Summary: Her legs felt like tree trunks. Her toes were gnarled roots, not meant for walking, not meant for carrying her somewhere where things would end rather than begin. My take on one of the final scenes of Deathly Hallows. Remus/Tonks, Harry/Ginny, Neville/Luna, Ron/Hermione.
Author's Note: Written for the LJ community MetamorFic Moon's Last Chance Full Moon Showdown Challenge. My prompt was "They tramped on through the cold night in silence, Tonks' long cloak whispering on the ground behind them." Now that Deathly Hallows is released, we'll see how accurate my predictions were! I couldn't manage to tie up all the loose ends, but I did my best with some of the main characters.
Never before had walking felt so completely foreign to her.
Until now, Tonks had never really considered her legs, never thought about ambulation on any sort of conscious level. Her feet were simply attached to her ankles, and her toes knew how to grip the ground through her boots without her thinking about it. Her ankles swiveled, her knees bent and straightened, her hip joints, well-lubricated still at her young age, helped her legs carry her forward through space and time, into new places, into unknown futures with every step, futures she'd nearly always taken for granted. March, march, march, onward and onward in complete naiveté. How she'd assumed, and how she'd wasted time. She longed now for ignorance, or for the certainty of knowing what was ahead of her. Glancing upward again through the trees, she observed that the moon hadn't really moved. It seemed to have been in the same position now for days, but surely they'd only been walking for thirty or forty-five minutes … minutes when things already could have become the most awful – even more terrible than they were now – and she wouldn't even have known it …
Tonks' heart contracted once and she felt her chin quiver; but she couldn't break down now, not in front of Luna and Neville and Ginny. Not as long as her legs were still carrying her toward where she thought Remus might be. Not while she pulled the barely-breathing body of Harry Potter behind her on a Conjured stretcher. Not if this moment could be the end of a story, a tale – and she hadn't really appreciated this, until this very instant – an epic tale of which she was, for better or worse, an integral part.
She couldn't look at Ginny holding Harry's cold hand, Ginny panting and stumbling beside him because she refused to let it go, stubborn girl. She couldn't contemplate Luna's face, tear-stained and bloody, suddenly present and aware, etched harshly real and wide-eyed, perhaps for the first time in her innocent life. She didn't dare consider Neville – nice Neville, sweet Neville – and his hard jaw, his narrowed eyes, his fists clenched over his failure to capture Bellatrix Lestrange during tonight's battle, a battle full of dirty tricks and too many deaths to count.
Nor could Tonks see the branches that scratched her own cheeks and ripped her cloak as she marched, marched, marched ahead, the no-longer-children trailing after her like some sort of maudlin and bloodied entourage, or funeral procession, for Harry.
Mustn't think that.
Her legs felt like tree trunks. Her toes were gnarled roots, not meant for walking, not meant for carrying her someplace where things would end rather than begin –
"Tonks?" Luna panted. Her voice was perhaps even breathier than usual, as if she were afraid of being heard, afraid of being as solid as she was in the world right now.
"Yes, Luna?" And Tonks was shocked to hear how calm her own voice sounded. She sounded like Remus. Remus …
"Could we – could we rest a little? I've got a stitch in my side – "
"Sorry, Luna, no," said Neville gently. "We have to get Harry back, and to see if any – if the others made it there."
Tonks could have kissed the boy for taking that burden from her shoulders, but she couldn't ignore the verbal slip. His thoughts were the same as hers. Who had survived?
"Come here," he said, reaching for Luna. "Where is it?" Luna pointed, and Neville performed a quick Unstitching Charm. "I had to do this spell on myself twenty minutes ago," he admitted. "Better?"
Luna nodded. "Thanks."
Neville squeezed her hand and offered a brief smile, then the group pressed onward.
They had Apparated from Godric's Hollow to the very center of the Forbidden Forest. Apparition from here was out of the question because the protections were still over the school, even though the students had been sent home for good at Christmas. Besides, there were probably still Death Eaters stationed in Hogsmeade. In the forest, Tonks and Harry and his friends had the protection of darkness, of thick copses of trees, of the Centaurs if Tonks sent up blue sparks with her wand.
All they had to do, Tonks reminded herself, was get to the school, to Madam Pomfrey, before Harry stopped breathing, before the one person who could tell them what had happened to Voldemort in Godric's Hollow could no longer do so. But this endless walking and not-knowing would surely kill her before they ever spied the front doors.
Hogwarts appeared deserted, strangely enough; perhaps, in the end, Voldemort hadn't sent any of his followers to watch the school, thinking he'd want them all for battle. But Tonks knew better than to let her guard down and, she suspected, so did the teenagers who followed her. They traveled now up the marble stairs of the entrance hall in a pack, backs toward each other, wands out, with Harry in the center on his levitating pallet. His breath rattled now, and Tonks' chest pounded as it never had before. A skeleton crew had remained at Hogwarts, including Poppy Pomfrey, one of the best Healers she knew. Tonks hoped that she was still here. If anyone could figure out what sort of Dark magic Voldemort had inflicted on Harry, it would be Pomfrey.
Was Voldemort dead? Had he escaped? No one else had been able to enter the magical fog that surrounded Harry and the Dark Lord once they'd found each other.
Tonks suspected that Voldemort's appearance had coincided with Ron's and Hermione's destruction of the last Horcrux, Salazar Slytherin's locket, which had been hiding under their noses at Grimmauld Place all along. No one had heard from Ron and Hermione since Harry had received Hermione's owl saying that she'd figured out the locket's location. Tonks could only hope that the two hadn't died along with that splinter of Voldemort's soul. If only one of them would send a Patronus. Perhaps they were simply following Remus' orders not to send a Patronus unless it was a dire emergency; Remus wanted the Order's numbers hidden as completely as possible.
It had seemed that the moment the final Horcrux had been destroyed, Voldemort had come; and darkness had fallen around him and Harry, a darkness so complete that Tonks wondered now if she'd ever see daylight again. The horrifying sounds that she'd heard coming from that black fog would haunt her nightmares for years. Then their group – after the battle it was hard to say how many humans and creatures were left – had been blasted away from the fog, dead and alive alike, as if yanked by an unseen Portkey, along with all the Death Eaters they had been fighting. Tonks herself, luckily, had landed in a Muggle swimming pool in a neighboring village, dropped there from the night sky as if she were a hailstone. And when she'd recovered enough to dry herself and Apparate back, the only other people who'd managed to do so were Ginny, Luna, and Neville. So there they had stood, outside that black cloud, waiting, shivering and frightened, for the fight inside to end.
And end it had. The fog had seemed literally to explode outward, knocking Tonks and the others off their feet, filling their lungs with noxious smoke, burning their eyes and stinging their wounds. When they'd risen, they had seen Harry lying in the center of a circle of scorched earth. Every bit of grass around him was dead, and the ground had been hot to the touch. And Tonks had noticed that he was hardly breathing, only a single, rasping breath every five or ten seconds.
Now Harry's face was ashen, and the rattle in his lungs was unnerving Tonks more than she dared show the children. Not children, not anymore, she thought. As they climbed staircase after staircase, Ginny finally let go of Harry's cold fingers and gripped her wand with both hands, because one alone shook too much.
Finally they reached the Infirmary. Quietly, Tonks motioned for silence and pushed the door open a crack, wand in front of her.
What she saw next made her heart leap into her throat.
Poppy Pomfrey was there, indeed, and – unfortunately – her frightened eyes registered Tonks' presence just before the other people in the room turned around, wands raised.
There was no time to think, or to run. There was only time to quickly and silently Accio the childrens' raised wands into her pocket with a darting look of warning, and to morph.
In a split second, she grew taller, though her back hunched slightly. She felt wiry muscles develop and her breasts shrink. She was grateful for the long, black robes she'd worn tonight, because they covered her lankier, masculine form now. Her skin grew sallow. Her hair darkened and grew long and lank. Her nose broadened and hooked. She felt a large Adam's apple form inside her throat while her vocal cords lengthened and thickened.
When the twelve masked Death Eaters in the room turned around, they faced Severus Snape.
Take charge of the situation, thought Tonks. That's what he'd do.
She strode into the room, pulling Harry's pallet roughly behind her and shoving Neville in front of her for good measure.
"We have to revive the boy, Pomfrey," she commanded, ignoring the Healer's visitors.
Her eyes swept the room quickly. Aside from Madam Pomfrey and the Death Eaters, there was no one else in the Infirmary yet, and Tonks wasn't sure whether that would be good or bad for her little group. Perhaps the Death Eaters had just arrived and, finding no members of the Order there, hadn't formulated a plan for a search-and-destroy yet. Ginny and Luna, eyes wide, trailed Tonks, who tried to allow her robes to billow the way Snape's so often did when he was angry. She spoke again in the oily, languid tones of Voldemort's most trusted Death Eater. "I captured these children just as they were escorting Potter to safety."
Please, please, please let these people not know what's already happened, that Voldemort is missing, for all we know, she implored silently.
To Madam Pomfrey's credit, she reacted quickly, playing along with Tonks' disguise and shooting the Auror a look filled with loathing. "What's happened, Severus?"
"One of our own tried to kill the Potter boy." Tonks lied, sweeping her eyes accusingly across the masks facing her.
"Tried? Let me finish the job," demanded a female voice passionately.
There was no mistaking Bellatrix's voice beneath the mask, and Neville's head swiveled towards her. He'd been fighting her not two hours ago, and she'd disabled him with a cheap trick, performing a Cruciatus Curse on him and laughing in his face until all the fighters had been blasted away. His jaw worked as he stared at her now.
This small group of Death Eaters must have come here as soon as they were blasted away from the fight, perhaps on Voldemort's prior orders. Tonks could just imagine his hissing voice now: I can handle the boy. You will finish the rest of Dumbledore's stragglers.
In a flash, Bellatrix raised her wand at Harry's immobile form and inhaled. The teenagers tensed, but Tonks had their wands.
"Fool!" Tonks shouted, turning her wand onto Bellatrix, who paused and faced her opponent. Bellatrix removed her mask with a bemused sort of expression on her pale, angular face.
Tonks lowered her voice, trying to stare Bellatrix into submission. "Will you not heed the Dark Lord's command? It must be he who kills the boy, no one else. If he is to attain the unmatched power he deserves, it must be Lord Voldemort who kills Harry Potter." Tonks spat the last two words and stared into her enemies' hard faces and masks; she hoped that she looked as threatening as only Severus Snape could.
Bellatrix hesitated. Another voice spoke from behind her: Lucius Malfoy. He removed his mask now, and his face was fixed in a sneer, his voice laced with skepticism. "How do you know this, Severus?" Azkaban hadn't been kind to him, and his refined features looked somewhat haggard now.
"In reward for my faithful services, the Dark Lord commanded that I return to witness the battle," Tonks lied quickly, trying to inject as much of Snape's natural haughtiness into her new voice as she could. "I entered the darkness and found that several of our number had returned and entered, as well."
Because only she and the children had returned, Tonks hoped that the Death Eaters wouldn't know that it had been impossible to enter the black cloud. She continued, lowering her wand slightly. "One of our own idiot bastards blasted the boy from behind," she lied. "Potter was thrown from the field. It took me an hour to find him; and when I did, these children were trying to scuttle him off themselves. They wouldn't tell me where they were taking him, but I suspect it's a new lair for Dumbledore's followers. I've taken their wands; you may search them if you like."
Tonks knew she had to give the Death Eaters a reason why they shouldn't kill the teenagers at once, and that seemed as good a reason as any. Perhaps the Death Eaters would question them, or try to torture them, to find out where this false safe haven was. But it would buy some time, until help arrived – or, more likely, until she figured out what to do. They probably couldn't take twelve Death Eaters on their own. She and the three teenagers were exhausted, Harry was barely alive, and Pomfrey's skills were not in fighting.
Tonks shot a daggered look into Lucius Malfoy's icy eyes. "We have to revive him before he dies so that the Dark Lord can take his life himself. We shall all be richly rewarded."
Please believe, thought Tonks, hardening Snape's features.
Several horrible seconds passed while Tonks and Malfoy faced each other. At last he said, "Very well. Pomfrey." He stepped aside and sneered as the Healer scurried to Harry's side and brought him to a proper bed. She deposited him there with a swift glance at Tonks as if to say, I hope you know what you're doing. Pomfrey began working quickly but deliberately, checking Harry all over with her hands, eyes, ears, and wand before she began to assemble ingredients for her remedies.
"I'll summon the Dark Lord," muttered Bellatrix as she paced across the room toward a window. "He should be here."
"He knows," Tonks lied. "He'll be here soon enough. Your impatience is tiresome." If her heart weren't about to burst through her chest from fear, Tonks thought she'd rather enjoy putting Bellatrix in her place like this. The Death Eaters cast glances at one another but stayed where they were. They needed a leader; Tonks would be one, for as long as it took.
Now that the room was filled with only Pomfrey's hushed ministrations, Tonks had time to think. As the children's "captor," she still had Neville's, Luna's, and Ginny's wands in her robes. There were four Death Eaters speaking in hushed tones across the Infirmary, next to the door. The other eight dotted the room and hovered now and then near Harry and Madam Pomfrey. Could Tonks lure them all into the hallway, away from Harry and the others? And if she could, what then? She'd likely be killed, and then so would her companions. They were trapped.
She couldn't send a Patronus to anyone without being seen, or without them seeing that her wolf Patronus was not Snape's eagle. But oh, how she wanted Remus here … if he was still alive after being blasted away from the battle. And if anyone did show up now, they'd walk into the same trap she had.
A lump formed in her throat, but she swallowed it away. There was no time for fear, only for a plan.
"Away!" she ordered two of the Death Eaters who were crowding Madam Pomfrey. "Let the woman work!"
Several of the Death Eaters sauntered off and Tonks seized the opportunity to offer Pomfrey a quick glance. The Healer frowned and continued to work on Harry. He seemed to be breathing a bit easier now, although he was still pale and immobile. She caught Ginny's eye, as well; the girl's jaw was set as she stared into Tonks' – Snape's – face. Wands, Ginny mouthed. Tonks nodded. Soon, she replied silently. Before long they'd likely have no choice but to fight.
After several excruciatingly long minutes and many complex-looking potions, elixirs, smoking twigs, ointments, and ashes, Harry began to stir. His eyes fluttered open and shut again. When they opened once more, they fixed on Tonks, widening as he realized he was looking at Snape. His eyes couldn't seem to focus and he kept blinking them. He tried to shift his body towards her, but Pomfrey shushed him still again. Tonks couldn't tell him that everything was all right, that it was her, because two Death Eaters lurked only a few steps away. She tried to tell him without words, but she figured it was pointless trying to communicate anything through Snape's flat black eyes and stony face.
"You …" whispered Harry hoarsely.
One of the Death Eaters now turned towards the sound of Harry's voice, so all Tonks could do was nod.
"I thought you were – " Harry's eyes closed again, and it was another long series of heartbeats before he opened them again. "You, you came and – "
Tonks stole a glance at Madam Pomfrey, whose mouth was the thinnest of lines. The Death Eater who had heard Harry speak had now turned away to get the attention of one of his cohorts.
Harry raised a hand weakly, his eyes still unfocused. Next came a quiet whisper, little more than mouthed words: "Thank you." Then his eyes closed again.
Tonks' eyes widened for a split second. Several Death Eaters were now starting to crowd Harry again, but fortunately they seemed to have missed the last two words. She was grateful that the boy had passed out again. Why was Harry thanking Snape? No one in the Order had heard from him since Dumbledore's murder. It was assumed that he had returned to Voldemort. But what if –
"Hang on …" One of the Death Eaters, a burly wizard near the door, was hiking up his sleeve.
Oh, no, thought Tonks as she stood.
The wizard gestured to his comrades to look at the Dark Mark on his forearm. As the others gathered round him, preoccupied, Tonks crossed the room and stealthily passed the children their wands. Her intuition told her that things were about to get ugly, and her intuition was seldom wrong.
But at least the unconscious Harry was breathing normally again, and Pomfrey was still working on him.
"What is it?" Malfoy asked, rolling his own sleeve back.
"It's cold," the wizard replied, rubbing his forearm. As Tonks watched, the mark seemed to glow a strange, unearthly blue.
"What does it mean?" asked Bellatrix, staring at her own Dark Mark and touching it gingerly.
"It means the end is close," said Tonks, pulling her own sleeve back and morphing the pigment of her skin so that a glowing blue Dark Mark appeared. "It won't be long now – "
"How do you know, Severus?" hissed Malfoy, fingering his wand. "It's been months since you've deigned to speak with us. How do we know you're not keeping us from the Dark Lord even now, when we should be by his side – "
"You're a fool until the very end," Tonks murmured, toying with her wand. She couldn't let him threaten her.
Malfoy raised his wand in return. "You'll claim all the credit for delivering Potter to him, won't you?"
Tonks smirked her best Snape-like smirk. "Why shouldn't I?"
"Because I don't trust you."
"Not many people do."
"I think I'd like the glory of bringing Potter to him," said Malfoy.
"What about me?" growled Bellatrix.
Malfoy glared at her. "Silly woman, you'd – "
But his pronouncement was never finished, because at that moment a voice from behind Tonks' left shoulder whispered, "Petrificus Totalus."
One good trick deserves another, thought Tonks as a mixture of pride and dread flooded her.
Bellatrix froze, wide-eyed, and fell face-first on the floor with a thud as Neville rushed to her and removed the wand from her hand. He allowed himself a brief, satisfied exhalation before rising again, for suddenly spells were being fired from both parties. Tonks quickly leapt across the room alongside the Death Eaters, where she pretended to fight with them against Ginny, Luna, and Neville. Instead, however, she sent spells straight into the backs of the Death Eaters in the rear of the group, watching with grim satisfaction as the unsuspecting souls fell, one by one.
Luna managed to Stupefy a Death Eater before she was hit with an Impedimenta curse. Ginny and Neville continued to hurl curses as quickly as they could. Madam Pomfrey abandoned her charge and rushed to help them. Meanwhile several of the opponents, realizing that "Snape" was helping the children pick off the Death Eaters, whirled to face Tonks and began shooting spells at her. She rushed to join the children, hoping to protect them. She sent spell after spell into the chests of the Death Eaters; but beside her Pomfrey fell, and then Ginny.
It had happened so quickly, and now it was she and Neville against six Death Eaters, she and Neville protecting the unmoving form of Harry Potter, while the bodies of Luna, Ginny, and Madam Pomfrey lay scattered like rag dolls on either side of the fray.
"Time to surrender," drawled Lucius Malfoy. "You should have known that – "
But what Tonks should have known she never discovered, because she decided she'd rather shut Malfoy up than listen to her own death eulogy. She'd die fighting, if she had to, and this knowledge seemed to steady her hand and strengthen her resolve. Her Expelliarmus landed squarely between Malfoy's eyes and made him stumble backwards and fall, and then Neville Stupefied him.
Now there were five. Three wizards appeared to be edging towards Harry's inert body, and two of them were trying to skirt around the other side of Tonks and Neville. Neville kept shooting spells at those advancing on their left, while Tonks managed a Tripping Jinx on the man closest to Harry. She and Neville stood back-to-back as the Death Eaters surrounded them, flashes of light exploding from everywhere as spells were hurled back and forth.
If this is it … mused Tonks, unable to complete the thought. She had to keep fighting, keep fighting until she could no longer do so.
Suddenly two of the five Death Eaters were blasted away, but Tonks wasn't sure how that had happened. Behind her, at last, she felt Neville slide down her back and crumple onto the floor. Then a third Death Eater fell. She turned to face the last two, and what she saw behind them in the doorway nearly made her collapse.
Bill Weasley … and Remus.
Thank you thank you thank you …
An odd expression was etched on Remus' face as he stared at "Snape," standing alone in the center of a pile of immobile bodies; but he quickly recovered, and he and Bill kept firing spell after spell until the remaining Death Eaters were defeated.
Tonks lowered her wand and stood, breathing heavily, as she watched Remus move toward her across the long room. Bill's wand remained trained on the bodies lying prostrate before him.
Her legs seemed to be forgetting how to prop her up adequately; her knees quivered as she lowered her wand. Here, at last, was Remus, her lover, her best friend, the man without whom her life had seemed a mere shell of itself. The man who, in the past year, had stood fighting at her side, literally and figuratively, more times than she could count. He limped, she noticed, and he looked mystified. Finally she realized that her knees could no longer support her, so she gingerly lowered herself to the floor, steadying herself with a shaking hand on one knee. Remus was nearly there, but still he hadn't spoken. At last, looking at Snape's long-fingered hand resting on the flagstone, she remembered to morph back into herself.
She heard a brief sob – was it Remus' or hers? – just before his arms were around her; and with that embrace, all the strength that had kept her going for the past few hours seemed to drain out of her. She shook all over, although she clutched Remus desperately. She felt kisses over her face and lips, and it was a moment before she could return them. At last, she grasped his hair in her fingers and pressed her lips to his cheekbones, his jaw, his lips, his eyes. And presently she became aware that Remus was murmuring something, the same two words over and over.
"Never again." A kiss. "Never again." Two more. "Never again." His lips lingered over hers before he commenced kissing her cheeks once more.
"Never again what?" she managed.
"I'll never let you out of my sight," he whispered. "Ever. Again."
And Tonks, as was her habit, laughed. She felt a sigh of relief leave Remus, and heard it echoed in her own breath. He offered a thin-lipped smile and kissed her again, breathing rather heavily as he tried to keep his emotions in check. Tonks' laugh turned into a sob, and she clasped Remus' hands, kissing his fingers again and again. "I thought you were – "
"Shh," he said, eyes twinkling. "Not a chance."
They remained that way, kneeling, while Bill set about placing Body-Bind Curses on the Death Eaters.
At last Tonks found her legs again, and she and Remus helped Bill revive the others. Ginny, after checking to make sure Bill was all right, went to see about Harry. Madam Pomfrey shooed her aside so that she could continue her treatment. Neville and Luna sat huddled out of the way in a corner, silently healing each other's cuts and burns.
After a few minutes, Harry began to stir again. His eyes flew open and he tried to sit up, but Pomfrey gently placed a hand on his shoulder. Harry knew better than to argue. "What day is it?" he asked. His voice was raspy, and he immediately began coughing.
When he'd recovered, Madam Pomfrey smiled. "It's the same day as it was when you passed out."
Harry looked perplexed. "Feels like longer," he said quietly. He turned his head. "Tonks! Professor – erm, Remus."
"Hello, Harry," said Remus, offering an encouraging smile as Tonks squeezed Harry's hand.
Harry's gaze slid over to Neville and Luna, who hovered now at the foot of the bed next to Bill. Finally he saw Ginny, and he reached for her with a weak arm. "I told you to stay away this time."
"When have I ever listened to you?" she retorted. But she kissed him on the cheek nevertheless and remained kneeling by his side. Pomfrey didn't wave her off.
"How is he, Poppy?" asked Remus.
"He'll recuperate," she said with a curt nod. Her hands shook, now that the acute danger was over.
"What sort of Dark magic was it?" asked Tonks.
"Oh," said Pomfrey, still appraising Harry. "It wasn't Dark magic."
Tonks glanced at Remus. "It wasn't?"
"Where's Professor Snape?" Everyone turned to face Harry again. "He was just here. I think. Unless I was dreaming."
"You weren't dreaming," said Tonks. "But it wasn't Snape. It was me."
"It was you? Oh. Right." Harry's brow knitted. He was silent for a moment. "He's dead."
Remus took a breath. "It's true. I found him by accident in a forest a few miles away from Godric's Hollow. He'd been blasted there from the battle." He hesitated. "But I don't think it was the blast that killed him."
"No," said Harry. "No, it wasn't."
Ginny squeezed Harry's hand. "What happened in that fog? We couldn't get in."
Harry closed his eyes again, and for a moment Tonks thought that he wouldn't answer. But soon he raised his hand to his scar and fingered it gingerly. "Snape was there."
Tonks held her breath, waiting for Harry to go on.
"I think he was Voldemort's second. I think the plan was to gang up on me if they had to. At least that's how Voldemort was talking. I think he was tired of trying to figure out why he couldn't kill me." Harry swallowed. "I thought – " His jaw worked for a few seconds before he could continue. "Snape was his right-hand man. I thought he was there to kill me, just like Dumbledore. Perhaps that was Voldemort's plan."
"What happened, Harry?" Neville asked.
Harry took a few deep, shuddering breaths, rubbing his scar harder, as if it were a limb that had fallen asleep and he was trying to wake it up.
"Voldemort had me down. On the ground. I could barely lift my wand. And then suddenly … " Harry's eyes narrowed as he tried to make sense of his memory. "Snape sent out his Patronus."
"An eagle," said Remus.
"No, not an eagle."
Remus frowned and glanced at Tonks, who was equally confused.
"I mean, yes, partly an eagle. It was hard to tell because it wasn't fully corporeal, not at first. The head and front legs and wings were of an eagle. But then I saw the body. The body was a lion's."
"A griffin," breathed Luna.
Remus looked dumbstruck. "Are you certain?"
"I thought Severus was a Slytherin to the very core," interjected Madam Pomfrey.
"His Patronus wasn't always an eagle – I mean, a griffin," offered Remus. "When we were in school it changed. It used to be a bat."
Neville raised his eyebrows.
"Quite appropriate," Remus nodded. "But then James – Harry's father – did something for Snape that he could never forgive."
"He saved his life," Harry whispered. "And Snape's Patronus – "
"Changed, yes," said Remus, glancing again at Tonks. "But we never realized it had changed into a griffin. We thought it was an eagle. It wasn't a corporeal Patronus at the time, so we never saw the body. It – the eagle – never quite made sense to us. Patronus changes are very rare; we knew what had happened had shaken him, but – "
"No wonder he hated you all so much," said Tonks. "And no wonder he was so angry all the time. It sounds like Snape might have had – well, an identity crisis, after Harry's dad saved his life." Thinking of how her own Patronus had changed, and changed permanently, over the man she loved, she could well imagine Snape's dismay over a perceived enemy's actions causing such a mindshift.
"So … all this time, Snape has been on our side?" asked Ginny. Everyone was quiet after that.
"I – maybe – I don't know," said Harry finally. "He said he had to restore the balance. I don't know what that meant."
Beside Tonks, Bill ran his fingers across his scarred face.
Harry went on. "He was muttering something about having a choice. Something about absolute good or absolute evil and how neither could work and he – he had to stop it. And then his Patronus flew in front of me – " Harry blinked rapidly, unable to speak.
"Snape tried to protect you?" asked Neville.
"I think so," said Harry, as if he couldn't believe it himself. "Yes."
"And Voldemort?" asked Remus.
"He – he killed Snape." Harry swallowed. "And then the Patronus disappeared, but something …"
"Something?" prodded Bill.
"Something … remained." Harry rubbed his scar again. "This is cold. My scar. What does that mean?"
A spark of hope ignited in Tonks' chest, but she said nothing.
Madam Pomfrey pushed back Harry's fringe and examined the scar, frowning. "I'm afraid I don't know."
"What happened to Voldemort, Harry?" asked Bill.
Harry took several deep breaths before continuing. "Well, Snape's Patronus disappeared when he – when Voldemort killed him. But something remained. I felt it. It was a – a feeling. Oh, I don't know – "
"Go on, Harry," said Luna. "We believe you."
Harry hesitated. Then he spoke slowly, as if he were figuring it out as he talked. "A feeling of home, and – and friends – and family. Ron and Hermione. All of you. Snape. Dumbledore. Sirius." Harry swallowed. "My mum. My dad. Everyone – and everyone I thought I'd lost – were … were somehow with me. Inside me. It was like surrendering. It was like – it was like being born. Or dying." He blushed. "I know it sounds crazy."
"No, it doesn't," smiled Luna. Ginny shook her head in agreement.
Harry managed to smile in return. "It's almost as if I finally … believed. Like the certainty a baby has that his mother's going to be there when he reaches for her." His throat worked for a moment. "And I knew I could defeat him. Or at least that he couldn't defeat me. And … he didn't."
Tonks leaned in. "Is he …?"
"Dead," finished Harry, rubbing his scar. "Dead, yes. And it just … happened. I think."
"You think?" ventured Neville.
"He tried the Killing Curse, but it didn't – it couldn't land on me. It exploded somehow. And the fog disappeared, and so did Voldemort, and I passed out, and – why is my scar freezing?" Harry muttered agitatedly.
At that, Tonks separated herself from the group and approached the immobile form of Bellatrix. Pushing up the sleeve of her robes, she gasped. "It's gone! The Dark Mark is gone!"
Bill dashed to examine the arm of another Death Eater, then another, and another. "I don't believe it … all of them. It's disappeared! Everyone he marked – "
Tonks turned towards Remus' voice. He was leaning close to Harry.
"Harry, you've done it," Remus murmured, his voice tight with emotion. Madam Pomfrey suddenly burst into tears, as if hearing it from Remus had somehow made it true. Ginny held Harry's hand tightly, struggling to contain her own well of emotion. Neville and Luna embraced. And Tonks and Bill stood stock still in the middle of the unmarked, unmoving bodies around them. "You've done it," Remus repeated quietly.
"No," said Harry, looking at each of his companions in turn. "We all did it. I was only able to reach the end of this because of you. All of you. Everyone. Even ... especially Professor Snape." Harry's face darkened with an unidentifiable emotion.
Tonks nodded, feeling tears pricking her eyes.
A familiar voice from behind them broke the tension. "What is this, a funeral?"
Tonks whirled around and smiled. Beside her she felt Remus approach, reach for her hand, and squeeze it.
"Ron! Hermione!" Harry grinned. Ginny dashed across the room to capture her brother in a great hug.
"This place needs livening up," said Ron as he and Ginny helped a hobbling but bright-eyed Hermione over to Madam Pomfrey. "Oh, hi, Harry. Have we got a story for you!"
As Tonks watched the three friends' reunion, she tried to settle into this moment, a moment that was, if not the happiest, the most hopeful one she could recall in a very long time. Snape wasn't the only one who had sacrificed his life tonight. Eventually they would turn to one another, asking who was missing. Then the tears would fall.
But not yet.
"Erm, Harry?" asked Hermione as Madam Pomfrey settled her on a bed. Her eyes narrowed as she scrutinized his forehead. "Where did your scar go?"
"Hmm?" Harry prodded his forehead again. "Is it gone? Strange. Well, I suppose I've got a story for you, too."
A/N: Reviews are always appreciated, even if this fic turns out to be way off the mark now that Deathly Hallows is out! Reviewers get a happy reunion scene with their very own werewolf.