I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.
--William Butler Yeats; "He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven"
The wind howled over the stones, damp and stained with age and years of impure water. Along the walls, the cloaked men stood, their faces covered by white masks. A wizard with red eyes stood in the middle of the cavernous room, and a man lay in a heap before him. The wind whistled around them.
"Crucio!" the red-eyed wizard hissed, and the man jerked like a puppet in the hands of a careless infant. His screams clawed at the walls, seeking a way out. Thorny ropes bound his arms, and his body was bruised and bloody. There was a lightning-shaped scar down the center of his forehead.
"So we meet again, Mr. Potter," the red-eyed wizard whispered, a cold smile on his lips. "But unlike three years ago, there will be no traitor to save you this time. Crucio!"
The man screamed again, though this time, his voice was hoarse and drops of blood flecked the ground.
"Are you ready to die, yet, Mr. Potter?"
Red light crackled around the man like thorny vines, and he jerked over the red-stained floor. His eyes were glazed and sightless from pain.
"You should thank me, Mr. Potter," the red-eyed wizard smiled. It was a very ugly smile, showing small, pointed, yellowed teeth. "You will see all those meddlesome fools I killed… like our parents, and that dog of a godfather, whom Bellatrix was so kind of dispose of. And I will send you others, very soon: that Muggle-loving fool, Dumbledore, and that family of redheads. The Weasleys…"
The man's heavy breathing sounded like the wintry air rushing through jagged rocks and crags. He lifted his head and glared, a spark of defiance leaping out of hazy depths of pain. "Kill me then, Tom," he snarled. "You tried, so many times, but you've failed each time, even when I was… only a baby. Turned into a wraith by a Muggle-born's spell… try, you half-blood freak—"
The man writhed once more. There was a barely controlled fury in the red-eyed wizard's voice as the red light pulsed.
"You will die, Potter—you will die today, but I will mark you first, and show the world what their savior has become…" The red light ended. "Inuro Morsmorde!" Black light erupted, flittering like vapid bats, hurtling through the air and seething into the man's bloody chest. His shriek of pain was buried under the sizzling of flesh and crackling of darkness.
The red-eyed wizard smiled and lifted his hand. The man, now with the mark of a skull and snake branded onto his chest, floating limply into the air. "Your body I will hang at the gates of Hogwarts, but I would like to keep your head. A little reminder, if you will. Inuro Mormorde." The man's flesh sizzled, and the black lines traced themselves of the forehead, cheek, nose. The man's mouth strained in silent scream.
"Fare you well, Harry Potter," the red-eyed wizard hissed. "I will not be seeing you again." He aimed his yew wand at the lightning-shaped scar, and did not noticed the smile on the beaten man's face, so faint that it would be invisible to anyone who was not looking for it.
"Avada Kedavra," the wizard whispered, and as green light exploded to engulfed the room, reaching even the farthest corners, illuminating everything—the dark holes of the masks, the folds of blood-stained black robes— There was a deafening clap of thunder, and yet no sound was heard. The green light changed tenor and texture, and there was scream, so high and piercing the thunder of the green light shattered before it, and then the man with the lightning-shaped scar collapsed onto the ground, next to a pile of robes and ashes where once the red-eyed wizard had towered.
Someone yelled that the wards had fallen, that their Lord was dead, and on the bloodstained floor, the man's eyes focused, and his lips widened into a hesitant smile of relief. It faded, though, when a wisp of silver shimmered into being above the pile of rags and ashes.
The man looked up, bemused. Man and mist seemed caught in the amber of time, suspended in the moment, considering each other with an air of surprise. Then, almost with a reluctant sigh, the wisp whispered into the man's body, and the man opened his mouth in a silent scream.
Remus Lupin felt the wards fall, and with a jolt of shock that made the tiny glimmer of hope flare into a roaring bonfire, felt the portkey take him with the multitude of aurors—some surprised, some shocked, others with a gleam of victory—into the dark chamber where Voldemort lay dead.
He slammed aside the haze of surprise, and hexes and curses sailed out of his wand, streaking over the stunned Death-Eater's like death's scythe with a vigor and strength he hadn't felt in nearly four years—not since when Voldemort went through that ritual and became stronger than Harry and Dumbledore combined. He ducked with instincts from a full moon that was only a day off, fired off another curse, and looked around desperately. Where was Harry?
The air sizzled with curses, and he had to roll ungracefully across the floor to avoid an angry stream of magic as he paused to sniff for his best friend's godson; where was the boy?
"Harry!" he shouted, though his voice was drowned in the roar of incantations and screams. "Harry!"
He flung aside an opponent, and in the space between the bodies, he thought he saw—he could see—in the darkness, swathed by shadows that flickered with colors—
In the center of the room next to a pile of limp rags was the naked body of his godson. He was jerking back and forth, as though in the throes of some unbearable agony, and, though it might very well have been a trick of light from the multitude of curses and spells, an unearthly silver light seemed to flicker around him, turning the red blood black and making the pain-filled green eyes glow.
He's hurt, badly hurt, Remus thought with a burst of anxiety. He couldn't remember ever seeing Harry so raw, so open and vulnerable; in the six months Harry had been out of hiding, he'd been a calm pillar of hope and strength in a crumbling world. But the werewolf could remember the glimpses he'd had of his best friend's godson when Snape had rescued him three years ago from Voldemort's clutches. The boy had reminded him sickeningly of one of the victims of that Muggle genocide, the Holocaust, but it had been worse, because there had been so much blood, and the boy had reeked of lifelessness and despair; and even as the Boy-Who-Lived had smiled and quietly soothed a worry, Remus wondered that a shadow of that stench lingered.
"Harry, hold on!" he shouted, fear spurring his actions until he was clawing and snarling like a wolf. He did not understand what the silver light was, or what fey spell Voldemort must have invoked, but he knew he had to reach his godson. It was miraculous that Harry hadn't died from a Death-Eater curse yet, but it seemed that the writhing silver light made a flickering clearing around him, keeping away the dark chaos—
He saw a little black shadow streak into the ring and stretch into a short, scrawny figure, more rat than man—
NO! Remus shrieked in his mind, and he redoubled his assault, but it was like fighting against the ocean tide— He tripped, felt something smash into his mouth, shot off a curse and wiped the blood off his mouth, and glanced up through eyes clouded by perspiration—
Pettigrew had his wand pointed at Harry's neck, and Harry, trembling, didn't seem to notice; the Death-Eater's lips moved, but they slowed, as though time itself had paused. Harry stiffened, his face a rictus of pain, and with a bright pulse of light, he disappeared.
When the wards collapsed, Hermione leapt into the fray with a training borne from years and years of training. She felled three Death Eaters swiftly and efficiently before she had to throw up a defensive shield. Dimly, she felt determination coalesce into a glittering blade, hammered and sharpened by the hope she almost did not dare feel: the wards had fallen, they had heard that last scream, Voldemort was dead…
As Hermione cut down yet another Death Eather, she caught sight of Remus Lupin, clawing his way like a madman through the crowd. His eyes looked almost amber in the light, and there was a disturbing look of desperation on his face. A yell ripped from his throat:
Hermione whirled around and nearly fell as a Bone-Shattering Hex ripped through her shield. She fired back furiously before she extricated herself and tore through the crowd after the werewolf.
"Harry?" she shouted, though her voice was lost as soon as it left her throat. The room was a furnace of yells, screams, flashes of light, scythes of magic, hoarse shouts, confused bodies—all punctuated by the occasional flash of sickening green light, flashing through the darkness like lightning.
"Ha—" Hermione began, but had to counter a Stupefy hurtling in her direction. She stole a quick glance at the general direction of where Harry lay—she could see almost nothing, the world was a churning hell of killing and fighting—
A bright pulse of white light filled the room, unlike the burning colors of curses and jinxes.
Then Hermione felt a force battering her, pushing her away with the insistence of a drowning tide. She crouched, trying to keep her footing, but the force was too strong. It lifted her like waves carrying a limp strand of seaweed, and she could almost hear wild voices in the magic as it flung her back.
The light finally faded. Hermione struggled to reorient herself, realizing that the whole room seemed unnaturally silent. Her eyes were still adjusting to the sudden dimness. The only source of light came from the jagged holes in the ceiling and walls, which let in a whisper of moonlight.
Then another glow appeared, but this one was familiar. Dumbledore was standing upright with his wand lifted into the air, and his entire body seemed to shimmer.
"Voldemort is dead," he said in a voice that seemed to echo in the room. He swept his gaze across the crowd, and Hermione shivered. It was easy to forget, what with the white hair and wrinkles and tired smiles, that Dumbledore was easily one of the most powerful wizards alive. "Another phalanx of Aurors is approaching. I urge you—cast down your arms! An amnesty will be easier to win if you come in peace."
There was a silence. Hermione held her breath. Dumbledore was taking an enormous risk, and she highly doubted that another phalanx of Aurors was arriving. She could hear the sound of harsh breathing, murmuring in chorus, soft enough not to cover the sound of water dripping from a leak…
Suddenly there was the sound of scuffling feet, and a flash of green. "Avada Kedavra!"
Hermione felt her blood turn to ice. She must have screamed, because her throat was hoarse when she aimed her wand and shrieked a curse. Even before she felt her own magic materialize, the room echoed with a dozen voices, and the cracked walls flashed with the light of a dozen spells. Hermione stumbled to her feet, stepping on someone or something as she did so, but before she could do anything else, she saw a rush of red light streaking towards her, and she fell.
Ginny Weasley opened her eyes to the blank canvas of the bed canopy. Her hand automatically went for her wand, but she stopped herself when she realized she was in the hospital wing. The clean white sheets, the comforting flood of light, the vaguely medicinal smell…
She closed her eyes for a moment. She could remember the wards falling, the tremendous incredulity of knowing that Voldemort was dead, the madness of the ensuing fight—and then that strange pulse of light, ending all the fighting for a bewildered moment. She remembered Dumbledore's dangerous gamble, the sickening green of the Killing Curse—
Panic welled up in her again. She had heard Remus scream Harry's name, heard Hermione do the same, and after the bewildering flash of magic had seen the world turn green. Was Dumbledore—?
"…Remus is well on his way to recovery, and I believe Miss Granger escaped a few minutes ago."
So at least Remus and Hermione are all right, Ginny thought with relief. She could hear Madam Pomfrey moving between the two rows of hospital beds with her usual brisk efficiency.
"Good, good," said Dumbledore. "Have you happened to see Severus, Poppy? He was not in his quarters, nor in the Great Hall."
Ginny felt the tension drain from her body. Thank Merlin—Dumbledore was still alive. She had no idea how; she had definitely seen the green light of the Avada Kedavra, but she had decided a few years ago on the policy of simply accepting any strangeness that involved Dumbledore or Harry.
"I sent him to make me a batch of potions," Pomfrey said. "He's probably in the next room, but he should be here soon…"
"Ah, Severus," Dumbledore said in a cheerful voice. "You have impeccable timing. I see you've finished the last batch of potions that Poppy requested."
Ginny glanced at the entrance of the hospital wing. It was difficult to see through the curtain of the bed, but she could make out Snape standing in the doorway, a tray levitating in front of him.
"Good morning, Albus," Snape said, as Madam Pomfrey left the room with the tray of potions in her hands. "Were you looking for me?"
"Yes, I was," Dumbledore said. He paused. "There is something I would like to discuss with you, preferably in private."
The words were spoken amicably, but Ginny could hear the underlying gravity.
"At the moment, my own quarters are housing the wounded," Snape said. "And all my equipment and ingredients are here…"
"I'm sure Poppy won't mind lending us her office," Dumbledore said.
Ginny closed her eyes and evened her breathing to a peaceful rhythmn as the two wizards passed her bed.
"I presume this has to do with Potter," Snape said. "Has there been any news of him since his disappearance?"
Ginny's eyes snapped open in shock. Harry—disappeared?
"Yes, and no," said Dumbledore. Ginny heard the sound of a door opening. "We have no news about Harry's whereabouts, but this does concern him, perhaps in more ways than one."
The door shut, and silence once again fell over the hospital ward. Ginny felt dread pooling through her body. She remembered the last time Harry had been taken by Voldemort. It had been during the siege of the Ministry, and while destroying the Department of Mysteries to avoid Voldemort from gaining its secrets, both Harry and Ron had been taken prisoner. Ginny swallowed at the knot that formed in her throat. Ron wasn't the only member of her family to have died, but he had been the first, and those long weeks of waiting had been a nightmare…
Severus had saved Harry in the end (though not Ron's body). But the man who returned was not the boy who disappeared. Before the abduction, Harry had still been… well, Harry. He had been weighed down by the war and the responsibility of being the hero against Voldemort, but he had been capable of an hour or two of acting like a normal teenager. After the abduction, however, he seemed haunted. He smiled far less, never laughed, and took to sitting long whiles with his mind seemingly elsewhere.
And now, Harry had disappeared again.
Suddenly, Ginny heard a brief, muffled shout from the direction of Pomfrey's office. She strained her ears. She thought it sounded like Snape, yelling 'no', but perhaps it was only her imagination—?
"…not possible! It's—"
That, Ginny thought, was definitely Snape. He sounded very angry. There was silence again. Ginny wondered what it was that Snape thought was so impossible. The thought materialized before she could clamp down on it: It can't be about Harry being—dead?
The door opened, and Ginny again shut her eyes and evened out her breathing.
"I'm sorry, Severus," Dumbledore said in a solemn and weary voice. Ginny felt disturbed. Voldemort was dead; why did he still sound so tired?
"Please—don't," Snape said hoarsely, and Ginny swallowed uncomfortably. Snape usually kept his composure, though he lost it with enough frequency during bouts of anger that seeing him ruffled was not disquieting. But this shakiness was something completely different from anger or rage. It was an emotion Ginny had never associated with the Potions professor.
Snape paused. He was standing right next to Ginny's bed, and Ginny almost forgot to continue breathing as though she were asleep. "Did you… know all along?"
"No, no," said Dumbledore, a bit quickly. "I only guessed after Harry disappeared…"
Snape stiffened at Harry's name, and then continued tightly down the hospital wing.
"Perhaps, Severus," Dumbledore said hesitantly, "we could go to my office…?"
"Leave me alone!" Snape snarled, stalked to the doorway—he tripped and caught himself on the doorframe—stumbled out, and was gone.
What on earth…? Ginny thought, raising her head and glancing, out of habit, at Dumbledore.
Dumbledore sighed. His features were obscured by the bed curtains, but through the translucent gauze, Ginny thought he looked hunched and withered.
"Order meeting tonight, Miss Weasley," he said, and walked slowly out of the hospital wing.