Serious note: This has officially been my longest break between updates ever, and I am really sorry. I do apologise for how erratic updates have been for the last year (dear lord, it's been a year since I stopped updating to a timetable), but please know that writing is my lifeline, it is what keeps me sane, and I can't do it if I don't enjoy it. Recently my HP spark just hasn't been here so I have been taking a little time out to re-energise and relax by writing other things. Both C&I and my sanity would suffer if I were to force it. Thanks for understanding and please enjoy this chapter.
Note: Werewolves: you can imagine them to look however you want but I personally see them as more wolf than human – generally on all fours, canine body shape, thick fur, etc. In the books they talk about recognising the features that separate real wolves from werewolves so I assume they look fairly similar.
Previously on C&I: Harry is about to learn something not very pleasant after destroying all the horcruxes, Ron is in the hospital wing after the last horcrux fought back, and the castle's protections are waning. Meanwhile, the Order have stormed the Ministry in order to try and break the curse on the Minister and grant the government autonomy again, but whilst they have the support of the entire auror office, things aren't exactly going to plan. Bill and Percy have a hostage situation, and Arthur, after realising that it's a full moon that night, has heard a scream in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures…
Under a Full Moon
Once he had entered the corridor it was clear to Arthur from which room the scream had emanated. The heavy pine-panelled door of the Gargoyle Liaison Office was hanging off its hinges, five long claw marks gouged into it and splinters surrounding the handle and lock where it had been wrenched open. A low growl came from within the room, followed by another scream, but this time Arthur could divine an expression of frustration amid the terror.
"Get out, you mangy mongrel!"
Arthur raised an eyebrow as he hurried down towards the office; the witch inside it was either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid. Another growl, more ferocious than the first, was followed by the sound of splintering wood and the sharp crack of magic. A shower of sparks flew out of the doorway, narrowly missing Arthur, and he had to duck as the two pieces of the broken wand that had caused the minor catastrophe hurtled out after the embers. Finally, Arthur could survey the scene within the office. Greyback was at one end of the destroyed room, where a witch was precariously balanced on a battered-looking desk, wielding what appeared to be a chair-leg and attempting to hold the wolf off with it, giving him a hefty blow on the side of the head when he tried to lunge at her.
"Which idiot," she began, panting, "decided to defend the Ministry with a werewolf on the flaming full moon?" The last word became a shriek as the desk she was perched on finally gave up the ghost and sent her tumbling down. Arthur took this as his cue to act, although he was not at all sure what the best course would be since anything he did would simply divert Greyback's attention from the witch onto him. He leapt into the room fully and cast a stunning spell at the same moment that the werewolf turned; it ricocheted off the pile of timber that had once been a desk and Greyback began his advance towards Arthur. He tried his full arsenal of spells but the werewolf was too agile; all they seemed to do was delay his progress rather than incapacitate him completely. There was a reason, Arthur thought, why werewolves were so incredibly dangerous and why it took professional training to try and bring them down. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the wandless witch pick herself from the remains of her desk and arm herself with chair-leg once more, her movements slow and quiet. Arthur could guess what she was intending to do and shook his head in disbelief at her sheer madness. A small part of him simply considered turning tail and running as the safest option, but before he could decide upon a further course of action, he felt something rush through the door past him.
"Heads up!" roared a Scottish accent, and Arthur could only cower as an executioner's great axe was swung over his head, connecting with the werewolf and taking its right ear clean off. In the same moment, another howl, further away but still audible and undeniably lupine, ripped through the air. The wolf pricked up its remaining ear and bounded out of the room towards the source of the sound, towards Lupin. Of course, thought Arthur grimly. Fight fire with fire. Fight a werewolf with a werewolf; one in full control of his own mind against one still willingly enslaved to lunar whims.
Safe at last, or so he thought, Arthur took a proper look at the axe-wielding shape whose intervention had been so timely. It was, he realised with a jolt, a Death Eater, who was now prising the chair-leg from the witch's hands.
"Marlena, you cannot kill a werewolf with bits of furniture, you cretin," he said. "Where's your wand?"
"In pieces," the witch replied sourly. "I thought that since I've lost my specs and I can't see what I'm aiming at anyway, the chair was better than nothing." She squinted past the Death Eater at the increasingly confused Arthur. "Thank you for saving me."
The Death Eater turned, revealing the maskless face of Walden Macnair.
"Are you still here?" he asked. "There's havoc downstairs, your lot needs all the help they can get," he added, picking up a piece of twisted purple metal that had once been a pair of cat's-eye spectacles and grimacing before casting an inexpert reparo and returning them to their owner.
Arthur was about to ask the pressing question of whose side Macnair and the witch, whom he now recognised to be Marlena Dolohov, were on, when there was a yell from the other end of the corridor.
"Arthur, is that you? I thought I saw you earlier, I've been looking all over for you. There's something very odd going on in Courtroom One!"
Arthur turned to see Perkins, his old colleague from Muggle Artefacts, running down the corridor towards him.
"The Ministry's gone mad, Arthur!" Perkins did not seem to be in the slightest bit phased that Arthur had not been at work for the best part of the last nine months and carried on as normal. "The Minister's gone doolally, there are werewolves in the Department of Mysteries, someone's tap dancing the length of the Department for Magical Sports and Games and Doris swears she saw a mad axe-murderer in the lift…"
Perkins tailed off on looking into the room to see the bloodied axe in Macnair's hands.
"Don't mind us, we were just leaving," said the Death Eater.
"Walden, whose side are you on now?" asked the rather perplexed-sounding Mrs Dolohov as he led her out of the room past the speechless wizards. "I don't care, I just want to know who not to hit."
"Whichever one keeps me alive the longest," muttered Macnair. "So currently, my own. Come on, let's find your Tonin and persuade him to accompany us somewhere Very Far Away. Like Mongolia."
Perkins and Arthur looked at each other.
"What were you saying about tap dancing?" asked Arthur eventually as they entered the lift at the other end of the corridor, but before Perkins could reply, the two men found themselves being assaulted by something wet, stringy, and exceedingly violent.
"Take that, you imposters!" came a battle cry from somewhere in the vicinity of the lift corner, closely followed by "oops, sorry gents." The attack stopped and their assailant revealed itself to be a humble mop, enchanted by its owner, Mrs Doris Crump, one of the Ministry's cleaning staff. She cast a spell to dry off the two wizards. "Did you find my axe-murderer, Perkins?" she asked.
"Oh yes, Doris, I did," said Perkins faintly, still reeling from the mop's assault.
"I told you I wasn't going potty. Which floor do you want?"
"Department of Mysteries," Perkins replied.
"Perkins, I thought you said that was the direction that the werewolves had gone in. Are you sure it's wise to follow them?" asked Arthur.
"Better to follow them than have them following us," said Perkins darkly. "Besides, weren't the werewolves in the Department of Magical Sports and Games tap dancing? Oh, I don't know what's going on; I keep hoping that it's all a bad dream and I'll wake up in a minute."
Feeling that his former colleague had managed to completely confuse himself and was about to lead them into even further calamity, Arthur was in half a mind to jump out when the lift stopped in the atrium, but remembered the melee going on there and decided it was possibly safer to remain with Doris and Perkins. As the lift doors opened onto the atrium, however, Arthur only had time to catch a brief glimpse of the action therein – the aurors seemed to have gained several reinforcements – before he was bowled over by a pink-haired cannonball racing into the lift and jabbing the button for the Department of Mysteries with its wand.
"If Remus gets himself killed, I'm going to murder him!" Tonks exclaimed. "Of all the idiotic, heroic things to do!"
It looked as if they were set for the Department of Mysteries and Courtroom One after all. Arthur coughed before addressing the angry young auror.
"Erm, how are things looking out there?" he asked, nodding in the general direction of the atrium.
"Rather well, actually," she replied, seeming to brighten slightly. "You know what they say, once an auror, always an auror. Once Collins sent out the message that we needed assistance, word got round the old grapevine and everyone started arriving to help, even Godfrey Pinkerton and he's been retired for ten years. Some of them have gone up to help Bill and Percy." She paused. "I wonder how they're getting on. Do you think we'd have heard something by now if they'd been successful?"
"Give it time," said Arthur. "Some of the curses that Bill's worked with over the years take weeks to break,"
At this point the lift doors pinged open onto the Department of Mysteries, as eerily quiet and undisturbed as it always seemed to be, even despite the chaos reigning in the rest of the Ministry.
"That's what I'm worried about," muttered Tonks. "Hi, Doris, I didn't see you there."
It transpired that Doris, working on the principle of 'safety in numbers', had decided to accompany them to Courtroom One and was bringing up the rear of their little convoy with wand in one hand and mop in the other, her bucket of soapy water levitating along beside her and leaving a little trail of drips in the empty corridor where bubbles would occasionally slop over the edge. At least they'd be able to find their way back through the labyrinthine department in a hurry should they need to, Arthur reflected drily.
When they arrived at the courtroom, they paused for a moment, almost as if they were contemplating listening at the door, but since the heavy wood was purposefully charmed to prevent eavesdroppers, everyone knew that they'd be unlikely to hear anything of any assistance to their gauging the situation inside. Cautiously, Tonks tapped her wand against the door and it opened a fraction, allowing them to see inside the room and find themselves a safe hiding place therein…
Bill and Percy looked at each other, caught in their stalemate. Thicknesse was holding his secretary hostage; he would kill her at the first sign of any offensive from them, and even if he did not, she was still acting as a human shield that their spells would have to go through to get to him. Bill cursed inwardly. Of all the possible setbacks and problems that he had foreseen and prepared for, this was not one of them. Somehow they had to get the Minister away from his secretary, get the secretary's wand away from him, and put him out of action for the immediate future even if their efforts did not kill him in the process. He searched his younger brother's face for the vaguest hint of an idea, but Percy seemed to be lost in thought, glancing from the Minister to his terrified assistant, then to the ceiling, and back again.
"Don't worry about me!" cried the secretary bravely. "Get out and save yourselves!"
"Gwenda, be quiet," snapped Thicknesse, casting a spell to silence her. As bad as he would feel to leave her to her fate, Bill had to concede that she did have a point – it would be easier for them to just give it up as a bad job and leave; Thicknesse had not disarmed them. If they did that, however, then all the Order's work and sacrifices that had led up to this moment would have been for nothing. The Ministry would still be under You-Know-Who's control. They would have failed, and the Order would be broken by this attempt – a do or die moment if ever there was one. They were going to have to see this through to the bitter end; their only trouble was working out what to do to break this moment of uneasy truce. It would not be long before the Minister made his move, and they would have to be ready.
Outside the office, Bill could hear voices and running footsteps coming along the corridor, and from this distance he couldn't tell whether they were friend or foe. A snap decision would need to be made; they would have to act now if they were to stand any chance of survival and success. It was at that moment that inspiration flashed across Percy's face. Before Bill even had a chance to formulate any kind of question, his brother had waved his wand and the room had become engulfed in heavy white smoke. The next few moments were the epitome of chaos, each participant in the drama completely blind to the proceedings, making the combat even more dangerous. Bill only just had time to catch Gwenda as she was propelled across the room towards him, stunned but still breathing. He could see the flashes of spells exchanged between Thicknesse and Percy in the corner and he made his way towards them, coughing as the smoke worked its way up his nose and into his lungs.
Then two things happened at once. The door was flung open, and Bill ducked to avoid the barrage of spells that he recognised as belonging to the aurors' arsenal – help had arrived. At the same time, the Minister's voice gave a ferocious cry of 'avada kedavra!'
Bill threw himself on the ground as he saw the flash of green light, but the entry of the aurors prevented his hearing anything else. He heard more spells, as he got to his feet again he saw the smoke clearing and could make out the shapes of three aurors in the office alongside him, one tending to Gwenda, one levitating the obviously dead Thicknesse out of the office and the third…
Bill had only one thought on his mind as he rushed over to where his brother lay, face down on the carpet.
"Please don't be dead, Perce," he said. Surely he couldn't be dead, surely Thicknesse's curse couldn't have connected in the smoke with direction so haphazard. Surely he had just been hit by an auror's suppression spell as they had entered. "Please don't be dead."
As the auror turned Percy over and Bill saw his glassy, staring eyes behind broken spectacles, he knew that his pleas were to be of no avail.
To say that Courtroom One had been destroyed would be paying it a compliment. Tonks, Arthur, Perkins and Doris were lucky to find cover behind the few remaining benches left standing on the top level of spectator seating. Far below them, circling round the bottom of the courtroom where the accused would usually be seated, growling menacingly with the odd howl, were two werewolves. One was Greyback, the blood of his missing ear congealed black and matted in his mangy fur. The other, smaller and lighter, was indubitably Remus. There was no doubt that a vicious fight had been going on between the two, both were scratched, bitten and bleeding from various wounds, but neither was willing to concede. Greyback was, of course, merely on a crazed rampage instigated by the moon rather than acting on any conscious decision, but Remus's was an utterly human tenacity; despite his battered condition he was not going to give up whilst he still had the advantage of lupine form.
Presently Greyback pounced, the two wolves ending locked in a precarious tangle of claws and jaws. Tonks gave an involuntary gasp and covered her face with her hands for a moment before evidently deciding that seeing what was going on was preferable to simply hearing it and allowing her visual imagination to run riot.
The odds were not in Remus's favour. He was younger, smaller and not as physically strong as Greyback, and whilst possessed of more than enough blind determination, was not in the same bloodthirsty mindset as his attacker. All he had was the ability to think strategically, even if all that strategy consisted of at that moment in time was keeping Greyback occupied and away from everyone else until help arrived. His large, pale wolf's eyes glanced up at the new arrivals; he had seen them, but Greyback was too concerned with his current quarry to pay any attention to the humans above. In his eyes, Remus was injured and therefore easy prey, and he would finish him and eliminate any possible rivals for his future victims. Arthur knew that Remus would be unlikely to be able to finish Greyback off alone, and if they stood any chance of rescuing him and surviving themselves, they were going to have to take the other wolf down before he could kill Remus.
Tonks had evidently come to the same conclusion as Arthur, and carefully began to make her way a little closer to the fight, darting down between the damaged benches.
"Tonks, what are you doing?" Doris hissed. "It's madness!" Mad or not, Arthur was fairly certain that with her auror training behind her, Tonks was probably the only one of them who stood a fighting chance when up against a werewolf.
Presently, another voice entered the room.
"Oh ruddy hell, not again…"
Arthur looked up from the battle below to see that Macnair and Marlena had run into the room, evidently still searching for the latter's husband and an escape passport to the Far East, but before they could turn tail, Doris had jumped up with an exclamation of 'the axe-murderer!' and had set her mop and bucket to work on Macnair. It took Marlena several moments to convince the cleaner that they held no nefarious intentions, by which time the mop was rather the worse for wear having come up against the altogether more lethal combination of wand and axe.
It was then that Tonks made her move. Greyback had Remus pinned to the ground, snapping at his snout as Remus clawed at his attacker's chest in a fruitless attempt to push the larger wolf off. Tonks fired a spell at the huge grey wolf, and his distraction was such that he did not have time to move out the way. The curse connected, sending Greyback flying across the room where he crashed into the wreckage of the judge's desk. Remus struggled to get to his feet, panting heavily where his chest had been pinned, and Tonks rushed down the remainder of the tiered benches to get to him.
"Is he dead?" Doris asked nervously, looking at the unmoving wolf on the floor of the courtroom.
Arthur had no way of telling; thankfully the question was answered for him.
"No," said Macnair grimly. "Wolves become human again when they die. Something's not right there."
Ignoring Marlena's protests, he began to make his way down the benches like Tonks had done. Marlena and Doris crouched down beside Arthur and Perkins, peering over the top of their scant protection.
"He's just pretending," said Marlena suddenly. "Greyback does that sometimes, most wolves do if their prey fights back. Pretends he's more injured than he is, then strikes again. Hopefully Walden knows what he's doing."
It was only now that Arthur remembered that Macnair and Greyback had been on the same side for a long time, and he was not altogether sure to trust that the former had truly switched allegiance after the altercation in Marlena's office. He looked down at Tonks and Remus, desperately wanting to shout a warning down to them but unsure whether that would do more harm than good.
Everything happened very quickly after that. Tonks' sharp auror's ears picked up the movement as Greyback got to his feet again, she turned and cast as he sprung, at the same time Macnair came down onto the main floor into casting range, firing off a spell of his own. The werewolf was frozen in mid-air, his hindquarters still not fully extended from the pounce. The witch and wizard looked at each other, their combined forces keeping him immobile. If they broke off the spell in order to cast another, he would regain movement and land on top of Tonks and Remus. Arthur tried to remember how the Ministry handled rogue werewolves, how the executioners dealt with them. If he was on their side – or at least, not on Greyback's – then Macnair was the person most suited to the job of despatching him.
Macnair dropped his wand in order to get a two-handed hold on his axe, and Greyback continued his flight through the air, albeit slowed by Tonks' spell, but only for a moment before the axe came down, cleanly this time unlike in the office before. The blade lodged in the wolf's thick neck and brought the great beast crashing down; the body was already twitching as it began to shift back into a human form before it hit the floor.
Macnair tugged his axe free and covered the transforming body with his cloak; whilst the matted fur had masked the wound on the wolf, the human body would show far more gruesome detail. He retreated towards the seating, picking up his wand and exchanging a final look of understanding with Tonks before making his way back up the tiers of destroyed benches as Arthur, Perkins and Doris deemed it safe to come out of hiding and make their way down towards Remus and Tonks. Although injured, their lupine colleague was back on his feet and looked to be recovering from his fight.
"Tonks, of all the idiotic things to do," Doris said as she picked her way through the splinters. "Rushing into a fight like that…"
"It worked, didn't it?" said Tonks, stroking the fur on the top of Remus's head between his ears like she would smooth down his hair in human form. "Besides… I just couldn't stand the thought of our little cub never knowing his father."
If Arthur had to take a step back on this sudden and casual announcement of Tonks' pregnancy, that was nothing to Remus's reaction. Arthur was fairly sure that if there had ever been a picture of a wolf about to faint, Remus embodied it now. Doris, a grandmother herself, merely rolled her eyes.
As they at last reached the floor, a commotion arose in the doorway, causing Arthur to look up. A group of aurors had come into the courtroom, apprehending Macnair who surrendered without a fight. Bill was with them, and Arthur surmised that these were the reinforcements whom Tonks had told of going to aid Bill and Percy. If Bill was here with them, then presumably the curse on Thicknesse had been broken; they had been successful. But if that was the case, then where was Percy?
Arthur felt the blood drain from his face as Bill made his way down to the group of Order members and their allies in the centre of the courtroom. Bill was just as white.
"Dad, it's Percy…"
The atrium looked as if… Well, muggles would say that it looked as if a bomb had hit it. It was possibly in even more of a mess than it had been two years ago when the Death Eaters had invaded the Department of Mysteries and You-Know-Who had made his return and continued existence abundantly clear in this very spot. How fitting that it should now be a scene that showed his waning power.
Hestia looked around her in wonder and not a little confusion. She had lost the Death Eater that she had been following, but had surmised enough to realise that he was making his way back down to the melee on the eighth floor. Deciding that she had no better battle plan than to follow him, she had taken the next lift down and had found herself in the midst of what could have been a veritable apocalypse. The number of aurors present had doubled since she had last been in the grand chamber, and it was evident that they had the situation fully under control by dint of simple outnumber if nothing else. Those few Death Eaters that were still alive and conscious had been disarmed and were being bound ready to be taken to somewhere secure.
It seemed that in the wake of this final battle being won, the rest of the Order were congregating here too – Dedalus, Elphias, Tonks, Remus – the lattermost still in his lupine form until the dawn would break outside. Hestia was primordially grateful to see that they had all survived, but there was a sadness in their faces that told of comrades departed, and she wondered with not a little rising panic whom they had lost. At the same time, though, there was a satisfaction in the air, the feeling that they had, against every single odd that might have been placed before them, succeeded. The Ministry had fallen just as quickly as it had fallen the previous summer, and hopefully they could rebuild it to its former glory from the ruins it now stood in, both metaphorical and physical. She moved further into the centre of the room, still surveying it with wonder, and she came over to Dedalus and the others. They were observing a very heated argument going on in one corner of the atrium that was attracting rather a lot of attention and was made even more entertaining by the fact that neither participant was speaking English. Whatever they were yelling at each other, Antonin and Marlena Dolohov were obviously very impassioned about something, the guttural sounds of their native tongue reaching a really most alarming volume. Marlena's hand gestures were getting more and more exuberant with every sentence and Hestia held no doubt that Antonin's would be mirroring her if his wrists hadn't been bound together.
Dedalus leaned into Hestia's ear.
"Can you speak Polish?" he asked. Hestia shook her head. "Damn it. I'd give good galleons to know what they're saying…"
Just then there was the sound of a lift reaching the atrium, and the entire group gathered there tensed as one, wondering if those newly arrived on the scene were friend or foe, whether they should attack or not.
"AARGH!" The two executioners burst onto the scene from the lift, wielding their great axes above their heads like madmen. "Down with corruption! Free the Ministry! Better pay for executioners! Down with Thicknesse… Oh." They tailed off when they saw the destruction in the atrium and the obviously victorious Order, with the aurors binding the surviving Death Eaters. "Are we too late?"
Out of the corner of her eye, Hestia saw Walden Macnair bury his head in his tied hands in despair.
Presently, Kingsley came over to them from where he had been nominally in charge of operations in the foyer, liaising with his fellow aurors.
"What now?" Dedalus asked. "That wasn't the entire army, by any manner or means; what I can't understand is where the rest of them are and why they haven't come."
Kingsley shook his head.
"Something tells me that they are engaged elsewhere, in a more important fight than this," he said. "And in that case, all we can do is wait and see, and give our assistance when it is required."
Hestia nodded her acquiescence. The Ministry was theirs once more, but the battle was far from won…
Note2: Marlena, mentioned very briefly in an earlier chapter, was created, along with Carmen, Camilla and Mareike, for another fic of mine that never got off the ground. Seeing as though I'd managed to get all the others in, I gave her a role here for a full set. Whilst in the middle of writing this chapter I made a visit to Bristol, and made the mistake of yelling 'you can't kill a werewolf with a chair-leg' in Whiteladies Road at the top of my voice…
But never mind that! The Ministry is secure but what of Hogwarts and its failing protections?