Chapter Eight: That Killing Place in His Mind
The light hurt his eyes when he attempted to open them again, so he stopped trying. The absence of pain was interesting. Am I dead, then? No. If I were dead, the light wouldn't bother me, would it? "Wha—" Harry said, as he realized he could not move.
"There now, don't fret. Magical traction, m'dear, and it'll be like that until your legs, your collarbone, your left arm, and seven of your ribs knit themselves. Stay still," an elderly, feminine, kindly voice said.
The wizard felt so weary it was like weight-lifting, or so he imagined, to lift his eyelids. He looked out of his left eye and focused on a gray-haired, pleasant-faced woman who exuded an air of calm. "Good trick," he said, as the reverberations of another explosion shook the building. "Isn't it over? I killed him."
"And we're all quite proud of you for that, Harry," the lady said, "but no one's told the other Death Eaters that, I think."
"Yes, dear, a great deal of it up at Hogwarts. Severus heard from the Headmaster yesterday that—"
"Yesterday? How long have I—"
"Oh, you've been sleeping for almost twenty-two hours, dear. It's almost dawn."
"Are we safe? And who's that crying?"
"We're safe enough, I suppose. The Aurors warded the inn before leaving us. And you're hearing Rosmerta's little angels. They're doing well, as is their mother, all things considered. Nine months to the day, they were born, but then, Severus' children would be punctual, wouldn't they be?"
Harry tried to laugh, but ended up coughing until he choked.
"They have little caps of blue-black hair and their father's eyes, but their mother's nose," the witch continued. "Oh, dear. Are you all right?" she asked, as Harry's coughing grew worse.
"You . . . you said . . . 'mother's' so . . . em—emphatically."
The woman chuckled. "So I did. He's a striking man in his way, but it's for the best that the little dears favor their mother in some respects."
"Are they named, yet?"
"Why yes, dear: Vittoria Alessa and Venitia Alisa Snape."
Those don't sound very British, Harry thought, trying to clear his head. But they do sound complicated, don't they? I'll bet they mean something.
"They're lovely names, really. Severus wanted to acknowledge his Italian ancestry. Vittoria Alessa means 'victorious defender', and Venitia Alisa means 'merciful counselor'. Oh! and I'm Tabby Kiernan. I haven't any idea if my name means anything, but I'm the local medi-witch. You've probably gathered that, though, haven't you?"
No pressure to live up to those names, is there? Harry thought before saying, "You're like Madam Pomfrey."
"Am I? Well, that's a lovely compli—oh, dear. I do wish they'd get on with it," Medi-witch Kiernan said, as another explosion occurred. "The babies—Harry, I need to leave you for a bit. Try to rest, all right?" she said, rising to leave the room after giving his hand a squeeze.
"Wait—please. Where's Professor Snape?"
"Oh, well, he's been up at the castle since bringing you here. I'm afraid I can't tell you more than that, dear. Rest. I'll be back."
When the witch had shut the door, Harry thought, He's dead. Voldemort's dead. I killed him.
It was difficult for him to accept. More difficult, however, was the thought that he was lying useless in Hogsmeade when Hogwarts needed him.
"My friends, Blaise, the school—I've got to get out of here," he said, groaning in frustration. "I wish I could move. I wish I weren't broken!"
The air snapped around him, and he realized that he was free from restraint. He surprised himself by sitting up. "But . . . how?" he asked, wiggling his toes and then moving his legs.
Harry swung himself into a sitting position with ease, and then slipped off the high bed to the floor. When he decided his legs would hold him, he padded across the floor to the window, which was occluded by a colorful shimmering.
"Warded, no doubt. I wish I could see."
He was not as surprised by the window clearing as he had been to find himself healed. Looking down, he saw the blackened and pocked ground, and knew that there had been heavy fighting outside of the Three Broomsticks.
But if the Aurors left us, that must mean the town's safe, he thought, looking around for his clothing. Finding it, he dressed quickly, his mind spinning. I don't know any healing charms. I wonder . . . yeah, Voldemort could regenerate himself, sort of. I'll bet I picked up that power from him. "But it probably won't last, will it?"
Hermione had told him ages ago that when wizards shared magic, their residual abilities weakened after severing the bond.
"And I definitely managed that," he said, leaning his head against the door. Nothing. I wonder if anyone would try to stop me if I left?
The question made him laugh. "Right. I just killed Voldemort. No one's going to stop me. But . . . but how did I do it? and what can I do, on my own, that won't go away?"
It was clear to Harry that it was his mother's magical protection that had finished the Dark Lord, but his ability to enter another's body—no matter that it had probably come to him from Voldemort during his first attempt to kill him—had made it possible to finish Riddle.
"Hermione will like the irony of that," he whispered, trying not to dwell on the possibility that his friend might be dead. But I don't want to ever switch bodies again! Shit. How can I help? "Right. You're not going to figure it out by standing here, are you?" he told himself, going to the window and opening it.
The ward parted for him with a thought, and the wizard tried to fly again.
"Fuck. It's working!" I wish I knew how.
He levitated himself high enough to see Hogwarts and considered his options. I'm not going to try and float all the way to the school. I wonder if the Astronomy tower's still standing?
Suddenly, he was standing on it in a cloud of smoke, which he soon realized was caused by the remains of a flaming boulder that had landed near the door onto the tower's roof. And then he heard a gnashing sound.
Turning slowly, Harry perceived a figure—a winged figure with the head of a woman—crouching over and eating the remains of what he decided had once been a man. "Oh, God," he said before he could prevent himself.
The harpy turned on him almost too fast to see, and the next thing he knew there were bloody teeth in his face and talons ripping through his right shoulder.
"Incendio!" he screamed, pushing against one of the creature's breasts and then leaping back as it went up in flames, shrieking worse than a banshee.
The castle shook from another volley of flaming boulders, and Harry was thrown to the stones. He looked up in time to roll away from three descending harpies and could not cast curses fast enough. He destroyed them all, and then shielded his nose by pulling up the hem of his tee shirt as he slumped against the wall.
Oh, shit that hurts, he thought, trying not to touch his shoulder. Try, he told himself, feeling a painful itchiness as his wound was partially healed. Right. It's not going to last. I wish I had my invisibility cloak.
He waited a bit, but his cloak did not arrive.
Great. Pushing himself up, he peered over the wall of the tower and saw a network of flaming vines cris-crossing the stones. Good for you, Blaise—Neville—I hope that means they're all right.
A flapping sound distracted him, and he turned to see his cloak fluttering toward him.
"It's about time," he said, throwing it over his head.
There was yelling beyond the door, and it burst open to admit five Aurors to the rooftop just as he finished.
Harry could barely see the others, but he knew Tonks' voice when she answered.
"Right. I'm Macnair. You'll cover me?"
"Yes," the first speaker said. "Towson, Reynolds, and Jackson—don't let her out of your sight. Let's push off," he continued, throwing a leg over his broomstick and then rising into the air.
"I'm only going to get one shot at this," Tonks said, as she and the others followed suit. "Uncle Lucius is mine, hear?"
That doesn't sound good, he thought, rising himself to follow them.
He did not think about how he was flying this time, but pressed himself forward after Tonks, turning back once at on odd hissing sound. It was enough to see the black form of a death of Dementors rushing toward Hogwarts' defenders, that, and to notice that a Death Eater was also on their trail.
They can't stand it near the school, but now that we're far enough away—"Look out! Dementors behind you!" he yelled, focusing on the broom of the Death Eater and causing it to yank up straight and dislodge its rider.
The four Aurors surrounding Tonks did not notice the man's fall as they veered away from the woman they were protecting and sped back toward the Dementors. Two of them were seized immediately, and Harry, with Tonks and the Auror in charge, cast curses frantically. They managed to send several of the creatures hurtling toward the ground, but the other Dementors kept coming.
Harry threw off his cloak and yelled, "Come on!" at a knot of the beings closest to him, and they turned toward his location. He flew up and away from the others, hoping to lead all of the Dementors after him, but only some of them followed. Once they were close enough to make his teeth chatter, he dove toward the ground, pulling up at the last moment and moving before the creatures could smash into him. They hit the earth and did not move. He looked up.
"Tonks!" Harry yelled, as one rose underneath of her. Without waiting for her response, he imagined one of the trolls' boulders smashing into the fiend, and then it happened. It doesn't matter how, he thought, scanning the sky. It only matters that it works.
"Harry! Where are you?" the Auror called, looking about herself in confusion.
He sped toward her broom and grabbed her waist as he settled in behind her. "Right here. Get me closer to that one," he said, meaning the Dementor that had just seized her superior.
Tonks rushed forward too quickly for Harry to see clearly, but he opened his palm and sent flames arcing across the air which burnt through the Dementor. It was too late to save the male Auror, however, he realized, as Tonks let loose a string of profanity, some of which he had never heard.
"Up! Take us up—fast!"
"Right," she said, and then they were streaking up toward the sun that Harry knew had risen, but could not see for the smoke.
When they passed above it, Tonks leveled her broom and looked over her shoulder. "Since when can you fly like Supermale?"
"Um, you mean Superman, and not that long. Look, I'm sorry about your—"
"No time for that, Harry. I've got to stop Malfoy. He's controlling the—"
"Attack. I heard. Let's go."
"He's around front in some sort of warded shelter. Reynolds was going to breach—"
"I can do it," Harry said decisively.
"I can breach the ward. You can kill them."
"Right. Of course you can. Hold on, Supermale," she told him, diving recklessly toward the ground and dodging another flurry of boulders as she did.
Harry almost lost his grip as she bent them into a turning maneuver, and then he saw the magical barrier. Lucius Malfoy stood in its center, two other masked Death Eaters on either side of him.
"Ready?" she yelled, never slowing.
"Yes," Harry called back, focusing his will on the section of the ward just in front of Malfoy.
He paid no attention to the encircling cave trolls.
The barrier burnt away wide but incompletely as Tonks approached it, full speed, casting Avada Kedavra with a vengeance. It happened too quickly for Harry to realize that the Auror was not bothering to adjust her speed. As the Death Eaters dropped, he and she went flying into the bubble of magic and slammed into its other side.
The last thing Harry heard before he lost consciousness was Tonks' exultant war whoop ending abruptly with a sickening snap.
When he awoke, he felt a rough grip on his left ankle. He was being dragged toward the Forbidden Forest by a cave troll. Crap. Ow. Ow—"fuck!" he yelled, boring into the troll's back with his mind.
It split open like the "meat" of a roasted potato being forced out of its jacket, and Harry rolled away with a yelp as the insides of the troll showered the ground, the two halves of its massive body following.
Stench! God, he thought, picking himself up off of the ground. "Tonks!" he yelled, remembering.
It did not take him long to retrace the path of the troll. The ward was flickering, but still active—with not a troll in sight—as he rounded it and ran inside. He stopped short to see the Auror's body bent over itself—backward—her lifeless eyes, one blue, one black, gazing up at nothing.
Her hair was white.
"NO!" he shrieked, rushing to gather the woman into his arms. "Tonks! Tonks, wake up! Please, Tonks—Nymphadora! You know you hate being called that—wake up and tell me to shut it! Oh, Nymphadora, please. We—you killed them—you're not supposed to die. That's not how it works, not how it works, not how—"
"Harry," a masculine voice said steadily, as the boy felt large warm hands fall on his shoulders.
"Remus, please—she's not dead. She stopped them. She's not—you have to help her!"
Lupin knelt behind Harry and wrapped his arms around him, gradually pulling him into an embrace and away from Tonks' body. "I'm so sorry, Harry. Come away now. There's nothing we can do for her now. Come on, Harry. That's right."
Harry turned and threw his arms around the man, sobbing hysterically. It was all too much, but it was real. The surreal quality of the past several hours had been ripped away, and all he felt was pain and fear and confusion.
"I killed her, but I didn't mean—"
"No!" Lupin exclaimed, almost angrily. "You didn't kill her, Harry. You and she saved more people than you'll ever know. She was brave, she knew her job, and she died well. But not because of you, never because of you," he said fiercely, rocking Harry against himself.
"No, no, Remus!"
"I'm sorry. I . . . I'm truly sor—ry," the man said brokenly.
"I . . . I didn't . . . I was only trying . . . to help."
"And you did help. You did. Your . . . parents would be so proud of you if they—I know they can see—I know they know what you've done. It was well done, Harry. Truly."
Wet, the boy thought, feeling Remus' tears. Why are you crying? he wanted to ask, but found that he could not.
And then another voice spoke clearly through the chaos.
"Indeed. Your actions were worthy, Mr. Potter. Without you, Auror Tonks could not have completed her mission. It was well done. It was . . . proof enough that you are your father's son," Snape said, coming to crouch next to Remus and Harry and laying a hand on the boy's back.
"Prof—Professor Snape, I—"
"You are needed, Harry. There is a horror of harpies feasting on our dead in the Quidditch pitch, and I mean to stop them. Will you help me?" he asked calmly.
"He's had a shock. He's done enough, Severus!"
"Do you wish the boy to succumb to shock, Lupin? And yourself?"
Remus stiffened. "You're . . . you're right. He's right, Harry. We can't allow those creatures to—"
"Let's go," Harry replied, collecting himself and standing quickly before almost running in the direction of the Quidditch pitch.
"That was well done," he heard Remus say, his voice sounding as if it was choked by unshed tears. "You . . . you might make a decent father after all, Severus."
But as the increasingly familiar cold space in his mind that he had set aside for killing spread through it to freeze all unnecessary thought, Harry found himself not understanding just what Snape meant when he answered, "I am sorry for your loss, Lupin. She was a—Avada Kedavra!"
The cries of a dying harpy echoed in the distance, and Harry thought only of killing.