Chapter Eleven: The Repercussions of Failure
A violent altercation escalated into what sounded to be a particularly brutal fight outside of Harry's inn door. She seized her wand, threw open her door, and discovered two drunks beating each other mercilessly.
It's almost dawn. Shouldn't you be sleeping? "Soberius Somnius!" I should be sleeping.
The men fell like stones. Harry slammed shut her door.
Having left Lucius Malfoy like an unwrapped Christmas gift for the Ministry, all she wanted to do was sleep.
She knew she was not alone the instant she warded her door.
"Disconcelarus!" she cast, making a sweeping motion with her wand.
The tall, invisibility cloaked figure of Severus Snape became visible across the room by the window. He removed the temporarily useless garment, and proceeded to fold it carefully.
"Don't you mean 'miss'? And is that my cloak?"
Severus placed the cloak on a chair behind him. "The headmaster insists that your status as a novice remain intact, despite . . . recent developments, and yes, I took the liberty of borrowing your cloak so that I might have a quiet journey."
"Have they found him?"
The Potions master stiffened. "Whom do you mean?"
"Lucius Malfoy. I left him for the Aurors hours ago," Harry said matter-of-factly as she pulled a robe on over her nightgown.
Her long braid left a watermark on the fabric of her gown, and Severus made particular note of the fact that the water from her recent bath appeared to be clear.
"Indeed, Lucius Malfoy has been found."
"I know that I probably shouldn't have left him in such a state, but I was angry."
Harry propped up pillows against the headboard of her bed and leaned into them, apparently exhausted.
"You look rather awful. Please, sit down."
"I'm perfectly well, Harry. Thank you. What state?"
The young woman furrowed her brow. "Are you all right, Professor? What's happened?"
"Harry, tell me that you did not kill him, and I shall believe you."
She sprung up from the bed. "What's going on? I left Lucius Malfoy naked and stupified on the rug before the hearth in his wife's bedchamber. What do you mean, 'tell me that you did not kill him'?"
Severus allowed his shoulders to relax somewhat, but the tension seemed to migrate to his spine. Naked and stupified. "Nymphadora Tonks and Kingsley Shacklebolt discovered the remains of Lucius Malfoy not long after you owled them, Harry. The Ministry has issued a . . . request that you report for questioning."
"The 'remains'? What are you talking about? He's dead? And they want to arrest me for it?"
"No. You are merely being requested to present yourself to assist in a Ministry enquiry. Arthur Weasley was most firm on that point, despite the burden this day has proved to be for him."
"What? There have been more attacks? And are you--are you here because you think that I--"
"No! I am here to ascertain what occurred, and I did not wish to draw attention to your whereabouts to those with whom I am in disagreement. I believe you, Harry."
"So, you're not here to arrest me?"
"If I swear to you that I will not force you to return with me, will you put away your wand?"
"Will you put away your own?"
"Shall we say on the count of three?"
"Merlin's beard, Snape--just take the bloody thing!" Harry exclaimed, as she thrust her wand at him and sat down on the bed.
Severus placed Harry's wand next to his own on the bedside table closest to him, and also sat down. Neither spoke for some moments.
"I had Mrs. Zabini's assistance, Professor. She can tell you that we did take some of Lucius' blood, but only to break the ward he'd placed on his tomb."
"I do not understand."
"It's where he's been keeping his wife."
"Enchanted sleep. The glamour that made her appear to be her butchered husband some months ago was easy enough to dispel. Mrs. Zabini assisted me with an incantation that melted it right off.
So you say, he thought, feeling like the worst fool. "Glamour has always been a favored weapon of the Malfoys. Did Draco know?"
"No. I never told him of my suspicions. Draco's always been . . . funny about his father."
That is one way to put it. "I was actually referring to knowing how his father had chosen to hide from Lord Voldemort."
"You can't possibly believe that after . . . after what his father did to him that Draco would have been in any way disposed to--"
Severus ignored her. Perhaps it was not unreasonable that he had failed to perceive his old friend's trick. You're still defending the boy after what he did to you. "We'll need to resolve the issue of his murder quickly. There are those who will not rest until you pay for it."
"So, everyone does think it was me."
"Many do, given your . . . defection from the ranks of the Order. The feeling is that you have gone rogue."
"That sounds like something Shacklebolt would say."
"I can hardly blame him."
"There are also members of other factions who will wish for your death, believing as they may that you've killed Lucius."
"Plenty of people want me dead. What're a few more?"
Harry looked at Snape and saw sadness dimming his features.
"I apologize. You must feel as though all of your efforts to keep me safe have been wasted."
Severus reached for Harry across the bed, and then dropped his arm suddenly.
Harry decided that she could not bear the loss of Severus' touch a moment longer. She needed comfort badly. She needed him. She would take whatever he would give her.
"Here," she managed to say clearly. "Come here. It's freezing, isn't it?"
She scooted up to lean into the headboard, drawing Snape up to lean next to her, and laying her head on his chest.
He did not protest, but gingerly enfolded the girl in a chaste embrace. Harry . . . . "I'm in no position to judge you."
"Come now, you can't possibly be serious, Professor. Where is the lecture on 'rash acts leading to ruin'?"
"You have never responded well to lecturing."
"And you were right about Narcissa."
"Yes," she responded, pulling herself more firmly against his side, needing the warmth.
"Harry . . . ."
Severus was not certain what it was that he wanted to ask. He was not certain that he wanted to hear the answers to anything he might ask. He only knew that, despite the fact that the world was falling apart, he could not think past the woman lying next him on the bed. He knew she could not possibly love him, but he had her friendship and affection, and that was worth a great deal more than he deserved.
And it is more than I have ever offered you. I should have been there to protect you from him, from both of them.
Any thought Harry might have spared for Charlie faded as she felt Severus yield against her. They never spoke of it, the tension between them. They never acknowledged it in any way, even when they were trying to kill each other--or after.
She remembered the aftermath of her kiss with Ron. Harry had decided to ask Severus if she could come back to live in the dungeons. She had wanted to put Hermione's mind at ease, and she found that she missed the rhythm of her life with the Potions master. She had found him in the Astronomy tower, thinking, and he had smiled, really smiled, in answer to her request. Flustered, she had remarked on the beauty of the evening, and he had conjured several large cushions. They had sat and talked for hours.
It had felt like a date.
But it had been more comfortable than a romantic outing, even when she had awoken just before dawn to find that she was wrapped in the man's arms.
I don't know if you love me, but I don't care, she thought, taking solace in Severus' nearness once again.
She knew that the man thought of her as a . . . friend, and perhaps, as time was growing short, it would be enough.
"Lucius Malfoy--I didn't allow him to touch me."
Severus tensed as if to pull away.
"I don't have to read your mind to know what you're wondering."
Severus allowed Harry to draw him back into her arms.
"But you allowed Draco to . . . ."
"I don't want to discuss it--just know that I wouldn't have done . . . what I did if there had been any other way of being free of him."
"Free to kill him if it came to that, you mean."
"Yes," replied Harry, though that wasn't what she had meant at all.
"And . . . Mr. Zabini?"
"Blaise was there because I was afraid to go to Draco alone."
Oh, gods. "I've failed you, Harry."
"No, Severus. I was never yours to fail."
Snape seized hold of Harry so tightly that she thought she would lose consciousness, but she did not struggle.
Take what you need, she offered silently.
Severus released her and stood up. "No. You owe me nothing."
"Harry, I have something that I must tell you. Hogsmeade was attacked . . . ."
The first thing Harry saw when she appeared in the street was Hermione. She was staring at a bloody patch of ground. Molly Weasley, tears streaming down her face, was gently urging the girl to come away with her.
"Harry!" Sirius called, running toward her.
She allowed her godfather to hug her, but never took her eyes off her friend.
"She's been here for hours. None of us can persuade her to leave."
"We don't know," Remus answered.
"And Albus?" Snape asked.
Sirius looked at the Potions master without his customary expression of distrust and dislike. "Hermione said that he took Ron's bo--Ron . . . away, but we don't know where."
"Mione?" Harry asked gently, walking over to her friend.
She did not respond.
"Oh, Ree. My boys. My little boys."
"My Ron and my Percy. They've gone."
"I didn't know that Percy--"
"Someone tried to kill Arthur, and Percy--"
"Oh, no," Harry cried, clutching Molly, who began to sob.
Hermione made no movement or sound at all.
She needs me, thought Harry, pulling away from Molly and asking, "Would you allow Remus to take you to Fred and George's?"
"Will you take care of Hermione? I should go to Arthur."
Remus was there without being asked. "Molly, I'll bring Arthur to you."
"But you'll take care of Hermione," insisted Mrs. Weasley to Harry.
Remus led Molly away. Without looking up, Hermione spoke in a low voice that only Harry could hear.
"I'm pregnant. I'm going to give Ron a son."
"But you and Ron--"
"Were waiting? . . . We got impatient."
"The night Viktor brought you home."
A week ago? "Hermione," Harry asked carefully, not certain how the shock of losing Ron had taken her friend, "how can you know that you're pregnant?"
An ugly laugh ripped its way out of Hermione's throat. "It's all right there, Harry, in his blood, on the ground. It's all right there."
"Severus didn't tell me how he died."
This isn't happening. This is not happening. "Then . . . then where did the blood come from?"
"I can't tell you that. It's a secret."
Harry pulled Hermione into a fierce hug. She didn't care about the details. Ron couldn't be dead. They would figure it out later. They would find him later. But Hermione needed her now.
No, Hermione needed you hours ago, and you weren't there for her. You failed her. You failed Ron. "I won't fail your son, Hermione, I promise you," Harry whispered into her friend's hair. "Ron's son will grow up safely. I swear."
When Harry walked into her room at the novitiate, Neville was waiting for her. "Longbottom," she acknowledged him without surprise.
"You know that Lucius is dead."
"I'm speaking of Draco."
"I'd rather you didn't."
"An important part of our plan calls for knowing exactly where every Death Eater is at all times."
"So I recall. Must we discuss this now?"
"Do you have a preferred time in mind, Potter?"
When the witch didn't respond, Neville spoke to her rather more sharply.
"Right. That's not how you'll behave. We have things to discuss."
"However galling to you it may be, yes."
"I don't know where Malfoy is, Neville. I don't care. I . . . I need to figure out how to find Ron."
We don't have time for shock, the young Auror thought angrily. "Ron is dead, and nothing is going to bring him back. Nothing is going to heal Hermione. Nothing is going to make you feel any less guilty about his death, ever--except perhaps killing those who are responsible for it."
"Sirius ate the one responsible for it."
"No. Thomas Riddle still lives."
Harry, who had been leaning against the back of her closed door with her head lowered, snapped it up quickly at Neville's use of Voldemort's given name. Neville's . . . confidence--for Harry had no other name for it--had surfaced and championed his every emotion since the slaughter of his parents at St. Mungo's their seventh year at Hogwarts, but she had never heard him sound so . . . dauntless before.
"Steady on, Neville. It wouldn't do to become reckless."
"What would you suggest? Despondence? Cringing in fear because something awful might happen? Conjuring up the same failure repeatedly in your mind of a night to prove to yourself of your own worthlessness? Are you planning to add a second feature to your nightly entertainment, Potter?"
"Sod you, Neville."
"Apparently not," the tall, broad, resolute young man standing before her said in an unflinching tone.
Neville had spell-sought Harry's wand before she could wrap her furious fingers around it properly, and had pinned her back against the door by the time his fellow novice realized that she was defenseless.
I apologize for that. And for the rest. "This won't do, Potter. You're supposed to be the hero."
"You're supposed to be kind."
"I am being kind. What sort of friend allows another to wallow in grief when there's work to be done?"
"Am I not to have some time," Harry asked, yielding to Neville as her tears began to fall, "to mourn Ron?"
In an oddly tranquil tone, Neville replied, "No. . . . It's time."
Neville placed the last of the items he felt he might need into a small satchel on his bed, and glanced around his room.
He had tidied up and made parcels of those few belongings he wanted other people to have. He laughed lightly as he placed Parkinson's silk-swathed wand--which he had "liberated" from her during the Great Potter-Snape Duel--inside of Trevor's old cage. The irony of the packaging would be lost on Pansy, and he regretted that he would miss the resultant furious sex that the receipt of such a gift would inspire in his ill-natured girlfriend.
The knife care kit that would have gone to Ron, he had included with the tiny volume entitled, A Boke of Mercifful Enchantments, by Phlebitus Shphickus in a package that was meant for Blaise.
Neville had left Ron's name on the kit. He had not forgiven Zabini for tucking his tail between his legs and abandoning his partner after the last Order meeting.
Blaise should have fought to stay. He should have been here to fight at Ron's side when the attack came.
But the would-be Auror had not been there for Ron, and Neville never wanted Blaise to forget what had been the consequences of his failure.
"It isn't like you to be vindictive, Neville," he heard his grandmother's voice echo in his mind.
"Shut up, you daft old bat."
Having put the rest of his things in order, he had one last task. Drawing a shaky breath, he turned to the wall over his bed. Hundreds of tiny pieces of paper fluttered against the wall, just like butterflies. On some, black, incomprehensible scrawl crossed their "wings," but on others, on the ones whose patterns bled onto the pieces next to themselves, bold silver calligraphy shone clearly from the shivering sheets.
It was Ron who had suggested that the lunar script looked like language.
It was Hermione who had proposed that the language might be darkly sorcerous in origin when nothing like it could be found in her thorough perusal of the restricted section of the library.
It was Blaise who had recognized the language; he had seen the same markings in a large book from which he had been read to as a child.
It was Harry who had procured the necessary volume that the language might be translated and the spell completed--though she and Neville had not told the others how far they had progressed.
And it was Neville who would see to it that the language on the little sheets--his parents' legacy--was conjured.
"Be seeing you soon, Mum and Dad," he promised, as he let himself out of his cell.
The little scraps of paper lay silently in Ron's otherwise empty basket.
Harry dropped her satchel just inside the door of her room in the dungeons. There was a blaze crackling merrily in the fireplace, and a plate of food had been left next to a flagon of something to drink on the small table by her hearth. Of Severus, there was no sign, but she knew that he would return soon enough. She sat down and picked at her food. It was the first she had touched in almost three days.
Hermione, she had taken to the Burrow and put into bed. All of the Weasleys had followed her soon after, exhausted and soul-sick. With Ron dead, she had felt like a visitor--a burden--an intruder--so she had wrapped herself in the memory of the hugs she had received from her godfather and her heartfather and then left for home.
I wish I had told Remus about my nickname for him, she thought, feeling guilty.
Though she knew it hurt Sirius and Remus, she had never been able to call the house at Grimmauld Place home, and the untidy cottage in Godric's Hollow was nothing but a place to keep secrets and memories that were not really her own. Looking around her bedroom in Severus' suite, she was not certain that she belonged in it, either.
My only true home seems to be within the lines of a prophesy.
But even that position, since the Change, was not secure.
This was precisely why Neville Longbottom would be with her when she walked out to meet what the two of them had elected as their destiny. The Aurors had told no one of their plan to defeat the Dark Lord and his minions all at once for several reasons: One, it did not concern anyone else. Two, they had only recently figured out where they could find the text they needed to help them decipher Neville's parents' message to him. Three, Harry had only just discovered a way to prevent every bearer of the Dark Mark from being bound to the spell she intended to cast. And four, they were only going to use the spell as a last resort, as it would require Harry's, and possibly Neville's, death in order to seal it.
It seemed clear to both of them that there was no longer any time; Albus had told Harry that Death Eaters leading squads of giants or dementors or hags were arranging themselves on the nodes where the Ley Lines intersected all over Britain, and that their attacks were spilling into the Muggle world. Whatever Voldemort was planning was at hand. It was time to act.
Harry had time to eat, bathe, and change, and then she would need to collect her last ingredient for the ritual. Her farewell letters and final documents were already in Dobby's keeping, as she had found the house elf before returning to her room.
It's surreal to be preparing to die while eating tomatoes, Harry thought while cutting into one of the Yellow Perfections that gilded her plate.
It tasted like sunshine, and reminded her of all of the experiences for which she was grateful.
She hoped that she would be able to give the people she loved some peace through her passing.
She hoped it was not selfish to want some peace for herself, as well.
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