The once-built-in bookshelves still pinned him, but he stifled the groan that begged his bloody lips. They were still here: relaxed, hoods back, wands loose, and that could only mean the splashes on the walls, the heaps at their feet were his brothers-in-law. A glint of blued metal shone from a hollowed book that had split, and he reached for it; rolling, aiming, firing in one motion. Then nothingness again, not a Stunner, but a Cruciatus. He grinned before the pain washed down. Let them handle a gunshot wound, Muggle-hating bastards. Malfoy would be lucky if he kept the leg.
It wasn't easy to balance a screaming toddler on each hip, but she managed it, hushing them as she waved her wand over the spilled stew, vanishing it. She didn't bother to step over the hand of the bound, unconscious Death Eater, for once grateful of the weight of the boys and her own heavily pregnant belly as the fingers snapped. Mistake enough to think that she was defenseless with Arthur gone, a greater mistake to spoil dinner, but the unforgivable mistake had been waking the twins after it had taken two hours to get them down for a nap.
He hadn't wanted a mission tonight, but they couldn't afford to be picky about the calendar. His nerves were strung tight, his nostrils flared, scars burning, and he could smell his prey, sense the Death Eater somewhere near…very near…there. He whirled into the shadows, shocking himself as he slashed out not with his wand, but his bare hands, and the body crumpled with a sick gurgle and heavy thud. The nails pulled back, retreating from talons to the nubs his mother still pestered him about chewing, and he stared at his hands in amazement. "Well, isn't that a neat trick."
The beady eyes glinted triumph behind the mask as he advanced on her, "Gonna be a shame to tear up that pretty face, lovey..."
She was disarmed, but there, clutched in a severed hand…she grabbed it, sending broken stone soaring into the air, shattering into sand. With another swirl, it became a whirlwind, a vicious storm that grated flesh and stripped the Death Eater's face to a raw, bloody skull that screamed horribly through his lipless mouth.
She stepped over him, retrieving her wand, then turned back, pursing her lips at the hideous figure. "Ferme ta bouche quand tu parle."
"Last vords, Veasley?" The dark wizard ran his wand under Charlie's jaw. "Such a fool to come alone."
He spat, clearing his mouth of the salt-sweet blood. "I've already seen enough, Dimitrov, you're finished when I get back to the others."
"Vy?" The polished wood dug in. "I have the vand."
The blast came with perfect precision, turning the smirk into a shriek of agony as Charlie dove, hissing in pain as his back blistered. He stood, laughing as he looked up at the huge beast peering over the edge of the rooftop. "Because I didn't come alone, right, Norberta?"
He'd made the wrong choice, but there was nothing for it, no way to explain he understood and would give anything to take it back. How to explain when you told the Minister your father was a shallow, Muggle-obsessed fool, your brothers merely pranksters, your mother an empty-headed biddy that you were trying to protect them, divert attention to allow the fight he knew should have been his. Maybe still could be, if there was any opening for it. He would only get one chance, no room for error, but with one, unforgivable exception, he specialized in getting things right.
They were connected. Normal for twins, everyone said, but it was more. Maybe it was being wizards, but he knew when George was hit, the pain so vivid he gasped, stiffening, almost falling off the broom himself. His hand clapped to his ear, but it was still there, and rage began to build past the nausea. He yanked out the brightly colored tube, flinging it into the air. His shout of triumph was for both of them as he directed and ignited it. Wildfire Whizbangs looked great, but it wasn't much fun to have one go off in your mouth.
He couldn't breathe, couldn't stand, couldn't exist. It was nothing to lose part of his body, half his blood compared to this. He pressed against the wall, hating to hide but flicking his wand uselessly, reaching for magic that felt all wrong. His eyes closed, too lost for tears, then he felt it. Fred never missed a punchline, and he wouldn't now. He was still there, would be long enough at least to see this through, and he took a deep breath, winking at the unseen he knew could see. "What do you call dead meat in a snake suit?"
He thought at first he had nodded off; it must be a dream. Harry had stripped off, the Horcrux shining in the moonlight against gooseflesh as he poised at the edge of the pool. Then he was down, under the ice, and it didn't matter if it was a dream, because that was his friend, and there was no hesitation. He crossed the clearing at a sprint, plunging beneath the searing chill and inky darkness until he felt a shoulder beneath his hand, grabbing and kicking and choking and Harry was out before it occurred to him he couldn't swim.
"You know where they are! You know where they're broadcasting from! You know how they're getting the signal out! They've been sending you things! Tell us how!"
Her hands scraped against the stone as she sobbed for breath, her red hair hanging like streaks of pain in her eyes as she fought not to throw up, rolling onto her back to stare up at the two hideous siblings. "All right," she moaned, "please, no more…I'll tell you…."
Alecto leaned down eagerly, grinning. "Yes?"
"They'd agree with me that your faces would work really well as Muggle toilet seats."