“Are you sure this is such a good idea?” Morag was looking anxiously on as her classmate kept muttering incantations under his breath.
“Do you know any other spells that might work?” Michael asked, not responding to her question.
“Alohomora. But you tried that already, didn’t you? How about Diffindo? No?”
Terry kept an eye on Morag and Michael, and another on the hallway.
They had been sitting in the library, having attained permission from Madam Pince to do so and having their reading choice approved. They had overheard a group of fifth-year Slytherins sniggering about their latest “success”. Apparently, two of the first years had been sneaking up to the Owlery and tried to send off an unapproved letter. Amycus Carrow, summoned by the older students, had opened the offending letter and discovered the first years’ plea to their parents to take them home.
One of the Slytherins had then enacted, oozing with derision, the professor’s words. “’You know what that means? That means detention. Thousands would kill to be admitted and be taught under the brilliant guidance of The Dark Lord’s most loyal followers, and to be judged worthy enough to use their acquired skills in his service. But do you appreciate it? No you do not, you insolent children. But you will learn, you will.”
And then, a smirking boy had told the others quite loudly that the offenders had been incarcerated in one of the old dungeons until further notice, and that their case was to be taken before Snape, as soon as Carrow could get a hold of him.
“We should have told someone,” Morag insisted, then added, “Have you tried Confringo?”
“Who? Besides, you wanted in,” Michael asked laconically, before giving a satisfied ‘whoop’, and the unmistakeable crunch of a door scratching over a stone floor could be heard.
“Get a move on,” Terry hissed over his shoulder.
He could hear no more, and when he peaked into the dead-end hall again, the door was half-ajar and his friends were gone. But it was true. They could not tell any of the teachers – Snape and the Carrows were not an option for obvious reasons, and all the others were covering for them often enough as it was. The prefects were at their weekly prefect meeting, or “sermons”, as it had been dubbed by the DA. And Neville, and Ginny too, was skating on a precariously thin ice as it was.
Besides, they were still only first years. He imagined his younger cousins being treated that way, and he had voted with Michael to do something immediately.
A draft of air alerted him, and then he thought he heard a door falling into its lock. The door at the other end of the corridor, he realised with a jolt.
“Guys,” he whispered in a low voice in the direction of the door, and pressed down hard on the galleon in his left pocket so it would heat up its two companions they had connected earlier.
Michael and Morag were by his side at once, both dragging a first year with them, who still had torn of strings of chains on their arms.
“Let’s go find a safer place to get those off, then,” Michael said commandingly.
Morag was looking frantically for a way to escape. Terry cocked his head, saying measuredly, “Whoever it is, they are not approaching hurriedly. We might just make it to the tapestry of the two-headed dragon. You remember the one, Michael? Where we hid Anthony’s Transfiguration book in third year?”
“Lead the way, then,” Michael replied jovially.
Both boys snatched one of the first years, and stealthily hurried down the hallway, in the direction where the sound of footsteps was coming from.
Terry nodded for Morag to lift the tapestry when they reached it, and she slanted them a wide-eyed look when a nook in the wall was revealed.
It was a tight fit, and Terry held his breath with anticipation. The boy in his arms had grown stiff, clutching Terry’s arm, but having enough sense to try and control his breathing.
Two persons were passing their hiding-spot, and then it seemed they were entering the very dungeon the Ravenclaws had just left.
“They cannot have gone far. I’ll search out every nook an’ cranny, every inch of wall, an’ then they will be sorry!”
Morag gasped, and the other young boy started shuddering noticeably.
Terry was turning his head to look at his friend and see whether that might trigger an idea, or anything useful. But then he was shocked into motionlessness, when he watched Michael push the first year onto Morag, and slipped nimbly out of their hiding spot.
Terry heard an appalled gasp outside – too loud to be natural.
“There is one of them brats!” Carrow wheezed, then adding a stunning spell to it.
Terry was gripping the first year, Morag beside him had turned the other boy’s face to her shoulder, and sank down the wall which she had been leaning against.
Bangs and shouts had preceded that word, but it fell into a space of several seconds of silence. Then, someone was heard trashing on the ground, and someone else was laughing shrilly.
“I hope,” a bored, monotonous voice drawled, and the trashing stopped several seconds later. “that you can provide me with the names of the two first years you are now unable to show to me, Professor Carrow. And hopefully before you send a student to the state of a gibbering wreck were he might not be able to tell us anything either. Or why he happened to be here in the first place.”
“Why else would he have been here? And why should I remember the names of two imbeciles?” Professor Carrow asked contemptuously, his voice growing fainter as he followed what must have been Snape’s departing footsteps.
“I’ll …,” Terry licked his dry lips. “I’ll alert Anthony and Padma. Stay here”
He gripped his wand tightly, used the numbness he felt to act with a cool head. When he reached his friend’s unmoving body, he sank to his knees, feeling detached, as if his body wasn’t his own. Michael’s pulse was weak but steady. His face had suffered several deep cuts, and he was bleeding from several places. His muscles looked cramped.
“Steady now. I’ll get Padma to patch you up. And then she can fuss over you. And you can swear at her, or pretend to be in need of more cooing, whatever you prefer.” He searched once more for his DA coin, sending out a message to everyone, asking Padma and Anthony to come here, and everyone to be careful.
A short while later, Terry was on his way to the Room of Requirement, when he heard footsteps behind him; he relaxed his tense shoulders when he caught sight of Neville.
“What happened?” Neville asked without further ado.
“We attempted – and managed to spring free two first years. They’d been chained up for wanting to leave. Michael got hurt, and Anthony, Garrett and Padma are with him in the Room. I’ve just been checking on Morag and the first years, and they are recovering.”
“Carrow’s been putting Ravenclaw even further in the negative in the running for the House Cup,” Neville’s face expressed unfamiliar sarcasm. “After your message, and that deduction of points, we wondered. How bad is it?”
“Cruciatus,” was all Terry said, from between clenched teeth.
Neville exhaled loudly. “Carrow mentioned first years, but he was more adamant about seventh year Ravenclaw boys.”
Terry scoffed. “Can’t be bothered to remember names, now? A fine teacher we have. But he must have realised the student he crucio’ed had the Ravenclaw badge on his uniform. If it hadn’t been for Snape deeming it all beneath him and gliding off, who knows what would have happened. I … Neville, I panicked. I couldn’t move. Michael’s my best friend, and I couldn’t move a muscle to help him. I let him sacrifice himself.”
Terry thought Neville wasn’t going to answer. But then …
“Attacking two teachers head-on? The two of you, and I suppose, frightened first-years with you? You’d all have ended up crucio’ed. That’s the nature of a sacrifice, Terry. The protected one will think up hundreds of ways how it could have turned out differently. But what is done, cannot be changed. You can only go on.”
“When have you become so wise?” Terry asked, having mulled over the other’s words, however unwillingly.
Neville shrugged, then pointed ahead. “We’re here. And maybe we should consider lying low for a bit. Some of our newer recruits have approached me already, asking whether they might be singled out like this as well.”
Terry’s stomach, already tied into knots, felt heavy with dread. That wasn’t good.
George swept into the hall on his way to the sitting room, meaning to holler up the stairs for his twin hurry up, whatever he was doing. He stopped short, though, at the picture that presented itself to him.
Fred and Nora were sitting on the second but last stair, heads close together. He felt an inexplicable pang in his chest. It wasn’t seeing his brother sitting with a girl. They’d both perfected the art of flirting, of making others laugh. But Nora wasn’t laughing, she was smiling serenely up at Fred.
Fred had often volunteered to look in in this particular safe house when more people had been here, now only Nora had remained, having befriended Tonks through her time here and refused to leave the country when it had still been possible. Maybe, George mussed, there had been another reason. And Fred looked happy too, relaxed even. How could he share his twin with someone else?
He retreated back into the kitchen.
“By then, Tonks. Give that belly a pat from me,” he announced loudly, poking out his tongue good-naturedly when she raised her eyebrows in question and regaled him with a queer glance. “And goodbye, Remus. I have nothing whatsoever to tell you anymore. Because I’m ready to lee-e-eaav-v-ve.”
Ending in an exaggerated crescendo and almost stumbling over his v’s , which ensured him a low chuckle from behind, he stepped into the hall.
Fred was just turning away from Nora, standing up with a flourish. “That. Was. Painful.”
“Your singing was.”
George pulled a face. “Are you ready to leave yet?”
“You’ve made sure he is,” Nora said stoically, standing up too and smoothing down her skirt.
“Let’s go on, then. I’ll see you when I see you.” Fred winked at her, then stepped into the sitting room.
George could practically see the process as Nora’s expression turned wistful.
“Take care,” he said over his shoulder, following his brother into the green flames in the fireplace.
“Urg! Every time!” George coughed dramatically, after a quick, cautionary glance around. “I hate this fireplace. I always end up in the middle of nowhere, and never in the same place.”
“That’s kind of the purpose,” Fred answered, already siphoning off the sooth from his clothes. “And the best thing, it’s not Ministry-registered. Clever idea, if you think about it.”
“Do you think Remus would condescend working for us, as soon as WWW’s properly up and running again?”
“’Properly’ meaning without any possibility of some pompous ministry-official-slash-Death-Eater coming to censure us?”
“Yes. I’d even take Percy at this point.”
George shook his head wistfully. “That’s where it’s all come to. Now you only have to wish for Ron to come sailing into the shop demanding free samples.” He had meant it to sound mocking, but there was no trace of sarcasm in his voice.
In silence, they both turned to leave the old barn they’d arrived in, surveying the country-side for any sign of recognition.
“Where next? Elphias, Aunt Muriel’s, or Augusta Longbottom’s?”
Fred snorted. “It’s a pity patronus messages have been consigned for emergencies only; Aunt’ Muriel’s would be over and done with so much faster. She’s bound to lecture us on proper clothing.”
“You prefer having Mrs Longbottom bearing down on us?”
“Elphias’ place it is. Oh, and there is our dear brother’s best friend’s favourite cousin to look forward to!”
“What are you trying to do to him? But couldn’t you just have named Dudley? What if I had thought you meant Charlie’s best friend’s favourite cousin?” George lifted his wand, performing the by-now ingrained movements of doing a check for traces and jinxes over his brother.
Fred shuddered. “Why would you have thought such a thing? We might have ended up at the Malfoys’.” He copied George’s wand movements, continuing in his train of thought without a break. “Tonks being one of Charlie’s best friends, and her cousin being … our favourite ferret.” He shuddered again as he let his voice trail off.
“Okay okay, that round goes to you.” George conceded, picturing the secure apparition spot that would enable them to access Doge’s safe house.
When Fred and he had cleared all the safety hurdles, he asked solemnly, “Hey Fred. How serious are you about her?”
Fred kept looking straight ahead, while George tried to decipher his facial expressions. For the first time in his life, he found it difficult.
“I don’t really know,” Fred replied softly. “Maybe it’s just the circumstances. Extraordinary circumstances.”
George said nothing. Then, he saw movement on the garden path, and decided it was time for a lighter mood again. “Look who it is. The favourite cousin. Or only cousin.”
“And not alone. Our favourite photographer and also our sister’s friend. Do you suppose he’s got a cousin too?”
“Whom we are going to visit? I think that Dad might like that more.” George laughed, falling into a jog behind Fred.
The shrill u-sound trundled out, echoing among the copse of trees. Yet another, as Ted had observed so drily just this evening when they had unpacked their camping gear.
It was Gornuk’s voice, the goblin. It must have been his turn to sit watch, Dean estimated as he rolled out of his cot, somehow snatching up his wand in the process. They had all taken to sleeping in pants and shirt to be ready at a moment’s notice. He bolted out of the tent, ready to shoot spells at attackers.
“And let me guess,” a man drawled, effectively illuminated by a nearby bush which had been set aflame. “You must be a Gryffindor. Foolish foolish, storming out here like you did.”
Gornuk was lying facedown on the ground while his companion was gagged and bound, shooting nasty glances at the band of men who were circled around their campsite as far as he could see; most likely also in his back.
“But of course he is, Scabior. A deliciously young one, at that.” Another man, untidy and an air of negligence about him, the whisps of his facial hair unkempt and untamed, skulked in a predator’s gait around the first man who must have been the leader of the group.
“He’s not for you, Greyback. You know our orders. ‘Bring the Mudbloods back to the manor’.”
“Oh, but surely one little Mudblood will not be missed,” the wild man whinged.
Dean shuddered, tightening the hold on his wand which he was still holding, pointing uselessly at the ground with his tense, outstretched arm. But Greyback was here …
He had, of course, heard about the man, the werewolf, who had been part of the group of Death Eaters that invaded Hogwarts when Dumbledore died. Nothing official had been said, but the story had been carried from one to the other during Dumbledore’s funeral. Ginny even had watched her brother being maimed by the monster.
“Enough, Greyback. - Now, be a good Mudblood and give us your wand,” the first man demanded.
Dean snapped to attention, jerking his wand upward and shouting out,”Protego!” and a conjunctivitis charm in short succession. “Get me, then,” he ground out, preparing every second for the sting of a spell that would surely take him out.
But at his back, he could suddenly hear commotion. “Foolish boy,” Dirk Cresswell hissed, appearing at his side, Ted at his other.
Cresswell took some steps forward, throwing a series of spells at their opponents. Dean heard a startled cry, and saw the man crumble to the ground.
“No!” Dean shouted.
Ted’s unusually sharp voice stopped him short. “Dean! Protect my back!”
Back to back with Ted, Dean’s wand viciously sliced the air; he was throwing every course or spell he had ever heard of at the Snatchers. Verbal and non-verbal almost faded into the other.
But they were only two, and while he also tried to keep his shield charm up, the Snatchers could take turns.
He felt a sharp sting in his right upper arm, and instinctively pressed his left hand to it.
Dean looked up just in time to see the scarlet ray of light heading for him before he went down, his vision fixed on the gnarled roots of a tree as his head had come to lie sideways on the ground.
The shouting seemed to continue endlessly, before he was picked up and roughly thrown over a shoulder.
When the men trouped away from the trees, loudly jeering about their victory and cursing Mudbloods, Dean’s eyes were fixed on the three prone bodies that had been left lying on the forest ground.
A/N: Real life kept getting in the way yet again. Still, slipping back into the world of Harry Potter and fanfiction is like putting on a comfortable glove; it hasn't lost its 'magic' for me.
During the second part of this, I felt decidedly like fooling around ;) Opinions on chapter 15?