Feeling the alarm in Ron’s voice, Harry scrambled to grab his glasses and wand from the bedside table, unwinding himself out of Ginny’s tightening grasp and clumsily getting to his feet. Ron was already gone, giving Harry time to collect himself, but he was only a few steps behind him when they entered the dimly lit kitchen.
“What’s going on?” Harry asked in concern, seeing Hermione sitting up at the table in her dressing gown. “Ron? What’s wrong?”
“I dunno mate,” he began cautiously, slowly moving towards the back door. “But something happened. Something real bad has happened.”
“What?” Harry muttered, more to himself than to them. He followed Ron to the back door, looking out when he instructed him too.
The back light was on, illuminating the two figures who sat side by side on the garden bench. It was difficult to tell in the poor light, but judging by the bright blonde hair, one of them was Tonks.
“Tonks is back?” Harry said in confusion, wondering why she hadn’t come in yet.
“Yeah mate, and Remus too. She’s crying…”
“Well what’s wrong?” Harry wondered, turning back to the window and looking out again. He stood there and watched, realising that Remus was holding Tonks tightly, rubbing the top of her arm again and again. Her head was on his shoulder, but her hand covered her face. “How do you know she’s crying?”
“They’ve been out there for a while,” Hermione explained quietly.
“And mate,” Ron said in a rush, getting his attention back. “This is more than a normal woman cry, I know it. Something really bad has happened. Why else would they be out there this time of night?”
Harry shrugged, unable to avoid the feelings of anxiety and fear that was Ron projecting onto him. Turning away from the window, Harry grabbed Ron’s arm and ushered him back into the kitchen. “Just leave them alone,” he began. “They’ll come in when they’re ready.”
They sat down at the table, Harry pulling on a façade of calm and peace, all the while panicking in his head as he ran through what had been going on that day. His first thought was that something had happened to Sirius, that he or someone from the Order had been hurt. It made sense. To make Tonks cry it had to be something pretty awful.
Fifteen minutes of waiting passed, Ron picking at the wooden table in his impatience. Harry checked his watch, and seeing that it was well past three in the morning, he got to his feet and wandered back to the kitchen door, looking out the window again. Remus was standing now, his arms folded as he stood in the middle of the lawn. Tonks remained alone on the bench, her knees brought up to her chest as she appeared to wipe at her face. She shuddered and got to her feet unsteadily, but instead of coming inside, she followed her husband out to the lawn.
“What are they doing?” Ron asked.
“Nothing,” Harry said in distraction. A sense of foreboding came across him, and for some reason felt the need to protect Ron. “Why don’t you go back to bed?”
Ron snorted at this, shaking his head. He moved to push his chair out and stand, but Harry stopped him quickly.
“Do you want a drink?” he offered, opening the cupboard and removing a glass. “Water?” he suggested, not wanting to fuss about making coffee.
Raising his eyebrows, Ron sat back down with a nod. “Sure…thanks.”
Still looking out the window, Harry filled two glasses with water and passed them to his friends, keeping them at the table for now. Still curious, Harry sat up on the kitchen counter, giving himself an unobscured view of the backyard. Another ten minutes passed before something changed, Remus and Tonks moving to the other side of the garden, out of Harry’s sight. They were gone for a few moments, Harry trying to be nonchalant as he waited for them return, but when they did his heart sank even lower.
Charlie Weasley had arrived, he and Tonks hanging back a little as Remus strode towards the house. Harry’s heart began to pound, knowing that Ron was right. Though they didn’t quite know what, it was clear that bad news was coming their way. Irrationally, Harry prayed that when Remus reached the door it didn’t allow him in, that he was stuck outside, unable to bring them the news that they didn’t want to hear. Clenching his fingers around the edge of the bench, Harry held his breath as Remus opened the door and entered.
Ron stood the moment Remus turned the door handle, and the three of them looked at him expectantly. He was clearly upset by something, his tired face was red and tear stained. He stood there before them for a long moment, taking a few deep breaths before he cleared his throat and looked up at Harry.
“Harry, would you get Ginny out of bed, please.”
Harry couldn’t move for a moment, and when he finally managed to slide off the bench he found that he was shaking. He didn’t look at Ron and Hermione, instead focusing on the ground as he made his way down the hallway and back into his room. Lighting the lamp, he hesitated before sitting down on the edge of the bed, not wanting to do this. He wanted to leave Ginny asleep, to allow her more time before Remus delivered what was clearly going to be a terrible blow to the lot of them. Putting his hand on her shoulder, Harry gently shook her awake.
“What?” Ginny said, opening her eyes. She smiled at him sleepily, taking a moment before she saw the look on his face. She sat up abruptly, her smile fading. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m not sure,” he said quietly, his voice unsteady. “But you need to get up.”
“Get up?” she whispered in confusion, not moving.
He just nodded, getting to his feet and coming round to her side of the bed. Looking through her clothes, he grabbed a pair of trousers that he knew she liked and tossed them to her. She scrambled to pull them on, sensing the urgency of the situation.
“What’s wrong Harry?” she asked quietly, grabbing her wand before following him out. “You’re scaring the hell out of me.”
He couldn’t answer, every step feeling as though he were leading them both to their death. Every instinct told him to take Ginny and run far away, to protect her and Ron and Hermione from whatever was about to happen. Despite this, he led her out into the kitchen, where Tonks and Charlie were coming in the back door. Seeing her older brother, Ginny grasped Harry’s hand in alarm, and he moved to stand behind her where he could hold her closely.
“What the hell’s going on?” Ron demanded angrily.
Charlie seemed to flinch at this, his eyes brimming with tears also. Much like Remus he tried to take a few deep breaths, and finally raised his head to look at Ron and Ginny. Clearing his throat, he took a shuddering breath.
“It’s Fred,” he managed to say. “He died…yesterday.”
No on spoke, no one moved. Harry stood there in confusion, trying to figure out exactly what Charlie had said, for the words he had heard had to be wrong. Ginny gripped his hand tightly to the point of pain, but Harry didn't feel anything, except that something inside him might be falling away.
"Harry?" Ginny said urgently, turning back to him. "What does he mean?"
"I-I don't know..." he whispered uncertainly, glancing over to Remus for an explanation.
Charlie continued trying to explain, his voice tight and strained as he wiped his face on the back of his sleeve. "He got hurt really badly," he managed to say. "We tried to help him, everyone there did, but it was just too late."
"Too late?" Ron said in outrage. "Too late for what? He was here this morni-yesterday! He was here yesterday, Charlie!"
"I know, Ron," Charlie contined. "But it's true."
"Fred?" Ron questioned, looking around at everyone. "Our Fred?"
Ginny seemed to shudder, and she released Harry's hand as she stepped forward. "I want to see him," she demanded, taking off down the hallwall and yelling out over her shoulder. "I want to see him right now."
Harry made to follow her, but she reappeared from their bedroom a moment later, holding a pair of shoes. She strode right past him and back out into the kitchen, looking at Charlie expectantly.
"We can't see him, Gin..." Charlie said, taking a shaky breath as more tears spilt down his face. "We can't..."
"Well then I want to see Mum," she countered, leaning up against the wall and slipping her shoes on. "Take me to Mum, please Charlie, I want to see her."
He nodded. "Yeah...everyone's up at Muriel's. They're waiting for us."
"Ron?" Ginny said impatiently, turning to her other brother. "Come on, lets go!"
Ron nodded, looking completely dazed as he went and found his shoes, pulling them on as quickly as he could manage. "Charlie, he was here yesterday, he can't be..." he trailed off, not wanting to say the final word. "Are you sure?"
Charlie only nodded.
"Ron, hurry up!" Ginny said angrily, already moving past Tonks to the kitchen door, intent on leaving as soon as possible. At the last minute she turned back to Harry, glancing at him as though suddenly asking for his permission to leave. "Harry, I've go-"
"Go," he said simply, brushing his hand through his hair and wishing he could go with her, to protect her from what ever he could. "Just go."
She nodded, only sparing another breath to hasten Ron and Charlie. They quickly followed her out the back door, accompanied by Remus who insisted on helping them apparate to Scotland. In a matter of seconds, Harry, Hermione and Tonks were completely alone, each of them in their own state of shock and confusion. Looking to Hermione, Harry saw that she was positively white, leaning against the back of the couch with her hand across her mouth. She looked at him wide eyed, her body shaking.
"Tonks?" Harry began, turning to her and imaptiently wishing she would get herself together. "What happened?" he demanded.
"I don't know," she denied evasively, shaking her head and looking away from him.
"You do," he insisted, following her as she slowly walked down the hallway. She was shaking just like Hermione, but he pursued her anyway. He needed answers, he needed to know absolutely everything. "Was anyone else hurt?"
She didn't answer him.
"Tonks!" he demanded, feeling the same anger that Ginny had displayed. "Who else was hurt?"
"I don't know."
"Well, when did it happen?"
"I don't know," she said again, entering her bedroom. She slammed the door in his face before he could follow her in.
Harry stood in the hallway, feeling completely displaced. Not knowing what else to do, he turned back around and went back to the living area, where Hermione still stood by the couch. Niether of them said anything, or even cried, still trying to figure out whether or not what they had just witnessed was reality. It was like there had been a major shift in the world, a major mistake in the natural cycle of life and death. Fred Weasley was dead, even though something like that was surely impossible. The Weasley family were infalliable, and it had always seemed as though Harry didn't need to worry about them that much. They were fine. They always were.
"Did Remus say when he was coming back?" he asked Hermione.
She shook her head, finally lowering her hand from her mouth. "No. He didn't," she replied, her voice surprisingly even.
"Okay," he replied just as evenly.
They stood there for the longest time, and though it was only about five minutes, it felt like hours until Remus returned. Harry faintly heard him apparate into the back garden, and his footsteps were slow and weary as he approached the kitchen door and entered. Watching him, Harry waited for him to remove his cloak and collapse down at the kitchen table, but instead he turned to him.
"In your room," Harry answered.
Remus nodded, rubbing his eyes beneath his glasses. "Okay then. You need to get your shoes, Harry."
"Sirius was hurt too," Remus explained. "I'm going to take you to see him."
"Is he alive?" Harry blurted out without thinking, immediately fearing for his life.
"Yes," Remus nodded. "But he's not in the best of shape. Hermione, will you be alright if we leave for an hour or so?"
"Of course," she said quietly. "You have to go. We'll be fine here."
"Alright then. Harry? Your shoes?"
Feeling dizzy for a moment, Harry tried to take it all in as he summoned his shoes, trying to comprehend the news that Fred was dead and Sirius was hurt. Pulling his trainers on, Harry hastened to follow Remus outside, intent on interrogating him as soon as they were out of Hermione's ear shot.
"What happened?" Harry asked as they walked onto the lawn.
Offering Harry his arm, Remus shook his head. Trying to be patient, Harry squeezed Remus' forearm tightly, and submitted to the apparation. They arrived in what appeared to be a Muggle street, street lamps illuminating their surroundings as they set off up the concrete path. Remus wasted no time checking around them for danger, and as they walked Harry could tell that he was rather familiar with the area. They were surrounded on both sides of the street by beautifully kept London townhouses, and if he listened carefully enough, he was certain that he could hear the sounds of Muggle traffic not far away.
“So what happened?” Harry asked quietly, wishing that Charlie had explained properly. As he spoke, he could feel his throat constricting, a part of him not wanting to hear. If Remus told him everything, then there would be no chance for Harry to pretend that it hadn't happened.
Remus didn’t reply for a long moment, and it appeared that they had reached their destination, for he slowed to a stop and looked into the window of a townhouse. Harry could just make out soft light coming from inside.
“Fred and Sirius were in charge of watching the Malfoys.”
“Malfoy?” Harry said in horror, righteous anger firing inside him. He didn’t need Remus to explain any further, he already knew what had happened. “Malfoy killed him.”
“We believe so. He and his mother were being kept at separate ends of one of our safe houses, and Mad-Eye had just left after interrogating him. We knew he was adept at wandless magic, and we thought we’d taken every precaution…Mad-Eye thinks because he and Fred share dragon heartstring in their wands that it was easier for him to connect with it.”
“Malfoy used Fred’s wand,” Harry confirmed, putting his hands into his pockets. Swallowing nervously, he leant against the front fence of the property they were in front of and looked down the street, trying to stay composed. He didn’t want to lose control, especially not before going to see Sirius.
“We suspect,” Remus said imperatively. “We can’t know for sure. But we do know that he attacked Fred, and then-”
“How did he attack him?”
“Harry…” Remus said gently, and Harry knew what he was going to say.
“I want to know,” Harry said evenly, even though he desperately never wanted to think about Fred again. “I’m not a child, I can handle it.”
Remus shifted uncomfortably, wiping at his eyes beneath his glasses. “He used Sectumsempra.”
“Oh,” Harry gasped softly, having not expected that. Struggling to draw breath, he clenched his hands into fists. He remembered the first day that he had uttered that curse with intent, recalling how Malfoy crumpled to the ground, his chest, face and stomach gushing with spilt blood. Coming from Draco Malfoy, it was more than just a curse. It was personal.
“He freed his mother, and during that brief lapse Sirius found Fred,” Remus continued gently. “He tried to help him, but there was nothing he could do. Malfoy doubled back to make sure they wouldn’t be followed, and he attacked Sirius in the same manner.”
“But Sirius’ is alright, isn’t he?” Harry asked quickly. “You said he was alright.”
“I’ll be honest, he wasn’t looking good for a while, but he’s alright now,” Remus confirmed, putting his hand on Harry’s shoulder and steering him through the front gate. “He wants to see you.”
The small front garden was simple but pretty, the flowers and shrubs in full bloom despite the season. Harry and Remus ascended the front steps together, but Harry stood back a little as Remus knocked heavily on the front door.
“You’ll need to hand over your wand,” Remus muttered to him apologetically.
“What?” Harry said in dismay, looking back at the front door. “Why?”
“We’re safe here, I promise. But Sharon won’t allow armed strangers in her home.”
“Sharon?” Harry asked, vaguely recalling her name. “Sharon Neil?” he confirmed, remembering the pretty blonde witch Sirius had been talking to at the meeting.
“Yes, Sirius has been staying here with her,” Remus explained, waiting patiently for someone to come to the door. “She’s rather cautious, even seventeen years after being abducted.”
“Right,” Harry said uncomfortably, still not understanding what Sirius saw in this woman, especially after the article she had written about him.
“Oh, and don’t mind the guard dog,” Remus added, hearing the sounds of locks clicking. “He’s harmless unless you raise your voice or wand to his owner.”
Harry rolled his eyes, taking his wand out of his jeans and holding it by the tip, willing to hand it over to some crazy old bat just to see his godfather. Three locks all together were manually opened, and the heavy front door creaked open a few inches. There was a soft growling noise, a large German Shepherd poking his head through the door to look at them.
“Who is it?” came a soft voice, though Harry couldn’t see the speaker.
“It is I, Remus Lupin, and here with me is Harry Potter. Yes, we will surrender our wands.”
There was a sharp command, and the dog stopped growling and backed away from the door, which began to open fully. Sharon Neil stood in the threshold, her gaze both suspicious and welcoming. Harry and Remus both handed over their wands as they stepped into the dark hallway, Harry watched as the dog slowly retreated, but never took his eyes off them.
“He’s in the lounge,” Sharon said as she closed the door behind them, stowing their wands into her robes. Despite the early hour of the morning, she was wearing regular clothing, and didn’t look as though she had been to sleep that night. She turned to Harry now, speaking directly to him. “If you can get him to sleep, I’ll be forever grateful.”
Harry politely looked away, not having time to smile and be any more polite to this woman. Remus put his hand on his shoulder and led him through an arch just down the hallway, where Harry found Sirius lying awake on the couch. He looked worse than awful, his head resting back on the high arms of the couch, a heavy blanket across his lap. He wore only an open shirt, which displayed the heavy bandaging across his chest and stomach, and beneath the light material Harry could see more bandaging across his arms.
Seeing him, Sirius immediately made to sit up, making Harry rush over to him. He could already see the grimace of pain from the small movement, and when Harry sat down on the small space by his legs, he could now see the wounds across his neck and cheek. Both of their hands were shaking as Harry took Sirius’ in his, squeezing tightly as he tried not to worry about how cold they felt. There was a long red mark running from the middle of his upper lip, over his nostril and up to the corner of his eye, and looking closer Harry could see the other end of the slash visible through the short beard on his chin. Harry felt sick, not wanting to imagine what injuries Fred had sustained that were bad enough to kill him. Sirius’ face was grey and pallid, and they didn’t say anything to each other for the longest time. Hearing soft feet behind him, Harry looked over his shoulder as the German Shepherd gracefully jumped up onto the couch. With obvious concern for Sirius’ pain, the dog was careful where he placed his paws, eventually coming to lay across Sirius’ legs, putting his head against his hip and whining softly.
“I thought he was a guard dog?” Harry asked softly, watching as Sirius pet him with his free hand. The dog turned his head into Sirius’ touch, whining lowly again.
“Yeah,” Sirius said with the briefest smile. “So did we. This is Chief, he’s a big sook.”
Harry didn’t say anything, taking Sirius’ diverted attention as an opportunity to look around the lounge room. It was quaint, the older townhouse tastefully renovated and restored. The wooden floor boards looked to be the original, each one carefully sanded back and polished to perfection. On the coffee table stood an array of healing supplies, fresh bandages stacked neatly beside a large flask of Essence of Murtlap. There were a few other flasks, and leaning closer Harry recognised them as a Calming Draught and some pain relief. He looked back to Sirius, noting his obvious discomfort.
“When was the last time you had pain potion?” he asked him quietly.
Sirius appeared to ignore him, shaking his head ever so slightly. Harry took that to mean he had refused it thus far. Observing him closely, Harry could see a fine sheen of sweat across his forehead, and his own fingers were beginning to feel numb from Sirius’ tight grip. Pulling his hand out of Sirius’ grasp, Harry got to his feet and picked up the flask of pain potion, scanning the label as he picked up an empty glass that stood nearby. Measuring out the required quantity, he sat back down by Sirius’ legs.
“Sitting there in pain is not going to change anything,” Harry said when Sirius refused it. “Just have a sip, please.”
Reluctantly, Sirius took the glass from him, but made no move to drink it. He looked at the dog on his lap, stroking his head as he began to speak. “How are Ron and Ginny?”
Harry wanted to shrug. He really didn’t know how they were, they had to leave so quickly. “Charlie came to get them. They’ve gone to Muriel’s.”
Sirius nodded at this, taking a slow sip of the potion when Harry prompted him again. They sat there quietly for a few minutes, listening to Remus and Sharon, who were talking quietly in the kitchen. It was hard to distinguish, but Harry could feel that they were talking about Sirius, and he got the impression that Remus had been there the entire day. Mad-Eye’s name came up quite a few times, as did Fred’s, and every time Harry heard this, he wanted to break his resolve and lose control. Instead he tried to focus on Sirius, who had finished the potion and was looking slightly more restful.
Taking the empty glass away, Harry held Sirius’ hand again, praying that he would go to sleep. Though he wanted to be there with him, the need to escape the pain of what was happening was overwhelming. He wanted to collapse into bed and fall asleep immediately, to sleep for days and awaken only when it was all over.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to say to Molly,” Sirius began quietly, his head lolled up against the side of the couch. He was still stroking Chief’s head, not looking up at Harry.
“Is she coming here?” Harry asked, his throat growing tighter again. The mere mention of Mrs Weasley was enough to set him off, and he felt himself beginning to choke up.
“No, ah…I have to see her eventually,” he muttered, tears rolling down his cheeks and into his beard. “I just don’t know what I’ll say.”
Harry shifted uncomfortably, unsure of what to say. He wanted to say something comforting, something that would help his godfather, but just as he hadn’t when Charlie had given them the news, Harry had nothing to say.
“Do you think they’ll let anyone see him?” Harry asked quietly, remembering what Ron and Ginny had said. Ginny’s tearful voice ran through his head, demanding that she see her dead brother, to see for herself that it was real.
Sirius shook his head immediately, swallowing heavily through his tears. “No, Harry, it’s not a good idea,” he managed to say, squeezing his hand even tighter. “He’s not good…you can’t remember him like that.”
These words finally proved too much for Harry, his imagination getting the better of him as he unwillingly pictured the possible damage Fred had incurred. Looking into his lap, he covered his mouth as tears began to spill from his eyes, and he began to hold his breath in attempt to stop. Beside him, Sirius slowly sat up, dislodging the dog from his lap as he swung his legs around to sit beside Harry properly.
“You should be laying down,” Harry said sharply, raising his head and wiping his eyes quickly. He didn’t want Sirius to get up, he was in obvious pain.
“And you should be at Hogwarts, chasing girls,” Sirius retorted, carefully raising his arm and putting it around Harry. “Not Death Eaters and Horcruxes.”
Harry ignored this, returning Sirius’ embrace as gently as he could. Sirius relaxed quickly, making Harry suspect that his godfather needed this as much as he did. He tried not to think of Fred, but that only left room to think about Sirius, and how close he had come to death himself. Harry could see the heavy bandaging up close now, and he pictured the slashes he had sustained and the blood he had lost. The injuries Malfoy had sustained from that curse were bad. If Snape hadn’t been nearby, would Malfoy have died also?
“I’m really sorry about what I said yesterday,” Harry said quietly, thinking back to their argument. Had he really told Sirius that he wasn’t a father to him? And had Sirius faced death with that being the last words they had spoken? “I didn’t mean any of it.”
Sirius gripped him tighter, resting his chin on Harry’s head as he replied. “I know you didn’t, mate. You were just angry, we both were.”
They sat there like that for the longest time, Sirius eventually succumbing to his exhaustion and laying back down. The dog had clearly been waiting for this, and the moment Sirius stretched out his legs again, Chief reinstated his place across his lap, nuzzling Sirius’ hand as he fell asleep. Harry stayed for a little longer, petting the dog absently until he was certain that Sirius would stay asleep. With the promise of returning, Remus and Harry took back their wands and returned home, both of them collapsing into bed.
Harry had been unsurprised to find Hermione taking Ginny’s place in their bed, though it didn’t bother him. From the moment Ron and Ginny had left, they had both been feeling a pang of loneliness, as though they were going to be permanently cut off from their friends. They still hadn’t heard anything more from the Weasleys when Harry awoke Tuesday morning, two days after Fred’s death. No one had come to see them in the middle of the night, though Remus seemed to frequently come and go throughout the day.
Sirius was doing well now, and when Harry had seen him the night before he was taking full advantage of a burst of energy by sitting out in the spacious back yard, throwing a slobbery ball to the dog. Though he appeared cheerful and grateful for his good health, Harry could tell that he was hurting deeply, knowing that he had tried and failed to save Fred. Knowing that his wand was in the hands of Draco Malfoy wasn’t helping much either, though apparently Sharon was doing her best to convince a jittery Olivander to make a home visit. Harry had sat with Sirius for an hour or so, neither of them discussing what had happened, or Sirius’ living arrangements with a witch Harry openly despised, both of them simply glad that they could still do so.
Rolling over in bed, Harry glanced at Hermione who was sleeping with her back to him, coming to rest with his face in his pillow. He knew she was awake just like him, dreading what today was going to bring them.
“What time is it?” Harry mumbled through his pillow.
“Six thirty,” Hermione sighed, easily interpreting his enquiry. She rolled over, doing that annoying thing where she peered at him until he could feel her eyes boring into his skull.
“What?” he grumbled. His head was hurting terribly, having found the Muggle scotch that Hermione had confiscated from him in her beaded bag.
It was a pure God-send when Harry happened to hear the bottles clinking together as Hermione dug around in her bag, and he had secretly swiped them back when she had showered later that day. With Fred’s death hanging over him through his waking hours and his dreams, sleep had not come easily to Harry in the last two days, especially without Ginny in his arms to keep him relaxed. He suspected Hermione could smell it on his breath before they went to sleep, but if she suspected him of thieving it back she didn’t say anything.
“Are you sure you’re ready for this?”
Harry scoffed into his pillow, pulling the blankets further over him. A few more mouthfuls of the drink and he’d be ready, but he suspected he couldn’t pull that off at six thirty in the morning.
“Yes, Hermione,” he grumbled.
She lay back down now, pondering their day ahead as she strummed her fingers against the back of her hand. “I’m not,” she confessed quietly. “I’m ready to roll back over and go to sleep…forget we ever agreed to this.”
“Okay then, if you insist.”
“Don’t be silly…of course we’re doing this. I just feel terrible about it, you know? Like we’re leaving Ron completely out…he should be there with us.”
Harry sighed, turning his head and speaking to her properly. “No, Ron should be with his family,” he said firmly, speaking to himself also. “They need him more than we do.”
“Well yes, of course,” she agreed quickly. She went quiet for a few minutes, nervously tapping her hands against one another. “I wonder where they’ll bury Fred…I know they’ve got a family plot, but I doubt it’s safe for them to all go there.”
Sitting up, Harry grabbed a fresh pair of clothing and slipped across the hall into the bathroom, making it clear to Hermione that he didn’t want to talk about Fred. He shut the door with extra care, knowing that he really wanted to slam it to make sure Hermione really got the point, but he kept himself in check and quickly showered. He wondered whether or not he could be bothered to shave, the build-up of stubble making him look even more derelict that he really was. Harry shook his head at this thought, mentally wishing he could slap himself with the required force.
It didn’t matter how he looked. He was not the one who had to prove himself that day. He could turn up to this meeting in a God damned tea cosy for all he cared, it wouldn’t matter. With that thought to boost his confidence, Harry left the bathroom and strode out into the living room, smiling as he looked at Teddy in his little bouncer.
“Morning, Harry,” Tonks greeted him, sitting fully dressed at the table. She was reading the Daily Prophet.
“Morning,” he replied, noting her near empty mug of coffee. “Do you want another?”
“Thanks,” she said, pushing her mug across the table.
He quickly made two mugs of coffee, throwing a tea bag into a third mug as he heard Hermione turn on the shower. Passing Tonks her mug, Harry sat down at the table and stared deep into his coffee, finally raising his eyes and reading the back page of the Daily Prophet. He wanted to ask her about the contents, about what she thought was really going on, but he resisted when he noted how engrossed she appeared.
“Do you still want to see Snape this morning?” she asked cautiously, peering at him over the top of the paper. The night before, it had been arranged that Tonks would take he and Hermione to go and see Snape, in a neutral meeting place.
Harry nodded. “Yes, please,” he forced himself to answer.
“Are you going to eat something?”
He shook his head, looking back into his coffee. He definitely wasn’t going to eat that morning.
“Okay…” Tonks muttered, shaking her newspaper and turning the page. “I was going to make an omelette, that’s all.”
Harry shook his head. “No, thank you.”
She left him alone now, and Harry turned his focus back to his coffee, hardly looking up when Hermione came in. She and Tonks began cooking some breakfast, and when they served him a plateful of omelette and bacon, there was nothing Harry could do but accept it. He ate slowly, thinking about what was coming soon, about what he was going to say to Snape. Tonks trusted him enough to allow him into her home, that said enough for Harry to agree to see him, but Snape had a lot of explaining to do. Harry didn’t want to think about it any longer, didn’t want to draw out the anticipation, and he was glad when Teddy began to fuss from his bouncer, providing a much required distraction.
“I’ll get him,” he said to Tonks, hastily putting down his knife and fork. “Keep eating.”
Tonks raised her eyebrows at him. “He’s fine, he’s just fussing.”
“It’s alright,” he said, already removing Teddy from his bouncer. “I don’t mind.”
With Teddy snuggled up against his shoulder, Harry abandoned his breakfast and sat down in the lounge room, enjoying the company of someone who couldn’t bother him by talking. It seemed strange that everything was still going on, that the sun still rose each morning, despite Fred Weasley no longer being there to see it. The way Harry was feeling, the world ought to have stopped by now, to at least acknowledge the major shift and imbalance. Fred Weasley was dead while Draco Malfoy was free. If that wasn’t imbalance, then Harry didn’t know what was. He still couldn’t say it out loud…dead.
He took solace in Teddy, who was happily sucking his thumb, his tiny toes tucked up under his bottom as he snuggled into Harry. His chest rose and fell quickly for such a little baby, and Harry could hear his rather loud panting breaths from his nose. He had no other baby to lead comparison to, but Harry was certain that Teddy must be pretty extraordinary as far as he was concerned. It would be impossible for another baby to surpass what he held in his arms, and at this thought he felt a surprising pang of jealousy that Teddy was not really his own. Shaking his head to himself, Harry tried to picture the little baby in eleven years time, waving good bye to Remus and Tonks at Platform 9 ¾, ready to start his first year. It was difficult to truly picture that moment, but Harry was content in knowing that it would come.
“Harry, wake up,” Tonks said kindly in his ear, shaking him gently. “It’s nearly time to go.”
“What?” Harry muttered, rousing as he tightened his grip on Teddy.
Although he had dozed off, Teddy was still wide awake, still in the exact same position sucking his thumb. Reluctantly passing him over to Tonks, Harry was dismayed to find a large wet patch on his shirt, cursing Teddy for being such a slobbery baby. Excusing himself, he quickly changed his shirt, uncomfortably aware of the time. He wasn’t prepared, having thought he would have more time, but had stupidly fallen asleep not long after getting up. He took a deep breath before re-emerging, finding Remus awake now.
“Did you have a nice sleep in, Darling?” Tonks asked kindly, kissing Remus on the cheek before passing over Teddy.
Remus nodded quietly, looking more well rested than Harry had seen him in months. He gave a hearty yawn before smiling down at Teddy, who was now fussing again at the loss of his mother. He turned to Harry and Hermione, who stood patiently by the door.
“Good luck,” he said kindly. “I assure you, you won’t be needing it, but still.”
“Thanks, Remus,” they replied, waiting for Tonks to get herself ready.
She looked in a small mirror as she changed her appearance, her hair lengthening and turning black with the intent of looking similar to Bellatrix Lestrange. Harry knew she was concerned about them being seen by Death Eaters, and was trying to keep their meeting completely private. Shrugging on her long black cloak, Tonks was ready.
Throwing the invisibility cloak on, they left without a fuss. Hermione and Harry exchanged an anxious look under the cloak when the three of them apparated to what seemed like a narrow Muggle street, their arrival going undetected as there was no one around. It was colder here, making Harry wish he had something warmer to wear. Trusting Tonks, they followed her as she led them down the somewhat dirty footpath, avoiding the puddles left by rain. The air felt heavy around them, the chilly mist settling on Harry’s hair and making him feel grubby.
“Do you want a jacket?” Hermione asked him as they walked, indicating to her beaded bag from which she was removing her own.
“No, thanks,” he said on second thought, knowing that the cold was keeping him alert.
They turned right down another street, Harry noting the street name of Spinners End. Just like the street before, Spinners End was lined with dilapidated brick houses, built close together in tight knit terraces that looked like they needed a good scrub. The street was only short, and at the very end Harry could see a slow moving river, whose water appeared dark and polluted.
“Where the hell are we, Tonks?” Harry asked, the entire atmosphere leaving him feeling rather depressed.
“We’re in Cokeworth,” she said quietly, and Harry thought he detected a hint of apology.
“Where’re we meeting Snape then?”
Tonks hesitated, looking at him cautiously. “He lives just down here.”
“Wait,” Hermione intervened on Harry’s behalf. She slowed to a stop, grabbing Harry’s arm and slowing him too. “You said we’d be meeting on neutral ground.”
“I said I would try,” Tonks implored, slowing to a stop and trying to look casual as she looked around for them, unable to see them under the cloak. “But you can’t be seen talking to Snape. He’s under a lot of suspicion from those at the castle right now. He’s had to explain away many disappearances, and we can’t complicate things any further.”
“So we have to go to his place?” Harry said incredulously.
Tonks made to look as though she were adjusting the time on her watch, and Harry could tell that she was trying to keep her patience. She too was under great stress at the moment. “We can turn around right now and go home, or we can get this over with. It’s up to you two.”
Harry and Hermione exchanged an exasperated look, sighing before the agreed to go on. There wasn’t much further to go, and a few houses down Tonks slowed her pace and approached the front door of a bare looking brick house. She knocked loudly and stepped back.
“Keep the cloak on until you’re inside,” she said quietly.
Hermione clutched Harry’s arm nervously as they waited for someone to come to the door, and Harry took a few deep breaths. He needed to act casual, to not show Snape how angry and violated he felt to even have agreed to talk to him.
The front door opened before Harry had to chance to fully prepare himself, and in that moment he thought he’d prefer to face an underfed Horntail than be standing right there. It took Harry an awkward moment to recognise Snape, though his appearance had not changed in the few days since Harry had seen him through the front door of Remus and Tonks’ cottage. He looked at Tonks expectantly, his sallow expression showing nothing other than polite puzzlement.
“Severus,” Tonks said sharply, extending her hand in a Muggle gesture.
“Nymphadora,” he replied equally sharply, taking her hand and shaking it.
“Go inside,” Tonks said to them, just as Snape released her hand and stepped well back.
Feeling as though they might be walking to their very death, Harry and Hermione slipped through the front door, moving well past Snape and into the long hallway. They waited until Snape closed the door behind Tonks before they removed the cloak, and they stood there looking at Snape warily. Standing tall, Snape too eyed them warily, finally raising his hand and directing them into a room to their left. Not looking away from him, Harry put his hand on Hermione’s back and walked with her in the direction Snape had indicated.
It felt like entering a tomb, or at least a dark padded cell, every single wall lined with worn out old books that were covered in dust. It reminded Harry of the cellar in Malfoy Manor, and he couldn’t suppress the shiver that strode through his body. The furniture in there was sparse, only a threadbare sofa, an old arm chair and a rickety side table stood beneath the crooked candle lamp that hung on the ceiling. Turning around on the spot, Harry faced Snape who was cautiously following them in, trying not to look out the grimy window to where freedom lay on the street outside.
Snape seemed to consider him for a moment, before abruptly turning back to Tonks. “Is what I hear about the Weasleys true?”
“What did you hear?” Tonks replied evasively.
“That one of their children has been murdered. Frederick?”
“Yes, it’s true,” Tonks confirmed tightly. “Draco killed Fred, and he and his mother broke out.”
Snape seemed to flinch at this, though he showed no sign of emotion. “That complicates a great number of plans.”
“Yes, it does.”
His curiosity waned, Snape turned back to Harry and Hermione, indicating that they should sit down. Harry wanted to remain standing in pure defiance, but he glanced at Hermione who looked as though her knees were going to buckle with nerves, and so sat down on the threadbare couch with her. Tonks remained standing in the doorway, her arms folded as Snape sat down in the armchair in the corner. He seemed to consider himself for a long moment, looking into his hands before raising his head and speaking to them.
“Albus Dumbledore was already dying, when I killed him,” Snape said curtly.
Harry bit his tongue hard, already shaking with anger. He had wanted an explanation, yes…but wasn’t so sure he was willing to listen. He looked at Snape expectantly, not making it any easier for him by responding.
“The Horcrux, Marvolo Gaunt’s ring,” he clarified softly, “cursed him, the summer before you began your sixth year. He came straight to me for help, and it was sheer luck that I managed to contain the curse to his hand.”
“You saved his life, so you get to take it?” Harry questioned angrily, speaking to him for the first time.
Snape showed no reaction to this, which only angered Harry further. It was as though he were expecting Harry’s anger, and was more prepared for this meeting that he was.
“Albus asked me to end his life,” he continued, speaking with gentleness that Harry was unaccustomed to.
“I don’t believe that.”
“Believe what you will,” Snape said patiently. “I’m only here to tell you the truth. Whether you take it or not, is up to you. Albus knew that Draco Malfoy had been tasked with his murder, and that if he failed, I would be entrusted to ensure it was done properly. It fitted my cover perfectly.
“I assure you, it was not a task I took on with pleasure. We talked at great length, and in the end both agreed it was best. Not only would it protect Draco Malfoy’s soul, it would protect Albus from the prospect of a painful and humiliating death at the hands of someone like Fenrir Greyback, or Bellatrix Lestrange. Both of whom, I know you are well accustomed with.”
Harry shifted uncomfortably at this prospect, still able to recall the pain of Greyback’s attack. “So that’s it? You kill a man, because he tells you too? Dumbledore wasn’t always right.”
“In this case, he was. Draco Malfoy’s soul…until now remained undamaged, and my cover as the Dark Lord’s spy remains unquestioned. The Dark Lord now trusts me more than ever, which was also a part of Dumbledore’s plans. Since then, it’s been my task to not only protect the students of Hogwarts, which I promised Albus I would do, I’ve also been doing my best to provide you with protection.”
“Obviously, to protect you from others, and from yourself. And to gain your trust, despite what you witnessed at the top of the North Tower.”
“And how have you done that?” Harry asked. He looked at Snape so intensely they might be the only two people in the room, and Harry was determined that he was going to get an honest answer.
“Do you not recall?” Snape asked, almost showing a hint of exasperation. “Do you not recall the times I protected you, protected your friends and those you love?”
“No, I don’t.”
Snape sat up a little straighter, realising that he was going to have to spell it right out.
“Do you recall your daring escape from the Dark Lord’s captivity last year? How easy was that? How easy was your trek through the forest, and how poor was my eye sight when I walked straight past you? I enabled your rescue and your safe passage back to Hogwarts, and your safe passage out of Hogwarts when war broke out. When you faced danger in the Muggle town of Tinworth, I was there too, supporting you under the disguise of Professor Reed.”
“What?” Harry said in dismay, his jaw dropping. Had he heard correctly? “What did you say about Reed?”
“There is no such person,” Snape continued. “I took on a new persona, one which you might trust. My commitment to your protection does not end there, Potter. I protected you from Lucius Malfoy’s interrogation as best I could, and I risked blowing my cover in order to get you to safety. I enabled Ginevra Weasley to steal the Sword of Gryffindor on your behalf, then protected her from interrogation, and finally enabled her escape, knowing that you were in the vicinity.”
The explanation was not enough for Harry. “What’s your proof? How do we know you’re not double crossing us again?”
“The fact that you’re alive to demand proof, is proof itself. I never sabotage my own work,” he concluded softly.
Harry stared at him expectantly, and was pleased when Snape had the decency to look away.
“If all this is true,” Harry began, still not believing him. “Then why not tell me? It’s been months since you killed Dumbledore…you’ve had plenty of opportunities.”
Hermione’s grip on his arm tightened, watching as Snape got to his feet and wandered over to the grimy window. He was looking out curiously as he answered.
“My role as the Dark Lord’s trusted Death Eater is important to maintain, and I had little trust in how you managed to control the connection between the two of you. I was unaware that the connection had almost ceased.”
“It has?” Harry said disbelievingly. That couldn’t be right, Snape had to be mistaken. He dreamed the same dream of Voldemort every night, the same dream that included Snape. The last time he had recurring dreams was in fifth year, when Voldemort was trying to control him.
“It has,” Snape confirmed, turning back to Harry. “The Dark Lord has tried, and succeeded in influencing your thoughts over the last few months…he has instilled excess fear and paranoia in your mind, strange dreams and hallucinations. But while he has been able to influence your thoughts and mind, true possession still remains inaccessible to him.”
“He’s right, isn’t he,” Hermione confirmed quietly, and Harry knew she was referring to their time in Privet drive, when Harry had felt increasingly erratic. Strange thoughts and hallucinations about his friends had plagued him for weeks, until it had come to an abrupt halt the weekend before they broke into the ministry.
Harry nodded at her.
“In the cellar of Malfoy Manor, I used Legilimency against you under the pretence of seeking information for Lucius. It was then that I was certain that the connection between yourself and the Dark Lord had almost ceased completely. I knew that now it would be safe to begin telling you these things.”
“These things?’ Harry questioned incredulously, trying not to think about what had happened in that cellar. Looking at Snape now, Harry could tell that there was something more he was holding out on, and Harry desperately wanted to know what it was. “What else is there for you to tell me?”
Snape regarded him seriously for a moment, as though considering the true merits of their conversation. Harry refused to look away. Finally, Snape glanced at Tonks, who gave him a small nod.
“Come with me, Potter,” Snape instructed, removing his wand from his robes and placing it on the rickety table. “Alone.”
Unfurling Hermione’s fingers from his arm, Harry reassured her before getting to his feet. He felt strangely safe following Snape down the dusty old hallway, leaving Tonks and Hermione alone in the front room. The few candles illuminated the peeling wall paper and the dusty spiders webs, and Harry was about to light his wand until the entered an old grimy kitchen. Just enough light streamed through the grimy windows, and Snape directed Harry inside before closing the door behind them.
“What do you know of your mother’s early life?” Snape asked quietly, his arms folded and his gaze focused on Harry.
A/N Thanks for all the reviews, have had so many from the last chapter, and other from what seem to be new readers. Welcome, I hope you enjoy the story.
For those reader concerned about reaching the end of this story, fear not. Today I completely chapter five of the sequel, so now it's just a matter of posting the rest of these chatpers after they have been approved by my beta readers.
On that note, thank you for reading and reviewing, and thank you to all who have always reviewed so consistently. Chapter 50 should be up by next weekend.
Also, on a more embarrassing note, I apologise to the first 60 or so readers, who got to read the version of this chapter, complete with the notes I made to my beta reader. I may only be 21, but the Senior Moments are happening more and more often.
Write a Review Chasing The Inevitable: Chapter 49 Imbalance