The church looked surprisingly warm and welcoming to Katie, being the only building in sight except for a couple of disused offices nearby. She had been wandering around the streets all day, as she had done yesterday and the day before, but the sounds of singing had now drawn her to the large, packed church.
She stood just outside, wondering if she should go in. It wasn’t like she had anything better to do, anyway. It was cold, after all and even with her gloves and socks on, her hands felt like icicles and her feet were so numb that she felt like she was floating on her tiptoes. She wished that feeling was reality — to be whisked away into the harsh, cutting wind and nothingness and never to return sounded so appealing to her. Being stuck with only her own thoughts for the last couple of days had not helped in the slightest, and not for the first time, she felt a pang of regret for kicking Oliver out the way she did. He had only tried to help. And, yes, it was because he felt sorry for her, but Katie would have felt sorry for herself, too, with the state she had been in.
Besides, she wanted someone. Not necessarily like that — she wasn’t sure what she felt for Oliver, not after the drunken debacle that had taken place a few days before — but just some company, someone to talk to. She had gone out last night, in fact, to a Muggle club, to paint over the hole that had formed in her heart, but being fucked in an alley by yet another stranger (this one, at least, didn’t smell too bad, even if he wasn’t very good-looking and wore jeans that were far too tight) was hardly romantic. Or healthy. And it wasn’t what she wanted, not at all; she had been on a high at the time, yes, but afterwards, she came crashing down, the harsh reality of this person being nothing more than a one-night stand — more like a ten-minute stand, really. She had then returned home, exhausted (she hadn’t trusted herself to Apparate home, she had got that hammered), alone in her small flat with nothing other than the wireless to keep her company.
Almost unconsciously, her feet carried her inside the church, welcoming the smell of candles. She stood at the back just as the congregation rose to sing another hymn. It was not one she recognised, but she smiled nevertheless and watched as a couple in the very back row grasped hands and exchanged a look. The woman leaned forward and whispered something in the man’s ear, and he smiled back just as she lay her head on his shoulder.
Katie envied them. Of course she did. She ached for that familiarity, that knowledge that she had someone and that someone wanted her and loved her and was there to tell her that. Katie no longer had that security. Yes, she had thought about the two of them not surviving, but she had always imagined it to have been the two of them. Certainly she could think of various scenarios where she had been killed and Leanne hadn’t — Leanne was more intelligent, more resourceful, the better half, but not once had Katie thought this would happen in reverse.
Really, Katie should have visited her parents by now. Having sent them an owl letting them know she was okay, she was sure they would be worried sick, but she also knew that they would be even more worried at the sight of her. Katie knew she was a mess, and she did not want to hear her mother say “I told you so” or her father’s attempt to comfort her about Leanne. They wouldn’t understand. And it would not do Katie or her parents any good if they saw her, but at least they knew she was all right now. Besides, as she had said in her letter, she was of age. It wasn’t like she needed to return to them.
It was only when footsteps sounded that Katie realised the service had finished; the congregation filed out, a few of them looking at her curiously, but no one said anything. She followed them outside, where, thankfully, it was not snowing. Still, there was hardened ice on the ground which made it difficult to walk. For once, she was not particularly drunk; sobriety had painfully kicked in sometime after midday, and she hadn’t had the energy, nor the money, to buy another drink, so she waited until she had reached somewhere isolated before turning on the spot and Apparating into her flat.
No sooner had she taken off her jacket and gloves, however, before she heard a loud knock, and she was sure her heart came to a temporary stop. Slowly, trying her utmost not to make a sound, she looked into the peephole, and to her relief, she could see it was only Oliver. Behind him, she could just about make out three other people, all who looked vaguely familiar. After a few more moments, there was another knock, and Oliver called, “Katie? Are you there?”
Another, younger, male voice rang loudly in Katie’s ears: “We’ve been standing here for the last fifteen minutes, Oliver. This was a bad idea.”
At this, she decided to open the door; she drew back a little when she saw who he had in company — one girl and two boys — all three of them with their fists tightly clenched around their wands.
“What the fuck is this?” she hissed, trying to keep her voice down. “Put your wands away, damn it. You’re in a Muggle flat. You’re… from Hogwarts, are you?”
“Put them away, guys,” Oliver intoned, and reluctantly, they obeyed, stowing them away into jeans and jacket pockets. Oliver looked relieved, most likely because Katie was sober this time, but at her furious, questioning look, he said, “Can we come in?”
Rolling her eyes, she said, “Not like you’ve given me much choice. Come on, then.”
She turned on her heel, heading for the living room but halting mid-step. She could hear their footsteps behind her, and yet she could also hear furious whispers from the people Oliver was with as the door shut.
“I don’t think we should be here…”
“How do we know if we can trust her?”
“Oliver, have you even asked her?”
“Asked me what?” Katie interrupted, moving to stand in the doorway. “Oliver, what the hell is going on?”
He shot one of the boys, who looked no older than sixteen, an angry look before explaining, “I need somewhere for this lot to stay. They’re on the run. Muggleborns. They were supposed to stay in a safe house with Lee Jordan — you remember him?”
“Course I do,” she said.
“His place just got raided, and he suggested yours. Just for the time being. I wouldn’t have asked, and God knows, if I had my way, I wouldn’t be asking you, either, because I don’t want you to be in danger, but everyone I know is either full up or being watched. My place is too small, and—”
“Wait, wait, hold on,” she said, frowning and trying to focus on the matter at hand. She moved Oliver aside, surveying the other people in the room, who had suddenly gone silent. “Do I know you? From Hogwarts?”
“I remember you,” the older boy said slowly. “You’re Katie Bell. You got cursed by—”
“Colin, I’m sure she doesn’t need to be reminded of that,” Oliver cut across roughly. Turning to her, he nodded at her question. “Yeah, Katie, they’re all from Hogwarts. This is Colin, Colin Creevey, and this is his brother, Dennis.” The younger boy nodded and smiled at Katie, who nodded tersely back before turning to the girl.
“And I’m Lisa Turpin,” the blonde, slightly brighter-faced girl added.
“And you want to stay here?”
“Please,” Oliver said, his eyes grey and serious.
She raised her eyebrows, surprised at how desperate he looked, and suddenly, it was easy to forget everything that had happened with the distraction. “So that’s your job now? You don’t play Quidditch anymore — you polish glasses in The Hog’s Head and hide Muggleborns?”
“Pretty much, yeah,” he replied, and when his words were greeted by several moments of silence, he said, “You know, maybe they’re right. And the last thing I want is for you to be in danger, Katie, so maybe… maybe we should go.”
But Katie held up her hand, thinking fast. After all, it wasn’t like she didn’t have any plans of her own. She didn’t want to see her parents, even if it was Christmas. And she could do with company, something or someone to make her forget the guilt she had felt so keenly ever since Leanne’s death. It couldn’t do her any harm… could it?
She looked up at Oliver, meeting his eyes fully for the first time. “No, wait. Y-you can stay,” she said, trying to muster a smile on her lips but succeeding only in a grimace.
“I said they can stay,” Katie repeated.
Though he looked surprised, he said immediately, “Thank you.” He smiled at her gratefully, and once again, she felt guilty for what she had said a few days back.
“One condition, though,” she added, and all three Muggleborns looked up, looking slightly apprehensive. “You have to cook. Unless you want to eat takeaway every evening.”
Even Colin, who had had a sullen look on his face from the moment he arrived, cracked a smile at that, and Katie gestured to the living room. Her heart lightened just at the thought of having company, and though Lisa, Colin and Dennis headed through the door, Oliver stayed where he was, and Katie quickly pulled the living room door shut.
“Thank you,” he said again. “Look, Katie, I’m sorry about the other night…”
“Don’t be,” she interrupted. “You were only trying to help. I was an idiot. And a bitch.”
He shook his head. “You’re not a bitch. You’ve had a really rough time. It’s fine.”
Tentatively, she took a step forward, and before could stop herself, she was hugging him. Though Oliver stiffened at first, he quickly relaxed and hugged her back, but then, after only a moment, he stepped away. Katie did not comment, however; she was just grateful at how readily he had accepted her apology.
“And, Oliver, I really am sorry… about the other thing.”
“Already forgotten,” he said, but nevertheless, his slightly embarrassed expression betrayed his words.
She let out a nervous chuckle. “I must’ve been really off my face.”
“Yeah, just a bit,” he said tactfully. “Anyway, I've got to go. It’s Christmas Eve, after all — the pub will be busy.”
Trying not to sound too disappointed, she nodded. “Come and visit tomorrow if you can. Even if it’s late.”
“’Course I will,” he promised.
The next day, Katie felt productive, even if all she did was head to the shops to buy food, as instructed by Dennis (who, she had decided, was the most culinary person she had ever come across, even if he was only fourteen). It had been difficult trying to find a shop that was open, but she didn’t mind, even if it was snowing heavily throughout the day.
Though she hadn’t spoken as much as she’d hoped with Lisa, Colin and Dennis, they seemed like nice enough people, especially from what she remembered when she was at Hogwarts. When they had arrived the previous night, they had talked more between themselves than with her during their dinner of vegetable stew. Lisa had briefly murmured a thank you shortly after dinner and had even told Katie a little about her family, why she couldn’t return to Hogwarts, but the Creeveys had remained quiet.
It just didn’t feel like Christmas. There was no tree, no decorations, but Katie felt any kind of real celebration was a sacrilege because Leanne was not there to join her. Katie winced as she sat down for dinner later that night; she hadn’t thought about Leanne all day, being far too distracted by her new companions, and she wondered for a brief moment if that was wrong, somehow. Leanne was where Katie’s thoughts had dwelled constantly for the last two weeks — and now, for the first time, Katie had managed to take a deep breath and busy herself in something else, someone else.
Lisa was friendly but reserved as they ate dinner; she told Katie about her Muggle parents, and how they had been killed in a ruthless Muggle attack in her area only a month ago. Dennis, the youngest there, was the quietest, while Colin was a lot more outspoken, at least from what Katie could tell, but also far less trusting than the other two. She resolved to find out more about him, talk to him more.
“That was lovely,” she declared after finishing the last of her chicken, throwing down her knife and fork and getting up, returning from the kitchen with the red wine she had bought from the supermarket. She poured a generous measure to her glass and offered it to the others, secretly relieved when they all declined.
Katie raised her glass, and the others followed suit; their glasses clinked together and then they drank in silence. The air was not particularly celebratory, and yet, still, the fact that this empty feeling was shared amongst the four of them made the weight on Katie’s shoulders seem much lighter.
“Did Oliver say he was coming round?” Colin asked her, breaking the silence they had lapsed into.
“Yeah, but probably not right now,” Katie replied. “He said he’ll be a bit late, you know, because it’s Christmas and everything.” Hopefully not too late, she added in her head, because she wanted to see him and catch up. She had so much she wanted to say to him, so much she wanted to find out about him, that she hoped his shift wouldn’t go on for too long. Trying to change the subject, she began to say, “So, how did you find living with Lee—”
“Is Oliver your boyfriend?” Lisa interrupted.
“No, of course not!” Katie snapped, and Lisa raised her eyebrows, taken aback. But Katie immediately realised how rude she was being, and she said quickly, “I… I didn’t mean he’s not a nice guy, only I’ve… just come out of a relationship.” It was not a complete lie, and with any luck, she would not have to tell them about Leanne. No. Katie didn’t want anyone to know about her.
Although Lisa looked unconvinced, to Katie's relief, she let it slide, getting to her feet. “I’ll do the dishes, if you want.”
“Cheers,” Colin said, a sullen look encompassing his features again.
“I’ll help,” Dennis added, getting up.
Once they were in the kitchen, Katie flopped on the sofa; Colin, meanwhile, remained in his chair. “So,” Colin said after a moment, “where’s your family, Katie?”
“They live in Barnton,” she replied shortly. She looked up at Colin. “Yours?”
“Dad’s from Hackney. Mum was from Essex.”
She knew something didn’t bode well from his tone, and she asked tentatively, “Are they… all right?”
“Dad is,” he mumbled. “Mum… she didn’t make it.”
“I’m sorry.” He stiffened, his front teeth worrying his bottom lip. Slowly, Katie said, “I know it’s hard, Colin. But… you’ll get through this. I know you will.”
While Katie herself had become sick of the sentiments that left her lips, the last thing she expected was for Colin to slam his glass down onto the table and jump angrily to his feet.
“You’re not sorry,” he hissed. “You have no idea how difficult it is for me, right now, because you’re a pureblood, so it’s okay for you, isn’t it? The worst thing you’ve got to worry about is your bloody boyfriends! But not all of us are so lucky! You’re sitting there, acting like you’ve got me all worked out, but guess what? You don’t!”
“Colin!” Dennis, who had just entered the room, looked alarmed. “What the hell is going on?”
“Nothing,” Colin replied, shaking his head. “Nothing. It’s fine.”
Dennis glanced at Katie, but she also shook her head, and Dennis reluctantly returned to the kitchen, frowning. The moment he left, Katie said quietly, “I know exactly how you feel. Just because I'm a pureblood doesn’t mean life is peachy for me, you know.” He opened his mouth to speak, but she held up her hand, taking a deep breath. “Hear me out. Someone — someone really close to me was killed by Snatchers only a fortnight ago. My… my girlfriend, Leanne.”
“And I’ll freely admit that I'm still a complete and utter fucking mess,” she continued calmly. “The last two weeks, I’ve been completely off my face. Hell, I know I won’t be able to stay away from the wine tonight, but my point is, I do know how you feel. Being pureblood doesn’t exactly mean immunity, you know. It definitely doesn’t mean you can’t lose someone you l-love.”
“I’m sorry,” Colin said after a moment, his head bowed.
“Apology accepted,” Katie said readily.
“I just… miss her.”
“I miss her, too,” Katie said, looking up, and an unspoken understanding passed between them, even though they were referring to different people. “We just have to live with it. Somehow.”
“God knows how Dad survived,” Colin said softly, as if barely hearing Katie. “He’s moved since. We don’t know where he is. Lee Jordan and Kingsley Shacklebolt said it was better if we didn’t know, really; all we need to know is that he’s in a safe house, just like we are, now.”
“After it’s all over, you can go and see him,” Katie suggested. “Speaking of parents, I should really go and see mine. Oliver’s told me to do as much, anyway.”
“He really didn’t want to ask you to take us in, you know,” Colin said abruptly. “Oliver made it perfectly clear to Lee that he didn’t want you involved, but Lee was insistent, saying Death Eaters were picking off the safe houses one by one.”
Katie was about to reply, but at that moment, Lisa came in, Dennis at her heels, and she swiftly changed the subject to reminiscing over Christmases at Hogwarts. And as the four of them swapped stories about the Yule Ball, the wireless crackling in the background, she managed a smile at Colin, who nodded back, and she hoped his outburst that night would be their only argument.
By half eleven, Dennis had fallen asleep on the sofa; Colin was on a camp bed in the living room, and Lisa was talking quietly with him, careful not to wake Dennis up. Katie, however, was not tired, so, very quietly, she crept into the living room, unnoticed by the other two, took the wireless and attempted to tune it in the kitchen. It was difficult, though, since the only thing that she could fully hear was Celestina Warbeck, and Katie had enough of her crooning as it was. She had just tapped it silent with her wand, sighing, when she heard a knock at the door.
She immediately got up and answered it, smiling in relief at Oliver, who was carrying several bars of Honeyduke’s.
“Hey,” she said. “Happy Christmas, you.”
“You too,” he replied, smiling warmly and handing her the chocolate. “How have they been? Colin got on your nerves yet?”
She laughed. “Yes. Briefly. How did you guess?”
“He just seems like the type of boy to piss you off.”
“Too right,” Katie muttered. “But he’s all right, really.”
“Yeah. I’m just going to go and say hi, check they’re okay — be back in a sec.”
For want of something to do, she faffed around and made tea, hoping Oliver was the milky, two-sugars type. He returned to the kitchen after a minute, just as she was adding milk, and she cursed under her breath when she accidentally poured too much in.
Nevertheless, Oliver accepted the mug, taking a sip and not even making a face. She was grateful for that.
“You came back early,” she remarked. “I would’ve thought you would be there longer, it being Christmas and all.”
“There was a bit of a scuffle in the pub,” he explained. “Aberforth — the barman — kicked everyone out, closed early and told me to go home.”
“Is everything all right?”
“I don’t think they were Death Eaters, if that’s what you were thinking. That’s not really their style, to be honest.”
“That’s good,” she said, but then she paused and asked, “How do you know about their style?”
“Please. The Hog’s Head — that’s where all the Death Eaters go. They’re our regular clientele.”
She was horrified at that, unable to understand why anyone would want to be in sight of Death Eaters, let alone serve them drinks.
He seemed to notice and added quickly, “It’s not too bad.”
“Liar,” she said before she could stop herself.
“Okay, it is sometimes,” Oliver admitted. “But I need money somehow.”
Katie shrunk back a little, trying not to think of the tiny pile of silver left in her Gringotts account and the rapidly thinning wad of Muggle cash stashed in a box in her bedroom. She needed a job soon — she wasn’t sure she could even cover rent for that month.
Then, another question entered her mind, and she asked, “Oliver? Why are working in The Hog’s Head? Did Puddlemere kick you out?”
“No, they didn’t. I walked,” Oliver said quietly. “After the Muggleborn Registration Commission came about, the Muggleborn on our team went on the run. And I took one look at our new management—”
He nodded. “And I decided to up and go straightaway.”
“Good for you.”
“I needed money,” he finished, “so I took the first job I could find. Besides, it’s great for finding out information.”
“I’m glad you’re doing something,” Katie remarked, aware of how lame she sounded. “Making a difference.”
He shrugged. “It’s not much. I do what I can. I’m just grateful Aberforth is in on it, really. But… forget about me. How have you been doing?”
She knew he wasn’t referring to Colin, Dennis and Lisa. “Not great.” Oliver sat back in his chair, waiting patiently for her to continue, and she finally said, “I don’t know. I… I barely thought about her today. I really wanted to just make sure those three were all right, to be honest, and I suppose I got so wrapped up in, you know, making sure they were okay sleeping, that there was food for them, that they weren’t bored — I even dug out my old Gobstones set earlier — that I feel like I forgot about Leanne.”
“You haven’t forgotten her,” Oliver said gently. “And you’re doing something, too; you’re making a difference, helping me, helping them. I'm sure that’s what she would have wanted.”
Katie sighed. “You’re right.” For a few minutes, they sat in companionable silence, Oliver finishing off his (far too milky) tea, Katie pointing her wand at the dishes so they stacked themselves neatly on the drying rack. “You know, I think I need a job.”
“You could try Gladrags. Or maybe Madam Malkin’s?” he suggested.
“Ugh, Madam Malkin always annoyed me when I went to buy my Hogwarts robes,” she said. “Never used to reduce the price of anything, that woman. But Gladrags — maybe. Merlin, I could do with the money.”
“Go for it,” Oliver said with an encouraging smile. In the dim kitchen light, she could just see the snow falling, coating the windowsill and painting London white. And as Katie took his mug from him and placed it in the sink, she thought, This might be all right.
For the next four months, Katie managed to pull herself together, at least to some extent. She found a job, visited her parents (Oliver made sure to stay with Lisa, Colin and Dennis when she did) and occasionally helped Oliver escort Muggleborns to safe houses. Voldemort, however, continued to pull the strings on the Ministry, and Katie heard the most horrific stories of what the Ministry were doing to Muggles and Muggleborns.
Now, however, her efforts were focused on battle. She had jumped up immediately the moment Colin had received the message on his DA coin, and as she walked down a corridor in Hogwarts, she was on red alert. Her hands dripped sweat, not just from the late spring air and the mugginess of Hogwarts’s walls, but also from the heat of her last duel and how much she had run in the last three hours. She was alone, having lost Angelina a while back, and though the corridor she was walking down seemed to be completely empty, she knew better than to simply assume that much. There could well be someone lurking behind a suit of armour, so she raised her wand and whispered, “Homenum revelio.”
A shadow rose before her, and thankfully, she recognised it immediately, letting out the breath she didn’t even know she had been holding. “Fred?” she called, the dusty air scratchy with paranoia and death. “Fred, it’s me, Katie. You can come out now, you know.”
She continued speaking nevertheless. “Bloody hell, you nearly scared me there. What the hell were you playing at?”
Again, her words were greeted by silence.
A deep frown formed on her face. The salty sweat on her forehead trickled down into the slash on her cheek and the tiny cut that had formed on her lip, stinging hotly, and she started walking towards the nearest pile of rubble, her wand still raised. “Fred, look, the joke’s over. Come out.”
There was still no response. The rubble began shifting to the left, causing the debris to crumble and spill over the floor, but Katie continued what she was doing, trying to focus on moving the rubble and ignoring the thought that was now gnawing at her heart.
And then a dust-covered body fell out of the niche where a suit of armour should have been, red hair and dusty, frayed robes instantly recognisable —
No. He wasn’t — he was Stunned; yes, that was why he wasn’t answering. No, it was definitely not because he was…
“Oh, fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. No. Please. No!”
She had no idea what she was saying; all that was crystal clear to Katie as she turned his body over were Fred’s eyes: they stared at her unblinkingly, just like Leanne’s had so many months before. And… and just like Leanne, Fred was dead. He had to be. The suspended, frozen smile on his cold blue lips confirmed that, but even so, she felt his wrist for a pulse. There was nothing.
Katie would have cried, but whatever was left of her heart was too numb to muster any tears. Fred was gone. Inside, all hope she had managed to dredge up for the battle vanished. She had seen more bodies than she had in her whole life — of course Voldemort had won. What the fuck was the point in even pretending she wanted to fight when her friends were dying, one by one? Why was she here when, inevitably, she would just return to the same life she had before: trying to hide how much she was drinking from her parents, working in Gladrags and “saving” the handful of Muggleborns who hadn’t made it safely out of the country yet? For the umpteenth time, Katie wondered why, because it was all very well and noble and chivalrous and so fucking Gryffindor of her, but it didn’t bring back Leanne. Katie had always told herself that everything she was doing was for Leanne, but Leanne wasn’t there. She was somewhere unknown, and Katie — Katie was still here. The sole survivor.
And then she finally realised what she had wanted even before Oliver had taken her home from The Hog’s Head on that cold winter’s night. From the moment the life had seeped out of Leanne’s eyes, Katie had wanted out. Of course she had. Above all, Katie wanted to join Leanne, and as she stared into Fred Weasley’s dead, empty eyes, she couldn’t remember ever feeling so jealous.
Loud, jeering voices echoed down the corridor, breaking the eerie silence that had settled on the castle like the dust that covered the floor. Death Eaters, Katie thought, and without even realising what she was doing, she got up, her wand held loosely in her hand. She tripped several times in her robes, and when she rounded the corner, two masked men looked up. Although they were still at a distance and their faces were covered, she could hear the sneer in one man’s voice when he called, “What’s the matter, darling? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!”
Her hand closed instinctively around her wand, but something inside her made her stop. There was, after all, no point in defending herself. Not now. It was hopeless.
She wanted to die. She wanted to black out like she did when she had had far too much to drink and never open her eyes again. She didn’t want to wake up to an awful hangover and then struggle through her day before blacking out once more — no, she didn’t want that life anymore. She didn't want any life. For that matter. She wanted to die.
The split second in which she hesitated was all they needed; one Death Eater aimed a curse at her, but at the last moment, Katie ducked, and the jet of light flew above her head. She felt a sudden rush of adrenaline that wiped her mind clean of her previous pessimism, and her own Stunning spell only very narrowly missed the other masked man just as more Death Eaters rounded the corner.
The anger rushing through her veins burned hotly as she slashed the air with her wand, but her Full Body Bind jinx was deflected back at her, and she only just managed to block it. Then, at the sound of footsteps behind her, she whipped around; waving her wand wildly, she screamed the first spell that came to mind, “Confringo!”
The bang and the thump that followed was not nearly as loud as the strangled cry that was so ear-splitting, so scared, that the air became solid and was sliced cleanly in half. It was by far the most terrifying sound that Katie had ever heard in her whole life. More terrifying still, however, was the sight of the body lying at her feet, blonde hair singed, her chest a mangled, burnt, bloody mess, but her face was still recognisable despite the teeth marks on her cheeks.
When Voldemort issued the temporary ceasefire, Oliver and a small group of survivors headed to the Hogwarts grounds. The bodies littered there were slowly being recovered, one by one. Carrying them up across the grass and up the steps was a difficult, laborious job that made Oliver feel even more exhausted; he knew he could have Levitated them, but the physical strain was a distraction, at least, and it made him forget, albeit momentarily.
“Oh, shit,” Oliver said under his breath, screwing his eyes shut. Then he opened them again, his shoulders sinking at the sight of Colin Creevey, his eyes shut, as though he were sleeping, on the ground. A rush of emotion bypassed Oliver's numb brain, forming a lump in his throat. He bit down on his lip, only just registering from the vague pain that he must have drawn blood.
Neville’s voice jerked Oliver out of his daze. “C’mon, let’s lift him.”
“Okay,” Oliver found himself saying shakily. Pull yourself together, he told himself. It would not do for Oliver to be weak. Not now. He needed every ounce of strength possible; he had to deal with his grief later. He stumbled briefly once they had reached the steps, but he forced himself to walk steadily and to retain his composure. They were at the Entrance Hall when Oliver said in the strongest voice he could muster, “You know what? I think I can manage him alone, Neville.*”
Neville nodded, and Oliver carried Colin away on his shoulder, wincing at how cold the body was in death. When he reached the Great Hall, he placed Colin carefully at the end of the line of bodies, he made sure to straighten Colin’s robes, removing the leaf in his hair. Oliver’s knees felt bruised as he knelt on the cold, hard floor of the Great Hall, making Colin presentable, just as he had done to the other bodies he had brought in. And all the while, Oliver avoided Colin’s face, because Oliver was meant to protect him, wasn’t he? That was the job Oliver had assigned himself when Lee, Fred and George had first approached him for assistance: to protect, to house, to care for and to pay for the Muggleborns on the run. Including Colin. But Colin was dead, now, and Oliver — Oliver had failed.
What if Katie was in the grounds, too, dead? What if Oliver had failed to protect her as well? He had no idea what he would do if his fears were true. Not for the first time, he wished they hadn’t joined the fight — Colin was underage still and shouldn’t have been there anyway. And Oliver had told Katie to leave, that it was not safe, but she had not listened.
Unable to bear the stench of death a second longer, Oliver got to his feet and walked out, intending to go back and retrieve more bodies (because of course, that was all he was good for now, wasn’t it?). However, the sounds of screaming cracked the thin shell of silence; renewed by a fresh burst of energy, Oliver sprinted up staircases, trying to find the source of the noise. Soon, at the second floor, he followed the sound, which was becoming louder and louder, until he heard a bang which echoed down the corridor and assaulted his ears. Wand lit and raised, Oliver advanced stealthily, catching sight of a large figure in Death Eater’s robes. Oliver aimed and fired a silent Stunning Spell, causing the man to topple over.
Oliver ran forward, turning a corner and firing more curses at the Death Eaters. Taken by surprise, one of the Death Eaters cast a Shield Charm, yelling, “We have to go!” but Oliver barely noticed. Because there was Katie, her face covered in dirt and blood, her eyes stricken, and yet he couldn’t stop the relief flooding in his chest at the sight of her, alive.
With a bang, smoke filled the air, and though Oliver suddenly couldn’t see, he could hear a series of cracks as the Death Eaters Disapparated. Oliver took a few steps towards her, barely able to see; he felt almost blindly in front of him until his hand found her shoulder.
“Hey,” he said softly. But Katie didn’t even seem to notice him, and when the dust and smoke cleared a little, he understood why. Lying on the floor in front of her was another girl, her blonde hair and slightly rounded face vaguely familiar. Flecks of blood were spattered on her face, and her torso was soaked dark red, too. “Lavender Brown,” he murmured eventually, and to his shock, Katie collapsed to the floor, her loud, strangled cries echoing against the walls.
He immediately bent down, reaching out to her, and she curled her arms around his waist, burying her face into his chest. The front of his robes quickly became damp, but he didn’t care, instead stroking her hair and murmuring words of comfort, even though they sounded useless and trite when he said them aloud.
“He’s called a ceasefire,” Oliver said, careful to keep his voice down, though he wasn’t sure why, because they were definitely alone. “You-Know-Who. He said… that Harry has to give himself up.”
But she didn’t even seem to be listening properly. “Oliver,” she breathed, “I — L-Lavender. It’s Lavender Brown!”
“I know,” he said heavily, rubbing her back. “There’s nothing you can do. She’s gone.”
“Were you two… friends?”
“I didn’t know her that well,” Katie began, “but — but—”
She lifted her face to his, tears in her eyes. Her mouth opened and closed several times, but nothing came out. She seemed to be in shock.
“We should take her down to the Great Hall,” Oliver said eventually. “Are you okay lifting her, or…”
Katie’s voice came out as nearly a squeak. “No, I can do it.”
Together, they carried Lavender’s body down two flights of stairs in silence. Several times, Katie stumbled and almost fell, but each time, Oliver closed his eyes and waited for her to steady herself before continuing down the stairs until they reached the Great Hall. There, they placed Lavender on the raised platform with the rest of the bodies, but Oliver could not bear to look at her a second longer than necessary. He had not seen such a brutal death in his life, and judging by Katie’s reaction, neither had she.
He put his arms around her middle, holding her close and kissing the top of her head, as if that would somehow assuage the horror that they had both witnessed. Oliver felt her chest contract against his, and they both breathed heavily, watching as families tended to the dead and friends mourned.