Chapter 21 : Chapter 21
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The air outside was cool and still. A bird chirped in the distance. Elena inhaled and exhaled—the entire breathe taking longer than Death Eater’s escape had. Her gaze shifted to Moody. He stood, a monument to endurance. His cloak hung heavily, brushing the floor. He had yet to move his arm from where it had been outstretched when he cast the deadly spell. Even his magical eyeball had slowed so it revolved once every five or so seconds. Only one aspect marred the image: the feral grin that was set upon his features. But even it faded as he saw Elena looking his way.
Or perhaps he stopped smiling at the sound of heavy footsteps, pounding on the wooden planks of the floor. Simon and Corinne burst through the doors. “Who is dead?” Corinne demanded, looking from Moody in the doorway, to an exhausted Alice on the floor.
Moody shook his head once. Frank helped Alice to a sitting position. “No one,” he said without affect. “Bellatrix avoided Alastor’s curse and they all fled.”
Corinne looked down and shoved her sweaty hair behind her ears in a vicious movement. “So you lost them.” Her words were combative, as if she wasn’t ready to end the battle in defear.
Moody took two uneven steps towards the centre of the room, his wooden leg sounding on the hollow floor. “She may have missed the Killing Curse, but she didn’t avoid the tracking spell.” A triumphant look settled on his face as he reached inside of his robes for a moment. “She won’t be expecting anyone to follow. I’ll send word in ten minutes. Anyone who can handle themselves in a fight should come after me then.” With those words, Moody disapparated, leaving Elena’s mind reeling.
A small smile crept onto Corinne’s lips, but Elena felt numb. She couldn’t make her brain process everything that had just happened: her mind couldn’t take so much contradiction. Bellatrix was going to die, but she escaped. They had lost track of the Death Eaters but Moody had tracked them. The battle was over, but Moody would summon them in minutes to continue the fight.
With a sigh she rose to her feet, feeling unsteady. Did she have strength to keep fighting? Despite her still pounding heart, she felt no adrenaline rush. Dread pooled in her stomach. Across the room, Simon was watching her, but Elena didn’t meet his gaze. Instead, she turned to Alice, who was conscious, but pale. “Are you alright?” she asked.
“I’ll be fine.” Alice’s voice was little more than a hoarse whisper.
“In any other situation I’d tell you to go straight to St. Mungo’s,” Elena said slowly, thinking of the barrage of tests that would normally have been performed on the victim of an unknown curse.
“We can’t take her there,” Simon interjected, as Corinne added: “No!”
Elena turned around, frowning. “Are you even listening?” she snapped. “In any other situation. Not here, not now.” Why did they always assume she couldn’t think practically?
Corinne gave a shrug, “I wasn’t,” she said dryly.
Frank gave a choked laugh from the floor. “You’re going to be fine,” he said to his wife, brushing a strand of hair out of her face.
“Of course she is,” Elena said with certainty that she didn’t have, it was a tone she’d learned from addressing the hysterical relatives of her patients. She crouched down, so she could address at Alice. “You did collapse, but now you’re awake. If you were in any serious danger, you’d be unconscious. Okay?” That wasn’t entirely true, Elena could think of countless curses that postponed damage. The patient seemed fine, until they were suddenly bleeding and near death. But those were obscure spells, and complex. Elena had to assume that Bellatrix hadn’t been going for subtlety during the attack.
A hand closed on Elena’s arm and she flinched in surprise as Simon pulled her upright. She didn’t speak as she turned around to face him and Corinne. They seemed to share the same mercurial mood that let them switch from sarcasm to anger to gravity in an instant. “Alastor is going to send instructions soon.” Simon said. “As soon as he gets a handle of the situation, he’ll call us to help with an ambush.”
Elena didn’t even know what question to begin with. How did they know what Moody was planning? When would he call for them? Would the Lestranges be expecting them?
“This is our best chance of capturing them,” Corinne added, as if that knowledge would somehow make the uncertainty easier to bare. She looked from Simon to Elena and nodded once, as if the gesture settled things. “I'll talk with Frank.”
“Yeah,” Simon’s voice sounded strained. He stared over Elena’s shoulder at Corinne, and sighed. “Come over here,” he said finally in a low tone and motioned for Elena to follow him away from the others, over towards a blackened dinner table.
She bit her lip. This conversation was going to be unpleasant. Simon would tell her he didn’t think she should come because it wasn’t going to be safe. But she didn’t care. “I’m not staying behind,” she said before he could speak.
Simon’s eyes were strangely tinged with green in this light, Elena noticed as she waited for him to speak. “Elena,” he said at last. “That wasn’t what I was going to say, at all.”
“No?” Elena couldn’t decide whether to be incredulous or relieved.
“Listen to me: we need all the help we can get.” Simon seemed to interpret her question as disbelieving.
That wasn’t what he had said after she had come to find him. He had been furious with her for putting herself in danger. And the situation hadn’t been nearly as dire. “Is that it then?” Now was not the time to start any sort of dispute, surely Simon knew better than anyone that Moody would summon them in mere minutes. They needed time to prepare, time to plan. Elena turned back towards Corinne and the Longbottoms.
“I’m sorry.” Simon’s voice had an edge to it that made her turn back. He paused. “We need to talk and I know that we can’t now. But I’m sorry.”
Elena looked up, staring at his face. It had grown familiar these past few months: his dark hair, his warm eyes, the open friendly look that he could adopt when he wasn’t being an Auror. And yet, for some reason, she felt a surge of anger at his apology. “Are you?” she snapped.
He nodded, the frown crinkling his forehead a profession of his sincerity. “Yes.”
Elena clenched and unclenched her hands. “You can’t do this to me,” she said. “I don’t know what’s happening between us, if you even care.” She looked away. “I thought you were dead, Simon. I thought you had died. And you yelled at me.”
“Don’t tell me that,” Simon’s voice was low and shaking. “I sent you out of that building so that you would be safe. And you came back! You didn’t even bother to save yourself.”
The bitterness of his words made Elena want to cringe away, but instead she kept speaking. Apparently they indeed were having this conversation now. “I came with Corinne.” Elena’s voice was more confrontational than she had wanted it to sound. “Besides, who are you to decide what I do and do not do? You should have left the building, leaving me inside. You’re more use than me in a fight.”
“Elena,” Simon snapped. “You’re being ridiculous.” His eyes had lost any warmth and were now staring at her, as if he couldn’t believe she was standing there. “Why would I leave you behind?”
She looked down, not wanting to see his face so transformed. “Because you think I’m worthless to you in a fight! I can’t duel; you’d waste energy protecting me.”
“That’s a lie.” Simon slammed his hand down the table top. “You’re still alive,” he said sharply. “Yes, you’re a Healer not an Auror, but you aren’t worthless.”
Elena laughed dryly. “I can’t heal dead men, Simon. A Healer isn’t much use to us now.”
“You saved my life.” Simon’s voice was quiet.
Elena was about to make another cutting remark, but stopped. A tight sensation filled her chest, and she realized that she was, perhaps, on the verge of tears. This was exactly what she wanted to tell Simon—that, as much as she wanted to, she couldn’t, shouldn’t be trusted to be strong, not when she couldn’t even control her own emotions. Ashamed of her obvious weakness, Elena turned her back so Simon couldn’t see her face.
“You are not worthless.” His voice was loud, too loud for the room, with the others nearby. “You’ve been as much help as any other Auror could when we were searching. I don’t want you to leave. I didn’t want you to leave then. I was just—” Simon paused, as if waiting for a reaction.
Elena studied the floor, scarred black with flames and dusted with silvery ash. “Just what?” she asked in a whisper, still not trusting the strength of her voice.
“You shouldn’t have to die for this.” Simon replied vehemently. “You didn’t sign up; you never agreed to this. I was wrong to take you along and ask you to stay. It’s selfish of me that I still want you here.”
“What are you saying?” Elena couldn’t make sense of his point. He had just told her that she wasn’t worthless, and now he regretted ever asking her for her help? Besides, she hadn’t been forced to stay—that much had been made clear early on.
He took a step closer to her. “If something happens to you, it will be my fault.”
Elena sighed, and forced herself to turn around. “You are being ridiculous,” she said, shaking her head. But this time, she managed a smile. She realized a bit dizzily that she was standing very close to Simon. If she just leaned forward another inch, they would be touching. As a healer, Elena had prided herself on her composure, her ability to isolate her emotions and stay focused in any situation but here she lacked that self control and managed to stop questioning why they were having this sort of discussion practically in the middle of a battle. She still didn’t understand all of Simon’s actions but she felt that she understood, at the very least, the emotions that caused them.
He returned her smile and reached his hand towards her face. Elena smiled wider. She couldn’t forget what he had said to her, but at least he hadn’t meant to be malicious. That small act of forgiveness surprised her. In another time, she would have found it hard to believe any justification for Simon’s actions but here, she couldn’t know how much longer she would have to hold such a grudge. Her life had accelerated and her emotions along with it. It was both thrilling and disorienting, to go from resentment to fear, to concentration, to anger, to forgiveness in such short time.
A noise, a crackling of sorts, called Elena back to reality. It had come from behind her, but it sounded in Elena’s mind as a reminder from the past. It was the exact same pitch and tone as the buzz that preceded the magical intercom at St. Mungo’s, the sound that alerted Healers to emergency cases. Elena had been conditioned to drop whatever she was doing at the sound and even months out of St. Mungo’s hadn’t allowed her to forget the reaction. She stiffened and turned, looking for the source of the noise.
Simon caught her shoulder. “What’s wrong?”
Elena only shook her head and walked closer to the centre of the small room. Corinne, who had been discussing something with Frank, gave a little smile. “Thank God,” she said dryly. “I was afraid that I was going to have to put a stop to you two.”
Elena couldn’t even manage a glare at Corinne. She was staring instead at the spot on the floor that she was sure the noise had come from. A small silver cigarette lighter lay on the floor. She reached down to pick it up, sure she hadn’t seen the object before. Moody would have been standing on it when he disapparated.
“What is that?” someone demanded. Elena ignored them, and flicked the catch of the lighter almost automatically, wondering if it worked. But, instead of producing the usual flame, the room instantly plunged into darkness as all the light in the room surged into the silver device. Alice cried out in surprise from the floor and Elena heard footsteps stop as Simon and Corinne froze in the darkness.
“Lumos,” Corinne said, and for an instant there was light, until it too flowed into the lighter. “God damn it,” Corinne hissed. “Where’s Alastor?”
“Elena, put that down,” Frank said in a cautious tone, as if dealing with a skittish animal.
“Give it to me,” Simon used an equally calm tone. “I’m right behind you; just give whatever that is to me.”
Elena felt the cold metal against her skin and shivered. “Where?” she asked Simon, trying to keep her voice steady in the absolute, unconditional darkness.
Corinne tried again to cast a spell for light, only to have it vanish into the object in Elena’s hand.
“Here, I’m here,” Simon’s hand pressed softly against her back. “Just hand it to me, alright?”
Elena nodded before realizing he couldn’t see the action. “Yes.”
She felt his hand on her elbow, then her wrist. With a tiny gasp, she laid the silver lighter into his hand, as delicately as possible. As soon as Elena had let it go, Simon stepped back, as if he were trying to put as much distance as possible between the device in his hand and her.
“I’ve got it,” he said, still in that unnaturally calm tone.
The voice that spoke next came from below Elena. “I can’t see.” Alice had a touch of hysteria in her tone. “It’s all black.”
“Don’t worry,” Frank reassured her. “It’s just dark in here. You’re fine.”
Alice’s breathing sounded heavy in the darkness. Elena listened to her struggling for air and wished she could determine if it was a result of her panic or a latent symptom of a curse. She thought about asking several diagnostic questions but her mind was distracted by the blackness that was crushing around her. And the device, whatever it had done, was dangerous. The other’s surprise and worry had been evident.
“What happened?” Alice asked.
Corinne made a sound that was like laughter. “Elena picked up this silver thing from the floor and all the light went out. In other matters, we’re still waiting for Alastor to tell us where to meet him, and he should have told us about three minutes ago.”
There was a shift as Alice moved. “Sliver thing?”
“Yeah. One of those Muggle cigarette lighters,” Corinne sounded as if she didn’t think it were the time for technicalities.
“I’ve seen Alastor with that.” A note of lucidity had returned to Alice’s voice.
Elena exhaled in relief, not realizing that she had been holding her breath. She hadn’t realized how apprehensive she’d been until now. There were a million terrible things the lighter could have been, but if Moody had it, it couldn’t be terribly dangerous. She turned towards Simon once more, only to see a pinprick of blue in the darkness. At first, she thought it was just her eyes playing tricks, hallucinating in the darkness, but the glow seemed to grow. “Simon, do you—.” She could see movement as he nodded.
“Are you sure it was Alastor’s?” Corinne questioned, though her voice sounded relieved as well.
The light was now bright enough that Elena could see Simon, who was standing several feet from her. “Yes.”
“You know, it looks like a Portkey.” There was a noise as Frank rose to his feet.
Corinne was at Simon’s side in a second, her previous distance forgotten. The glow was the brilliant, unmistakable blue of a Portkey—Frank was right. Elena glanced at the man and saw that he was trying to help Alice to her feet. She gave him a tight smile. “Go,” she ordered. “I’m strong enough to make it home.”
Elena didn’t see what his response was because Corinne grabbed her and pulled her towards the blue light. Corinne’s hand was clenched around Simon’s forearm, as if she didn’t dare to touch the source of the light itself. Elena reached out and took Simon’s other hand in her own.
“Frank,” Corinne said. “If you’re coming, do it now!” Her words were accompanied by a surge in blue light that ran up Simon’s arm, spilling over into Corinne’s hand. Elena felt Simon’s fingers tighten on her own.
Frank took one last look at Alice and flung himself towards Corinne, catching hold of her shoulder just as the cascade of light grew to mask Elena’s vision. She could still feel a familiar tugging sensation that lifted them upwards, out of the burnt building.
The instant of travel blurred into a gentle landing that masked the haste of their departure. The cool air misted as the blue light diminished and Elena was left blinking at the contrast. But before Elena could take in the gloomy forest they now stood in, the Aurors fell back on years of training and were alert, with wands ready. She felt a touch foolish as Simon pulled his hand from hers.
“Took you long enough,” Moody rasped, stepping out from behind a tree into a patch of sunlight.
“What the hell was that?” Frank demanded. “I thought you were going to send a Patronus message.” The normally level headed man took a step towards Moody.
Moody held out his hand and Simon dropped the silver lighter into it. “No idea what it is. Borrowed it from Dumbledore. He said it should do the trick for something like this. Didn’t bother to explain to me how it worked though.”
Elena balked. Dumbledore? Moody knew the Headmaster of Hogwarts that well? There was something so unintellectual about Moody that she was surprised that the professor could stand him.
“Never mind that,” Corinne snapped, as if irritated by the question. “Where are the Lestranges?” She didn’t even consider that he hadn’t found them.
Moody grinned, showing uneven teeth. “Quarter of a mile that way,” he jerked his head to the left. “I think they’re waiting to meet that cousin of theirs Rosier.”
“Rosier’s cousin to Rabastan Lestrange?” Frank frowned.
Simon narrowed his eyes, “Aren’t they all related somehow? Rosier and his lot?” The venom with which Simon said the name reminded Elena of where she had heard it before. It was who Simon had blamed for Lara’s death. Perhaps, he had been one of the men who had attacked them ages ago in the alley.
“Right, that’s why I called in a bit of backup,” Moody said with a grunt, adjusting his cloak as the insistent wind pushed it off his shoulders again.
Elena turned her gaze slowly to Corinne, who had set her jaw. “Simon,” she said in a carrying, cutting tone, “Am I hearing this correctly? Isn’t Ministry involvement exactly what we’ve been avoiding this entire time?”
Simon took a step back and shot a glance at Moody, as if wondering why he was taking the brunt of Corinne’s fury. “I didn’t suggest it,” he began.
“Don’t start!” Corinne snapped.
He held up his hands, again sending an imploring look at Moody. “Though it’s not a terrible idea. Listen, it’s better we capture the Lestranges alive and this is our best chance.”
“I can’t believe this,” Corinne stalked towards Frank, before rounding again on Simon. “You’re just saying that because Rosier will be there and you want a shot at him. Is that it, Burke?”
Simon seemed to have overcome his surprise and didn’t move as Corinne moved closer to him. “I want the bastard dead as much as anyone, but you have to see the logic. This is almost over now and we can use the extra help.”
Corinne had descended into muttering in French, and Moody seemed to take that as a sign of her acquiescence. “We need to change position,” he said curtly. “If they’ve got half a brain or a half decent alarm system, they picked up on your yelling. We surround them on all sides, keep them from moving. The others are coming in minutes.”
“Dupont, you’ll be on the North. I’ll take the South side of camp. Frank has the East, Simon, West.” He nodded at each as he said their name. “We wait until their guests show up and trap ‘em.”
Elena took a deep breath. Moody hadn’t instructed her to stay behind, so he had no right to leave her out of his plan. “And me?”
“I don’t know you,” he said, as if that were reason enough to ignore her.
“You can come with me,” Simon said putting an arm over Elena’s shoulders.
Corinne pinched her lips together into a thin line. “No. You shouldn’t be distracted. Elena can come with me.” She sounded less exasperated than cautious, as if she were expecting Simon to object.
“Or maybe you just need someone to listen to you whinge,” Simon joked, before placing a kiss on top of Elena’s head. She blushed; she hated being treated like a child who had to be cared for. But, for the hundredth time, Elena told herself that in this situation, she was not the best, not the expert and had no idea what Moody’s plan was. She wasn’t an Auror and shouldn’t expect Moody to treat her like one.
Without further words, the group divided as Moody had described, casting disillusionment spells and charms for concealment and silence. There was something to be said for the communal knowledge the Aurors seemed to share—they weren’t asking any of the usual tactical questions.
Elena shivered as a charm dripped down her spine, and watched as the magic began to camouflage her skin. Corinne, now little more than a blurry shape against the forest touched Elena’s arm and set off at rapid pace. Elena didn’t have to be told to scan her surroundings, to listen for any sound. She knew that she could never be careful enough.
As Corinne tapped Elena’s arm again, and stopped moving, Elena realized that they were on the edge of a clearing. It wasn’t a natural opening in the forest, but rather one hacked into the woods. Burnt trees lay scattered and snapped on the sides. Scorch marks covered the dirt and the skeletons of several shrubs lingered on the edge.
A crude black pavilion provided some shade to three figures underneath it. Elena couldn’t see their faces, but she noticed that the two men were pacing while the woman sat on a chair like a throne.
“Now we wait,” Corinne said softly.
Elena nodded, not wanting to speak. There was something about the place that made her skin crawl. It looked diseased. The air was stagnant here and had lost the shocking coldness of before. There was a particular odour, that of rotting bodies that seemed to ooze from bright orange fungus on the trees.
Time seemed to be as frozen as the earth beneath Elena’s feet. She could only mark the passing of time by the numbing in her fingers and toes. At first, they stung but over time the initial pain grew to a heavy, dull ache.
How long could they wait here? Moody had spoken as if it would be minutes before the Ministry arrived. But perhaps the man had a different sense of time than most.
It was all the worse for the silence. Elena didn’t dare talk to Corinne, for fear of distraction. It was easier to be quiet if she pretended she was alone here. She might as well have been—Corinne was very nearly invisible.
The Lestranges seemed unbothered by the cold. Bellatrix remained seated, while the two brothers paced, their paths never extending past a certain point. They were not conflicted, nor even particularly alert, simply trying to pass the time, as Elena was.
But passing the time wasn’t the ultimate goal for either party. Corinne tensed beside Elena as the clearing exploded with a crack, producing a burly man, dressed in Death Eater garb.
The surrounding woods seemed to exhale and a dozen or so people burst out of the trees in unison. The Ministry had arrived.
Note--I know that it took me forever to get this chapter out. And because of that, it should be fantastic. But it's not. I realize that this is short, and doesn't advance much, but think of it as Part 1 of a chapter. I wanted to post something, to show that I haven't stopped writing all together. That being said, feedback would be very much appreciated!
Note (Dec 2012)--So in anticipation for the next chapter (which is coming up very soon!) I've had to make a few decent edits to this chapter. Nothing major changes until the end, which has just been changed to help the pace of this chapter and to better set up the next few chapters.
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