The Last Straw
The Last Straw

By: Airelle Vilka

Professor of Illusions

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Summary: Several years after graduation from Hogwarts, Airelle Vilka, now an Auror, faces her worst nightmare… without recognizing it. (SEQUEL to "Till Death Do Us Part." This is set some years later, right before Voldemort's attempted murder of Harry Potter)

~*~

It was cold outside tonight.

Airelle Vilka pulled her black cloak tighter about her and shivered. What the heck was she doing here, standing behind a tree in an ancient forest of Kent, wand in freezing hand? Well, the Ministry of Magic could surely come up with some very eloquent answers to that. Such as the fact that Airelle had been working for the Ministry as an Auror, a fighter of Dark Magic, for a few years now, and that she and her team were ambushing a group of Death Eaters who was scheduled to meet here.

She leaned against the trunk of the tree.

"Ms. Vilka?" The voice belonged to Omar Fauks, one of her fellow Aurors and under her command for the night. She had been chosen to head the party, even if she was only in her early twenties, and looked rather frail and thin to be the leader. Perhaps it had been to draw attention away from her in a fight. Or perhaps it was that she'd been fighting Voldemort's forces ever since her graduation from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, from which she had gone with honors and a personal recommendation from Headmaster Albus Dumbledore.

"Yes?" she murmured, hardly aware of the presence of fifteen people around her, waiting for an order. Her order. She was not used to command. She'd always been independent. That had proven especially true years ago, on Graduation Night---

"It is nearly one in the morning. The team's Location Spells are not picking up any activity within miles, or even Apparation."

"Don't worry. Get the others ready. They'll be here," she said, looking out towards the clearing on the borders of which they were going to hide in strategic locations. Airelle felt rather bad for not focusing on her work as always, but today she had not had her usual three doses of Magic Caffeine (or Caffi) Drops. And when she did not, Airelle always wound up thinking… remembering…

She shook her head, cursing herself for not being able to forget. But how could she, when at every mention of Hogwarts, she winced as a new wave of pain pulled her under. Years ago, her best friend, Severus Snape, had told her, on Graduation Night, that he had joined the Death Eaters. He'd asked her to come with him, and she had refused. Every day, she blamed herself for what had occurred. Worst of all, there was no one to confide in. She had not told any living soul about Snape's decision. It was stupid, she knew, and selfish… but she could not bring herself to tell. Snape had let her live that day… perhaps she was returning the favour. Or maybe, just maybe, somewhere in a deep space in her heart that still remembered the time they spent together in their little dungeon room, there lay a wild hope that one day he'd come back.

Airelle shook her head. You are being as big of an idiot as Snape was, she scolded herself for the thousandth time. Why could she just not accept that Snape had made his choice a long time ago?

You're an adult now, her logic told her. The child in you had died the moment your best friend joined Voldemort. The moment you wished you did not let him go. And the moment you did.

It sounded good. So why couldn't she forget?

Airelle got so angry with herself that she leaned her head back in frustration, forgetting there was a tree there, and consequently yelping in pain as she hit it against the rough bark.

"Are you all right?" asked a small, timid voice.

"Damn. Why couldn't these blasted trees be softer?" Airelle groaned. She had found herself swearing more often now than she'd used to. In fact, she had never sworn until Graduation—

She almost whacked herself against the tree on purpose for remembering THAT again. "Yes, yes… accursed Caffi Drops … yes, I am perfectly fine, Mr. Kafkad."

Iuda Kafkad stared up (being that he was about a foot shorter than Airelle's 5'7") at her through thin and worn glasses. He was a Ministry informant, a tiny man with a mousy moustache and squinting eyes, and it was he who'd found out about the meeting of Death Eaters they were going to so rudely …interrupt.

"Oh… all right… just checking," he squeaked, and hurried off to the rest of the squad. Airelle had four people within close range of her; the other eleven were now hidden around the rest of the clearing; she also knew that at least three of them had used broomsticks to fly up and hide high among the treetops. For a second, Airelle wondered why they'd brought the timorous Kafkad along anyway. But the Ministry had insisted, seeing that Kafkad knew the terrain better than any of Airelle's companions. In any case, Airelle did not care, as long as he stayed out of sight and did not accidentally get blasted by one of the spells that would surely be flying back and forth any time now in the clearing. The Death Eaters would not hesitate to use the nastiest curses in the book, and it would not be helpful to the Ministry's image if one of their ablest (so termed, since his father, Kafkad, Sr., was a generous monetary donor to the Ministry) people were sent home with rearranged limbs.

Airelle sighed and mentally ran over the list of Protection Spells she had put on her entire squad. Young as she was, Airelle, due to often being in the midst of dangerous and frequently foolish situations, knew what sorts of hexes Dark Wizards would usually use in battle. That knowledge was priceless when it came to being an Auror. Knowledge she had gained by risking her life countless times.

And what was the point? There always seemed to be more Death Eaters and not enough Aurors. But maybe that was only because the former looked scarier and thus it seemed like there was a greater number of them. Airelle knew, in her heart, that no matter what occurred, she'd never give up. That was her incentive, to stop it. She'd take on a thousand of Lord Voldemort's followers, if it meant that a single person was not going to lose everything good in the world by becoming one of them… like… like…

Airelle growled, scaring one of her team members in the process, and kicked her mind for bringing up Snape again. She was going to need a greater dose of Caffi Drops when she got home…

"MS. VILKA!" hissed Omar Fauks from her right, startling her so much she nearly dropped her wand. "WE'RE GETTING COMPANY!"

Whatever had been in Airelle's head at the time receded, and pure adrenaline took over. There only remained room for one instinct: Fight.

"Where? How many?"

"Elsa just picked up Apparation trails a mile from here. Looks like about seven of them. They're about to Apparate again in the clearing, as proceeded."

"Seven," Airelle repeated, as Omar sent warning signals to the rest of the team. "We should handle them. But watch yourselves. Did you all check your wands one last time?"

"Five minutes ago."

"Excellent. Be careful. And attack as soon as you believe they are Death Eaters." The tell-tale black hoods would be easy to recognize on any Death Eater in the company of others. They were cowards, afraid to show their face even to their own, for fear of being captured or betrayed. "Kafkad, stay down."

No reply. Airelle ignored it. "All right, people. They should be getting here…right … about… now."

And sure enough, there was a giant puff of maroon smoke in the middle of the clearing the team surrounded. Airelle licked her dry lips, and held her wand in attack position.

"Steady…" she whispered to Omar, who was right next to her, and held his breath.

And then, the cloud evaporated and left… nothing.

Airelle stared out into the clearing. Dead silence. Did the Death Eaters have problems with the spell? Highly unlikely. Then what---

"Airelle!" Elsa Gibbon's terrified voice shouted, abandoning all reserve. Her wand was shooting bright crimson sparks. "Around us--- I'm picking up----"

And as if on cue, a jet of orange light blasted through the trees behind them, hitting Elsa's figure squarely in the chest and sending her down to the ground, writhing in pain.

"Elsa!" shrieked another member of the team not far away, but Omar, with lightning speed, pushed him to the ground just as he was about to get up. A moment later, a bolt of green light singed the tree where his head would have been had he risen.

Airelle's eyes widened. She pointed her wand at Elsa, who had obviously been hit with a Needle Curse. Team first.

"Defacio!" she bellowed, and a white, healing light erupted from her wand and encircled Elsa. It was a Wiping Out Spell that undid the damage done by the Death Eater.

A second had passed, and then several voices shouted "Avada Kedavra!" Suddenly, there were streams of bright green light – carriers of the Killing Curse – shooting out of the trees and hitting everything in their path.

Airelle yelled, "Duck!" It took her only a second to realize that the rest of her team on the other side of the clearing was being attacked in a similar way. If they retreated into the clearing, they'd be sitting ducks. It had been a trap. But who---

And then, it hit her.

"KAFKAD!!! YOU BASTARD!!!" she shrieked, rising and trying to make out the small figure of the informant traitor. And sure enough, a tall figure draped in a dark cloak stepped from the shadows --- and behind it crouched the unmistakable form of Iuda Kafkad.

"Come here and face me, coward!" Airelle yelled, shooting a blast of red light – a Knock-Out Curse – at the two shadowy forms. With lightning, inhuman speed, the tall one moved aside, and the jet of light went right into Kafkad. He uttered a piercing scream and fell.

Airelle gaped at the tall figure, forgetting all about Kafkad. She stared at it from the shadows that hid her face halfway, unmoving, until it raised its wand. She ducked and the curse shot past her. Crouching behind a tree, Airelle began to think fast. If they stayed here, it was doom for her and her team. Perhaps they should retreat by Apparation? But no. She could not leave her fallen team members behind. Not when they could still be revived. Retreat into the clearing? What was she going to do?

That question was solved for her when one of her team came flying into the middle of the clearing on his broomstick. Perhaps they could generate a shield strong enough to hold them off---

"Retreat into clearing!" Airelle yelled over shouts of hexes and curses, and ran over to the man with the broomstick. The rest of the team, including Elsa, who was still suffering, staggered over to the middle.

"Elsa!" Airelle yelled, crouching as yet another blast of light shot at her. "Apparate and get help!"

"But…………but……." Both she and Airelle knew Elsa might not be strong enough for an Apparation at the moment. But there was no choice. The rest of her team needed to stay and fight.

"NOW!!!!"

Elsa yelled out the spell and disappeared. As soon as she'd done it, Airelle pointed her wand up and screamed, "Dearma!" Omar and the others joined in, and a bright yellow shield began to circle them, moving from the ground up and looking like a miniature sun. It would probably not hold back the Avada Kedavras, but maybe a group of powerful Aurors together could hold back one or two of them. Everything depended on Elsa now. Airelle wanted to tell other members of her team to Apparate as well, but a look from Omar stopped her. They were going to finish this together.

More curses shot at them, bouncing off the shield. Airelle flinched, wand still up, waiting for the first Avada Kedavra to hit.

And then… there was silence.

"What the heck?" whispered Omar, while the rest of the team stared wildly around the clearing. The smoke from the curses was still twisting up from where the lights hit. It was deathly quiet.

"The calm before the storm," Airelle replied, looking about. There were eight people with her in the shield; that meant there were six of her fellow Aurors out there, fallen victim to a curse. She just prayed they would not groan and let the Death Eaters know of their presence. Perhaps the bushes and the darkness would hide them long enough for help to arrive---

"So… this is the infamous Auror squad, eh?" came a voice out of the trees. "Or, rather, what's left of it."

On instinct, the rest of Airelle's team surrounded her in a circle. She wanted to yell at them for risking their necks like that for her, but it was standard battle procedure. Protect the leader.

Airelle winced. Some leader she was.

"Come out here, and we'll see what'll be left of YOU," she growled to the shadows, even though she, being shorter than most of her 6-foot team members, could not see what was going on.

The figure, the same tall one Airelle had seen earlier, stepped out, directly in front of them. "Ah, but remember, your shield works both ways. And you'd never use the Killing Curse on a fellow wizard, would you? We have to do it first in open battle, hmm?"

The Death Eater was right. According to Ministry rules, it was illegal for an Auror without a special license to use any of the three Unforgivable Curses unless it was attempted to be done to him or her first. And since the fight in the trees had not been an open battle in which one could see one's enemy, it did not count. It was probably the most stupid rule on the books (you could not retaliate if the first curse actually managed to hit you) and Airelle made a mental note that, were she ever to get out of this predicament alive, she'd fight to sack the rule permanently.

By now, she could hear more footsteps, perhaps ten pairs or so. Bad fortune – they were outnumbered. The other Death Eaters were slowly emerging from the dark, positioning themselves around the clearing. Blast it, where was Elsa?

"I think we can flout Ministry rules just specially for you," Airelle spat in answer to the question that seemed to have been asked such a long time ago.

The Death Eater laughed, a soft and rolling sound that reminded her of something come from a past long gone. "Do you really think that you shall triumph over us?" he (for it was a he, judging my the intonation) asked, stepping forward in a glide. "You, the best of the Ministry, half broken, seriously believe you'll win against the followers of Lord Voldemort?"

"We'll sure as hell try," answered Airelle from behind her shield of bodies that she both appreciated and resented.

Another laugh. "Very well, then. Boys, bring down this pathetic shield of theirs, but leave their… leader… to me."

The Death Eaters nodded in unison, and raised their wands.

Airelle whispered to the people around her, "Once they speak, crouch and retaliate with stuns… but kill if necessary." She knew full well the extent of what would happen if any one of her team members actually used an Avada Kedavra first. None of them, not even Airelle, had a license to kill Death Eaters on sight. Airelle put that in the back of her mind. She would answer to the Ministry for her team's actions, and take whatever punishment was necessary. Surely, it would not be worse than a Killing Curse from the Death Eaters.

"Avada Kedavra!" the Death Eaters yelled simultaneously, all except their leader, who stood back. Airelle and her team dropped as the green lights cut through the shield from all sides and exploded in a giant shower of sparks when they crashed right above Airelle's head in the middle of the circle.

"Stupefy!" Airelle shrieked, and one of the Death Eaters froze and fell, stiff as a board. The other members of her team followed suit, and soon, blinding shafts of light were exploding in the chaos all over the clearing as the Death Eaters fell out of position. Airelle emerged from her protective circle, despite Omar's attempts to stop her, with a murderous look upon her face. There was only one thing she needed to do: get their leader.

She hit a Death Eater from the left with a very un-appropriate but useful Tickling Charm, pushing her way through like a juggernaut, with lights of all colors and from all wands streaking around her. The other Death Eaters were all apparently too involved in their own scenes of mayhem, or actually following their leader's instructions to 'leave' her to him.

She raised her wand before the Death Eater even came into her view, and fired a Stunning Curse. But as soon as she had said the words, the Death Eater cried, "Expelliarmus!"

The spell hit Airelle so hard she was blasted backwards into the ground and slid a good deal, momentarily deafened by the bang and blinded by the impact. By the time the white lights had cleared out of her vision, she realized that, miraculously, her wand was still in her hand, and that the tall Death Eater was right above her. She froze, speechless and motionless. Far away, she heard a yell of "Airelle!" unmistakably belonging to Omar. The Death Eater, not turning his head, pointed his wand in Omar's direction and muttered, "Stupefy."

Omar's voice was silenced. And the yells and shouts around her did not matter to Airelle anymore. It was just she… and the tall, thin figure above her, wand pointed right at her.

She opened her mouth, but no words came out. She was frozen, literally frozen with shock. All the counter-curses she'd ever known seemed to have vanished from her head.

They stared at each other for the first time, out in the open and up close. Airelle's view was only that of a dark hood, faceless, nameless.

So this is how it ends? she thought. Killed by an unknown enemy?

She could not bring her eyes away from him. Not his wand. Him. Surely, he wouldn't be so cruel as to never reveal his face to the person he was about to kill? Surely?

The Death Eater just kept looking at her. Her with her headband she'd worn since her school days across her forehead, her white hair washed in dirt and messy from the fight, her with her disheveled black robes, pale face, and black eyes frozen like crystals in terror.

What is he waiting for? Airelle thought. Perhaps a plea for mercy? Like hell I'll give it to him…

The Death Eater just kept looking at her, as if he could look right through her into the ground. And he stared. And stared.

And then… he lowered his wand.

Airelle's eyes widened to the point of resembling large coins. But she did not have time to think about the figure's intentions. Because just then, her senses came back to her, and her cold fingers gripped and tightened around the wand she'd been holding all along. Without thinking, Airelle Vilka shouted the first words that came into her head.

Thankfully, they proved to be those of a Repellent Charm and the Death Eater flew backwards much like Airelle had, black cloak trailing behind him. He sat up, hood still on, as Airelle jumped to her feet.

And it was then she realized that she was hearing loud puffs of people Apparating, and more shouting. Help from the Ministry had arrived; she heard Elsa's voice, among others familiar to her. The Death Eaters were retreating, Disapparating and disappearing into the woods.

Airelle turned her attention back to the Death Eater in front of her. He was already on his feet. And then, he vanished into a Disorientation Cloud. Airelle coughed, but made no attempt to stop him.

Most of the Death Eaters were gone by now; the ones remaining were being bound by Chain Spells by the Aurors. Omar, who had apparently been revived from the stupefying spell, ran over to her and placed a heavy hand on her shoulder. "Ms. Vilka, are you all right?"

"How is the rest of the team?" she asked, unmoving from her place and still staring at the spot where the Death Eater had stood moments ago.

"Badly hurt, but all alive, thank heavens," was the response. At that, Airelle sighed and let her legs give out from under her and dropped on her knees, shaking.

"The Ministry is going to have a field day with our friend Kafkad," Omar was saying when Airelle fell. "Geez--- are you all right?"

Airelle managed to shake her head in a 'no' gesture.

"Shh, you'll be fine now. You were bloody fantastic against those bastards," said Omar, lifting Airelle easily up in hands that were twice the size of hers. He paused. "But… I know you'll mind me asking, but I cannot help it… what the heck happened back there?"

"I wish I knew," Airelle croaked --- before duly and deservingly fainting.

~*~

One month later…

A black cloak cascaded down and swept the damp, moonlit ground. The tall, thin Death Eater pulled his hood closer to his face and sighed. It was over.

"I understand you have something you wish to tell me?" asked the white-bearded elder, flanked by two Auror guards (wands ready), in front of him.

"Yes," said the Death Eater, lowering his hood. "I want to help you. The fight between myself and…" He trailed off. "Well, let's just say I woke up and realized that it was the last straw for me."

Albus Dumbledore smiled at the tall, thin, black-robed man in front of him.

"Welcome back, Severus Snape."

FINIS