Warnings: Per the prompt, major character deaths, EWE

Disclaimer: Written for the SSHG Exchange on LiveJournal in response to a request for a SS/HG version of Alfred Noyes's poem, "The Highwayman."

© 2012 Mundungus42 All rights reserved. This work may not be archived, reproduced, or distributed in any format without prior written permission from the author. This is an amateur non-profit work, and is not intended to infringe on copyrights held by JK Rowling or any other lawful holder. Permission may be obtained by e-mailing the author at mundungus42 at yahoo dot com

Part I

Behind the boy who slumped at watch, asleep in the frozen night,
His sentinel beneath the cloak observed the approaching light.
She clenched her fists and willed herself to know the light's intent,
A silver doe was hiding—
A silver doe came striding, gliding towards the campers' tent.

He woke with a start and raised his wand, but determined it posed no threat.
Whilst he followed the doe through the forest, she kept sight of his silhouette.
Her steps in time with his, they crunched together, her behind,
With a thousand thoughts unfurling—
A thousand theories swirling through her quick and nimble mind.

She left him near an icy pond trying to see what lay below,
And she spotted a form in the forest against the last of the fading glow.
The familiar form of someone unexpected to be there,
Two fierce black eyes discerning—
Those fearsome eyes were burning under greasy hair.

When the doe winked out, there was darkness, and a strong hand gripped her arm,
And she braced herself, her heart in her throat, and awaited uncertain harm.
Then her eyes grew wide and her certainty of death began to dim,
And her eyes belied her knowing—
Hot tears overflowing—
Her kind eyes glowing, knowing that the doe belonged to him.

He pressed his wand against her throat, and she fell to her knees,
Her hands upturned before her and her mind relaxed and free.
His wordless spell revealed the suppositions she had guessed,
And his gasp shattered the silence,
A rasping hiss in the silence,
From the moment he broke his silence, she knew she had passed his test.

An uproar came from the pond where her best friend had gone to search,
She turned, alarmed, prepared to help, despite her stomach's lurch.
But he wrapped his arms around her, and pulled her body near.
Abruptly they were turning—
The world around her blurring—
Determinedly turning—with a bang they disappeared.

They landed near the tent encircled by her protective spells.
He cast a light between them, and she thought it was farewell.
But he grasped her shoulders suddenly and his eyes glowed as he said:
"The boy is all that matters.
To save him's all that matters.
His life is all that matters; all the rest of us are dead."

Fear and resolution warred for dominance in her mind,
And her palm met his, the fingers slid between and intertwined.
She raised his hand and pressed her trembling lips upon its back.
His face was pale in the wand-light—
Her grateful eyes in the wand-light—
He kissed her there in the wand-light, then vanished with a crack.

The weeks went by and desperation grew between the friends,
Her ancient tomes provided only riddles and dead ends.
Remembering, with every fruitless volume that she read,
"The boy is all that matters.
To save him's all that matters.
His life is all that matters; all the rest of us are dead.

And when the three were captured she was able to endure
The agonizing pain by thinking of his words to her.
And even as they buried friends, she heard inside her head,
"The boy is all that matters.
To save him's all that matters.
His life is all that matters; all the rest of us are dead."

And even when their bodies burned or bruised or broke or bled,
She healed their wounds and counselled with a cool and level head.
And when they knew the time had come for their direct assault,
His words were in her memory,
Her near-eidetic memory,
His mouth was in her memory- it was not to be forgot.

Part II

When they reached the castle, she stayed focused on her task,
Though she desired to find him there and tear away his mask.
It mattered not to him if he received renown or fame—
The boy was all that mattered.
To save him all that mattered,
His life was all that mattered, and she now believed the same.

This place, once home and haven had become an empty shell,
Transmuted from a refuge to an unfamiliar hell,
Now filled with black-clad demons firing hexes hither and yon.
The carnage was appalling—
Familiar walls were falling—
Fallen figures sprawling; how could all of them be gone?

A vision hit the boy, and in the shack, newly inspired,
Their foe demanded he with whom she secretly conspired.
And with him was the fearful serpent nestled in a sphere,
That shone like fatal moonlight—
It writhed inside the moonlight—
Coiled tightly in the moonlight and rested, waiting there.

When the details of the vision had been shared amongst them all,
They knew what had to happen to induce their enemy's fall.
But terror clutched her heart as her intense misgivings grew.
He knew that they were coming—
He counted on them coming—
If he waited for their coming, what could they, three children, do?

She calmed herself, and on her count they stormed the battlefield
Where curses flew like swarms of wasps and monsters were revealed.
But even as their reinforcements scattered in the fight
Her task was to protect him—
No hexes to affect him—
Nor enemies collect him; not on her watch. Not tonight.

But then a large explosion threw her roughly to the ground,
And in her shaken vision friends were nowhere to be found.
She crawled across a hillock and she nestled in its lee,
But a sudden move in the forest,
Just at the edge of the forest,
A familiar form in the forest went stealing through the trees.

He caught her eye as quickly as if she had called his name,
And she saw him Disillusion, and she quickly did the same.
They crept towards each other and a single thought they shared:
The boy must be protected—
Through methods unexpected—
And knowledge misdirected—and she knew she was prepared.

He joined her by the hillock, and he roughly seized her hand.
His eyes were hot as embers, and his skin seared like a brand.
Interrogating eyes met hers, and she knew what he sought—
The only thing that mattered—
Their shared aim all that mattered—
But her thoughts were ragged and tattered- where the boy was she knew not.

She relaxed her mind's defences and she calmly met his gaze,
But the fusion of their thoughts with desperation was ablaze,
He knew that in the dusty shack he'd meet his own demise,
But the boy would need protecting—
Or downright resurrecting—
Her heart swelled as she understood the truth in his surmise.

She opened wide her beaded bag as her wild thoughts coalesced
And from its depths produced a potion few knew she possessed.
She set aside six bottles, all were thick with sediment,
And without outward emotion—
She handed him the potion—
And with it her devotion to their paramount intent.

He stared at her with admiration that remained unsaid;
In unison, they pulled and traded strands from off their heads.
She dropped his hair in one and handed him the other five.
His eyes met hers with a question
Her reply an assenting expression,
On her face he read her impression that he could keep the boy alive.

He squeezed her hand in agreement and a small smile curved her lips,
Then they flew to the woods, bottles raised in salute before the fateful sips.
Their bodies contorted as bones reshaped and scalps withdrew their hair,
And her eyes turned black in the wandlight
His new tresses curled in the wandlight
They traded selves in the wandlight, and clasped one another there.

When they had recovered, her expression looked quite grim
It made him smirk to see how well the grimace suited him.
Her lips brushed his, as soft as down, and then she let him go
As her name was called through the fighting,
He gave one last look before fighting,
But his hands were steady in fighting, and she went off to face their foe.

As hexes flew, he blocked her friend from many a nasty curse.
His thanks were too effusive and it might have grown far worse
But they found the boy, alive and well, and he gave a shaky sigh.
But the boy stood next to a willow—
He stopped short, seeing the willow,
Old terror rose at the willow where he once had nearly died.

The branches stilled, and they slid into the newly opened hole,
And he knew what lay ahead of them, though the way was black as coal.
Interminable darkness pressed, but he repeated his own advice:
The boy is all that matters—
His life is all that matters—

And if he lived, perhaps he'd justify her sacrifice.

At last they reached the hovel where their adversary stood.
And he heard her beg to find the boy, though it did little good.
As the madman spoke his monologue, he felt a hideous thrill,
As he understood the reason—
The fundamental reason—
The much-mistaken reason that he ordered the snake to kill.

He numbly watched the glowing sphere draw closer to her head.
She watched the snake's approach with resignation, not with dread.
The madman turned and did not see the triumph in her eyes
As the serpent struck from the spell-light—
And the fangs struck home in the spell-light—
Her blood was spilled in the spell-light, she fell- nevermore to rise.

He staggered forwards with her friends to where her body lay,
The boy bent over her, not knowing what he ought to say.
Her eyes sought his, and silver liquid spilled across the floor,
Her thoughts glowed bright as the moonlight—
Like his silver doe, bright as moonlight—
Her memories flowed in the moonlight, and they shook him to his core.

He conjured a flask and gathered her thoughts, soon all that would remain,
And her final request was whispered in a voice made rough with pain,
But when she lay on the dusty floor and took her final breath,
Her eyes sought his in the wand-light—
Seeking comfort there in the wand-light—
And his mind held hers in the wand-light as she saved them with her death.

The callow boys, quite unaware of just what had occurred
Stood looking at the body, which would soon revert to hers.
The mad man's orders filled the air, for all were meant to hear.
The boy still knelt next to her body,
As if answers would come from the body,
And he clutched what had flowed from her body, as if they would disappear.

Anew he steeled his mental shields, which nearly had collapsed,
And remembered the potion's efficacy nearly had elapsed.
His job was to protect the boy, no matter what the cost,
Help him stand against darkness,
With friends against darkness,
And delay him knowing the darkness of what he'd already lost.

He led them from the shack across the empty castle lawn,
All strewn with bodies- a chess board with many fallen pawns.
He stole a second dose of potion when their backs were turned
When he saw a flash in the moonlight,
Her silvery thoughts in the moonlight,
And he knew that her thoughts in the bottle were his alone to learn.

As they neared the castle gates, he conjured a second flask
Pulling memories from his mind that would help the boy with his task.
He knew what they would find within the crumbling hall of stone.
And the boy stopped short in the doorway—
At the gruesome sight past the doorway—
With a flick of his wand, he replaced her thoughts and bottled up his own.

The sight of all the fallen turned the blood in his veins to ice,
Even though they all had made a willing sacrifice.
But in his heart, a fire burned so hot it caused him pain.
He saw her face in the wand-light—
Hopes in her eyes in the wand-light—,
And he swore by the source of the wand-light that she had not died in vain.

He turned away from the mourners, and fury filled his heart
When he saw the boy had run away to play his unknown part.
He excused himself from the others and fled the funereal hall,
In a trice he Disillusioned—
And found the boy in seclusion—
His nose against the Pensieve and ensnared within its thrall.

When at last he left the memories, the boy's face spoke his plan,
And his watcher followed silently as to the woods he ran.
A hopeful thought had taken root, despite his fear and doubt—
Her death was to protect them—
To iwillingly/i protect them—
A powerful protection that he prayed would not run out.

The boy slowed down and raised a golden object to his face.
As summoned shades surrounded him, he yielded to their embrace.
His tracker grimaced, recognising those he once despised—
His late and lost tormentors—
Not ghosts and not Dementors—
He couldn't hate them when their presence was so clearly prized.

He gripped his wand as they approached the spider's former home,
And the place grew still when the boy spoke up and made his presence known.
The interloper raised his wand to intercept the curse
But a wand slashed there in the moonlight—
And a body crashed there in the moonlight—
As the boy fell there in the moonlight, for their foe had cursed him first.

Invisibly he raised his arms and face up to the sky,
For in that awful moment, all his aspirations died.
He ignored the celebration and his wildly rising woes,
And he stopped short there in the moonlight—
For instead of stillness in moonlight—
The boy's chest filled in the moonlight—infinitesimally rose.

Their foe demanded someone verify the boy's demise
And the watcher knew the choice was specially inclined to lie.
He intercepted her and whispered softly in her ear:
Your son lives in the castle—
He's safe inside the castle—
Help this boy return to the castle, and I'll help yours disappear.

Her eyes grew wide at the hidden female voice that dared to say
The very thing for which she ardently and nightly prayed.
And yet her steps stayed even, and her face was still and brave.
As she knelt in consternation—
And obvious alienation—
Seeking confirmation that her son could yet be saved.

When she had announced to all the boy's alleged death
He cast two spells, one to disguise his rapid, shallow breath,
The other to protect him from the curses that they threw
As they abused his body—
And roughly bruised his body—
But no sign gave his body, their shared ruse was not seen through.

His work complete, he fled to the woods ahead of their procession
And joined the others at the school to offer intercession.
The others' grief to see the boy, to all appearance gone
Strengthened his resolution—
To earn his absolution—
And offer restitution to his friends whom he had wronged.

His battle cry was borne of years of impotent frustration
And his repertoire of curses flew in frightening concentration.
His silent spells, unnoticed by ally or enemy,
As he struck, sans hesitation—
A swift assassination—
Of a mother's declaration he sowed vengeance instantly.

When by his hand their foe's most trusted minion met her end,
The sky had faded, black to blue, as sunrise's portend.
Their adversary fled inside to make his final stand,
He faced the boy and the sunrise—
He raised his wand in the sunrise—
The curse rebounded in sunrise, and he died by his own hand.

Part III

The new day dawned, and from a window he surveyed the scene
Of identifying the fallen, and washing red walls clean.
The fact of their great victory should be a healing salve.
But her loss was all that mattered—
Her sacrifice what mattered—
They'd accomplished what had mattered—but now what did he have?

Determined to leave before they found her lying in the shack,
He hid himself in the forest, where he would soon change back.
And when the transformation hit, he welcomed the piercing pain,
Of worse he was deserving—
His decisions were self-serving—
And his ardent wish unnerving: just to have her back again.

How he longed to see her pale, determined little face,
The past year's trials had honed her strength and granted hard-won grace.
No more a child, and as an adult witch she chose her fate,
Instinctively he'd known it—
Her face and words had shown it—
But he could not condone it, and that knowledge came too late.

Unbearable to live when the world found out his role;
Unbearable to live with the weight of both their souls;
Unbearable to keep a thing whose price had been so high;
And his wand slashed there in the forest,
And a green light flashed in the forest,
He foundered there in the forest, and falling there, he died.

But where he fell, in the clearing where the spiders had resided,
His fingers brushed a broken stone, his last despair confided.
Oblivion descended, but light flooded his demise
And the silver doe came striding,
Over brambles gliding,
And on her the girl was riding, to his astonished eyes.

The apparition paused beside his final resting place,
She gracefully dismounted, with a smile upon her face.
She stroked the deer's soft neck before it dimmed and disappeared,
And she looked at him, eyes glowing—
Her warm eyes smiling, showing—
He took her hand, amazed that she was really, truly here.

Their palms together radiated power, warmth, and peace
And knowledge that their pain and sorrow finally had ceased.
To the greater cause they'd given all, by sword, and book, and wand,
And they walked on together,
Their hearts light as a feather,
From forest, over heather, they walked on- hand in hand.

It's said that on the darkest nights in times of sorest need;
When truth is covered up by those attempting to mislead,
Those who flee to the forest will there some solace find,
As the silver doe comes striding,
A reminder midst the fighting,
Of that which is abiding, and what is left behind.


Author's Notes: Enormous thanks to Bluestocking79, Nom de Plume, and LifeAsAnAmazon for their editing, Britpicking, idea-bouncing, hand-holding, and general patience with me, and as always to the exchange moderators, to whom we owe so much.