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Someone To Run To (24/32 - Part Two)

 

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I took stock of him unconsciously when we apparated onto the ledge before the cave. What strange and peculiar luck, to find a Horcrux in the school walls and a clue to, quite possibly, another elsewhere. It was a curious thing, good luck, and I was filled both with a sense of adventure and foreboding, as if, if too many good things came together at once, a consequence of dire proportions had to happen. That, if we managed to find another Horcrux and destroy the two we had… I don't know what might happen, but something. I personally was thinking Unforgivables…

I'd cast every Unforgivable but Imperio, having used the Killing Curse on Trixie on my wedding night and crucio some months before that. I'd every Unforgivable cast on me, and am the only one in the history of ever to survive the Killing Curse, which'll take someone a lot smarter then me to figure out why, because I don't believe for a second I'm the only person in history whose Mum died to protect them. So, when I say I really, really don't like Unforgivables, I have the full prospective…

Still, I tried to push this out of my mind, counting: two arms, two legs, one head. Check. Out of habit, I did it for Dumbledore too. Not that I had apparated us there myself – they don't want those in gravida apparating or portkeying more then necessary, and thus I'd missed the Ap. Ed. Class this year – but it was a habit I'd developed, making sure everything was in one piece when we arrived, so I knew when exactly everything had fallen to pieces – but still. He'd all his body parts too, as best as I could tell. His hair, like his beard, was long; the same shade of warm grey that, if you looked hard enough, still hinted that he had once been auburn. The same lines were etched into his face, his hands… In lieu of Severus's long-dead father, he stood as a much better loved and much more alive grandfather for Claudia, and would, as far as I was concerned, for any that might follow Claudia, in better days, when the war was over and happiness was allowed again. Dumbledore looked the part of a grandfather now, so very old and tired though, at the same time, as full of life as he had once been when he was my age and the world was a differently evil place. I thought right then that, despite all the mistakes he might have made, leaving me at Azkaban South, leaving Sirius at Azkaban proper, not telling me about the prophesy earlier, that I loved him. Not like Severus, naturally, but like a grandfather. I was proud to know him, proud that he could be part of my family, even as tenuously as a stand-in grandpa.

I could feel the cold chill of Darkness against the summer heat as surely as I smelt the salty sea-spray as it moistened the air around us.

Two Horcruces in one day. Things could surely not be going so well for the Light as this…

"Why here, sir?" I heard myself ask, a warming charm quick off my wand and as quickly dispelled once I realized the cold I felt was not going to disappear with something as simple as that.

"The nuns in charge of Saint Giles's Orphanage brought the children here annually as summer outing for a little sea air and a view of the waves – and not here, precisely, but the village behind us. No, I think it was only ever Tom Riddle and his youthful victims who visited this spot. Unless he or she were a mountaineer of some skill, no Muggle could make it down the cliff face; nor can boats approach this stretch of crag, the waters here are too turbulent and, in local legend, this area of coast is something Charybdis in nature. Young Riddle would most certainly have been interested in something so destructive, or," he said somewhat more sadly, "he only wished to torment the two small children he brought with him in private, though I do think the journey alone would have done it, don't you?"

I looked up the cliff and shuddered again, this time not at all because of the Darkness that poured so freely from the narrow opening at the edge of the water. I made a mental note to tell Claudia when I returned to Hogwarts (a quick nuntius sent to Severus to tell him where we were going and what had happened before we left would assure that he, at least, did not wonder where I was; I'd sent a second to Hermione, warning her I thought something was afoot and to keep the DA on speed-dial with her protean coins) that, under no circumstances, is she to take part in the torment of others, and that the news of such torment inflicted on her enemies is not to fill her with satisfaction or glee. Still, it made sense. Voldemort liked power, and who knew what power he'd felt he'd gained here? And the Darkness… my bones didn't rattle with it, but it even here filled me with a chill.

I would never have admitted it, not to Dumbledore but, of every shudder that shook me, at least a third – maybe even a half – weren't because of the foulness. No, you know those shudders that sometimes course through your veins, starting with a twitch at the neck and running down your spine, that feel so good, that you get because you feel so good? Maybe even half of my shudders felt that way. And that bothered me. "There are strange likenesses between us," I remember his memory, carried in his first Horcrux, told me, "Even you must have noticed. Both half-bloods, orphans, raised by Muggles. Probably the only two Parselmouths to come to Hogwarts since the great Slytherin himself. We even look something alike…" I felt disgusted with myself.

"But his final destination – and ours, -" Dumbledore continued, interrupting my thoughts, "lies a little farther on. Come." A flare of light burst from his palm, Alice Blue but very bright, illuminating the fissure at the base and sparkling off the quartz in the rock and the dark water.

We slipped into the cool, salty sea, Dumbledore doing a perfect breaststroke as we entered the partially submerged stone hall. Naturally, I was wearing the wrong shoes. Mary Janes, of course. And knee-highs, which, of course, would be ruined now. I could feel the silt clinging to my skin, slipping into my shoes… Hogwarts uniforms, or at least those for the female variety, are not meant for adventuring. Well, it'd give me an excuse to let Fleur take me shopping.

"Sir?" I asked, wading along as best I could, the water coming up to mid-chest and weighing down my robes and skirt, the walls of the cavern shadowy and spaced just far enough that I had to reach to keep my fingertips running along each one, guiding my way in the dark.

"Éléonore, my child," he said, scarcely turning, his form beginning to rise out of the water as the sea dropped back, "how many times have I asked you to call me Albus?"

"A hundred eleven," I informed him, "since Halloween. But only twice this week."

"Then let us make it a hundred twelve."

I ignored this. Hesitantly, I continued, pulling myself up out of the water, "What happened? In Voldemort's life, I mean, that made him turn out this way?"

"What happened to cause Tom Riddle, the once brilliant, if intimidating, boy of Mrs. Cole's memory to choose to shed his humanity and become the man, for lack of a better word, you know today? Ah… yes, this is the place."

Nodding, then realizing his back was still towards me as he examined the wider bit of cave we now stood in, I agreed. "I think so too." My traitorous shudders remained, even after I dried my clothes with a laundering charm that left me smelling lemony fresh as well. "I mean, though, sir, Voldemort is an orphan, but I am too… Life at Saint Giles can't have been much fun, but neither was my youth… Is it because I was famous when I came to Hogwarts – that people were disposed to liking me that I didn't turn out like him, or he like me? Is it because he let the Hat put him into Slytherin, and I argued against it? Or is it something genetic, and even if his mum had lived, and his dad had loved his mum, and the world was perfect he'd have been chosen to…"

"I cannot say, Éléonore," he said slowly as he circled the antechamber, feeling and touching with his right hand while his left still blazed with pale-blue fire. "Though I, of course, have my ideas. You yourself have said your aunt and unc-"

"Hated me then, hate me now, and probably will go on hating me until they're cold in their graves."

Sadly, "Yes… You've always been the subject of strong emotions. Love, from not only young Lily and James, but from Sirius, though he was in Azkaban, and from myself and many, many others long before you ever stepped through Hogwarts's doors, from afar. And, yes, you've been the subject of hate; grew up surrounded in it – and for that I can never apologize enough, though, at the time, I thought that Petunia might love you, if only because you were Lily's daughter…" he drifted into silence for a moment. Then, "But Riddle… I don't believe anyone ever felt anything about him at all, until he was in Hogwarts and it had long changed him. Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike ...We wizards have mistreated and abused our fellows for too long, and we are now reaping our reward…"

I said, "Oh" at his point, and tried to follow what he was doing, which appeared to be running his hands along every inch of wall.

"When you've spent as much time as I, young Éléonore, around magic, you tend to discover that you've become… sensitive to the differences between them. Most wizards, to varying degrees, come to feel the presence of magic, though Nicolas and Pernelle mentioned that, after all their centuries, it came to be more of a… sound to them. Before they went into seclusion, I would occasionally find one or the other standing in Hogwarts, listening to the 'symphony' they heard…

"You are familiar with Muggle literature, yes?" the non sequitur hit me strangely as I contemplated the music of magic – something like Holst's "The Planets," I imagined. The joviality of the fourth movement, the mysticism of the sixth – but, after a moment, I nodded. "The closest thing to what magic is here is the ithildin Door of Durin in Khazad-dûm. If there were starlight, quite possibly the door would reflect it, but…" A little later, "Oh, surely not. So crude." I half imagined he'd continue, "Well, Mr. Riddle, an 'Exceeds Expectations' surely, for the magic, but I have to deduct points for plagiarism and the vulgarity of your necessitated payment."

"What is it, Professor?" I asked only when I thought he'd not continue, and I was very interested in as to why something that I could see and he could feel might be crude.

"The door will open with the right password. Or, in this case, payment."

"I doubt the door wants Galleons."

"Nothing quite that crude – it simply asks us to offer the door blood, which will break the enchantment. Momentarily, at least – there's a self-renewal spell embedded in the magic – but long enough for us to pass. The idea, as I am sure you will have gathered, is that your enemy must weaken him- or herself to enter. Once again, Lord Voldemort fails to grasp that there are much more terrible things than… personal… injury…"

Before I could finish, I'd rushed past him and, after pulling an extra hairpin from Paracelsus's pocket of interesting finds, sprinkled a few drops of blood upon the space he'd indicated, revealing, as the blood hit it, a silvery door of great design and, possibly, of great beauty before the door sank in upon itself and melted into an archway. "Well," I said, after he'd asked me just what, exactly, I had thought I was doing, "two things, really. One, that I wasn't about to let you do it, and, two, I thought if I asked you wouldn't let me." I'd spent enough time around Madam Pomprey to pick up a handful of minor healing spells, and the prick I'd made in my thumb wasn't that deep anyway, and patched myself up in no time.

Blood doors. What was next? No, I don't want to know. I liked adventure as much as the next girl but, God, blood doors?

Then a lake, filled, like the Dead Marshes, with bodies. Inferi. I once made a promise to myself to immediately stop reading any book that involved zombies, simply because they were so cliché, and really wanted to turn around and go running back to Hogwarts, not because I was scared or worried or felt any emotion other then disbelief, because these things couldn't just be real. But they were. It was one thing to read about things, another to live through them.

Because one had to keep one's promises. (My shudders, I was rightly pleased to notice, went nearly completely to the uncomfortable,-get-me-out-of-here type as we drew near it; then I realized what I was saying and stifled the urge to flee, bringing the headmaster along bodily if I had to, this God-forsaken place.)

Because I had a baby girl to take care of, a husband to go home to, and a future before me that could be as bright and beautiful as the sun, the moon; the stars. (Run. Run. Run! RUN!)

And so I force-fed my beloved headmaster the Advada Kedavara coloured potion. Because he asked me to. Because I promised. (Don't! Stop! This is wrong! Try something, try anything – just don't make him drink it. Let me, let me instead!)

When the potion was gone, I grabbed the Horcrux – the locket, I noted dimly – and pulled Dumbledore to his feet. We had to get out of here. We were going to get out of here.

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Only to die elsewhere, it seemed. Every inch of me was screaming a different thing. Find Claudia. Feed Claudia – it'd been hours since I'd seen my baby girl, and I'm ashamed to say I felt like a cow gone without milking and would shortly start lowing, and half thought I'd start leaking milk in the middle of some to-the-death battle, which would be so embarrassing. Make sure Claudia's safe in the mess that had become of Hogwarts. Make sure all the students were safe. Make sure Severus was safe. Make sure Severus knew the Dark Mark was hanging above the highest tower of the school. Keep Death Eaters Out. Protect my family. Protect my friends. Run. Run very, very far and fast. Shield Charms – fully body but magically draining, partial but easier to maintain more strongly, or general area with power to block arrows? Were there likely to be arrows?

We arrived, by broomstick, to the tower. It was only by the grace of whatever luck I had that there were no tortured bodies littering the landing. I leapt from the broom as soon as I reached the battlements, ignoring the twist my ankle took as I landed, and would have run down the spiral stair if it wasn't for Dumbledore, who I saw was having some trouble gathering the energy to rush, as I wanted to, though I was deadly tired and feeling half-mad and half-stupid, into whatever lay below, to protect whoever came in my way that needed protecting. I may have laughed about it earlier, but I am a bloody mother and if my hormones or whatnot are screaming at me to protect, protect, protect, I'm Gods-be-damned going to find someone to protect and I'll kill and maim and torture any blasted Death Eaters that got in the way. They weren't going to take anymore people away, destroy anything else. "Come on, sir. Dumbledore. Albus. We've got to stop them-" there had to be a them to stop, if there was a Dark Mark in the air above the school, unless some junior Death Eater wanabies had done it and, even then, that was something that needed to be stopped – "before they hurt anyone. It's our fault for leaving them here, remember? We've got to make sure they get us instead of hurting the little ones…" That there be no more Cedrics or Franks or Alices or, or, or-

Or little orphans hidden away in closets because what is left of their family doesn't love them or want them or even acknowledge they exist.

If I died, and Severus died, would they take little Claudia away from the spur of family I'd created for her? Would they send her to Petunia and Vernon on Privet Drive, because "they" said that it was too dangerous for her to live with her werewolf godfather or a quarter-Veela godmother and just ridiculous to let Hermione care for her goddaughter while studying for her NEWTS? What if "they" said that she couldn't live with Sirius and Ari at HQ, because Sirius couldn't cook worth a damn and Ari was barely in a fit mental state to care for her children even when they spent ten months out of the year at boarding school? And if Dumbledore said "they" had to send Claudia to Privet Drive, upon which no privets of any sort grew, only immaculate flowerbeds and rose bushes, I doubted McGonagall could put up enough of a fuss to talk him out of it, however much she might wish to take me away herself…

Luckily, Dumbledore seemed to collect himself at this, and took a stride towards the arch upon which strange and flickering lights played on the stairs, telling me to pull my invisibility cloak on so we could give those bastards (my words, not his) the proper payment for breaking into our school.

Unluckily, no sooner had I fastened my cloak did a petrificius hit me from behind and Draco step out of the archway before me. Albus's wand went flying over the ramparts as a disarming spell – a simple, student-cast disarming spell – robbed the strongest and greatest wizard alive of his wand. "Good evening, Draco," he said more calmly then even Severus had ever managed, and quite sounded like he was going to go on to saying what a beautiful night it was, shame the sickly green glow from the Dark Mark was obscuring the stars and casting its pale and deathly light onto them. It made everything look surreal, the light. The headmaster's face was a map spindly laugh-lines and ravines of worry, looking almost like Moody's in the macabre light, if Moody had both eyes and all his nose. Draco's, while so much younger, seemed to have developed a few of the later himself, bags larger then most carry-on luggage beneath his cloud-grey eyes.

Grey eyes that now darted about the top of the tower, as if looking for someone. "I know she's here," he said quietly. Shakily. "I know you're not alone."

"I could say the same for you."

It was the closest I'd ever heard Malfoy, proud and arrogant and just conceited enough to want to attack me properly, in front of witnesses who could, afterwards, say it was done honourably, come to sounding ashamed. "Yes. There are Death Eaters in Hogwarts tonight."

"Well, well. Very good indeed." I wanted to choke, I wanted to sputter, but I couldn't move, only blink as I stayed unwontedly trapped under a piece of fabric. I settled for thinking countercurses as loud as I could and growing more worried by the minute about Claudia and Severus and Hermione and Ron and Ginny and Oliver and Alycone and Neville and McGonagall and, and… "You found a way to let them in, did you?"

"Yeah," Draco didn't sound proud at all now, our sad, or anything other then very tired and very, very resigned. "Right under both your noses and you never realized."

"Ingenious. Yet… forgive me… where are they now? You seem unsupported."

"They met some of your guards. They're having a fight down below." From his tone, Draco might have been talking about dinner – mildly interested, yes, but far from the centre of his thoughts. I didn't notice the faint blue glow that was starting beneath my skin as I thought, Finte! Defrigidius! INFECTUS REDDERE! loudly, displeased to discover I was still petrified. "They won't be long… I came on ahead. I – I've got a job to do."

"Well, ten, you must get on and do it, my dear boy." I stared blankly at both of them, watching Draco stare blankly at the headmaster and the headmaster stare expectantly at the boy. Boy. Yes. He was as old as me, scarcely older, but he seemed so young… "Draco, Draco, you are not a killer."

"How do you know?" he snapped, sounding even younger then he looked. "You don't know what I'm capable of; you don't know what I've done!"

"Oh yes, I do." They were up to that tone you'd find in discussion of sports – slightly argumentative, but still polite, mostly – now. "You almost killed Katie Bell and several package handlers in the VIP Offices of the Owl Post. You have been trying, with increasing desperation, to kill Éléonore Snape all year." My blood ran cold. "Forgive me, Draco, but they have been feeble attempts… So feeble, to be honest, that I wonder whether your heart has been really in it."

Vehemently, "It has been in it! I've been working on it all year, and tonight-"

An echoing yell made its way up the spiralling stair and etiolated Draco's features further, until he was the colour of a corpse.

"Somebody is putting up a good fight. But you were saying… yes, you have managed to introduce Death Eaters into my school, which, I admit, I thought impossible. … How did you do it?"

But Draco remained silent, as I felt the rage build within me (and, unknown to me, the cerulean light growing stronger and threatening to burst from my pores, limning me with its glow).

It'd been me that Draco had been ordered to kill, that he'd be killed himself for if he failed. And, not just that, that necklace, those wedding presents that the VIP Office had received, were sent to me while I was still pregnant with Claudia. He'd been trying to kill not just me, which I could understand, but Claudia too. He'd been trying to kill my baby-

"… Killing is not so nearly easy as the innocent believe… So tell me, while we wait for your friends… how did you smuggle them in here? It seems to have taken you a long time to work out how to do it."

I'd never thought I'd see a lich look so sick, "I had to mend that broken Vanishing Cabinet that no one's used for years. The one Montague got lost in last year."

"Aaah." I wanted to rush to the headmaster, who was, for all intensive purposes, the closest thing to a grandfather that yet existed for me, the closest thing to a true father my husband had ever known, but I couldn't, though I half imagined my big toe twitching in my uncomfortably moist Mary Janes. He sounded in pain still from that devil-begotten potion. Add that to the fact that, if I didn't find Claudia soon and make sure she was safe, I might scream, and I was quickly moving into a frenzy of madness. "That was clever… There is a pair, I take it?"

"In Borgin and Burkes, and the make a kind of passage between them. Montague told me that when he was in the Hogwarts one, he was trapped in limbo but sometimes he could hear what was going on at school, and sometimes what was going on in the shop, as if the cabinet was travelling between them… Even Borgin didn't know. I was the one who realized there could be a way into Hogwarts through the cabinets if I fixed the broken one."

"Very good." ("How could I be good?" I wished I could scream. This time I was sure I felt a convulsion in my left leg. I looked. A quarter-inch of blue light was surrounding me now, I was now aware, and slowly it was pulling me out of petrifaction.) "So the Death Eaters were able to pass from Knockern Ally into the school to help you… A very cleaver plan… and, as you say, right under my nose."

"Yes. Yes, it was!"

"But there were times, weren't there, when you were not sure you would succeed in mending the cabinet? And you resorted to crude and badly judged measures such as sending Mrs. Snape a cursed necklace that was bound to reach the wrong hands… poisoning champagne there was only the slightest chance would get to her this decade from the VIP Office, let alone would be drunk right away, not when her family has so many older and better vintages in Château d'Nuages…"

"Yeah, well, she didn't realize who was behind that stuff, did she?" No, I hadn't. I'd thought it'd been Death Eaters – proper Death Eaters – or even the Diggorys, who knew I'd seen their son die two years ago and was now nearly his age, moving on with my life, having what Cedric could never have, now. "Snape didn't. And you didn't."

"As a matter of fact, I did. I was sure it was you. Severus had his own suspicions, and, as for Éléonore, she keeps her own council, but I wage she suspected."

"They why didn't any of you try to stop me!"

"I have…" I felt a welcome twitch in my thumb, "Now, about tonight. I'm a little puzzled about how it happened… You knew that I had left the school? But, of course, Rosmerta saw me leaving, and she tipped you off – she's under Imperious, I assume?"

"That's right…"

"So you decided this was the perfect time to go after Mrs. Snape?"

"We tried… that blasted Runespoor of hers wouldn't let us into her rooms. Bit Travers… he screamed something awful before he died. But she is a Gryffindor, after all, and if Death Eaters in the school didn't bring her out, I figured she'd gone with you, and Rosmerta didn't see her… We decided to put the Dark Mark over the tower and get you both to hurry up here, to see who'd been killed. And it worked!

"Well… yes and no… Am I to take it, then, that nobody has been murdered?"

His voice rose an octave. "Someone's dead. One of your people… Don't know who, it was dark… I stepped over the body… I was supposed to be waiting up here when you both got back, only your Phoenix lot got in the way…"

"They do tend to do that." The shouting was getting closer. I felt my wand hand begin to twitch a little now; my knees were starting to unfreeze. "There is little time, one way or another. You let us discuss your options, Draco."

"My options! I'm standing here was a wand – I'm about to find your precious Harry Potter and kill her –"

"My dear boy; let us have no more pretence about that. If you were going to kill her, you'd have done so already. You have sat in class with her all year; seen her in the library, alone; been in the Great Hall with her, passed her in the hall – and yet you have not tried to do anything to her more untowards then an accipicrines months ago! If you were really going to torture me or whatever you are thinking to find out where Éléonore is, you would not have stopped for this pleasant chat about ways and means."

"I haven't got any options! I've got to do it! He'll kill me! And what little of my family she hasn't killed, he will!"

"I appreciate the difficulty of your position. I can help you, Draco."

"No, you can't. Nobody can. He told me to do it or he'll kill me. And Mum. I've got no choice."

"He cannot kill you if he thinks you already dead. Come over to the right side, Draco, and we can hide you more completely then you can possibly imagine. What more, we can send members of the Order to your mother tonight and hide her likewise. Nobody would be surprised that you died in your attempt to kill Éléonore – forgive me, but Lord Voldemort probably expects that either Éléonore or myself will kill you tonight. Nor would the Death Eaters be surprised if we were to captured and kill your mother – that is what they would do themselves, after all. Come over to the right side, Draco… you are not a killer…"

Slowly, though his wand didn't move, "I got this far, didn't I? They thought I'd die in the attempt, but I'm here… and I'm the one with the wand… She deserves it, too, for what she did to Dad… To Aunt Bellatrix… and you're at my mercy…"

"No, Draco. It is my mercy," I stumbled as, at last, the petrificius broke. With one hand, I pulled my cloak off, "and not yours that matters now," with the other I pointed my wand at Malfoy, who was already turning his on me, shrouded in blue light that seemed black from the Dark Mark above as I was. A stupefy was half out of my wand as the death-green, twisting light I knew poured from the barrel of his.

I thought of Severus, and my attempts to make him let himself love me. I thought of the night he asked me to marry him, of our first kiss, the night I found out about the prophesy; the day he first held our daughter and said with his eyes, "How could something so wonderful have happened to me?"

I thought of Sirius, and his attempts to be a father to me. I thought of the night he told me he'd adopted me through a locked door and threatened to marry me off to Fred if I didn't stop seeing Severus, of the night I found out he was innocent and said I could come live with him if I wanted, of the day he became free at last; of last Christmas morning, when he said he'd have bought me a motorbike if he'd thought I could keep my balance on it with a Quaffle under my shirt; of the day he walked me down the aisle and gave me away to his most hated enemy, doing it only because it was what I wanted and he wanted me to be happy.

I thought of Tonks, and her attempts to make Remus let himself love her. I thought of Remus, and his attempts to make Tonks make herself fall out of love with him. I thought of Oliver, and how little Gabrielle Delacour had fallen in love with him the night Death Eaters attacked Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons because he'd held her hand and told her I'd take care of everything. I thought of Alycone, and how she was, glacially, coming out of the shell she'd built about herself, and how much she's smiled during the Lions/'Puffs match, even though her brother had got the Snitch first. I thought of Hermione, with her books and her lectures and her – nearly – unconditional love. I thought of Ron, who never realize he loved Hermione as much as she loved him without an anvil dropped on his head at some point, and how he was loyal and brave and true.

I thought of Claudia, and how she'd never know me, just like I never knew Mum, and how they'd say to her, "You look just like your mum. Except for the nose, of course. That you got from your dad."

I thought that all these years I'd been learning how to live, but now I realized I'd really been learning how to die. Because my death, in the place of Dumbledore, whom the world needed, was something I could live with… I was glad I would die in his stead. I just wished I could have said goodbye to Severus and Claudia…

But the spell never hit.

Dumbledore had used the last of his energy to throw himself in front of me. For a split second, he hung in the air, before his momentum carried him over the ramparts to land on the unforgiving ground so many stories below.

"YOU BASTARD!" I screamed as Draco fell, unconscious, beneath the weight of my spell. I knew he didn't hear me, but I didn't care. "YOU BASTARD! YOU COULD HAVE TRIED TO KILL ME AT ANY TIME! BUT NO! YOU HAVE TO TAKE DUMBLEDORE TOO! AND – AS IF THAT WASN'T ENOUGH, YOU HAVE TO TRY AND TAKE CLAUDIA TOO – TRYING TO TAKE HER BEFORE SHE WAS EVEN BORN! YOU VILE, DISPICABLE-" my mind was shouting all sorts of lies in my head, how about this was only a dream, how Dumbledore wasn't really dead, only playing; how, if I killed Draco, Dumbledore would come back to life.

I was about to cast a crucio on Draco when four strangers burst through the door – Amycus and Alecto Carrow, Fenrir Greyback, and Thorfinn Rowle, all of whom I only recognized from various conviction pictures – and there was no time to think about vengeance. I threw up a praesidis before they even had time to think and, before I even started to think properly, I started flinging iaceos and incarceruses like party favours.

Greyback, I only dimly noted, was the one to go over the wall.

I rushed down the stairs, going after the Carrows, leaving the stunned Draco and the bound Rowle behind me, jumping down missing stairs and running at breakneck speed to make sure no one else was hurt, that the body Draco had stepped over wasn't Severus's, that Dumbledore wasn't dead even though he'd been hit by a curse that had killed everyone it hit but me and fallen twenty stories…

…I easily saw half the DA and nearly all the Order as I ran, skidding around corners, casting spells I don't remember at people I don't recall, as the Carrows shouted to their fellows, "Time to leave!" and made their way to the ground floor. I cased after as best I could, taking this and that shortcut to head them off until I bowled into a group of pyjama-clad Hufflepuffs in the entrance hall.

"Harry! We heard a noise," Ernie was telling me, "and someone said something about the Dark Mark-"

"Death Eaters in the school," I panted. "Have any passed?"

"What? No!"

"Take everyone below Fifth Year back to your common room. Leave some of the DA to guard them."

Oliver had reached me by then in the tangle, wearing the flannel robe I'd bought him last summer when I discovered he'd outgrown his old one and his mum was in no shape to take him clothes shopping. "Ely-"

I still had the map on my somewhere. I must have looked mad, patting my pockets (and giving a grimace as my body reminded me, quite naturally, that there was a baby out there in need of feeding) and finding that, miraculously, the map was still on me and apparently undamaged. "Oliver," I said, turning one eye on him while the other remained fixed on the grand staircase – which, if what Ernie had said was true, and no one had passed here, was where Death Eaters were bound to come, unless they were able to find the Room of Requirement again, which I sincerely hoped they couldn't, – "Take this and go to the other common rooms. Get the younger ones barricaded in, safe. Gryffindor's closest. Stay off the main stairs; take the passage behind the dancing trolls instead."

And then I heard it – the sound of easily a dozen different footsteps as they thundered down the stairs, causing mayhem in their wake – and yelled at the Hufflepuffs, "Run! Now!" Shortly the entrance hall was empty of all but me and the handful of DA members – Justin, Hannah, even Susan – I'd told not to leave the shadows on pain of, almost certainly, death.

The Carrows were first, and as soon as they were in spelling distance I started casting, hoping to all that was holy that my shield would hold against whatever they chose to throw at me. And it wasn't just simple stunners and rope spells I was throwing about either. Cutting curses, deprimos, dirumpis – anything that could slow the monsters down – and, for those few whose aim was true enough to send Unforgivables in the direction of my hidden helpers, or back at those who'd chased after them – in any direction other then myself – I sent Unforgivables back.

Until, at last, everyone was bound or stunned or bleeding or dead on the entrance hall of the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, or else had managed to make it past me and fled onto the grounds.

I followed after them, but didn't make chase. I walked slowly to the base of the astronomy tower, over which still hung the Dark Mark, and found the two crumpled forms there. Greybeck's I kicked for good measure. But Dumbledore… he was truly dead. Because of me. He'd died, to save me.

I felt he blue light that had surrounded me the entire time vanish, and stumbled to the ground. The tears came, and I couldn't stop them.

That was where they found me.

) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) (

They put me in the bed next to Bill, and I lay there in shock, not saying anything after demanding they bring Claudia to me, which they did. Winky and Dobby, it later turned out, had moved her from the nursery into a small room of the kitchen when the Death Eaters came knocking, and I couldn't find words to thank them, however much I wanted to. I held Claudia, protected thanks to them, to me, long after she finished nursing.

Everyone seemed to be in shock. Bill was bit by – and unchanged – Greybeck before I got to him. He'd make it though. Fleur was devastated by his injury, and wouldn't leave his side, and Mrs. Weasley had been forced to admit that, maybe, Fleur was just good enough for her son. Ari locked herself in Madam Pomprey's office upon finding out about the headmaster's… death… and it'd took them three hours to open the door, wherein they found her in a state of catatonia not dissimilar to when she'd found out Ephraim died. Sirius had taken her back to HQ at my urging, and even he was too worn to think I might be plotting anything in even that.

Remus, much to everyone's surprise, including his own, proposed to Tonks right there in the infirmary.

The funeral was torture, and only because Severus, sporting some very nasty half-healed bruises, was there beside me did I manage to get through it at all. He'd not said a word about how, in the intervening days, I'd not let him out of my sight, nor set down Claudia for longer then it took to change a nappy.

I had one Horcrux in my possession, to destroy just as soon as I knew how, and one fake one – one that had, possibly, helped to kill Dumbledore – with a cryptic note inside. I'd Severus and Claudia and Sirius and Remus and Tonks and Hermione and the Cauldwells and the Weasleys. But still, sitting there as everyone else began to disperse from the white tomb, I couldn't stop myself from whispering to my husband, "What on earth are we going to do now?"

But he didn't know. No one did. We just had to go on.

Greensleeves, now farewell, adieu, to God I pray to prosper thee, for I am still thy lover true.

Come once again and love me.

Chapter Twenty-Five.