Bellatrix's eyes widened as she looked down at her still-rotund belly, the dagger hilt emerging from it like a crucifix. She touched a long-fingered hand to it before looking up at Harry, who stared at her now through a black haze. Her eyes glazed over and she fell, just as his legs buckled and the blackness became everything.
For a moment, there was silence in the Chamber. Then, out of nowhere, appeared three young Hogwarts students, who had been standing in the doorway throughout the entire exchange.
Beth took one final look at the dead Rodolphus Lestrange, and then at poor Mr. Jenson and the dark-haired woman fallen on top of him, and felt her stomach turn. She fell to her knees and threw up everything she had eaten that day. William laid his cold hand on her neck while Quin folded his cloak back into his bag. "Do… do you think that snake will go for us?" he asked, shakily, eyeing the creature as it slithered over the stone.
"I think it's got enough to be going on with," said William, handing Beth a tissue from his pocket. She wiped her mouth, tears flowing freely down her face. "You okay?" William asked, softly. She looked at him. He was ever paler than usual, if that was at all possible. They had just seen three people die.
"Yes," she replied, in an attempt to reassure him.
A cry from the bundle on the workbench made them all jump. "Oh crap," said Quin, who, like all of them, had forgotten about the child.
"Let me," said Beth, standing on shaking legs. She avoided looking at Mr. Jenson's body as she crossed the room, past the table which was still covered in blood and other things she really didn't want to know about, and pushed aside the cloak wrapping.
The baby gazed up at her, shocked into silence at her sudden appearance. His eyes, defying all laws of probability, were bright emerald green, set in a round, pale-skinned face topped by an already thick mop of dark hair. All in all it was quite an odd-looking baby, but nonetheless adorable, in theway all babies are to a thirteen-year-old girl.. "Oh," said Beth, reaching out to touched the wrinkled, blood-stained hand. "Poor little thing," she said, tears still lingering on her cheeks at the thought of poor Mr. Jenson. "He's an orphan already."
"We've got to get out of here," Quin said, urgently, sounding as if he would be the next one to lose his dinner if there wasn't some immediate action.
"We can't leave him!" Beth protested, turning to glare at her friend.
"Then get him and let's go," he said, glancing nervously between the bodies and the door. "It's enough of a blood bath in here as it is – I don't want to die in here, too."
"Hold on," said William, abruptly.
"Just hang on a minute, will you?" William grimaced as he stepped over Lestrange to reach the other two bodies.
"What are you doing?" Quin hissed. William didn't answer as he gingerly lifted Bellatrix's body to one side.
"She called him Harry," Beth wondered out loud, picking up the little bundle and turning to look at the boys. "D'you think – "
"He's alive," said William urgently.
William had his fingers pressed to the skin on Mr. Jenson's throat. "There's a pulse. He's alive!" He leant down to listen at the man's nose and mouth. "He's breathing."
"No way," said Quin, staring at the metal spike still sticking out of the man's torso and the blood beading slowly away from the wound, staining his clothes red.
"I need something to stop the bleeding," said William, looking around frantically.
Beth remained still, the baby staying quiet in her arms. "He's alive?" she whispered, disbelieving.
"He's indestructible," said Quin excitedly, taking off his jacket and giving it to William, kneeling beside the prone man. "Mr. Jenson? Mark? Er… Harry? Harry, can you hear me? Harry?"
"It's no good, he's unconscious?" said William, packing Quin's jacket around the wound.
"Should we take the spike out, d'you think?"
"God, no, that'd just make it worse."
"How do you know so much about this, anyway?"
"Lots of first aid."
The baby began to cry, loudly and in earnest this time. It had had enough surprises, and now just wanted to be fed. "Hush little one," Beth whispered to him, rocking him gently like she had her cousin Billy before he, his brother and father had been killed by Death Eaters.
"What's going – who are you? What are you doing here?"
The three children looked up. Beth saw in horror that the man in the doorway, standing not three metres from her, was in Death Eater garb, his mask pushed up and away from his pink, flabby face.
The Death Eater raised his wand and pointed it at Beth, who was the closest to him, and shouted something that Beth in her panic, barely heard. She saw a flash of green light, and felt the impact as a blurry shape knocked her and the baby to the ground. Instinctively she curled herself around the bawling infant, and felt a sharp pain in her elbow as she hit the stone floor. From far away she heard Quin shout "STUPIFY!" She vaguely remembered learning the stunning spell a few weeks ago…
"Beth! Beth, are you okay? Oh God, Will, you idiot…"
Quin was shaking her and she felt his hot tears on her face as he pulled her away.
"What? Where's – " She opened her eyes and stared in horror. William had fallen to the stone floor and lay, face-down and unmoving, beside the stunned Death Eater. "Is he – " she made a move forward, but Quin pulled her back. When she looked up at him there were tears staining his face.
"That was the killing curse," he said, a pained catch in his voice. He seemed suddenly much younger, a scared little boy who was in way over his head.
The body stirred. Quin gasped and tried to pull Beth even further back, but she broke away from him and ran to William, helping him to sit up. "Ow," he said, rubbing his head.
"But – you – the – " spluttered Quin.
"Is he okay?" William asked, motioning to the baby in Beth's arms.
"Yes," she replied, absently tucking in an edge of the folded cloak. "Are you?"
"Fine," he said, standing up. "Let's go. Quin, help me with him." He went to Harry, pushed the stained jacket aside and lifted one of the man's arms over his shoulder, looking momentarily surprised at how light he was. Quin shook his head in disbelief before ducking under the other arm.
"You really scared me, idiot," he growled, though Beth knew he wasn't really angry. "Why aren't you dead?"
"I'll explain later," he said, giving the metal spike embedded in their charge a worried glance. "For now, let's go."
The trainees had no superior officer, and a lot of the young MLE soldiers had been killed. There was now an argument over whether to go after the Death Eaters who had made good their escape, or to cut their losses and get off the island.
The hall was littered with bodies, some in Dark robes and masks, but most in MLE uniform. Beneath the arguing could be heard soft weeping, as mourning trainees knelt beside fallen friends.
Hermione was standing by the door, waving her wand carefully over a cut on Ron's forehead. Neither of them spoke – they weren't sure what they would say even if they had the motivation. Someone shouted, "I say we kill them all, the bastards!" and Ron frowned.
"Not much progress down here, I see."
Blinking, Hermione turned to see a now-familiar silvery shape in the doorway. "Malfoy?"
"Granger." The ghost took a step – well, he was standing six inches off the ground, but a step nonetheless – forward. "Weasley, you look a wreck."
"Likewise," Ron said darkly. He sounded choked. Hermione went to touch his arm, but he pushed her hand away. "At least I'm alive."
"Touché," Draco said, surprising them both. Other people were starting to notice his presence now, and the noise level dropped considerably as people turned to listen. "I bring a message, anyway. His highness requests that you follow me down to the dungeons, whereupon we shall release the prisoners and ride off into the sunrise on the billowing waves. Sound good?"
"Was that really Harry Potter?" someone shouted from the pitiful group of trainees that remained.
"No," said Ron, with no emotion in his voice.
Draco shrugged. "Whatever you like," he said. "We don't really have time to make a case." He turned to Hermione, apparently assuming that further conversation with Ron was a waste of time. "Makes sense, though, don't you think?" he said. "The Gryffindor thing to do as well, I guess. Come on, they're not going to rescue themselves. Harry reckons the escapees could be back with a vengeance. And by vengeance he means back-up, and by back-up he means Voldemort himself, understand?"
Gasps emitted from the trainees at the name, but Hermione ignored them. "Show us the way," she said.
"Hermione," Ron protested. "You're not going to trust him?"
"If it weren't for him we'd all be dead or captured right now, and you know it," she snapped back. "Now come do your job, will you?"
"That's right," said a voice from behind them. It was Beau, and he looked grief-stricken. "That's part of the reason why we came here – to free the prisoners. Ron – Jeanne's dead."
The colour drained from Ron's face. There was a silence as the trainees looked at each other. "Fine," he said eventually, through gritted teeth. Again he refused Hermione's hand. "Let's go."
As it turned out, they found someone to rescue a while before they even reached the dungeons. Halfway down a long corridor they heard a shout from ahead. "Truce! I call truce!"
Sixty wands were raised. Hermione stood forward. "Who are you and why should we accept any truce?"
A dark shape stepped out into the torchlight. "Granger?"
Draco floated forward a little. "Blaise?"
"Holy crap, Draco?"
"What are you doing here?"
"Getting in trouble. Wow. Um. You're very…"
"Have you been…?" Draco trailed off into nonsensical silence, before starting to laugh. "You're one of Snape's 'recruits', aren't you?"
"Thanks for just advertising that to all these people."
The figure stepped cautiously forward into the light. A few hands tightened around wands as they noticed the heavy material of a Death Eater's robe hanging off the shoulders of the dark-skinned, long-nosed young man.
"It's all right," said Draco. "He's a spy. Oh shut up," he said, when Blaise tried to object. "You won't work again after today, old friend."
Another figure stepped out from behind the corner to stand behind Blaise. If he was attempting to hide, it wasn't working. He was half Blaise's height again, dark skin and beard making him look fearsome in the meagre torchlight. "This is Hamza," said Blaise. "Recent convert."
"You're good," said Draco appreciatively to Blaise, floating up a metre or so to be on the eye-level of the huge man.
"Not that this isn't fascinating," said Beau suspiciously, "but don't we have somewhere to be?"
They began walking again, with Blaise and Hamza falling into step with the unappointed leaders. Hermione kept a sensible grip on her wand as Blaise filled Malfoy in on the situation.
"I've only been here a few days," he admitted. "Snape asked me to investigate it after that prisoner escaped. He told me you were dead, and I wanted… well, anyway. If getting into this place is hard, getting out is about ten times harder. I enlisted Hamza's help," he waved a hand towards the large guard. "And we were going to make a break for it, tonight. Then your lot showed up and we hid down here to figure out what to do."
"They're not my lot," Draco said defensively.
They turned the final corner and instantly came upon two guards standing in front of a large door, one of whom shouted "HEY!" and raised his wand. Before the other could join him, sixty-odd stunning spells rocketed through the air, and both men fell like stones.
"Think we killed them?" asked one of the trainees.
Wordlessly, Hamza stepped over his stunned comrades and unlocked the door with a large brass key from the ring at his belt. He seemed to have accepted his new loyalties with relative ease – perhaps too easily, but no one was going to argue when he was giving them a free pass.
When the door opened, a bout of coughing erupted amongst the trainees as the stench of blood and human filth wafted through the opening. Hermione's eyes watered and she bit her lip. Draco, unaffected, floated through the door and into the darkness of the cells. Blaise followed him, lighting his wand with a whisper. Hermione exchanged glances with Ron before hardening her resolve and joining them.
It took a while for her eyes to adjust, but as more and more trainees entered the dungeons and lit their wands, it became easier to see into the small, well-used cells lining either side of the central aisle. The first four or so were empty, but the third on the right held a middle-aged-looking man, naked to the waist, chained to the wall by his wrists. Casually, Blaise unlocked the door and then the chains with his wand. The man's eyes flickered open. "Who are you?" he asked.
"A friend," Blaise replied. He looked up at Hermione and the trainees, standing uncomfortably outside the cell door. "He's not been here long," he told them, helping the man to his feet.
"Thank you," said the man, rubbing at his wrists and blinking away tears. "Thank you."
"Not a problem," said Blaise. "Out you get, now – I'm sure one of these fine young people will take care of you. Where's…" he followed Hermione's gaze to where Draco had stopped outside one of the cells at the end. He left the trainees to helping the prisoners and jogged to catch up, noticing Hermione and Ron following behind him. "Feeling homesick?" he asked the ghost, jauntily.
Draco turned sharply to look at him. "How'd you know about…?"
"I do my job," he replied, shrugging.
Draco glanced back into his old cell, glad that ghosts couldn't feel ill. "Didn't take them long to replace me, did it?" he remarked, motioning to the sleeping man within. "Let him out, will you? Poor bastard."
Blaise obediently ushered forward some trainees, who, slightly green, helped the stricken man out of the cells and into the clean air.
"Not as many as I remember," Draco said, vaguely. "Must've been some recent deaths."
"Nice," said Ron, with a grim twitch of the mouth. It was the first thing he'd said in almost half an hour.
"Let's get out of here, Ron," said Hermione. "We've got to get these people back. There's no one in charge…"
"Yeah," he said, looking like he might want to be sick. "Let's –"
There was a shout from outside the dungeon door, and people suddenly started moving hastily away from the cells. "What now?" said Hermione, leading the others through the crowd to where a flustered-looking trainee had a small redheaded person by the arm.
"Quin?" exclaimed both Ron and Hermione at the same time. The boy, who had been struggling wildly against the trainee, looked up in a mixture of fear and relief. "Professor! You've got to come, we – "
"What are you doing here, Mr. Weasley?" Hermione snapped, almost on automatic. She wasn't quite prepared to deal with this situation after everything that had happened that night, but luckily her Professor's autopilot took over.
"There's no time for that," argued Quin, shaking free of his captor with exasperation. "We've got Mr. Jenson – I mean, Har– "
"We?" Hermione spluttered, "who's we?"
"Me and Beth and William," Quin said, a little sheepishly. "But its –"
Draco interrupted. "Where's Harry?" he asked sharply.
Quin pointed. Draco dove round the corner, disappearing in a flash of silver. "Lead the way, Mr. Weasley," said Hermione, darkly. Quin ran round the corner and up a flight of stairs to where two huddled figures knelt beside a third. Draco was having an argument with a mousy-haired boy who now looked thoroughly relieved to see the army of people approaching up the stairs.
"Found help," said Quin, non-abashed.
"Professor!" Beth squeaked. She held a bundle carefully in her arms. The group came up beside the children and stood staring at them, unsure of what to do. Hermione's mind was a blank. She looked down at the bloodied man she had come to know as Jenson, then at Beth and the bundle, which started to cry as they stood in silence, and then at Ron, whose face was a dark storm. "Is he…" she heard herself asking.
"He's alive," said William, quickly. "I thought I oughtn't to take the spike out."
"You were right," she said. "He needs a Healer, fast."
"The prisoners are going to straight to St. Mungo's," volunteered one of the trainees. "That's orders."
"Fake orders," Ron growled.
"We should do it anyway," argued Beau, "even if Connolly turned out to be a Death Eater, there are still people waiting for us there… right?"
Hermione left them to argue about it. She tried not to look at Jenson's face, afraid of what she might see there. Instead she went to Beth, and pulled back the corner of the cloak. The baby stopped crying and looked up at her, dark-haired and bloodied. His eyes were a bright, emerald green. So familiar. She snatched back her hand as if it had been burned, and looked down at the injured man on the floor. It still didn't look like Harry, not… not really. But she knelt down and touched his dirtied face, and suddenly she knew.
"Hermione?" She looked up at Ron through a haze of tears.
"We take him to the boats," Beau voiced the decision. He beckoned forward some trainees, who lifted the man carefully and moved quickly out of sight, to the exit. Draco went with them without a word. "Now let's get the hell out of this place."
They walked together in near-silence. Hermione, forcing herself to keep her duty as a Hogwarts Professor foremost in her mind, kept the students close around her. She noticed that all three of them looked pale and scared. She found herself wondering what they might have seen, and then wished she hadn't wondered.
"You three are going to St. Mungo's too," she said, as they neared the door to the outside. Wind howled in their ears. The children looked up at her, surprised. "I want to check you weren't hurt," she explained.
"Will died," Quin muttered.
"I did not," Will said, while sharing a meaningful glance with his Charms Professor.
"I see," she said. "Well, you'd better tell them, Mr. Ross. When all this is over."
"Tell us what?" said Quin.
"Later," said William, who looked like he might fall asleep on his feet.
They emerged into the open air, and everyone stopped to breathe in the clean air, thick with salt but shockingly refreshing after the stench of death and filth.
"Let's go home," said Beth.
There are things he doesn't remember. They wait, lurking, on the edge of his mind, drawn out by pain and fear and poison. Memories that could hurt him if they knew, that some part of him knew he had to hide, made more and more possible each time they tried, each time they pierced his skin, entered his mind. Things he knew, places he went to. People he loved.
He was numb. It was bright. He was lying on something soft… a bed? He twitched a finger, experimentally. He only just managed it. What had happened to him? He remembered Bellatrix, and Rodolphus, and the snakes, and then the baby had cried… his baby. His son…
And he had killed her. He had seen her eyes mist over in death. But he hadn't meant to, he'd been holding the dagger and he'd only been trying to protect himself from… her.
Why wasn't he dead? She'd stabbed him, hadn't she? And then…
His eyes flickered open. The brightness was sunlight, harsh and painful after all his years in darkness. He groaned.
He looked to one side. There was a woman sitting beside him. A young woman with red hair cropped behind her ears, staring at him with wide eyes. "Harry?" she said again, a fearful lilt in her voice.
"Who are you?"
Wow. Finally. Thank you everyone, so much for all your support over the last 14 months. But don't worry, it isn't over yet. Watch out for Still Fighting, the sequel to Still Alive, in which all is explained, and Harry finally gets a chance to be re-accepted by his friends.
The completed soundtrack, with art and lyrics for each song, will soon be available on my livejournal, the link for which can be found on my profile. Watch that space!