Chapter Twenty-Six - Hostage Situation
It was Friday night, the last weekend before the O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. exams were to begin. The nerves of the fifth and seventh year students were frayed to the breaking point. There was no homework assigned, but everyone was hitting the books.
Every house responded a little bit differently. Planning was not a strong Gryffindor trait, and most of them were in full-on panic. They seemingly hadn't properly planned their studying and were now overwhelmed by all they needed to know. It might have been smart to hang out with the Ravenclaws, who had gone into overdrive with their round-the-clock studying fuelled by gallons of strong tea and copious amounts of chocolate. The Hufflepuffs were making a sport of things and had organized a series of games to help make studying fun. The Slytherins, naturally, had planned their review since January.
There was nothing to be done except keep cramming information into their heads. Every table in the common room was occupied as the fifth and seventh years spread their notes and materials out. All younger students were banished to their dormitories. The lamps were turned up brightly, and the fire roared cheerfully. The only other sound was rustling parchment. A selection of snacks and drinks was present so as to not draw them away even for a human complaint.
Harry was in the middle of reading an essay from fourth year which had earned top marks when he felt an alien presence nearby. In the quiet of his own mind, the sense of another was very easy to detect. He pushed it away, slapping contemptuously as he did so. A pulse of anger came back along the connection. Voldemort was having trouble keeping his emotions in check. His failure thusfar to penetrate Harry's defences was severely aggravating to him. Harry found the attention drawn from his studies irritating.
The hour was past midnight. The common room was nearly empty, and almost all of the fifth years had sought their beds. The seventh years had stepped out to the Potions lab to brew some Draught of Living Death and probably some Energy Elixir while they were at it. Harry was also studying Potions with Draco, Daphne, and Millie when Laine and Ginny came running out from the girls' dorm. Despite having turned in hours ago, they were fully clothed.
"Harry!" Ginny said with relief. "Thank Merlin you're still up. I need you."
"What's going on?"
"Percy's being tortured. They're going to kill him tonight unless he talks. I saw it."
"It's just a bad dream, Ginny." Draco tried to console her. "I am also afraid of what Voldemort is doing to Elan."
"It wasn't a dream!"
"It truly wasn't, Harry." Laine pleaded. "Voldemort has grown tired of waiting and has given Bellatrix Lestrange one more night to break them before killing them."
"How do you know?"
"I also saw the vision."
"Vision?" interjected Daphne. "Turning into Trelawney are we?"
"Do you know of the Exile Chamber?" Laine demanded.
Draco stiffened. "It's how they used to execute the bad criminals in the days before dementors. They would use powerful magic to send them beyond the plane of our world."
"Voldemort is going to send our brothers through tonight if he doesn't get what he wants."
Harry, who had experienced visions before, squelched the doubt. "Are you sure, Ginny?"
"Positive. He told her that if they hadn't traded the prophecy to him by now, they never would. They're to kill the traitors and take the orb on their way out."
Harry stood up. He hadn't told anyone about the prophecy other than Draco. He locked eyes with his best mate. There was no way Ginny could have known about it unless her vision was true.
"Then let's go."
"Harry, we've got OWLs on Monday!" Daphne protested.
"My brother is about to die, and you speak of exams?" Draco was on his feet as well. "What's the plan?"
"We should contact Dumbledore and the Order."
"Why?" scorned Ginny. "So they can have one of their wonderful meetings? To hell with the Order, and to hell with Dumbledore. I'm going myself."
"We're going," Laine declared. "We need you, Harry. You're the best dueller in school. You've taken on Death Eaters before. We need you."
Ginny's passionate gaze held Harry's eyes hostage. "I need you."
Harry could resist the Imperius Curse. He could fight off Legilimancy. He was utterly conquered by Ginny's plea. He recognized that she was going, with or without him. His decision all came down to how he could best help.
"Can we please get some more blokes involved in this?"
"What's the matter, Draco? Don't trust us girls to watch your back?" Millie teased.
"I don't want to put so many lovely ladies in danger."
"Oh shut up, Draco," Ginny snapped. "We can take care of ourselves. We need your help, not your protection."
"Well that's good." He turned to Harry. "We should definitely not ask Theo. I don't think he could handle it."
"What about Blaise?" Harry asked.
"I still don't trust him."
"I don't know what to think of him, actually."
"I'm not bringing an unknown on a mission to go rescue my brother."
"Fair enough. Crabbe or Goyle?"
Draco considered it for a moment. "Neither of them is what I would call gifted."
"In any sense," Daphne quipped.
"They're both pretty rubbish with Curses and Hexes, and that's what will be called for."
"They are more likely to injure themselves than Death Eaters."
"We could get a few of the duelling club," Harry suggested.
"No time," Ginny said. "We've got to go now."
"How are we getting to London?"
"Brooms, of course."
"Wouldn't the Floo be faster?"
"The Floo can be watched, stopped or rerouted. They'll be watching it. It's not safe."
Deep in his heart, Harry knew she was right. The only other means were via portkey, which none of them knew how to make, or Apparition, which Harry and Draco were not supposed to know how to do. This might be a good time to use their illegal skill, but they had no idea how to Side-Along someone. Now wasn't the time to learn, either.
"Broom it is. Let's get above ground."
"Small problem," Daphne said diffidently. "I don't have a broom."
"What?" Laine exclaimed.
"I broke too many tailtwigs the last time I played. I haven't had enough pocket money to get it fixed. I've had more important things to worry about."
"You can't afford it?"
"Say it a little louder, Slater. Did I stutter? Not everyone has unlimited funds, you know."
Laine glared daggers. "I don't have bottomless pockets either. If you don't have a broom, you'll have to borrow one."
"And explain why I feel like flying right before the OWLs?"
"There isn't time to learn how to pick magical locks either."
"Well then we'll just have to leave you here," Laine said.
"You can ride with me, Daphne," Harry offered. "I won't be able to fly at top speed anyway."
Daphne grinned at him. "Smashing."
Laine didn't look happy, and Harry hoped she wasn't about to pitch a fit.
"You can use my broom. I'll fly with Harry."
"You don't understand. I'm really not great at flying. You lot are all Quidditch fanatics. I just like the handsome boys in uniform. If I fly, I'll slow you down."
"We're not going to be slow," Draco declared. "Daphne rides with Harry."
"Let me get my cloak."
Harry and Draco hurried to the dorm. Harry went straight for the magic mirror that would let him call Sirius. He tucked it into a pocket and wrapped his cloak around his shoulders. The Marauders Map went in another pocket. Harry had no chance to use the mirror. As he grabbed his invisibility cloak and tucked it under his arm, Draco was already headed back out to the common room.
Harry led the way through the dungeons. When they arrived at the stairs leading up to the entrance hall, he stopped and pulled out the Marauder's Map.
"I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."
"What is that?" Laine said.
"That's not important now. The coast is clear. Follow me."
Up the stairs and outside into the warm spring air they followed him. The waxing crescent moon illuminated the path down to the Quidditch pitch. At the broom shed, Harry spoke the Slytherin password. Captain Bletchley had given it to him after the last match before bursting into sobs and making Harry promise to take the Cup back next year. The lock clicked open.
"This is barking, you know," Draco said as they collected their brooms. "If we try to go out the front gate, we'll set off the alarms. Let's go out through the Shrieking Shack."
"We'd never break the protective spells put up to keep Lupin inside."
"So what are we going to do?"
"We're going out through the Forbidden Forest."
"That's even dafter. It's not safe in there."
"We only need to go as far as to get off the grounds. Then we can take to the skies. It's actually best this way. Nobody will see us take off. Mount up."
Daphne easily fit behind Harry on the Firebolt. She wrapped her arms around him tightly. He swallowed a sudden hitch in his chest as they launched into the air. Harry bent low over the broomstick and zoomed down to the treeline.
As they pressed deeper into the forest, the moonlight grew dimmer, and they had to fly slowly to avoid crashing headfirst into trees. Harry wished that one of his Ravenclaw friends had been kind enough to share the Vision-Sharpening Charm. It was one of their house secrets, much like Slytherin's Self-Warming Charm.
The timber on the Hogwarts grounds was marginally friendlier than the rest of the forest. Draco and Millie had raced through this part of the forest last year. As they approached the divide, the trees came awake and began to attack.
"Dodge!" Harry yelled, diving under a thick branch.
It was very difficult to dodge when one couldn't see well. Daphe screamed, in terror, Harry thought. Draco and Millie were swearing.
Harry drew his wand and cast a Lumos. In the wandlight, he found himself hovering near a huge nostril. Startled, he pulled back.
It was a nostril, part of a large, misshapen head. It was almost perfectly round and covered with tightly curling, close-growing hair the color of bracken. It had large, fleshy ears. The head seemed to sit directly upon the shoulders with little or no neck in between and was much larger in proportion to the body than a human head. The back, under what looked like a dirty brownish smock comprised of animal skins sewn roughly together, was very broad. The thing had legs as big as the tree trunks.
"Giant!" he screamed.
Indeed it was, and it swatted at Harry as he might a fly. Daphne shrieked again as he threw himself into the turn, her added weight making the Firebolt less responsive.
Behind him, the others tried to avoid the big, strong hands. Draco continued swearing sulphurously.
Daphne's warning came just in time. Harry narrowly avoided an angry tree.
"Break off! Break off!"
Harry had had just about enough of these delays. He pulled the broomstick up.
"Get above the trees! Go!"
Harry looped around and broke free. The others followed, and he noticed that Ginny's broom had a few broken tail twigs.
"It's fine," she said, noticing him noticing. "What was that all about?"
"I swear it was a giant."
"What is a bloody giant doing in the forest?"
"We can ask Dumbledore when we get back."
"Now what?" Draco said.
"Now we head to London."
Harry took the point position as they headed south. He was thankful that he'd brought his warmest cloak. They had to fly above the clouds, and it was very cold up there. They all cast the Self-Warming Charm, but after an hour, Harry was beyond thankful that Daphne was snuggled up with him. Being able to share body heat was all that kept him from turning into an Everlasting Icicle.
"Cold enough for you?"
"I thought it was warm earlier," she said.
"After the OWLs, we'll have to look up a few things about the atmosphere."
As they approached London, Harry had two problems. Firstly, the cloud cover began to break. Secondly, he had no idea how to get into the Ministry.
Harry brought the group to a halt.
"Does anyone know how to get into the Ministry?"
"I do," Laine said firmly. "You didn't think I'd let Ginny set off without knowing that, did you?"
"We'll use the visitor's entrance. I used it with my father when he applied for his job."
"Do you remember where it is?"
"Yes. We've got to get to Charring Cross station."
"If we go any further, we run a huge risk of being seen. Does anyone know how to cast a Disillusionment Charm?"
Nobody else did. Harry tapped each of his friends on the head and said the words clearly. "Aspectus lux inflectam!"
A shimmering wave descended over each of them. Harry hadn't quite got the hang of the spell, and it wasn't taught at Hogwarts until the seventh year. It would do well enough for now. In fact, it was a good thing he wasn't perfect with the spell. They'd still be able to see each other.
Laine led the way as they swooped down towards the Thames. If not for their urgent mission, it would have even been fun.
Now that they were not at such great altitudes, Harry felt more comfortable about slipping out the magic mirror.
"Harry Potter! What's with all the wind?"
"Sirius, big things are happening. I need you."
Sirius' tone lost all playfulness. "Where are you?"
"We're about to go inside the Ministry. Voldemort's going to kill Elan and Percy if we don't stop him."
"Me, Draco, Millie, Daphne, Laine, and Ginny."
"I'm on my way. We'll talk later about jumping into reckless situations."
"I had to. Ginny was going to go regardless. I've got to watch her back."
Harry tucked the mirror away.
"Calling for backup?" Daphne said in his ear.
"The six of us against Voldemort and who knows how many Death Eaters? You bet I am."
"How long do you think it'll take him to get here? Harry, I don't mind telling you I'm scared senseless."
"It's going to be okay, Daphne. We'll sneak in, rescue Elan and Percy, and be back at school in time to have a cup of hot cocoa before bed."
At long last, they touched down.
They attracted many strange looks as they hurried through the streets of London, which were busy even at this hour.
In a somewhat less than prestigious neighborhood, there was a dead-end alley with a phone box at the end.
"Everyone inside," Laine ordered.
All six of them fit inside, the first proof that magic was at play here.
Laine picked up the receiver, but she held the wrong end to her ear. Harry gently corrected her, but she elbowed him in the gut.
"What is the stupid number?"
"You need a secret code?" Ginny said.
"You could hardly ring the operator and ask for the Ministry of Magic," Harry replied.
"That's it!" Laine said. "Spell the word magic using the buttons."
She quickly dialed 6-2-4-4-2.
A cool female voice sounded inside the telephone box, not from the receiver in Laine's hand, but as loudly and plainly as though an invisible woman were standing right beside them.
"Welcome to the Ministry of Magic. Please state your name and business."
"Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy, Laine Slater, Ginny Weasley, Daphne Greengrass, and Millicent Bulstrode. We've got a hostage situation."
"Thank you," said the cool female voice. "Visitors, please take the badges and attach them to the front of your robes."
Half a dozen badges slid out of the metal chute where returned coins normally appeared. Daphne scooped them up and handed them mutely to Harry over Ginny's head; he glanced at the topmost one, Harry Potter, Hostage Negotiation.
"Visitors to the Ministry, you are required to submit to a search and present your wands for registration at the security desk, which is located at the far end of the Atrium."
The floor of the telephone box shuddered. They were sinking slowly into the ground. Harry watched apprehensively as the pavement seemed to rise up past the glass windows of the telephone box until darkness closed over their heads. Then he could see nothing at all; he could hear only a dull grinding noise as the telephone box made its way down through the earth. After about a minute, though it felt much longer to Harry, a chink of golden light illuminated his feet and, widening, rose up his body, until it hit him in the face and he had to blink to stop his eyes from watering.
"The Ministry of Magic wishes you a pleasant day," said the woman's voice.
The door of the telephone box sprang open.
The Atrium was empty. Even the security desk was unmanned, a fact which made Harry very nervous. They hurried to the lifts.
"The Exile Room is in the Department of Mysteries," Laine said.
"Level nine," Harry added. Everyone looked strangely at him. "Never mind."
Once again, Harry found himself in front of that plain black door. It opened silently, and they all went inside. The others gaped at the spinning, but Harry knew the trick of this room from watching Dumbledore.
"We're looking for the Exile Room," he said politely.
The door to their right opened. A stone hallway lay beyond. Harry drew his wand and led the way. The hallway opened up after a few yards into a dimly lit and rectangular amphitheatre with stone stairs descending approximately twenty feet. There was a raised stone dais in the centre, on which stood a stone archway that looked so ancient, cracked and crumbling that Harry was amazed the thing was still standing. Unsupported by any surrounding wall, the archway was hung with a tattered black curtain or veil which, despite the complete stillness of the cold surrounding air, was fluttering very slightly as though it had just been touched.
Six black-robed Death Eaters stood casually near the archway. Three wore the anonymous white mask. Three were umasked, and Harry recognized them immediately: the Lestranges. Voldemort was not there.
"We have visitors," one of the Lestranges said. He was a thin man, his face gaunt. He seemed malnourished.
"As our Lord said, Rabastan," the other replied. He was thick in the body, and his face seemed devoid of emotion.
"Don't just stand there," the first one called up to them. "I hate shouting. Come down here."
"Be careful, everyone," Harry cautioned. "People in masks cannot be trusted. Wands out, but keep them hidden."
They slowly descended the stone steps. Harry felt a thousand times more exposed and vulnerable than he'd been during the first task. There he'd only been facing a dragon. His skin was practically crawling with the need to get out of the room and away from these very dangerous wizards.
Bellatrix watched them. Though she too had a gaunt face, she was still a strikingly beautiful woman. Her black hair was curly, thick, shining dark hair, and long eyelashes decorated heavily hooded eyes. She sneered at them, her nose turned up arrogantly. Harry knew she was the most dangerous of all the Death Eaters.
The pointed archway looked much taller from where Harry now stood than it had when he'd been looking down on it from above. Still the veil swayed gently, as though somebody had just passed through it.
One of the masked Death Eaters stepped forward tentatively. "Is it? You there, is your mother Renee duMonde?"
Daphne's face grew pale. "How do you know that name?" she demanded.
"You look so much like her. You are about the right age. You are the daughter she always wanted."
Daphne raised her wand, held in a trembling fist. "What is your name?"
"I am called Dolohov, and so too once was your mother."
"She's your sister or something?"
"She was my wife. You are our daughter."
The silence was roared in their ears.
"No," Daphne moaned. "No, that's not true."
"It is true. When I was captured and sent to Azkaban, she pleaded ignorance - a thoroughly honest plea, that - and was granted clemency. She immediately had our marriage dissolved. Claimed bewitchment."
"Plenty of good people were bewitched."
"Then she married some new money Charmer. She never told you about me, let you think you were his child, and here you are. And here am I."
"That doesn't make us anything!" Daphne shouted. "It just means you were a bad mistake, and Mum could do a lot better. Well she did!"
"We also had a son, you know. Jehan, a fine, strong name. An old name. I understand he has done quite well for himself, despite being raised by that upstart Greengrass. He has good breeding."
Jehan Dolohov was Daphne's brother? Harry knew that he'd been a Slytherin sixth year in Harry's first year, but she'd never let on.
"I swore I'd take that whore apart bit by bit. Maybe I'll settle for sending you back to her instead - in pieces!"
"Steady, Dolohov," said Rabastan. "Don't be hasty. We have something to get first."
Rabastan was a commanding figure when he wasn't fawning at the feet of Voldemort. He was a part of the Inner Circle and so commanded utmost respect. The other Death Eaters would not even stand too close to him.
"It's come down to this, boy," he said disdainfully to Harry. "We know you took the prophecy. We went down to the Hall. One of ours was snatched away by Portkey. Only those who are named in a prophecy have the power to remove the globe, and my Master did it not. Therefore you took it, and you will tell us where it is. If not, I shall inflict unworldly agony upon you and your friends."
"Suppose I did take it," Harry said, trying to stall for time, "and that's only supposing. I'm going to allow you that point only for the sake of offering a counterargument to it which further reinforces my argument that I did not. Even if I did take it, what would stop me from giving it to other people once I'd gotten it? What if I gave it to Dumbledore and he brought it to Hogwarts? What if it's in Gringotts? I couldn't give it to you even if I had taken it. Which I didn't, by the way."
"Silence, Potter. If you give me the prophecy, I might think about returning the blood traitors to you."
"You certainly won't be killing them tonight."
"That depends on you. Are you going to trade for the traitors or not?"
"Where's Percy? What have you bastards done to him?"
"Weasley? Oh, nothing much. Nothing he won't be able to forget with years and years of therapy."
"If this prophecy is so important to Voldemort, you can hand them both over."
"You dare speak his name!" Bellatrix shrieked. "You filthy half-blood!"
"Would you believe my blood is actually purer than his? Funny story, my mum was actually a witch, but his dad was actually a Muggle. Can you believe that? A Muggle-"
"Blasphemy!" Her pretty features were now distorted with rage.
"His mum must have been one ugly witch, because she couldn't find a wizard who'd have her. It's true. She must have bewitched some Muggle and had herself a nice little fantasy. Then it ended badly, she probably killed herself, and a little boy named Tom Marvolo Riddle ended up in a Muggle orphanage."
"Do not blaspheme!"
"It's the truth! You're following a lie! Voldemort is a lie! It's not even a real name. He just made it up!"
"Where's my brother? I want to see him now!" Draco yelled.
"You will see him in hell, nephew."
"If we give you the prophecy, will you let him go?"
"Yes," Rabastan said forcefully, clearly trying to maintain order.
"Then bring them."
"Your bargaining posture is highly dubious, but very well. As a show of faith." Rabastan gestured tersely to one of the masked Death Eaters, who opened a side door. He levitated two bodies out.
"Now give us the prophecy."
"Not just yet," Harry said. "Ginny, check them out."
Ginny stepped forward and took a good look at Percy. "He's alive," she called. "Looks like he's been stunned."
"Can you wake him up?"
"I think so."
"Not yet," Rabastan interrupted. "First, the prophecy."
"I told you, I don't have it."
"You lie, Potter."
"No, it's too hard to keep track of lies. The truth is much simpler. I can't give it to you because it's smashed - destroyed."
"You wouldn't have dared."
"You don't know me very well. I really didn't want Voldemort to have it, you see, and I knew he'd find it wherever we hid it. The only thing to do was destroy it."
"Tell me the prophecy!"
"Ah, now that I could do. I did listen to it before I broke the sphere."
"No. I don't think so."
Harry raised his wand.
"Accio Elan!" Draco shouted a second later.
The two men soared through the air, pulled by the force of magic. Ginny clung to Percy's arm and was carried with him.
"Attack!" Rabastan yelled. "Execute the others if you must, but leave Potter alive for the Dark Lord!"
"Fall back! Get out of here!" Harry screamed. He stepped to the front to prevent any of the Death Eaters from casting the Killing Curse. They would never risk their lord's wrath by accidentally hitting him with it.
Daphne, Laine, and Millie remembered their drills from the Duelling Club and cast Protego. The overlapping shield protected everyone. There was no real cover here, so they would be standing toe-to-toe.
Harry sent a Blasting Curse. Draco cast a Slicing Curse. Both were blocked as the Death Eaters scattered. Flashes of light began to shoot back and forth.
There were six Death Eaters, and only six students. Harry knew they were out-classed, but they couldn't pull back either without exposing their rear. He hoped Sirius brought backup soon.
They couldn't take the time to revive Elan and Percy, not that they had wands to defend themselves with in any case. Ginny, behind the shield, levitated Percy and retreated down the hallway towards the door.
"Take Elan too," Draco urged. He cast a Tongue-Twister Curse at one of the two masked Death Eaters that Harry designated "Tall" before begining an exchange with Rodolphus.
"Stupid little girl," Dolohov taunted Daphne. "Never thought to do the math, did you? Never figured out there was no way you could be his daughter. Never wondered who your true father is."
Harry sent a Bludgeoner at Dolohov. The murderous knave was forced to pay attention to Harry instead. Curse and counter began to fly.
Laine stepped to Harry's side and cast a Stunner across the field of combat at Rodolphus. He didn't dodge quickly enough, and he went sprawling on the floor. Draco flashed a grin of thanks.
"Nicely done," Harry said, batting aside Dolohov's Slicing Curse. "Help Millie!"
Draco turned to help Daphne, who was duelling with the other masked Death Eater, whom Harry designated "Short". He was quickly on the defensive, and he began to pull back.
Laine and Millie were duelling Bellatrix. She was more than a match for them, and she seemed to delight in toying with them. She wasn't even casting quickly. She blocked or avoided any offense the girls tried, seeming to enjoy the hunt.
"Aww, widdle girls want to pway at battle," she mocked, sounding as though she were talking to a baby. "Do they have what it takes to survive?"
Bellatrix hurled a Cruciatus, and Harry's heart jumped into his throat as they dodged out of the way. The other Death Eaters, not wishing to anger Voldemort by accidentally killing or permanently damaging Harry, had been holding back. Now Bellatrix had crossed that boundary. She was playing, but it was for keeps.
Harry could not assist the girls. Dolohov was a nasty bit of work. He was skilled at non-verbal magic, and Harry felt his strength draining with every Protego he was forced to cast.
Rabastan had been merely watching the fight. Perhaps he thought four Death Eaters a match for six children (five, since Ginny was pulling the older boys out of the room). Even though Laine had Stunned one, her wand was needed to help Millie with Bellatrix.
"Come here you great fool," Rabastan commanded, and he removed the Tongue-Twister from Tall. "Get in there."
The Death Eaters were trying to flank them from both sides. Rabastan cast a Blasting Curse. Harry couldn't get his wand around in time to counter it.
The explosion sent Harry hurtling through the air. The girls shrieked with terror. Harry quickly got to his feet. He spied Daphne nearby, and she was writhing on the floor. He rushed to her side and cast a Protego over them.
"I'm okay," she wheezed, the wind knocked out of her. "Look out!"
Dolohov was running up to them, and the purple spell he cast went right through Harry's shield. Daphne screamed in agony as her skin began to burn with unholy light.
Harry didn't know the spell, had no reversal. He went on the attack, defeating the Death Eater her only hope. He launched a volley of distracting hexes followed by a wave of fire. Dolohov countered with a blast of water. Harry turned the water into ice, forming sharp daggers that he sent speeding towards his enemy.
Dolohov blocked the ice with a shield and fired off a series of red spells. Harry ducked and dodged out of the way. He abandoned the exchange and caused a stone to shoot out of the floor, just under Dolohov's foot. The Death Eater lurched to his left, and Harry nailed him with a Body-Bind and a Stunner, and his struggles ceased.
There was no time to rest, however. Millie, Ginny, and Laine had taken out Tall and Short. Though half of the Death Eaters were down, the three most dangerous ones remained.
Bellatrix dueled with Draco, her casting snappy and vicious. She looked to cause agony, and the spells were designed to inflict injury rather than kill. He was sweating, barely countering some of her quicker spells, and he'd already taken one in the leg.
The Lestrange brothers fought with Laine, Ginny, and Millie. The girls were working well as a team. Laine was shielding while the other two attacked. Every so often, Ginny would help her out. It was working fairly well until Rabastan used a Banishing Charm on a sliver of marble from an exploded bench. Millie went down with a scream and a shower of blood, the shield being effective only against magic.
Harry softened the floor under Rabastan's feet. He began to sink into the rock. Thrown off balance, his blue curse went high, and Harry was able to hit him with a Bludgeoner. He was knocked over and sank into the rock. His wand hand disappeared, and Harry instantly changed the rock back, trapping him.
"Help Draco!" he shouted. Laine turned away.
Harry instantly was forced to parry a Jelly-Legs Jinx from Rodolphus, and he felt himself losing ground. He wanted to help his best mate, but Rodolphus was taking all of his attention.
Harry lost himself in the flow of spell and counter. Rodolphus was very good, and even with Ginny's help, he was hard-pressed. This couldn't keep on. He couldn't keep track of what was happening all around him. It was a swirling mass of confusion and coloured spells. If only he could stop to catch his breath. Harry's casting was slower, his body less responsive. He was tired.
A voice behind him screamed, "Duck!"
Harry threw himself to the ground and heard a loud quack as a mallard duck flew through the air like an arrow and struck Rodolphus in the face. He shouted and sputtered. He'd probably gotten feathers in his mouth. Sirius came rushing to Harry's side.
"Sirius, thank Merlin!"
"You look like you could use a hand."
"What gave you that impression? I thought we were holding our own quite nicely."
"Oh, I'll leave you to it, then?"
Rodolphus disentangled himself from the duck.
"If you make me finish him on my own, I'll hex you myself."
Sirius laughed and threw a Finger-Locker Curse at Rodolphus. He parried it and also Harry's Disorientation Jinx before firing off a Cruciatus, which they dodged neatly.
Remus and Tonks were taking on Rabastan, who had freed himself from the stone floor. Something on her hand glittered and sparkled with every movement of her wand. It was distracting Harry, who could see it out of the corner of his eye. It must have also distracted Rabastan, because he caught a Bludgeoner and was thrown against the wall.
Tall and Short immediately took up where he had left off. They had been trying to revive Dolohov, but he was still stiff like a board. They abandoned the task and engaged the couple.
The blond man and the dark woman faced each other, neither casting a curse. They paid no attention to the chaos swirling around them. Each was totally focused on the other, wands out but not yet pointed.
"Well, well, if it isn't Lucky himself come to wescue sweet, widdle, baby Dwaco. Cousin, dear cousin, how are my beloved sisters?"
Bellatrix's posture changed. She was languid, almost casual.
Mister Malfoy stared disdainfully at Bellatrix. "Your family is ashamed of you."
Her wand snapped up, and she was no longer playful.
She snarled. "You're all blood traitors! Every single one of you! You will die in agonizing pain, Lucius, and the worms will eat your eyes. They will devour your tongue, yet you will still scream. It will be music to my ears. You will beg for the sweet release of death, and I may be sated enough to grant it."
"You always did talk too much, Bella. I look forward to shutting your mouth. Permanently."
Mister Malfoy ducked out of the way and countered with a non-verbal, purple, glowing net. She sprang over it in a single bound.
They didn't cast quickly. Each spell was carefully considered and almost measured. They seemed to dance around each other. He stalked her like a great cat, seeming to flow across the floor in one fluid motion. His eyes were narrow, intent only on her.
"What's the matter, Lucky? Scared to engage? I see the rumours are true."
He ignored her taunts and sent a second silent spell to ensnare her. She slipped sideways, casting a non-verbal of her own. He deflected it up towards the ceiling.
He summoned a flood of small round stones and sent them skittering across the floor. She paid no attention to them, trying the Cruciatus again. He used a Banishing Charm and a broad sweeping motion. All the stones were propelled at high velocity, but her shield deflected the stones to either side. She called up a great fire, and the stones melted and became lavarocks. Meteors crashed down on his shield, and he turned the fire to acid spray, which caused the ground to bubble and hiss. She stepped back, her shield failing.
She cast a Banishing Charm, but her aim was off, and Mr. Malfoy was able to sidestep it.
Bellartix's aim was off, but it was also perfect - perfectly deadly.
The Banishing Charm flew across the room and nailed Laine directly in the chest. Surprise filled her eyes, and her lips, the soft lips that Harry had kissed so many times, formed an 'O'. She was tossed into the air like a rag doll, limbs limp as though boneless. Laine soared through the archway and vanished from sight.
There was a deafening crack of thunder. Harry's ears rang as the gold locket he had given to Laine for Christmas fell to the floor.
The scream was torn from Harry's chest, shredding his throat on the way out. He bolted from Sirius' side, nearly knocking over Rodolphus as he ran towards the veil.
"Harry, no!" Sirius shouted. He crumpled the off-balance Rodolphus with a Stunner and flashed into his dog form. With a quick bound and lunge, his teeth latched onto Harry's robes, jerking him to the ground.
Harry struggled to rise. He had to get to Laine, had to help her.
"She's gone, Harry. She's gone."
"Nobody comes back from the veil."
Sirius' words crashed through his mind, obliterating his sanity. Laine couldn't be gone. Where had she gone? She'd be back in just a moment.
"I'm sorry, Harry."
What would Sirius have to be sorry about? He hadn't done anything. Everything was fine.
He glanced around. The battle was wrapping up. Rodolphus was Stunned; Rabastan was tied up; Dolohov was stiff and petrified; Tall and Short were stuck together, chest to chest and helpless.
Then his eyes fell on Bellatrix.
She stood triumphant, gleeful and mad.
Harry was going to kill her.
With a primal roar, he launched himself off the floor and dashed directly towards her. She cackled with laughter and ran from the room. He gave chase, Sirius coming after him but tripped up by debris from the stone benches.
Harry chased after Bellatrix down the corridor to the spinning room, but the door slammed in his face and the blue lights whirled. He pounded on it ineffectively, but when it finally opened for him, she was gone.
"Which way did she go? I want to follow the last person who was here!"
The room obliged, and after another spin, it deposited him in the black stone hallway. Laughter still echoed here, and Harry ran up the hall as fast as he dared. She was on the run, but he couldn't chance that she was luring them into an ambush.
The lift seemed to take forever. Harry was bouncing off the walls by the time the door opened.
In the Atrium, he finally caught up with her.
"Stop!" A silent Leg-Locker escaped his wand.
She deflected it almost lazily.
"You killed Laine."
"Are you angry with me, baby Potter? Was she your friend?"
He seethed, unable to respond.
"Or was she more than that? Maybe an admirer of the famous Harry Potter? Did she keep your bed warm? Get you all hot and bothered?"
"Ooh, I think so. So what now, baby Potter? Going to kill me?"
Sirius came dashing up across the Atrium.
"Harry, don't let her bait you."
"She deserves to die. You know what she's done."
"Are you going to do it, Potter? Widdle babies can't use Unforgivable Curses."
"They may not have what it takes to stop you, Bella, but I do."
"You again, Lucky?"
"Me again. Surrender now."
"To you? Never."
"Then prepare to fall."
Their stalking match continued. There were several furious exchanges.
Then, in a momentary lapse of reason, Bellatrix turned her face from Harry. He raised his wand.
Bellatrix screamed bloody murder and fell to the floor. Blood gushed from her nose, but she was laughing still.
The shocked look on Sirius' face rattled Harry from his anger. He stood there, chest heaving, breath coming in rapid bursts. His wandpoint drooped. He felt utterly drained. It had taken the last of him to cast that spell.
Bellatrix got to her knees, eyes glittering with evil.
"Never cast an Unforgivable Curse, have you, Potter?" she panted. "You have to really mean them. Righteous anger will only cause brief pain. You've got to want to make someone suffer.
She stood up. "I want you to suffer. You've made my master very cross indeed. I'll make you beg his forgiveness. You'll beg like the dogs you are."
Lucius thrust his wand out, intercepting the curse meant for Harry.
Lucius continued the duel, and Harry watched in numbness. He leaned against Sirius, barely able to stand.
She fell back and touched her wand to the inside of her arm.
"My Lord! The battle is lost. We have failed. Help us! Send reinforcements, I beg of you."
"Bellatrix, you surprise me. You can hex a child, one who hasn't even sat for O-levels, but you can't defeat a proper wizard in single combat. I thought you were made of sterner stuff. Did your stay in Azkaban weaken your powers?"
"Silence, Lucius!" She flung another Cruciatus at him.
He sidestepped neatly and again tried to ensnare her, this time with chains. As she dodged, he dodged with her and cast a Bludgeoner. It caught her square in the face, and she went flying back to crash into one of the fireplaces.
She tried to rise again, but a pale white hand gently pressed her back down again.
"Bellatrix, you have called for me, and I have come. Why do I find you like this? Do you not know when to retreat with prudence? Where are the others? You were seven tonight; seven, that most powerful of numbers. Yet you fail me. Lord Voldemort does not tolerate failure."
Sirius hissed under his breath. He and Mr. Malfoy exchanged a sharp look. They began to whisper a quick battle plan.
Voldemort was not the same as before. He had made Pettigrew's body taller, less pudgy, and the shape of the face was markedly more serpentine. The hair, which had been pasty and thinning was now dark as coal and abundant.
"My Lord, the others are below. The Order has likely captured them."
He stroked her hair, smoothing back the tangled locks. It was almost tender.
"Then more the fools they. What of the prophecy?"
"Potter claims to have destroyed it. The orb we found was a portkey that snatched away Avery."
"Well-played, Dumbledore," Voldemort said softly. "Very well-played. We shall leave this place, Bellatrix."
"As you command, my Lord."
"Not just yet," Sirius said boldly.