After they’d gotten Neville and Bill settled in beds in the Hospital Wing, Minerva went to go see what was going on, to see if Albus was still on top of the Astronomy Tower, if he was why he hadn’t come down yet—on the other hand, maybe he hadn’t even been with Harry up there, even though the two of them had left the castle together earlier that evening, maybe it had just been Harry.
Remus wanted to go too, to see what was going on, and find Harry and Albus, and Severus as well. He even wanted to make sure that that Draco Malfoy was all right. Not to mention help repair the damage to the walls, ceiling, and windows in the corridor at the bottom of the Astronomy Tower stairs.
But Ron and Ginny looked nervous about Bill’s fate, and since it was a werewolf who had attacked Bill, Remus felt that he needed to stay to allay any fears that they might have about their eldest sibling. As far as he could tell, Bill would not be a true werewolf, but as Poppy worked on those scratches and bites, while the scratches were mostly disappearing, the bites remained, furious and red.
He hoped Nymphadora knew that she should be glad that whenever he had given her small love bites, they had been more love than bite: even in human form, a werewolf biting with the teeth could still cause a human damage. It gave normal wizards a really good reason to fear werewolves even in there human forms, it was part of why they did.
But Remus had never really seen a werewolf actually go that far, actually get so carried away in human form as to actually draw blood with their human teeth. Then again, as he’d mentioned to everyone earlier, Greyback had had to work at it by actually filing down his teeth to points himself. More importantly, he was more animal than man now.
“I’m afraid though, that whatever I try,” Poppy said to Ron and Ginny after they pleaded with her to try something, anything, to make their brother better, “he just won’t look the same anymore. He won’t be a werewolf though, I really don’t think that will be at all likely.”
Just as Remus was going to open his mouth to confirm this, who should enter the ward but Hermione Granger, followed by Luna Lovegood?
Remus had rather missed Hermione at Christmas when he’d slipped off from the werewolves for a few days to celebrate it with the Weasleys at the Burrow, and he was glad to see that Luna had recovered well from the Battle of the Department of Mysteries a year ago, and in fact she looked very much more like the younger version of her late mother, Prosperpina Lovegood nee Maddox.
She gave Remus a vague smile that made it clear to him that she remembered him as her Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher from her second year. She had been much smaller then, and she had grown considerably since.
Remus managed a feeble smile back.
Hermione made a beeline for Ron at Bill’s bedside. “What’s happened Ron?” she asked, her voice trembling a bit.
“Bill got attacked by Greyback,” said Ginny when Ron couldn’t bring himself to answer.
Hermione put a hand over her mouth and stared at Bill’s face, which looked now as though it had been slashed with carving knives and then sewn patchily back together, now that the blood had been cleaned off and all of the wounds that weren’t cursed bites were now healing properly, rather than improperly, like those cursed bites.
“Well poor Professor Flitwick collapsed,” Luna reported, her normally dreamy voice a little more serious than usual, but still with a hint of that ethereal quality; it made sense that she would show especial solicitude, since Filius Flitwick was, after all, her head of House.
“What do you mean he collapsed Luna?” Remus asked her gently when the others made incredulous faces of shock and concern.
“It was in Professor Snape’s office,” explained Luna, and she frowned a little. “He came down to tell Professor Snape about the Death Eaters inside the school, and then Professor Snape came out and told us—that is to say, Hermione and myself—he had collapsed, after we heard a thump.”
Hermione nodded, still too stricken at the sight of Bill’s face to yet form words. Then she seemed to remember Neville lying in his own bed down on the other end of the ward near the door. “And what’s happened to Neville? Is he all right?”
“He’s going to be fine, Hermione,” Nymphadora assured her. “He got a bit knocked about, something caused him to bleed internally, made him cough up a fair bit of blood, but otherwise…he’ll be okay.”
“Of course he will,” said Poppy, who had now in fact paused in checking over Bill’s wounds to nip over to Neville’s bed at the other end of the ward, helping the sleepy Neville to swallow some more internal healing potion, followed by some blood replenishing potion, both by way of spooning the correct doses of both liquids one at a time into his mouth. When she finished, she capped the bottles and left them on Neville’s bedside table and left to resanitize the spoon.
Neville’s head meanwhile had fallen back onto his pillow, and he muttered something, feeble and incoherent, before turning his face away towards the moonlit window, and presumably falling back asleep.
“Did anyone else happen to spot the Dark Mark?” Luna asked, like they had all been playing “Spot the Dark Mark” rather than battling for their lives against Death Eaters.
They knew she meant it as a serious question though, it was just that Luna was quite candid for a Ravenclaw, only because she had always as ever been her true self to anyone. And it was a fact that there was indeed a Dark Mark floating above the Astronomy Tower, so naturally, being the observer that she was, Luna had brought it to everyone’s attention.
“Yeah, we did see it,” said Ron. “I guess you saw it too then?” he asked Hermione.
Hermione nodded. “Yes we did, out of the window on our way up here from the dungeons, but we don’t know who’s died.”
“Well, who’s to say it means someone’s died?” Ron asked; he seemed unwilling to accept the possibility of anyone else dying, which perhaps was a bit contradictory, considering that at the Burrow, Remus had noted that at each and every breakfast he had attended he had asked his father reading the Daily Prophet if anyone they knew had been killed, which had earned stern looks from Molly.
“Erm, well, Ron, considering that that’s usually what a Dark Mark over a building means….” Hermione was clearly restraining herself in light of the situation.
“Actually, Ron’s probably right Hermione,” said Nymphadora. “See, I think that that Death Eater—the one that got killed when he came back down from the Tower…?”
“Gibbon,” Remus supplied.
“Yeah, he must’ve set it off into the sky, that’s why he went up there ahead of everyone else, but I don’t think he fancied being up there all by himself….”
“Ah, well then, Ron, perhaps this is a first on your part,” said Hermione, and then she gave Ron a rather odd half-smile, which Ron sort of returned with some measure of delighted surprise.
Remus recalled a similar look crossing Sirius’ face when his old sixth-year flame, Helena Yeats, had unexpectedly winked at him the year before during their Charms practical O.W.L. It occurred to him that that Lavender Brown he’d been chattering about over Christmas was very much beyond his awareness anymore.
Nymphadora rubbed her arm, and Remus realized that it was still bleeding from her scrape with the hulking Jehan Aramis.
He reached out a hand to examine it without even thinking, but then Poppy spotted it first on her way back to her office, and before Remus could do anything she had already healed the wound for Nymphadora and made her arm good as new.
Nymphadora thanked her, and the matron nodded with a smile before she returned to her office to see what she could find to further help out Bill. To hide the bloodstain that now remained in her shirt sleeve Nymphadora pulled her cloak a little more over her shoulder. She gave Remus a tentative look, and he bit his lip, but said nothing.
Ginny grew restless, and with a furtive glance at Ron and Hermione, she moved away from Bill’s bed and headed towards the door out of the ward.
“Where are you going?” Ron asked her.
“To find Harry,” Ginny replied simply, and disappeared out of the ward.
Poppy reemerged from her office with a few more bottles of an assortment of other potions. “Let me see if any of these might help,” she muttered, more to herself perhaps than to anyone else; Ron stepped aside to allow her access to Bill lying in bed.
“Poor Molly and Arthur,” Nymphadora murmured as she, like the others, watched Poppy apply some different medicines to those nasty bites.
“Do you think Fleur will still want to marry him?” Ron wondered aloud in a hushed voice. “I mean…maybe he’s not…but…still….”
“Oh, I highly doubt she will,” said Hermione, very coldly, “even if he isn’t going to be a real werewolf.”
“When you say Fleur, do you mean Fleur Delacour from the Triwizard Tournament?” Luna asked, as though this were merely a relaxing social gathering at which they were all discussing celebrity gossip.
“Yes,” Hermione said curtly, “and being the self-centered—” She cut herself off and took a deep breath. “She was attracted to him, I believe, in the first place, solely by his looks, and now…well….”
Ron seemed on the verge of wanting to point something out to Hermione, but seemed to think better of it, out of respect of the current circumstances, probably because he could foresee a ridiculous argument with Hermione ensuing if he actually spoke up. Which was probably a first on his part, since Remus had noticed that Ron possessed a trait that Sirius himself had unfortunately too possessed, and that was a little thing called a lack of tact.
“Well, I certainly hope that she can see past that and still love him,” Nymphadora said quietly. “I know I would,” and she glanced meaningfully up at Remus.
Luckily no one noticed.
Except for perhaps Ron, who may have only bothered to take note because of what he had observed earlier at the bottom of the Astronomy Tower stairs.
Poppy went through each and every one of those bottles, just making little tests on the bite wounds, and in the end she settled for a smelly green liquid, that she said would no more cure these bites, or make them disappear, than anything else would, but at the very least this ointment—which in fact contained elements of the Wolfsbane Potion, including wolfsbane, naturally—would actually help to reduce the redness and swelling and inflammation, and maybe even prevent bacterial infection: she put an emphasis on the word “bacterial” so that they wouldn’t confuse the “infection” to be a reference to the “lycanthropic virus”.
“But no matter what, there simply is no cure for werewolf bites, whatever the form, and that’s the bottom line.” Poppy looked up at Remus when she said this, and for a moment the both of them were certain that the other was recalling Remus’ school days, when she would lead him by the hand to the Whomping Willow (at least when he was younger, she would, when he was older she had refrained from leading him like that), and then when she would look after him the day after, right here in this very same hospital wing.
She tried to give him an encouraging smile, almost sweet. Remus had always suspected that because of those times, she had grown rather fond of him, in a favorite student sort of way, not to mention that time she had gladly patched him up after he’d gotten into that scuffle with Nymphadora’s ex, Zane, during his time teaching here. It was a fondness born of maternal instinct, and Remus, giving her a small smile back, as he had just done with Luna, was always, and would always be, grateful for it.
After Poppy returned all of the other potions back to their proper places in her cabinets, she returned to Bill’s bedside and proceeded to apply more of the green ointment to the rest of Bill’s bite wounds.
Just then Ginny returned to the ward, with Harry by her side—the young man looked pale and exhausted, his green eyes beneath his jet-black bangs oddly shadowed, though he looked physically unhurt otherwise.
Remus took a step toward Harry as he and Ginny approached Bill’s bed and asked him if he was all right.
Harry blinked at him, and some of the life seemed to come back to his face. Hazily, he replied, “I’m fine…. How’s Bill?”* But when nobody said anything, and he looked over Hermione’s shoulder at Bill’s face, he got his answer, and his almond-shaped eyes grew very round for a moment.
He looked over at Poppy and asked her if there wasn’t a charm or something that might help, and she told him the same thing she had told the others, that there was no cure for werewolf bites.
And when Ron looked anxiously over at Remus, along with Ginny and the others, Remus confirmed for them all that Bill would not be a true werewolf, but then he did add, upon thinking about it, that he might have some lupine characteristics.
Ron, in a mad dash to cling onto some kind of hope that something might go back to normal, suggested that Albus might know something—the man was a veritable genius, he had come up with the twelve uses of dragon’s blood, after all—and then Ron felt he had to add—as if Albus would never do anyone a favor—that he couldn’t possibly just leave his brother Bill in a state like this if he did know something that might work, or at least look for something that might work, because after all, he had come to guard the school on Albus’ orders—
Then Ginny said, “Ron—Dumbledore’s dead.”**
The words reverberated around Remus’ head and heart like a Muggle gunshot, hit him with such a force that caused an exclamation of denial to automatically erupt from his throat upon Ginny’s utterance of those awful and strange words. He looked at Ginny, who stood there, grim, wooden, the sadness only touching the brown eyes she had inherited from her mother Molly, and then to Harry, the last one known to have actually been with Albus….
Harry’s face was equally grim and wooden, though the pain seemed to leak from his green eyes the way woeful rain traveled down a grey windowpane in beads. Stiffly, he nodded, and, at last it seemed, he whispered, “It’s true.”
Everyone else’s face reflected Remus’ shock: Poppy stood with the bottle of green ointment in one hand, her other hand poised over Bill’s face, while Ron’s jaw fell open, both of Hermione’s hands went over her mouth, Luna’s eyes, for once, were wide because she was, for once, visibly shaken, and Nymphadora’s face had drained of color, while her bottom lip trembled ever so slightly.
Their world had suddenly fallen down and crumbled around them like the very ceiling blasted by Aramis not long ago.
And Remus, run through, collapsed into a nearby chair, processing it, forcing himself to process it as he hid his face in his shaking hands, where he was simply met with horrible memories of Sirius falling through the Veil, and Aurelia doing the same, and James and Lily’s dead bodies, and his own parents, all of them flicking before him behind his eyelids like an old Muggle film reel in quick succession.
At Nymphadora’s quiet, tremulous voice asking Harry how it happened, he pulled himself out of those terrible flashes and looked mournfully up at her, and then at Harry.
And for once, Harry’s face had lost all of its resemblance to Lily, even in his eyes, and only James remained, hard and cold, as he answered:
“Snape killed him.”***
And somewhere out on the school grounds, a phoenix was crying.