Author's Note: This is the sequel to Promises Unbroken. If you have not all ready read PU, I highly suggest doing so, else this story will probably make no sense whatsoever. Be advised that this is an Alternate Universe tale as well. That said, enjoy the story—and let the darkness come.
Disclaimer: The characters and settings of Harry Potter belong to the wonderful and talented J.K. Rowling, whom I thank very much for the loan of her playground. The plot, however, and anything you do not recognize, belongs to me. I am not making any profit from the writing and display of this story, except for gratification of my ego and quenching my thirst to write.
The Sequel to Promises Unbroken
The last line of defense.
Chapter One: The Cost
"No!" Lily screamed, instinctively rushing forward. Dumbledore couldn't be dead. The symbol and icon of the war against Voldemort could not have fallen. Even the Killing Curse could not slay Albus Dumbledore. It wasn't possible. He couldn't be gone. If she could only reach his side, everything would be all right—
"No, Lily!" Strong arms suddenly grabbed her from behind and dragged her back. Death Eaters were surging forward, and a smiling Voldemort strode towards them as well, his red eyes burning with power and satisfaction. Despite this, Lily fought desperately to reach her old mentor's side, but Sirius Black picked her up off the ground and bodily hauled her through the opening. "The doors, Hestia!"
Jones cast the spell immediately and the marble wall sealed itself with a final crash. The opening closed off none too soon; the passageway shook and rocked as spells impacted against the barrier, and Sirius kept dragging her back. The Aurors, too, were running, and Lily distantly noticed that there were only two of them where once there had been five. Sirius must have come alone, but she couldn't care at the moment. Desperately, Lily tried to pull away once more.
"We have to go back," she pleaded. "We can't leave him!"
"He's dead, Lily," Sirius said quietly. "There's nothing more we can do—"
"No!—We've got to—to—"
"Come on Lily! We've got to get out of here before the whole place comes apart." Sirius had stopped, and looked her in the eye. His face was every bit as pale as Lily imagined herself to be, but his voice was still hard. "I'll carry you if I have to, but it'll be a lot faster if you run."
Albus… Hot tears rose for her friend, but Lily blinked them back. Reality intervened. There wasn't time, and Sirius was right. She let out a shuddering breath as the ceiling above them began to shake. "Let's go."
Few would ever understand how much those words cost her.
Chairs flew as both Professor Snape and Professor Fletcher dove to the headmaster's side, nearly upending the head table in the process. Lupin lay on his back on the floor, twitching slightly and shuddering inexplicably. Surprised students in the hall were screaming and carrying on, looking around wildly for threats—but there were none, and even if there had been, Harry would never have noticed. He was too busy rushing to the side of the man whom he had grown up knowing as an uncle. Madam Pomfrey, too, was hurrying in the headmaster's direction; Snape and Fletcher were now struggling to hold him down as Remus' body jumped into a convulsion.
Harry reached the dais and jumped up onto it, only to have Hagrid, recently returned from another mission for Dumbledore, grab his arm. Frantically, Harry tried to pull away, but the half-giant was too strong and held him back easily.
"Let me go!"
The crowd of professors around the headmaster had doubled in size, and Hagrid glanced their way before replying. "I can' let yeh do that, Harry. Yeh have the stay back, now. We don' know what's goin' on—"
"I don't care!" Harry interrupted him urgently. "I need to—" Hagrid's other hand clamped down on his shoulder, cutting off all chance of escape.
"Professor Lupin wouldn' want yeh getting hurt," the gamekeeper replied firmly. "Yeh can stay here an' watch, but yer goin' no closer."
Harry let out an angry sigh by decided not to object. Arguing with Hagrid was like trying to ride a centaur. It simply didn't work.
Anxiously, he watched Snape, Fletcher, and Pomfrey lean over Remus, trying all manner of spells to wake him. The headmaster was still, now, but whether that was caused by a well-placed Full Body Bind or something else, Harry couldn't tell. However, Remus looked paler than usual under the bright lights in the Great Hall, and Harry thought he saw something flickering underneath the headmaster's closed eyelids. The nurse and the two professors were speaking too quietly for him to overhear, but the concerned looks on all three faces were impossible to miss at such a short distance.
Meanwhile, Professor Flitwick was herding the other students out of the hall. Many of them hesitated, looking worriedly in Remus' direction on the way out, but the Slytherins murmured excitedly as they passed, and Harry caught sight of Draco Malfoy grinning. Not too far away, Hermione caught his eye and mouthed a question: Is he all right? But Harry could only shrug. Even Hagrid seemed uneasy.
After several minutes, Harry was the only student left in the Great Hall. The rest, no matter how reluctant, were heading back to their respective dormitories and away from the action. He was the only one there to see what happened—except for the fact that nothing was happening. Remus still lay absolutely motionless on the floor, and Harry would have feared that he was dead if not for the slight rise and fall of his chest. Someone, he noticed, had summoned a pillow to cushion his head, upon which Harry spotted some leftover blood from where it had struck the hard floor. But the wound had been expertly healed, so that could not be the reason why Remus remained unconscious.
Before Harry could begin to guess at other reasons, though, the headmaster's body gave a giant convulsion and Remus jerked awake. He flailed around blindly for a moment until Snape and Fletcher caught his thrashing arms and forced him back down. The other professors only watched in shocked silence as Remus struggled against them unthinkingly. His breathing was coming in short and rapid gasps, and his chest was suddenly heaving with the effort.
"Easy, Remus," Fletcher started quietly. "There's no need to—"
"Don't move," Snape cut him off tersely. "You'll only hurt yourself more."
Remus shook his head. "Sit up," he wheezed. "I need to sit up."
Harry had never seen Remus Lupin lose control, nor ever seem so lost or confused. His blue eyes were wide and darting unseeingly around the Great Hall, and his head was sweeping back and forth, searching for bearings that he could not find. Cautiously, Snape and Fletcher helped him to sit up, but both professors looked extremely unhappy about the situation. Shaking, Remus immediately pressed both palms to his forehead as if he was afraid that his head was going to explode.
"Where am I?" he whispered into the silence. Harry watched his eyes close again.
"At Hogwarts," Fletcher replied gently. "You're still at Hogwarts, Headmaster."
Fletcher frowned. "No, you're at—"
"What about the Ministry?" Snape cut him off again.
"It's gone." Remus' eyes flew open. "Dear God, it's gone." He staggered to his feet before anyone could stop him, and almost fell before Snape and Fletcher caught him.
"What do you mean it's gone?" Professor Sinistra demanded shrilly.
"Voldemort…" He stumbled a step away from the two professors, pressing his trembling hands against his temples once more. Several teachers gasped and all went pale; at his back, Harry felt Hagrid tense. Remus, however, saw none of that as he stood quivering and staring at the floor. Suddenly, though, his head snapped up, and a look of horror crossed his face. "No," he whispered. "Dumbledore…"
A sharp cry split the air. It was a beautiful song, and sad, yet somehow strong and heartbreaking at the same time. Quickly, Harry followed Remus' gaze with his eyes and felt the others doing the same. At the far end of the Great Hall, a red and gold creature swooped down in their direction. Although Harry had only seen a phoenix once before, he recognized the bird immediately. It was Fawkes.
Graceful and ragged, the phoenix landed upon the table before the headmaster. His large eyes stared only at Remus, who, after a moment, reached out a shaky hand to touch Fawkes scorched feathers.
"He's gone, isn't he?" Remus whispered.
The way that Fawkes' head drooped and the silver tear that landed silently upon the head table were the only answer they could require.
"James? James? Goddamn it, Prongs, talk to me!"
"Do you think he'll live?" Some witch he didn't know asked the question, but he could hardly care. An angry swipe of his hand cleared the blood out of his eyes. Only then did Peter realize he was shaking.
He shook James again. This couldn't be happening. "C'mon mate, wake up," he pleaded. "Don't do this to me!"
"Do you think there's any chance?" the witch pestered him. They were deep in the underground tunnels beneath the Ministry, and dust was everywhere. The lift had landed hard, and he'd barely managed to drag his friend free of the rubble. She hadn't been much help. "There's a lot of blood here, you know."
He ignored her. "James?"
"You could just try to revive him, you know."
"D'you think I didn't already try that?" he demanded angrily. "If I thought that would work, I'd be doing it over and over again!"
"Well, there's no need to snap at m—"
"Unless you're a healer, shut up!" Peter snarled. "I've got better things to do than listen to your useless prattling!" Anxiously, he turned to his friend again. He'd tried every spell he knew to wake his friend up, and it worried him to no end that James still wasn't moving. "C'mon James…wake up. We've got to get out of here before Death Eaters show up—"
The witch screamed and he was on his feet quickly, wand in hand and searching for threats. Peter had never been talented in combat magic like James or Sirius, but his friend was in danger. "What is it?"
"What?" Immediately he dropped to his knees again, letting go of his wand and not caring where it went. But James was indeed stirring. "James? James, can you hear me?"
"That's it, James," he said desperately. "Wake up."
His friend's eyes flickered open. "I'd rather wake up to Lily's face," James mumbled. "You're ugly."
"Sorry. Lily's not here right now." And I don't know where she is.
"That's okay," James whispered. "Where are we?"
"Under the Ministry," he answered. "But we've got to go before the Death Eaters catch up to us." His heart was racing. They'd been here too long. "D'you think you can move yet?"
"No." James' voice was very quiet.
"What?" He'd been looking around for avenues of escape, but his head whipped around to face his friend again.
"Small problem, Peter. I can't feel my legs."
Peter bit off a few words his overbearing mother would have never forgiven him for saying. Being around Sirius had never been good for his language… He swallowed hard. He can't feel his legs. All of a sudden, Peter felt cold inside. This was everything but good.
"Are you sure?" was all he managed to ask.
"Quite sure, actually," James replied, and his voice was tight with pain. "Trust me, Wormtail. I might be an idiot, but even I wouldn't make this up."
Peter swallowed. "I had to hope."
"Yeah. Me, too." James' eyes flickered around the sub terrain tunnel they were in and caught sight of the witch who was still staring at them both. With a great effort, he pushed himself up on his elbows and turned his head to look down the dark passageway to Peter's right. "I think you two ought to—"
"If you even finish that thought, Prongs, I will curse you right now," Peter cut him off angrily. He knew exactly what his friend was going to say. "I am not leaving you. So don't even say it. Don't even think about it."
James scowled. "You hear that?" he demanded, and Peter listened. There were footsteps and shouting a floor above them, and they both knew what that had to mean.
"Yes," he responded, surprised at his own calm. His heart was racing, but for once in his life, he wasn't scared to death. Maybe that was because one of his friends was depending upon him, and Peter had failed them far too many times already. "But the chance of me leaving you here runs between zero and nothing, so don't even bother."
"Peter, you are undoubtedly one of the stupidest people I have ever met," James growled fondly, and Peter grinned despite himself. Evidently, the oddly calm feeling he had didn't extend to his shaking hands, but at least he could breathe.
"Sure I am." Quickly, he glanced around. The underground tunnels beneath the Ministry were still quiet, but how long that would last, Peter could not know. He had to get James out, and quickly—but how? Unless a miracle happened in the next thirty seconds or so, James couldn't feel his legs, and that left Peter in a hell of a pickle. He wasn't about to leave his friend; doing so was not even an option for a Marauder, even one who had gone astray for so many years. He took a deep breath. No matter the other foolish things I've done, I have never betrayed my friends, Peter thought desperately. And I'm not about to start now.
"What are we going to do?" the witch asked suddenly, tearing his attention away from the minor problem at hand.
"We?" Peter echoed dubiously. He certainly had no intention of dragging the nervous and frightened witch along in his attempt to rescue James. His own feeble attempts at heroism were apt enough to fail without her help.
"Yes, we," James interrupted before she could reply. "Where else is she going to go?"
Peter frowned. "Right…um, James, do you know the way out of here?"
"Of course I do," the Auror replied firmly. Then confusion crossed his dusty features. "If I knew were we were, anyway…"
"Ah. Not good."
"No kidding," James breathed, looking around again. "Well, there are only two ways to go, and one of them is the way out. Since we've got a fifty-fifty chance, I'd say go right."
Peter swallowed, and had to ask. "What's the wrong direction do?"
"Take us to a dead end." James smiled apologetically.
"Get them out of here!" Sirius shouted.
They were aboveground now, and right in the middle of Muggle London. The old red telephone box that had once been the visitor's entrance to the Ministry of Magic had been uprooted and relocated to at least a hundred feet away from where it had once stood; Sirius was standing right in front of it, and knew that he was nowhere near where the box was supposed to be. The nearby offices and buildings were in shambles, and the dumpster that had been there that morning was nowhere to be found. Rubble covered the street, and the alleyway seemed wider than it had once been—and then Sirius realized that was because at least one building had been completely destroyed by the underground blast.
And of course, curious Muggles were beginning to approach.
He heard sirens, and growled under his breath, turning his head in their direction. Flashing lights and motor vehicles—just what he needed. The Muggle version of law enforcement. Beautiful. Sirius gestured wildly at his skeleton force of Aurors as the ground shook again. "Get the Muggles out of here!"
"What are we supposed to do with them?" Hestia Jones demanded.
"Why should I care?"
Flashbulbs were going off in his face, and the Muggle reporters were closing in. Or perhaps some of them were magical folk, too, but Sirius didn't have the time to care—and devoutly hoped that any witches or wizards would have the sense to stay away when Voldemort was beneath their very feet. Hestia swung into action immediately, though, driving the curious back with angry shouts and a suggestive wave of her wand. They fled once she sent giant sparks flying in their general direction, thoroughly traumatized. Once, such a careless display of magic would have meant days of work for the Obliviators, but for all Sirius knew, all the Obliviators were buried underneath the Ministry.
Instead of concerning himself with the Muggles—and the undaunted policemen who were heading his way, sparks or no—Sirius spun around, trying to count how many people he actually had under his command in this disaster. When he'd arrived, witches and wizards had been fleeing the Ministry, and most of them had apparently Apparated away to safety. Some, however, lingered, and he could see Aurors appearing. When he and his colleagues had fled, there hadn't been time to set a meeting point; Sirius himself had Apparated to Diagon Alley because it had been the first place to enter his mind. The shortage of Aurors had proved fatal when Hestia and four others had barged in to help Dumbledore and the refugees, and there was a high chance of it doing so again. A quick count told Sirius that he was still shy of a dozen, and a frightened corner of his mind began to wonder how many had died in the blast.
But there wasn't time for that now.
"Stay back from the opening!" he screamed suddenly, waving Oscar Whitenack away from the underground passageway leading to the Ministry, which was still wide open from their exit only minutes before. Just as he realized what a mistake it was to leave the path open, though, fire sprouted from the breach and Oscar fell back, burning and smoking. Only Kingsley Shacklebolt's quick action pulled him away in time, and Hestia's Fire Extinguishing Charm saved his life.
Oscar was still down, though, leaving him with nine Aurors. Ten counting himself. Sirius burst into motion. "Seal that breach!"
Several Aurors approached, but more fire leapt out at them before anyone could act, warning Sirius that Voldemort and his followers had definitely made it past the first barrier. One of the Aurors—he thought it was Mucia Coleman, but he wasn't sure—stumbled backwards, clutching an arm that sprouted with flame. This is getting bad.
The ground rocked again, nearly spilling Sirius off his feet. To his right, he saw Lily, her tear-streaked face covered in dirt, stagger and barely catch herself. This time, however, the street didn't stop shaking, and even as the Aurors struggled to seal the opening, a section of pavement came flying upwards and almost crushed several of the escaped Ministry employees. Nearby Muggles were screaming, and the pub collapsed with a crash, sending wood fragments flying every which way and pelting the crowd with rubble. Sirius flinched and tripped over a flying bench in his effort to reach the still-open breach, then he saw Kingsley and the others fly backwards as if swept aside by a giant hand of power.
Lily, still in shock, only stared.
"Lily, get them out of here!" Sirius gestured desperately at the crowd of mixed witches, wizards, and Muggles. They were still staring, only staring, beautiful and easy targets sitting in plain sight—and things were about to get worse.
A final and giant great heave, and then the ground lifted underneath Sirius' feet and sent him sprawling. Despite the dire situation and the Death Eaters that he was certain they were about to encounter, the Auror had to smile. It wasn't a kind smile, but was definitely one that his colleagues would recognize. Things just got worse.
Flat on his back, Sirius could only watch as Voldemort and his followers strode out from the Ministry. Dark power swept around them, and the escaped witches and wizards were screaming in terror—Muggles joined in, not quite understanding why, but knowing to be afraid all the same. The approaching Muggle policemen started firing their weapons at the Death Eaters, recognizing the threat they posed, but Voldemort only laughed.
It was the same high-pitched laughter that haunted Sirius' nightmares, and it drove him to his feet. Lily, too, seemed spurred into action, and out of the corner of his eye, Sirius saw her shouting at the witches and wizards to flee.
He almost didn't notice the cloaked figures behind Voldemort until it was too late. One swept out from behind a Death Eater and clamped skeletal hands around an Auror's neck, drawing her close. Kingsley tried to cast a Patronus from not far away, but a Death Eater intervened—chaos surrounded him, and Sirius dodged several spells, and was struck by at least two others, although the adrenaline rush kept him from feeling their immediate effects, save for a little distant pain. He was hardly able to follow the action as Death Eaters and Dementors spilled from the opening, targeting Muggles and wizards alike. There were screams all around him, and another building fell. Sirius dodged a Killing Curse and cast one of his own—there was no time for niceties and there were too many enemies, far more than he'd have ever thought possible. He was shivering, he knew, too close to too many Dementors, but there wasn't time to care. He could only cast spells and dodge wildly, praying that Lily could get the others to safety and that his companions would be all right.
And Voldemort kept laughing.
Sirius caught sight of Rabastan Lestrange on his left, and barely managed to dive out of the way before a red jet of light could hit him. He risked a glance around, then, and quickly wished that he hadn't; the scene was pure insanity. A Dementor bent over a Muggle policeman, and several other Muggles lay dead nearby. A child was screaming to Sirius' right; foolishly, Hestia dragged the little girl aside, only to be struck by a curse for her troubles. But the Auror only staggered and did not fall, snarling back defiance at her attacker and sending the Death Eater flying.
Another building collapsed to its foundations. Spells filled the air, far too many of them striking home against his Aurors and not enough hitting the enemy—there were only four of them standing now: Sirius, Kingsley, Dawlish, and Hestia, who was wobbly and unsteady on her feet. Oscar was still down, and even as he watched, Alice Longbottom collapsed with a scream. The street kept shaking, even though Voldemort had already broken through the hastily constructed wards. Bodies covered the ground, now, both magical and Muggle. They weren't very different in death.
They were fighting a losing battle. Even though he hated to admit it to himself, Sirius knew it was true. There were simply too many Death Eaters, too many Dementors—and he was down to four Aurors plus Lily, who hadn't had the sense to get out while she could. Reaching out as she approached, Sirius grabbed her arm. "Are you crazy?" he demanded. "Leave!"
"Not without you!" Lily glared green daggers at him, and Sirius could only growl. He knew that look.
"You're not trained for this!"
In response, Lily fired off a curse that took an unsuspecting Death Eater down. She didn't even have to give him a triumphant look to get the point across; besides, Sirius hardly had the time to argue. Curses were flying too fast, and the Aurors were too busy—and deep down inside, he knew they were going to lose. It was only a question of how many of them were going to die before they did. He felt so cold.
Death Eaters in Muggle London. The thought wouldn't leave him alone; he couldn't bear to leave them alone. Dementors in Muggle London. It made him feel empty inside, especially knowing what he had to do. Screams still filled the alley, bouncing off the few still-standing buildings. Those who could flee had—but what would the rest do? The Muggles couldn't see the Dementors, and several had run right into their arms… Sirius shuddered, and then Kingsley went down. Three Aurors against a legion of Death Eaters, plus the Dark Lord. Sirius would gladly lay down his life to save the innocent, but he knew that wouldn't work. For a moment he toyed with the idea of challenging Voldemort outright, but he knew that the Dark Lord wasn't such a fool. Sirius would never get the chance to fight him alone.
"Plan Zulu!" Sirius shouted, spinning around and dragging Lily out of the way of a curse as he did so. There was nothing left to do but run. He hated to, but he had to save those he could—and sacrifice those he couldn't. He met Lily's eyes. "Get out of here, Lily!"
Without waiting for a response, he sprinted away, heading for Kingsley Shacklebolt's unconscious body. Never leave a friend behind. The Aurors did not abandon their own, not unless they had no choice—behind him, Sirius heard a crack, and devoutly hoped that his best friend's wife had fled while she still could. Far away, he saw Hestia grab Oscar, who was regaining consciousness, and caught a glimpse of Dawlish dragging Alice aside before Apparating away. This is it, he thought angrily. But it isn't over!
The screams had died down, now—the Dementors and Death Eaters had used up all the ready targets except for the Aurors. The remaining Muggles were either dead or soulless, and Voldemort was beginning to concentrate on his fleeing enemies. Suddenly, a chill raced down Sirius' spine, and red eyes met his own—
But he Apparated before Voldemort had a chance to act.
Peter had conjured a stretcher up for James because it was easier for him to control than a floating body, but he was still bouncing his friend off the walls every now and then. Above them, the shouts were growing louder, and Peter knew the Death Eaters were searching for someone—he could only pray it wasn't for them. Unfortunately, though, he knew that Voldemort wanted James dead. And me, Peter thought honestly. And we're both really great targets right now. His hands threatened to start shaking again, but Peter stilled them before James could see. He had to be strong right now—both for his friend and for the unknown witch who he'd somehow gotten roped into saving.
"You're doing fine, Peter," James suddenly said quietly. "We'll be out of here soon."
Peter stole a glance at his friend before squinting down the dark tunnel once more. "Am I that easy to read?"
"After this long? Yeah."
"Are we going the right way?" the witch asked quietly. At least she seemed to share his fears. James sounded entirely too calm.
"I think so," Peter replied, swallowing. How can James do this all the time? His hands were trying to shake again. "It shouldn't be much further."
They continued walking in silence, their footsteps echoing ominously against the cold rock. The tunnels were old and dusty; Peter doubted that anyone had been in them in centuries. When he'd asked James how he knew about them, his friend had only answered that Aurors were always certain to know everything about the Ministry. Unfortunately, that everything didn't extend to an infallible sense of direction, so they were still left guessing…and not knowing if this was the path that would lead to salvation or death. With my luck, Peter thought ruefully, this will be the dead end. But at least he wasn't alone. James' presence was reassuring, even though his friend was incapacitated at the moment. At least he wasn't alone.
"Peter?" James suddenly said quietly. His voice was tight—with pain, Peter thought incorrectly. "I think we'd better stop."
He frowned. "Why? It can't be much further."
"Can you hear that?"
"Hear what?" the witch asked nervously as Peter strained to listen over the sound of his own beating heart. He was certain that the thunder in his ears wasn't the sound of someone approaching, but then what was that rattling sound…?
"Peter, get down!"
An awful black shadow swept out of the darkness at him, and Peter barely had time to jump aside. The witch screamed and he heard her fumbling for her wand—James cursed and rolled the ground with a thump…but all Peter felt was cold, cold voices echoing in his head.
"There's no way out, Pettigrew… Unless you prefer death, of course. I'm sure that our Master would be happy to arrange for that, after all…" Dark.
Coldness. "Your father's dead, Peter. I'm sorry, there was nothing we could do…"
He shivered, pulled back. Laughter echoed in his ears; Voldemort's laughter. He remembered realizing that it was too late, that there was no way back—and that he'd doomed his friends instead of saving them. He'd tried to protect them and failed yet again—No! Peter's eyes flew open. Sudden clarity leapt into his mind at the thought of his friends, of James. There were two Dementors, and one was almost on top of his friend, who could not back away. James' wand was raised, but they were too close.
"Expecto Patronum!" Peter shouted.
But only silver mist drifted out of his wand's tip, and the closest Dementor turned to him, now, away from the witch and drawn to his defiance. Fear threatened to close Peter's mind off completely. He'd always been terrible at advanced magic. His Patronus hadn't ever been well defined at all, even when he wasn't under pressure… Out of all his friends, he had always been the worst at everything…
The thought was like a fire in his mind, and suddenly he saw James' face. He saw Sirius and Remus, as everything had once been, laughing and joking as if the world was theirs' for the taking. They were unbreakable. Friends. Brothers.
Without warning, a stag leapt out of his wand and charged the Dementors down. Almost before Peter could blink, the creatures had fled, and he was left to watch stupidly as his stag dissolved into midst. He could hardly believe it. That was the first real Patronus he'd ever created, the first one that had a shape and meaning to it… Peter blinked, and then smiled a little bit. He'd never imagined that his Patronus would have wound up to be Prongs. James!
He spun, searching for where his friend had fallen off the stretcher, which still floated placidly in the air. James wasn't far away, blinking and snarling angrily under his breath.
"Are you all right?" Peter asked, kneeling by his side.
"Yeah. Brilliant." James scowled. "Sorry I wasn't much help there, mate… I just…"
"I know. It happens," he replied more casually than he felt, carefully levitating James back on to the stretcher. Then he turned to face the witch as she pulled herself to her feet. "Are you okay?"
She nodded shakily. "Thank you."
"No problem." Peter smiled wanly, noticing with vague amusement that his hands were shaking again. "Let's just get out of here before something else sneaks up on us, okay?"
"Good. Idea." James responded in a tight voice that told Peter that he was furious with himself, but unfortunately, he didn't have time to deal with his friend's feelings. James simply hated feeling helpless, but he'd get over it, Peter knew. He always did.
Several silent moments passed as the trio traveled, each straining their ears to pick up the sounds of anything approaching, but as they trekked further into the tunnels, the silence merely grew deeper. After ten long minutes, Peter began to despair, wondering if they would ever escape—but just as he was screwing up the courage to voice his concerns, the proverbial light appeared at the end of the tunnel.
"Do you see that?" the witch asked breathlessly.
"Yeah." Peter grinned. "I see it."
Thunk. His distraction had led him to temporarily forget his friend, and the stretcher bumped into the rock. Still, James' tone was amused, "Do mind the walls, Peter."
"Sorry." By unspoken consent, they quickened their pace, heading quickly for the promise of freedom. Finally, they reached the narrow metal door; its small and dirty window had issued the light that they had spotted from further away. After a moment of fumbling, Peter managed to force the rusty hinges to operate, and they stepped out into the sunlight—and surprisingly, into Diagon Alley. Dumbstruck, it was all Peter could to do stare for a moment; he hadn't realized that they had come so far. The small doorway emerged right next to Gringotts.
He turned to James, who looked horribly pale in the light of day. His hands hadn't stopped shaking yet, which told Peter that things could still get worse. "We've got to get you to St. Mungo's."
"No," his friend replied with a patient frown. "We've got to get to Hogwarts. It's safe, and I know that's where Albus will go—"
"St. Mungo's," Peter cut him off firmly. "I know you're worried about everything, but for once, James, please don't play the hero. We need to get you healed first."
James scowled deeply, but Peter wasn't about to quit. Finally, the Auror growled out his reply. "Fine."