The Owl Patronus
Ginny spat a mouthful of her own blood over the broken pieces of wall that littered the balcony. She straightened her back, lifting her wand to face Bellatrix Lestrange. Months of fury and resentment, years of this woman's untold cruelty, and here Ginny stood, about to duel her. And she did not feel small, or insignificant. She felt powerful. She would make this woman pay for hurting Tonks, for ruining Neville's life, for murdering Sirius.
“You just don't give up,” laughed Bellatrix, looking as though she had been given a very pleasant surprise. “I know you, don't I?”
“I certainly hope not,” Ginny retorted, still not lowering her wand; she heard Tonks give a groan over her shoulder. Please let her be okay…
“Yes, I do,” Bellatrix said, and the look of joy that filled her face was sickening. “You're Potter's little girlfriend…you're his little blood traitor girlfriend, aren't you?” Ginny said nothing, but clenched her jaw. “You are,” she continued, starting to tread a circle that Ginny followed cautiously. “Oh, goodness…I wonder what he'd do to get you back…even if it was just pieces—”
But Ginny had no more time; she had to save Tonks. “STUPEFY!”
Bellatrix dove out of the way and fired a jet of silver light directly at Ginny. She ducked, landing hard beside Tonks, who was still faintly stirring. Hope leapt up in Ginny's heart; she could do this. She could win. With a yell, she rolled onto her feet, backing away from the edge of the balcony, away from Tonks, and fired a Body-Bind Curse at Bellatrix, who deflected it back at Ginny. She blocked it just in time, and Bellatrix looked enraged.
“You can't dodge me forever!” she shrieked. “Avada Kedavra!”
Ginny flattened herself on the floor, and heard Bellatrix's frustrated scream. She scrambled back to her feet, but before she could even think of a spell, Bellatrix had seized the front of her jumper. She slammed Ginny's shoulder blades, hard, into the banister, and Ginny dropped her wand; her head dangled out in open space, and she could not breathe as Bellatrix squeezed her throat tighter.
The pressure was gone from Ginny's throat, and, stars popping in front of her eyes, she dropped to all fours, gasping and coughing. She snatched up her wand and reached out, trying to find Tonks. She caught an ice-cold hand. Tonks was not moving. No, no….please don't be dead…
“Leave her!” a voice snarled, and Ginny looked up; Lucius Malfoy was clutching Bellatrix's wand arm. “He needs Severus. We must find him, do you understand me?”
Bellatrix looked mutinous and threw a look of abject hatred down upon Ginny, who was clutching Tonks's bloodstained hand. “Fine,” she barked at Lucius. “But—a parting gift—”
Ginny knew what was going to happen a split second before it did. Bellatrix raised her wand, and Ginny threw herself over Tonks, covering her head. With an earsplitting crash, the balcony exploded into rubble and fell thirty feet, into the entrance hall below. Ginny felt rocks scrape her arms and legs and hit her head, but she clung tightly to Tonks and her wand, bracing herself for the impact. She was slammed hard against the floor, and fought to remain conscious as she was showered with rock; her entire body throbbed with pain and her vision went temporarily dark as she gasped for air. She could feel bruises and cuts everywhere. She forced herself to get up, though her head was spinning. Her only thought was to get to Tonks, who lay unmoving, half-buried under rubble, ten feet away.
“Tonks,” she panted, dropping to her knees beside her. She was deathly pale, and Ginny seized her hand. “Tonks, please…” Tears burned her eyes. “Tonks…”
And, to Ginny's shock, Tonks gave a slight cough, and her eyes fluttered open.
“Yeah, it's me,” Ginny said, feeling her tears spill over. “It's okay, Tonks, you're going to be okay…no, no, stay awake, Tonks, please…”
“Remus,” Tonks murmured, trying to move her head and look around; it seemed to cause her terrible pain.
Ginny bit her lip hard, stifling a sob. “He—he's—” She wanted so badly to lie, but Tonks seemed to see the answer in her face. She let her head drop back and two tears slipped into her hairline. “Tonks, you'll be okay. I'm going to take you to Madam Pomfrey—”
With another crash echoing from one of the many duels still raging in the entrance hall, a marble banister exploded, and Ginny ducked. When it was safe, she lifted her head again. Tonks's breathing was shallow and quick, painful to hear. Ginny grabbed her hand. “No, Tonks, come on—you can—”
Tonks squeezed her fingers, very faintly. “Kiss…Teddy…for…me…”
She gave one last, pained gasp, and then her hand relaxed in Ginny’s. Her tear-filled gray eyes stared up without seeing, wide and glassy. Ginny burst into tears, sobbing and screaming, while the fighting raged on around her. “No, Tonks, no, please,” she cried, shaking her shoulders. “Please, Tonks! Wake up, you'll be fine!” A pair of hands descended on her shoulders.
“Ginny! Come on, you've got to get away from here!” Bill had come—when had Bill come? He had been outside, far away, and yet here he was, trying to pull Ginny away from Tonks's dead body. “You can't stay here, Ginny, you can't help her!”
“Tonks!” Ginny screamed, sobbing, as Bill and Fleur pulled her out of the lines of fire of the duelers on the staircases. “Tonks!”
“Ginny—Ginny, non,” Fleur said gently, taking hold of her upper arms. Ginny was on her knees in a pile of rubble, trying in vain to shift the fallen rock and save Tonks… Fleur pulled harder, desperate to get her away from the duels that raged in the hall. “Come, come wiz me. Bill, please—”
“Tonks!” Ginny screamed desperately, but, with Bill's help, Fleur pulled her into the safety of an alcove.
“We cannot 'elp,” Fleur said, feeling tears sting her eyes even as she held Ginny's arms, restraining her from running into the fighting again. “Ginny, listen to me—”
“No, I won't! Tonks!”
A curse flew and hit the wall just over Fleur's head, and she saw that Severus Snape, the traitor, the murderer, was sprinting from the hall on the heels of a man with long blonde hair. She looked at Bill, who already had drawn his wand.
“Look after her, I'll go!” he barked. He looked pale and shaken beneath the scars that covered his face.
“Bill,” Fleur said, and for a moment, she forgot Ginny, who was crying, still struggling to get away from her. Bill met her eyes, and she saw the promise he always gave her—see you soon. She nodded. “Be careful!” He gave a flicker of a hollow smile and took off, running for the double doors of the castle, and Fleur turned to Ginny. She was still crying and fighting harder than ever to get away.
“Let me go!” she shouted. “Let me go, right now! I'm going to fight—I want to fight!”
“No,” Fleur said firmly, blinking back tears. “We must stay togezzer. You should not 'ave left ze room!”
“I had to!” Ginny answered angrily. “I had to! I couldn't let you all—” Her eyes flickered over to where Tonks still lay. Fleur was inspecting the many scrapes and cuts that covered Ginny's face and neck. “Just leave me alone, would you?” Ginny burst out furiously. “Let me go, leave me alone!”
Fleur's heart broke. Ginny was, in a way, her sister, but a sister who saw more of a family in Tonks than in Fleur herself. She became angry. “We weel move 'er, when eet eez safe,” she said, rather harshly. “But I am more worried about you!”
“Well, you needn't be,” Ginny retorted.
With an echoing bang, yet another chunk of the banisters exploded, and Fleur shoved Ginny against the wall, shielding her from the flying marble. Ginny pushed against her, trying to get free, still crying with fury, but Fleur did not budge; her anger, when unchecked, made her unusually strong. Ginny could not shift her. When it was safe, she seized Ginny's wrists; she continued to struggle pointlessly.
“Let me go!” she shouted.
“Non!” Fleur snapped, giving her a shake. “I weel protect you, Ginny, eef I die doing eet!” And Ginny stilled at last. She stared at Fleur, her face glazed with tears. There was definite shock in that expression. “Now, we must go somewhere safe!” Fleur insisted. “Come wiz me.” She pulled Ginny by the hand, but stopped when Ginny didn't move.
“We can't leave Tonks.” And, in stark contrast to just moments before, for one of the first times in Fleur's memory, Ginny was just a little girl, exactly like Gabrielle. She looked at Fleur beseechingly. “Please, we can't—we can't just leave her.”
And her tears spilled over again. Fleur seized her in a tight hug. “All right, all right,” she murmured in Ginny's ear. “We weel take 'er body somewhere safe.”
“Thank you, Fleur,” Ginny whispered back.
Bill ran out of the entrance hall into the open air, beyond the castle walls, and devastation sprawled before him. Bodies of the dead and injured littered the lawn, sloping downward in the direction of the Forbidden Forest and the Whomping Willow. His eyes raked the scene. No more than fifteen feet away, Snape was disappearing into the night, his black robes billowing behind him. Directly on his heels was Lucius Malfoy. Bill raised his wand. He had just one shot, one chance to get revenge on Snape for Dumbledore, for his betrayal, for everything…
Bill collapsed, writhing in pain, under Malfoy's curse; Lucius had seen Bill and retaliated, costing him his chance at Snape. Cursing fluently, he leapt to his feet, brandishing his wand.
“No, keep going! The Dark Lord requires you!” Malfoy roared at Snape, who had hesitated, only for a moment. He looked at Bill for half a second before disappearing into the night.
“We've got him!” screamed a voice; Bill looked around to see two girls, one blonde and the other with very long brown hair that streamed behind her as they both ran into the darkness after Snape. Malfoy saw them; he lifted his wand to curse them.
“Petrificus Totalus!” Bill shouted.
Malfoy blocked the jinx and flourished his wand; a blast of fire shot directly at Bill, who had only a nanosecond to react. This was a very old kind of duel, one that Bill didn't know as well as he should. He swore again and swung his wand over his head. The fire collected into a sphere of light so bright it crackled with white-hot energy, and Bill let it fly straight at Malfoy. He yelled and dove out of the way; the streak of light set fire to the end of his cloak, and he struggled to stamp it out.
In his anger, Malfoy fired off a Killing Curse and Bill leapt out of the way just in time to avoid the jet of green light, but he began to tumble, unable to stop himself as he rolled down a steep, rocky path to the cliff overlooking the lake, scraping and bruising himself all the way down. He reached out and caught something—
“No!” he shouted, as the rock he had just seized by his fingertips gave way, and he plummeted, thirty feet, towards the lake below.
Alicia tore across the dark lawn, her feet slipping a little in the wet grass—wet with what, precisely, she didn't like to think. Hannah ran beside her, firing Stunning Spells at the man they both chased. Snape was only thirty feet ahead of them, running straight for the edge of the forest, beyond the Whomping Willow. “Impedimenta!” she shouted, but the jinx went too wide and Snape continued to run. “Hannah!” Hannah had just tripped over something in the darkness and fallen hard, rolling head over heels. Alicia skidded to a halt and stooped to help her.
“What are you doing? Get after him!” Hannah insisted. “Keep going, I'm fine!” She was white as chalk and clutching her ankle in pain.
“I can't leave you out here!” Alicia insisted.
“It's just a sprain,” Hannah said, though she winced badly when she tried to move her foot. “I'll be fine, Alicia, just go after Snape!”
Alicia hesitated for a moment. He was now fifty yards away, and about to disappear into the blackness of the Forbidden Forest. “If I can't catch him, I'm coming right back here!”
“I'll be okay,” Hannah promised. “Go!” She looked so fierce that Alicia did not argue again; she took off running after Snape. She couldn't remember the last time that she had run so fast; the ground flew beneath her, and she was closing the gap. Fifteen feet—ten—
“Stupefy!” she shouted, and Snape barely ducked in time. “Stupefy! Stupefy!”
In one motion, Snape whirled on the spot and shot a curse at Alicia that flipped her backwards off of her feet, knocking the wind out of her. Snape turned to run again, but Alicia sat up, gasping, “Impedimenta!”
With a yell of pain, Snape hit the ground, but he rolled into the thick undergrowth of the Forbidden Forest. Alicia staggered to her feet and hurried after him. She entered the dark, quiet stillness of the forest, and for a moment, it was as though all sounds—all the horrors of the battle raging behind her, on the lawn and in the castle—were muted at once. Alicia had never set foot in the forest. She flicked her wand, illuminating the tip, and cast the beam of light over the ground, trying to find where Snape had landed. She moved slowly, carefully, listening for any noise…
There was a snap of a twig, and Alicia spun. A bright flash of red light blinded her, and everything went dark.
Hannah gritted her teeth and forced herself to stand up; her injured left leg shook underneath her, but she managed to limp forward a few paces, clutching her wand. She looked around. Duels raged everywhere, gigantic spiders ran amok, and dementors were swooping out of the darkness all around the fighting. The earth shook beneath her, and Hannah looked up just in time to see two giants wrestling furiously, roaring loudly enough to make the air vibrate with the noise. One of the gigantic feet landed just yards away from where Hannah stood, and she was thrown off of her feet again. The giants continued to fight viciously, but they staggered away from where Hannah lay. Her ankle hurting worse than ever, Hannah got up again, just in time to see a Death Eater with a pale, twisted face disfigured by what looked like a Conjunctivitis Curse fire a jet of brightest blue light at Ellie Branstone, who had to have snuck back into the castle after the fighting started, for she was certainly not overage. The spell struck her in the stomach; she collapsed with a strangled scream and did not move again.
“Hey!” yelled Hannah, and the Death Eater turned. She fired off a vicious Blasting Curse, which he deflected back at her. She tried again, and suddenly, they were dueling. Hannah deflected curse after curse, unable to get any of her own in, and unable to jump out of the way if he finally tried to use a Killing Curse.
“Not bad,” the Death Eater spat, taunting her, and Hannah suddenly recognized his face from the wanted posters. The face that was now disfigured was suddenly clear. This was Antonin Dolohov, the Death Eater responsible for her mother's murder.
“You,” Hannah murmured, her eyes widening. She limped forward one step. “YOU!” she screamed. Dolohov did not know her, he did not care, but Hannah gave a scream of fury and let fly jinx after jinx, stumbling forward on her injured ankle, determined to make this man pay for what he put her through and what he had done to her family.
Hannah flew back ten feet and landed hard, knocking the wind out of her lungs as every inch of her body simultaneously burned white-hot. She writhed and screamed; her wand fell from her hand as Dolohov approached her, holding his wand aimed steadily at her heart. Hannah kicked out with her good leg and he dropped, clutching his kneecap. The Cruciatus Curse lifted, and she could draw breath again, but only for a moment. Shakily, she forced herself onto her hands and knees, feeling frantically on the dark lawn for her wand. Her fingers closed around it and she turned just in time to see that Dolohov had recovered. He held his wand aimed at her face.
“You killed my mother,” Hannah whispered, her eyes narrowed. She would not show fear to this man.
He gave a dark chuckle. “Really? Are you sure about that, pretty thing?” Hannah gritted her teeth, and he gave another cruel laugh.
“You killed my mother,” she said again, louder and more angrily. She forced herself to stand, though she could feel her injured ankle shaking beneath her. Dolohov continued to laugh. “I'll kill you!” Hannah screamed, and at last, the laughter died from his face.
“All right, then,” he grunted. “Have it your way—Somata Perdo!” A jet of bright violet flames came straight at her.
A hand closed on her wrist and jerked her downward, wrenching her to the ground. By the time she was able to orientate herself again, Hannah saw Professor Sprout dueling fiercely with Dolohov.
“No! Professor Sprout!” Hannah cried. She tried again to get to her feet, but the pain was too much, her leg wouldn't support her any longer. “Professor!”
Professor Sprout's face was contorted with anger. She doled out curses as often as she deflected them, and Dolohov looked genuinely scared. It was all he could do to keep up with her, and for a moment, Hannah thought she might win. And then, a horrible, unnatural chill stole over her. It seeped into her bones, freezing her from the inside out. She turned around. A cloud of ten or eleven dementors was bearing down on her. She could hear their rattling breath, almost feel their cold, clammy hands reaching for her. Thoughts of her mother, of all the pain she had endured in the last two years because of that loss swirled in her mind, clouding her thoughts….
And then she heard Harry's voice, directing her, directing the D.A., teaching them how to conjure a Patronus Charm. She had been partnered with Neville, that day, and he had made a flicker of a toad, but all she had managed was a cloud of white vapor…
Neville had encouraged her…
“Expecto Patronum!” she screamed, and a huge silver barn owl erupted from the end of her wand, soaring directly at the faceless hood of the dementor nearest her. It swooped out, clipping the creatures with its huge wings, and Hannah watched in amazement, but then the barn owl flickered once—twice—and disappeared. The cold filled her once again, and Hannah tried the Patronus Charm again. It would not work. She tried to remember everything that made her happy as the dementors closed in again. Ernie, Susan, Hogwarts, her family—what had worked the last time? The dementors were coming closer, and Hannah could not move. She was paralyzed, not only by her ankle, but also by the crushing weight of sadness that was threatening to overtake her once again…
And then, a second Patronus, an enormous bear, galloped towards the dementors, and, snarling as it rose up on its back paws, beat at them viciously, as though its claws were as real as anything. Hannah turned to see that Professor Sprout had stopped her duel long enough to cast the charm, and it was requiring all of her concentration. She could not see what Hannah saw, what she tried to stop.
“EXPELLIARMUS!” Hannah screamed, but the jinx missed, and Dolohov shouted, “Somata Perdo!”
The jet of bright purple fire hit Professor Sprout while her back was turned—she did not see it coming. She gave a cry of terrible pain and collapsed, unmoving, onto the grass.
“No!” Hannah screamed. “NO! PROFESSOR!”
Ernie, even in the midst of a duel, heard what was happening before he saw it; he heard Professor Sprout's yell of anguish followed by Hannah's screams. She was immobilized on the ground, undoubtedly injured, and a Death Eater had just wounded (he tried not to think, killed) Professor Sprout, and in an instant, he disappeared into the darkness. Abandoning his duel, ducking and weaving through the battlefield that was dominated by the fighting giants who roared and wrestled high above, Ernie ran to Hannah's side, skidding to a halt on his knees.
“Are you all right?” he demanded, seizing her shoulders. “Hannah, are you all right?”
“Professor!” she screamed, trying to get up. She was crying, her face red, and she didn't seem to notice Ernie at all. “Professor!”
“Hannah, we've got to get out of here!” Ernie shouted. “Listen to me—”
“No, I won't—Professor!” Hannah staggered to her feet and limped forward before slipping and falling, hard.
“Hannah, you're hurt!” Ernie told her, feeling tears sting his own eyes; he could see Professor Sprout, lying frighteningly still. He was torn, but Hannah needed him more right now—didn’t she? Girlfriend or not, Hannah was one of his best friends in the world. It wasn’t impartiality if she really was wounded.
“We've got her, Ernie!” shouted a familiar voice, and two people darted past: Susan, her long braid flying behind her, and Colin Creevey. “Help Hannah!” Susan told him as they ran to Professor Sprout.
“Hannah, can you stand?” Ernie asked, slipping his wand in his pocket to help her.
“My fault,” she moaned, as he seized one of her arms and pulled it around his neck. “It's all my fault…I should've been able to do it…Professor Sprout…”
“She's going to be fine, and so are you,” Ernie said fiercely, his voice full of a lot of bravery that he was not entirely sure was really there. He pushed the doubt away and swallowed hard. “Come on, we're getting you to safety.”
Suddenly, Susan's voice shouted, “Ernie, look out!”
The Impediment Jinx hit Ernie hard, and he dropped, landing on Hannah's injured leg. She screamed in pain, and Ernie struggled to get up again. He wrenched his wand out of his pocket and faced a Death Eater, the same one whom he had abandoned to help Hannah.
“What do you think you're doing?” he asked, flicking his wand lazily; Ernie deflected the Stunning Spell. “I don't believe we've finished, you and I. Crucio!”
“No!” screamed a voice.
Ernie would never be sure if it was Susan or Hannah who cried out. He missed his chance to block the spell and collapsed again, screaming in agony as the Death Eater grinned, showing crooked teeth, his face alight with pleasure.
“Hey! Leave him alone!”
With a sickening crunch, the Death Eater was thrown off-balance by a body colliding with his side; Colin Creevey had just lunged forward and thrown himself bodily at the man's knees. Ernie staggered to his feet again, shaking and sweating, but bracing himself to fight again. Colin and the Death Eater were still wrestling on the ground. Colin had lost his wand. It lay a few feet away, and he was clearly trying to break the Death Eater's grip on his own wand. Ernie dodged around them, trying to get a clear shot. And then, because his wand arm was flailing wildly, the Death Eater fired off a jet of orange light that hit Ernie directly in the chest.
He felt burning, searing pain as the world turned upside down around him and he fell on his back, looking up at the stars. He saw Hannah lying unconscious right beside him. He saw Susan leaving Professor Sprout's side, screaming as she ran towards him. He saw Colin let out a terrible bellow of fury and redouble his efforts against the Death Eater.
And then his mind went dark.
“Ernie!” Susan screamed, her voice tearing painfully from her throat, bringing tears to her eyes. She knelt beside Ernie, frightened to touch him and find that his heart had stopped, that he had gone cold. She looked around. Colin Creevey was still furiously wrestling with the Death Eater who had cursed Ernie, Hannah was unconscious, and Professor Sprout was thirty feet away, unmoving. The nearest duelers were too far away to help.
“Stupefy!” Colin roared, trying to force the Death Eater's wand to point at its owner, but the jet of red light narrowly missed his own head. Susan jumped to her feet to help.
“No, Susan, I've got it!” he shouted at her. “Help Ernie and the others!”
But Susan ran forward anyway, unwilling to leave him to be injured, and then the earth bucked up beneath her. The air turned momentarily white hot. The Death Eater had fired off an explosion that blasted both Colin and Susan away from him. By the time Susan could see again, enough to get onto her hands and knees, the Death Eater was running off into the darkness. Her ears ringing and her overheated face smarting in the cold night air, Susan got up and looked around. Ernie and Hannah still lay a few feet away, with Professor Sprout further still.
“Colin,” Susan gasped. The younger boy lay spread-eagled on the lawn, twenty feet away. His eyes were wide open, and he looked utterly shocked. Susan felt tears burn in her eyes. He had caught the full power of the Death Eater's spell and died trying to save her—trying to save Ernie. She dropped to her knees beside his body. “Colin, no!”
A soft groan sounded behind her—Ernie was stirring. Susan's heart leapt, and, tears pouring down her face, she ran to him. “Ernie,” she begged. “Ernie, please—are you all right? Say something, please—”
“Soosn,” he murmured, without opening his eyes, and Susan seized his hand.
She swallowed hard and promised, “You—you're going to be all right—”
There was a thundering of hooves, and she looked up. Firenze, the Divination teacher, was galloping towards her. He looked furious. “This is a dangerous spot for you, young one!” he shouted. “Get to safety!”
“I can't!” Susan cried. She gestured around her, at her fallen friends, at Professor Sprout. “Please, sir—help me—I can't leave them—”
“This one is beyond our help,” Firenze said, his voice impassive but solemn as he looked down on Colin. He cantered over to Professor Sprout. “She—and the other two—they live. They will survive—but you cannot stay here with them, unprotected—ARRGHH!”
And Firenze fell forward; he had had his back turned on the rest of the fight, and a Severing Charm, or something like it, seemed to come from nowhere, in the middle of the fighting. His blood spattered across the ground as he gave a scream of pain and collapsed.
“No!” Susan shouted, drawing her wand again. She knelt by the centaur; his left flank was gushing blood, and he was shaking, like a frightened animal—he didn't seem to be able to stand.
“Leave me,” he said fiercely—he sounded much stronger than he looked. “I can still use my bow from here—come back for us.” His fathomless, dark eyes met Susan's—and amidst everything that had just happened—Professor Sprout, Hannah, Ernie, Colin—she felt a wave of reassurance.
“Go!” Firenze ordered. “You must help!”
Susan did as she was told and ran toward the main avenue of the lawn, where the most fighting was raging on. For the first time, although she hoped it was just her experience of the last few minutes that was tainting her perception, Susan felt a nauseous wave of fear; the fighters defending the castle were outnumbered easily two to one, possibly more. Were they losing Hogwarts?