“How many are there?” Ginny Weasley asked.
Oliver swallowed, leading the way out onto the lawn. “I'd say we've found about twenty out here…around thirty in the castle, and that seems to be it. A lot more are injured, though. We've got to go this way,” he said, pointing to a path that wrapped around the castle. “This is where we found Professor Sprout…there are a couple more.”
Neville Longbottom came jogging up the path, huffing and puffing. He looked very upset. “Hey, Oliver, there's a girl down here. I thought she was—” He broke off, looking for a moment at Ginny, and blinked. “She's alive, but she's really hurt, and there's one more body—”
“I'll help you, Neville,” Oliver said. “Ginny, can you stay with the girl until we can bring a stretcher out for you?” Ginny nodded, and Oliver patted her back. “Lead the way,” he said to Neville.
Around this part of the castle, the lawn was stained with spattered blood; a few bodies still lay on the ground, and other volunteers, visible only by the pinpoints of light their wands cast in the darkness, were scouring the grounds for any more injured or dead. Oliver slowed; Neville had just knelt beside a girl who lay on the ground, clutching her middle and weeping softly.
“Ginny,” Oliver said gently, but she was already beside her, gently tucking the blanket she carried around the girl.
“This is Ellie,” Neville said softly.
“Hi,” said Ginny, giving her a faint smile.
Ellie blinked, and a few tears slipped down her cheeks. She let Ginny take hold of her hand. “I'm sorry…I shouldn't have sneaked back, I know…but please, I just want to go home…I want to see my mother…”
Oliver swallowed a lump in his throat. Neville caught his eye and nodded further down the path. “You'll be all right, Ginny?” he asked.
Ginny nodded. “We'll both be just fine,” she promised. “We'll get you inside in a minute, Ellie, you'll be safe.” The girl gave a little sob, and Ginny placed a hand on her forehead. She looked at Oliver and Neville. “We'll be all right,” she whispered.
Oliver nodded, and followed Neville along the path. “Who is it?” he asked.
“Colin Creevey,” Neville answered, his voice shaking slightly, though Oliver pretended not to notice. He let out a heavy sigh.
“He was too young to be here, wasn’t he? How did he even get in?”
Neville shook his head. “I don't know, but…I wouldn't have expected anything less of him.”
Oliver met his eyes seriously for a moment. “Nor would I.” They had arrived at the spot where Colin lay; someone had arranged his limbs and closed his eyes. He was eerily pale, bleached by the moonlight. “Blimey,” Oliver murmured, feeling the word stick in his throat.
He glanced at Neville, who looked inexpressibly worn as he said, “It's getting close to four. We need to get him inside.”
Oliver nodded and knelt beside Colin's head, taking great care in lifting the positively tiny body; for a moment, he had the terrible impression that something was missing from it, for that was the only reason that a human being could be as light as Colin was. Then Neville took his feet, and they began the walk back to the castle in silence. Despite the centuries carved into Neville's face, which Oliver knew were reflected in his own, they seemed to be pretending that they were not, in fact, carrying the body of a classmate, a boy younger than either of them.
Oliver tried to remember Colin. He had been young, very young, when Oliver was too grown up to pay much attention to first years, but he certainly did remember the boy with the camera—the first student to get Petrified—the boy who had so worshipped Harry—the boy who had interrupted Quidditch practice more times than Oliver could count—
And as he looked down at Colin's still features, he was visited by an overwhelming urge to laugh and sob; it stabbed his throat, and he felt his eyes fill with tears. He and Neville had reached the castle, and Neville was looking at him oddly. Oliver cleared his throat and said gruffly, “You know what? I can manage him alone, Neville.”
Neville stopped walking, still staring at him, but nodded. Oliver leaned forward and hefted Colin's frighteningly, emptily weightless body over his shoulder. He blinked once, straightening his back and blinking hard, and walked into the Great Hall, leaving Neville alone to return outside. Oliver kept his eyes on the flagstones as he walked into the Great Hall, but he could feel many eyes upon him. He walked straight to the Gryffindor table and lowered Colin gently onto one of the cots, straightening up quickly and rubbing his eyes hard.
“Oh, my goodness,” said a trembling voice behind him. Oliver turned. Professor McGonagall, white to the lips, stood at a nearby cot. She walked, as if in a trance, towards Colin. “Oh, my—” She reached out and seized Oliver's forearm in a tight grip. He did not mind; it allowed him to let his eyes water once again. Then Professor McGonagall looked wildly around the hall. “His brother—his brother isn't here, is he?”
Oliver looked at her, dumbfounded. “I don't know, Professor.”
Without another word, Professor McGonagall hurried off up the aisle, looking in every bed, stopping every student well enough to speak. Oliver wiped at his tears with his sleeve, sniffing heartily, and looked down at the dead boy for a moment; the dark gray light of pre-dawn was filtering through the enchanted ceiling, illuminating the crimson and gold banner that hung over Colin Creevey’s body.
Poppy Pomfrey ran a hand through her hair; she was positively white as she leaned over Pomona Sprout. Augusta stood directly beside her, watching her face anxiously. Because Minerva had been worried that their last point of defense would be the Great Hall, students and staff were hurrying around. With only five minutes before the deadline that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had given, there was a rush to move the bodies of those who had died defending the castle, and to take those fighters who were critically injured to a safe area. The wounded were being taken to a quiet, windowless room just off of the Great Hall, where they would be protected from any further harm, and the dead to another one like it.
“Well, can we move her safely?” Augusta asked Poppy, who was still looking very worriedly down at Pomona.
Poppy shook her head. “I—I don't know. It may not hurt her condition, but if it does, it could become quite serious.”
Augusta rubbed the back of her neck, feeling anxious. “You've seen this curse before, haven't you?”
“Yes,” Poppy said, “and no. It was different. She didn't need a hospital, and she was sixteen, not sixty. I can't even give Pomona the hospital wing.”
“They're coming down the line,” Augusta said, nodding to the people who were carefully lifting stretchers and carrying them to safety; they were only a few beds away. “We'll have to decide. Neville?”
“What happened?” Neville looked down at Pomona, stunned beyond even the weariness that bled through his features. He looked as though he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, and part of him seemed to be a million miles away, unreachable.
“She's been cursed,” Augusta told him gently.
“All right,” Poppy said, and Augusta and Neville turned; two students had just arrived to move Pomona. “Miss Patil, you and Mr. Boot may take Professor Sprout, but I want one of you to remain with her, no matter what. Report any change in her condition to me immediately, and keep these in your hands.” She thrust two potions into the girl's hands, and she nodded to the boy who stood beside her. Carefully, they lifted the cot and walked slowly away.
“I've got to see to Johnson. Thank you for looking after Pomona,” Poppy said dazedly to Augusta, already hurrying away. “Miss Johnson, you'll be up and about only if you drink the whole potion!”
Augusta turned to Neville, who was still staring at the spot where Pomona had lain. “Neville, I—” she swallowed hard; rarely had she ever found herself lost for words. “I know you care very deeply for Professor Sprout.” He didn't give any sign that he could hear her, but she pressed on, “She's going to be all right. I promise you.”
But still, Neville stared at the floor, seemingly lost in his own head, the weight on his shoulders getting heavier by the moment. And then Augusta felt a shot of horror jolt down her spine, for she was gazing at Frank—at Alice—
She threw her arms around Neville, and he seemed to startle back to life. She clutched him tightly to her chest, feeling all of his agony and pain, absorbing it, taking on his weariness and exhaustion. He patted her back softly, and after a moment, she pulled away.
He gave her a very faint, hollow smile. “Thanks, Gran,” he murmured. He looked around, a little confused. “I've—uh—” He looked down at his watch. Something inside of him seemed to resolve itself. “I've got to take care of something. I'll see you later.”
“Neville,” said Augusta, ready to stop him from whatever he was doing, because she felt in her heart that it was dangerous, that it would risk his life, and she could not allow that to happen, not after all of this time—and then he turned. He was a different boy. In fact, he was not a boy at all.
She swallowed, feeling her chin tremble just slightly. “Good luck.”
Three minutes to go…
Two minutes and forty-six seconds…
One minute and thirty-eight seconds…
Yaxley and Dolohov, his face recently healed from the Conjunctivitis Curse that had hit him, came crashing through the bushes, and Narcissa, who was clutching Lucius’s pocket watch, felt her heart stop. Potter was not with them. The clearing full of dancing firelight seemed to take on an odd chill. Even the giants sat up and looked around, scowling at the pair.
The Dark Lord stood before the fire, his eyes closed and his hands folded over his wand. The snake coiled and uncoiled in its bizarre cage, floating behind his head. He did not look up right away, and this allowed the pall of Potter’s absence to settle more completely over the scene. Greyback grunted and licked his lips greedily, and Bellatrix’s bloodied cheeks were flushed with color. Her excitement at the prospect of entering the castle once again was palpable.
Narcissa turned cold. The Dark Lord had said that half of their fighters were dead. Draco could easily be among them, but if he was, by any chance, still alive, no Death Eater would spare a thought for him in the coming slaughter. Narcissa reached one trembling hand for Lucius’s wasted arm. He seemed to have turned to stone. Yaxley and Dolohov took a few steps forward, and the blood-red eyes opened.
“No sign of him, My Lord,” grunted Dolohov.
A rush of frozen air seemed to blast through the clearing, dimming the fire’s warmth. Fury burned in the unforgiving eyes, and the Dark Lord gazed at the wind he held in his fingertips. Let it end. Let it end, Narcissa thought desperately, closing her eyes. She wanted this to be done with. Her heart beat erratically, hoping against hope that Potter would at least be foolish enough to try and face the Dark Lord alone. At least then, then, she might get away, she might be allowed back to the castle. She might find Draco.
Bellatrix leaned forward, positively trembling with anticipation, and Narcissa hated her bitterly. “My Lord,” she whispered, trying to draw his attention—but he held up one hand and drew an even, slow breath. Bellatrix was not upset; she gazed at the Dark Lord in a way that made Narcissa feel ill.
The Dark Lord gazed into the fire. “I thought he would come. I expected him to come.” Narcissa closed her eyes, feeling the burn of tears. Could she outrun them? Could she get ahead of the battalion, if they were returning? No, she would be struck down dead before anyone let her give a warning of any kind. The Dark Lord was still speaking, his voice hardening into shards of ice as he hissed, “I was, it seems…mistaken.” Narcissa stifled a sob; Lucius’s arm was still unmoving and lifeless beneath her fingers. A vacuum of silence pressed against her ears. The order to move was coming, she knew it.
Narcissa started to her feet; she was not alone. To roars from the giants and cries of shock and amusement from the Death Eaters, Harry Potter strode into the clearing. He was white as chalk beneath his matted black hair, his face and clothing covered in dirt and blood. He could already have been dead. There was no life in those eyes. And as she thought it, Narcissa was seized with an entirely different feeling. The boy had not come to fight. He had come to die. This boy, Draco’s age, had come to be murdered. He held no wand. He was not going to challenge the Dark Lord.
She was not the only one who had noticed. The giant Hagrid, who was bound and tied to a tree at the edge of the clearing, shouted, “HARRY! NO! NO! NO! HARRY, WHAT’RE YEH—?”
But Rowle, who was nearest him, snapped his wand through the air, bellowing, “QUIET!” Hagrid was struck silent, and all eyes moved to the invisible electricity that crackled between Potter and the Dark Lord, facing each other across the dancing fire. Bellatrix was on her feet, panting with anticipation, as her eyes darted back and forth between them.
The Dark Lord was smiling, but it was evil and frightening. He whispered, “Harry Potter. The Boy Who Lived.” He raised his wand. Narcissa’s heart stopped. Potter truly was not going to defend himself. He was not going to fight. He was alone, and Narcissa was seized by a desire to cry out, to stop the Dark Lord.
The flash of green light was blinding, more so than it should have been. It blasted through the clearing, illuminating everything around them for just a split second, like a bolt of lightning had struck the center of the clearing. Narcissa flinched and threw up an arm to cover her eyes. There was a loud yell, two thuds, and then cries of shock from the Death Eaters.
“What was that?”
“My Lord…my Lord…”
Narcissa blinked hard, spots of light bursting in her eyes, and she saw Bellatrix hurrying over to the Dark Lord, who appeared, in the strangest manner, to have collapsed in the flash of the curse.
“That will do,” said the cold voice, and Narcissa, still blinking the spots away, could see him getting to his feet.
Bellatrix reached for him as if she wanted to embrace him, to help him stand. “My Lord, let me—”
Lucius took a step forward, like most of the other Death Eaters, but Narcissa remained rooted to the spot. Was she the only one who felt the fury coming from the Dark Lord?
“I do not require assistance,” he snapped. He rose, and the Death Eaters scattered. Narcissa took a step backward. Bellatrix remained kneeling on the ground, gazing up at the Dark Lord. “The boy,” he said, pointing across the fire. “Is he dead?”
Narcissa's eyes, like everyone else's, flickered over to the unmoving body that lay in the fallen leaves covering the forest floor. It struck her as strange that no one, not even the Dark Lord, was willing to take the step forward and see if the boy was dead. If he was dead, thought Narcissa, after being hit by that curse. It was absurd, even considering that he had survived once before.
But the Dark Lord's collapse upon using the spell had frightened them all. Her eyes locked on the boy’s obviously dead body, Narcissa did not notice that she was standing farthest from the other Death Eaters, or that the Dark Lord had raised his wand again.
“You,” he snapped, and a Stinging Hex hit Narcissa; she yelped in pain. “Examine him. Tell me whether he is dead.”
Scowling and rubbing her arm, which now had a searing welt across it, Narcissa walked to where Potter lay. And as she came close, she too suddenly felt the fear that by some miracle, Potter had survived again. Her heartbeat quickened as she leaned down, her back to the fire, and laid a hand on Potter's head. She pulled back one eyelid, and the green eye twitched. It was all Narcissa could do not to scream and leap back in shock. Her breath caught in her throat. She slipped one hand beneath his shirt, and—
This is impossible.
Potter's heartbeat was not only there, pounding beneath her fingers, but it was strong and fast, thundering powerfully, in spite of all logic and reason.
This is impossible.
Narcissa wanted to scream, whether from joy or fear or horror, she did not know; all she knew was that hope had flared to life in her heart once again.
This is impossible.
She had only a split second to decide what to do, and she knew what it must be. She lowered her thick curtain of hair, pretending to examine him more closely, so Potter was completely obscured from view, and whispered,
“Is Draco alive? Is he in the castle?”
Potter remained still; Narcissa felt his heart beat once—twice—three times—
Narcissa clenched the hand that still rested on Potter's chest and rose to face the Death Eaters. She lifted a haughty expression, her best imitation of Bellatrix, to her features.
“He is dead!” she shouted. Jets of red and white sparks fired into the air and cries of celebration filled the clearing. Narcissa stood before the boy's body, her eyes locked with the Dark Lord's. He did not know she had practiced Occlumency with Bellatrix in childhood. She could do it in her sleep, if she wanted to. She lifted one corner of her mouth in a practiced, congratulatory smile, and gave him a slight nod of her head.
The red eyes gleamed with delighted malice, secure in a victory that was not won, that could not be won because of this bizarre miracle, this defiance of nature that lay on the ground behind her, but Narcissa did not care. She was going to the castle. She did not care that if the Dark Lord, or even her sister, discovered her betrayal, she would be worse than dead. She did not care about blood status, her family, her husband's cause, or anything except the fact that she was going to get Draco, and very soon, this would all be over.
Hagrid had never thought that pain like this could exist. Losing his father, losing his best friend, losing his last parental figure—the pain of those things was nothing to the pain he felt now; it was the loss of a child, a child who wasn’t really his, but who was the closest thing to it. If he could, he would have collapsed to his knees—but he was commanded by the curse that drove his limbs, so Hagrid plodded onward through the trees, cradling Harry's dead body in his arms as he sobbed and wailed. The Death Eaters around him were laughing, celebrating, and Hagrid could do nothing to lash out at them; the spell just kept pushing him onward, You-Know-Who, the Death Eaters, and the giants, Golgomath and another chieftain, in his wake.
Then, as they reached the edge of the forest, Hagrid caught sight of movement in the thinning trees. Centaurs, the ones he had failed to rally when coming with Grawp to join the battle, appeared between the trees, undoubtedly drawn by the deafening noise of the giants' footfalls. Finally, something he could be furious for, some way he could dissolve the pain of the burden he carried in his heart and the sight of the body in his arms.
“BANE!” he roared. “Happy now, are yeh, that yeh didn' fight, yeh cowardly bunch o' nags? Are yeh happy Harry Potter's—d-dead…?” And he burst into tears again, because it was torture even to say the words, to imagine that every sign his senses gave him was correct, and that the boy he had loved so much now lay dead in his arms. Hagrid gave another howl of anguish, but continued to plod forward; if it weren't for the spell, he would have sunk to his knees long ago. Finally, they reached the sprawling lawn, which was misted over in the hour before dawn.
The grass, which rippled in the wind, was bloodstained and burned, and the castle high on the hill was dark and quiet. The only candles burned in the windows of the Great Hall. Against the dark gray sky, Hagrid could see glowing embers and smoke unfurling from two of the towers; another had lost its roof. A huge chunk of wall was missing from the side of the building, and the thick black smoke of a smoldering fire burned there as well.
Hagrid lurched to a halt, unable to fight the spell, and felt more tears fall down his face. Hogwarts was gone, Harry was gone, and all that remained was the cruelty and hatred of a world that Hagrid had fought against for all of his life. The feeling worsened; dementors were present, and their chill filled the air. Hagrid closed his eyes, weeping again, as memories surfaced, swirling one over the other, of Azkaban, of his father, of the day he was expelled… Professor Dumbledore… and Harry's dead body, lying in his arms…