An impatient horn blasted, followed by a chorus of other honks from cars caught in the game day gridlock as throngs of people shuffled around the traffic to get though the stadium gates. Tucked behind a dumpster in the back alley, Dorcas shifted nervously, keeping one eye on the stadium and the other on the warehouse door a half block away.
Moody and his team of Aurors were already inside with the Muggle-Wizard security team, and the gate guards stood alert at all entrances. The Ministry was confident that no one, wizard or otherwise, would get in or out without their knowledge.
Dorcas turned away from the stadium and focused on the warehouse door. Karkaroff was smart to pick this location for the setup. No one would think to look for Death Eaters along these congested side streets, so close to their intended target. Not without a folio full of research and someone on the inside to fill in the missing pieces.
And here they came. Dorcas clutched the vial of antidote in her pocket as the group of hooded figures came around the corner and entered the warehouse. She waited for the door to click shut, dug a charmed scrap of parchment out of her other pocket and flicked it with her wand.
Moody’s reply came shortly after, repeating his warning to have backup this time, for Merlin’s sake. She tucked the parchment away. She would have all the backup she needed, as soon as he showed up. Dorcas scanned both sides of the street nervously. Where was he? If he took much longer, she was going to start dreaming up all the horrible things that could go wrong and that wasn’t going to do anyone any good.
Her wrist tingled and she tried to think positively, hoping he was on his way and hadn’t run into complications. If he managed to get away from his meeting without arousing suspicion, and if they hadn’t tipped anyone off in the meantime, they might stand a chance. But if no one was coming, if he’d been found out… She stifled a squeak as a familiar hand grabbed her shoulder.
“Sorry I’m late.”
Dorcas sighed with relief, mentally crossing out the list of “if’s” and replacing them with “when’s”.
“There are eleven so far, and Karkaroff is with them,” she said in a hushed tone. Severus’ face was grim as he cast the charm that made them both invisible. Dorcas reached for his hand and he squeezed it in confirmation. They made their way around the corner together and waited. Soon enough, another pair of cloaked men approached the door and opened it. Dorcas and Severus easily slipped in behind them.
The Death Eaters joined the others in the back, huddled around a table. Dorcas felt Severus tug her over to follow them through the shadows of the flickering torchlight and crouch behind a stack of crates. They had a clear view of the Death Eatersand the object of their attentions. Twelve deadly tubes of poison were displayed before them.
This was what they were hoping for. All of the vials together.
She readied the spell, but Severus put his hand on her arm as one of the robed men stepped forward and tapped the floor with his cane for attention.
“It is our time to seize the power that is rightfully ours. Tonight, we will show both worlds who is in control.” Karkaroff’s words ignited a chorus of assent around the room. He held up his hand for silence. “The Dark Lord wants to personally oversee our activities. Prepare yourselves and wait here.” He disappeared, leaving the crowd to mutter amongst themselves.
“Now what?” Dorcas hissed. “It was supposed to be Karkaroff and a few Death Eaters. And he just left.”
“But he’s gone to get Voldemort. Moody’s team isn’t prepared for that!”
“Were you able to contact him?” he whispered to her.
She nodded, and then realized that he still couldn’t see her. “Yes. He said he’d wait a few minutes and then he’d bring his team to our location.”
She felt him squeeze her arm again. “He’d better get here soon.”
The Death Eaters were getting restless. One of them reached across the table for a vial. A few others noticed and then there were hands… five, six hands reaching for the vials.
Dorcas let go of Severus and stood up from behind the crate. Severus unleashed a string of hissed swear words under his breath, but she ignored it, concentrating on the moving hands at the table. They were going to lose the chance to destroy the vials. “Wait!” she called out.
All the Death Eaters froze.
“Where’s Karkaroff?” she demanded.
“Who wants to know?” said a voice behind the nearest mask.
“My name is Dorcas Meadowes. I’ve been Summoned here.” She rubbed her arm for effect. Maybe they’d buy it.
“We weren’t told about you,” one of them challenged, raising his wand to point at her. Suddenly a masked Death Eater appeared at her shoulder.
“I wouldn’t do that.” It was Severus’ voice, modulated a few tones lower. “She’s no good to him damaged.” He moved in front of her, keeping his wand pointing at the threat.
The challenger let out a snarl of words, the tip of his wand glowing, and the hands at the table were moving again, grabbing for the vial rack. Severus shot a ball of fire at the table, igniting the rack, and all the hands pulled away at once with cries of surprise.
“Now!” he hissed in her ear.
Dorcas cast a shield around the table. The Death Eaters were quickly encased in the heavy fog that rose up from the broken glass and they fell in a heap on the floor.
There was no other movement except for the swirling blue gas trying to escape the bubble. The shield held fast. Her wand arm was shaking. She was afraid to move. Afraid to breathe. She hadn’t meant to kill anyone.
Then the familiar hand was back on her shoulder. “Hold steady,” Severus told her. “We had to do it this way.”
“I know.” She fought back the sting of tears, almost wishing Moody’s people hadn’t been right about the masks not working. Because that made her responsible for the pile of dead bodies over in the corner.
“That was reckless, by the way,” he said, still close to her, the only thing that kept her from plummeting over the edge of sanity. “You could have warned me.”
Dorcas could only nod in agreement, hoping for a split second that she could live with what she'd just done... she forced herself to bury that thought. There'd be time for a morality check later, when she didn't have to concentrate on the shield separating her from certain death.
Then she saw something shift right outside the shield. Someone must have fallen out of the way in Severus’ blast. He was gasping for air and trying to get up. There was a flash of blue in his hand.
“Over there! He’s got one of the vials!” Dorcas gripped her wand tighter, shaking her other hand at the moving lump on the floor.
Severus rushed over as the man got to his feet. He grabbed for the man’s arm and they both disappeared with a distinctive “pop”.
Everything was still, except for the pounding in her chest. Dorcas took a few steadying breaths. “I’ll be fine,” she insisted to the bodies shrouded by the angry mist. There was no need to panic, she reminded herself. Just because she was alone in an empty warehouse with Karkaroff and Voldemort on their way.
Dorcas swallowed and nodded to herself. “Moody will be here any minute.”
As soon as his feet hit solid ground, Severus was shoved backwards against a wall. He winced as his shoulder grazed a stone mantle. The Death Eater he’d sidealonged with staggered into a beat up excuse for a couch and broke into a fit of coughing.
“Who are you? What do you want?” The man had difficulty talking through his constant wheezing, but he seemed quite determined to get it all out. “I’ve done everything you people asked of me. I even got away with one of these!” He held up the blue vial with a shaking hand. “That should be worth something. But if the oaths mean nothing to you, then fine. Kill me now.”
Severus blinked at the same words he remembered using all those months ago when this whole mess started. “I’m not who you think I am,” he said, needing to get back to Dorcas. “And I need that vial.”
The Death Eater broke into another fit of coughing. “Why should I continue to cooperate with you?” His coughing increased and he tore off the mask in an effort to get more air.
It was the real Rookwood. Severus guessed that if the pock-faced man had been close enough to the table of vials to grab one, he’d likely gotten a good whiff of the poison. He fished around inside his robe. “Here.” He shoved the antidote at Rookwood. “Drink this, or you’ll die.”
Rookwood gulped down air in between wheezes. “You’re going to kill me anyway.”
Severus shook his head. “I already told you. I’m not who you think I am. I’m trying to help you.”
Rookwood clutched at his throat and started turning pale. Severus gritted his teeth and grabbed the man around the neck. If Dorcas’ entire family was this stubborn, he might have to rethink the idea of going with her to Paris when this was all over. He pried his jaw open and poured the antidote down his throat.
The man writhed on the ground for a moment, and then gasped out loud. “I can breathe,” he said, looking bewilderedly at Severus.
“And you can talk. Your niece has been wondering where you’d disappeared to. I don’t want to have to explain to her that I’d finally found you, only to watch you suffocate to death.”
Rookwood narrowed his gaze. “You’re helping her. You’re the one who destroyed the poison.”
Severus rolled his eyes behind the mask. He didn’t have time for this. “I need your vial to finish the job.”
Rookwood hesitated, then handed over the blue tube.
Severus tucked it away in his robe. Then he turned on Rookwood. “Why’d you give them the portkey to her flat?”
“I didn’t… not at first. They were going to kill me and they needed… I had to.” His eyes shifted to the left as he became less and less convincing. “They threatened me. Told me if I joined, they’d take care of my problems.” He held out his arm and showed Severus his mark.
Severus felt sick. “They offered you money.”
“Look. I gave you the blasted vial and you cured me. Can’t we just go our separate ways and call it even? I won’t mention anything about you and…” Rookwood trailed off as Severus’ wand got closer to his face.
Severus ignored the burning on his arm while he tried to figure out what to do about the pock-faced traitor standing in front of him. Dorcas had defended the slime ball. She would want to give him a piece of her mind before they took him in.
Then his wrist started burning too.
“Don’t mention me, please?“ Rookwood’s words faintly registered as Severus dropped his wand from the man’s face and apparated back to the warehouse. First he needed to deal with whatever was bothering Dorcas. Then, somehow, he’d have to figure out what to tell her about her uncle.
Dorcas jumped at the loud crack of apparition at the far end of the warehouse. A ghastly figure appeared with his hunched companion. She could hear the click of the cane as they got closer, but Karkaroff wasn’t the one she was worried about as she backed behind the crates into the shadows.
Voldemort flicked a finger at the bubble around the table and Dorcas felt a jolt in her arm as the shield went down. Karkaroff strode over to the table, stepping over bodies like superstitious cracks in the pavement, searching through the debris. “There’s nothing left!” he rumbled. “All the vials are destroyed.” He poked at one of the bodies with his cane. “Useless gits!”
Voldemort raised his hooded head and Karkaroff remembered himself. He bowed with a flourish. “I will check outside to see if anyone else is here.”
Dorcas could see bloodshot eyes from between the slats of the crates, surveying the dead bodies, the broken glass and the remains of the blue haze drawn up to the ceiling by the exhaust vents. His eyes finally latched onto hers and he stared, as if the crate wasn’t between them. His lips twitched.
Dorcas’ body obeyed the unspoken command. As she stood before him, his mouth opened and emitted a sharp raspy noise. He was laughing at her.
“Dorcas Meadowes.” The voice was gravel against a metal sieve. “It is impressive how you seem to have single-handedly ruined Karkaroff’s plans. He is highly upset.”
His eyes narrowed, making her shudder involuntarily. “Tell me what you know.”
Dorcas felt icy tendrils wrap around her brain, and then she saw Severus in his lab, cursing at the leather-bound notebook, a memory, and she tried to resist, putting everything she had into blocking the invasion of her mind. But then he commanded her again… show me… and her resistance failed, slipping backwards to Severus and all those nights he’d spent huddled over his notes, refusing to give up. Her frustration rose up. She couldn’t let it end like this… all because of Karkaroff’s stupid plan…
Tell me, came the demand, this time with a picture of the blue vials, a memory that wasn’t hers.
“He was going to use that potion on thousands of innocent people,” she stammered, but that wasn’t what she wanted to say. She fished around for what she had meant, as the opprssive presence in her head followed through her thoughts. “I couldn’t let him kill them all,” she managed at last.
Voldemort chuckled deeply. “Severus Snape is undoubtedly very determined. You have destroyed six months of his best work. For this, you must die.”
Something tightened around her neck and she gasped for air. Her body spun around and the red eyes pierced through hers and broke into her mind again: Karkaroff’s smile when he found her in the bank… Josef trying to abduct her from her own flat… the two hooded men at the secret door in Knockturn Alley. The wand tore from her grip and skidded across the floor. “A shame,” she heard him say as her body rose. A scream ripped through her, her hands hanging useless at her sides. “Such wasted talent.”
It couldn’t end now. She wasn’t ready for their plan to fail. If she could just hold on a little longer...
She closed her eyes and grabbed onto that thought with everything she had. There was a tug at her mind again while she concentrated on breathing… in … out…
He was close now. She felt it.
Who? The voice was hollow, coming from inside her mind.
A sudden warmth passed through her and the pressure in her head released. She thought she heard shouting… there was movement around her. And then the tingling in her wrist cut through the numbness.
He’s here, she thought with a renewed surge of hope. She tried to find him but her vision narrowed and everything blurred and then she could no longer see the light or hear the shouting or feel her lungs expanding, but it didn’t matter. He had come for her. They were all here now.
She was no longer alone.
Severus barely dodged a flying hex as he scrambled behind the crates in the warehouse. He knew Dorcas was in trouble, and thankfully she wasn’t where he’d left her or she’d be standing in the middle of an Auror – Death Eater showdown.
“There’s another one, over there!”
Hexes continued to fly through the air as Severus scanned the room from behind the crates. Aurors were everywhere. But where was she?
The clump of black robes had backed into the corner - Voldemort and Karkaroff together, surrounded by their remaining minions. A combination of shields and curses blinked all around them. At the moment, the Aurors seemed to have the upper hand of the confrontation. Dorcas wasn’t with them, so he could only hope that she’d gotten away safely somewhere. If he was smart, he’d stay where he was and wait it out. It looked like the fighting would be over soon.
Then he saw the body in the air above the Death Eaters, her blue irises glistening in the torchlight, and panic took over. He forgot all about playing it safe and ran from his cover into the crossfire. He ignored the sudden searing pain that shot through him. Another jolt hit his leg, and another quickly followed it.
One of the minions tipped over a steaming cauldron, causing part of Moody’s team to scatter away from the boiling liquid. It ran towards the feet of the Death Eater group as well, and they side-stepped away from it. Severus threw the last vial of poison at the clump of retreating Death Eaters, fighting the numbness in his legs and pushing forward to get to her while everyone was distracted enough to quit shooting at him.
His knees folded under him and he was falling. He could still do this, he thought desperately as he shot an incineration charm at the vial and held his breath.
Everything rushed past him in an instant and a hand reached out of nowhere, yanking him back. His head knocked hard against something solid and he was dragged into the darkness, not able to see her, not knowing if his last shot hit its target… and then nothing.
Moody cursed as he shot off another round. The sudden appearance of someone new had distracted his men and the Death Eaters were starting to pull themselves back together. They were going to miss their chance if they didn’t act soon.
His team had been delayed fielding stupid questions from the Muggle Head of Security at the stadium. Moody would have answered him with a Petrificus Totalus if it weren’t for the three members of the Wizengamot standing right behind him. Instead, he'd explained the non-plan that the Aurors had for stopping the attack and listened to the Muggle's useless facts about stadium capacity and evacuation times.
None of that mattered now. He kept one eye on the floating body above Voldemort and the other on the fighting around him. The stray Death Eater had thrown something in the air and then shot at it, but his aim was off, and then Moody had lost sight of him in the scuffle.
His sideman sent off a series of blasts to clear a path in front of them and he rushed forward with his team, aiming straight for Voldemort. He briefly registered the pile of dead bodies and broken glass in the corner, proof that Dorcas had done her job. Now he had to do his.
Moody concentrated his fire on the single target and allowed his team to deal with the rest of them. Voldemort roared with pain as his idiot minions scattered and he was pummeled with bolts from all directions.
Then the Dark Lord pointed to the floating body above him and with a flick of his wrist, flung it towards the advancing Aurors.
All the Ministry fire ceased as it flew through the air at them and landed with a solid thud on the ground, in spite of the cushioning charms that had gone up to soften the impact. A ghastly cackle and a series of cracks in the air jerked Moody’s attention back to the Death Eaters, but they were gone.
He called out orders to secure whatever and whoever was left.
“All twelve vials are here,” someone confirmed. “One of them is still leaking the blue fluid and needs to be contained.”
“She’s not breathing,” Moody turned to the new voice and saw Dorcas lying on the ground in a heap.
“Give it to her,” he ordered. “The antidote.”
“Do it,” he insisted, hating to have to repeat himself. “No, let me do it.” He took out his own vial of antidote and shoved his way to her. Moody lifted up her neck enough to get her mouth open and placed a bit of it on her tongue, ignoring the wrong way her limbs were laying and the strange angle of her collarbone.
He waited, but nothing happened.
“Damn. Get her to St. Mungo’s.”
His order was unnecessary. Experienced hands were already pushing him out of the way as the team of Healers converged on the scene to begin their work.
A/N: Thanks again for reading, and as always, I have to thank my incredible betas for helping me keep this all together. There are eighteen chapters to this story, and we were all a bit worn out at the end and I fixed a few things here and there. Cookies to anyone who finds mistakes or typos and points them out so I can fix and polish.
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