Disclaimer: By now, you know all the disclaimers and warnings. If you don't, I suggest you refer to chapters 1 through 10.
Back from Beyond the Veil, Part 16
"The score must be settled. I've had enough," Sirius growled as he and Bellatrix circled each other warily, the others watching silently. Harry had retrieved his glasses and now stood stock-still beside Ron, slightly ahead of him as though still shielding him from Lucius.
"The deaths, the bloodshed, the betrayals - it's over," Sirius continued. "I can't take on Voldemort - it's not my place, and I know that. But I can take on you, Bella, and anyone else who insists on hurting the people I love."
Bellatrix looked furious and outraged. "Just like Potter, you insist on speaking the name of one you are unworthy of!" she shrieked. "You have no right! You rejected the life a proper, pureblooded wizard should lead! You sided with the Mudbloods and werewolves and freaks! Your mother was completely right about you... you're nothing, no one! You are not worthy to bear the Black name, and so help me, I am determined to be the one to take it from you!"
"STUPEFY!" Sirius roared, the dungeon lighting up with the spell. Bellatrix dived aside, casting her own Stunning Spell. It set off the battle, as her companions began firing their own hexes and charms at the Weasleys and their friends. Harry pulled Ron to the ground as a flash of purple light soared over their heads.
"Blimey, this is even worse than the Department of Mysteries," Ron breathed. He wrung Harry's hand. "Good luck... just... just in case," he muttered.
"We'll be fine," Harry said. He had no idea whether they would be fine or not, but he had to say it. Saying it was like a charm against danger. He knew quite well that he was facing death for the second time in barely two months. But there was no use denying his situation. Until Voldemort was dead, until his followers were imprisoned for good, there would be no end. Death would be looking over Harry's shoulder, and the shoulders of everyone he loved, until that day finally came.
The two boys sprang apart as a Stunning Spell just barely missed them. Harry straightened up and caught sight of a Death Eater sneaking up behind Ginny, who was preoccupied by fighting with Rodolphus. "Petrificus Totalus!" he cried. The Death Eater keeled over, stiff as a board, his mask slipping off to reveal the bloodshot eyes and black moustache of Macnair the executioner.
Ginny knocked Rodolphus back with a quick jinx, then turned to Harry and gave him the thumbs-up. Harry grinned back momentarily before lunging after Macnair, who was getting to his feet as the spell wore off.
The dungeon rang with bangs and flashes as spells and curses hit walls and rebounded. It was nearly deafening, between the noise of the bangs and the shouts and yells of the combatants. The dungeon, as large as it had seemed earlier, was now far too small and crowded. More than once Harry tripped over a fallen witch or wizard; he rammed people with his elbows and was rammed in return. Never before had he been in such a terrifying battle. The close quarters made it harder to fight, and more necessary to pay close attention to surrounding struggles. Any stray spell could harm the wrong person.
Bill and Fleur were fighting side-by-side, their backs against a wall as they sent curses at every Death Eater who approached. George, his arm cut and bleeding, was dueling with Dolohov; Percy and Penelope were battling Crabbe and Goyle. Never before had any of them been so aware of what they were doing. The older ones knew quite well upon induction into the Order the dangers they would face; but none of them had ever imagined trading deadly curses with Voldemort's worst followers in the depths of the Malfoys' underground dungeons. Not one of them had ever imagined Harry, Ron, Hermione, or Ginny would ever be involved, either.
"Damn!" Sirius cursed as a spell cast by Rabastan created a gash under his left eye. He swiped at the blood dribbling down his cheek, casting a quick Shield Charm as Rabastan attempted the same curse again. "Expelliarmus!" he cried. Rabastan's wand flew up in the air and disappeared into the midst of the battles; the Death Eater fell to his knees and scrambled around looking for it. Sirius looked around wildly. He had lost track of Bellatrix in the confusion, and he cursed again, louder than before. He couldn't let her out of his sight for a minute - she would go after anyone in an attempt to destroy him. Harry and Remus in particular.
He heard a shriek; Penelope had been hit in the chest by a spell and lost her footing. Sirius lunged and caught her before she hit the stone floor.
"You okay?" he panted.
"Yes, I'm fine," she gasped, rubbing her chest. "Just a little winded."
He set her down carefully to get her breath back and whirled around to face Avery, who was approaching. He delivered a swift karate kick to the Death Eater's arm; it was obviously unexpected, and Avery stumbled backwards. Penelope struggled to her feet and shot a Disarming Spell at Avery. Sirius grinned and darted to meet Rodolphus, who had recovered from his Full-Body Bind.
Meanwhile, Remus was dueling with Rookwood. Rookwood's pockmarked face was screwed up in concentration as he and Remus fought, the sweat running down his forehead and neck. Remus appeared as cool as anything from the outside, and yet inside he was scared witless. His feet and hands felt ice-cold, his lips slightly numb. It was almost as if his brain was working independently of him, ordering him to cry spell after spell as the rest of him was jerked about like a marionette on strings.
"This is not right!" was all he could think. Even this, dueling to possible death with Voldemort's followers, was not a duty for Order members. This was beyond the Order. All of them, even the children, were acting in the place of the Aurors.
"Stupefy!" Rookwood fell to the ground, gasping; Remus armed sweat from his brow.
"Remus!" It was Andromeda. Her robes were torn, hanging from her shoulder, which was gashed and bloody; she tugged at the cloth in a feeble attempt to conceal her exposed bra strap. "Remus, watch out!" She dove on him and pulled him to the ground as a jet of green light narrowly missed them.
"Thanks," Remus said weakly. "I owe you."
"If we get out of here," she smiled back, and they got to their feet to take on the Death Eaters advancing on them.
The spells were exchanged with deadly speed. Remus elbowed the attacking Jugson in the ribs, making the Death Eater wheeze with pain. He straightened up and gasped - Lucius was standing behind Andromeda, his wand raised.
The spells were exchanged with deadly speed. Remus elbowed the attacking Jugson in the ribs, making the Death Eater wheeze with pain. He straightened up and gasped - Lucius was standing behind Andromeda, his wand raised.
"STUPEFY!" Remus roared. The force of the spell knocked Lucius off his feet, sending him flying back into the wall. Andromeda turned to Remus. "Thanks! Consider the debt paid!" she cried, before dodging a jet of light.
As this was going on, Harry had managed to defeat Mulciber and Nott, who had converged on him. Though the Death Eaters were determined to kill everyone else and bring him to Voldemort alive, they weren't doing as well as they should. Harry couldn't explain their half-hearted efforts. Unless... unless he was underestimating the powers of his friends, rather than the efforts of the Death Eaters. He had complete confidence in his godfather and the other members of the Order; now he saw that Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and even himself were surpassing the limits of what wizards their age could do. The thought made a strange feeling of hope bloom in his chest; perhaps this was possible. Perhaps taking down the Death Eaters wouldn't be as hard as he had thought.
"We can do this," he whispered to himself. "We can."
For the sake of everyone who had fallen victim to Voldemort - his parents... the Weasleys' relatives... members of the Order... Fred... Cedric... for all the victims, they had to win. Losing was not an option.
Harry suddenly felt stronger than before. A power seemed to bloom in his chest. It was if his parents were there, lending him their strength. It was a completely new, undeniable feeling. Was this, perhaps, the power Dumbledore had told him he possessed? He stood straighter, turning to face the Death Eaters who were still fighting back valiantly, though the rest of the Order had them backed into a tight little group. He raised his wand, ready to cry the first spell that came to his mind. "STUPEFY!" he roared.
It was like the voice of Thor, echoing throughout the dungeon. Every head jerked towards Harry; a white light seemed to emanate from him, making him a shining star in the gloom. For the most fleeting of seconds, everyone saw what looked like a long-haired woman and a bespectacled man, standing behind Harry with their hands upon his shoulders. The Death Eaters were suddenly seized by a complete paralysis; their faces remained cast in masks of terror.
Loose chunks of brick and mortar shook down from the ceiling. The ground trembled alarmingly; the chains on the walls rattled like castanets. The Death Eaters were screaming in shock and fear, and Harry's heart leapt. Was this some kind of divine, heavenly magic?
The light began to flicker, and Harry swayed on his feet; he collapsed to the ground. The power was gone. He had not been strong enough to hold it. His body trembled violently; he was suddenly gasping for breath. Whatever it had been, that power was... was it. The key behind defeating Voldemort. Suddenly he knew exactly what Dumbledore had meant about having powers few others possessed.
"I have to - I have to learn -" his eyes rolled back in his head; he fell back, unconscious.
The Death Eaters were regaining their movements, much to the others' surprise. Sirius looked quickly at his companions. They were breathing heavily; most were injured. There was no way they could resume the battle with the Death Eaters the way they had been fighting before. What was to be done?
"It's time!" Andromeda suddenly cried. "Sirius, now! You must - use the ring!"
"The ring -" he looked down at it. Though the gloom in the basement had fallen around them like a shroud after Harry had fainted, the ring's ruby still glowed a fiery red. It was time, indeed. Barely knowing what he was doing, Sirius raised his right hand above his head.
"Ring of fire - bestow your powers unto me! I am Sirius Black, and I order you under the contract of my family!"
Nearly everybody screamed; Sirius was suddenly engulfed in flames. But he didn't utter a sound or wince in pain; he turned to the Death Eaters with a horrible, furious expression on his face. All the Death Eaters seemed completely stunned and unable to move. It was a terrible thing to behold, this man engulfed in fire. Though the heat radiating from him was enormous, hellish, Sirius was completely unaffected. It was not at all like the holy powers Harry had demonstrated a few moments before. This was deadly, awesome, the full legacy of the Black bloodline come to life.
"Fire, surround the Death Eaters! Enclose them in a cage of flame!" Sirius bellowed.
It seemed to happen in slow motion, but at the same time it took ages to come about. The flames surrounding Sirius writhed and twisted, rising into the air and painting the dungeon walls with their awful, demonic heat. It was a ghastly reminder of the night of the awful fire, when Fred had died; Remus also remembered the dreadful nightmares he had endured. The fire surrounded the Death Eaters, enclosing them, rising from ceiling to floor. Not one of the prisoners could move; they cried out in fear and anguish as they were bathed in the outrageous heat. They seemed to be so frightened that they had completely forgotten about using magic; Remus wasn't entirely sure the spells would penetrate the cage of fire as it was.
Sirius swayed slightly. He kept his hand raised, focusing every bit of his strength on keeping the cage alive. He knew he couldn't keep it up forever. Like Harry's, his powers were limited. There was only so much his body could take before his energy would be completely drained.
"What are we going to do?" Hermione cried. "We need help! Sirius can't do this forever -"
"Harry!" Ron was on his knees beside his friend, shaking him. "Harry, get up!"
Sirius shook his head groggily. How had his father ever accomplished anything with this ring? It was draining him faster than anything he had ever experienced, including the awful powers of the dementors. There was no way... no way...
"Sirius!" Remus cried. "Stop now!"
"No, I can't!" Sirius shouted. "I can't! They'll get free -"
"Siri, it's killing you!" his lover cried in despair. He could suddenly see now how terrible it had been for Sirius to watch when he had slit his own wrists in the Department of Mysteries. The agony of watching his lover's life force drain away before his very eyes, and being unable to stop it, was overpowering. Remus fell weakly to his knees, clutching the collar of his robes. Sirius' legs were trembling; the flames were flickering more than ever. It wouldn't be long now before Sirius' powers were completely gone, and he would pass out just like Harry had. Humans weren't meant to wield the godlike powers Harry and Sirius had used tonight, and its toll would show on them.
"Stop him, Remus!" Bill shouted. "We've got to! He's dying!"
"Can't - hold -" Sirius' arm was shaking. His legs gave way and he fell to the floor, but it didn't stop him from sending all his force into the flames, keeping the cage working. He felt weak, so weak, a hundred times worse than anything experienced in Azkaban. The cries and shouts of the others seemed far, far away. He wanted to sleep. Just to... close his eyes and sleep for awhile.
The raven-haired wizard's eyes closed. The flames flickered and died, leaving behind scorch marks and an unbearable heat to remind all those present of their existence. Sirius fell back, and Remus caught him. "Siri - oh, no - Siri, don't die!"
"Fool," Bellatrix coughed. "What a fool. He killed himself, and for what?" She and her companions were recovering quickly. Remus swallowed hard, holding Sirius' head in his lap. It was all over. They were done for.
And then, a deafening bang echoed through the dungeon. A bright light flooded into the room, illuminating every corner and turn. A sweet song, phoenix song, floated on the air. Remus turned to see Dumbledore standing in the doorway, his wand raised.
"Dumbledore!" he whispered. It was too much; Remus couldn't take any more, and fainted.
Harry sat up, rubbing at his face. He blinked myopically around the room. He patted around until he located his glasses, and put them on. To his amazement, he was in a hospital bed. The paneled walls made him realise exactly where he was - in St. Mungo's.
"You're finally awake," someone said. He turned to the door to see Hermione, Dumbledore, Fleur, Penelope, and the nine Weasleys standing there. They were all smiles; Hermione was clutching a huge bouquet of flowers. "You've been out for days."
"Yeah..." Harry smiled back. "I guess I was. But.. how - what -?"
The others gathered around his bed; Mr. Weasley conjured enough chairs for everyone. Harry waited until they were seated, and looked questioningly at Dumbledore, who smiled.
"Once again, Harry, you have done something very brave... and very foolish," the old wizard said, his moustache twitching with good humour. "The assault on Malfoy Manor was a ridiculous, dangerous plan - George has already admitted to coming up with it - and yet... it was a benefit. You saved Bill, and you have touched upon those powers which set you apart from the great majority of wizard-kind. You have proved your might and worth, yet again." His blue eyes sparkled.
"But sir, how did you -" Harry was confused.
"Ah, I shall have to start at the beginning. You see, Voldemort had arranged for the hags on the French borders to revolt, which is why I sent Sirius and Remus to deal with it. However, when I received a report a few days back, I learned the hags were succeeding. Something had gone wrong. And I discovered your godfather and his lover had left France. I knew only a grievous reason would force them to abandon their assignments; and I immediately feared for your life. But when I heard of the deaths of Arthur's relatives... I saw what the Dark Lord was doing. He wanted to lure you into a trap. And he was doing it by harming those you love.
"I hastened to the Burrow only to find my protective wards and charms shattered, and everyone missing. But I had a good idea of where you'd gone; I knew quite well that Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy were harbouring Death Eaters in their home. And when I learned from Severus that Bill had been kidnapped and taken to the Malfoys'... I had to act. I arrived just in time. You were unconscious; the others were too exhausted to carry on another fight; and Sirius was just about dead. I bound the Death Eaters with magical ropes and an Anti-Disapparation Jinx; the Aurors arrived and brought them to a new, secret location where they can perhaps be held for quite a while - at least, until the Ministry has gained control of Azkaban once more."
"What happened to me? Those powers... what I did to the Death Eaters... it was incredible... what did I do?"
"Ah," Dumbledore said quietly, "I'm afraid even I do not know the answer to that, Harry. But I believe you harnessed the very powers of Heaven for a few moments there."
"I saw your parents," Hermione whispered. "At least, I think it was them. Standing behind you, with their hands on your shoulders as if they were trying to lend all their powers to you. A woman with long hair, and a man with glasses."
"I saw them too," Ron said, and the others nodded agreement. Harry was taken aback, but pleased and touched. It seemed as though his parents were still watching over him, and they would try to help him whenever they could. He closed his eyes and smiled a little. "Thanks, Mum, Dad."
But something Dumbledore had said had struck a chord of fear in his heart. He opened his eyes and looked up at the headmaster. "What do you mean, 'Sirius was just about dead'?"
"After you fell, Sirius used his father's ring to enclose the Death Eaters in a cage of fire. However, the ring drew power directly from Sirius' life energy, draining him faster than ordinary magic would. He held on as long as he could, but his body, unable to take it, shut down to conserve the last of his energy."
Harry felt a stab of panic. "Is he -?"
"I'm fine," came Sirius' hoarse voice from the doorway, and everyone turned to see him entering the room. He was dressed in a long, dove-grey grey dressing gown and a pair of slippers, his long hair loosely braided. He was leaning heavily on Remus, who helped him to cross the room to the group clustered around Harry's bed. Andromeda and Tonks followed, looking as serene and peaceful as the others. Harry was overwhelmed with relief; and when Sirius sank down on the edge of his bed, the teenager reached out and hugged him tightly.
"But you see, Harry," Dumbledore said softly. "You have powers others don't. They will require growth and practise before they can be used appropriately. When you master them... you will be the one to save the world from danger too great to imagine."
"You're right." Harry loosened his vice-like grip on his godfather, who kissed his forehead softly. He knew that Dumbledore was right. It was his duty to prevent Voldemort from doing what he pleased. It was a great responsibility, and along with it came fear, worry, anger, and insecurity. But as Harry looked around at his friends, he knew anything was possible. As long as they were there to support and aid him, there was nothing to fear. Voldemort would be stopped. It was going to be a long and difficult time until then, and there were the scars left behind from all this past terror to deal with. But it didn't matter. Pain and fear were parts of life. Fortunately, love and hope were parts of life, too. Harry was going to put his trust in himself and his friends. It was sure to turn out all right in the end.
"Ten minutes until departure! All aboard!"
The conductor's voice rang out across the platform. Harry and his friends were gathered near the end of the train, chatting; but they stopped when the conductor shouted.
A week after being released from St. Mungo's, it was time for the children to return to Hogwarts. Harry had never felt better all summer; his stay at the hospital had refreshed his spirits as well as his body. He smiled up at his godfather and Remus, who were dressed in their Muggle best. "Guess it's time to go."
Sirius caught his godson in a one-armed hug, and kissed the boy's forehead. "Be careful, all right?" he said, a trifle gruffly. "There's still plenty of opportunity to get in trouble, even without the Death Eaters lurking around."
"Hey, having Voldemort after me is practically a requirement for every school year," Harry joked, but then grew serious. "I promise, though. I'll be careful."
Remus hugged him. "We'll keep in touch," he said softly. "Remember, someone might still be watching the mail. Mind what you write."
"I will." Harry wanted to tell them how much he loved them; he wanted to tell them how deeply he appreciated and admired them. How grateful he was that they were prepared to stand beside him, no matter what. Having their support meant a lot to him - these men whom his parents had loved so much. But the warning whistle blew, and he just smiled at them. "I love you," he said, quietly.
The smiles on their faces were answer enough. Harry turned and took Ginny's hand, and they boarded the train. Hermione and Ron followed, also holding hands. The past week had been rocky between them; Hermione was understandably furious after Ron had abandoned her. She knew he had been trying to do the right thing, and realised how selfish she had been. Ron wasn't the kind of person to ignore the people he loved. He couldn't have possibly remained sitting at home when Bill was in peril. He would go to the rescue of anyone that needed it - even if it meant putting himself in danger.
Ron had apologised to her, and that was what had really gotten to her. Normally, when she and Ron argued, they kept it up until circumstances forced them to stop fighting (or until Harry got furious with the way they carried on). Never before had he ever said, "I'm sorry". His words had touched her in a way she had never realised Ron could accomplish. Just that simple phrase... and she had realised exactly how much he loved her. Enough to admit when he was wrong. Enough to apologise for it. She loved him even more than ever before. And though they probably had enough arguments coming to last a couple of lifetimes, Hermione was actually looking forward to the next row. If only it was just to hear Ron say "I'm sorry" like that again...
The four children seated themselves in a compartment and opened the windows, hanging out to shout goodbyes over the noise of the train. Mrs. Weasley blew her nose into a large handkerchief and sobbed as she waved; George raised his hand in farewell. Though his face registered seriousness and sadness, he suddenly felt happy. Last night, he had had a talk with Hermione. For a long time they had sat out on the Weasleys' back porch, talking softly about Ron, Fred, and themselves. Hermione had helped him see something important... he had to move on. Loving Hermione had not been real; it was only an aftermath of the pain and grief of losing Fred. Fred's death was still fresh in his heart, but it was time to get over it. His love for his doomed twin had to be laid to rest. It was time for George to move on.
The others waved as well, watching the Hogwarts Express as it pulled out of the station. Harry couldn't be sure, but he thought he caught a glimpse of tears running down his godfather's face before the train rounded the corner. He sniffed a little, and Ginny squeezed his hand. "Harry, you okay?"
"Sure." He smiled at her, and at Hermione and Ron. "C'mon, let's go find seats."
The End -
June 30, 2003 - April 1, 2005-
A/N: The last chapter... sniff. Though it took nearly two years to finish, "Back From Beyond the Veil" is one of my favourite stories and, if I may say, one of my finest works. It holds second place in the Most Chapters category, being beaten only by "Snippets From the Potterverse". Though I grumbled and groused and stalled until the end, I still really liked doing this story. Sure, there were hard and aggravating parts, but all long, involved stories face that problem. What matters to me is that I had the support and encouragement of friends, family, and fans. So, I thank you all. All your positive feedback and lovely reviews are what kept me going. Thanks so much for reading and supporting, and I hope you'll stick around for my other stories.
And I know everything here will be ruined once 'Half-Blood Prince' comes out in July, but until then... bliss.)