Sirius used to admire the way that Professor Binns could make a war appear to be dull. He never used colorful language to paint the scene, nor did he provoke any kind of emotion in the battles for either side. He’d made what would have been, in Sirius’s eyes as a schoolboy, an action-packed, stunning fight between Wizards and Goblins or Trolls or Dark Forces, a boring lecture with no ups and no downs.
Now, though, as Sirius stood in the middle of a giant chunk of land that probably belonged to one of the Death Eater families, he realized that Binns had it spot on. There was no orange, smoky dawn or a babbling brook that could be heard by the winners. The harrowing sounds of agonized groaning and thick, colorless smog filled the area that surrounded him. There was nothing about this scene that would have made that young version of himself see a beautiful ending to a long, arduous war. In fact, as he stood alone staring at the bodies on the ground, all Sirius could think about was the very last thing he saw before his vision went black.
It was an odd feeling, to have your memories removed. He could have been laying in the wake of the battle for weeks or months. He could have been there only hours. His body felt wrecked with grief and the aching – oh, the aching never stopped. Legs wobbly, he took a step forward and squinted his eyes as if it would suddenly clear the smoke. It was funny how he’d always had visions of this very moment and could never imagine himself alive. And now, here he was, alive and on the brink of wishing otherwise.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew there was something he had to do, someplace he was expected. He could see her face clearly but he couldn’t take that twisting step that would bring him to her arms, as welcoming a thought as it was. Even his children… a lump formed in his throat.
They hadn’t succeeded in anything. Voldemort was still alive. And, what was worse, he knew of their plans to destroy his Horcruxes. He had tried to warn Hermione… tried to tell her that the Secret-Keeper was on his way to her. That he was the traitor.
Anger seeped into his numbness and fueled him to take step after step. His foot collided with a body and his stomach twisted. Was it one of theirs? Would he have to face another death? Slowly, he brought his eyes down on the person’s face. He knew the Order immediately – they were absent a dark hood and skull like mask. Nothing could have prepared him for seeing Gideon Prewitt’s face, mouth still open – whether from trying to block the spell that killed him, or screaming because he knew there was no way to avoid it. Crouching down, Sirius placed his hand on Gideon’s forehead and closed his eyes.
Telling the Prewitt family about their brave, oftentimes careless, son was going to be a job in itself. Selfishly, he hoped that it would be someone else’s job.
“Padfoot?” A soft voice moaned only a few feet away from Gideon. “That ‘chu?”
“James!” Sirius’s throat burned. He ran forward, forgetting the aching muscles and multiple wounds that were covering his body.
“Please tell me that he didn’t get away,” James’ voice was nothing short of a raspy plea as he sat himself up. Sirius reached down and helped him stand. “Last thing I remember is Dumbledore casting some kind of darkness enchantment and then … well, my head’s felt better.”
“I don’t even remember the spell,” Sirius muttered. He brushed off James’s shoulders if only to keep himself busy. “Gideon’s dead. I haven’t spotted anyone else. I think we were all scattered out.”
“Did you hear Wormtail?” James suddenly appeared more crimson than pale. Sirius had heard it alright; one of their best mates had completely buggered them. He’d turned traitor. “Do you think your message went to the girls in time?”
He had no rational answer. No sure response. His hesitation only seemed to provoke James further.
“If that rat… I swear to Merlin, I will kill him, Padfoot.” James was beginning to storm over the land at great strides. Sirius could barely keep up; had he not been as battered from the fight as Sirius had?
“James- we have to figure things out here. We can’t just-” Sirius attempted to reason, but it was useless. Prongs was on a mission from Godric himself, apparently.
“I won’t leave them to defend themselves. We promised they’d be safe and that we’d take care of everything. Our children. Sirius, our kids are there. We have to-”
James fell to the ground, hands barely saving his face from being caked in blood soaked mud. In most instances, Sirius would have bellowed with laughter and would have even tried to smush his face down further. But that wouldn’t happen now. Not after seeing the body that James had tripped over.
Nothing could prepare a man for seeing a fallen brother. A great gash covered the side of Moony’s face. The blood that ran down his neck was so dark and thick, it appeared black. His face had no color – ashen and lifeless. He hadn’t moved an inch when James fell over him.
Sirius’s heart thudded to an abnormal rhythm. A lamenting sound of desperate melancholy thrummed between him and James. They didn’t have to check for a pulse. Remus was gone. There’d be no saving him.
Tears welled in Sirius’s eyes as he placed his hands on his thin hips and stared down at his comrade. He sniffed and thought about all the things that should have been and wouldn’t be. The child, the woman he held so dear, the friends, the family. A swell of tears spilled on his cheeks as he thought about the loss.
Nothing would be the same.
“We’ll send him off proper,” James vowed, almost inaudibly. “He deserves that. He deserves everything.”
Sirius nodded and spun around from Remus’s body. There was so much to consider and lingering on what was probably the hardest loss he’d suffered to date was not the way to continue forward.
“We have to gather the survivors and get to-” He still couldn’t think about her without choking on his words. If something happened to her, to the children, he dare not think about his subsequent actions. “You’re right. We have to go.”
“Did anyone inform Poppy or McGonagall?” The immediate change in James was the only thing that could push Sirius forward. It was the reason they were matched so perfectly to be partners in the Order. Where Sirius lacked, James excelled. And it was the same in reverse. Sirius acted. James thought.
“I think Albus was able to get a message out. I sent one to the girls.” Sirius glanced around. There was nothing on the abandoned land apart from still bodies that belonged to both sides. “We can’t take care of everyone, Prongs. We have to trust that we’re not left to our own devices out here. Albus sent a message. There’s been no more movement. Let’s just trust in the old man, alright?”
“Yeah,” James agreed, though Sirius could sense that there was far more panic in James than he would let on. “Let’s go one round here and then we’ll get to the girls.”
Knots upon knots formed in Sirius’s gut. Whatever they went home to, Sirius knew that it wasn’t going to be anything close to what he hoped to find.
When had Lily been made a Secret Keeper for the Order? Hermione had gone over it a million times in her head, but came to no conclusions. It was the job of a Secret Keeper after all, keeping secrets. Still, Hermione couldn’t believe that Lily could stand being stuck in her flat all night without rushing off to the place that the Order had decided to confront Voldemort and his Death Eaters. It would have eaten Hermione alive. No, there had to be more to it.
Lily was sleeping in a cot, the children were sleeping in their cribs and Hermione had managed to arrange Lily’s home like an infirmary. Two dozen people were on transformed cots. As Hermione seemed to be the only uninjured witch at the flat, she tended to the wounds, gave draughts and cared for everyone. Frankly, she was exhausted.
But hours had passed with no more word from the Order. Every fifteen seconds, Hermione would glance at the big clock in Lily’s lounge and close her eyes to try to clear out her negative thoughts. If nothing else, it was over. The repercussions would be known before long. Still, why hadn’t she heard from anyone else? Were they chasing down the Death Eaters? Was everyone dead? The things Hermione didn’t know at that moment could have filled a book or two.
She finished dressing the wound on Lily’s chest and had thankfully managed to stop the bleeding. It wasn’t the best Healing work, but Hermione was pleased that it was enough. Whoever had attempted to murder Lily wasn’t very good with a wand.
A chime on the clock echoed through the flat and drew Hermione’s attention away from Lily. It was four in the morning. Hermione’s eyes gazed out of the large window opposite Lily’s cot. Everything outside was silent and still. No signs of the horror that happened within the flat. That much, at least, she could be relieved about.
Perhaps her senses were on overdrive, but she could have sworn she heard scuffling feet in another room of the flat. She took hopeful steps toward Lily’s room. Could it be Sirius or James or Remus coming with some news - any news?
She entered the bedroom and desperately tried to keep her hopes in check. It might have been nothing at all. The door closed behind her and she was instantly stunned, falling face first onto the floor. A shoe met roughly with her stomach and urged her to flip over. She didn’t want to. All the alarms in her mind were telling her to protect the front of her body.
But she wanted to see the face. Who was brave enough to come back and try to kill her? How did they know she was still alive? She warred about it in her mind for several seconds, but before she could decide the best course of action, hands dragged her around and a body sat on her midsection.
“Granger,” a cold and familiar voice hissed. “I knew you’d be stubborn enough to survive whatever lame attempt Pettigrew had on your life.”
Hermione growled and pushed against his body, trying to loosen his control over her. She spit at him and used her nails to claw at him. He seemed impervious.
“You’re remarkably annoying enough to not know when to die,” he continued, tone making him appear genuinely bored of the situation. “I didn’t want to be the one to do it. But, I suppose if you want something done…”
“Severus,” she choked as his wand met with her temple. “Don’t. You don’t want to do this. You’ve been brainwashed by Volde-”
His hand reached back as if he was about to hit her, but he paused. “I have no intention on beating you to death. That’s not what a wizard would do, is it?”
“You’re hardly a wizard, Severus,” Hermione spit again, this time little droplets sprinkled along his cheeks. “You’re nothing. Nobody. You had the chance to change everything and you still fucked it up.”
A very deranged expletive pushed through all the dull vocals that Severus usually used. She knew that she had hurt him once, twice… who knew how many times. And here he was, paying her back in kind.
“They want you dead. My Lord has been trying to kill you off for ages. All this time travel and the children – he was practically giddy at the thought of offing your entire line.” Severus bound her hands and stood up. The way he was gazing down at her, with an icy glare in his glittering black eyes, reminded her so much of the professor she knew from her first year with Harry and Ron.
It was sad. And angering.
“Is that what you want, Severus? Because if that’s your intent, go ahead and kill me.” Her voice didn’t belie her fright, which happened to be its own miracle. If anyone would kill her upon command, it was Severus. He’d gone so hollow.
“I’m unable, which is a pity,” he responded tightly. “I can, however, do much worse.”
The wicked smile on his face unsettled her further. She began thrashing around, unable to move more than the lower half of her body. Hermione had been through torture before, but somehow she thought that with Severus as the deliverer of it, this would be worse.
“Do you know what I remember of your time, Hermione?” He was trying to build up the tension with his small talk and unfortunately, it was working. She didn’t want the chit-chat. “I remember a story about a couple who had been under the influence of the Cruciatus Curse for an unbearable length of time.”
“Severus,” her voice dropped to a whisper, a plea.
His wand was pointed at her forehead. She didn’t hear the spell, but she felt it rip her body apart, sew it back together and tear it apart again. It happened over and over and over again. She lost control of her functions, her ability to speak was only her ability to scream and cry and beg him to stop.
She didn’t know how long it lasted or how long he intended to keep going, but she couldn’t fathom a time that her body wouldn’t know pain. Her body arched and went limp so many times that she wasn’t sure he was even cursing her anymore – perhaps it was already habit.
Three voices all drowned out her screams. She was tingling with pain from head to toe, but she knew that the fire had been doused. Someone was with her. Someone was saving her. But the pain was so absolutely overwhelming.
His voice should have been all the resuscitation that she needed. Still, she couldn’t open her eyes. She couldn’t talk. If she moved even in the slightest bit, her entire body would be torn open and death would surely find her.
“She’s not responding.” His voice was anxious, almost panicky. “James. James. She’s not…”
A hand pressed to her forehead and then onto her cheek. Over and over again she could feel her body being jolted back and forth, side to side. Her name on his tongue, first pleading and then desperate. But, she couldn’t… not without succumbing to the full spectrum of pain that promised to engulf her.
“Hermione, if you can hear me, please squeeze my hand,” he begged her. Something wet slid down her cheek. “Prongs, she’s not moving. There’s no reaction.”
“Her pulse is strong. Fast.” It was him, another reason she wanted to speak. To let them know that she was here and could hear them. But she couldn’t, not if she didn’t want to feel that unfathomable rush of fire up and down her spine again.
“Do you think she’s unconscious? I don’t see anything physically wrong with her,” Sirius said quickly. The words almost didn’t make any sense. “Love, please nod or open your eyes or sigh or something – let me know that you’re alright.”
“Padfoot, I don’t think…” James’s voice was hesitant, which kept Hermione hanging on every word. He sounded like he knew her problem. Maybe he could make all of the pricks along her body stop. “I think this is the Cruciatus Curse, mate. Remember what she told us about the Longbottoms in her time?”
“No,” Sirius answered immediately. He wasn’t telling James that he was wrong. Sirius was horrified that it was the truth. “She’s so still, Prongs.”
Hermione wanted to cry but couldn’t find the proper way to make her body react. She didn’t want what James had said to be true. She made an effort then – pain be damned – to respond to Sirius. She tried to open her mouth, she tried to speak, and she tried to squeeze his hand.
Her body didn’t move.
A/N: Yeah, see, this is why I took a hiatus... goodness, I didn't want to write these chapters. But, it also feels good to finally be getting toward the end of the trilogy. Sad, but good. :) I hope you're enjoying it and thanks again for the reviews! x
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