Chapter Sixteen, In Which I Learn the Meaning of War
I ran out of the Great Hall and, quickly taking stock of all my options, I decided I didn't care if I burst in on Severus's class and began with lightening speed to head towards the dungeons.
Perhaps the Maquis had been too successful or had too oft used The Twins' wonderful Claxon Crabs, or maybe there was some other reason besides the frog was out to ruin my life, but I hadn't so much as gotten halfway down the main hall before she appeared coming out from a door on the other side of it.
"Miss Potter!" she said, her tone one of scalded honey, "What is all this screaming about? Why aren't you in your OWLS?" She stood like a fat clay soldier in the doorway, one I'd have ignored if I didn't need to go past her. But I did and wasn't going to risk her jinxing me when my back was turned.
So I did the only thing I could think to do: I pulled my wand from the sheath I'd fitted on my arm and, with a spell I'd made Severus teach me in case something ever happened to him or me (the night of Voldemort's return, for instance, the thought alone sending a shiver down my spine that I refused to recognize so instead pushed its energy into the steal resolve that has forming in me) and one of us needed rescuing or something (oh, why hadn't I passed that knowledge along to Sirius? He could use it now. How had the Death Eaters gotten him? Had HQ been discovered? Was Remus, who was also staying there, hurt or taken or killed? What of the rest of my created family, always in and out, and The Order members who might be delivering messages there? Who else was being tortured because of me? What others had been forced to lay down their lives because I had failed to kill the bastard so long ago….?), and cast with a swift wave, "Nuntius," and poured my message into the silvery stream of thought that flew in the direction of the dungeons. "Vision of Sirius being tortured for the weapon by Voldemort. Umbridge trying to stop me by Great Hall. Help," and hoped to all that was holy and half of all that wasn't that it worked.
"What in Merlin's name are you doing? Off to set another niffler in my office? Set more explosives in the second floor toilets? Or were you merely off to report to Dumbledore about the damage you've caused the school this week – do you have any idea how much it will cost to-"
I had only one choice, and that was to hope that Severus had gotten my Message Spell – they should teach nuntius to all students; would make situations like the one I got into last June easier to stop – and there were no other Order members left in Hogwarts that I could wish might happen by to stop this all. If it was a fight she wanted, she'd get it – because every moment I wasted dancing around this issue was another crucio Sirius, my father, was held under. It was too long in coming. Vit la révolution! Avancent Maquisard!
"I swear, Professor," I hissed as snakelike as possible, "if you don't get out of this instant, you'll rue the day you ever stepped foot in it." Rue? Rue? Merlin, I'd been reading too many of Severus's old books.
Dumbly – well, I thought dumbly; there was a bit of rage in her voice, and more then a little infuriated, which I suppose I could understand – "Is that a threat?"
"Yes, Undersecretary Umbridge, it is."
"Very well," she said, with the sense of one who'd been looking forward to this for a long time, "You've been a menace to this school from the start, with your filthy little lies about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named returning. I should have done this at the beginning, when you failed to come to my classes, where I could try to instil some proper learning in you… Very well, I am left with no alternative… This is more than a matter of school discipline… This is an issue of Ministry security… Yes… yes…" She appeared more than a little nervous as she spoke, hand clutching her oddly stubby wand. This in turn made me nervous. The Great Hall was not too far away that a yell could not be heard and Severus had to be coming soon, but there were spells that could quiet screams or else so quick that I'd not have the chance to shout out. Not that I thought Umbridge actually knew any of those. But those who believed in something, like the MoM, were dangerous. "You are forcing me, Miss Potter… I do not want to, but sometimes circumstances justify the use… I am sure the Minister will understand that I had no choice…" But, while her words were stilted, she appeared to actually enjoy the thought she was contemplating so loudly in the front hall. "Somebody's got to take charge here, put things back in order. Order is safe! Order is good! The chaos you spread will be the end of the Ministry as we know it!"
"Maybe that's a good thing!" I said, a little more loudly then necessary, counting by heartbeats how long since I'd woken from my dream and trying to calculate how long it would take to get to London. "What good is it doing now? All the bribes in the world can't hide the fact that Voldemort is back forever! Maybe the Ministry needs to fall-"
"Oh, and I suppose you plan to replace it with Dumbledore – or yourself? Being an attention seeking whore not enough for you? That's what you want, isn't it, Harry Potter? You want Cornelius Fudge replaced by Albus Dumbledore. You think you'll be where I am, don't you?"
"You're barking mad!" Nobody on Merlin's green earth – with the exception of Percy – would ever say they wanted to be a Senior Undersecretary when they grew up.
"Is that you're plan? Tell me!"
"By their own follies they perished, the fools." I'd read too much Homer in that cupboard-under-the-stairs. Where was Severus? We had to get out of here.
"You leave me no choice, Harry Potter. The Cruciatus Curse ought to loosen your tongue."
I blinked once at her then, realizing, yes, she was completely barking mad, I stunned her before she could aim her wand. "That," I spat at her, "is why you don't taunt your victims, you bloody frog." Now, of course, came the question of what to do with her stunned form. I conjured ropes around her, locomotor-ed her into the nearest broom closet, set disillusionment and silencing charms around her, and locked the door. Hey, a little bit of paranoia never hurt anybody. "And the name is Éléonore."
And now to save Sirius.
Luckily, I didn't have to go much further down the hall before Severus arrived. "Where is she?" he asked, his tone belaying worry to those who could read its slight changes.
"I hit her with a stunner when she tried to crucio me – but that's no matter now. I had another vision in the History of Magick OWL. I was resting my eyes, thinking of some way to keep the visions out, you know, when suddenly I'm drawn into one. Just like my dreams – the long hall to the Department of Mysteries, and then the hall of glowing orbs. He's got Sirius there, wants him for something, and I know you don't like him much, but he's my father and Voldemort's torturing him there and we've got to stop it." His dark, night-black eyes met my emerald ones. I did not know if he was looking into my thoughts or trying to read something else in their depths, but I stared unblinkingly back at him. "I don't know how much time we have, Severus!"
With a resolved sigh, as if he'd suspected something like this would happen before long. "If the Dark Lord's there, the two of us alone aren't going to make any difference." I smiled at him and could not help but throw my arms around him. This was why I loved him – he wasn't going to try to talk me out of it, or leave me here to worry over them both – "I think a trip to Grimmauld Place is in order."
"If there's anything left of it," I added darkly.
Conceding, "If there's anything left." Maybe he thought it was more likely Sirius was attacked about town, which he could freely go about in now that he was innocent, I dunno. Or maybe he was just outraged that Umbridge would try to use an illegal curse on me. I was outraged myself – but that could be dealt with as soon as Sirius was safe. I am not going to have another father die on me, by all the gods above and all the demons below.
I released him and, feeling relieved to be doing anything at all, began to march back towards the main entrance.
From the great hall then the exodus began as my classmates, finished with their OWLS (which suddenly seemed to me ages away and unreal. Childhood, school – what were these things when compared to the realities of life and death? I was at the centre of a war, the eye of a storm around which nothing was good or safe or happy, and wherein everything I loved would hurt at the end of Voldemort's wand. OWLS? That was one future. But was there not another where I could be happy, or as close to happy as I was allowed? As a solider – the very heroine I'd disavowed? Soldiers did not need grades. The only test of their skills was that they lived and their enemies did not) and streamed out to the freedom the next week would allow them.
"Harry! Harry!" I heard Ron and Hermione call as Severus and I walked quickly through the hall and out the door. They jogged to keep up. "Harry," Hermione continued, "what's the-"
"Voldemort's got Sirius in The Department of Mysteries." I barely paused to reflect on how much I hated that name. All because some stupid computer had printed the nonsense "Henriet Potter." Harry sounded so ridiculous on a girl. That computer must die.
"I dunno," I said, walking faster still. I could feel them looking wearily at Severus, who was clasping my elbow and appeared, in a way, to be pulled along by it, even as he increased his own pace to keep up with me until we could make it to the edge of the anti-apparition wards. "All I know is, if Death East- I mean, Death Eaters could break into HQ and the Ministry in broad daylight, there's something serious going on that we don't know about. We're going to find out more. You two, tell the other professor's what's happening." I was nearly at a jog now myself, images of human travesty clouding all more sensible thoughts from my mind… We'd enter HQ and see the main hall, so bright and crimson red, seemingly untouched. A breath of ease would come over me as the fear lessened somewhat. My eyes would catch then on the glass of picture frames and framed newspaper headlines what the walls could not show – the drying red stains that could only be one thing. I'd push open the door to the front room, where the floo was, and see the first tumble of bodies, these Order members I didn't know, some of them untouched in death, others torn asunder, bodily fluids staining the still-new carpeting Andi had laid down… I shook my head to rid the thought before my mind created the scene below, in that wonderful, warm kitchen that was as much Mrs. Weasley's as the Burrow, where all my dear second family would be, still and perfect in death like Mum and Dad. Like Cedric… "He might try an attack on the school while the Ministry's in chaos and Dumbledore's gone. Oh, and Umbridge is in one of the first floor broom closets, I don't remember which."
Paracelsus, who'd been in my pocket this whole time and only now saw fit to grace me with his presence, "The one in which the."
"Lion-who-caresss-for-plantsss and the panicky-she-badger."
"Were pair-bonding in last week."
I shared that titbit with them. "Paracelsus says it's the one that Neville and Hannah Abbot were snogging in last week." I don't think it helped any, but they could always ask one or the other which one it was if they wanted to brick it in. "How do you know such thingsss?" He quickly explained to me that he was a grown-up Runespoor and old enough to do things on his own. I doubted this, but was in no mood to argue.
Meanwhile, "Neville and Hannah Abbot? The same Hannah Abbot who covered half the Great Hall in flamingos last Tuesday?"
"Get with the program," Hermione scolded them as we jogged along, about halfway down the walk to Hogsmeade. "They've been seeing each other on and off since the Yule Ball."
"She's such a flake though."
"Is this really the best time to be taking about this?" I interrupted. Under his breath, Severus concurred, though probably for different reasons. He never had liked Neville, and things had only gotten worse have Neville had melted his sixth cauldron… "Will you do this for me?"
Hermione began to slow down… "Sure, Harry."
"Yeah." They fell back moving, presumably, to gather the professors remaining at Hogwarts – Sprout, Flitwick, Sinistra, and a few others I'd not had – and the Maquis to defend the school if necessary. We'd have to send some of the Order – if any survived – to bolster the guard.
The gates at last appeared, the old-fashioned, iron letters spelling out "Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry" in large, almost illegible letters while below, the words "Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus," rested. I wondered then if the Founders had ever meant for their school to be a hotbed of rebellion, a bastion of war. Somehow I could only doubt it. I had never felt more like a solider, a warrior, a heroine, though I was filled with fear. I had no golden armour, just my wand and my lover at my side, but I'd the choice here. It wasn't like First Year, when there was no one who could save the Stone from Quirrel. Nor was it like Second Year, where I was the only Parsel Mouth who could save Ginny from Riddle's diary. It wasn't Third Year either, when I was tasked to save Sirius by Dumbledore, or Fourth when I'd no choice but to fight Voldemort or die. I could have let Severus go alone. I could have, I should have, but I've never shied away from a fight and I'm not about to start now, not when it's my father I've got to save, who's only in danger because of me. As the gates drew nearer and nearer, I couldn't help but feel that, by passing through them, I was giving up whatever remained of my childhood entirely to this war.
I did not think about it. If I did not fight, Sirius would die. We left the grounds and, grabbing on tightly to each other, appearated to HQ.
It was silent when they entered number twelve, Grimmauld Place. The front hall was not altered as in my dream – no blood spatter on the walls – although the wall opposite the stairs sported a few more photos then it had over Christmas. A photo, taken at the Yule Ball, of Hermione, Ron, Neville, and me. Tonks, at her Auror Academy graduation, her robes flashing red, yellow, and green. One of the entire Weasley clan, plus the Tonks's, Cauldwell's, Hermione, and we two Blacks from New Years. There was a tingling feeling coming from the wall, like a foot asleep; Bill's wards, I thought.
I did not like silent houses. They reminded me too much of Azkaban South, devoid of music or happiness. As uncomfortable as I could get surrounded by all the noise and people of Hogwarts, it was alive. Andi had made great strides in warming up the house, taking away the Dark and allowing the living to set roots in HQ, but now it was so cold again… Images flashed in my mind, alternating between the bloodied corridor I envisioned and the hallway where Hermione and I had hung Christmas decorations.
Severus took the lead as we made our way to the kitchen. He, after all, was the one who knew what he was doing. I was just a little school girl playing solider. He was the spy and had been doing this for longer then I'd been alive. I clenched my wand so tight I'm surprised it didn't break and, trying to keep an eye on both him and the hall behind us at the same time.
There were quiet noises coming from the kitchen. He looked back at me and nodded at me with a very small, very quick movement of his head and raised his wand. I knew, somehow, what he meant. I was the support mage here – if things got messy, throw up a praesidis around the both of us and work to keep things from hitting us. He knew the uglier spells of war – let him deal with it if it came to that.
With a silent spell, he kicked the door open-
Only to find Tonks and Remus within the kitchen, Tonks mopping up the cup of tea she'd just knocked over. "Wotcher Éléonore," she said, catching sight of me, "Snape," she added, somewhat less comfortably. She set down the rag she'd been using and, bringing up her other arm, tapped on her watch-face. "Is it the hols already?"
I sprang out from behind Severus, taking in the room – painted pale yellow, warm, and hung with herbs and pans near the over-large oven. A wide fireplace sat opposite, behind the head of the scrubbed-oak table, and, despite of the growing June heat, a fire was lit within. It took me a moment to realize that it gave off no warmth, was there for floo communication purposes only, and imagined easily that, if need be, at least three conversations could be going on at once in the hearth. In a frame, where a painting of the cliffs of Dover had dominated one wall during my Christmas stay, a map of Britain hung, scattered over with multi-coloured tacks. Though he was sitting, it appeared Remus's shirt was un-tucked and belt unbuckled. Tonks, despite mopping up the tea she'd evidentially spilled right before our entrance, was in a similar state, with the addition of having her jeans unbuttoned.
Sirius was not in the room. I jumped back out of the room and ran up the stairs to Sirius's room. HQ wasn't ransacked. Remus and Tonks were still alive. My scar burned like it was on fire.
Remus and Tonks would be freaking out, not making out, if Sirius was missing. There would be panicked calls coming in the over-large hearth if the Ministry had been invaded. Which meant either that there was no one in the MoM left who might be able to warn the Order – a distinct, albeit unlikely, possibility – or that the MoM had never been attacked at all…
Meaning that Sirius wasn't being tortured there…
Which meant that he was safe…
Which mean that Voldemort was playing with my mind and something very, very bad was surely about to happen.
I ran up the two flights of stairs to Sirius's room, pushed open the door without knocking, saw him lying on his back on his bed, drawing the outline of something that made no sense from this angle with his wand, while Ari sat at the round table in the room, papers spread out before her, clearly trying to explain something important to him. Quickly ascertaining that both were well, I gave them a quick smile and said, "Good, you're not dead," to the both of them and ran back to the kitchen.
Severus was, quite clearly, trying to explain why we were there when I returned.
"Sirius is upstairs, not dying," I told the Potions Master, on the verge of panic now. "Voldemort – he's getting into my head and making me see things now – I don't care if we've found nothing certain to work yet, we've just got to try them all and hope something works."
"We don't know that for certain, Éléonore," he tried to calm me. "And, if he is, we still do not know how the magics might interact."
I wouldn't have it. "Next thing you know, it might be you I see tortured, and what's to stop me then from falling into his trap – who knows what's really at the Department of Mysteries, waiting for me?"
"He's sent people after the weapon." Tonks asked without asking, then walked to the floo – ostensibly to rally the troops, or so I supposed. Remus tried to mediate the conversations and failed entirely, and so, resignedly, walked over to the be-pinned map and tapped it twice with his wand until the white cliffs of Dover appeared again. Matthew Arnold said it best of them: the world which seems to lie before us like a land of dreams, so various, so beautiful, so new, hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; and we are here as on a darkling plain swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, where ignorant armies clash by night. What I would not give to believe in that dreamland, where the only thing that matter was that in a week's time I'd no longer be Severus's student and thus he'd be – morally – free to do whatever we pleased with me!
"We've just got to-"
"Hold on," said Sirius, who'd walked into the kitchen now, very curious, or so I'd imagine, about what I was doing here and why I was unusually glad he wasn't dead. "What's going on here?"
I started pacing. Severus, kindly, explained. "Éléonore had a vision during her OWL of you being tortured by the Dark Lord. We came here to deduce if it was a real vision or not. Obviously, you are unharmed, and so we can only imagine it was a trap."
Maybe it was the strain of the OWLS I'd not cared to prepare for, or the fear-fuelled obsession that the next time somebody went off to battle in this war, someone I loved would die. Or maybe it was the fact that, despite it all, I'm only fifteen, sixteen in a month. I don't know, but my panic blurred on the edge of hysteria. "He's just going to keep coming after me and after me and after me until one of us is dead!" I whispered to myself, as if suddenly realizing the truth of it. And, in many ways, the truth of it suddenly became real to me. The idea that Voldemort wanted to kill me was not new to me, but the incessant nature of it all hit a nerve that had already taken too much this month. "And, if he can't get to me, he'll come after everyone I love…" It was with a fanatical fury I spoke next. "We've got to stop him! Him or his Death Eaters, or whoever he's sent to that room of glowing orbs. There's something there he wants – that weapon of his is on row ninety-seven, and, if he gets it, there'll be no stopping him, whatever it is! Once he has it, one by one by one everyone will die, like Mum and Dad and Cedric, until, at last, he finally has what he wants!"
"Éléonore-" one of the men said. I did not catch who, nor did I care.
"Maybe someone should get a calming potion-" said another.
"Calm!" I cried. "I am calm! Is it so un-calm to want to be happy? Well, happiness never favoured the timid, and if that means that I've got to seize something by the horns that oughtn't to be seized, so be it! If he's going to come after me, I say we go after him first!"
"Éléonore-" one of them said again.
Severus spoke up then. I'd know his voice anywhere, talking me down from my cliff's-edge most especially. "Are you certain about this?"
I nodded emphatically, staring not at him but the painting of Dover Beach. He was from Kent, Severus. Dover was in Kent. I wondered if he'd ever been to those pale, ethereal cliffs that stood across the straight from Calais… I'd never seen those cliffs, not that I could recall, or that city, or so much of the world. Voldemort was wrong to try to take it from me, this world I had not seen nor tasted nor touched nor loved in enough. How many other girls had he cost families and futures? How many other armies had fought men like him throughout the ages of the world?
"You're going to go anyway – to the place where you thought Sirius was being tortured. You're going to spring the trap." Ari, ever the quick one, realized.
We were a room full of three Gryffindors, a Slytherin spy, a Metamorphmagus full of joie de vivre, and a lawyer. No one could have talked us out of the idea. I, after all, was too fond of living to want to live in fear – I had to take something from Voldemort, something he needed, be it a Death Eater or the weapon or whatever else, if he held anything dear at all; so what if I was fifteen. Sirius wanted to protect me and was, as before Azkaban, ever eager for a fight against the Dark. Remus too had failed to move on since Mum and Dad died almost fifteen years ago, and that young Remus would do whatever Dad or Sirius asked – and he too was too Gryffindor to back down. Severus knew what bombs would drop if I failed to show up at Voldemort's trap and that the best way to protect me was, for the moment, to put me in harm's way. Tonks was addicted to danger the way others are to cheap romance novels or soap operas, and she was nothing if not loyal to the family and the cause. Ari knew from her years of practicing law that the best way to get what you needed was when the other side thought it was getting the better deal.
The six of us appearated to the Ministry, to meet up with those Tonks had flooed and give Voldemort the surprise of his life.
"Ninety-seven!" whispered Tonks in Hermione's form. Apart from the two of us, the cathedral appeared empty of any other human life. Only the glowing of the orbs was alive down here, and it felt traitorous even to enter. As we gazed down the row, which appeared empty, my mouth suddenly went dry. I knew that Sirius wasn't down there – that he'd been safe at HQ the whole time, but I'd expected to encounter at least something to fight against. But there'd been nothing throughout the whole MoM – nothing and no one in the Atrium, in the elevator, or the DoM as Hermione-Tonks and I made our way to this point.
We weren't alone. I knew that much. Sirius, the actual Sirius, was around here somewhere, beneath a camouflage charm, as were Severus and Remus and Ari. I would have preferred to see them or the people I was still over-eager to attack, to fight my way to this point or see shadows of their passing in broken delicacies or strewn bodies. Shadows made me jumpy, made me think of a summer night just a year earlier dark without stars or moon. Maybe Wormtail would show tonight, to be properly killed or captured at last, or the demon he'd helped to revive… "They should be near here," I whispered back at her, swallowing deeply, "Anywhere here…. Right about here."
Of course, though, there was nobody there at all. If Severus hadn't taken me to HQ first, if I hadn't already known Sirius was safe, I'd be blind with panic now. We made our way slowly down the narrow space between high shelves, eyes darting every which way in attempt to catch some glimpse, some evidence proving that it wasn't a bizarre dream induced by too much fear and too many OWLS. "Hey, Éléonore," she said suddenly, grabbing my arm and pointing towards something on a shelf about three quarters of the way. She was, like the real-life Hermione, half a head taller then me, and had more easily seen the yellow and curling label affixed to a shelf beneath one of the brighter, though equally dust-covered, glowing orbs, "It's got your name on it." Hermione-Tonks sounded more freaked-out then I'd ever heard Hermione or Tonks outside these strange halls. "What's your name doing down here?"
I was blinking slowly at the label still, trying to make sense of it.
1 November, 1980
S.P.T. to A.P.W.B.D.
Dark Lord & (?) Alexandrie-Margaux Potter
it read. My actual name. Not Alexandria or Margaret Lenore or Harry as everyone called me, but my actual, birth-given name, on a sheet of paper dated two years before I'd destroyed Voldemort the first time. I suppose one could say I was given such an unusual name for a British girl because of the writing on this paper, but what was the likelihood that my father, who worked as a member of the Muggle-Worth Excuse Committee before he went into hiding, or my beloved mother, a mind healer-in-training, had been in this secret, inexplicably large cavern of orbs, on this particular row sometime before their deaths? My paternal grandmother had been named Alexandrie and Mum's middle name was Margret; could someone have correctly guessed that I'd be named after two generations of Potter wives? But it would have been impossible, even with magic, for my mother to have known she was pregnant in November of 1980…
I felt an inexplicable pull towards the object. Fleur's words from the previous summer jumped to the forefront of my thoughts: "'E is after something dangerous, something worse and more powerful zen 'e 'ad before." Something nastily bad. And, if I'd learned one thing about magic in my five years in the wizarding world, it was that things were not always as they appeared. I didn't know what this glowing orb might be other then a glowing orb in a cathedral full of glowing orbs, but it was a weapon infinitely more dangerous then a handful of glass should be, that was certain. Reaching out my hand, I clasped the orb in my hand, surprised at its warmth. If I expected claxons and sirens, I was wrong.
It was Lucius Malfoy's silky voice I heard instead, drawling, "Very good, Potter. Now turn around, nice and slowly, and give that to me."
And so we did, my wand already in my other hand two in Hermione-Tonks's. At least six wands were trained at each my and Tonks's hearts. I prayed to the unknown deities that Severus, Sirius, and the others would be in place soon, but kept a praesidis on my tongue. Tonks was an Auror, trained and capable, in ways I was not – yet. She also looked like Hermione, a book-worm, and they'd not expect trouble from that quarter. Me they wanted, me they'd look to. "Lucius, you don't write, never call – is this really the proper way to welcome your wife's newest cousin into the family?"
A voice – female, but an absurd parody of one, raspy and somewhat empty, like a ghost's, but prideful and rancorous – spoke from next to Malfoy Sr. "Family? You'll never be family, you half-blood bitch."
Tonks's hands tightened on the twin wands she carried, eyes narrowing imperceptibly at the sound of her aunt's voice, but in no other way gave away that she was Andi's daughter – this Death Eater's own half-blood niece – rather then the child of Muggle dentists. With a grim smile, "And Cousin Trixie! Why, isn't this a right old family gathering. Are Cissy and Draco here as well?"
Bellatrix Lestrange let out a short, guttural burst of laughter. "You hear her? You hear her? I think little girl wants to die today."
Her brother-in-law restrained her with is soft, shifty voice, "Oh, you don't know Potter as I do, Bellatrix. She has a great weakness for heroics; the Dark Lord understands this about her. Not give me the prophesy, Potter."
Death Eaters wanted the orb – a prophesy, apparently, like the fool Trelawney had made my Third Year. I, in my contrary nature, knew I had to keep it from them, even if it meant destroying it. Still, I slipped it into the pocket where Paracelsus had, surprisingly, curled up in the elevator after saying human battles were boring. "Sirius already here? I know you've stashed him away somewhere. I'd really like to see him, y'know; missed him over the Easter Hols 'cause of OWLS. Draco wasn't looking too pleased after we came out of our Defence written, I might add. Probably should have studied harder – but don't tell him I told you; I think he wants to bribe the examiners himself, y'know, prove that he can take after daddy in the family business."
Malfoy Sr. snorted. "It's time you learned a lesson in manners, Potter. Now give me the prophecy, or we start using wands."
"Oh, go ahead – I thought you hated doing things the Muggle way," I laughed, a nervous edge I couldn't hide within it. Maybe "Cousin Trixie" was right – I did have a death wish. I could have, after all, stayed at Hogwarts. I could have stayed at HQ, or let Tonks pretend to be me and go alone, while I stayed safely shadowed with Severus until we could attack. "I'd just like to point out to you that, you do curse me, your precious little prophesy goes bye-bye. They ought to make the things a little-"
"Accio Proph-" my dear cousin tried and I, feeling movement in my pocket, caught not a second later the speeding object by the speeding object by its tail.
"Seeker," I told them, examining the tiger-striped Runespoor I now dangled upside down in my hand. Acel's head was looking a little… bulgier… then usual, "youngest in a century." I turned a quarter of my attention on Paracelsus, trusting Tonks beside me and the Order members hidden somewhere nearby – or so I hoped – could protect me. "You do realize, Acel," I hissed (a fact which, I'm pleased to note, caused several of the Death Eaters to start, though it wasn't exactly a secret I shared this particular skill of their master's), "that that wasss glasssss." I looked back up, intentionally addressing Bellatrix and Malfoy Sr. alone of the bunch. "I don't think your boss is going to be too pleased if you come back now without it, will he?" The thought came to me that I had to keep talking. That, if I didn't, the Death Eaters would attack. I had to get them to wait until everyone was in place and could, at some signal I didn't know, launch their attack. The Order could handle this – I just had to keep my head.
Meanwhile, Par chose to answer me. "Can I have glasssss ball too, Mère?"
"No," I hissed back at him. "So, what kind of prophesy are we talking about here?"
I imagined his pale grey eyes were, beneath his bone-white mask, fixed on my Runespoor. "Surely you jest, Harry Potter."
"Nope, not at all – though I must point out that my name is Alexandrie-Margaux. My name's on it, you see. It just say's 'Dark Lord,' though, for the other guy. Are you sure Voldemort's the right one? Are there any others out there vying for the title?"
I hadn't realized it was possible for someone to whisper apoplectically until "Cousin Trixie" did so. "You dare speak his name?"
"Name? It's only an anagram, Vol-"
She screeched this time, her wand making movements that I hoped weren't strange, silent spells. "Shut your mouth! You dare speak his name with your unworthy lips, you dare besmirch it with your half-blood's tongue, you dare-"
"Technically, my mother was a Muggle-born witch. Tommy dearest's father was just a regular old Muggle-"
Bellatrix shot a scarlet jet from her wand – a stunner – and Lucius busied his wand batting it away from me, where it might hurt the precious orb Acel was now attempting to digest.
My silent protectors saw it as their chance and all of a sudden, from every corner spells erupted at the collection of Death Eaters. I thrust Paracelsus gracelessly back into my pocket and did what I'd been told earlier to do once the fighting started: try not to get killed.
I cast the praesidis over myself and Tonks, then, anxious to get this ended, cast several expelliarmus into the tangled mess of Death Eaters beyond the smoke of someone's Flash-Bang Spell. I could feel Paracelsus curled tightly in my pocket, squirming to get as close to me as possible. The shaking of the great shelves and the orbs on them pervaded my bones. Ozone sharply hung in the air from the confused mixture of spells.
There was a tug at my wrist. "Some on," said Hermione-Tonks as she eyed the shelves worriedly. They could fall at any minute, and, even with the praesidis around the two of us – a dome-like shield of middling strength – it would not be fun to be caught underneath them when they fell.
I released the shield and ran with her. Where the others were, I did not know, only ran blindly with Tonks.
We came to the nearest door and pelted through it – the Dali-esque room of melting clocks. With a quick spell I vowed to learn from her later, Tonks spelled all the nails out of the desks that ringed the room out and charmed them to stand on their ends in front of the door. From the pieces of wood this left behind, she used a quick-defence spell to build a small barrier.
"Too small," she said, pulling me along after she finished this.
I could hear Lucius's voice carrying in from the cathedral full of prophesy orbs, "… the Dark Lord will not care for Nott's injuries as much as losing that prophesy – Jugson, come back here, we need to organize! We'll split-" Other male voices, indistinct from this distance, seemed to be trying to herd the Death Eaters after Tonks and myself… There were too many doors in this place to effectively trap a group. We had to keep them on the move so that the Order could pick them off one by one, guerrilla-style. There were what? Six of us, plus the three that had joined us at the Ministry? There were at least twelve Death Eaters that I'd seen…
We were bait again.
She pulled me into the dark, empty hallway we'd entered in, and, after the doors had ceased to spin, she sent locking spells at four of them and pulled us through the last… until we were in a circular amphitheatre, the stage in the middle holding only a stone archway with rotting black veil moving in its own slight breeze.
A body-body bind struck Tonks from the side as we entered, causing her to tumbled down the stone steps one after another until she landed, with a heavy thud, in the sunken pit that surrounded the archway… The room rang with the laughter of several Death Eaters – Bellatrix, her husband, her brother-in-law, and least three others who must have not fallen for the herding scheme. I jumped down several steps, to land on one of the raised seats about halfway up the room, and held my wand so tightly I thought it might slip out of my hand, I was sweating so hard. Paracelsus was hissing quietly in fright that I'd not let myself admit too.
"Ah," I said, taking stock of myself – alone, uninjured, for the moment, with a crowd of Death Eaters chasing after me if the Order members hadn't caught them already – and the six in front of me, one –Thorfinn Rowle, as I recognized as unchanged from his picture in the Smoke and Mirror, was bleeding, probably from a culteris he'd managed to avoid the worst of – while Dolohov, who I distinctly remember as having been bound with conjured ropes, leered at me in a way that I was far from even uncomfortable with, "Trixie, is this your husband? Seems like a nice enough bloke. I always get them mixed up, though: is he Rastaban or Rodolphus?"
Lucius drawled, ignoring my jibe (which hurt; I worked hard to create them. I wanted him to appreciate my work before killing me), "Potter, your race is run. You are smarter then the Dark Lord would give you credit for, bringing members of that infernal Order with you, but not smart enough. Now hand me the prophesy like a good girl and maybe we won't injure you or your friend here too badly before presenting you to our master." Dolohov's leer intensified and I had to restrain a shudder. How could Severus have ever fallen in with a crowd like this? And what would he do if he knew what his 'friends' were clearly thinking of? You think he'd emasculate them for me if I asked, because I don't want these men to be able to carry out such thoughts on anybody ever again…
"Now that's no fun, Uncle Lucy," I pouted, feeling the beads of sweat trickle down my forehead, my neck, my back, my thighs… My clothes were sticking to me now uncomfortably, my feet felt over-warm in my school shoes, and I was so afraid that, by Herne and Hecate, I could have melted into a puddle before them and wouldn't have noticed. I couldn't, wouldn't give in, though. This had been my idea, hadn't it? To spring their trap? To fight so that the varied, handsome, fresh-made world imagined existed somewhere beyond this dark fight could go on existing, so I could see it someday, preferably with Severus at my side. So I did the only thing I really could do. I, remembering that there were six of them and one of me, took a hopping step onto the next raised bench and continued. "My Runespoor, y'see, ate the thing, and probably won't give it up for months and months yet – he ate a beetle once, y'see, and didn't give it up for a month. He's only a baby, though, so you've got to forgive him. So how about I just head back to Hogwarts and just owl you the thing when he finally coughs it up?"
"You're not in the position to bargain, Potter."
My voice was getting shrill again, curse all. "Maybe I'm not, though I should point out, Lucy darling, that if you're not going to treat me like family, I'm Miss Black Potter to you. They wanted to hyphenate it too, but I said no, one hyphenate in a girl's name is enough, so I can understand your confusion-" Then every nerve in my body exploded and I heard myself scream with the unbearable pain of it. It wasn't as bad as Voldemort's – no one could hate like that man – but still it was more then enough that I didn't notice my legs had given out or that I'd tumbled down the steps until the crucio was lifted and I realized I was face-down, half-collapsed across the still – but, thankfully warm – body of Hermione-Tonks. I could have prayed, so grateful was I that she was alive, and that my wand was still, somehow, in my hands, though probably only because it was pinned beneath me. I willed more then cast the reversal for the body bind they'd placed on her, but she remained still – pretending nothing had changed. Top marks in Concealment and Disguise at the academy, I remember her mentioning. Then again, I always figured her as the type who'd be in local theatre clubs too. We needed it now. Stupid let's-just-herd-them-to-a-place-with-few
Trixie was laughing with a menace that had to be taught in Dark witch schools, it was so hauntingly made-for-tele. She was the Unforgivable-happy one, I remembered. She'd tortured Neville's parents to insanity. She'd probably happily do the same to me. "The ickle baby won't take its mewicine…" she commented in a horrible, mock-baby voice that would have curled paint had there been any available. I allowed myself to groan a little, as if I'd never been hit by something so painful before… every cell in my body ached for me to stop thinking, just forget my struggles and given in and give up… but I couldn't just do that. I'd Severus waiting for me after all, and soon I'd no longer be his student… And this, this bitch thought she could just take me out with a Cruciatus Curse? Not when I'd so much to live for… to kill for! I understood now why Severus hadn't nutius-edme that night, or any other night, even if he'd might have needed it. Sometimes the times weren't conducive to sending messages, not when it was your life at stake…
Still, it wasn't her I heard drawing nearer, but another I was surprisingly angered to notice. Male, by default, and in a slow, practiced way I associated with Draco. "Hmm," he said very close to me, prodding me with the toe of his shoe. Yes, I knew that voice. It was Draco's father. "I'd expected Potter," his hand grabbed my shoulder, "to put up a better fight," he began to roll me onto my back, "then-" I cast the first spell that came to mind straight into his gut.
"Suvula," I hissed, and discovered that, yes, The Awl Charm was very messy when used on a person as little bits of what had been Lucius Malfoy's midsection rained down on me.
I was glad I'd unfrozen Tonks, who I dimly watched as she jumped to her feet and reverted her face back to something more resembling someone who was not my classmate, because I felt frozen as ever so s… l… o… w… l… y… the body collapsed atop of me… The knees bent first, falling forward even as the rest of him flew back momentarily from the power of my spell before gravity took hold and pulled his torso downward… There was a bang somewhere, like a door being opened, as my pursuers entered the room, what few remained, and the seven Order members who'd come with us… He hit me with a thud that knocked the breath out of me, and somewhere near my navel I could feel his sticky, hot blood seeping into my shirt, cloying at my skin… Another thud came, and I heard cheers from various quarters as other Order members – Kingsley, Moody, Dumbledore – joined the fray from Gods knew where.
I scuttled backwards, desperate to be rid of his awful, dead weight. Lyrics ran through my head again:
I killed Lucius Malfoy.
I killed Lucius Malfoy.
I killed Lucius Malfoy.
But they were not good ones, nor was the song my mind put them too a happy one. I was horrified at myself. It was one thing to kill Grindylows, another to accidentally maim and blow to tiny pieces Death Eaters chasing me. It was another to have the corpse, still warm, land on top of you and…
I refused to scream, merely hyperventilated as I struggled to my feet. My free hand tried to wipe the blood off of me, not wanting that monster's life-stuff touching me, but I succeeded only in smearing it, covering my hand in it. I shuddered and, with the resolve that only comes post-torture, I screamed at Bellatrix Lestrange, finding her halfway up the steps now. "YOU BITCH!" I cried, not caring for the duels going on around me, and made my way was fast as I could after her as she tried to escape, scrambling up the stone benches and following the hem of her robes as she ran away. "YOU COWARD!"
Trixie aimed a violent purple curse over her shoulder, but it missed quite badly and hit a foul-smelling potion behind me as I chased her. I sent a glantius, The Rapid-Shot Spell, at her, but she deflected it like she'd every spell Order members had sent her way. "YOU TRY TO KILL ME AND RUN AWAY!" I sprinted out the hallway that had haunted my dreams in time to hear the lift doors snap shut. I threw my whole body at the button for a second and called up the shaft as the doors opened again. "COME BACK HERE AND FINISH THE JOB, TRIXIE!" I slammed my fist into the tiny blue button marked "Atrium" and fumed as it rose.
I caught sight of her exiting a lift opposite me as I scrambled out of my own.
"Come out, come out, little Harry!" she called, sing-songing unknowingly to the same tune I'd created for the death of her brother-in-law. "What did you come after me for, then? I thought you were here to avenge yourself, make me pay for hurting the ickle baby!"
"The name is Éléonore!" I shouted at her, my name, Éléonore! Éléonore! Éléonore! bouncing off the walls and screaming back at me. I couldn't hear her footsteps anymore, and whether that was because she'd stopped running or my name just had drowned them out, I neither knew nor cared, and flung battered body in the direction I'd last seen her and shrieked, "Crucio!" I was not some little girl, some naïve child of the Light! I'd spent ten damn years locked in a cupboard because of people like this woman! I'd been forced into a tournament I didn't want to be in because of this bitch's master, had seen Cedric – so good and kind and truly naïve in the ways of death and war – die because he'd just happened to be there; I'd suffered long into the night because of her and her compatriots, worrying whether or not my lover was going to come back to me alive. I knew you needed more than righteous anger to hurt her for long. You need to truly mean these curses. Damn this woman! This bitch! I hated her! I hated I hated I hated her! I wanted to hurt her – to hurt her as I'd hurt! It was my fault her master was back! My fault that the bastard that was her master had broken her and her kind out of Azkaban! My fault that unknown innocents had surely died because Death Eaters were running loose! My fault that Severus had to spy again and could die at any moment if they found out the truth, my fault that Umbridge had been allowed to teach at Hogwarts; mine that another human, however deserving, was dead! And, by Merlin, she screamed contemptibly loud, a disgusting cry of weakness. "I live with this pain every day, you bitch – you monster. You go around killing and torturing people just for the fun of it, but, no matter how many years you spent surrounded by Dementors, you don't know real suffering or what it's like to be dead inside!"
I held the curse for a minute, maybe two, before I grew exhausted with rage. My shoulders slumped and my wand went off point. I think I might have even shuddered a little. Bellatrix made no noise for quite a while after that besides pitiful half-moans.
A faint clapping came from behind me. I spun about and saw the thin, hooded, snakelike form of Lord Voldemort applauding me in the middle of the Atrium. "Months of preparation, months of effort… and my Death Eaters have let Harry Potter thwart me again."
I spat at him venom-lessly. I was too tired now, to weakened from the release of the self-contempt that had kept me going, to truly be angry right now. "I do my best, Tommy-boy."
His scarlet eyes narrowed a little. "I was right. We could be great, you and I. Such hate is… prodigious in one so young. It reminds me of myself, Miss Potter, when I was your age… It's not too late to join me. Lord Voldemort is not ungenerous… certain… pains could be forgiven if you'd join me…" His voice suddenly grew ardent, Southern-preacher-y, "We could conquer the world together and watch endless generations fall trembling before our thrones until the end of the earth!"
I stared blankly at him. "I wasn't aware the position of consort was open."
"It could be arranged…"
"Yes," I answered dimly, "I suppose it could…" I swallowed back a shudder of disgust. I wanted no one to even think of me that way except for Severus ever again. "Pity I'm not applying."
"Then I've nothing more to say to you, Miss Potter. "You have irked me too often, for far too long. ADVADA KEDAVARA!"
I dropped to the floor, and was equally surprised when Dumbledore appeared not a moment later in front of the golden gates.
I returned to Severus's rooms after dawn from the Headmaster's office, hyperventilating and panicky, not caring about the health of the other students as I wondered down to the dungeons in clothes covered with sweat and Lucius Malfoy's blood.
…the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches …
Whispers followed me in the hall. Paracelsus, still in my pocket through it all, whispered calming things and demanded to be left at home next time I wanted to pretend to be a vampire. I left him with Archimedes as I whispered, "Arcadia," to enter.
…born to those who have thrice defied him…
Severus was not back yet. I wanted so badly to see him safe again so he could hold me in his arms and lie to me, telling me everything would be alright. I climbed into the shower fully clothed and peeled my ruined things off in there. I prayed to drown in the stream, if only so I could be clean again. I'd killed again. I could have used any other spell, but I chose The Awl Spell, suvula…
…born as the seventh month dies…
After ages and half a bottle of shampoo, I wrapped myself in a towel and pandered into the bedroom, not bothering to dress or light a candle. I just collapsed onto the bed and dry sobbed. I was a monster whose only purpose was to kill or be killed…
…the Dark Lord will mark her as his equal, but she will have power the Dark Lord knows not…
Where was Severus? Why wasn't he here?
Why me? Why not anyone but me?
I heard the doorway slide open and snap closed. I heard the soft tread of Severus's feet and the falling of shoes and cloaks as he disrobed as he walked.
…and either must die at the hand of the other…
He was all but naked when he entered the room and collapsed onto the soft, welcome safety of his bed, surprised only in afterthought to find me there as well. He pulled me close to and held me tightly. I buried my face in his shoulder and thanked God and Merlin, Herne and Hecate, and all the gods of all the ages that he was alive. From the way he held me, I imagined he was doing the same.
…for neither can live while the other survives…
He kissed my hair, smelling no longer of blood but gardenia. I pulled him closer still and let my hands explore his uncovered body. His own hands moved to clasp and cup and caress various parts of me as my towel was dropped away. I directed his lips to mine and let our tongues stroke each other as I shifted off my side and onto my back…
…the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches …
…he moved with a fierce sense of possession over me, kissing me with an obstinacy that made it difficult to remember to breathe when our lips parted. All I wanted was him, and he, it seemed, had forgotten his self-imposed morals to allow himself this happiness in a world so full of death and war and pain…
…born as the seventh month dies…
…and, for the first time in recent memory, I felt truly alive.