Chapter 4 : Chapter 4
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Now, however, her efforts were focused on battle. She had jumped up immediately the moment Colin had received the message on his DA coin, and as she walked down a corridor in Hogwarts, she was on red alert. Her hands dripped sweat, not just from the late spring air and the mugginess of Hogwarts’s walls, but also from the heat of her last duel and how much she had run in the last three hours. She was alone, having lost Angelina a while back, and though the corridor she was walking down seemed to be completely empty, she knew better than to simply assume that much. There could well be someone lurking behind a suit of armour, so she raised her wand and whispered, “Homenum revelio.”
A shadow rose before her, and thankfully, she recognised it immediately, letting out the breath she didn’t even know she had been holding. “Fred?” she called, the dusty air scratchy with paranoia and death. “Fred, it’s me, Katie. You can come out now, you know.”
She continued speaking nevertheless. “Bloody hell, you nearly scared me there. What the hell were you playing at?”
Again, her words were greeted by silence.
A deep frown formed on her face. The salty sweat on her forehead trickled down into the slash on her cheek and the tiny cut that had formed on her lip, stinging hotly, and she started walking towards the nearest pile of rubble, her wand still raised. “Fred, look, the joke’s over. Come out.”
There was still no response. The rubble began shifting to the left, causing the debris to crumble and spill over the floor, but Katie continued what she was doing, trying to focus on moving the rubble and ignoring the thought that was now gnawing at her heart.
And then a dust-covered body fell out of the niche where a suit of armour should have been, red hair and dusty, frayed robes instantly recognisable --
No. He wasn’t -- he was Stunned; yes, that was why he wasn’t answering. No, it was definitely not because he was…
“Oh, fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. No. Please. No!”
She had no idea what she was saying; all that was crystal clear to Katie as she turned his body over were Fred’s eyes: they stared at her unblinkingly, just like Leanne’s had so many months before. And… and just like Leanne, Fred was dead. He had to be. The suspended, frozen smile on his cold blue lips confirmed that, but even so, she felt his wrist for a pulse. There was nothing.
Katie would have cried, but whatever was left of her heart was too numb to muster any tears. Fred was gone. Inside, all hope she had managed to dredge up for the battle vanished. She had seen more bodies than she had in her whole life -- of course Voldemort had won. What the fuck was the point in even pretending she wanted to fight when her friends were dying, one by one? Why was she here when, inevitably, she would just return to the same life she had before: trying to hide how much she was drinking from her parents, working in Gladrags and “saving” the handful of Muggleborns who hadn’t made it safely out of the country yet? For the umpteenth time, Katie wondered why, because it was all very well and noble and chivalrous and so fucking Gryffindor of her, but it didn’t bring back Leanne. Katie had always told herself that everything she was doing was for Leanne, but Leanne wasn’t there. She was somewhere unknown, and Katie -- Katie was still here. The sole survivor.
And then she finally realised what she had wanted even before Oliver had taken her home from The Hog’s Head on that cold winter’s night. From the moment the life had seeped out of Leanne’s eyes, Katie had wanted out. Of course she had. Above all, Katie wanted to join Leanne, and as she stared into Fred Weasley’s dead, empty eyes, she couldn’t remember ever feeling so jealous.
Loud, jeering voices echoed down the corridor, breaking the eerie silence that had settled on the castle like the dust that covered the floor. Death Eaters, Katie thought, and without even realising what she was doing, she got up, her wand held loosely in her hand. She tripped several times in her robes, and when she rounded the corner, two masked men looked up. Although they were still at a distance and their faces were covered, she could hear the sneer in one man’s voice when he called, “What’s the matter, darling? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!”
Her hand closed instinctively around her wand, but something inside her made her stop. There was, after all, no point in defending herself. Not now. It was hopeless.
She wanted to die. She wanted to black out like she did when she had had far too much to drink and never open her eyes again. She didn’t want to wake up to an awful hangover and then struggle through her day before blacking out once more -- no, she didn’t want that life anymore. She didn't want any life. For that matter. She wanted to die.
The split second in which she hesitated was all they needed; one Death Eater aimed a curse at her, but at the last moment, Katie ducked, and the jet of light flew above her head. She felt a sudden rush of adrenaline that wiped her mind clean of her previous pessimism, and her own Stunning spell only very narrowly missed the other masked man just as more Death Eaters rounded the corner.
The anger rushing through her veins burned hotly as she slashed the air with her wand, but her Full Body Bind jinx was deflected back at her, and she only just managed to block it. Then, at the sound of footsteps behind her, she whipped around; waving her wand wildly, she screamed the first spell that came to mind, “Confringo!”
The bang and the thump that followed was not nearly as loud as the strangled cry that was so ear-splitting, so scared, that the air became solid and was sliced cleanly in half. It was by far the most terrifying sound that Katie had ever heard in her whole life. More terrifying still, however, was the sight of the body lying at her feet, blonde hair singed, her chest a mangled, burnt, bloody mess, but her face was still recognisable despite the teeth marks on her cheeks.
When Voldemort issued the temporary ceasefire, Oliver and a small group of survivors headed to the Hogwarts grounds. The bodies littered there were slowly being recovered, one by one. Carrying them up across the grass and up the steps was a difficult, laborious job that made Oliver feel even more exhausted; he knew he could have Levitated them, but the physical strain was a distraction, at least, and it made him forget, albeit momentarily.
“Oh, shit,” Oliver said under his breath, screwing his eyes shut. Then he opened them again, his shoulders sinking at the sight of Colin Creevey, his eyes shut, as though he were sleeping, on the ground. A rush of emotion bypassed Oliver's numb brain, forming a lump in his throat. He bit down on his lip, only just registering from the vague pain that he must have drawn blood.
Neville’s voice jerked Oliver out of his daze. “C’mon, let’s lift him.”
“Okay,” Oliver found himself saying shakily. Pull yourself together, he told himself. It would not do for Oliver to be weak. Not now. He needed every ounce of strength possible; he had to deal with his grief later. He stumbled briefly once they had reached the steps, but he forced himself to walk steadily and to retain his composure. They were at the Entrance Hall when Oliver said in the strongest voice he could muster, “You know what? I think I can manage him alone, Neville.*”
Neville nodded, and Oliver carried Colin away on his shoulder, wincing at how cold the body was in death. When he reached the Great Hall, he placed Colin carefully at the end of the line of bodies, he made sure to straighten Colin’s robes, removing the leaf in his hair. Oliver’s knees felt bruised as he knelt on the cold, hard floor of the Great Hall, making Colin presentable, just as he had done to the other bodies he had brought in. And all the while, Oliver avoided Colin’s face, because Oliver was meant to protect him, wasn’t he? That was the job Oliver had assigned himself when Lee, Fred and George had first approached him for assistance: to protect, to house, to care for and to pay for the Muggleborns on the run. Including Colin. But Colin was dead, now, and Oliver -- Oliver had failed.
What if Katie was in the grounds, too, dead? What if Oliver had failed to protect her as well? He had no idea what he would do if his fears were true. Not for the first time, he wished they hadn’t joined the fight -- Colin was underage still and shouldn’t have been there anyway. And Oliver had told Katie to leave, that it was not safe, but she had not listened.
Unable to bear the stench of death a second longer, Oliver got to his feet and walked out, intending to go back and retrieve more bodies (because of course, that was all he was good for now, wasn’t it?). However, the sounds of screaming cracked the thin shell of silence; renewed by a fresh burst of energy, Oliver sprinted up staircases, trying to find the source of the noise. Soon, at the second floor, he followed the sound, which was becoming louder and louder, until he heard a bang which echoed down the corridor and assaulted his ears. Wand lit and raised, Oliver advanced stealthily, catching sight of a large figure in Death Eater’s robes. Oliver aimed and fired a silent Stunning Spell, causing the man to topple over.
Oliver ran forward, turning a corner and firing more curses at the Death Eaters. Taken by surprise, one of the Death Eaters cast a Shield Charm, yelling, “We have to go!” but Oliver barely noticed. Because there was Katie, her face covered in dirt and blood, her eyes stricken, and yet he couldn’t stop the relief flooding in his chest at the sight of her, alive.
With a bang, smoke filled the air, and though Oliver suddenly couldn’t see, he could hear a series of cracks as the Death Eaters Disapparated. Oliver took a few steps towards her, barely able to see; he felt almost blindly in front of him until his hand found her shoulder.
“Hey,” he said softly. But Katie didn’t even seem to notice him, and when the dust and smoke cleared a little, he understood why. Lying on the floor in front of her was another girl, her blonde hair and slightly rounded face vaguely familiar. Flecks of blood were spattered on her face, and her torso was soaked dark red, too. “Lavender Brown,” he murmured eventually, and to his shock, Katie collapsed to the floor, her loud, strangled cries echoing against the walls.
He immediately bent down, reaching out to her, and she curled her arms around his waist, burying her face into his chest. The front of his robes quickly became damp, but he didn’t care, instead stroking her hair and murmuring words of comfort, even though they sounded useless and trite when he said them aloud.
“He’s called a ceasefire,” Oliver said, careful to keep his voice down, though he wasn’t sure why, because they were definitely alone. “You-Know-Who. He said… that Harry has to give himself up.”
But she didn’t even seem to be listening properly. “Oliver,” she breathed, “I -- L-Lavender. It’s Lavender Brown!”
“I know,” he said heavily, rubbing her back. “There’s nothing you can do. She’s gone.”
“Were you two… friends?”
“I didn’t know her that well,” Katie began, “but -- but--”
She lifted her face to his, tears in her eyes. Her mouth opened and closed several times, but nothing came out. She seemed to be in shock.
“We should take her down to the Great Hall,” Oliver said eventually. “Are you okay lifting her, or…”
Katie’s voice came out as nearly a squeak. “No, I can do it.”
Together, they carried Lavender’s body down two flights of stairs in silence. Several times, Katie stumbled and almost fell, but each time, Oliver closed his eyes and waited for her to steady herself before continuing down the stairs until they reached the Great Hall. There, they placed Lavender on the raised platform with the rest of the bodies, but Oliver could not bear to look at her a second longer than necessary. He had not seen such a brutal death in his life, and judging by Katie’s reaction, neither had she.
He put his arms around her middle, holding her close and kissing the top of her head, as if that would somehow assuage the horror that they had both witnessed. Oliver felt her chest contract against his, and they both breathed heavily, watching as families tended to the dead and friends mourned.
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