Chapter 80 ~ The Attack of Privet Drive: Team Bait

"Friends do not let friends do stupid things. Alone."

~ Unknown

The undead arrived early by eight minutes.

"Bloody Death Eaters," Ron muttered, sounding as if they'd personally offended him. He stood by the door, wand at his side and clawed hand at the other, peering out the keyhole. "No manners, that lot."

Kally looked at him in surprise. "You expected them to?"

"I can dream."

"He says about the people actively plotting to kill him."

Ron didn't even look away from the peephole, not even to scowl at her; he just hooked a thumb behind him in the general direction of the unconscious Death Eaters they'd taken hostage hours before. "According to them they don't want to kill me. They just want to abduct my ass, toss me in a cell, and poke me with a stick to see how my genes and magic work."

"Oh yes," Kally said, hastily tying her hair back, "because that's so much better."

"Better imprisoned than dead." He made a face. "Then again maybe dead would be better. Imagine the cruciatus ten times a day while they try to figure out how I wolf-out. Or better yet, cattle prods in unmentionable areas, while they cut off my toes, or sticking a needle in my nads to milk me for super-wolf-juice, or..."

Ron carried on, and she entirely missed the rest of what horrors their imagined confinement would entail. She missed it because just the word imprisoned sent her stomach tightening, her eyes darting nervously towards the shut shades of the front window.

Just outside that window things could go very, very poorly.

Tonight the Death Eaters could catch them. She could wind up taken to Voldemort. She could be used for the tests Snape and Angelina had warned them all about. She could be drained of her blood for potion experimentations, be tortured into madness to see how 'sturdy' her kind was, or be stripped of her skin, layer-by-layer, to see how the miniscule healing the unicorn blood gave her actually worked.

That was assuming they didn't kill her outright.

Kally shook her head, as if the simple act could dispel the thought. Naturally it didn't work, and Ron was still detailing the multitude of ways the Death Eaters could torture information out of them.

"We get caught," she said shakily, "I want my own cell. Your cheery optimism would have me hanging myself by day three."

"Eh," Ron said, obviously concerned, "if it comes to that and we wind up sharing a cell, might join you. Bet I could tie a better bed sheet noose."

She snorted. "As if we'd be given sheets."

"Well if there's nothing to hang ourselves with I'm calling top bunk."

Remus let out a mirthless chuckle.

According to their hostages, the Death Eaters' orders had been simple: stake out Harry Potter's home and offer some subtle "encouragement" for him to come out peacefully.

And by "subtle" they'd meant burning the entire street to the ground.

If he still didn't come out, they were to get creative with fiendfyre, and if the Order of the Phoenix showed up to protect Harry Potter, they were to be killed on sight. However, if any of the Order of the Phoenix proved to be half creatures, then they were to be taken alive.

If feasible.

Heavy on the ible.

If the fighters proved too bothersome then they were to be killed and their bodies recovered. But alive was preferred, because apparently it made the research easier, and the Order was going to use that to their advantage

Which was how she'd found herself on 'Team Bait.' George had found that name a lot more amusing than they had. Really, she was absolutely thrilled.

Team Bait's job was to waltz out and distract the living hell out of each and every single undead thing unlucky enough to grace Privet Drive and to lure them down to the 'Forgelee zone'. Fred, George and Lee had all smirked, ruthlessly when asked what the hell that actually was. Regardless, by doing that they'd hopefully expose the Death Eaters. They were sort of obligated to try to take them alive, and if they got eaten by zombies not only would they fail to do that, but there wouldn't even be untainted body parts to recover.

The plan was risky. It was reckless. It was unfathomably stupid.

Potter would have loved it.

It'd set the Order members – ones that had conveniently been stationed at strategic spots up and down the length of Privet Drive – up well for evacuating the Muggles, placing protective charms on their homes, and taking the bastards in masks out.

Not to mention it'd help their other goal: preventing any fiendfyre from being set in the first place.

It'd also go a long way towards keeping any of the Muggles from getting bit by the undead. Really, the Death Eaters were being particularly generous. They were portkeying in zombies just for Harry and his neighbors. It brought a whole new meaning to the term 'block party'. But hey, at least they'd get splinched thanks to the anti-apparaition and portkey wards in place.

Hopefully.

Kally had serious doubts about whether this would work. Even Remus had given their odds of not losing Privet Drive at 30-70, and the seventy percent were the odds against.

As for Team Bait, Jake and Remus would be disillusioned. Jake, because he was human, and Remus because he was a typical, run-of-the-mill werewolf, and it was doubtful any Death Eaters would be particularly motivated to spare him by not throwing the killing curse around liberally. They'd reasoned that she, Ron and Madam Hooch would be free of that danger: Ron, because he was an all-new type of wolf that could change at sodding will without any seeming bad side effects or any boosting 'potion' to help him along, Kally because she was a sodding Living Grim, and Madam Hooch…

Well, no one had quite figured out what Madam Hooch was yet, and no one had worked up the courage to ask. With her spikey hair, predatory demeanor, preternatural ability to remain silent, and her yellow vertically slitted eyes, Kally was guessing some type of bird or perhaps cat. Either way they figured Voldemort was probably interested.

He really was a sick fuck.

Kally didn't have a bloody clue where Fred and George would be. Ron had told her not to worry about it, they'd just follow the sounds of anarchy if they lost track of them for too long. Disturbingly the twins and Lee Jordan had donned three identical grins and told them to just gather the undead in the middle of the road, and they'd take care of the rest.

That was disturbing on all kinds of levels.

She wet her lips nervously.

"I still think it's bloody rude of them to send the undead chompers in early," Ron groused, his wolf claws unconsciously lengthening. "Bad planning, that is. What if their own people weren't secure? What if they were taking a stroll in the street? Bloody imbeciles would get eaten by their own attack zombies."

"You're assuming the bad guys actually care about each other's safety," Kally pointed out.

"Fair enough."

Madam Hooch smiled a hawkish smile. "At the very least we have established that they clearly do not understand the concept of being fashionably late. I suggest we do not leave them waiting."

As if on cue Jake came trotting down the stairs from where he'd been scouting through an upper floor window, the wizard all business when he reached them. "Counted thirty three of them. Bit hard to see with all the rain. It's getting foggy too. How many you got?"

Ron looked up. "I was supposed to be counting?" Spotting their sharp looks he held up his hands. "Kidding. No sense of humor you lot. I counted twenty, but you had the better view so…"

Jake snorted, and with a wave of his wand disappeared beneath a disillusionment spell.

Kally closed her eyes and hissed a breath, trying to calm herself, and when she opened her eyes Remus' familiar ones were right in front of her.

"You got everything?"

Hand flitting to her hip, feeling the disillusioned pack, she nodded. "Yeah." She wasn't magically proficient the way the others were, so for her they'd improvised. Potions, a firearm of questionable origin, and some other 'toys' that Fred and George had brought.

They hadn't spent the past month doing nothing, after all.

"You know, when this is all over, I think I want a hobby," Ron groused from the door, leaning somewhat impatiently against it. "A boring hobby. I'm talking mind-numbing. Something Hermione could get into. Like chocolate frog card collecting, or mushroom hunting. You know, something where I stop waltzing into places filled with things that want to kill me."

Kally almost choked at the irony. "You'd be surprised at how dangerous mushroom hunting could be."

Ron sent her a wary look.

"Sometimes it results in a fireworks event in the middle of the Forbidden Forest, with Death Eaters as kindling."

The red head stared at her as if she'd sprouted antennae. "Who would be that dum-how-why-"

She shrugged. "Blame your brothers. They were the ones that gave Harry the fireworks."

Ron's mouth opened slowly, then shut, as if processing.

"I really wish I was more surprised by these things," Remus said, sounding resigned.

Madam Hooch sent them a sharp look. "This fire did not get anywhere near my Quidditch Pitch, did it?" And the way she said it was absolutely terrifying.

Jake chuckled quietly.

It was time to get on with it.

"So," Madam Hooch said, after making certain beyond-a-doubt that no one had endangered the broom shed, "shall we?"

Ultimately they walked right out the front door.

Kally was soaked in seconds.

Water rushed in rivulets down the uneven driveway, pooling in swirling puddles against the concrete and sewer grates. Thunder rumbled ominously and large, fat droplets of rain pounded down in a blinding torrent. Dimly lit streetlights buzzed, their fluorescent lights doing zilch against the darkness, and trace bits of fog had begun to pool in low lying yards where the rain hadn't driven it back.

It made it all the more eerie when the wind carried the low, pained, keening moans of the undead to them. It was unnatural. It assaulted her ears, worming its way down to her very core.

Kalliandra shivered, and Remus' disembodied hand fell onto her wet shoulder to give it a reassuring squeeze. His fingers were already like ice.

Dublin had been a nightmare, and it had spread. Kally felt a glacial knot welling within her stomach at the thought of it reaching here.

But when the lightning cracked, lighting up the wet street, she knew it already had.

The Death Eaters had seen to that.

Through the deluge she saw phantom shapes. Looking through the sheet of pouring rain was unreal, like watching an old, blurred film whose reel wasn't quite right. The shapes ambled, stumbling with those same disjointed movements she remembered from Dublin, and just watching them as they spread out across the street drove a lead spike of terror into her gut.

The strobe-like storm flashed again.

This time they'd gotten closer, and Kally's eyes caught upon the gray-tinged faces of two particularly close ones. They were nearer then the rest, having moved away from their arriving portkey more than the rest of the group. A dark black substance coated rough, circular areas that looked like popped cysts, Kally recognizing it as the tainted blood and mixed pus that expelled from the disease's telltale boils. She would know; she'd had them.

The acrid black substance had dried on their flesh, on their fraying clothing, and their peeling, pustule-covered skin appeared to be melting off.

In one case the pustules were still actively pulsating.

A chunky piece of flesh fell off the face of a young girl, splashing into the water by a pair of ruined trainers.

But the stench was the worst.

Bile rose in her throat when a strong gust hit them. Despite the downpour the nauseating, rancid stench of shit and decay and urine and blood was thrown into their faces. The gusts were relentless. Even tied back her hair whipped around her face, the bright red neckerchief she'd turned into an impromptu hair tie waving in her hair like a dinner flag, and in the end Kally figured that was what did it.

You see, they had surprisingly made it to the end of the drive before the undead took notice.

The group of not-splinched creatures turned towards them all at once.

And that was when Kally realized what the uneasy feeling that had penetrated right down to her marrow was; Ron was just the one to say it.

He had to shout above the storm to be heard. "Bad news! Looks like they've still got all their bloody arms and legs!"

Kally reached out to grasp at the back of Ron's shirt, her fingers curling in the fabric. The temptation to violently tug him back into the drive rose up, the idiot standing almost defiantly at the edge of the street, water up to his ankles, but she didn't. That undead girl was looking at him, her mouth ajar, glassy white eyes devoid of anything, absolutely anything, and Kally….

She didn't like the way that thing was looking at him. It honestly scared her.

The moron known as Weasley took a step closer, and then another, walking until he stood in the center of the road.

Kally was jerked forward with him, water now soaking her socks. She couldn't scream at him because they all had followed. Now together they all stood there, she and him and Madam Hooch and the unseen Remus and Jake, and she was just as much an idiot as they were.

Another gust of wind sent the red neckerchief in her hair flapping wildly, and the undead girl's head swiveled towards her.

"This is so, so stupid," she said, quiet enough for only Weasley to hear. "It's literally the stupidest thing we've ever done."

"Oh come on," he muttered, his blue eyes fixed like lasers onto the two undead nearest them. "Think swimming with zombie sharks ranked a bit higher."

She let out a shaky laugh. "You're right. That was dumber."

"Doesn't make this any less stupid."

"At least this time we have backup," she offered, eyes darting around the road. Many of the undead had turned towards them, but they weren't moving. They were just staring sightlessly through the thick veil of rain, heads tilted like curious animals trying to decide if they smelled a treat. The disturbing thing was they didn't move.

They just stood there, looking at them.

Kally's nerves were on edge.

She wasn't the only one. Ron's wand arm lifted and aimed right at the nearest one's head. But he didn't hex. Not yet. His teeth gritted hard enough to grind stone. "Why aren't they bloody moving?" he demanded.

"Are you seriously complaining about that?" she hissed. Her hair tie flapped around again, and the zombie girl's head jerked, following its movement.

"You might," Ron suggested tightly, "want to take that out of your hair."

Kally's fingers tightened on the back of his shirt. "Maybe later…" They were supposed to distract the Death Eaters and get the undeads' attention after all…

"I thought," Madam Hooch shouted, impervious to their conversation and the two creatures not three meters off, the volume of her voice earning the attention of a few more, "they were supposed to be splinched?"

"Yeah, what the hell happened to that?" Ron agreed.

"It's possible," Remus said far too calmly, "that the interrupted teleportation that occurs with anti-apparation wards, and the subsequent negative consequences, only affects living organic matter. If so then it would not affect the dead."

It took everything Kally had to avoid whipping her head around to look at his disillusioned body, which was no doubt partially visible thanks to the rain bouncing off him. Fortunately for him and Jake, there was fog, and that was probably the only thing keeping the Death Eaters from noticing.

"What do you mean it's possible?" she demanded, eyes fixed on the nearest dead girl in what she hoped wasn't raw terror. "Haven't wizards tested that kind of thing?"

"When exactly would we have needed that kind of test?" Ron muttered. "Or do you reckon we're in the habit of transporting the dead every third Saturday for fun?"

She made a strange sound and gave his shirt a tug, as if to tell him she was pissed but incapable of articulating.

He grunted. "Even if we were into that kind of thing, why would we care if one wound up missing a limb? They're already dead, could just spell it back." She practically heard him gulp. "Seriously Kaylens, all those ruddy lessons to blend in and you think they'd have given you at least one on wizarding common sense."

"I'm suddenly remembering why we don't like each other," she muttered.

Ron actually smirked. "Come on, even you've got to admit I have a point."

"Fine," she hissed, "you have a point. Now can we maybe take a step back away from the nice corpse-"

The girl nearest them groaned, and took a jerking step forward, water splashing up around her foot. Then she stopped, but not before Ron and her had both taken a step back themselves.

Neither dared take their eyes off it. "Please tell me none of those are the fast kind of zombies?" He jabbed his wand at the two nearest. "Especially these two?"

Kally's eyes raced across the things gathered in the street, racking her mind. "They aren't zombies..."

"Oh, right, my mistake for thinking nomenclature didn't bloody-well matter when in imminent danger of getting your intestines torn out."

She wrinkled her nose. "What a lovely image…"

Through the rain she could see that the undead had spread out across the expanse of the road, looking like a bunch of dogs sprung loose from a boarding kennel from hell. So far the Muggles were staying nice and safe, sleeping inside their suburban homes, oblivious. None had woken up for a midnight snack and developed the sudden desire to peek out a window, so none had noticed that their street had been turned into a walking graveyard.

Kally wasn't sure if she should be surprised or not.

Then again, the Order members might have already gotten them out and to safety.

"Not to jinx us or anything," Jake said, startling her when his voice came right next to her head, "but any guesses on why they aren't attacking?"

She racked her mind. "In Dublin," she ventured, "where we portkeyed in we were surrounded by them. We didn't know though. We just thought they were dead bodies because they all just laid there." She paused. "It was like they were comatose or like…like they were in hibernation until we made enough noise to wake them." Hell, some hadn't moved until they'd set fire to the street. But once they had woken up, they'd woken up.

"Ambush predators," Jake half growled, a sound from Remus confirming his agreement.

"Their vision is bound to be compromised," Remus said. "Just look at the opaqueness of their eyes. It probably requires significant movement or sound for them to track us, or warmth, or-"

Her red hair tie flapped again, and the two nearest undead jerked forward a few steps, Kally slapping a hand over the back of her hair to hide it at the same time that Ron grabbed and bodily hauled her back through the water.

They stopped their pursuit after three steps.

"It's definitely the rain," Jake confirmed. "They can't see us through it well enough to track. Bet it's muffling the noise too. They can't tell what direction it's coming from."

"Not to mention," Remus said with disturbing calm, "our scent."

Kally let out a shaken laugh. "Well isn't that comforting."

"So…we're really just going to stand here?" Madam Hooch had to shout, a burst of wind stealing her voice. The storm rose in volume.

"Apparently!" Ron had to yell back.

"Why can't we just kill them all right now again?" Jake had a valid point.

Overhead the sky rumbled, lightning flashing and illuminating the entire street in an eerie glow.

"Death Eaters are watching," Remus said, voice loud enough to be heard, yet tempered enough to not draw attention. "If we start taking out their pets now, they're going to start taking us out."

"But that is what you lovely gentlemen are for," Madam Hooch stated. "To lay down cover fire and shielding charms that they will not see coming."

Kally's shirt clung wetly to her, the Reach wetting her lips, her fingers curling tight around her fairly useless wand in one hand, and the back of Ron's shirt with the other. "This is a terrible plan."

Everyone tore their eyes away from the undead for a moment, just a moment, to stare at her.

She winced. "I'm just saying what we're all thinking."

"I agree," Jake muttered, and Kally saw his lips actually move. They were coated in water droplets, rendering the disillusionment spell all but useless.

"Jake," she warned, "I can see you."

"Another reason why this plan surely stemmed from the minds of dullards," Madam Hooch weighed in.

Ron snorted. "You volunteered."

The professor shrugged. "Without students for regular flight classes, I was bored."

Each and every single one of their heads snapped towards her, the implication that throwing herself to a zombie hoard as a simple way to pass the evening a bit too much, even for seasoned war veterans.

"What exactly do you usually do when you're not teaching?" Jake asked warily.

"Centaurs," she said calmly.

Ron made a choking sound.

Madam Hooch did not seem to notice, her spikey hair immune to the deluge, each and every strand standing straight up in stark defiance of gravity, water, and basic physics.

Kally closed her eyes, her wet eyelashes wetting her cheeks, and willed someone to change the subject.

Remus cleared his throat. "Well at least," the wolf said in that infuriatingly calm voice of his, "we are together. Friends, after all, do not let friends do stupid things alone."

Ron snorted. "Nice saying Mooney. Might have to amend it after this though to 'friends don't let friends get torn limb from limb' alone."

Kally could practically picture Remus' grin. "Hopefully it won't come to that."

"Seems likely, given I can barely see a thing in this," Jake muttered.

"You're human," Madam Hooch stated, "you lack the proper vision for this sort of task. Why are you here again?"

The American growled.

Hooch simply glanced back to him with her gleaming, hawk-like eyes. "I mean no offense. But with this visibility you will be all but useless for long range fighting, so if you insist on sticking around, stay close. I doubt we will have time to search for your remains if they get ahold of your neck."

"He gets bit by a zombie and I'm pretty sure his remains would get right back up and come find us," Ron muttered beneath his breath.

Jake's reply got drowned out. It got drowned out by a strange sound, one that was thrown towards them on the wind.

It was like a wet slapping sound.

A hard, wet slapping sound.

It reminded her of a kayak paddle being smacked against the water, only at a rhythmic pace. A pace that was increasing.

Madam Hooch saw it before any of them did. "Well bugger that," she said. "Ten o'clock."

And then a rail thin man no older than thirty exploded out of the wall of rain like a steam engine.

Rolanda calmly leveled her wand and shot a piercing hex straight through his skull.

It was weird, the way the body had been barreling forward like a locomotive, only to suddenly stop. The man's head whipped back, something cracking loudly in the night – most likely his neck – yet his lower legs and torso continued forwards, propelled by his previous momentum.

The dead man slammed into the ground less than a meter from her and Ron, the now tainted water splashing up, a slash of Ron's wand the only thing preventing it from having flown into their faces.

Kally had always heard that head shots were clean at the entry wound, messy at the exit, but until that moment she'd had no idea how on point that was. As the thin man fell, his head twisted backwards at an unnatural angle, she caught a glimpse of the back of his skull. It was missing. It was completely sodding missing. A mushy gray-pink gunk plunked out of the cavity and into the water, looking like some kind of rotten food thrown up.

"Fucking hell," Ron choked.

The two nearest undead, drawn by the sudden movement, lifted their heads in seeming slow motion and looked right at them.

This time Weasley actually swore, and the two undead things lunged with lightning speed.

But his wand arm had never lowered, and as they both stumbled backwards, nearly tripping over one another, a shout from Weasley launched a blazing red curse at the creature on the left. It slammed into the man's head, the face exploding outwards, flesh and pus and sinewy strips of skin flying out. Kally shrieked, ducking behind his shoulders, missing the brunt of the explosion, missing plague exposure by mere centimeters…

A second curse erupted from the right, a bright white light exploding as a whip-like curse cut straight through the neck of a young girl.

The two undead hovered there for an unreal moment, standing upright on their feet as if they somehow, despite all odds, still clung to life.

And then the girl's head slid neatly off her neck. There was no blood splatter. There was no screaming. Her head just slid neatly off, splashing into the wet asphalt like a child's discarded toy, and when her body followed her neck looked like a cleanly cut sectional slide from an anatomy textbook. With no pumping blood Kally could see the spinal column, the already decaying blood vessels hanging out and flapping limply in the wind, the small holes of the trachea and esophagus clearly visible and shriveled.

The portly man went down next. He fell backwards like a downed tree, stiff and dead, bashing onto the flooded street like a sledgehammer.

Jake slowly lowered his wand, Kally only able to tell by the hot steam coming off its disillusioned end that he'd cast the whip-like curse. The searing-decapitation hex was hot.

The group stood there, staring at the bodies, Kally's heart hammering so loudly she could practically hear it.

"Well, that was….charming," Rolanda stated with clear distaste.

As if in agreement the wind threw an acrid stench remorselessly at them. It struck with nauseating intensity, sickly sweet like week old meat that had turned. Kally's throat seized, gagged, and she tried to take another step back.

There was a sharp pull on her sleeve.

Ron had forgotten to un-pry his fingers, as if he'd been preparing to throw her back, behind him when the things had lunged.

He'd been protecting her.

Again.

She blinked at his hand, then shot him a breathless look as if seeing him for the first time. His face was smeared with pink gunk, the splatter from when he'd killed that portly man having struck him in the eyes, nose, mouth…

There were mucus membranes there.

He'd been exposed. He'd been exposed shoving her behind him so she wouldn't be.

"Ron…" she breathed in shock.

He didn't so much as glance at her; his eyes remained firmly fixed out into the night, searching for any more of the undead that might try to rush them, but he seemed to feel her incredulity.

"Why is it," he dryly asked, dismissing his own exposure with ridiculous ease, "that you always seem surprised when I do something nice?"

She wet her already wet lips, her fingers tightening on the back of his shirt. "I think I'm still in shock you don't hate me."

He didn't bother to suppress his scoff. "Haven't properly in months." He sounded almost disappointed. "You know, war going on and all, haven't had the time. But don't worry, I'll get around to it."

She laughed shakily. "Got it," she managed. "We'll have to resume that after Voldemort's gone then?"

"Don't forget all the Death Eaters," he dryly told, wand jerking to the right, tracking something. "Doubt we'll get them all before Harry offs Big V. Ought to be busy for a bit taking out the leftover trash."

"And the zombies," she half whispered. "Don't forget the zombies."

"Thought they weren't called zombies," Ron smirked. "Seem to recall someone telling me they were the undead."

"Oh shut up."

Ron re-fisted that protective grip on her, the wind rustling their soaked clothing as a low moan sounded closer. He took an abrupt step back, dragging her with him in the ankle deep water, a chunk of flesh falling off his collar and splashing down. "Grand, least it's settled then," he recapped. "Gotta beat Voldemort's ass, take out the left over trash in masks, stop the zombie apocalypse, and then we'll have time to get back to that whole 'Harry can do better, you're a Slytherin-bound-piece-of-trash, where I encourage him to run' thing."

She choked on a laugh. "Oh yes, because that's clearly the primary reason they need to die: so you can start hating me again."

"See? Don't get your knickers in a twist. I'll get around to it."

Off to the side Jake snorted.

As they staggered away from the approaching hoard, Remus finally caught sight of Ron's front, and heaved a taxed breath. "The next time you attack these, might I suggest the piercing or decapitation hex? There is far less splatter involved." With a snap of his wand and a quick, "Scourgify!" the remnants of the plague were removed from Ron's face and clothing, Remus studying him somberly. "We'll have to get you antidote as soon as possible."

Kally had already un-pried her fingers from Weasley's shirt, reaching into the small and disillusioned holster at her hip and rooting around inside. Fred had made it, the thing expanded so she could carry a few things.

She shoved a capped vial at Ron a moment later, ordering, "Drink."

His eyes glanced towards her with a bewildered look of his own. "Where in the bloody hell did that come from?"

"Thank your brother," she said, lips twitching. "Not me. His idea; he suggested someone in each group carry some." There were a few useful vials in there. Some created by she, Fred and Jake, some that had been brewed by Hermione and Regulus.

Ron bit the cap off, spat it out and downed the antidote. Then he tossed the glass vial onto the street.

"That's littering," Kally informed.

"They can fine me," Ron let go, his hand slowly changing into a claw. His sharp nails extended, then retracted. It took him a second to get it right.

Soon as he did he snagged back onto her, as if determined to not let her out of his sight, and she physically flinched at the pain of the claws digging in.

As usual Ron gave zero fucks about that.

She flat out hissed, the rain dripping down into her eyes, stray pieces of her hair sodden and stuck to her cheeks. Irritated she shot a pointed look towards where Ron's claws gripped her, then directed it back up at him, glaring.

Instantly the claws retracted. Slightly. "Sorry."

But he did not let go.

She huffed a breath, almost amused. "Worried there, Weasley?"

He scowled. "Not a word."

"Wouldn't dream of it."

"Damn right," he muttered. "Wouldn't want you to think I'm concerned about your well-being. Not like we're friends or anything."

She averted her eyes into the deluge, and as the storm pressed down upon them, her eyes catching upon all of the undead that had turned their way, staggering towards them through the fog and mist with the sole intent of tearing them limb from limb, and she found she couldn't help it: she smiled. "Course not, Weasley."

From besides her Ron tried and failed to choke back a laugh.

The undead stumbled faster.

The activity had drawn their attention, and while Madam Hooch's spell had been colorless, Ron and Jake's had not been.

That was without mentioning the bloodied husks of what had once been people laying in the center of the road.

Now, even if the things still couldn't see them, they had a direction to stagger in, and they ambled towards them with single-minded intent.

"They're like bloody t-rexes," Madam Hooch muttered, earning her four strange looks. She did not return any, instead telling, "Their vision is based on movement. Haven't you read those books by that paleontologist, Michael Crichton?"

Kally's head whipped towards her. "You mean Jurassic Park?"

"Yes," she said with a firm, serious nod. "I find it fascinating, the kinds of things Muggles have been able to create, no less survive. I mean really, releasing pterodactyls into the sky? Dragon sanctuaries would have been perfectly suited to absorb the overflow. One would think that a squib would have contacted the wizarding authorities to contain that incident when it was happening. Then it wouldn't have been so widely publicized. That's poor business precedent. It's little wonder the park floundered and went bankrupt."

Kally choked a little.

Rolanda was gesturing through the rain at the things coming nearer. "As I said, they track our movements and the light."

"Don't sell them so short," Jake said. "I'm sure essence la bowel and my horrified choking sounds are in there somewhere."

"What I am curious about," Remus said tensely, "is why the Death Eaters haven't acted yet."

Remus was right. The longer they stood out here, not firmly attracting the undead to them, the longer the Death Eaters had to get their shit together and hex them or start fires.

The sooner they drew them out of hiding the better they'd all be.

They also needed to create a distraction. They needed to give the concealed Order members a chance to help the Muggles, and to see where the bastards in cloaks were hiding at.

And given that they were supposed to be taken alive, if they didn't pose too much trouble…

There really was an easy way to fix all of that.

Golden eyes darted around the street, squinting through water and fog. Most of the undead were still in the street, stumbling towards them, stopping, lifting their heads as if to sniff blood, and then stumbling again. There were a few though, just a few, that had ambled up and onto the sidewalks, creeping up the lawns of sleeping, unsuspecting Muggles, and if they got too close to any of the doors or windows…

A chill swept through her in a way the wind and rain couldn't touch.

"Guys," she said, shivering, "if they spread out too far we're never going to be able to kill them all." Her fingers curled back in Ron's sleeve.

She was not, absolutely not clinging to him for her own peace of mind.

He didn't seem to mind. Hell, his own grip redoubled. "Not to mention what Fred and George asked."

"Yeah," she breathed. "Lure them to the center of the street."

There was a pause. "Right," Ron grunted. "Kaylens, you thinking what I'm thinking?"

She winced. "Unfortunately."

And just like that Ron released her, pointing his wand down at the nearest body. "Incendio!"

The thing erupted like a Halloween bonfire.

"Oi!" Ron bellowed. "Maggot brains! OVER HERE!"

Kally sucked in a horrid sort-of-breath, walked determinedly forward, and with all the sanity of an escaped psych ward patient began to shout with him. "Hey! Dead People!"

"Got a buffet lined up! Comes with mutant-blood-filling!"

"Yeah! Got a nice tasty treat for you! We're serving ginger!"

Ron stopped shouting and shot her a look.

She ignored him. "If you're really nice we'll flambé him! Helps with that furball aftertaste! We'll even stick an apple in his mouth!"

The Gryffindor Keeper made a resigned sort of growl that sounded suspiciously like 'fuck it'. Then he thudded his chest with his fist. "YOU HEARD THE LADY! COME AND GET IT! GINGER WOLF'S ON THE MENU TONIGHT! THE MEAT'S RIGHT HERE, CHOMPER-BOYS!"

"If they weren't trying to get things to eat them," Jake said, "that'd sound like a come-on."

Remus sent him a concerned look. "If that sounds like courting to you, then perhaps we ought to discuss the kind of women you've been dating."

Jake's disembodied form smirked like a gambler on an Atlantic City bender. "Only the fun ones."

Kally unearthed a knife from somewhere that caused Jake's quip to end in a choke. She didn't notice; the Reach simply cut a nasty slash in her palm, with a terrible wince, and she strode forward, hand held straight out, silver-red blood gleaming from it as she screamed at the undead. "Can't you smell it! COME ON OVER HERE AND TASTE IT!"

"Kaylens, what the fuck!" Ron shouted, going after her.

She stepped right over a dead body and kept walking, waving her hand like a battle flag.

Madam Hooch eyed them both. "Gryffindors never were subtle."

And then she joined in.

Kally should have been scared when she saw the barrage of undead pick up the pace. It was a mark of the kind of day she was having that she wasn't. Her boyfriend was gone. Death Eaters were plotting to attack his damn street. They were no doubt circling overhead, unseen, somewhere, wands drawn and no doubt discussing whether or not to actively kill her and the others. Her literal life was in the hands of madmen and women who hated her kind just for existing, and she was antagonizing them to buy other Order members time.

And as if all that weren't already enough, there was a plague slowly killing the world, and additional monsters had been portkeyed directly into sodding Surrey to make sure it infected London's suburban populace, because somehow London had thus far remained untainted.

Not to mention the weather was horrid, she was soaked to the bone, and absolutely freezing.

Today sucked.

Kally's breaths came harsh and fast, her fingers flexing as she stood in the center of the street, making absolutely no attempt to run, to hide, to get out of the way.

"Kaylens, we need to move!" Ron shouted, casting a spell and knocking out the legs of the three closest.

Sucking in a shaken breath, she bit down on her lip. "No."

"Fucking what?" Ron barely dodged being tackled by a faster moving one, and Kally's hair was blown by the breeze of the thing darting past her.

It'd been close.

Judging from the explosion and light somewhere behind her, out of her field of vision, Ron or Jake had killed it.

Kally stood there with the rain pouring down, a wave of decayed and desiccated corpses staggering towards her, one rolling off some poor Muggle's shrubs to join the fray, and she didn't move.

She wanted to scream.

Ron did. He bellowed behind her as one burst through the rain, barreling straight at her at the pace of a charging hippogriff.

But she didn't move. She stood there with the red bandana waving in her hair, because standing around unnoticed had done nothing. Absolutely nothing.

According to the bastards they'd interrogated, the Death Eaters were under orders to bring herself and any other half-breeds back alive. And hovering by, disillusioned and watching, while the half-breeds all got eaten alive seemed to contradict those orders.

At least this way it'd force their hand, one way or another.

Ron skidded up alongside her, covered from head-to-toe in pink muck, his wand snapping up.

He was half-way through mouthing a decapitation hex when the first spell smashed down in front of them. It flared up like a bright wall of orange light, and the fast moving zombie smashed headlong into it.

Ron let out a shout, jumping back. Madam Hooch stopped dead in her tracks. Remus swore and Jake ran forward.

Kally let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding, and then looked up, having expected it.

Directly above them, floating on brooms, hovered four figures clad in black robes. The fabric was unnaturally dry, the water sliding off them like oil.

The undead thing screeched and clawed and salivated at the mouth a mere meter in front of her, and only the magical barrier held it back.

It took her a second to realize that she was shaking, frightened by how close that had just been.

A Death Eater had just saved her.

This was a sodding terrible idea.

And Kally had gambled on it.

She wondered how long it would take the zombie to figure out that it could just move four meters to the left or right and get to her that way. Rain slid down the barrier on either side, forming what looked like a beautiful sort of water feature in the middle of the road. Blurred figures could be seen approaching it, reaching it, zombie after zombie thumping up against it until there were a dozen or more scratching and slavering on the other side.

Well, if they'd wanted to get the undead's attention, to draw them to the center of the street, they certainly had.

If the barrier fell the five of them would be overrun in less than three seconds.

Kally wet her lips and tilted her neck back, squinting straight up into the rain. The figures hovered there eerily, the storm clouds a dark backdrop to their floating forms, lightning flashing like a strobe.

The body in the street burned merrily, letting off the sickly sweet stench of burning flesh. It'd already begun to rot, and the pustules on the skin boiled, bubbling up to burst with tiny, intermittent pops. Sickeningly it offered some small comfort – warmth – and every cell in her frozen body rebelled as her legs begged her to inch closer.

The fire lit up the cloaked figures' faces from below, and beneath one of the hoods she recognized a man from a dark night a long time ago. They'd been in a clearing then, after being assaulted in Hogsmeade, and the man had put a knife to her throat, used her to threaten Potter into compliance, before trying to drown her.

Last October seemed like a lifetime ago.

She sucked in a sharp breath, and it took everything she had to force the fear out of her voice. Instead, it dripped with acid. "Didn't my boyfriend kill your brother?"

The wizard's eyes flashed, the teeth bared in a furious scowl, a rage filled word sparking at the end of his wand-

"Broussard, control yourself."

The vicious green spark died, but Broussard's broom still dipped down, the wizard hovering like a rabid attack dog just waiting to be unleashed.

Wind rippled their hoods, reminding Kally of dementors in the way they moved, and that same calm, authoritative voice rang out once more from beneath one. "Quite the gamble, girl. I did not realize that the Chosen One would choose nerve over beauty, but he always has had somewhat surprising…taste."

The speaker was a woman, her face carefully concealed, but her speaking voice carried a trace of accent. Kally couldn't place it exactly, but it sounded distinctly Asian.

And somehow this woman knew her.

Something uneasy swept through her, unsettled.

A piece of jet black hair, streaked with a gray so deep it shimmered purple, escaped from beneath the confines of the woman's hood, and the witch dipped her broom's end down, the tip like a fulcrum that she revolved around in a slow, relaxed circle. She seemed to be studying them from above, her words slow and meticulous. "May I ask," the unknown witch asked, and her voice was smooth and cool and dangerous, "where he is?"

Kally didn't bat an eye. "Holed up and grieving. Found out his favorite psychopathic pureblood nemesis was actually only a half-blood. The hypocrisy really got to him."

Ron groaned, Jake muttering, "Oh for fuck's sake."

Madam Hooch did not remove her eyes from the sky. "Kalliandra, does the phrase 'poking the bear' mean anything to you?"

"Not really."

This was bad. Kally knew it was bad. They were at a disadvantage, Death Eaters hovering above them, a hoard of the undead in front of them, the monsters being barely held back by a translucent barrier that gleamed a dull orange. The light it emitted was incredibly dull, like looking through a flickering streetlamp that was about to die, but the glow served to attract more and more of the undead to it, like moths to a flame, and it could fall at any second.

Right. Maybe Madam Hooch did have a point. Antagonizing the people holding the barrier in place might not be the best idea. If it fell they were close enough that they'd be overwhelmed in seconds.

The Asian woman's head tilted, movements smooth and agile, looking like a curious leopard. "My, my, what kind of creature are you?" she asked, her voice clearly directed towards Madam Hooch.

Rolanda looked up and gave a hawkish smile. "Come down here and I'll show you."

"A centaur-defiler," muttered Ron.

The Death Eater threw her head back and laughed. "Oh, my Lord was right, collecting all of you will be fun."

From off to the side Ron snorted. "Yeah, 'cause we're all limited editions in that 'Treasured Pets of Voldemort Collection', is that it?" He gave his wand a malicious spin, and despite the looming threat above, he never took his eyes off that barrier. It flickered like vertical fire and he could clearly be seen watching the far left, making sure none of the undead wizened up and simply walked around it.

The undead were vicious and single minded in their hunt for food, but no one would ever call them smart. They might amble about, but when they spotted prey they went for it in a straight line, with little regard for easier routes.

Ron watched it anyway, and Kally had a sneaking suspicion Jake was watching the right, which left her, Madam Hooch, and Remus to watch the four fliers; that and the rest of the Order that the masks hopefully didn't know about.

The witch floated there, her perch atop her broom effortless.

"You assumed we'd be here?" Madam Hooch didn't miss a beat.

Beneath the hood, the outline of the woman's mouth twisted into a smile, Kally only able to see because of her pearly white and perfectly straight teeth.

"Certainly. Albus' pets have a habit of never straying far from their precious…" she seemed to spit out the word, "savior." Delicate, long fingers caressed the long, pale yew of her wand. "It's almost unsporting, how predictable you have all become. Now…tell me, who is your friend? Surely war has not made us this poorly socialized? There is no reason to avoid the niceties." A long, blood red fingernail motioned towards where Jake stood in the rain, disillusioned, but visible the way a chameleon would be. The rain slid eerily down his body, outlining the full extent of his height and even his cowboy hat, the water rolling down as if he were a translucent water-sculpture.

They'd seen Jake, and it took everything in Kally to not automatically look for Remus.

"Name's Jake, mam," came his accented voice, the wizard lifting a hand and tilting his hat to her in greeting. "Must say, back in the States we don't call pulling wands on each other a formal way of saying hello to acquaintances. Least not in polite society."

Lightning flashed, and between that, the body-bonfire below, and the gleaming orange barrier Kally caught a glimpse of the woman's face. Her eyes were heavily slanted and oval shaped, dark as night, her cheekbones impossibly angled. Her lips were not what one would ever call full or pouting, but her hair was straight and sleek, like finally spun acromantula silk. She couldn't have been more than forty five, but she gave the air of a witch far older.

Were it not for her impassive expression, she would have been absolutely beautiful.

There was also something strikingly familiar about her, but Kally couldn't place it.

Madam Hooch, however, did.

"Zhi Ruo Chang," she said with sudden recognition, and her eyes flicked to the way the woman handled herself on the broom. "I see now where Cho inherited her grace for flying."

Ron grimaced. "Bloody hell," he muttered, attention snapping back to the barrier. "Guess this explains why Cho and Harry didn't work out."

Her stomach flipped unnaturally, Kally bothered more by that than the zombies licking the barrier not a meter from her face. Its tongue had black spots all over it.

The woman on the broom simply lifted a hand and beckoned at her hood, the movement almost elegant, her hood lowering further over her face like an obedient puppy. "An observant Hogwarts Professor and a Weasley. How…refreshing."

Ron just scoffed, and the sound somehow made it through the heavy wind and rain. "Cho know you're here?"

"My daughter and I do not always see eye-to-eye." This seemed to give her pause. "No doubt thanks to your sorts influence."

"Well, least her snogging Harry for a bit did some good."

Kally closed her eyes and tried not to flinch.

The bitch in the sky noticed and her attention turned to her, like a shark scenting blood in the water. For the longest time she looked at her, just looked. The torrent continued pounding down, the undead continued wiping their pustule-covered and frothing mouths at the barrier, and the entirety of Privet Drive remained otherwise silent.

It was a small miracle no Muggle had yet been woken up by the shouting or low groans or the subtle light of the orange wall of magic, set up right in the center of their street.

Everyone – Remus, Hagrid, Harry, Regulus – they'd all told her that Muggles were beyond willing to ignore the magic right in front of them. She'd just never seen it.

Overhead someone made a musical hrming sound.

Kally steeled herself and shot the hovering witch a glare. Cho Chang's mother held it, and this time when she spoke it was different.

A subtle wave of magic washed over her.

"Your boyfriend…where is he?"

Her words were soothing and smooth and beautiful. There was an almost musical note in them, and Kally wanted to tell her. It pulled at her veins and made her want to sing the answer.

Fortunately she didn't know the answer.

She opened her mouth to say exactly that, but Ron beat her to it. "She doesn't know."

"Yeah," Jake agreed, "it's been bothering her, but she won't admit it."

"She keeps trying to get ahold of him too."

"Man won't answer."

"Reckon he'll be in the dog house whenever he gets back."

"If he gets back," Jake added.

Kally's stomach went cold. Jake had never voiced that aloud, and neither had she, but deep down they'd both known that might be true.

For all she knew, Harry could be dead.

Ron let out a wet snort, the rain an onslaught. "Voldemort hasn't killed him yet. No way he's getting killed off doing whatever he's doing."

"And what is he doing?" Chang practically purred.

"No idea," Ron said with a self-satisfied grin.

"Yeah," Jake added, "no one knows."

"Well, to be fair, Kaylens probably does."

"Did," Jake corrected. "She hasn't heard from him in months, remember?"

The two wizards practically tripped over one another in their need to answer, Chang wetting her lips, her dark eyes shifting back and forth between the two men.

Madam Hooch observed it all, before pursing her lips, words sharp. "He's changed you into a siren."

"He's improved me," Chang clipped.

It was remarkable, the way the flying instructor could strip a person down with a single look. Madam Hooch stared up at Cho Chang's mother, and oozed disapproval and disgust and her opinion that the woman was misguided.

All in a single look.

Rolanda tilted her head to the side, rather like a hawk sizing up a particularly plump bunny rabbit. "You follow a Dark Lord who proclaims that those lacking purebloods are unnatural," she said with a burning stare. "He has a history of killing half-breeds in the streets. How do you think he will look upon you and all of his other so-called improvements once he has what he wants?"

One of the less-than-dumb zombies began to squelch and slide down the length of the street barrier, getting uncomfortably close to the edge.

Chang didn't notice, and if she did, she didn't care. Instead she looked at the flying instructor in the way one looks at an old classmate they've run into unexpectedly, but are having a hard time placing.

And then the recognition clicked into place. "Rolanda."

The flying instructor smiled, but there was no mirth in it. "I was wondering how long it would take you, Zhia. Now have you stopped to consider what you're actually doing? You always were such a poor chess opponent, never seeing multiple moves ahead."

Zhia Chang twisted her red lips into a cruel smile. "If I recall correctly, you were always the short-sighted one, Rolanda."

The flying instructor's unnatural and gleaming golden eyes shifted into vertical slits. "Oh, I dare say vision has never been one of my problems. Comprehension of warped viewpoints on the other hand…"

"The Dark Lord's vision is not warped!"

It was the first time a flare of anger appeared in the otherwise serene woman floating above, and Kally realized instantly what Hooch was doing.

She was baiting her.

The rain pounded down and Hooch didn't so much as blink. "Isn't it? Then enlighten me. I'd be fascinated to see."

Chang's broom swiveled in the rain, droplets spattering off the broomstick and spattering out. "He's creating a new order, Rolanda. Magical beings will unite against the impure. We'll become a master race, a superior race, one that will make this generation so weak in comparison that one day we will marvel that ordinary wizards and witches ever survived at all."

"Ordinary like your daughter? Your husband?"

Chang hissed a sound and suddenly the woman on the broom was a whole lot less pretty. The perfect hourglass shape hidden beneath the black garments rippled, as if all her muscles were moving at once and in unnatural directions, before falling back into their proper place. "My husband was weak! My daughter will not be."

Spikey gray hair stood up on the top of Hooch's head, looking like miniature lightning rods, unyielding in the face of the storm. The flying instructor stood there, staring up at Chang with narrowed eyes, and despite it all – despite the undead and the Death Eaters and the fierce storm – she looked thoughtful. "Your daughter is an extremely talented flyer. It has been one of the distinct pleasures of my career to work closely with her, and I must say, that if you think she would support any of this, you have gravely underestimated her."

A cold and twisted smile twisted beneath the hood. "My Lord is winning over the Ministry as we speak, Rolanda. Once he's done that, winning my daughter over will not be a problem."

Hooch didn't bat an eye. "Once he's taken over the Ministry, Mrs. Chang," the pointed use of her married name eliciting a displeased sound, "that so-called Lord of yours will discard you."

"When it's done," Chang countered calmly, "he will give me a place of worth by his side, one of intimacy if I am lucky."

Broussard's head shot towards his partner, the wind having long since whipped the hood off his head. His lips curled back revealing discolored teeth on an otherwise handsome face. "Watch your tongue, Zhia. Bellatrix's grave is barely cold and you dare think you could replace-"

"I already have," Chang replied calmly, dismissing him. But then her eyes shifted towards her, and they looked at her in a most unnerving way.

They looked right at her, as if slowly stripping her down, piece-by-piece.

Kally's pulse sped and she stumbled back a step, water splashing, and Madam Hooch's arm shot out to clasp a claw-like grip on her arm, pushing her behind her in a single move. Rain pounded down and flooded the street, blood and grime leaking under the barrier, along with an oily-like substance that pooled by their shoes, and the tension in their little spot, there on that street, grew tenfold.

The flying instructor, apparently, missed nothing.

"What do you want with the girl?" she demanded, and her voice was sharp and dangerous.

Zhia Rou Chang exuded calm, another burst of magic telling her it was okay, that she should listen, go with her. "From Potter's little girlfriend? Absolutely nothing. From her blood? Everything." Her voice glided out, smooth venomous. "My Lord has a soft spot for those that can kill with ease. Less so for those that resist his intentions. After an…incident, he desired her to be dead, but I've assured him that while this particular animal's allegiances could prove dangerous, she is still little more than a common Muggle." She wet her lips almost eagerly. "Even with her foolish little allegiances, she is weak. An imperious or three ought to coerce her compliance." Her dark eyes slid up and down her like a caressing lover, but her words held spite. "You should be on bended knee to thank me, Muggle. I am the only reason you haven't been hunted to the ends of the Earth. I prevented your extermination out of a promise to him that you could indeed still be…useful. Do be obedient. It will make it so much less painful."

Avery sneered and looked like he really wanted her to resist.

Hooch maintained an iron grip on her sleeve. "Then your intention is to use her blood like the rest of ours?"

Chang looked at the hawk-eyed woman like she was the dumbest thing in existence. "Of course."

Kally had already known this, but she mentally swore anyway.

Chang contented herself with purring as she spoke to Hooch. "I intend to allow my Lord to make me into whatever he desires, Rolanda. If he desires that Muggle's particular…talents to be…amidst his improvements, it is not my prerogative to question him. She'll come with us, just like you, and I will allow him to fashion me into something else, someone new, someone powerful enough to possess all of your more useful qualities so that I will be worthy of him." She slid a tongue over her lower lip, and it was a marvel it wasn't forked.

Kally felt like she should be surprised, but she'd spent so much time being frightened that she couldn't even remember what it was like not to be. This was bad, but she'd seen worse.

She'd once looked directly into Voldemort's eyes and seen the madness.

Then she'd seen Harry take it away.

But Harry wasn't here anymore.

A stab of pain shot through her.

Hooch's yellow eyes marginally narrowed. "You're trying to behoove yourself to a Dark Lord."

"Don't be silly," the woman said, and her accent was still terrifyingly beautiful, "I already am."

The witch floated there in the air, her broom hovering motionless in stark defiance of the fierce gusting wind and rain. The brooms of the other three Death Eaters shook and moved with each successive gust, but Chang's never did.

One of the floating figures grunted, as if pained. He was one of the two holding the barricade in place, and as undead body after undead body hit it, bashing rotting fists against its gleaming surface, it looked like it was getting harder and harder to maintain.

The Death Eater was struggling.

The barrier was bound to fall soon.

Kally blinked water out of her eyes and tried not to panic. Where the hell was Remus? Where was the rest of the Order? They should have done something by now. She didn't look around. She made expressly sure not to.

But they needed to do something. There had to be more Death Eaters. These…these were just the welcome party.

They needed to keep them distracted. They needed to distract them for as long as possible, so the other Order members could squirrel the Muggles away to safety.

She hated being on Team Bait.

Looking up, rain clinging to her eyelashes, Kally sucked in a wobbly breath. Hooch's nails dug into her sleeve so hard they were probably drawing blood, the witch by her side as strong as iron and rigid as an unbendable sequoia.

They had to keep them distracted.

So Kally did something asininely stupid: she spoke.

"Don't you think dating Riddle's going to be a bit hard?" she asked shakily. "You know, given that Harry killed him and all?"

Chang's eyes, eyes that had begun to drift down the length of Privet Drive, shot back to hers faster than light, and then…

There was a moment of tense silence, followed by a crackle on the air.

Kally didn't remember being hit or torn away from Rolanda Hooch. She just remembered her feet being ripped from the ground before being slammed bodily into the pavement. The blacktop was unyielding. It wasn't like the way Muggle films portrayed action sequences. She wasn't magically fine. She didn't bounce. Being smashed onto concrete hurt. Kally slammed into it and things in parts of her she hadn't known she'd even had ribs shrieked and her mouth shot open on pure instinct, but the scream never came. Dirty water flooded past her lips, Kally choking on the verifiable flood pouring down the roadway. The entire road was flooding with water, and it was now several inches deep.

Kally barely registered any of this, and then a searing hot spell slammed into her back like a knife to the core, the impact shoving her face straight down into the water and muck.

Kally was drowning. Dirty runoff swept past her face in torrents. In a primitive part of her mind she registered that it was cold, even as her lungs burned.

There was also another strange taste within it.

Behind her, through the rush of blood in her ears and the rising water, she heard shouting. It was drowned out by the rush of rain. Chunks of flesh, diseased and decayed and recently fallen from the zombie hoard floated in the water, bumping up against Kally's cheeks. Her body bucked like a fish on a pier, and it did it unconsciously. She choked on a pustule covered flap of skin as she tried to breathe, fighting for air, but…

The spell held her down and her body gave a choking spasm like a dying fish.

Kally never saw it, but Ron and Jake had barreled forward the instant it happened, only to be thrown back by a contemptuous flick of Chang's wand. They flew at least twenty feet.

A second later Rolanda was lifted by an invisible force and levitated straight into the air, the flying instructor quite literally dangling like a worm on a hook in front of Broussard.

Kally didn't see any of that though. She had just inhaled water, her body choking, spasming, black spots in her visio-

Cruel fingers seized her hair and jerked her face up, her cervical vertebrate giving a protesting crack and her scalp screaming in pain. Tingling shot straight through her arms and a knee drove straight down against her spine, trapping her there.

And then a beautiful whisper brushed her ear.

"Let us try again," purred the part-Siren's voice, only this time it sounded as if she wasn't talking to her.

Chang's voice rose into the night, and with a slithering coldness Kally realized she'd been right. Chang wasn't talking to her.

No. Kally was just the bait.

Suddenly she knew exactly why they hadn't outright killed her.

"Oh Harry Poooottteeerrrrr. Come out, come out, wherever you are."

Power, silvery sweet and enchanting poured over her. The voice was like liquid sex, entrancing and chilling. For a sweet second it washed away her pain, her ability to think of anything else, slipping through the downpour like a musical Grecian wave, and somehow choking on blood from her bit cheek no longer seemed so bad.

Dimly, deep inside her mind she realized that parts of her body were going numb that shouldn't be.

She also realized that this bitch was trying to lure Harry out.

Harry, who was no longer there.

Kally's chest positively burned. From the cold searing pain, or the water she'd choked on, or the pathogens now running through her body – Kally exposed to the plague from swallowing tainted runoff - she wasn't sure; she just knew it hurt.

She was being used as living, breathing bait for someone she loved, someone…who wasn't going to come.

And there was a horrible, awful taste on her tongue. She couldn't place it, but the stench in her nose was familiar. Somehow….but it was overpowered by the stench of death and rot, and she couldn't place it.

A primitive part of her mind screamed that she should.

Zhia Rou Chang knelt in the flooding street and held her there, her long dark hair seemingly untouched by the deluge assaulting the world, her incredibly dark eyes mysterious and beautiful. She oozed seduction more effortlessly than even the most beautiful of veelas, yet there was something tainted and twisted in her magic.

Kally didn't notice. She just wanted this horrible woman to get off her. Pus-polluted water sloshed around her, running down the street in an ever-present river as the hordes of undead continued to pound and lick and salivate all over the flickering orange barrier. Kally lay in the unsanitary water and every centimeter of her flesh went numb with the cold.

The runoff glimmered centimeters below her lips, an oily substance pooling across the surface. Even in the dark the oil gleamed like a prism, grays and blues and purples, it almost beautiful amidst the floating pieces of dead flesh and dirty water.

It was that strange oily substance she'd noticed before.

Off to the side, Kally saw movement through the thick veil of rain and fog, Ron staggering to his feet. An enraged look crossed his face, the wizard taking a step forward, only for a very solid and tangible hand to latch onto him and latch onto him hard.

Jake.

Jake had jerked him backwards, because he'd seen what Ron hadn't.

Zhia Chang's knee rested firmly against the center of Kally's spine, and a single jerk from this witch could snap it in half, paralyzing her.

And a rough twist of the long-nailed-grip fisted in the back of her scalp would snap her neck and kill her.

She'd be dead before she even realized what'd happened.

The witch smiled with the assuredness of one used to always, always getting what they wanted.

"Oh Harry Potttterrrrr…." Chang sang.

From the tree-lawn Ron practically snarled, jerking his shoulder away from Jake's grip. "Lady," he bit, "you don't know this yet, but what you're doing right now is a really bad idea."

Chang's eyes flickered up, disinterested. "Oh? Is it now?"

Ron made to lunge again, only for Jake to jerk him back a second time.

Zhia laughed.

Out of the corner of Kally's eye she saw it: movement. Her heart leapt, exploded nearly-

And then it plummeted just as quickly.

All around them there had been the subtle movement of disillusioned figures, as if a dozen people had moved at once to help them.

Zhia noticed with the ethereal omniscience of a goddess.

"Stop," she purred, loudly enough for any and all living beings nearby her to hear, "and show yourselves."

A surge of magic was pushed into her voice, and the very air seemed to shudder. There was a pause, a slight hesitance, a feeling of resistance, and then…

Justin Finch-Fletchley materialized, obeying her. Not two steps behind him was a blonde witch, her hair in a low slung ponytail, the name Susan coming to mind. She'd known Harry. Last Spring, when a half dozen of them had shown up in the Great Hall, that blonde girl had known Harry.

Harry, who wasn't coming.

She wasn't dumb; she knew why Zhia Chang was doing this. Kally just hoped, hoped that the rest of the Order had managed to get the Muggles on the street to safety in time.

That stench was still in her nose, her head beginning to buzz.

It was like the stench was getting stronger, the rain diluting it. But Kally's face was right by the water, so she could still smell it. The deluge wasn't doing a single solitary thing to keep it from drifting all the way up to her nose, and the sheer stench sent her heart racing.

That oily substance on the street seemed to be spreading, and Kally's burning eyes watched it travel down-road like a tricking stream all of its own, the colorful oil spreading across the rainy blacktop like a dozen ghostly fingers reaching out.

With a choking sound she tried to look elsewhere, and through the onslaught of rain Kally saw others, though something warm and red was trickling into her eyes, blurring who they were.

Not ten paces off a pair of feet materialized along the ground, followed closely by a hulking form. Kally tried to peer up, squinting. A light-brown haired wizard stood there in the cold downpour shaking in rage, staring with undiluted hate straight up at Chang, looking like he was fighting tooth and nail against everything the siren was saying, and failing.

He'd been creeping up, silent and disillusioned, to help her.

Then he'd made himself reappear simply because Chang had whispered for him to do so.

Kally felt a stab of shock at how close he'd managed to get without her realizing. It was Cormac.

Zhia continued to purr, talking in that musical voice, commanding them to obey.

Almost all of them did.

Slowly other Order members came out, one-by-one. They were obeying Zhia, both woman and man alike, propelled under the unnatural siren's influence.

Even Kally wanted to listen to her, shivering, and every single part of her being screamed that it just wanted to please her.

And just as swiftly a stronger part of her mind thought of something….of someone. A vague image of dark hair and green eyes swam in her memory, because that was the only place Harry was now.

Chang lowered her face once more alongside her own, whispering sweetly. "Tell me, Muggle…where is he?"

Kally resisted, and when she didn't answer Chang jerked her head back with a violent hiss.

It hurt. It hurt, it hurt, it hurt, it hurt, it hurt!

"I don't know!" she said, only it came out as more of a whimper.

It was also a lie. A half truth; she didn't know where Harry was, or if he was still alive, but she knew what he'd been doing with that time turner. She remembered.

So Kally lied as much as she could in her weakened and beaten state, and as she spoke she felt her own will rebelling against Chang's magic. It rose up like a strangled animal and flailed, fighting…

Kally's eyes were scrunched and she could barely see, blood and rain and tears mixing to blur the entire world, while that awful, awful stench filled her nostrils and made her lightheaded. Chang's breath, hot and disturbing, traced along her ear, like a predator considering its prey.

"You don't know? And if you did?" came Chang's slippery sweet whisper, and the magic poured across her as thickly as the rain.

This time Kally didn't even have to resist.

Tasting her own blood on her lips, she quietly choked, "I wouldn't tell you."

Atop her she felt Zhia go very, very still. The displeasure practically rolled off her in waves.

"I told you," came Avery's voice, "you should have just killed her."

"Shut up!" she hissed, and above her Kally could feel Zhia sizing her up like a hunter ready to de-pelt their kill. "It's love." The word was spat with practical disgust. "I am not…perfect yet. But my Lord will fix that."

Part of her mind processed the conversation. Part of it honestly did. Another part panicked and hated every second of this.

Kally was cold and soaked and trembling so hard she wasn't certain she could stand even if allowed, and in that moment she knew their plan to help the Muggles, to try to distract the Death Eaters to buy the rest of the Order time to get them to safety, had backfired.

It'd backfired because Zhia Chang was insane, had an ability they hadn't know about, and was going to kill them anyway.

A despair, black and swallowing consumed her, because in that awful, horrible moment she realized she was about to die.

Sharp nails dug into the sides of her neck, Kally whimpering as lancing pain shot down her spinal column, and with a serpentine hiss Chang practically spat the words. She didn't hesitate. She didn't even blink. Dark, callous eyes flickered around the street, and Zhia Chang smiled a twisted sort of smile.

Then she looked at each and every single Order member that had materialized, compelled to by her unnatural orders, and simpered a singular request.

"Kill yourselves."

Her heart leapt in her chest.

Ron bellowed, Jake shouting.

A second later Kally recognized what that smell was, the one that had been making her lightheaded and her skull buzz.

It was gasoline.

Hazel eyes shot shakily down the road, following the shimmering oily path. Privet Drive was sloped ever-so-subtly downwards, and the gasoline had mixed with the rain water running down Privet Drive, forming a colorful line straight down the center.

Kally followed it with her blurry eyes.

She saw the glowing barrier holding back the hoards of the undead. She saw their rotting and decaying feet, strips of clothing flapping wetly against bone. She saw the cloudy water sloshing violently around their ankles, the oil kicked up to shimmer unnaturally in the night.

Her eyes drifted past all of that, and straight to where an old, yellow sports car stood, unnoticed, at the end of the street.

It was yellow. Bright, blazing yellow. It was almost blinding. It shimmered in and out of existence for a moment, before finally solidifying. Kally blinked. An enlarged rhino horn appeared to have been attached to the roof, and spikes rippled along the sides of it like the living cilia she'd seen in biology class. The wheels looked less like wheels and more like claws at this point, and as Kally stared for that heart stopping moment, she noticed that a Weasley twin's legs hung out the passenger-side window.

For all-the-world it looked as if the wizard had been hastily tied up and tossed into the backseat for his own good, as if done in a last-ditch attempt to stop him from listening to Zhia Chang's commands.

But that wasn't what caught Kally's attention.

No.

On either side of the car – if it could even be called that anymore – stood two figures. A dark skinned male stood on one side, Lee holding a sizeable gasoline canister that he was pouring into the center of the road with a gleeful grin, and on the other….

Well on the other side stood Fred, the wizard's expression contorted into something decidedly unamused, and he was holding a match.

Kally choked.

The car stood there, rain pattering off the hood. Eyes and a sharp-toothed-mouth had been painted on the front of it, and as Kally lay there, a knee in her back and her eyes blurred from blood and water and oil, she swore the car actually winked at her.

Cormac's right arm was shaking, the wizard grabbing at it with his left as he slowly turned his wand on his own head, the end of his wand beginning to glow noxious green as he fought against himself…

Fred Weasley winked, and then he dropped the match.