Chapter 58 - Deal
Most magical people hated travelling by portkey, and for good reason. Elderly, pregnant women and children were advised by Healers against using such means of transportation often. Even grown-ups with no disabilities could experience nausea or migraines after travelling by portkey. In fact, for a very long time, students used to travel to Hogwarts by portkey before Hogwarts Express was created. At that time, it was not unusual for classes to be half-empty in the first two or three days due to students claiming to be Portkey-sick. While some were probably using this excuse as a pretext to skip classes, there is no smoke without fire. Portkey-sickness was a real thing - especially in the case of international Portkeys.
When Bellatrix, the Minister, and the two Aurors were transported by the Portkey from the Arabian Peninsula back to London, all four of them fell on the hard floor unceremoniously, the world appearing to be spinning around them. It was only the presence of a horde of journalists and reporters that gave Amelia Bones the strength to grit her teeth and hold back her nausea. Alastor Moody, however, had no such reservations; he threw up loudly all over the floor.
"Ugh, Jesus! Get a hold of yourself, mate," the middle-aged Auror with short grizzled hair and a brown beard said and turned his face away from the scene.
"Squeamish stomach, Adams, eh?" Mad-Eye said with a chuckle as he waved his wand to Vanish the mess that he had made on the floor.
"You're one to talk?" he muttered back incredulously.
As the group of reporters rushed towards their group, Bellatrix stood up on shaky legs and made a beeline towards the closes fireplace, her high heels echoing loudly in the spacious International Portkey Point.
"Bella, wait, I need to have a-" Amelia began to say but she didn't get to finish her words before the fireplace was lit by green flames.
"Blackthorn!" Bellatrix called out before stepping into the flames and Flooing away.
Headmistress Minerva McGonagall was in the middle of signing some paperwork when a silvery raven suddenly appeared in front of her desk and a rather familiar voice filled with urgency came from it:
"Headmistress, I need your permission to Floo at Hogwarts. Neville Longbottom's life might be in peril!"
At first, she did not know what to make of it - Hogwarts was the safest place in Great Britain, especially after the Ministry of Magic's reforms and the introduction of Aurors to patrol the grounds and the castle at all times. What could possibly threaten Neville in this place?
Nonetheless, there were very few people whom the old witch respected as much as Bellatrix Black. In spite of her relatively young age, Bellatrix had done more for the wizards and witches of Great Britain (and not only) in a few years than the Wizengamot and ICW had done in decades. Therefore, she did not hesitate to send back her reply. Taking out her wand, the Headmistress chanted:
When Bellatrix stepped out of the fireplace in her office, the Headmistress's eyebrows shot up in surprise at her appearance. Maybe because Bellatrix Black was one of the most elegant and glamorous witches she knew but at that moment, McGonagall could tell that something was definitely not alright. Bellatrix's long and wavy black hair had traces of dirt in it, her face was stained with dust and sweat and her black dress and hat were dusty and wrinkled too. Coming straight from the destroyed cave at the ICW summit, Bellatrix had not had the time to fix her dishevelled appearance or clean herself up.
"Headmistress," she said quickly in greeting before firing several questions one after another: "Where is the Longbottom boy? Is he alright? Has anyone tried to breach the school's wards?"
"Miss Black, take a breath, sit, and calm down," McGonagall said calmly but that only served to agitate Bellatrix.
"We don't have time for this! By Merlin, things are far more dangerous than you think!" she said, almost shouting now.
Having had Bellatrix as a colleague two years ago, Minerva McGonagall knew what kind of person she was. Although she had never seen Bellatrix that rattled before, she understood that with how stubborn and impulsive she was, Bellatrix would be unable to calm down unless she saw with her own eyes that everything was fine.
"Very well then. Let us go check up on Mr Longbottom together. I believe that 4th year Gryffindors should have Potions with Professor Slughorn at this time."
At her words, Bellatrix quickly left through the office's door, forcing the old witch to almost start running in order to keep up with her.
Having studied and even taught at Hogwarts recently, Bellatrix was quite familiar with the layout of the castle. It took only a few minutes for her to arrive in front of the Potion Classroom's doors but just as she was about to knock, a terrible scream came from the other side of the door. Forgoing her manners, Bellatrix opened the doors of the classroom with a bang and burst inside.
Neville Longbottom had just collapsed on the floor, screaming in agony as he gripped with his hands at his forehead.
"Make way! Move aside!" Bellatrix yelled and had to use her wand to magically push aside the rest of the students that had crowded around the collapsed boy.
Kneeling on the dirty floor with no regard for her expensive clothes, she cast a Diagnosis Charm on Neville. She was not a Healer like her sister, Andromeda, but she did know a few Healing Spells.
By the time the results of her Diagnosis Spell came out, whether it was from pain or from exhaustion, Neville fainted. She was about to cast yet another spell on him when a dense black cloud unexpectedly burst from Neville's forehead and an unearthly shriek filled the classroom before it dissipated into thin air.
Leaving an unconscious but perfectly fine Neville Longbottom in Madam Pomfrey's care, Bellatrix returned to the Blackthorn.
'How was the Horcrux destroyed?'
She could not make sense of the situation. As far as she knew, there were only three ways of destroying living Horcruxes: Basilisk venom, the Fiendfyre Curse, and the Killing Curse.
'But Slughorn said nobody had cast any spells at Neville. He was bringing a sample of the potion he brewed for the professor to grade it when he suddenly collapsed and started screaming.'
So absorbed by her thoughts she was that Bellatrix did not notice that the warding spells that she had cast on her home notified her of the presence of another person. She did not realize that Harry was at home at that moment too.
As she stepped into her spacious shower cabin and hot water started pouring from half a dozen showerheads, Bellatrix sighed in bliss. Done showering, she went to the bathtub that was already filled with hot water thanks to her diligent House Elf, Niki. Leaving only her head above the water, Bella closed her eyes and enjoyed the water massage of her charmed tub to the fullest. But even that heavenly comfort could not chase away her thoughts.
'How did Harry do it? How did he remove the Horcrux without even being there? How did he do it without killing Neville?'
Her researcher mind could not rest until she found the answer.
While Bellatrix was half asleep in the comfort of her magical bathtub, Harry's body was in a state of clinical death. Had Bellatrix come into Harry's bedroom at that moment she would have seen that his face was deathly pale, he was cold to the touch, and that his chest was not moving in the telltale sign of someone breathing.
"For one so reticent about becoming my 'slave' you were pretty quick to lay down your life for someone else," Death said in their characteristic cold voice. But Harry was starting to become familiar with them. He noticed the hint of amusement in their tone.
"Why did you not just kill him? You're acquaintances at best, you are not friends. Is your life worth that little that you'd trade it for just anyone?" Death asked.
"You hold the past, the present, and the future in your hands, don't you? Why ask questions you already know the answer to?" Harry said.
Death took their time to reply to his question.
"The moment you became my Emissary, you ceased to be a regular mortal. I do not know your thoughts. So tell me, why did you trade your life for his?"
If Harry was surprised at the revelation that Death was no longer omniscient when it came to him, he did not show it on his face.
"He didn't deserve to die. He was just a boy," Harry said.
"You were just a boy too. But you've never run away. You even chose to pay the ultimate price when you stepped into the Veil." Death said.
Harry was momentarily silent, his eyes looking vacantly at the expanse of pitch-black darkness in front of him.
"It's because I know how it is to be fate's plaything that I didn't want him to be a casualty of his destiny too. There was nobody to mourn me when I died. But Neville has a family. I... I wish at least he got to live a happy life."
A sound that Harry interpreted as laughter came from Death when they heard his words.
"How noble and self-sacrificing! Then, are you going to trade your life for every single innocent person in the future too?" Death asked amused.
"Shouldn't you be happy?" Harry shot back. "A life for a life. In exchange for allowing Neville to keep on living, you've extended my contract for one more lifetime."
"I always keep my end of the deal, so you have nothing to worry about," Death said. "And I am happy. At this rate, you'll never leave my care. You will be mine for eternity."
He could not see Death's face but he got the vague impression that Death was smiling at him. He shivered when their cold bony hand patted his cheek lightly.
"Go on now. Go back to your family. But do not forget, Harry Potter. When it all comes to an end, you are still mine. You are my Emissary."
Coming back to the world of the living, Harry shivered at the feeling of cold. Trying to get up from the bed, he pushed with his hands against the mattress...only to fall back on his side with a groan.
He forgot that he had lost his left arm.
"Fleur is going to kill me."
Sighing in chagrin, he got out of bed awkwardly. Having lost so much blood after severing his arm from the shoulder and also mentally exhausted from his stressful encounter with Death, Harry wobbled as he walked towards the kitchen. But when he walked into the living room, he was surprised to see that Bellatrix was at home too. Wearing a fluffy white bathrobe and with her long hair wrapped in a towel, she looked like she had just gotten out of the shower.
"Bella? You're not at work?" he asked.
When he demolished the cave where the ICW summit took place he had not seen her among the crowd of people gathered there - there were over 600 of them. In addition, he had only had eyes for Voldemort. He had expected Bellatrix to still be at the Ministry, buried in research in the Department of Mysteries, like usual.
Bellatrix turned around startled, not having expected Harry to be at home either.
Putting down her cup of tea on the coffee table, she stood up and rushed at him before taking him in her arms.
"Crashing the ICW summit like that! What were you thinking?!" she said after she broke the hug and grabbed him by the shoulders.
But when her hand left hand came into contact with the stump of his right shoulder, she recoiled in shock.
"Wha... your arm! What happened to your arm?!" she cried out.
"Finding and killing Voldemort came at a cost," he said as he let the panicky Bellatrix lead him to sit on the sofa.
"Are you okay? Circe, of course that you're not okay! Should we go to Saint Mungo? Niki! Niki! Tell Andy to drop everything and Floo here. Even if she's at work, it doesn't matter-"
"Hold up, wow, calm down. I'm fine, Bella. I promise."
It took a few good minutes for Harry to convince her that there was no need to get checked by Healers, that he was alright. Nonetheless, she still made Niki go to the hospital to buy several Blood Replenishing Potions for him and forced him to drink one under her watch.
Even as Harry started telling her about the Shamanistic ritual and his hunt for Voldemort, he could see that her eyes involuntarily jumped to his missing left arm every ten seconds or so. If Bellatrix was acting like that, he could only imagine how Fleur was going to react when she saw him.