Chapter 10 : Chapter 10
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Ethan MacDonald moved lithely through the crowded streets, weaving in and between the throngs that filled the city at noon. He was purposeful in his stride, yet never seemed to suspect that anyone might be following him. As she trailed him, always less than half a block behind, Elena wished that she was taller, so she might be able to see him better. She was afraid that she might miss his turn into one of the offices that were located in the tall buildings lining the streets. She patted her coat pocket, where her wand was concealed, feeling reassured that she could defend herself in case of any trouble.
Every minute or so, she turned to scan the crowd, trying to see if Simon was still trailing MacDonald. However, she never saw him and started to think that MacDonald had given Simon the slip. That made Elena a bit uncomfortable. Without Simon to direct her, she wasn’t quite sure what she could do if MacDonald did leave the streets. It wasn’t like she could go and question him, nor could she trail him forever. At some point, Elena would have to meet back up with Simon and Frank. Yet, this was a chance to finally prove her competence, so Elena squared her shoulders and started the elaborate, subtle dance through the crowd to tail Ethan and tried to forget her worries.
Though the air was cold, the sun was bright and Elena was glad for its warmth. She drew her coat tighter around her figure. For the purposes of appearing clandestine, cold weather was certainly a boon. The layers of clothing needed to stay warm made Elena resemble the majority of women around her. She became invisible in the sea of faces.
Ethan MacDonald kept walking straight ahead at a rapid pace. Once, Elena thought she would lose him when he ran across a street before the stoplight turned green. She bounced impatiently until she could cross and was relieved to see him, only a block ahead, stopping to purchase a newspaper from a stand.
She walked slower, hoping he would quickly buy the paper and keep walking; instead, MacDonald seemed to be talking intently to the man at the newsstand. So, when she reached the collections of magazines and papers, Elena paused, pretending to browse through the various titles of unfamiliar Muggle fashion magazines and newspapers.
The owner of the stand was a rotund, balding man, who sat on a folding chair under the cover of a small awning.
“Ethan,” the man was saying, “I can’t wait forever. Make your decision already: either you’re in or you’re not.”
Ethan shook his head, “I’ve told you,” he said in a whiney voice. “I need another week at least. If my current deal comes through, I won’t need the work.”
The fat man shrugged, “have it your way then. But don't cry if I find another bloke before next week.”
“I’ll take my chances,” Ethan said and he seemed to inflate with masculine pride; his shoulders squared and he puffed out his chest.
Elena selected a random magazine from the stand and fished some coins from her pocket, standing in line behind Ethan to pay for the publication.
“We can’t talk now,” the owner said to Ethan, nodding back at Elena. “I’ve got customers to serve. You’ll know where I’ll be if you want to reconsider though.”
Ethan agreed brusquely, turning to walk down the street. Hastily, Elena paid for the magazine, shoving it into her bag without even looking at it and hurried after Ethan MacDonald, trying not to lose him once more.
She had only taken a few steps when a hand fell onto her shoulder and she jumped, whirling to see who had touched her. Simon, looking confused, stood behind Elena and dropped his hand from her shoulder.
“What are you doing here?” he snapped, pushing her forward to walk when Elena froze in surprise.
Elena kept her eye focused on her target and spoke softly to Simon, not sure why he sounded so angry.
“I’m following him. Like we discussed.”
“Yes, well,” Simon shook his head. “That was my job.”
“I’m helping,” Elena said, hoping he wouldn’t order her back to the café.
In response, she felt Simon laugh silently and he dropped his hand from her back, his fingers brushing hers as his hands went to his sides.
“Alright,” he said at last. “Did you catch what he bought back at the paper stand?”
Elena felt a surge of relief and grinned, glad that Simon was accepting her presence. “Didn’t buy anything,” she said, trying to keep her voice low. “He talked to the owner though, something about a job offer.”
Simon whistled through his teeth in admiration. “That could be a jewel.”
Glad at the praise Elena nodded, “MacDonald said he would wait to tell the man. Maybe we could question the owner?”
“Yeah,” Simon nodded absently, then tensed, looking ahead to where Ethan Macdonald had turned suddenly into a narrow alley. “Let’s follow him,” Simon told her and a moment later they also stepped into the alley way. Elena reached for her wand, unsure of what to expect, ready to cast a spell if the need arose.
A quick glance around the alley turned up no one. Ethan, it seemed, had vanished in those few seconds. “Maybe he came here to apparate,” Elena reasoned. “No one could see him.”
Simon nodded once, though his face was tense and his eyes were scanning the surroundings. “Possible.”
The light in the bricked alley was murky and Elena walked down a few more paces to try to see if she saw any signs of where the man had disappeared to. There was something eerie about the alley; it seemed like it belonged in another era, one with oil street lamps and horse drawn buggies.
“This is an old part of town,” Simon commented, somehow thinking the same Elena was.
Without warning, the walls around them shifted and warped. A groaning issued from the bricks as they shuffled to cover the entrance to the alley. Simon sprinted back to the street, but before he reached the entry, the entrance was completely bricked up.
“Damn it,” he hissed. His fist clenched and he made to punch the wall, but stopped at the last instant.
Elena ran up to him as mist began to flood the alley from the opposite end. The air grew colder, if that was even possible and tendrils of ice wound their way up the bricks frosting it over. Breathing heavily, Elena become infinitely more aware of her surroundings: her clouded breath, her racing heart and Simon’s strong presence beside her. Something rustled in the other end of the alley and Elena drew her wand stepping closer to Simon. Suddenly, a wave of grief washed over Elena, so severe that she felt as if she were about to break in two. Flickers of her most horrible memories, nightmares and worries started to play behind her eyelids. Clutching to Simon, Elena watched in horror as two wispy, hooded figures floated towards them.
She wanted to ask him what they were, but she knew: Dementors. These dark creatures didn’t belong in London, yet here they were, advancing towards Elena and Simon emoting icy despair.
Simon seemed nearly as paralyzed as Elena for a moment, however he gained enough strength to push her up against the wall, behind him, so that she was shielded slightly from creatures. He stood in front of her protectively, but seemed to be fighting the depression from the Dementors only slightly better than Elena.
Elena knew she should act, she could produce a patronus, but all she could feel was that pressing darkness. All her hours of practice at school meant nothing now; she had never been called to act in the presence of the real creature. Her legs grew weak and the only thing holding her up was the steady wall behind her.
Elena’s vision began to tunnel as she fought the effects of the advancing Dementors.
“Do something,” she whispered, hoping Simon might hear her and react.
She wasn’t sure if it was her words or something else that caused him to move, but in the next moment, Simon had abandoned his stupor and shouted, “Expecto Patronum!” A silvery animal flew from his wand and swirled around the darkness, fighting it back. Elena’s vision cleared as the icy cold receded and she stood on shaky legs, relieved.
Her relief was short lived, however, for no sooner had the last traces of the Dementors faded than another pair of hooded figures advanced. These figures did not float, rather ran, their booted feet pounding on the brick. Their wands were drawn and already sparking at the tip.
Simon tensed and shoved Elena, causing her to fall to the ground just as a bolt of red light tore through the air. Simon fired several spells at the hooded figures.
“Who’s that with you, Burke?” one voice taunted. “A friend of yours? A girlfriend, perhaps?”
Simon swore and kept sending curses towards the assailants, not responding to their taunts. Elena sat up only to have another bolt of light shot towards her. She rolled out of the way and stood, aiming her wand at their attackers.
“Stupefy!” she shouted, directing the spell towards the smaller man, who dodged it lithely.
“She’s not as pretty as the last one,” the same man said with a chuckle. “Though she’s not a hag either.”
“Ignore him,” Simon hissed in between incantations. He sounded livid, like he could murder the men, just for what they were saying.
The smaller man, who hadn’t been speaking the whole time, made a slashing movement with his wand and purple flames hit Simon, lashing at his chest and sending him sprawling to the ground.
Elena gasped in horror as Simon didn’t get up and raised her wand to fight off the men. She knew she would never win, but at least she could hold them off until Simon awoke because he couldn’t, simply couldn’t be dead.
The taller man, who had been taunting Simon laughed—a booming, smearing sound. He gestured to the smaller attacker, who made the same slashing movement. Elena cast a shield charm, but the spell seemed to slide through it, and a wave of brute force knocked Elena to the ground beside Simon. She felt no burning or pain from the spelling, only a crushing weight that enveloped her chest, constricting her breathing and paralyzing her.
Still laughing in glee, the two men left the alley with two loud cracks. Elena felt the spell squeeze her ribs once more, before the pressure eased and she was able to gasp for breath. Spots appeared in front of her eyes as she took in the needed air and was finally able to sit up and crawl over to Simon.
He lay, eyes closed on the bricks. He was breathing, but only barely. Elena felt his pulse—also weak—and drew her wand. Quickly, she cast several basic healing charms, to steady him and to prevent the onset of shock.
Once sure that he was at least stable, she cast several more revealing charms. As she expected, the dark acrid stench of black magic clouded the air. The spell the attacker had placed upon Simon was no simple curse, but something twisted and malevolent.
If she had been at St. Mungo’s, Elena would have given him a few potions brewed to counter the dark arts and then sent him to a group of healers that specialized in obscure curses. However, she was not in the sanitary environment of the hospital, nor did she have access to its supply people and potions. Elena debated bringing him in, but decided against it. It would raise too many questions if she, who was supposed to be on holiday, brought in an injured Auror.
Finally, Elena decided that the best way to proceed would be to ask Simon. She might be able to wake him and see if he had any knowledge of the curse and how to treat it.
“Enerverate,” she hissed and Simon stirred, his eyes blinking. Elena stared down at his face and realized, that he looked so much less harsh asleep. His lashes brushed at his cheeks and she watched, enthralled, as he opened his eyes.
“Simon,” she said in a hushed voice. “Simon can you hear me.”
He opened his mouth. “Elena,” he croaked out, his voice as rough as glass.
“I’m right here,” Elena said, her hands trembling. “Listen, Simon, I need you to tell me what the spell was that that man used on you. The one with the purple flames.” She knew her voice was quavering, though she tried to sound confident.
He moved to sit up, eyes turning panicked. “Are they still here?” he said. “Run!”
Elena pushed him down as gently as she could. “Don’t move,” she ordered. “They’re gone. Just tell me what the spell was.”
Simon relaxed slightly into the ground. “The name won’t tell you anything about how to cure it. It’s Dolohov’s own creation.”
The name made Elena choke, “Dolohov? He’s a Death Eater. He’s in Azkaban.” She knew that they were dealing with dark magic, but not Death Eaters, members of You-Know-Who’s innermost circle. That was something else entirely.
“He taught some of his friends,” Simon said weakly. “Listen, the curse deflects healing. It’s not impossible to cure, and once its defences are broken, a simple spell will do the trick but in the field the only thing to do is to attack it with healing spells.”
Elena bit her lip. “What kind of spells?”
“Anything,” Simon said, his face going white. “Just keep casting them. And don’t waste your strength trying something complicated. It’s not worth it.”
The air in the alley was growing colder again, as the afternoon began to turn to evening. Elena’s coat was shredded and she was shivering. “I’m going to apparate you back to the warehouse,” she told Simon. “I’ll try to heal you there. If you can just sit for a moment…” However, it seemed that Simon had passed out once more, from pain or from the effects of the curse, Elena didn’t know. Her plans to transport him vanished as she realized that he was likely too unstable to move safely.
With a worried glance around, she began casting the most basic of healing spells upon Simon. Layering them and watching as swatches of golden light covered his body and sunk into his skin. She had to start repeating spells after her minute, for she’d run out of the least taxing ones.
Another minute in, her voice cracked and Elena had to pause for a moment, making sure she wouldn’t accidently miscast the spell and cause more damage to Simon. Nothing seemed to have an effect on him, to her dismay. He lay so still that several times, Elena felt his pulse, worried that he had slipped away without her noticing.
She considered calling Corinne or even Frank for help, but knew that it would be of no use in the end. The others were probably making more progress than she had with Simon and calling them would interrupt something surely. Besides, even if they came, they couldn’t do anything but keep up the barrage of spells until Simon awoke.
After a time, Simon’s colouring started to come back. Elena paused her healing and brushed a lock of hair out of his eyes.
“Simon,” she said hoarsely. “Are you awake?”
He didn’t respond to her voice and Elena felt a wave of exhaustion. All this healing was draining and it didn’t even seem to be making a large difference. Normally using this many spells on one person at once would have been deadly, however this case, if Simon was correct, was different. Elena wished again that she could consult some experts on curses or that she at least had some potions to give him.
“Episky,” Elena said and a sob escaped her mouth. She bit back another. “Enerverate,” she choked out, feeling tears slide down her cheeks, unbidden.
“Stop it,” she ordered herself. “Get yourself together Elena.”
This encouragement failed though and Elena dissolved into sobs. She had done something wrong; she knew it. Simon had to have been wrong about how to treat the curse. A potion might help, but not this continuous assault of healing spells. Or maybe there was no cure. He would just lie here until the curse won and stole his life away. And it would be all her fault: she was the one who had wanted him to come into the alley. If she had been stronger, she might have been able to fight off the other men. If she had never met him, he would have been better off. Perhaps a stronger healer could have saved the Minister and put a stop to this endless, endless mess.
“Oh Simon,” Elena said, despair flooding her mind. “I’m sorry.” She reached her hand down and blindly stroked his hair again. “This is all my fault.”
“No,” a voice said, sounding as rusty as Elena’s own.
Sure she was hallucinating from exhaustion, Elena shook her head twice. “Yes, yes it is.”
“Elena,” the voice, Simon’s voice, said again. “Why are you crying?”
In shock, she glanced down to where he was lying on the ground, a trail of dried blood ran from his temple into his hair but his eyes were most certainly open and his mouth was moving.
“Oh Merlin,” she said. “You’re not dead.”
“No,” he said. “It seems that St. Mungo’s knew what it was doing when they hired you.”
A small smile crept onto Elena’s lips and she wiped away some of her tears. “How do you feel?” she said at last, some of her healer training taking over.
Simon gave a bit of a shrug. “Bad,” he said. “But I’ve felt worse. I think I can sit up, though.”
Elena, deciding that he knew best, helped him sit, so that he was leaning against one of the alley walls. She sat on her heels rocking back and forth a little. “Are you dizzy?” she questioned, watching Simon intensely still sure he would collapse at any moment.
“No,” he gave a weak smile. “Though I don’t think that I’ll be able to apparate any time soon.”
“Oh,” Elena said with a bit of a laugh. “Right. God, we’re going to have to get out of here sometime, aren’t we? I’ve no idea how. I’ll splinch for sure right now.” She felt so drained, emotionally and physically that there was no way she could transport one, much less two people by means of magical travel.
Simon shrugged, “I can send a Patronus message to Corinne, though she may not be able to come right away.”
Elena nodded and scooted over so that her back was against the same wall that Simon’s was. “I’m so tired,” she said with a yawn.
She turned just in time to see a silvery glint as Simon’s Patronus shot through the air, off to find Corinne. “Now we wait,” he told her, sounding every bit as exhausted. “You can sleep if you like.”
That sounded quite appealing to Elena but she doubted that she would be able to rest. She was grateful for the offer though.
“Remember,” she said, yawning again. “You’re not healed yet. Try to go see someone at St. Mungo’s tomorrow. Or if you can’t at least take a restorative potion. You’re far from better.”
Simon laughed warmly in acquiescence. “Alright, Healer Wood. If you say so.”
“I mean it,” Elena closing her eyes as she leaned against the wall. It was still warm from absorbing sunshine. She wanted to go to sleep and never wake up.
“Are you alright?” Simon asked. “Did any of their spells hit you?”
“No, I’m fine,” Elena assured him, though her words slurred.
Simon turned to face her, shaking his head. “You’re exhausted,” he told her at last. His wand emerged from his pocket and he muttered a spell to send her to sleep.
“I’m really alright,” she protested, though the words were more like a hiss of breath. As hard as Elena fought to keep her eyes open, the temptation close them was too strong and a dark curtain fell over the world. Just before she lost consciousness, she felt the ghostly touch of fingers on her face, moving a strand of hair away from her face.
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