Stepping apart, we silently nodded to each other and went our separate ways: Severus disappearing into the darkness of the forest like smoke on the breeze and me toward the backwater entrance of the dungeons, the Draconus Filiastus that I had planted a year ago glowing its Protective Shield into the night.
The castle was in utter chaos. Animated furniture and armour raced through the corridors on their way to defend their fortress. Teachers and Order members were issuing instructions and directing frightened students to the Great Hall, preparing them for departure. I had made my way up from the dungeons almost unnoticed. Only Peeves detected me as he joyfully tore apart an abandoned classroom. When he saw me, his eyes widened frightfully, but then, he stuck out his tongue and spiralled up to the rafters, out of my reach. I dashed past and up the flight of stairs that led to the main entrance. The battle had begun. Death Eaters had infiltrated the main foyer, and the clash was on. I joined the fray as spells were frantically cast in all directions, ripping apart ancient stone and alighting the tapestries. Ducking into a small alcove, I focused on the Potter boy, trying to determine his location. He was several floors above, moving quickly, and then suddenly disappeared. He must have found the hidden site of the diadem. I bolted up the nearest flight of stairs that were effectively tossing the enemy over the railing. I was thankful that they recognized my attempt to protect Hogwarts as I dashed for the Headmaster’s office. I didn’t know if I could get in, but I needed to try.
The stone gargoyle at the base of the spiral staircase silently stood guard as I raced past and up the steps two at a time, momentum launching me forward. Reaching the heavy office door, it remained closed, and as I was about to run into it, it opened and slammed shut behind me. The portraits were nearly all empty, all but one.
“What are you doing here?” I flew at my grandfather’s portrait. “Why aren’t you helping?”
He sat, staring blankly into the empty office. “What do you suggest I do?” he passively asked lowering his eyes to me.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I snapped bitterly. “Our world in falling apart. Severus is on the run. The school is under attack. The Potter boy is somewhere here trying to locate the Ravenclaw artefact. We’re all risking our lives to fight against an oppressive foe, and you’re sitting here in the dark, alone, while the other portraits are out there passing along their wisdom and information. So many looked up to you, and you’ve abandoned them!” I raged.
“Maybe they should not have put so much faith in me,” Albus’ faded blue eyes drifted across the frame.
“You demanded it!!” I roared. “Your skill at manipulation was masterful. How could we refuse? You selfish old man.”
“Ah, there you have it,” he nodded pensively. “Selfish. Indeed. A word I’ve heard many times before. Your grandmother called it obsessive, but she understood that sacrifices had to be made, as did your mother and father. Your grandmother was a remarkable woman,” Albus drifted in thought, “strong, determined, a powerful witch, and… part of the plan. But, then again, I think you’ve known, even when you were just a child, that everything was part of the plan.” He eyed me knowingly. “My purpose was to serve the greater good, and in doing so I inadvertently drew others along. Few ever knew the true motivation behind my actions.” He sombrely paused and absently fidgeted with the string that tied his beard. “They don’t need my moral support,” he nodded toward the door, “nor do they need to be distracted from their task. There’s nothing I can do.”
“I can’t believe you. Inadvertently? You knew what you were doing. You set us up to fight this battle, and now, you sit it out.”
He chuckled derisively and turned his head toward me. “I’ve been fighting battles since before you were born. I’ve lost those I loved. I think I’ve earned the right.”
“No! You haven’t!” I slammed my fist into the wall beside the portrait, startling him, snapping his eyes to mine. “You drew us into this. We’ve all lost loved ones. It’s not over yet.”
He stared at me, blue eyes meeting blue. He looked defeated, but after a moment of thought, he quietly responded, “There may be something else I can do.”
Before he could explain, a loud crash sounded from the grounds, and the air around the castle shook. My attention was diverted, and when I returned my gaze to my grandfather, he was gone. Anger boiled within, and I spun to leave his former domain. As I reached the door, I received a light impression.
I’m very proud of you, my dear.
The corridors and foyer were a mess of wounded and dead, the battle moving rapidly through the lower sections of the hallowed halls. Landing back in the main entranceway, I heard a husky voice of an elderly house elf lead a “charge” as the rest of the minute staff joined the fight. Pinky was being pushed along in the crowd looking terrified, and I reached out to her. She managed to grasp my hand, clinging tight, and I hauled her protectively against the wall. With my little friend in tow, I struck down several of the enemy before finally reaching the massive, wooden doors of the Great Hall. Ducking in, Pinky wrapped her thin arms around my legs knocking off balance.
“Mistress is returned. Mistress is safe. Mistress didn’t forget Pinky,” she sobbed into the edge of my jumper.
I knelt to face my tiny companion. “ I could never forget you. Ever,” I assured, gathering her into a comforting embrace. “I’ve come to help. Stay with me.”
Pinky nodded and wiped the tears from her cheeks as we gazed around the large room. There were already a number of injured, and no words were spoken as Poppy raised her head and pointed to the opposite side of the chamber were more people were being brought in. Most were students: those who chose to remain, those old enough to fight, but too young to recognize the danger over the glory. There was no glory in war, only death and destruction. When would the young learn?
Pinky stayed at my side, and we worked together to console and heal the wounded, but as I was bent over one young Auror, Pinky tugged at my sleeve, sounds of panic gurgling from her throat. Finally turning to see what was wrong, her eyes were transfixed on the new batch of injured being brought in. Visually scanning the group, I felt my heart hit the inside of my rib cage. My eyes never left the newcomers as I swam through the crowd, the bile rising in my throat. Collapsing onto my knees and using my wand to scan for any sign of life, I unconsciously cried out as the sightless, soft grey eyes of my dear friend stared at the enchanted ceiling. The horrible wrenching in my chest gave testament to the pain I felt. Remus. Another casualty of this madness. Oh, Goddess. He had so much to live for. I buried my face in my hands and wept for such a meaningless loss, and as I knelt there, another body was laid beside his, a young woman with mousy, brown hair, flecks of pink still streaked through the ends. “Tonks”, I uttered softly. What about the baby? After what seemed to be an eternity, I passed my hands over their faces, closing their lifeless eyes. They looked so peaceful, like they were sleeping.
Rising unsteadily, I turned to continue with my task when a voice boomed through Hogwarts. Voldemort was calling to Potter. He wanted to end the fight. He wanted Potter to come to him. The boy would do it. I knew he would. Now, I understood what Severus meant. It was no longer in my hands. The boy knew all of the horcruxes. He no longer needed my direction. My job was done.
As the battle raged outside, my head began to spin, and I could feel a tension rise throughout my entire body. Standing in the centre of the Great Hall, I rotated, numbly examining the scene that played out before me. It was like watching something through a crystal ball, fish bowl-like, and distorted. I felt disembodied, ill. My knees were weak. Suddenly, there was a piercing pain in the side of my neck, and I gasped as a bolt of excruciation heat shot through my veins. My body began to convulse, and my knees began to buckle. It was a sharp caw from the rafters that drew my attention up, drawing my foggy senses back to the present. Stark was streaking in, frantic and circling.
Maw. Maw. Mum. Mum. He’s hurt. He’s dying. I held my arm out for Stark to land. Snake…bit…wolf…house… The panicked raven wheezed, struggling to get his message out, his claws digging into the muscle of my arm, snapping me back to full awareness. Help. Need help. His wings flapped madly.
Pinky had a firm grip on my jumper as I stared at the bird. The wolf man’s house? I asked to clarify the location. That’s what Stark had always called the Shrieking Shack.
Stark nodded and took flight again. Help. Father needs help, he urgently cawed as he soared back to the rafters and out the open window.
Shaking my head abruptly to clear it, I picked Pinky up in my arms like a small child, settling her on my hip. Taking a quick, last look around the crowded chamber, the sobs of the parents, the cries of the wounded, the pile of the dead hit my senses like the flap of a hippogriff’s wings. Taking a slight step backward and focusing on the fading energy of my husband, my bond, I Disapparated to a rickety upper room in the Shrieking Shack.
Poor Pinky was unceremoniously dropped to the dusty floor when we arrived. Severus was sprawled on his back; his black cloak spread around him, a silvery, blue vapour lingering at every orifice on his face. His ebony eyes stared blankly at the ceiling. I stood holding my breath, listening to the scurrying of the trio as they exited out the tunnel at the base of the far wall. Dropping to my knees, I held my wand above Severus’ wound: snake bite, venom. That’s what I had felt. Nagini had bit him. There were no apparent signs of life.
“No!” I cried placing my projective hand on his chest. “No! Feel my heart. Feel my life. Take the energy you need.”
With my receptive hand on his forehead and projective hand on his heart, I could sense a minute wisp of strength beneath my palms. There was a flicker of life still there, but it was fading quickly.
“No!” I howled, willing my energy into him. “Stay with me. Caro! Stay with me!”
Pinky knelt by her Master, tenderly holding his hand, sobbing quietly, while Stark lit by his head, stroking his glossy feathers against his Master’s, his father’s, cheek, a soft warbling sound being emitted from deep within his throat. As we all focused on the lifeless figure between us, a brilliant, white aura with a light blue hue began to form, encompassing the uncommon family. We weren’t alone, and I felt encouraged. Pulling the tiny vial from around my neck, I uncorked the stopper and trickled several drops of pearly, white liquid onto Severus’ wound. Through my tears, I gathered enough strength to cast a spell, not knowing if it was too late.
“Head and heart, mind and soul,
Warm his blood and keep him whole.
My beating heart will stay the tune,
While Phoenix tears will heal the wound.”
Replacing my projective hand on Severus’ heart, my heart joined with his, transferring my energy to him, while my receptive hand monitored his brain function. The heart may stop first, but biologically, there’s a three-minute delay before the brain shuts down. Did I get to him soon enough?
Time passed slowly, my life force draining into the unresponsive body of my husband. I would not give up. Pinky and Stark sat a vigil, patiently waiting, watching for any sign of change. I barely heard Voldemort call for a cease-fire, demanding that Potter face him, accusing the boy of prolonging the fight. I didn’t care anymore. There was nothing I could do. I’d lost everyone that I had ever loved.
The brilliant, white-blue aura of the Goddess pulsed, changing form, becoming thicker, like a white fog, and I grew weak. Curling onto the floor at my husband’s side, still holding my hand to his heart, still hoping for a miracle, my vision narrowed, growing black at the edges. My breath grew short, and a calming peace filled my soul, then, I remembered no more.
A/N – The epilogue will follow.
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