A/N: Sorry for the long delay, everyone. This 12k words bastard of a chapter took a long time to write. I had first tried writing this from Filius' POV, but it clashed horribly with the tone and style of the rest of the story. I was forced to dump the 8k words I already had and start from scratch. Not pleasant.
IMPORTANT: Please note that I made a slight modification to the ending of the chapter previous to this one: Bloodhound. You will notice the part about Filius going to rescue Harry has been removed, and as such, this chapter is about Harry's stay in the hospital, from his POV. Also keep in mind Harry's fight with Riddle in the last chapter has been changed. If you care to read about it, head to the previous chapter and see how it differs (you can start after he meets Gary and walks parallel to the Thames). If you don't want to waste time reading about that, here's the gist of it: Harry kills Riddle. With a ten foot-long metal bar. That's right.
However, I strongly suggest you give that a read. Tiny details and clues of that meeting between Harry and Riddle will be important later on.
On related news, I happily inform you I've gotten myself a badass beta-reader, CareOtters, who has bitch-slapped my work until it's deemed presentable. Thank you, man! Also, in between waiting for updates on this story, I recommend giving my beta's work a look. The story is called "The Gravesong Requiem", by CareOtters, and it's about a Necromancer Harry. I guarantee you've never seen anything like it.
If you're here because Joe recommended me (thanks, Joe), you should know by now that he has uploaded an introduction to the sequel of Wastelands of Time, called Heartlands of Time. If you haven't read it already, then go do so.
Thank you for your time and enjoy.
A Clock on the Face of Hell
Chapter 5: St. Mungo's Hospital
I remember very little after I was taken by the Aurors.
Some sounds and smells and images are still with me today, but for the most part I was treated to a whirlwind of brief, hazy moments I can't quite recall. I remember Healers looking down at me, their heads surrounded by translucent bubbles like upturned fishbowls. I remember being portkeyed away from Roupell St. and being levitated through the winding corridors of St. Mungo's Hospital.
But what I remember most clearly is the pain; liquid fire coursing through my veins, my heart beating wildly, unknowingly pumping the poison and spreading it through my body. I recall that I was given five different sedatives before I was numb enough to stop thrashing on the bed. It was one of the most unpleasant experiences in my life.
Tom Riddle's use of Fiendfyre had been a particularly clever move, one that I admit I hadn't foreseen. My short moment of smug triumph had been quickly drowned by the unassailable walls of hot and deadly fire, and to this day I bear the marks of the procedure that saved my life.
My fight with Riddle took place on a Saturday 21st of January, 1945, and it would be weeks before I was deemed healthy enough to be discharged. Or rather, deemed healthy enough by the Healers. The Aurors, it turned out, weren't willing to wait that long.
I was mostly unconscious through that Saturday, and a large part of Sunday and Monday, too. My memories of the beginning of the week are somewhat sharper than the rest but still quite hazy. Time blurred, making it impossible for me to tell what happened, when and how.
Tuesday was better. I remember a rather unattractive Healer changing my bandages and a sour-looking Auror supervising the whole ordeal. My faculties weren't all there yet, and when I tried to speak I found my mouth dry and my tongue uncooperative. A handsome Healer in his mid-thirties detachedly informed me I was still heavily sedated.
On Wednesday I woke up to find I was a convict.
The sun filtered through the wide window and the open, yellowish drapes. I opened my eyes blearily and groped for my glasses. The first thing I discovered was the handcuffs. I was tied to the metal railings that ran parallel to my bed, and tugging only made an annoying rattling noise that unfortunately caught the attention of the room's other occupant.
"So you're up," the man said. "Thought you were going to die on that bed. Too bad, I guess."
I raised my head as much as I could and looked for the source of that unpleasant drawling voice. Without my glasses the room was blurry, but I could make out the shape of a man sitting on the opposite side of the room, his legs crossed and a newspaper open in front of him. I sighed tiredly and dropped back on the bed.
"Call the Healer, will you?" I croaked. "This dreamless-sleep potion isn't working. I had a nightmare about an asshole invading my private room."
I heard the newspaper being closed and tossed aside, and heavy footsteps coming closer to my bed. "I'm an Auror, kid," the man said. His voice was raspy, as if he hadn't spoken for a while. "Drop the bloody cheek or I'll have you carted off to Azkaban wearing that nightgown."
"Just give me my glasses back, tough guy," I said distractedly. "I want to see the look on your face when I break out."
The man walked to his seat and let out a muffled sigh as he dropped back down. "You're awfully cocky for a bloke who's looking at more than twenty five years in prison," the man said. "Perhaps you'll be happy to see you've made the front page. Congratulations, you've won yourself the hate of every witch and wizard I've come across."
The Auror pulled out his wand and levitated the newspaper towards me. Then, with a flick of his wand he opened a drawer, summoned my glasses and tossed them for me to catch. It didn't escape my notice that he was wary of coming close to me. It seemed I was building up a reputation quite fast.
I put my glasses on and gave him a long, speculative look, weighing with my eyes. The Auror was rather portly and looked tired. He was at least fifty years old, had perfectly combed brown hair, thick eyebrows and a thin mouth, framed by a carefully trimmed beard. He was dressed in standard Auror uniform; a long, red robe that reached his ankles and brown boots that looked made out of a Peruvian Vipertooth's hide.
He raised his eyebrows at me and glanced down meaningfully at the newspaper. I gave him a small smirk and picked it up. There, staring at me from the front page was a huge picture of the Auror that had ordered me to drop my wand. He looked to be giving an interview and seemed inordinately pleased with himself. In the background I could see the miserable state of Roupell St. after Riddle and I had been done with our fight.
The article read:
Tuesday, January 24th, 1945
Severe breach of the International Statute of Secrecy
Suspect is already in custody
By Michael de Santi
Yesterday Aurors received notice of a significant output of magic in Roupell St. and Windmill Walk, Muggle London. Officers arrived at the scene to find a large fireball consuming an already wrecked landscape.
"[…] terrible thing," an eye-witness commented. "I was walking close by when I heard the explosions. It sounded like a duel, but when we got there all we saw was fire. Then the Aurors showed up and put out the fire. And there he was, a man standing right where [the fire] had been. He seemed ready to fight his way out, but of course he was subdued before he could try."
Witnesses confirmed the state of the street was "beyond repair". The pavement had been torn apart, walls leveled down, surrounding houses and businesses scorched by the terrible fire, and what an Auror swears was "a gigantic piece of transfiguration shaped like a huge snake, and made of rock." This Auror, who wishes to remain anonymous, further said, "If I didn't know any better I'd say Professor Dumbledore did it. He's the only one I know that can pull it off without killing himself."
But it turns out the Aurors managed to capture the suspect, who powerful or not was apparently too exhausted and injured to escape. The Department of Magical Law Enforcement has yet to release a statement, but anonymous sources within the Ministry have assured the media that the respected Professor Dumbledore was in no way related to the destruction of this Muggle street, as he was teaching at Hogwarts at the time of the crime.
The suspect, who reliable sources claim is not registered in the Ministry, apparently lost control of his magic while destroying this peaceful Muggle neighborhood. Experts suggest Fiendfyre was the cause of the destruction and the most likely explanation as to why the caster himself was severely injured.
St. Mungo's has confirmed to be treating the suspect, who suffered Class B burns from a cursed object, which in this case we assume was the fire. Healers expect him to be healthy soon.
As of yet a hearing before the Wizengamot has not been fixed. However, the criminal has already been processed and convicted with the following charges: destruction of property, use of magic in a Muggle area, a Level Two breach of the International Statute of Secrecy and resisting arrest.
Lord Grindelwald's reputed involvement, Page 4.
The dangers of casting Fiendfyre, Page 7.
Stricter policies in the Magical Signature Registration Office? Editorial Note.
"Well fuck me, I'm famous," I muttered.
The Auror looked at me with a small smile on his face, as if nothing could make him happier than a suspect realizing he was truly and thoroughly screwed. I returned his look with one of supreme nonchalance. I had been in worse situations – far worse than being in Auror custody. If I'd once managed to break out of a heavily secured castle in the middle of nowhere – and bring the whole building down in the process, mind you – I was confident this tiny room wouldn't hold me for long.
"So we're in St. Mungo's then?"
He ignored my question. "Quite the list of charges you've stacked up, eh?" he commented. "What's more, that article is from yesterday – old news, I'm afraid. Today's papers are raving about that man you killed. Crime Scene specialists found traces of a burnt body on that orphanage's wall. Chances are you won't be seeing daylight again in this life."
I shrugged, tossed the newspaper aside and leaned back on the bed. "So…where's my wand?"
A twinge of dread swept over me. "What'd you do with it? Haven't destroyed it, I hope?"
The man gave me an unconcerned look. "Probably stored as evidence for now," he said. "Don't think you'll be using it any time soon."
I gritted my teeth and looked away. There were many things I could tolerate, many situations I could learn to ignore, but having my wand taken away from me, lost to the inept bureaucracy of the English wizarding government was not something I took lightly. If that wand, if that particular wand was ever lost…
I tried not to let my anger show. My hands clenched into fists and the links of the handcuffs rattled slightly. I stared out the window at the landscape, trying to relax. I would get my wand back soon enough. I just had to bide my time until the opportunity presented itself and I would be out of here, free to search for the second Phoenix wand and ready to remove Riddle's next head.
"Aren't you going to interrogate me?" I asked casually.
The Auror yawned and propped his feet up on a chair. "Not me," he said in a bored tone. "There's already enough evidence to put you away for as long as we please. You'll get your turn to answer questions the day of the hearing. I suggest you save your story for someone who cares."
I nodded distractedly, and as I kept staring out the window, asked, "What's your name, Auror?"
"Auror Wilson to you."
"Auror Wilson," I repeated slowly. "No, can't say I've heard of you before. Are you close to retirement?"
Through the corner of my eye I caught a wistful look on his face for a moment. "Less than a year away, in fact. Why?"
"Because you'll lose your pension if you stay in this shift," I said. I turned to look at him, and he must have seen something in my eyes that made him pause. "By the end of the day I'll be abroad and you'll be explaining to your superiors how a suspect in custody managed to break out. Then you'll be asked why you and your partner standing outside were stunned, and how come I still had time to drink a cup of tea in the visitors' lounge on the fifth floor."
The fear left his eyes as quickly as it had come. "Is that so?" He chuckled. "Let me tell you, I have never had a suspect escape on my watch. And I sure as hell won't stain my record now, kid."
"Oh, you will," I said very quietly as I turned to look around the room. "You will."
We fell silent, each lost in our own thoughts. Now that I had my glasses I could see the rest of the room. It was mostly bare, but there were signs of someone spending a significant amount of time inside. There were old newspapers and magazines stacked on a chair, brown paper bags that smelled of food, and empty plastic cups and a gray inkwell with a quill dipped inside that sat on a small table by the door.
At what I guessed was midday the door opened and another man dressed in Auror regalia peered inside. Auror Wilson made an impatient gesture with his hand and a Healer assistant walked in carrying a tray laden with food. She self-consciously glanced at the Aurors and me, and as quickly as she could she left the tray on the table and walked out.
Auror Wilson gave a distracted flick of his wand and levitated the tray towards me. Soup. They gave me soup, two pieces of bread and some kind of fudge I didn't even touch. I washed down the last of my bread with some water and was pleased to note my throat and mouth didn't feel as dry as before.
"You'd be eating processed cardboard if it were up to me," Auror Wilson commented at some point. I ignored him.
Nothing happened from midday to noon. My cheerful companion kept to his newspapers and magazines, and I was busy thinking about Riddle, escaping and Filius. More than once I wondered if Filius had caught on to what had happened, and if he had, what he was planning to do about it.
But most of my thoughts were on Riddle. I kept imagining that wraith-like shadow gliding over the ocean, quickly covering ground across Europe and settling in Albania. For that was where he was most likely to go. Dumbledore and I had never found out what it was exactly that Voldemort did there, or why he had chosen Albania of all places.
I was sure I would be seeing Riddle again very soon.
I watched the sun slowly bury itself in the horizon. It must have been around 8:00 p.m. when I heard voices on the other side of the door. I recognized the voice of the Auror stationed outside, the one who'd asked Wilson if the room was safe for the Healer assistant to come in. There was another voice, too; older, more mature and slightly bossy – their superior, perhaps.
"He's here? What is he doing here?"
"Visiting his brother, as far as I know, sir."
There was a pause. Auror Wilson gave me a bored look and picked up a magazine, poorly pretending not to hear the conversation outside.
"Ask him to come in then," the older of the two finally said. "We could do with a good Reader. Damn Robards chooses the worst of times to visit his family."
"He missed Christmas, sir."
There was a moment of silence. I could clearly imagine the look on the young Auror's face when his superior turned to glare at him. And then one of them walked away. The sound of his boots hitting the tiled floor carried through to me faintly, and disappeared altogether as he rounded the corner.
The door to my room opened and the young Auror stepped inside. "I'm leaving my post for a few minutes," he told Wilson. "I'll be back as soon as I can." He glanced at me, lying in bed with a bandage around my upper torso and hands cuffed to the railings, and grinned at Wilson. "Think you can handle him by yourself for a while?"
Auror Wilson glared at him. "Get lost, Hayden," he said. "You wouldn't know the tip of your wand even if I were to stick it up your ass and use it as a lever."
"Oh, you'd like that, wouldn't you?"
Auror Hayden gave Wilson a mocking smile, turned and opened the door. Wilson called, "And bring me a cup o' tea, will you?" The door closed and we were once again left in silence.
But now there was no one left to call for reinforcements outside; it was just me and this old Auror. The situation reminded me of the good old days, when my enemies would constantly mock me and underestimate me. The witches and wizards of 1945 were already speculating about me and what I could do. Perhaps the time had come for me to show these people just why whole countries shuddered at the thought of the Dark Lord Potter walking down their streets at night.
Today was a Wednesday, and I was a convict on Wednesdays.
Approximately five minutes had passed since Auror Hayden left. I remained deceptively docile, and even when the same ugly Healer came by to change my bandages I was cooperative and friendly. The process took less than a few seconds, and the Healer left with a smile on her face, unaware of just whom she had told, "You're a doll."
Auror Wilson kept me under his watchful eye, though. Perhaps it was my comment about his pension that had him wary. Or maybe knowing I'd crushed a man's head with a six foot-long metal bar. Whatever the reason, he wasn't buying my polite demeanor.
Ten minutes later I was sure Auror Hayden was well away from my room and looking for whoever this Reader was. Wilson's vigilance relaxed when it became clear I was held securely in place and wouldn't be trying anything funny. His faith in a piece of metal was misplaced. Some wizards might not be capable of minor feats of unfocused magic, but I sure am.
I leaned back on the bed, closed my eyes and concentrated. The handcuffs grew warm and rattled almost imperceptibly. I kept the flow steady and slow, not wanting to start off with the fireworks while my captor carried a wand and I didn't. It took more than a little effort and concentration to force magic the way it didn't naturally want to go.
I heard the faintest click of the metal links being forced open. I looked down and hid a smug smile. The handcuffs were still firmly secured around my wrists, but the thick coil of steel that bound me to the railings had snapped. It was a very small, very insignificant tear in one of the links, and it was more than enough.
Auror Wilson ran his fingers through his perfectly trimmed moustache and settled more comfortably on his seat. I could make out the cover of a transfiguration magazine open in front of him. He glanced up and gave me another one of those bored, slightly contemptuous looks and returned to his lazy perusal of Transfiguration Today. I smiled calmly at him and concentrated.
I didn't immediately jump out of bed and try to wrestle the wand out of his grip like the crazed convict I was supposed to be. I did the smart thing – I waited. And concentrated. The aging Auror would stare fixedly at the magazine while I seemed to busy myself with the illusionary landscape outside, looking the very picture of a man resigned to his fate. He turned one page, two pages, ten pages. I still waited. And concentrated.
On a small table beside the door, a grey inkwell shattered to pieces, startling both of us.
Wilson's eyes snapped up in time to see shards of glass falling to the floor and the quill that had been resting inside the inkwell burn. He shot me a suspicious look but I was still sitting on the bed, wandless, and I looked as surprised and confused as he did. I let my concentration slip and the small fire that burned around the fallen quill dimmed and died.
"What the hell…" I heard him mutter.
The old Auror stood up and walked towards the small table, his heavy boots crunching the pieces of glass that lay on the floor. I remained in place; patient, waiting. When he bent over to pick up the burnt quill I made my move.
I made no sound; the bed didn't creak and I kept the handcuffs around my wrists still, so as to avoid the clinking noise that could've given me away. I leapt out of bed and charged at him. Auror Wilson turned just in time to stick his hand in his pocket, but before he could pull his wand out I smashed my fist against his jaw.
With a grim look on my face I watched his body fall, the momentum of my blow carrying him backwards. To the man's credit, the heavy hit I'd landed didn't knock him out, but even as he dazedly moved on the floor I knew he was no longer a threat. He probably hadn't been one to begin with.
"Sorry 'bout that, Willy," I said as I picked up his wand. "But I did tell you about that pension."
Wilson spat a mouthful of blood on the floor and glared at me. "You won't make it out," he growled, supporting the weight of his body with one arm in a half-sitting position. "And when you get caught they'll add assaulting an Auror and attempted escape to your list of charges. You'll die in Azkaban."
I gave him a bored look. "Willy, do I look like I give a damn?" I gestured at his boots. "Take them off."
"Take your boots off, man," I repeated impatiently. "They look good and I won't walk out of here barefoot."
Auror Wilson kept his narrowed eyes on me as he slowly undid the buckles. There was a certain satisfaction in watching the man who had been smugly telling you you'd rot in prison remove his expensive Auror boots and reluctantly toss them to you.
I kept an eye on him as I tried the dragon hide boots on. To my delight, they fit me quite well. Wilson never took his eyes off of me and I pretended like I couldn't see his hand creeping closer to his ankle. Filius had already told me the Auror Corps of 1945 hadn't seen war since the last Goblin rebellion in 1827, but if Wilson represented the level of competence of this time, I very much doubted Grindelwald would be kept out of Britain for long.
"Think they'll kick you off the force then?" I asked pleasantly as I did the silver fastenings of the boots, watching him through the corner of my eye.
He smiled a thin smile. "Oh, I doubt they will."
"No? And why's that?"
Auror Wilson quickly lifted the hem of his robe, and in a completely expected move, he pulled out a spare wand from a holster strapped around his ankle. By the time he looked up with a pleased expression on his face and had his wand vaguely pointed at me, I had already stood up and leveled mine between his eyes.
Wilson froze as I grinned dangerously at him.
There was a flash of red light and the old Auror's eyes rolled to the back of his head, his wand clattered to the ground and he dropped backwards with a soft thud, unconscious. I chuckled and picked up the spare wand, feeling quite pleased with myself. With a lazy flick of my wand I levitated the unresponsive body towards the bed and covered his face with the starched white sheets.
I casually transfigured the easily recognizable pajamas of a patient into a black shirt and a pair of jeans. It would fade with time – transfigurations always do – but hopefully I'd be out of the country by the time that happened.
My eyes fell on the scattered pieces of the inkwell I'd used as a distraction. With a deft twirl of the wand, the shards of glass joined together and the quill returned to its pristine state, and with another flick, the whole set glided towards the table by the door, where it remained still and unbroken.
Auror Hayden could be back with the Reader any second. Just like Cutters was the term most commonly used by Aurors to refer to the forensics team, Reader was what they called a certified Legilimens, and these folk were very rarely weak. And although I very much doubted the two of them could stop me – my body felt fine, my magic strong and my muscles hadn't suffered any damage by the short stay in the hospital – I would rather avoid confrontations if at all possible.
I needed to traverse the long, winding corridors of St. Mungo's and make it to the reception area without being seen. It would be a hard feat to accomplish, but there was no choice; the whole building was layered with anti-apparition wards, and the only place available for travel was the Ground Floor. Luckily my picture hadn't appeared in the media – that would have complicated things – and as it were, I was counting on civilians not being able to recognize me on sight.
Before I stepped outside I tapped my head with the tip of Wilson's wand and felt the customary cold spread down my back. The spell didn't work as well as I'd expected it to; I wasn't invisible, merely translucent. I blamed it on the poor affinity I had with the wand, but thought that if I was careful, walked close to the walls and didn't make any sound I would be fine.
The door was unlocked. I stepped outside and took a good look at my surroundings. There was no one there to see the door being opened from the inside, and I was at the end of the hallway. Solid-looking white doors lined the walls, and to my right I could see that the corridor forked.
I quickly stuffed the wand inside one of my recently transfigured pockets, closed the door behind me and walked down the corridor. A plastic sign that hung from the ceiling read: Fourth Floor, Spell Damage. I took a left and kept walking, and when I rounded the corner I saw a wide staircase. I soundlessly made my way towards it, giddy with the promise of freedom.
As I got close to the stairs, however, slow, steady footsteps reached my ears. It was coming from the staircase – from downstairs and getting louder as whoever it was climbed the steps. I hesitated. A civilian wouldn't recognize me even if he were to see me, but an Auror would curse first and ask questions later.
I walked slowly, conscious of how much noise my handcuffs could make. From behind the wall that bordered the staircase half-way to the fifth floor, I saw Auror Hayden slowly making his way towards an open room, where he stopped and cursed under his breath.
"Where the hell is he…?" he muttered.
Hayden sighed tiredly, pulled out his wand and tapped it on the bare wall beside the doorframe. A small, square-shaped metal plaque materialized. It buzzed softly and turned blue. Hayden nodded, satisfied, and headed downstairs, presumably looking for the Legilimens.
From the moment I'd broken the links of my handcuffs I had had a plan; I knew exactly what I would do to get out. But Hayden not yet realizing I was missing complicated things. I leaned against the wall and my eyes settled on the landing of the fifth floor, shy a few steps away from where I stood. I needed to wait, and I needed to do it someplace I wouldn't be seen.
I climbed the remaining steps, cancelled the Disillusionment charm and pushed open the glass door to the visitors' lounge. There were a few witches and wizards sitting in small booths around the large room. I sat down on a stool by the bar and called the guy manning the place.
"A cup of tea, please. Extra sugar."
The employee turned and repeated the order to a woman wearing an apron. I relaxed in my seat and picked up a discarded newspaper. The front page showed a grim-looking man in a green robe picking up a very familiar holly wand and showing it to the camera. The caption read: Crime Scene specialists find evidence of murder in the Roupell St. case. Pg. 3.
"Pretty mad, eh?" the bartender commented. "This bloke, I mean. He's got the juice and the skills, and he still got caught in the act. Makes you wonder what exactly he was doing there and why."
I drummed my fingers on the counter, pretending to think. "Maybe he thought Muggle London could do with some remodeling."
"Well, can't disagree with you on that." He chuckled. "My cousin lives close by. She says the place could be tagged and sold as an antique."
A bored female voice called, "Tea!" From the customary glass-free window beside the alcohol cabinet of the bar, a teacup and saucer came hovering through. The bartender picked up the levitation charm and settled the beverage in front of me with a flourish.
I had promised Auror Wilson I'd have a cup of tea before leaving, and I was now drinking it slowly and in silence. The civilians having a snack in the visitors' lounge of St. Mungo's Hospital never knew the very man some of them were discussing was sitting right there with them. I smiled pleasantly when talked to or greeted, and even as I thought about how I could get my hands on Riddle's wand – the one shown in the newspaper – and my own, I kept an eye on the door and thought about where Filius and I would go once I got out of here.
My pocket watch had been lost to the unknown enchantments that protected the underground tunnels around the Clock in Lac du Der-Chantecoq, France. It was probably sitting safely inside my Mokeskin pouch. Thus, I didn't know the exact time, but I thought I had spent around ten or fifteen minutes in the visitors' lounge already, and figured it was safe to leave.
I made sure the barman, the waitress and the cook were distracted, and when I saw my window of opportunity I quietly walked out the room without paying. Right then and there I didn't have a single Knut, but maybe one day I would donate enough gold to build a new wing. Maybe even buy some quality tea bags, too.
I stepped outside and let the glass door close behind me. "Evening," I said with a polite nod to a young couple that was climbing the stairs. "Did you happen to see a young Auror and another man while you came up? Maybe on the fourth floor?"
"No, not at all," the man said apologetically. "Sorry. And good luck."
"Thanks," I answered.
I silently descended the stairs, pulled out my wand and once again cast the Disillusionment charm on myself. There was an old woman limping towards an open door at the end of the hallway, but no sign of any Aurors. Heartened, I stepped out of the staircase, and under the dim lights of the corridor, I quickly turned and made to keep going down, thinking of the ground floor and the moment I'd finally be free.
I hadn't taken three steps before I heard a familiar voice. It suddenly dawned on me just who was the Reader – or Legilimens – the Aurors were counting on. The voice was coming from an open door near the wide flight of stairs. Hidden behind the wall that bordered the staircase, I poked my head out and listened.
"…left then?" someone inside the room said. "What, two Aurors on duty and many stationed downstairs, and he just walked out the door?"
"It appears so," another said gravely. "Young Hayden and I found the room empty and Auror Wilson – you remember him, don't you, Abe? He was lying unconscious on the bed. At first glance it looks like he was stunned. Both his wands are missing and he received a rather strong blow to the jaw."
There was a moment of silence. I was pressed against the wall, my heart pumping fast, my thoughts a whirlwind of images and memories. I knew I had to leave. My rational brain screamed at me to go down the stairs and apparate away. Very slowly I did, descending the stairs almost sideways so that I could stare at the open door for a moment longer.
"Well then, I shall leave you to rest," said the one standing by the door. There was an air of awkwardness between him and the other man. "Do let me know should you need anything."
I caught a glimpse of auburn hair and purple robes, but by the time Albus Dumbledore turned and closed the door behind him I was already out of sight, hiding behind the wall that bordered the large staircase. I heard Dumbledore mutter an incantation, one I recognized, and felt a very soft breeze travel from downstairs and through the fourth floor.
I was familiar with that particular revealing enchantment, so I wasn't worried. The results would point Dumbledore towards the room I had vacated or the fifth floor landing, because that was where I'd cast spells. The corridor and this part of the staircase would show clear of any magic – or at least of my magic.
His spell did indeed point him towards my room, and I heard his footsteps moving away from where I stood. I took a brief look around the wall and gave Dumbledore's back a hard stare; a mixture of longing and betrayal.
Seeing him again brought back in full force those doubts that had been slowly creeping their way into my mind since I'd arrived to 1945. I couldn't ignore it any longer. One of these days I'd have to reintroduce myself to him, if only for my peace of mind.
From that point onwards I was met with little to no resistance. I shook useless doubts and morbid thoughts out of my head and descended the stairs in silence. I focused on Filius, Flamel and the Stone – always think dangerous thoughts, Potter, and if you're vigilant you'll get to see what the proper frame of mind does to a fighter – and the mere thought of breaking into the house of one of the most experienced wizards to ever walk the Earth brought a grin to my face and a shot of adrenaline through my body.
I made it to the ground floor unchallenged. The reception hall of St. Mungo's was a very long, very wide room, with tall marble columns erected for decoration and circular windows that lined the walls, showing the same green, illusionary landscape. There was an arched doorway that led to the apparition zone and several free-of-charge fireplaces had been built near the staircase.
This part of the hospital was always busy. Far from where I stood, right by the main entrance that connected with Muggle London, behind a half-loop counter, were three Mediwitches that dealt with the dozens of witches and wizards that poured in. Future patients and family crowded the seating areas.
I stopped just within the secluded structure of the staircase. My Disillusionment charm slowly faded and it would be a few more minutes before I could cast another one. My old, trusted Phoenix-core wand could've made it work for at least three times longer, but Wilson's wand was all I had. I stayed behind the wall, wondering if I should just walk out of St. Mungo's like any other civilian, yet I hesitated.
The general air of the reception hall felt light and friendly, and the civilians that crowded the place didn't seem at all concerned. It was unlikely they had been informed about a potentially dangerous criminal's escape. But something felt wrong. It was my hardened, polished sense of awareness that screamed something was out of place. I couldn't quite place my finger on it, but walking towards the exit was the wrong move to make.
And then I saw them.
A hazy, blurry motion caught my eye by one of the windows closest to me – an almost invisible movement that could've been easily missed amongst the throngs of moving people. There were invisible Aurors strategically located all over the place – at least eight that I could count – just waiting to ambush any suspicious-looking characters that happened to ignorantly walk past their hiding places.
I drew back, leaned against the wall and laughed quietly to myself. It was almost too easy. Most weren't even wearing invisibility cloaks, which would have rendered them completely invisible to the naked eye. They were using Disillusionment charms, just like I had, and with a casual flick of my wand I could make them all stand out like mountain trolls in a Wizengamot session.
The best laid plans sometimes fail, but I always made sure whatever I cooked up was just a basic guideline, a vague plan of action that could be modified to fit the ever-changing variables. And that's what I did.
Instead of stealing some Healer's robes and walking out the door as if I'd just finished my evening shift in the hospital, I pulled out my wand and changed a few of my most noticeable features. I became a brown-haired, thirty-year-old, blue-eyed man with a rather ridiculous goatee, and I modeled my glasses to look like the half-moon spectacles Dumbledore usually wore.
I knew most Aurors weren't familiar with my face, other than from cursory description by another Auror or from a brief glance when I was arrested. Such a basic disguise would be more than enough to fool them. Hell, even a fake beard with tiny twists of wire over my ears would probably have been enough, but taking an extra precaution never hurt anybody.
"More than eight, more than eight," I muttered distractedly as I looked for a particularly elusive Auror. "More than eight means a Captain… Where are you, you sneaky bastard…"
Then I spotted him. Unlike their subordinates, Captain Aurors always carry invisibility cloaks. It is one of those little things the Ministry does to reward and distinguish them. And how did I spot him? You don't remain invisible for long if you walk amidst a crowd. To the experienced eye, a civilian looking confusedly over her shoulder means caution.
The only properly invisible Auror stepped away from the crowd and the tell-tale signs of his passing stopped by a wide marble pillar. I kept my eyes on the seemingly empty space for a while, wanting to make sure he wouldn't be moving any time soon.
Inconspicuously walking behind a tanned young man and his son, I ambled closer. No one noticed my stealthy approach. I left the man and his son be on their way and stepped behind the pillar. Right in front of me, I could hear the rustling of the cloak and his slow, steady breaths.
The Captain Auror never heard me. I moved my hands slowly forward, feeling for the cloak, and when I grazed it, seized it with both hands and pulled hard. Choking sounds escaped the man I'd caught with the cloak around his throat. He gulped thickly and gagged, and I felt his hands clumsily trying to slap mine away, clawing desperately at me. But I didn't relent.
As his movements became more sluggish and half-hearted, I released the cloak. But rather than letting him catch his breath, I grabbed his still invisible shoulder and the small of his back and banged his head against the solid wall. There came a sharp noise and a dull thud as the Captain Auror dropped to the ground, unconscious.
I checked his pulse and breathing to make sure I hadn't accidentally killed him. They were faint but there, so I made sure he was properly covered by the cloak and stepped out from behind the column. I idly glanced around the reception hall and walked away. Nobody had seen me.
Why didn't I just take the invisibility cloak and leave? Because other Aurors can see under their fellow Aurors' cloaks. All it takes is a badge strapped around their wrists. Besides, I couldn't just leave yet. I needed to make a statement of sorts, to make sure these people understood why trying to imprison me was a bad idea.
Now that I was deeper into the room I could see that my initial estimate of eight had been a little short. At least ten more Aurors were spaced around at regular intervals, not including the Captain I'd left in an unconscious heap. The one nearest to me was leaning against a huge fireplace, and if I were to do something, odds were a civilian would notice.
I crept closer. The Auror, recognizable as a trainee by the lack of a golden hood draped across his shoulders, was busy ogling a well-endowed woman who had chosen that moment to bend over and pick up a jar of floo powder.
I covertly pointed my wand at her rear and wordlessly fired a tickling charm. The woman straightened up, outraged, and turned to slap the nearest male she could find. Using the distraction, I stepped beside the Auror, who turned his quasi-invisible head to find my wand pointed at his chest. I grinned at him.
"Stupefy," I whispered.
The flash of red light was lost amidst the swooshing and roaring of the flames in the fireplace, and the amusing sight of a man protesting his innocence to his wife and the curious bystanders. I hesitated. The trainee's Disillusionment charm would fade faster now that he was unconscious. But I couldn't move him either, as that would draw unwanted attention.
The decision was made for me when a kid tripped over the trainee Auror's slack body. The six-year-old stumbled and fell, and laughed delightedly on the ground as he prodded with his foot the object that had caused and cushioned his fall.
Already knowing what would happen next, I walked away. Sure enough, the blurry figures of the semi-invisible Aurors started to converge on the spot where the baffled crowds had surrounded the invisible object. They were fairly organized, too, as I noticed three of them stayed in their posts by the arched doorway that led to the apparition zone.
As I'd predicted, the charm, no longer powered by the trainee's magic, quickly faded and the body came into view. A woman screamed shrilly, which was followed by a short moment of silence. Then another woman screamed and soon the rest of the crowd was spurred into panic. Some tried fleeing through the fireplaces, but the sheer amount of people pushing to get inside became a hindrance, and only a few managed to leave.
Chaos was good. Chaos was my friend. Lost in the panicked racket of a paranoid crowd, no one saw me stun an Auror hurrying towards her peer's aid. I pocketed her wand. Spares were always handy.
The Aurors soon restored their control over the fireplaces, pushing the crowds back. Three of them stayed there to prevent anyone from leaving. We were all suspects now.
Since the Captain was conspicuously missing, an Auror in his early forties, likely the next in rank, took charge of the situation.
"Attention, please!" he called authoritatively. "No one is allowed to leave the reception hall until we find the one responsible for this." The people shouted their disapproval. "Silence! House, Fuller, cover the staircase and send someone to check the upper floors. The suspect might've gone upstairs in the confusion. I want the main entrance sealed, too. No one comes in or leaves without my saying so."
"Is it the Roupell Killer?" a civilian shouted anxiously at the Auror. "Is – is it him doing this?"
As if he were standing before journalists, the man raised his chin and announced, "At present time we cannot be certain. Rest assured though, the one responsible will be found shortly –"
"Bloody hell!" another man interrupted loudly. "There's been another one! Here, look! She's unconscious."
"Here, too! This is Captain Toner!"
The crowds parted to allow the Auror in charge to inspect the woman I had just stunned and deprived from her wand. Another Auror walked towards where I'd knocked out the Captain Auror. I inched closer to the fifty or so witches and wizards that had been trapped inside the reception hall. As the Auror knelt beside her, I glanced to my left, where a man stood with his brow creased in confusion.
"Mad, eh?" I said to him, echoing the bartender of the visitors' lounge. "Someone's banging up Aurors and they expect us to stay here. We'll be slaughtered like animals in the crossfire."
The man looked nervous. People close to us heard what I'd said, too, and half-turned to hear our conversation.
"You think?" he answered, glancing from side to side, as if trying to see the 'killer' coming. "I mean, they can deal with this, right? No need to panic and all."
"I'm not so sure," I said, my voice fading into a conspiring whisper. "I don't wish to start a panic, but so far three of them have been knocked out, the Captain included. And why were they all here in the first place? I think it's because of that Roupell Killer bloke. No other reason."
The man gulped audibly and the rest of my audience whispered anxiously with one another. Soon my comments would be spread among the rest of the civilians.
Satisfied, I moved closer to one of the fireplaces that lined the wall, my escape route of choice. I didn't try to bypass the Aurors. If things worked out the way I wanted to, there would be no need for me to curse them.
But the moment one of the Aurors glanced at me I knew I'd done something wrong. Eyes wide, he shakily pulled out his wand and stumbled backwards, his lips moving in soundless fear.
With nary a glance at my surroundings, I drew my wand and jabbed it in his direction while I dropped to one knee. The Auror's admittedly power-packed disarming spell sailed past above my head, but my blasting curse caught him in his chest. In wordless pain, he was roughly pushed backwards, slammed his head against the bricks that framed the fireplace, and dropped to the ground. He didn't move again.
The other Auror stationed by the fireplace had seen my little stunt. "Miller!" she called to the Auror in charge. "He's here, Miller! Impedimenta! Velio! Stupefy! Sectum!"
I stood up, batted away her hexes and quickly walked backwards, heading into the crowd. Her spells were powerful and well-aimed, but she was wary of hurting the innocent mass behind me, while I had free reign since she stood by herself beside the fireplace.
"Fuxio," I hissed.
Unnoticed by her, the iron poker that rested over the bare mantelpiece rattled and twisted. It split in four short pieces of metal, which I transfigured into something resembling handcuffs. While concentrating on the spell my shield got neglected, and one of her cutting curses slipped by and grazed my cheek.
With blood dripping down my face, I gave the last sharp flick of my wand and my constructs leapt off the mantelpiece. They wrapped themselves around her wrists and ankles. She struggled for a moment, but I slashed my wand in a vertical motion and she was roughly pushed against the wall, her limbs were spread apart and I then levitated her six feet above the ground. The handcuffs nailed themselves into the stone wall and kept the Auror suspended there, immobile.
I grinned, pointed my wand and stunned her. Her head bobbed down and her body relaxed.
But when I turned around I realized there was no time to feel smug. By then everybody had seen me fighting the Auror, and the fifty or so civilians had put some distance between me and them, crowding by the reception desk. I couldn't blend in anymore. The rest of the Aurors managed to cross the length of the hall before I could disappear, too, and there was nowhere to run.
Before they could get to me, I covertly pointed my wand at the Auror I had practically nailed to the wall above the fireplaces and whispered an incantation. My curse was silent and colourless; completely undetectable. I left my wand-arm drop to my side as I was quickly surrounded.
Auror Miller approached the fireplace and gestured for another Auror to bring the woman down. "She's merely stunned. Revive her immediately." His eyes fell on me and he hissed, "Drop it. Drop. It. Now."
I returned his look of utmost hate with a small smile and let my wand clatter to the ground. I kicked it away from me. It was quickly picked up by one of the Aurors surrounding me.
The Captain Auror and the Auror I'd knocked out earlier proved impossible to revive. I could see each being inspected by a different Healer, and no matter how many times they tried casting the reviving spell, itdidn't work. They were both suffering from rather severe concussions. The trainee I'd merely stunned, however, was revived immediately.
"Leanne? Leanne, are you okay?" asked the Auror who'd freed and revived the woman.
She sat up groggily and rubbed her wrists, where my handcuffs had cut into her skin. Her dark eyes quickly found me, standing in the middle of the hall with no wand in hand and surrounded by seven Aurors. She stood, picked up her wand, and without answering her fellow Auror's questions, she headed towards us.
They gave her serious nods and circled me like vultures. I could see hate in almost every single face. Their wands were drawn, their postures tense, and they were waiting for Auror Miller to give them green light.
I adopted a surprised yet delighted expression.
"Ah, my friends," I said pleasantly in the relative quiet that followed. "I was wondering if I'd talk to you before I left."
"Put your hands in the air and surrender your spare wands!" Auror Miller called in an even voice. "In the name of the Ministry of Magic, do it. Now!"
I smiled and scanned the room. Now that I'd been found, civilians were being strongly encouraged to leave. Some of them immediately did, but the more morbid and curious were reluctant to do so, instead wanting to enjoy the show. I needed to act before they were forced to leave by the authorities. I needed eye witnesses if my gamble was to pay off.
For a moment, standing amidst the thirty or so civilians I thought I saw… But no, it was impossible. The odds of them being here were astronomical. I lost track of them before I could make sure of what I'd seen.
"Why, this wand?" I pulled out one of the spares I'd collected and raised it for them to see. They tensed. "This is a nice wand… You might want to ask Wilson where I got this from."
"Drop it. Now."
"I'm afraid not," I said, a wide grin stretching my face. Despite the unanswered questions, seeing Dumbledore again had brought back treasured memories, too. "You seem to be laboring under the delusion that I will – what is the phrase? – come quietly. I'm afraid I am not going to come quietly at all, Auror Miller."
I was skilled, experienced and powerful, and I knew it, too. I could bring the whole building crumbling down on them, crushing them like mere insects. Or I could take their wands and slam them hard against the walls with a single sweeping motion of my wand. Or I could stun them with twelve silver, lightning-fast jets of light, and they would come to by the time I was looking for housing in northern Australia.
But the British Aurors of 1945 didn't know that, and it was something I needed to change. I needed these people to fear me, to have that small flicker of uncertainty flash through their minds whenever they thought of taking me down. Half my battles would be won if my opponents were too scared to raise a wand against me.
I had learned the lesson from Voldemort himself.
"Enough of this," growled Miller with his wand raised. I kept mine pointed at the floor. "House, Fuller, cover the exits. Clubber, Leon, Webber, you guard the fireplaces." He glanced at the rest of the Aurors, who kept their eyes on me, circling me with fire in their eyes. "The rest of you – take him!"
Miller and the six remaining Aurors stepped forward. I gave a relaxed, confident smile and gestured for them to come closer. The trainee Auror I'd already stunned once sputtered in outrage and growled, "Incarcerous!"
I vanished the ropes with a lazy flick of my wand, and the rest of the Aurors took this as their cue to chime in. Almost in unison they snapped their wands back and then jabbed them sharply in my direction.
I brought up my wand in one swift slashing movement and a translucent blue shield materialized around me. The Aurors' curses crashed against its surface and a harsh, high-pitched noise tore through the reception hall. Windows shattered and glass fell to the floor. I saw the few civilians left cower behind the Mediwitches' half-loop counter.
Fueled by that inexplicable feeling of power, I turned and swept my wand horizontally. There came a sudden rush of wind that expanded away from me. Two Aurors, one of them Leanne, the woman I'd nailed to the wall, were too slow in their casting – the invisible force smashed through their feeble shields, lifted them up and sent them flying through the hall. They crashed roughly against the wall, dropped to the hard, cold floor and didn't get up.
Somewhere to the left, I thought I heard a cry of, "Harry!" But I was too distracted to pay proper attention, and the voice went unnoticed amidst the yelling of incantations.
My shield held against the combined onslaught of the five remaining Aurors. They were skilled and well-trained, but they would never be able to overpower me. I let my eyes wander over their faces, seeing their expressions of frustration and anger. As I deflected stunners, cutters, ropes, jets of flame, freezing and asphyxiating curses – my vision filled with streaks of vicious light – once again I thought I saw them through the corner of my eye –
But a well-aimed bone-breaker slipped past my defences and connected with my left hand. The bone snapped into pieces and a sharp lance of pain made my vision swim. Grunting and breathing heavily, I cast a numbing charm on my left hand and cleared my head off the pain as best I could.
I turned to glare at the Auror responsible. My blue shield went back up in full force.
At a gesture of my wand the ground shook and the Aurors' spell-casting momentarily faltered. With my left arm hanging limply to the side, I dropped to one knee and stabbed the hard marble floor with my wooden wand. The floor cracked.
Before the Aurors could interrupt my casting, I gave the wand a sharp twist and slashed it on the floor in a half-circle. The ground shook again, and this time the small fissures formed into wide cuts and holes, which branched off away from me, and a bright white light shone through the gaps in the floor. The marble tiles began to rise, hovering in between me and the Aurors.
For a moment there was silence in the reception hall of St. Mungo's. The Aurors stood with their wands raised, their stances tense and wary, and I glared at them through narrowed eyes, holding my wand in front of me like a sword, gathering the last of my power. The heavy and large fragments of marble floated between us, rotating slowly in place, threatening to be set loose.
"Give up," I said somberly. "Order your men to stand back and let me go. You can't win this fight, Miller."
He considered it. I could see it in his eyes. Miller glanced at the Aurors stationed by the exit and the fireplaces. The ones standing in front of me, warily maintaining their shields in place, eyeing the marble tiles slowly spin in circles, turned to look at Miller. He didn't say anything for a moment, instead glaring at me while he thought.
"Who are you?" he finally said. "There are no records of a wizard with your skills and physical appearance in the Ministry. You show up one day and wreak havoc in Muggle London and kill a wizard. Nobody has ever seen you before. Who the hell are you?"
I kept my focus firmly over the floating tiles, ready to be unleashed at a split-second's notice. I could feel the dried blood on my left cheek. My broken hand occasionally shot a wave of pain through my body, and when the bandages wrapped around my chest pressed against the burns I had to resist the urge to rip them off.
"That's not important, Auror Miller," I said, my voice level and clear despite the blinding pain. "Now, call your men away from the exits and let me leave. Nobody needs to get hurt."
"I can't just let you leave. You know that," he answered. "You've been sentenced to life in Azkaban. I could spend twenty years there if I give that order."
The Aurors, and most importantly, Auror Miller, had learned their place. They had realized they were outclassed, even with their superior numbers. Our fight had turned into a negotiation at wand-point. They would remember this encounter for as long as it took me to finish Voldemort, maybe longer.
Now I needed to make a show of good will.
"It's part of your job to make difficult choices," I told him. The reception hall seemed to take a collective breath. "If you avoid this unnecessary violence – and I assure you, you can't win – I will leave. I will leave London, and then I will leave England altogether. Odds are you will never see me again."
"But Miller," I said, and paused as the marble tiles quivered threateningly and spread to surround the Aurors. "Make the wrong choice and you will make an enemy of me. Make the wrong choice and you'll be responsible for the damage done this day. Make the wrong choice and you'll spend years chasing a phantom. And you will never catch me."
He looked conflicted. Some Aurors nodded at him, urging him to let me leave, to avoid the massacre. But others gave him ready, confident looks, clearly against that option and willing to face me as best they could. I noticed the Aurors stationed by the fireplace subtly inching towards the left, moving to catch me unawares from my back.
Ultimately, there was never a choice for Miller. Even if he already knew the outcome of this encounter, he was forced to make the wrong decision. He took a deep breath and gave me a meaningful, almost pleading look, one I had no trouble interpreting: I have no choice. Don't hold it against them. I nodded imperceptibly at him.
He looked relieved. My estimation of Auror Miller rose.
"Pending the corresponding hearing, as per the Criminal Code of the British Ministry of Magic," Miller announced formally, "you have been found guilty of charges against assault, escape of custody, murder and a breach of the International Statute of Secrecy. Thusly, in the name of the Ministry of Magic, I order you to surrender your wand and turn yourself in."
"In that case," I said, giving the Aurors a respectful nod and raising my wand, "you leave me no choice."
The Aurors stealthily moving to surround me from behind were suddenly slammed by lightning-fast fragments of marble. Their cries of pain were muffled by the yelling of incantations by the Aurors standing in front of me. Streaks of vicious light were met by the storm of rock that circled me, and even as my focus shielded me against their attack, I brutally retaliated.
I gave a long sweeping gesture with my wand and the dozens of marble tiles exploded away from me, like heavy cannon balls being fired. The deadly pieces smashed through protective shields and struck the Aurors down, one by one, knocking them unconscious with varying degrees of injury until there was no one left standing.
The fight didn't last more than ten seconds.
I relaxed and the heavy fragments of marble dropped to the ground with sharp, harsh sounds. Past the mass of unconscious Aurors lying in the middle of the reception hall, I could see the few civilians that had opted to stay hiding behind the Mediwitches' counter, poking their heads out to stare at me with wide eyes.
"Leave," I told them. "The show's over."
It took them a moment, but soon they snapped out of their stupor and rushed towards the exit. In twos they crossed the seemingly solid wall that led to Muggle London. A few of them half-turned to stare at me one last time, standing in the middle of St. Mungo's Hospital reception hall amidst rows of unconscious Aurors. My little stunt would be front page news tomorrow, which was exactly what I thought I needed to build myself a useful reputation.
I looked across the hall where Leanne, the female Auror I'd nailed to the wall, lay unmoving, her eyes half-open and glazed over. With a firm mental command, the Imperiuscurse I had cast earlier kicked in, and she rose in a single, fluid motion, completely disregarding the rather nasty bruise on her forehead or the lump on the back of her head. She had been my insurance card, the ace up my sleeve in case things went wrong.
"Come, Auror Leanne, you have work to do," I told her. The silence in the reception hall was becoming oppressive. I couldn't wait to leave. "Go upstairs," I ordered as she drew closer, "and find Professor Albus Dumbledore. He should be aimlessly wandering over the fourth and fifth floors. Tell him what happened here. Tell him of my conversation with Auror Miller. Then tell him I will contact him some time tomorrow, so that we can meet to talk things over. Go, Leanne."
Auror Leanne turned and with an expressionless mask on her face walked towards the staircase. "Wait," I called. She stopped and stared at me with far away blue eyes. "Repeat this to Dumbledore: I'm sorry about your mother and sister, Albus. Tomorrow you will get a letter, and if you help me, you will finally settle the score with Gellert Grindelwald." I motioned for her to leave. "And have Dumbledore erase your memory when you're done."
I let Leanne leave, climbing up the stairs at a very slow pace, which would give me time to make my own exit without running into an irate Dumbledore. He would not be pleased about the number of unconscious Aurors and the escape of a wanted criminal.
I walked almost leisurely towards the apparition zone, moving slowly to avoid unwanted jolts of pain from my hand and chest. As I weaved through the huge fragments of marble that littered the floor, dodging the holes filled with dirt I'd uncovered, I thought about meeting the old man tomorrow. He, of course, wouldn't remember the future. The answers I wanted so badly would have to wait.
But I'd already accepted Filius and I needed help. We couldn't pull this off on our own. Dumbledore would be suspicious and untrusting at the beginning – the old man generally was, even if he didn't show it – yet I was confident he'd come to understand I wasn't a mindless killer and that we were there for something bigger, something that required his attention and cooperation.
I reached the apparition zone and paused. Through the narrow passage I'd just walked, past the tall archway and across the reception hall, I caught a glimpse of Albus Dumbledore walking away from the staircase, his strides long and hurried. I smiled at him, even if I knew he couldn't see me.
I gave the destruction I'd caused one last regretful look, turned on the spot and disapparated.
Stanford St. was rather loud compared to the silence I'd left behind. The familiar old-fashioned, black cars cruised the street and groups of people crowded the sidewalks. My arrival behind a small building went unnoticed.
I breathed in the fresh air, pleased to be in the open once again. I've already mentioned I didn't like spending time in closed spaces. That dislike only increased when I was held there against my will.
Standing in front of the building we were staying in, I drew my wand and cast a detection spell over the entrance. It came back negative, which meant no spells had recently been cast in the area. I extended the revealing spell to encompass the higher floors of the building. This time it showed signs of recent magical activity.
Shielding my face from the sun's harsh glare, I looked up, trying to see the window of our apartment. There was nothing visibly wrong with the face of the building.
Tired, in pain and a little worried, I made sure no one was looking and apparated to the floor we were staying in. The dark hallway was empty and the door to our flat looked unperturbed. Another quick detection charm revealed Filius' basic protections were still in place.
I gripped the doorknob and felt Filius' enchantments sweep over my body. Nothing nasty happened, so I assumed I was still keyed in. I pushed the door open and stepped inside.
The apartment looked empty. I closed the door behind me and dropped on a comfortable couch by the window. Auror Leanne's cutter had left a stinging sensation in my left cheek, the bandages around my torso pressed against my chest when I moved, and my left hand was utterly destroyed. My vision swam, getting progressively worse.
I closed the drapes with a tired flick of my wand and waited. I needed to find Filius. As best I could I kept my hand numb and avoided moving at all cost, instead lying on the couch with my eyes half-open.
Sometime later the door creaked open. The noise startled me, and I was instantly awake, trying to see past the shadows that had crept into the room while I was asleep. Ignoring the constant throb of pain, I raised my wand shakily and mumbled, "Lumos."
To my delight and relief, it was Filius. He was wearing his 'public appearance', with long, brown hair and dark eyes. Under the dim light of my wand we stared at each other for a moment. He was frozen in surprise.
"Hey, Fil," I said hoarsely. "And how was your day?"
"Harry?" he said incredulously. "Merlin, I – you… How?"
I gave him a tired yet cheeky look. "Magic."
Filius remained rooted to the spot, his hand still gripping the doorknob, his expression gobsmacked. Then he laughed delightedly. He pulled out his wand, gave it a flick, and the gas lamps we had positioned around the room simultaneously lit up, their lights flooding the living room.
I smiled tiredly as he walked towards me. "You're hurt," he pointed out worriedly, but that didn't stop the old, little man from hugging me tightly, making me wince as the burns on my chest screamed their protest. He released me and looked into my eyes with such a relieved look that I was momentarily thrown off balance. "What happened? How did you get out?"
I tossed my wand to the floor and leaned back against the couch. Filius knelt beside me. "It wasn't as easy as I thought it'd be," I told him, my voice becoming weaker. My throat was completely dry. "In the end I pulled through, though. I even managed to contact Dumbledore. We should meet with him tomorrow, see how things play out."
"Oh, dear God," Filius breathed, still in wonder over my sudden appearance. He pointed at the blood on the left side of my face. "Is that your only injury? We should get you fixed up as soon as possible."
"Burn on my chest. My left hand's broken, too."
"Alright, alright," he said quickly, shaking off his surprise and standing up. Filius gestured with his wand at a small bag lying on the floor by the kitchen's table and it went zooming towards him. "Just relax and let me fix that. I'm afraid I am not very familiar with mending broken bones, but we'll find a way. Let's see what I have here…"
As he rummaged through his medical kit, I relaxed on my seat, allowing myself to feel drowsy and safe now that I didn't have to stay alert to my surroundings. Filius kept a running commentary on the things he found, and generally saying anything and everything that came to his mind.
I would've broken my other hand before admitting it to him, but I was extremely grateful Filius was there to take care of me. How many days and nights had I spent lying in bed alone, waiting for my injuries to be healed by my own magic?
While Filius vanished my transfigured shirt to take a look at my chest, I heard the door creak open once again. Suddenly more alert, I forced my eyes open to look at the newcomer, yearning to pick up my wand, yet not finding enough energy to move.
A drawling voice spoke in an American accent.
"Where should I put these bags, Filius? And let me tell you, next time you'll be carrying – whoa, who's the terminal patient?"
I looked confusedly at Filius, my eyes demanding him to explain.
"Oh, I'm sorry," he said without looking up from my chest. "Harry, this is Gary. Gary, this is the man we were looking for; Harry."
"Gary?" I repeated incredulously.
"Harry? This is the guy we were going to bust out? Harry?"
This time Filius looked up, his expression once again surprised. "You two know each other?"
"Yeah, we met yesterday. He happened to walk past the theater."
Gary walked closer and I finally was able to make out his dirty-blonde hair, mischievous blue eyes and the yellow cowboy hat sitting on his head. He dropped the brown bags he was carrying on the kitchen's table, dragged a chair forward and sat down to look at me.
"So," he said, "a consultant, eh?"
I chuckled. Pain shot through my body. "Sorry. I lied. How'd you two meet?"
Filius and Gary shared a look. Even in my exhausted state I could tell there was something they were hesitant to tell me. "That is a rather long and complicated story, Harry," Filius said as he cast numbing charms all over my body. I breathed a sigh of relief. "What do you say we leave it for tomorrow? Get some rest."
I grunted something unintelligible. "Alright. But keep watch," I managed to say. "There's lots of Aurors looking for me. And Dumbledore. We'll have to leave the country tomorrow."
My vision dimmed and my eyes gradually fell closed on their own accord. Filius' and Gary's voices slowly faded into an incomprehensible background noise, which helped lulled me into sleep. I last saw Gary pouring himself a drink and lighting a cigarette, and Filius rubbing his face in a tired yet pleased fashion, already filling his pipe for the long night to come.
Thank you for reading. If you're looking for more badass HP fanfics, I suggest you join the DLP C2. It has dozens of the best of the best fics out there, most of them written by DarkLordPotter members. Go to my profile page, check out the link and subscribe. There's nothing to lose and everything to be had.
The word "Cutter" used to refer to the forensics team is an idea I took from Matt Silver 3k and his story Breach of Contract: Twelve Signs. Thank you, man!
And how 'bout a review, folks? Thanks.