There was no official death toll yet, at least that Poppy, Molly and I were aware of: the Aurors were taking care of identifications. But there were a few obvious ones.
Filius Flitwick, that sweet, gentle little man, who had grimly cast as many Avada Kedavras as he could before being struck down himself.
Seamus Finnegan, who'd stepped away from the group at the dais to help Ron Weasley, and had been hit with the Killing Curse; the muggleborns had suffered from this most. The Death Eaters had been more selective with the purebloods.
Milos Davocek, who'd gotten himself into such trouble aiding Delia Barrett last year, and who had thrown himself into the fight in total disregard of his own well-being.
Argus Filch who, unable to defend his domain by magic, had unearthed an ancient blunderbuss and sent at least one Death Eater to hell before being killed himself.
Many, many more, mostly students, a list I didn't want to contemplate: if I started to mourn now, I'd fall apart completely.
The Death Eaters had suffered far worse in terms of percentages. They may have been selective in the curses thrown, but the Hogwarts people were not. Among the dead were Goyle's father and the younger Crabbe. And Septimus Barrett. He'd come out of hiding, it appears.
Voldemort himself, obviously. There was proof, this time: a smouldering husk left on the floor of the Great Hall. Having made himself mortal again, and failed in all his attempts to attain immortality, there was little chance that he'd be back.
(Note, however, that I said little. None of us were willing to make assumptions this time around.)
The living weren't much better off.
Vector was in a state of nervous collapse, having successfully held up the additional wards at the Anteroom door.
Ron Weasley, of course, who'd taken Crucio directly from Voldemort himself.
Arabella Figg, who'd managed to avoid Avada Kedavra; but some malicious bastard had sent Diffindio her way, and there was barely three square inches of flesh on her body left unscored. Two Aurors had apparated her directly to St. Mungo's.
Minerva McGonagall, a shadow of her usual capable self, who dragged herself from the Infirmary to direct the cleanup.
Harry Potter, remarkably little harmed by the magical fire that had killed Voldemort; but now stunned and silent, conscious but unresponsive. Sirius was nearly in tears, unable to reach him, and feeling guilty at having missed the worst of the battle: he'd arrived several hours after Bill Weasley and the Aurors had entered the Great Hall.
And Severus, who seemed to sink deeper into unresponsiveness every few hours, his breathing becoming even more laboured. A specialist from St. Mungo's had examined him, shook his head grimly, and moved on to those he could help.
Poppy and Molly were ready to drop, but still moved constantly between the most badly wounded, while Sinistra, Hooch and I took care of the less critical patients. When night fell, I found someone had set up a pallet for me beside Severus' bed -- as all the beds in both wards were occupied -- so I could get my few hours' sleep beside him.
I had to shoo Gregory Goyle away first, though. I'd stepped around the screen that surrounded Severus' bed and found Goyle in a chair, staring at Severus intently, and noted with shock that the boy's face was streaked with tears. I stepped behind him and put my hands on his shoulders.
"Don't make me go," he said thickly.
"You need some sleep, Gregory," I said softly, "and you need to grieve for your father. It's all right for you to do that, you know, no matter... well, no matter."
"But what if he --"
"I'll be with him through the night -- you can come back in the morning if you like, but you need some sleep. You can use the sofa in my office if you don't want to go back to your dorm."
I wasn't entirely optimistic about his reception in the Slytherin dorm, though Lord knows he wasn't the only Slytherin who'd lost a father that day -- not that only Slytherins had Death Eater parents, though they were the majority.
He nodded miserably and left.
I cleaned Severus up a bit as best I could and changed the dressing on his hand which had, despite Poppy's charms, continued to seep. And then I kissed him, tiredly toed off my shoes, and fell into an exhausted sleep on the pallet.
I didn't say goodnight to him. I was terrified that if any part of him was cognizant of it, he might take it as leave to depart.
"No change," I replied, and took a long, grateful sip.
It had been two days, now, and Severus was still comatose. Every now and then a seizure would wrack his body, and the bleeding would start afresh.
The private ward was practically deserted: Severus and Harry Potter were the only two left. The others were either in St. Mungo's or well enough to be moved to the public ward. I still spent most of my time at Severus' side, leaving only earlier that morning when the Prime Minister, Head of Magical Law Enforcement, and Director of Aurors had visited to take reckoning of the damage and depose everyone on the events. I'd told them what I could, and detoured back to my rooms only long enough for a shower and to throw on some clean clothes.
Alastor pulled up a chair next to mine and put his arm around my shoulders.
"He's powerful, lass; more than most suspect. Give him time -- his magic will pull him through."
"If he wants to," I said bitterly. "It would be just like him to decide it was the best sacrifice he could make." My few hours of fitful sleep had been frequently interrupted by the vision of him standing quiet and accepting before Malfoy, refusing either to defend or retaliate.
"Don't, lass," Alastor retorted sharply. "Don't give up on him. He's got a damned sight more to live for than he had a year ago. I knew that the second I saw that ring on your finger."
I was too tired to argue.
"How's Minerva?" I asked him.
"Resting more comfortably. She's determined to resume classes as soon as possible."
I snorted. "With whom? Vector's a basket case, Severus is obviously out of commission, God knows how Figg's doing, and Filius is dead."
"Bill Weasley's taking Filius' classes, Minerva will resume Transfigurations while Sirius deals with Potter, and I'll take the lower-year Arithmancy until Olivia's well enough -- I'm not up on the newer developments, so we're just going to Pass the Sixths and Sevenths. Minerva's bringing in someone from London to take Potions so there's not too much schedule-juggling. You're exempt under the circumstances, by the way."
I digested that for a moment.
"No," I finally decided. "I'm not much use here, and it'll keep me busy. Unless Muggle Studies needs to be chucked entirely. Doesn't matter, anyway, there's only one or two students that wouldn't rate a Pass at this point."
"Don't you think --"
I shook my head.
"Goyle spends a lot of time with him, and Longbottom and Granger stop by when they can pull themselves away from Potter. We just keep reading to him, so he knows someone's here. If he does."
Alastor demonstrated his approval with a squeeze of my shoulder.
"They found Malfoy this morning," he informed me.
Both père and fils had disappeared before I'd made it to the Great Hall.
"Lucius -- wandering up in the mountains, wandless, suffering from exposure and out of his head. Didn't even put up a fight."
"Really mad, or just pretending?"
"Oh, truly, I think. Didn't you see what happened?"
"No. The scrying gl-- the Phoenix mirror, or whatever it is, focussed on Potter and Voldemort, mostly, so I missed a lot."
"Severus got a few licks in before the others ganged up on him -- hit Lucius square in the chest. I didn't recognise it, but I'd wager that's what did it. I bloody well hope Severus wakes soon so I can ask him," Alastor added in a mutter. "Damned effective."
"A curse you don't recognise?" I asked in disbelief.
"That one," Alastor said with a grin and nod at Severus' immobile form, "is the most devious, inventive bastard I've ever had the misfortune to come across. Gods know where he found it -- he could have developed it himself. It's not at all beyond him, lass, which is why I say he's more powerful than most think. It's largely a matter of will and channelling the appropriate magics and elements."
I choked back a laugh. "He called Malfoy a blithering idiot once -- a dangerous one, but an idiot nonetheless."
"Well, there you are. He just made it manifest."
"What about Draco?"
"Missing, as is his mother. They've probably fled to the Continent -- or the States, if they're smart. Draco hustled Lucius out of the Hall as soon as he noticed what had happened, but his devotion obviously waned when he realised what shape Lucius was in."
"Why did he do it, Alastor?" I asked softly.
"Draco? Don't know, lass. I wasn't watching him. Perhaps Goyle could tell you."
I grunted and clasped Severus' hand -- the undamaged wand hand -- a little tighter.
"How did you know about the secret room?" Alastor asked after a bit.
"Albus. He mentioned it in the letter he left me. How do you --?"
I hadn't told him about it, and was so tired I'd simply mentioned the Phoenix mirror without explanation.
"Albus, of course, but a long time ago at the beginning of the Grindelwald business, when I was Head Boy -- and for the same reason he told you, apparently."
I nearly choked again.
"You were Head Boy?"
"I was," he admitted with great dignity. "Same year Minerva was Head Girl. Unusual, that is -- the Heads being from the same House. Headmaster Dippet tried to keep a balance, usually."
I struggled to keep my gob shut, I truly did, as he blithely continued.
"Didn't have to use it, thank Merlin -- the last battle happened at.... Miranda?"
My shoulders had begun to shake under his arm, and, perplexed and not a little alarmed, he shifted on his chair to watch my face.
"Did you and Minerva ever fre-- frequent the Restricted Section... after curfew?" I finally gasped.
His good eye narrowed to a slit and then widened as he caught on.
"Oh, bloody -- yes. Who told you? It wouldn't have been Minerva. Albus?"
I nodded weakly through giggles and tried, unsuccessfully, to breathe.
"It was just the once," he said pugnaciously, "and Albus was the one who interrupted us, blast it. I should have known he'd grass."
Giggles became outright laughter which I struggled, unsuccessfully, to stop -- and then degenerated to sobs and huge, gasping breaths.
"Oh, lass," I heard Alastor say softly as he slipped both arms around me and held me tightly. "Let it go. It's all right."
I cried for a very long time and evidently fell asleep in his arms. When I woke several hours later I found he'd got me to the pallet and had tucked the blanket well around me.
I knew it was a dream, but it was surprising nonetheless. I didn't usually dream of home -- but then my dreams had been more unusual and vivid since coming to Hogwarts; something in the water or air, or simply from the magic. Magic does affect us Muggles, you know -- it doesn't rub off on us, precisely, but the longer we're exposed to it the easier it is to sense and recognise.
This wasn't strictly a dream, though: it was a memory.
It was a relatively calm night for early spring, but still chilly, and Da had built up the turf fire before settling down to mark his students' papers.
I've neglected to tell you that. He was a Leenane schoolmaster, you see -- it runs in the family, apparently. My mother... well, let's say the situation was similar to Severus', except that she'd left on rather more amicable terms than his had. She wasn't cut out for life in a little backwater. So Gran, Da, Beth and I lived in the little cottage near the sea, quite comfortably, it seemed, though at the age of eight I hadn't any other standard to judge by.
I was struggling with maths -- even then -- and trying to resist the urge to throw the textbook across the room; Gran was cleaning up from supper, and getting ready to start on the mending and sewing she did every night. Beth, three years old, was already in bed.
The knock at the door jarred all of us out of the routine. It was never good when that happened: it usually meant one of the neighbours was ill and required Gran's help.
Da rose and opened the door.
"Sean," he said with surprise, and stepped aside to let the visitor in. It was Sean Fallon, one of the fisherfolk who lived in a little settlement on an island about a mile out. He was one of a dying breed: not many of the islanders had stuck it out after World War II, and the independent island life was dying out.
"Evening," Sean said as he cleaned his boots before stepping in; like all of us he spoke Irish, but it was with an even stronger accent than ours, because of the island's isolation. "I'm sorry, Missus," he said apologetically to Gran, "but it's Caitleen. She's failing fast, and Da sent me for you, if you can come."
Gran had already guessed, and was hurrying to grab her coat and slicker.
I don't know what possessed me, but I piped up and asked, "Can I come?"
Da shot me a look, his face tired and ashen.
I'd lose him, too, before long.
"You hate going out, with the sea as it is tonight," he reminded me gently.
"I want to go with Gran," I said stubbornly.
"It's all right, Manus," Gran murmured, and pulled my slicker from its hook. "I think it's time she started to learn. And we'll be safe with Sean."
Sean had an actual fishing boat -- a trawler -- one of the few who did, and it could navigate the often-choppy channel far better than most.
"All right, then," Da said softly.
He usually listened to Gran. Most people did, though she was short and slight (even by the age of eleven I was already as tall as she); she had an air of quiet authority that people in our parts respected.
I'd gone with Gran on some calls -- but never birthings, as she was called in when things went wrong, and seldom on deaths, though I'd seen a few. I'd never been out to the island.
Gran wasn't a healer, precisely. I suppose some people would have called her a White Woman; an elder to whom people came with their problems and for basic simples, when they couldn't afford to go to the doctor in Leenane -- and especially when people were very ill or dying; the fisherfolk in particular had never been on good terms with the village priest. She'd learned it from her mother, and she from hers, for God knows how many generations back. It was a tradition independent of Christianity or Catholicism, although some of those forms and phrases had been incorporated into the old ways.
Gran grabbed for the little bundle she always took with her as I slipped into my slicker, and then we left the cottage, Sean holding his lantern high so we could pick out the path that led to the cliff and the rough steps leading down to the jetty where he'd moored his boat. Sean got us safely settled, and we pulled away into the channel, the boat's lights reflecting off the water.
The sea wasn't particularly rough, that night, and I was too excited to notice in any case. It didn't take long; Sean pushed the engine and skillfully navigated. He knew every inch of the sea within a twenty-mile radius of the island.
We pulled up alongside the dock on the island, guided by a lantern held by Sean and Caitleen's da, who helped us off with muttered thanks to Gran and then swiftly led us up to the little settlement and a tiny house, even rougher than our cottage; there was no electricity on the island, so the paths were dark, and the homes lit with oil lamps.
Caitleen Fallon wasn't much older than I, but she was very ill: leukemia. Her family had scraped together the money to take her to Belfast to see a specialist, but there wasn't much he could do. Caitleen was dying, and her family was doing the only thing they could, now: calling my Gran to do a blessing, in hopes of easing her passing.
Her bedroom was tiny, and smelled of long sickness, impending death, and the familiar, peaty tang of turf smoke; the girl's breathing was rough and appallingly infrequent. Her mother sat in the room with her, silent and numb, while her aunts talked quietly in the outer room.
"Maire," Gran said gently as she removed her slicker and coat, and the woman acknowledged the greeting with a nod, her eyes never leaving Caitleen's face. Gran sat at her bedside and examined her.
"She won't keep anything down," Maire said dully. "We tried the tonic you gave us last time, but it's no use. She chokes it back up."
Gran nodded absently, and smoothed a hand over Caitleen's brow.
"There's only one thing to do, then, Maire," she said softly.
Maire didn't respond.
"Do it," Caitleen's father whispered behind us.
So Gran did, and then settled down in another chair to wait. I fell asleep at one point afterwards, and woke only when Maire's keening started, around daybreak.
We had a silent trip home on the boat, and I stayed home from school. And when I'd gone out that afternoon to help Gran with tending her garden, she'd said, "That'll be your job when I'm gone, my heart -- yours or Beth's. Even when there's nothing to do for the person themselves, it's a comfort for the living."
I hadn't needed to. By the time I'd turned eighteen the settlement had been abandoned; most folks went exclusively to the doctor and their priest or minister. Gran had been the last person I knew who'd have really wanted the Dying Blessing, had I not been on the other side of the Atlantic when she'd passed.
I tried to go back to bed, but I simply couldn't shake off the sense that something was wrong -- more than was already wrong, at any rate -- and pulled on my robe and slippers, and made for the Infirmary.
Molly was hurrying out of the public ward when I reached the Infirmary corridor, and she started at the sight of me.
"Oh, Miranda -- come along, dear," she said as she opened the door to shoo me in. "He's taken a turn, and Poppy... well, she wanted me to get you," she said hurriedly.
I broke into a run for the private ward.
Poppy, Alastor and Minerva were clustered around Severus' bed, and I could hear his breaths -- hard, laboured, and with a hint of a death rattle.
Poppy reached out an arm for me. "It started suddenly," she said softly, and pulled me closer to the bed, gently pushing me down onto its edge. "There's nothing more I can do. I can't even seem to ease him. It will happen soon, I think."
His lips were cyanotic, his overall colour ashen, and he was obviously struggling, even in the coma. Despite the miraculous things mediwizardry could accomplish, this was obviously beyond them: this last journey had to be faced the way every other human being must.
Dear God, why does this have to be so difficult for him? After all that he's been through, why couldn't this one thing have been --
His breath hitched, and for a heart-stopping moment I thought that was it, before he struggled to take another. Minerva stifled a sob.
I smoothed the lank, dull, lifeless hair away from his face, and before I knew what I was about I'd slipped into that place than Gran had told me about; fighting with my own panic to enter that still, calm centre and to dredge up words that I'd heard only a few times, and never had to use myself. And then I put my trembling hands to the front of his hospital gown and tore it down the middle past his breastbone, eliciting exclamations from Poppy and Minerva.
"Quiet," Alastor commanded. "She knows what she's doing."
I hope to God he's right.
I placed my right hand over his heart and my left on his forehead and leaned over him to whisper in his ear, as I'd seen Gran do, and the words came unbidden, in Irish, and appropriate to Severus' status.
Listen, beloved, for it is soon told:
know by all the gods that you are loved beyond measure;
know that you are honoured, as the great kings, as Cúchulainn and the heroes of old;
I would that Donn, Lord of the Dead, would take pity on those assembled here and leave you with us, with me, beloved --
Part of my brain noted distantly that Alastor had stepped behind me and placed his hands over mine, giving me the support and warmth of his own body, and other hands -- Poppy's, Minerva's, Molly's -- gently rested at Severus' shoulder and along his arm, on the other side of the bed.
I would take from you this pain, this torment, that your leaving might be easy: that you might enter the Otherworld with grace and taste the joys of life with the gods, until your soul's time to return to us has come.
My hands under Alastor's were practically burning, now; I didn't know if that was good or bad or whether it was from Severus or me, never having actually done this before.
I bent to Severus' still, slack face and kissed his eyes and lips, and then lifted my hands -- it was a wrench -- and fell back against Alastor. And that's all I remember for a while.
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