Note: It's been a very long time since I've updated this fic, and I make no guarantees that I'll be able to update faithfully from now on. Thanks to everyone who's still reading despite the very, very long gap between chapters! I'll try to have another up soon. This chapter is unbetaed.
Neville Longbottom walked among his dozen or so students, doing his best to look self-confident and trying not to stutter when he spoke. He hated being the center of any kind of attention and generally avoided it at all costs, but ever since the siege had begun he knew that the time for hiding was over. As long as he and everyone else were in deep trouble, he'd have to go outside his comfort zone and do his best to be helpful. Knowing that didn't make it any easier to endure having a group of people watching him, though.
He ignored the gap in the floor where Pansy and her cohort used to practice. He couldn't help but feel a vengeful pleasure at the thought of them locked in a tower. They'd never been vocally opposed to him teaching—at least, not once Harry had set them straight—but he'd always been able to feel their revulsion at the thought of learning anything from him. It had been apparent in the curve of their lips, the glint in their eyes.
"That's good concentration, Ellie, but remember that you're thinking about an outward transformation, not an inner one," he said to one of the fourth years who was sitting cross-legged on the floor with her eyes clenched shut as if strength of will alone could force the transformation.
She squinted one of her eyes open to peer at him, looking frustrated with herself. She'd made little progress in the months since she'd begun training to be an animagus, and was beginning to despair—never mind that it often took adult wizards much longer, and they had professional training to help them along. Never mind that even Hermione hadn't made much progress beyond sprouting feathers all over her face.
"Can you show me how you do it again?" she asked plaintively, biting her lip. "I just…I don't seem to get it, Neville."
There was a clamor at that from most of the students. "Yeah, Neville, show us how it's done!"
"You're so cool, Neville!"
Blushing heavily, he walked to the front of the classroom. He reached inside himself for his trigger—don't let grandma find me—and was about to transform when the doors burst open and Harry skidded inside, panting.
"I'm so sorry I'm late, Neville," he apologized, running a hand through his perpetually disheveled hair.
Neville grinned, the sight of his friend setting him at ease. Harry had always had confidence in him, and since the lockdown he felt closer to the other boy than ever. Harry trusted him. Harry relied on him to teach other students this important skill.
Doing his best Snape impression, Neville lifted his nose in the air and said, "Five points from Gryffindor for your appalling tardiness, Mr. Potter."
Someone snorted. Harry laughed, then mock-bowed in supplication. "Please, forgive me, Professor Longbottom," he groveled.
"Hmph," Neville sniffed. "Take your place, Mr. Potter."
Grinning, Harry set himself up at the very back, in one of the corners, where he could observe everything around him. Neville had noticed that Harry had a habit of doing that, not wanting to leave his back exposed, and also wanting to stay out of the other students' lines of sight.
"Now, where was I." Neville pretended to think. "Oh, right." Don't let grandma find me, he thought, and suddenly his perspective shifted and he was a mouse.
He had been incredibly self-conscious about his form for years. Especially after he learned that Peter Pettigrew, the now-infamous Gryffindor traitor, was a rat animagus. He'd been terrified that Harry and the others would turn on him, realizing that he was as worthless as some of his teachers always thought. He'd managed to hide the fact that he was an animagus until Harry had asked students to volunteer to teach others the skills they knew. How could he hide, when they were under siege? So he'd sucked up his courage and admitted the truth.
And the others, his friends, they'd loved it. Maybe Ron had shown an instant of concerned surprise, but it was gone almost as soon as it had come, and all he could think as they cheered him was, I should have told them a long time ago.
In fact, Neville had been an animagus since he was ten. It was his second bit of accidental magic—after he was pushed out of a window by one of his own family just to see whether his magic would kick in. He'd been trying to hide from his grandmother, who was about to go into one of her long spiels about his clumsiness, crouching in a cupboard and desperately hoping she wouldn't find him, when suddenly his entire world changed and she…well, couldn't find him.
The students oohed and aahed over his form, as usual, and he twitched his nose at them a few times before changing back.
"Neville, I'm curious," Hermione said, her brown eyes narrowed in her typical studious way. "Do you think about what your form is while you're changing, or just about the process of changing?"
Neville chewed his lip thoughtfully. "Both, I guess. I think about wanting to change into my form, but when I think the trigger phrase I'm just thinking about the process."
"I still haven't figured out my trigger phrase," Ellie sighed.
"Don't worry," he reassured her. "You will. Mine came to me when I was really stressed, but I also know people can uncover theirs with time. It's all very subjective." A moment of silence as everyone pondered that, then he clapped his hands and said, "Now, back to work! Let's get in another twenty minutes of real effort before lunch." He taught three times a week for an hour at a time, which was about all that his self-confidence could handle. The rest of his time he spent in the greenhouses or in dueling training. Or, more and more often, in battle.
There was only about five minutes to go when the doors burst open again and Severus Snape strode in, looking as sallow, evil, and unpleasant as ever. His intimidation was somewhat lessened by the fact that he was using a cane to walk—apparently he'd already shrugged off the wheelchair—but the sneer on his face was just as Neville remembered.
"What's this, then?" Snape hissed, glaring at the students, who all appeared to be on the verge of falling asleep but were actually meditating.
"A-ani-animagus t-training," Neville said, hating himself for his weakness as he cringed under Snape's glare.
"I see," the older man sneered, his tone conveying just how unlikely he thought that prospect was. "And who is training these students in advanced transfiguration? You, Longbottom?" His lip curled.
Neville looked at Hermione, who nodded encouragingly. "Y-yes," he said firmly, meeting the professor's obsidian eyes.
Snape laughed, a chilling laugh that made Neville cringed. "You must be joking. Longbottom, you are barely more than a squib, a disgrace to the name of wizardry. Your acceptance at this school in the first place was a mistake—"
"Not. Another. Word," Neville bit out through clenched teeth, a sudden wave of fury overpowering his intimidation. "I am a good teacher. I am an asset to our efforts. I will not let you say otherwise."
"Why, you insolent brat," Snape snarled, his expression twisting, taking an angry step forwards. He was stopped by a low, menacing…growl?
Neville could have laughed at the way Snape suddenly froze before slowly turning to see what had made that noise. The dour man let out a strange choking noise. Neville stepped forward, curious, and strained around Snape to see what had the other wizard so surprised. And stared.
Sitting on its haunches in front of them was a very large Siberian tiger. He was handsome, with vivid stripes and intent green eyes. Staring at Snape, the tiger pulled its lips back to bare its sharp white teeth, a deep, rumbling growl creeping its way out of the animal's throat.
Snape swallowed visibly. "I presume that is a student," he said, pointing at the tiger. The tiger stood and took two slow steps forward. Snape took two quick steps back.
Neville forced himself not to grin. "As far as I know, professor, I'm the only one who's mastered the transformation. He might just be a stray."
Snape was clearly disbelieving. "A stray…tiger," he drawled.
"Yeah," Neville said. He stepped around Snape to crouch in front of the tiger, which regarded him calmly. Tentatively he reached forward to pet it on the head, and it nudged his hand, encouraging him. He could just make out the faint white lightning bolt on the tiger's forehead—invisible from even a few feet away. "Yes, definitely a stray," Neville said, innocently looking up from his crouch to meet Snape's angry but cautious eyes. "I think we'll call him…Zeus."
Snape made an inarticulate noise. "Well—carry on," he said, stepping swiftly around the tiger and hurrying away.
The students waited until the doors banged shut behind the professor to burst out laughing.
"Oh!" Hermione exclaimed, doubled over from laughter, "Did you see his face?"
"That was brilliant," Ellie breathed.
"Harry?" Neville said, staring at the tiger. It yawned once, staring back, and then suddenly where the tiger had been Harry was standing, an enormous grin on his face.
"Did I hear right?" Harry said, seeming more alive and animated than he had since assuming control of the wards. "I was a tiger?"
"You couldn't tell?" Neville asked.
Harry shrugged, his brilliant eyes still gleaming happily. "Well, I could tell that I was big," he said thoughtfully. "And strong. And also really, really wanting to eat some red meat."
"What was your trigger?" Ellie asked excitedly.
Harry coughed, looking away. "I'm not sure I should…"
"Oh, come on, Harry," Hermione said. "Maybe you'll inspire one of us." She paused, examining his face. "You're not embarrassed, are you?" she demanded.
"I'm going to kill him," Harry muttered.
Neville blinked. "Kill who?"
"No, that's my trigger phrase," Harry said. "I just—Snape kept saying those awful things, and I had just been thinking about trying to find my form, and I thought, I'm going to kill him, and then things were…very strange."
Neville snorted. He couldn't help it. Harry blinked. His lips curved. "Yeah, I guess it is pretty funny," he said, letting out a laugh.
"Funny? That was bloody awesome!" one of the fifth years exclaimed.
Harry looked at the gathered students. "Well, this just goes to prove Neville right," he said. "High stress situations will bring out the trigger." He paused dramatically. "Although I wouldn't recommend seeking out Snape in the hopes that it'll happen!"
More laughter. Neville enjoyed the moment, soaking in the good spirits around him. Things had been so hectic lately, it was important to enjoy the good times. "All right, off you go," he said. "It's lunch time."
He, Hermione, and Harry watched as the others grabbed their things and left the room.
"Thanks, Neville," a few of them called at him as they left.
"Awesome, Harry," others added.
"That really was amazing, Harry," Hermione said once the three of them were alone, putting her hand on Harry's arm. "Your dad would be proud."
Harry ducked his head, embarrassed. "He did it in his fifth year, Hermione."
She shook her head. "He wasn't fighting for his life at the same time," she reminded him, sounding annoyed by his unwillingness to acknowledge what he'd achieved. "And, Harry, you've only been working on this for half the time the rest of us have. I haven't got anywhere near the full transformation, and I've been working on it for three months. Just admit you did a good job, you stubborn git!"
He smiled. "You always know just the right thing to say," he said, a hint of sarcasm in his voice although it was clear he was being sincere. He sighed. "Well, I guess I don't need to come to this class any more."
Suddenly Neville realized why he seemed so down. Harry lived such a stressful life, and animagus practice was something he enjoyed, a way of taking a break. Now he didn't have that any more. "You're welcome to stay and help me teach the others," Neville said, but Harry was shaking his head.
"Thanks, Neville, but you've got everything under control. Don't worry—I'll stay busy." He put his hand on Neville's shoulder, half in encouragement, Neville thought, and half to support himself. He left.
Neville and Hermione exchanged a glance.
"He's fine," she said.
They stared at the door through which their friend had just exited, lost in thought.
Of all the people in the castle, Dobby was probably the most delighted by Harry's new form. This became apparent when Harry entered the Great Hall for lunch about a half an hour after everyone else and was greeted by applause—both for completing the transformation, and for actually rendering Snape speechless, something previously believed to be impossible. Snape was absent as usual, probably taking the meal in his room rather than be surrounded by "idiot children."
Well, of course once everyone started applauding like that Harry had to transform—it wasn't showing off, not really, when it was meant to encourage everyone else—and as everyone laughed in delight at the sight of the enormous feline, Dobby's squeaky voice exclaimed, "Harry Potter is being a pussy cat!"
Harry had a quick meal, inviting Dobby to eat alongside him, although Dobby could never do something so improper. They had scheduled an examination of the Hogwarts farm for the day. Dobby bounced alongside Harry as the walked the long path to the farm—there were no shortcuts there, and it was deliberately inconvenient to get to, in the hopes of deterring students from finding it.
Dobby kept looking sidelong at Harry, who finally sighed and said, "What is it, Dobby?"
Dobby couldn't keep the grin off of his strange little face. "Dobby is loving kitty cats, Harry Potter sir. When Dobby was with his old family—" he grimaced at the thought of the Malfoys, though he'd come to tolerate Draco since the siege began "—young master is getting a kitten for a present. Young master is not wanting to care for the kitty cat, so Dobby is given responsibility. Dobby is loving that cat, Harry Potter sir."
Harry was reminded once again not to underestimate the house elf. "What did you name it?"
"Young master is calling the cat Mr. Fearsome," Dobby said earnestly, oblivious to the way Harry's lips twitched at the thought. His smile transformed into a queasy expression at Dobby's next words. "But I is calling it Harry the Magnificent!"
Harry coughed. "After me?"
Sighing, Harry looked up to see Snape hobbling toward him, beads of sweat forming on his forehead from the exertion of walking with the cane.
"Professor Snape," he greeted in as neutral a voice as possible. "How can I help you?"
"We need to talk," Snape announced.
Harry bobbed his head affably. "An excellent suggestion," he said. "As you can see, I'm rather busy at the moment, but if you'd like to make an appointment—"
"Busy!" Snape said, his eyes narrowed. "You're talking to a house elf, Potter."
Harry didn't look at Dobby to see how his small friend took the professor's disdain. "Dobby had an appointment," he told the older man. "We are going to look over the Hogwarts farm. You're welcome to join us if you wish."
"Look at the farm another time," Snape ordered. "We should talk now."
Maybe when he was eleven that tone would have worked on him, but Harry had spent the past seven years ignoring orders in favor of doing what he thought was best—usually with good results. "I'm sorry, sir, but like I said, I have an appointment. If you'd like to talk now, as I said, you're welcome to walk with me."
Snape's eye twitched and he was silent for a long moment, no doubt holding in a violent outburst. Harry wondered whether the man had always been so out of control, or whether his coma had weakened him mentally.
"Very well," Snape snarled at last.
Harry began to walk again, deliberately slowing his pace so that Snape could more easily keep up.
"What do you want to talk about?" he asked as they passed into a series of dark corridors not far from the Slytherin dungeons.
To his surprise, Snape took another long moment to compose his reply. When he spoke, his tone was nearly civil. "Potter. I have taken the past few days to ascertain exactly what has been happening here in my absence, and I believe I now have a better understanding of the difficult situation that you and the other students have been faced with."
He seemed to expect a response, so Harry said, staring straight ahead, "I see."
"However," Snape went on, seeming not to have heard him, "you cannot deny certain difficulties with the way you have handled things. The house system, for one thing, has been in place for centuries, and for you to so cavalierly dismantle it out of some misguided desire for unity—"
"Misguided?" Harry interrupted, scowling. The torches around them flared for a moment, the wards responding to his spike of anger. "Listen, Snape, just because something has been in place for hundreds of years doesn't make it right. I'm pretty convinced at this point that the house system has been draining the life out of Hogwarts for ages, dividing the students rather than encouraging them to work together. I'd think that you, who have always been such an advocate for the Slytherins because of the prejudice against them, would be the first to agree."
Snape's eye twitched again. "Nevertheless, Potter, this is a drastic change that I am not convinced was a good idea. Additionally," he went on before Harry could argue again, "I hope it is very clear to you that having a student—not even a prefect—running the school simply cannot continue. You have done an adequate job thus far—" coming from Snape, Harry thought, that was high praise in deed, even if the man looked like it was painful to speak "—but it is time for you to let an adult take over."
Harry waited a moment to make sure Snape was done speaking. "I assume you mean yourself, sir?" he said.
Snape's nostrils flared. "Of course," he said, a hint of irritability in his tone.
Harry nodded. "And what would you do if I were to give you the wards and tell all the students to follow you?"
"I would resume classes," Snape said. This time Harry could hear the strain in his voice from staying civil. "Obviously it would be difficult to completely return to the traditional class system, but from what I've seen as you have it now many of the subjects are being completely neglected. In Transfiguration you don't seem to offer any classes other than animagus training, Potions seems nonexistent, and Charms is entirely focused on offense. This is a school, not a military institution, and the students here will eventually have to take their OWLs and NEWTs. It won't do for them to face those life-altering tests entirely unprepared."
Harry nodded thoughtfully. "I understand what you're saying, professor, really I do. I've thought about that myself. Don't you see that it's not my—or your—decision to make, though? The students here decided that this was what they wanted. They want to be trained to protect themselves, and as we're at war, it's hardly too much to ask. As for this being a school…right now it isn't. What kind of school can it be with nearly all of the teachers out of commission? I hate to sound cliché, professor, but as it is right now…the inmates are running the asylum. And they're doing a good job of it."
"Don't be absurd, Potter," Snape hissed. "Are you listening to yourself? Students making their own decisions about what to study? Inmates running an asylum? Don't you see what a recipe for disaster this is? The Dark Lord won't even have to attack—he can just sit back and watch you fools destroy yourselves!"
Harry's eyes blazed. "Do you think I haven't said all that to myself!" he snarled back. "When we were first getting started with this—when it looked like we might never figure out how to wake up you professors—when students started getting killed—do you think I didn't question my own abilities, the wisdom of our actions? But I was wrong then, and you're wrong now. I've seen what's happened to the students here, and it's mostly been for the good. Neville has never had as much confidence as he does now. Draco has become an asset—did you know the ferret is actually something of a spell crafter? I was worried the most about the younger students, but the first and second years seem to take it all as a wonderful game, and we keep them away from the real danger."
"Potter…" Snape shook his head. "Your arguments do not matter. You are not in charge any more. Surely you realized that that would be a result of waking a teacher from a coma. Now, give me the wards."
Harry laughed. "No."
"No?" Snape said in a low, dangerous tone.
"Do you have any idea how much strength it takes to hold the wards?" Harry asked, already knowing the answer. "Has Dumbledore ever spoken to you about them?"
"I know what I've read in Hogwarts, A History."
So someone other than Hermione had actually read that book. She'd be delighted to hear it, Harry thought.
"Have you ever wondered why Albus Dumbledore, indisputably the most powerful wizard in the world, has the position of headmaster at Hogwarts instead of some other, more prestigious job?"
"Albus loves children," Snape said in a tone that indicated his disapproval of such a sentiment.
One of Harry's shoulders moved in a shrug. "Yes, but that's not the reason. After Headmaster Dippet died, Dumbledore was the only person who had the power to hold the wards. They transferred to him automatically. If he had not been alive for some reason, the wards would have actually had to release some of their own power in order to be borne by someone less powerful. However, if he ever tried to transfer the wards to someone of insufficient power—they would crush that person. Do you understand?"
"Potter, are you claiming to have as much power as Albus Dumbledore? The absolute gall! The nerve! I'll have you know that compared to Dumbledore you are nothing but a—"
"Voldemort marked me as his equal," Harry said, stopping and forcing Snape to stop with him. Forcing his ex-professor to meet his gaze, he brushed the fringe away from the scar on his forehead. "Have you forgotten that, professor? His equal. The most powerful dark lord in history. Someone whom Albus Dumbledore has been unable to defeat."
Staring at the scar, Snape seemed to turn pale, as if he was finally beginning to understand.
Harry began to walk again. "I don't know if Voldemort gave me some of his powers on that night, or whether I've always been…this powerful." He hated speaking of himself as powerful. He rarely felt like he was, but with times as they were he was finding himself forced to face certain facts. "I can hold the wards. I am the only person other than Dumbledore who is capable of doing so. If I were to give them to you, they might kill you or drive you mad. And, I'll confess…I don't want to give them up. Not for selfish reasons. I've become accustomed to having them, and I know what to look for when Voldemort tries to find a way to steal them from me or when Pettigrew tries to find a weak spot to sneak in."
"Potter…this responsibility should not be yours." Snape's face was oddly neutral.
"The story of my life," Harry sighed. "Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?"
"Regardless of who is holding the wards, I refuse to be kept out of the governance of this school any longer. While Granger is an adequate potions student, she is not at the level where she should be supervising other students in brewing dangerous potions. I will be taking over in the laboratory immediately."
Harry's lips curved in a faint smile. Snape seemed to be expecting him to object. "Professor, why do you think we woke you up?"
Snape stopped walking but Harry did not. He could feel the professor staring after him. The smile remained on his face even as he and Dobby turned a corner and left earshot.
"Dobby is thinking that that went surprisingly well, Harry Potter," Dobby said.
"Me too, Dobby," Harry said. "Me too."
Nymphadora Tonks walked into the Great Hall and promptly tripped over a reclining Christmas tree.
"Bollocks!" she screeched as she landed hard on a pile of painfully sharp pine needles.
She half-expected to hear a reproachful, "Tonks, language!" but for once Hermione hadn't been around to hear her curse. In fact, she seemed to be surrounded by a gaggle of first years, all of whom were staring at her in astonishment.
"What?" she said, changing her hair from purple to bright orange just to see their eyes widen further.
She hadn't spent much time around the younger kids over the past three months, being more involved in the defense of the castle, and realized that this was the first time she'd catch a glimpse of the mysterious projects they were rumored to have been working on nearly since the siege began. Apparently the project involved decorating for Christmas, which was less than a month away, as she could see another group of first and second years trying to hang some mistletoe in thin air.
It was no wonder that they were failing dismally, as their supervisor appeared to be—egads—Trelawney. The old fraud was currently staring into the bottom of an empty glass—which Tonks would be her favorite pair of shoes had contained something considerably stronger than tea—and trying to read the future.
She hurried over to show the kids how the mistletoe-hanging spell was actually done, then snatched a sandwich off of one of the platters that was kept perpetually full for the busy defenders of the castle, then hurried back to the ramparts to rejoin part of her team. She was in charge of the stationary defense posts that had been set up at strategic points along the battlements, both outside and within the castle. There were certain stations that were perpetually manned, some by individuals with a good hiding spot that allowed them a clear line of sight to shoot their spells and some by groups who were prepared to fight en masse.
Generally the wards kept You Know Who and his minions away—that's what the wards were for, after all—but Tonks knew that He Who Shall Not Be Named was constantly trying to break through the wards and sometimes Harry couldn't hold up against his strength. When that happened the Death Eaters had an unfortunate habit of surging towards the castle, flinging spells wildly in the hopes of killing a few students and making for the front door. Tonks suspected, though she'd never asked Harry, that if any of the Death Eaters ever made it inside he'd be unable to put the lockdown wards back in place—but so far Harry had always managed to wrestle control back quickly enough to keep the Death Eaters from entering, often thanks to the defensive efforts of her teams.
There were aerial teams as well, comprised mostly of quidditch players, and there was an easy rivalry between them to see who could take down the most Death Eaters. There was even a scoreboard in the Great Hall—currently the Hogwarts Defenders were beating the Fierce Flyers by 43 Death Eaters to 37.
"Hey Tonks," Colin Creevey greeted her as she sidled up to the wall and peered out into the darkness where the Death Eaters were known to be congregating.
"No comment, Colin," she said.
"Aww, come on," he wheedled. "Just one comment?"
"Colin, you are worse than Rita Skeeter ever was," she exclaimed, exasperated. "Do you think I didn't read the last article you wrote after you interviewed me? The war torn defender laid her lovely, multicolored cheek against the rough stone bulwark and sighed wearily, a single tear dripping from her lovely eye," she mimicked. "Honestly!"
Her team snickered, though whether at her or Colin she wasn't sure.
"But Tonks," he said, "don't you think the newspaper is a good idea?"
The newspaper had been something the council had come up with fairly recently as another way of keeping morale high. It also made sense as a way of keeping all the different branches informed about what the others were doing. It was a short thing, usually only a page or two every other day, and Colin and two other students were in charge of it. Tonks admitted they were doing a good thing. That didn't mean she wanted to be giving interviews.
"Yes, it's a good idea," she sighed.
"And don't you want to help us?" Was his lower lip trembling? Dear Merlin, he was not going to start crying.
"Can't you interview someone else for a change?"
"We have. It's your turn again. We've interviewed everyone except Harry. Do you want us to interview Harry instead?"
Her eyes narrowed at the threat. If there was something everyone knew about their fearless leader, it was that he hated attention and adulation.
"You wouldn't do that," she growled, making herself taller and her features more masculine and scary.
He blinked and moved away a bit at her new appearance, but didn't drop his manipulative, pleading expression. "I don't want to," he said. "We have to keep everyone updated, though, and if you're not going to do it, I guess Harry'll have to."
"Fine!" she snapped. "Just promise me you won't—get down!"
Lunging, she pushed him down just as a red spell passed over his head and crashed against the wall behind him, sending out a shower of gravel. Casting sonorous on herself, she cried, "All hands to the battlements! Attack! Attack!"
On their best day, the Hogwarts students could fully man their stations in three minutes—they'd tested themselves over and over again to find out. Until everyone arrived the day to day defenders would have to hold their own. Fortunately, her people were very good at their jobs—they'd been trained by a fairly successful, if young and clumsy, auror, after all.
Tonks ducked behind the ramparts, took a deep breath to calm her racing heart, then conjured a mirror. She lifted it carefully to reflect the area beyond the rampart and gasped to see that the Death Eaters had apparently stolen their idea about having fighters on broomsticks. Fortunately, being good flyers wasn't really a Death Eater requirement and many of them seemed uncomfortable, giving the defenders and advantage. She knew, though, that they had to keep the enemy from landing on the ramparts until Harry could get the wards firmed up again.
"Twelve DE on brooms," she shouted. "Teams Alpha and Beta, you're on the flyers. Gamma and Delta, you're on the lookout for men on the ground. Someone go tell Crookshanks to mobilize the kneazles and keep an eye out for that rat!"
She used her mirror to peak again, then, taking another deep breath, twisted and rose to her knees, firing off three spells in quick succession at the mass of Death Eaters. The first two went harmlessly wide, but the third struck a masked man in the face and he let out a cry as his body began to spasm violently, sending his broom spiraling out of control.
"FIERCE FLYERS TO THE RESCUE!" Ron Weasley cried, and she looked up to see him leap off the ramparts on his broom and lead his twelve team members into the fray. Draco Malfoy did the same thing with his team from another part of the ramparts, the two teams angling in a V toward the attackers and sending off a barrage of spells.
As it always did in this situation, Tonks' heart stopped for a moment as a surge of terrible fear overpowered her. Fear that these students, her charges—many of them barely more than children—would come to harm. Two had died in the past three months, one on her team and one on Ron's, both struck down by Death Eater curses. Considering their situation, it was a good record…and yet it was not a good record, could never be, when those two should have had so many years ahead of them. She sent a quick prayer to a god she didn't believe in that no one would come to harm today, then she plunged back into the action.
The battle was fierce. She lost track of the spells she'd fired and couldn't even hear the spells that were being yelled all around her by the Hogwarts students. She'd seen several of the Flyers get hit, but none had fallen and none had returned to the safety of the castle, so she assumed nothing too terrible had happened. Two of the Death Eaters had been knocked off their brooms—one's brains were currently splattered on the stone below, but the other had managed to pick herself up and limp back to Voldemort's camp outside the wards.
Tonks could tell when Harry jerked the wards away from Voldemort because all of a sudden the Death Eaters were pushed as if on a wave in the ocean away from Hogwarts, crying out and trying to keep their brooms under control as they were tossed hundreds of meters away. The Flyers remained in the air, keeping a watchful eye until it was clear that the wards were holding, then began making their way slowly back.
"Casualties!" Tonks barked, looking around herself and finding to her relief that none of the emergency healers were busy.
"Everyone's okay," Colin said, patting her on the arm. He had that look again, the one where he was about to cry, only this time it looked sincere. "Everyone's okay, Tonks," he said again. He paused, then smiled brilliantly. "I don't think I have to do that interview after all. I've got my own eye witness account! It'll be completely accurate, I promise."
"What's the headline gonna be?" Stewart, a member of Tonks' team, asked.
"The Mighty Tonks!" someone shouted.
"Tonks the Magnificent!"
"The Beast of the Battlements!"
Tonks turned her face green to hide her blush.