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Someone To Run To (32/32 - Part Two)

 

Quite naturally, there were no windows in the dungeons, and even as dawn approached with chalk-dusted fingers that I might never see again, it stayed dark in our den. There were no shadows for me to watch dancing as I lay awake all morning, waiting for what could be deemed a reasonable hour to wake the man at my side. A part of me ached to leave already, to dust and polish and clean until all my nervous energy was run, but I fought against the desire. This could well be my last day alive; why spend it in meaningless labour when I could lie here in bed with my loved ones?

Still, even if there'd been shadows I wouldn't have watched them anyway. I might have thought it'd be overcome with memory, trying to remember every moment as if doing so would extend it in some way. I wasn't, though. Instead was tracing the wispy auburn curls on Henri-Auguste's head with my eyes, watching the flutter of his lashes as he slept; feeling his baby skin brush against mine with every breath he took. I loved the way he fit into my arms. I loved the fact that he would grow and go to Hogwarts (I half suspected Sirius or the Twins had a pool going on which House they'd be in already) and learn in the same halls his loved ones had traversed daily, which his parents had met and hated each other initially but found love in, as my parents had, as he would, hopefully. I loved the fact that, one day, he'd be a man, maybe tall like his father, with my mother's hair and eyes, and he'd be able to carry on the Snape name for Severus… Instead I was watching my daughter dreaming, the soft waves of her dark hair brushing against the gentle curve of her neck where, someday, some one would kiss her and whisper, "I love you." Everything about her was so small and perfect, it was difficult to imagine that she'd once been inside of me, no more then a mass of cells, a living symbol of the love Severus and I had for each other that people had exclaimed over. Part of me wanted to believe that, if there was anything perfect and good in her, it was because of Severus, but you could tell she was mine by the way she held her head, sometimes, or moved her arms. She was a gift, one to be treasured, to bandage after playground scrapes, to be consoled at the ending of her first love, to grasp her hands tightly before her veil is lowered and she walks down the aisle, to smile back that secret smile when she first suspects she's pregnant, to cry with when in sorrow, to laugh with when happy – in short, to share life with. Knowing what I did, I should have taken up and whispered everything I could never tell her (not when death was so near), but she looked so peaceful asleep…

The clock on the nightstand told me it was quarter-to-five when at last I gave in. I took my children and tucked them into bed in their nursery, where the charmed ceiling showed a night glittering with stars. The enchanted crescent moon shown brightly enough that I could make out the stacks of books and notes I'd collected on the Horcruces, never knowing – never suspecting – that I was that which I sought. I picked one up, a thousand intentions ready in my mind, and then another, and another, until all the spiral bound notebooks I'd filled with speculations were in my hand. Walking slowly, I took them out to the living room and placed them in the empty gate, intending to set them on fire, as if by that act alone I'd be free, then paused.

Someday, in the future, when I was long dead, someone else might discover the secrets of the Horcruces. There might be another, like me, who strove to destroy them. With hebetic clarity, went back into the nursery and pulled the books off my desk, disturbing Paracelsus, who'd fallen asleep in the brightest patch of false moonlight, and grabbed my wand. Back in the living room, I tapped my wand once, twice on a brick at the back of the fireplace, and then another, and another, until I'd created a magically hollowed-out space large enough to store some future hero's bounty. When I was done, the fireplace bricked the opening over until you couldn't tell I'd done anything at all.

I was still in my daze when I re-entered the bedroom. Severus stirred a little as I climbed back into bed. "Something wrong?" he asked sleepily, already pulling himself into sitting position.

"No, love," was my reply, gently pushing him back down. "Just having trouble sleeping."

Wrapping his arm around me, he pulled me close. If only his presence could scare the monsters away! He felt sinfully real where we touched, all warm lines and hard planes – scarred, yes, and showing wear, but more perfect because of it, – and I couldn't resist turning my head but a little and pressing my lips to that hollow at the base of the neck where his collarbones pressed against the skin. "It's nearly time to wake up anyway," he shrugged it off, tilting my head with his free hand to meet his lips.

I responded hungrily, wanting to have as much of his as I could before the end, and rose my hand to his jaw. My fingers traced its shape and ran down his neck to his shoulders and chest, pausing to dally here and there before reaching the hem of his pyjama bottoms and taking the gauntlet back to tangle in his hair. Before long, the hand that kept my face secure to his had moved to pull me atop him, both hands resting – for the moment – on the small of my back as our chests, bellies, and thighs pressed together. It was a delightful feeling, one I hated to change but did anyway when I pulled myself up a little to better kiss him.

I moaned a little when his hands travelled lower, cupping my backside for a moment before travelling to the hem of my robe, then under, raking against bare skin as they helped me out of the thin covering. Where his fingers touched me, my body burned and sang for more until we were crashing together, a tangle of arms and legs and comfortable passion that I could live forever in…

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I felt distant as morning grew, unable to ground myself to reality as it surged and pulsated around me. There were miles of difference between accidental martyrdom and passive sacrifice and my mind was trying to cross that difference as fast as it could, not knowing when the final blow would land. I didn't see a way I could die and go on living, though I'd survived the AK before. My blood had been used in Voldemort's resurrection spell; my mother's protection, as far as it extended to physical shielding, had been negated and, nevertheless, transferred to my children. I couldn't count on it a second time.

I was going to die. You could see why it might be hard to concentrate on Potions, even if my husband was the one teaching. He was explaining what we (meaning my KoRT) had decided to do about NEWTs, since there wasn't exactly a Ministry to give them anymore. So the Hogwarts professors would give them, and I'd put my magic stamp on them and call them official… But forgive me if a) listening to someone explain an idea I'd partially come up with to people who'd much rather we just forgo NEWTs this year is enough to cause me near-physical pain and b) the fact that I might not live to take NEWTs made the whole situation doubly painful. So, instead, I stared at my reflection in the cauldron before me and tried to pull myself out of this funk.

It doesn't work. I just start thinking about the classes I have to teach after this, and how it seems I'm not going to break the curse on DADA teachers after all. Then I try thinking about something neutral, like tapioca, which somehow leads me to thinking about how global warming is destroying penguins' native habitats and, thus, their extinction. So then I started on something totally mindless and began listing the kings of England in order, but got tripped up at the Angevins and decided I should just stew in my funk and be miserable, because that was so obviously what I my body wanted to do today. It was God-damned annoying, and I just wanted to forget everything I'd dreamt of last night so I could get on with my life, however much time I had left…

Acel thought he could help by singing "Hey Jude," having recently developed a fascination for The Beetles because of their name. This fascination extended bands with all sorts of insectoid names and, as this line invariably led to a 'discussion' led by Par about the various pros and cons of each type of insect the Runespoor had encountered at Hogwarts, I was usually inclined to shutting him up before he could get too far. I let him have his fun today and continued staring at my reflection, barely paying attention to what Paracelsus may have been singing or doing.

I didn't know what to say, what to think. I knew I should do something for my children, right some letter or note or something for them so that when they were older they'd know I loved them… know something about me other then what people might tell them. …But [I] had the unfortunate gift of seeing things as they were, and the reality which was offered [me] differed too terribly from the ideal of [my] dreams. [I] did not know how wide a country, arid and precipitous, must be crossed before the traveller through life comes to an acceptance of reality… They were young, and no words or stories or anything else I could do could change the fact that they would not remember me. All they would know of me was that Voldemort killed me, like he killed my parents, and that I gave them long names they probably wouldn't understand or care for. I'd just be another tomb out by the lake to them. And what's a tomb to a child?

I was disrupted from my thoughts by a nuntius hitting me full force in the back of my head. Come to gate ASAP, the message said, Tonks sounding very Auror-like and not a little nauseated as she continued, a portkey arrived… with a message for you.

I didn't like the sound of something that might make Tonks sound nauseated, but gave a small, sad smile to Severus (my eyes probably to dull from my morbid thoughts to show all of the love and devotion I felt towards him in that brief second that I wanted him to know if this was the last time I ever saw him) and headed out to the gate. Thunderous claps were rumbling the school walls and I knew even without looking that it wasn't some late spring storm, as one might expect in Scotland, but something worse. Each clap sounded vaguely gong-like, less sharp and more scratching then you'd expect thunder to sound, especially in the bowels of the school. By the time I reached the entrance hall, I spared only the most perfunctory of glances towards the sky, but faltered at what I saw: a pale, golden light bubbled around the school protectively (the wards, I guessed) and reflected in that way soap bubbles and oil slicks as the morning light hit it. Radiating waves of violent colour – scarlet, acid green, electric orange – passed across the bubble with each 'thunder' clap, and the bubble shuddered.

The gate was a long walk from the castle, even at the brisk pace I forced upon myself. I could see, however, even at a distance gathered 'round the inside of the gate was the better part of the Order at Hogwarts. Rising over them was the old gothic sign proclaiming us the most magical place in all Britton and, beyond those iron bars, a mass of black and fear.

No. Not fear. That wasn't right. It was anticipation, dread, hesitancy, conviction, culmination and conclusion; it was the crescendo of adrenaline in the veins, quickening the heart and lungs, speeding everything around you until minutes lasted hours and desire to strike, to be done with it overcame apprehension; it was the panic of seeing the massed enemy too, masked and faceless, in such overwhelming numbers and knowing that they cared not about you, not whether you lived or died, or had a family, wealth, power, or prestige, because, if we failed here, our cause would be lost forever.

That was what they felt; the emotion rolling off of all of them so strongly it was a scent in the air, "Overture to Egmont" in my ears. The fear, from so deep down I'd never delved so far before, I sensed coming from myself. Whatever the panther had shown me about great-grandchild's birthday and said about it being possible was a lie. I was afraid to loose it and the future it came with. I was afraid to die.

But I kept walking still, and before long I was at the gate. The Order moved aside to let me pass easily, without fight. Their eyes hardly moved from the 'message' before the gate:

The body was naked, male, lying face up on the ground directly before the gate. Signs of captivity and torture were evident upon the pale, marble-white skin – streaks of mud on the hands and feet; sweat-and-blood-matted hair spackled to the cold face; raw cuts on the wrist and ankles; even the dark, fresh bruises were yellowing as the blood succumbed to gravity. A "Y" shaped incision, tracing from each shoulder and meeting at the breastbone before slashing straight through to the groin, splattered the area in such a way that made it all to evident that the heart had only just stopped beating when this occurred. On the forehead (only inches from the gate, so there was no mistaking it) was the shape of a circle inscribed inside a triangle and bisected by a single, straight line.

It was the mark of the Hallows, those wretched Hallows, and the body was that of Draco Malfoy. Though he'd never touched it, Malfoy had been the Master of the Elder Wand for almost a year. And now he was dead because of it.

I turned by back on the sight and spoke to Tonks, his cousin, who was closest. "Voldemort's coming to Hogwarts. Make the preparations."

She nodded and turned away willingly. Seeing this, I started up the path and took it the lake, where the marble tomb sat prophetically. I pulled out my wand and sat down beside it, waiting, and trying to convince myself that I wasn't afraid of what was surely coming next.

I sat like that for hours, knowing full well what was going on around me. Some were taking down the tent city; others were arming booby traps in the forest that would force the better part of the invading army onto the path, which too was being readied – trenches with spiked and spelled bottoms dug and covered with the illusion of being whole, tripwires that would shoot bolts of arrows; - while others too were readying the school. All around me wards were being placed, portkeys to the hospital wing and St. Mungo's being passed around.

And then, suddenly, sitting there thinking about everything that was being taken from me – that, when I'd become the Girl-Who-Lived, I'd also become the Girl-Who-Must-Die – I remembered something. A quote, naturally, because I never knew how to speak the words I felt, not in a way anyone else could understand them. The quote was from the Salvadoran novelist Manlio Argueta:

If I'm called on to shed blood, my blood it doesn't matter because it's for the good of everyone else.

I had to die. But my death would be all but the end for Voldemort. If I didn't, things would carry on as they were now. Other people would die, other lives would be destroyed. But, with one little death… my two little children wouldn't have the cloud hanging over their heads that we had…

If I had to die, I would go having destroyed as much of the Darkness as I could.

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I could not tell you how it happened if I tried. There are others, with better eye for such things then I, who could tell you the play of the battle.

There was a series of three ward layers around the border – one running along the walls with the strongest, heaviest of defences as well as the anti-apparition and anti-portkey wards; the other two were just inside the walls, with additional layers of the various anti- wards, but relatively weak – and an unknown amount of fortification around the gate. There must have been a decent arithmancer or three with them, because the Death Eaters didn't blast through the gate, but rather found the edge of the reinforcing wards and broke through the wall just outside of that late Friday night.

The Death Eater's sent the Inferi through after that, the dead, with their grey, shrunken skin and rotting bodies, flinging themselves at the inner shields until they collapsed. It was done mindlessly, the wretched beings plodding off in whatever direction they were sent in; some ran into the forest to be destroyed by the animals and traps there, while others still managed to circle 'round, flinging themselves at the wall in a travesty of an escape attempt. But when that much cannon fodder is sent through, it is inevitable that enough survive to cause damage. And men fell to them, the animated corpses of men and women and children with half-decayed bodies and inches of exposed bone mindlessly, tediously, overwhelmingly rending those they caught, smothering them as they mindlessly, tediously, overwhelming pulled the living limb from limb.

It felt like hours were spent merely destroying these monstrosities, sending ignises and flagarates and artafyrus (and, in my case and a very few others, the Darker infernus, which some called The Skin-Scorcher Hex for good reason). It can't have been, though, and someone else who was there could probably tell you better then me the details. All I know is that the night was alight with burning Inferi and whatever else managed to get caught up in the flames, and that, when dawn came, it was masked by the thick, oily smoke…

I was perched in a tree charmed flame-retardant fifty different ways near the edge of the forest during this time. My lower back ached from the awkward position I was forced to take and twigs, angry at my intrusion, scratched my bare skin to pieces, but it was better then standing on the ground, in the path of the monsters.

And then there were giants coming through Hogsmeade, and Inferi there too. And it was madness. Death Eaters were entering the grounds, and there was smoke everywhere, and spell-fire shadows emblazoned across the eyes of everyone in the field. There was screaming, and yelling, and moans of pain, and the raging of fire and the thudding of boulders as student volunteers from the old DA fired mangonels from the highest of the school's towers as the stones ripped into buildings and tore into the horny hide of the giants on the far side of the wall.

I am not a strategist. I can plan supply lines, but not battles, and left that to other people. Better people. All I know is that there were Death Eaters before me – enemies to fight in the deepest of black; hideous, inhuman masks over their human faces – and, when I fought them, sending backwards with iaceos or impedimentas or deprimos or dirumpis or sectumsemperas. One came forward, and it would be a spell through the gut. If he blocked it or came through it alive, I sent another. Powerful spells. Dark spells. Simple but effective spells. They came forward, and I knocked them down. Or, if I couldn't, I did my best to incapacitate them. I didn't notice the battering I took or the vibrant blue light that extended a good six inches around me. I did not feel tired. I did not feel pain. All I knew was anger, the seething anger that was the only counter to despair I knew, and went on murdering and torturing and debilitating the enemy for so long I wondered if Voldemort was holding anyone at all back from his assault.

The sun rose at some point and poked out from behind slick clouds, but I barely noticed it. Night or day, all I knew was that I was fighting as I always had for my life and, if I lived through this, by God and Merlin – and Herne and Hecate and Krishna and Yahweh and every angel and devil man had ever created, just to be safe – I'd, I'd….

But I wouldn't. I couldn't. So I prayed to the unknowable and unknown beings that I'd live through the madness of this battle, where everything swarmed and loomed and smelled of sweat and death and fear, so Voldemort could kill me.

God and all the rest, I hoped there was a hell. That way Voldemort could smoulder there for everything he'd done. And his Death Eaters. And, that way, even if these bastards die thinking they're the greatest thing since the bread-slicing charm, they can be called before whatever final judgement there is and be told by whoever's in charge, "You did wrong. You did terribly awfully, insanely wrong. You may have thought you were doing my will, but you weren't. I said be fruitful and multiply. I also said something about not murdering. And not committing adultery. And stealing. Or worshiping false gods and/or Dark Lords. If I wanted to rid the world of Muggleborns, I'd have done it myself; I'd not have needed your help with it. Remember that whole thing with the leviathan? The thing with the hook and the cord let down from heaven – that was me. By me, if I'd not wanted them, I wouldn't have made them in the first place. So, yeah, checking off the list, you murdered, stole, raped, pillaged, destroyed, massacred, tortured, coveted, bowed before false idols…. Pretty much the whole list of things-not-to-do, really. So you get to go with the goats and try, however futile it may be, to repent." The fact that I just had that thought shows how badly messed up I am. If the whole accepting the I-need-to-die thing didn't make that clear.

I don't know who I battled. I barely remember who I fought beside as I moved from the forest towards the castle, though I do recall throwing myself in front of a crucio meant for Tonks and throwing a very different Unforgivable back at the responsible bastard when I was able to breathe again. I don't think I wanted to know. It was easier if I didn't. But there was no mistaking the silence that fell when Voldemort came onto the field, late in the afternoon. I must have been fighting for twelve hours straight, and the Order members around me (Severus was there somewhere, I'd seen him; he'd been doing well for himself then. Sirius was here too, and Ari, and Remus, and Tonks, and Fleur, and Ron and Hermione, and all the world it seemed, and some were fallen, and we were being pushed back into the castle, and Mrs. Weasley was past her breaking point and fighting like a cornered cat as she screamed at whom I presumed to be Thickense for killing Fred, and I couldn't breathe when I heard that, but continued to fight….) were falling back, or I was moving forward. And there were cries for me to stop, to come back…

There was no denying it: I saw Voldemort, and I ran forward, throwing a shield up over me with one thought and a thousand curses I'd no strength left for with another. He was surrounded by a guard-cum-entourage of sorts – red-eyed Narcissa Malfoy, square-jawed Dolohov, and a couple of others I couldn't make out from behind their masks – as he made his way towards Dumbledore's tomb. I was the only one who knew, the only one who knew of the secret. Dumbledore had won the wand from Grindelwald, whom he'd loved. Draco had killed Dumbledore, though the wand had been pointed at me. Voldemort, presumably, had murdered Draco and sent his minions to leave his corpse as a message before the gates of the school. A equals B equals C, Voldemort was now the master of The Elder Wand.

The innocent fairytale echoed in my head as I rushed to cut him off, to reach the white marble sepulchre before him and defend it with my life, if necessary, too keep him from getting the legendary wand inside… So the oldest brother, who was a combative man, asked for a wand more powerful than any in existence: a wand that must always win duels for its owner, a wand worthy of a wizard who had conquered Death! Everything was so clear in my sight now that everything I'd forced myself to ignore to force myself to this end became falcon-sharp to my bleary eyes:

There were a good two dozen bodies littering the ground between where I was and my destination. Some of them were cold and still, that grey pallor setting into their skin that instinctively caused any who saw it to shy away. Of these, some had apparent causes of death that caught my eyes as I leaped over and hurled myself around them. There were bloody wounds that stained the baby's breath of grass a dark red-black, making it slick beneath my feet. Others sported purplish marks across the neck, or no neck or waist at all, a few white vertebrae sticking cruelly beyond the torn flesh. The others were groaning, moaning, trying to pull themselves to unsteady feet or falling into that final slumber to which so many here today had been condemned. Faces, wracked with pain or showing only dim surprise, stuck out in my memory. I knew so many of them, very few well, but they'd been my fellows, my enemies, my friends, my opponents.

The sky was a clear blue, the smoking having started to billow to the south now, away from the majority of the fighting, leaving the sun to shine coldly over the slaughter. It sparkled off the lake blindingly. It was a beautiful day, the kind Scotland rarely sees, being both clear and warm without being overly humid. Students should have been out on the grounds, taking in the spring, doing homework or trying futilely to study for real exams. It was almost a mockery of any and everything we believed in. It was a terrible day, ergo according to the Romantics it should be dark and thundering, quite possibly raining.

There was fear and hatred and something else stuck in my throat, making me want to be sick, to fall to my knees and gag and just die already because that's all I was good for. There was weariness in my bones, which didn't know how they found the strength to run…

And then I was before the tomb, staring straight at my executioner. "Hello, Tommy," I said, voice somehow strong despite it all. "Took you long enough." Great, I was teasing him again. I really needed to learn to control my sarcastic impulse. It would get me in trouble one day. Like today.

"Harry Potter," he said very softly. I spared a glance from him to look towards the castle. A few of the Order – so distant I couldn't make them out as anything other then coloured blobs in the distance – were rushing to my aid. I wished they wouldn't. It was between the two of us, just the two of us, just as it had always been, no matter how much I wanted to be stopped, to be dragged back, to be sent back home… But Hogwarts was my home, no matter the Château d'Nuages the Potter family had in Calais that I'd never seen but had been told I was born in, or Grimwauld Place, or the Snape family home Severus had once mentioned in Kent. It was the first ad best home I had known. Me and Voldemort and Snape, the abandoned children, had all found home here… and were all fighting as if for home now… "The Girl-Who-Lived."

I considered curtsying in mockery, but decided my legs couldn't take it. "It's Éléonore Snape, actually, but you can call me Countess Dover."

He hissed, the snake-like slits that took the place of a nose on his face flaring.

"That isn't the way this works, Potter."

"Isn't it?" I swayed a little on my feet, but kept at it. Sing-song, "'The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord,' that's you," I inserted, "'approaches… Born to those who have thrice defied him,' that's my parents, 'born as the seventh month dies,' that's me. A equals B equals C, Tommy dearest." He strode forward, the snake that was his one other Horcrux circling around his feet. I wondered where Paracelsus had gotten to in all the fighting, and if he was okay, and if Winky had managed to keep Claudia and Henri-Auguste safe, and how Severus had managed. "'…neither can live while the other survives,' and one of us is about to leave for good…" Yes… me.

"One of us?" he taunted me in return, not understanding. He was lazily pointing his wand at me, as if I posed him no challenge at all. For all my magic and all my knowledge, I wouldn't stand a chance against him in a fair fight. But neither of us fought fair, now did we? "You think it will be you," (a snake-like laugh that would've sounded more human coming from my Runespoor). "You think it will be you, do you, the girl who has survived by accident. Who are you going to let die for you today? Your traitor of a husband, perhaps? Your mutt of a godfather?"

"No. You won't be killing anyone tonight. You won't be killing anyone ever again."

He honestly laughed then, and it was a sickening sound. "You think you know more magic then I do? Than I, than Lord Voldemort, who has preformed magic that Dumbledore himself never dreamed of?"

I debated on saying something about how he shouldn't end sentences with prepositions before deciding that I needed sleep really badly. No matter, it'd be over soon just 'one moment of pain perhaps and, then, sleep forever, and ever and ever. It might be restful, death. Peaceful. Maybe there was a Heaven, and I might see my parents there, if I wasn't sent to the other place for all the evil I'd done. But at least the war would be over, and my family and my friends and all the world could move on with their lives. "Oh, he dreamed of it, alright. So've I, for that matter. I killed Lucy, you know, and Trixie too. Bet that must have pissed you off. But at least I knew enough not to do what you've done-"

He was getting angry then, and angry men did stupid things, as I'd long ago learned. "You mean you both were weak! Too weak to dare, too weak to take what might've been yours, what is mine!"

"Yes, yes," it was almost dismissive now, my voice. I felt so old standing there, trying to be brave, as I waited to die. It was all I could do not to vomit, and even then I only think I managed because I'd not eaten anything in pick-your-deity–knew how long. "You killed Draco Malfoy. The Elder Wand is yours. But the wand chooses the wizard, they say…"

Snorting now, becoming brave as he prepared to slaughter a seventeen-year-old girl, "You think it would choose you-"

"Me? I think nothing. I know. I know about the little half-blood boy from St. Giles' who was so proud of himself for scaring two little orphans that he went back later and hid Slytherin's locket there. I know how you killed one of the Hufflepuff heirs, Hepzibah Smith, for her ancestress's Cup, and how you hid it away in Trixie's vault at Gringotts. I know too how you found the lost Diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw and hid that away too, in a room you thought in your arrogance no one else ever had or would learn about – just so you know, the Malfoy's former House Elf told me where the room was. Dumbledore found your grandfather's ring, so I can't take credit for that one, but I did destroy your diary and your pet Basilisk when I was twelve. I know how this just puts one little thing between me and your end, Tommy. Regardless of whatever wand you're claiming at the moment."

Those that had run forward to stop me were now being held off by his guards – Severus was fighting Dolohov, Sirius Cissy; Tonks and Remus and, surprisingly, McGonagall holding off the other four masked ones; others had come down towards the lake, students mostly, and were watching the proceedings with a mixture of awe and fear, as if they knew this was my last stand – and we each turned to look towards them – me, as if hoping I could say goodbye, properly, to the man I loved; Voldemort, too see how much time he had to taunt me, to point out that he'd still one more Horcrux and I'd tested my luck too much for one lifetime – for a moment, then back to each other. His hate-filled red eyes bore into mine, which were fighting not to blink. So this was it. This was the end.

"Are you going to dare then to be so ignorant? Are you going to use Dumbledore's favourite solution," he spat, "love, which he claimed conquered death, though love did not stop him from falling from the tower and breaking like an old waxwork. Love, which did not prevent me from stamping out your Mudblood whore of a mother like a cockroach, Potter – and nobody seems to love you enough to run forward this time and take my curse. So what will stop you dying now when I strike?"

After a pause, "Nothing." It was true. The only thing that could stop me was me, and I'd not even try. The pause was only because I'd debated quoting, "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine," and decided that, if I must die today, my last words would be my own, however simple.

The Dark Lord laughed then, and I gave a tight grimace of a smile in return. Them, suddenly, without further drama, he rose his yew wand towards my chest, and I aimed mine just as quickly. His voice was the sound of a snake screaming, high-pitched and glass-shattering, as he shouted, "AVADA KEDAVRA," and the sickly green spell came rushing towards me. Mine was calmer; a whisper of things left undone, as I rapidly lowered mine towards the still-circling Nagini: "Avada Kedavra."

A rushing wind filled my ears as I felt my body s…l…o…w…l…y begin to collapse, all warmth and light flitting away; but I saw my own spell hit the snake Horcrux first, and smiled as I let death take me.

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I knew immediately it was Hell because, presumably, the ground wouldn't be violently shaking like it was now if this was Heaven. I knew I should move, to get out of the way of the sharp stones hitting my back and legs, or at least to lift my head up out of the mass of sweet-smelling grass, but I couldn't bring myself to do so.

There was a ringing in my ears that I couldn't quite understand at first, but it faded away quickly, and I prepared myself to hear the screams of the damned, or whatever constituted background noise in Hell. But, when it cleared, it was not cries of torture that I heard, but howls of despair.

"No, no!"

"Ely!"

"Éléonore!" they were calling, weeping openly for me, while others protested at the desecration of Dumbledore's tomb…

"It's mine," he whispered so low that only I (now beginning to suspect I wasn't as dead as I thought I was) could hear. "The Elder Wand is mine." I could hear the sound of feet on marble splinters, the muted, gravelly sound. Then, as if declaring victory, I heard the voice amplified. "Harry Potter is dead. The battle is won. You have lost many of your fighters. I have killed your so-called hero, the Girl-Who-Lived. There will be no more war, and any who continue to resist, man, woman, or child, will be slaughtered, as will every member of their family. Come forward, kneel before me, and you shall be spared. Your parents and children, your brothers and sisters will live and be forgiven, and you will join me in the new world we shall build together."

There was silence, and pain coming back to my limbs.

To my surprise, it was Severus who spoke next, coming from closer then I'd realized. He'd never been one for tears, but his voice sounded tight, forced, as if he was restraining a Gryffindor-ish desire to throw himself at his wife's (seeming) murderer until there was nothing left but a bloody pulp of one of them. "I bowed before you once, and would rather die then do so again."

Darkly, "So be it." I swore I could hear his wand rising, and I stopped thinking about how on earth I wasn't dead and how I had to be lying in or around pieces of Dumbledore's tomb (which, from the sounds of the explosion, meant I was probably lying in or around pieces of Dumbledore too) or any of the rest of it, but only about my family. Severus was going to die, thinking me dead, and leave our children alone. I wasn't going to let him do that. I wasn't going to let my children loose their father…

Not realizing what I was doing, I pulled myself painfully, wretchedly, and all too slowly to my feet. But it didn't seem to take that long, not when I saw Voldemort still aiming his wand, not when it seemed nobody had realized my supposed corpse was moving. My wand was gone, who knew where, but I wasn't thinking of wands anyway. Madly, painfully, wretchedly I ran the small distance and flung myself at the Dark Lord's back and, amazingly, in his surprise, he fell.

I started beating on him – yes, Voldemort was facedown for the moment, and I was half atop him, pounding at him with my fists that were starting to glow a bright and terrible blue – and muttering incoherent things, how he couldn't expect to try to kill my husband, try to kill me, and get away with it, while all around me the people were shouting how I was alive, how it was a miracle, and Severus, who'd been poised to die fighting, stood stock still in shock.

Voldemort struggled to get up, but it was surprise more then my great weight that seemed to keep down. He managed to roll onto his back, though, and see my glowing hands on his neck as he sputtered, "But I killed you… you were dead…" and I spat, "Suvula," The Awl Charm, and saw the blood drench the hands that had been ineffectually strangling The Dark Lord and pass straight through what had, once, been his neck and stop at the soaked ground beneath.

"No, Tommy boy," I heard myself saying, "I killed you."

The silence hung in the air, the moment continuing long past the ticking of Time: and then the wave broke and I was at the centre of it, and there were screams and cheers and roars from the watchers, and Severus had somehow reached me and pulled me into his arms, kissing me mightily despite the blood on my hands and the crowd around us, and there were hands reached out to touch me, to thank me, as someone started repeating over and over again that the war was ended, that it was over, and at some point we managed to get away, just Severus and Sirius and Tonks and Remus and all and me, and we descended upon HQ, where more hands shook mine and thanked me and Winky handed me my children, who were overwhelmed at the noise but Claudia laughing at it all, and someone (probably Paracelsus) turned on music and there was dancing and rejoicing and a bottle of the Potter vineyard's finest cremant d'Alsace brut rosé – a 1953 – put in my hand, and no one could sleep and some were mourning and names of the dead said with honour (for ours) and disgust (for theirs) and there was Ari coming to me to try and get some sort of Ministry thing set up to start the recovery but never got very far because Sirius, who'd been praising the cremant d'Alsace brut rosé, almost immediately jumped up and kissed her fiercely, dipping her almost to the floor as some of the Order cheered and Fleur passed a handful of galleons to Tonks's free hand (the other being taken up by little Teddy as she tried to get him to change his hair to a bright victory gold) and I knew, just knew, as I sat there, surrounded by everyone I loved, Henri-Auguste at my breast and a tired but too-excited to sleep Claudia bouncing on Severus's knee as a smile crossed my husband's face and Paracelsus fiddled across the room with the radio, that our lives were ours now. And we would live as happily as could be expected for the rest of our lives, … until there came to us Death, the One-Who-Destroys-All-Happiness.

Epilogue.