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Brave New Hope by ARG
Chapter 64 : The Final Battle pt 1
 
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A/N: Straight from my cold-fuelled sickbed, here is (finally) the Final Battle. I don't think I ever had a chapter that was this hard to write, with so much stuff happening at the same time. Nearly went mad with it. Anyway, I hope you like it. This is just the first part of the battle, by the way.

Enjoy!

“Where is he?” Mia frantically asked. “Where’s Harry?”

She rushed into the Room of Requirement like a hurricane, coming from the secret passage that now connected the school with The Hog’s Head with Sirius in a tow. Her eyes scanned every square foot of the room – it looked more like a dorm than any other layout they’d ever seen in the room before – in search for her godson… in vain, one might add, as he was nowhere to be seen. There were, in fact, very little people in the room at the moment. Only two, actually – Molly and Ginny

Molly was the first to turn her attention to Mia, having taken a break from her apparent lecture to a rather defiant Ginny, who kept eyeing the door like she was trying to find an opportunity to run for it.

“You’ve just missed him, dear,” the older redhead explained. “He was here just a few minutes ago… ten, at the most – I saw him leaving with Luna Lovegood just as I arrived.”

Mia’s face turned to disappointment. She’d been hoping to run into her godson before things got worse and have the chance to see that he was okay… maybe hold him for a minute and wish him good luck in his ordeal. But it seemed fate wasn’t on her side that day.

“Where is Izzy?” Ginny asked then, clearly eyeing the secret passage’s exit in hope her best friend would come out.

“Home,” Mia replied, not going into detail.

Ginny frowned. “Home?”

“Yes, home. Which is exactly where you should be,” Molly told her.

“But Mum…!” the younger girl said, exasperated.

“I told you you’re not fighting today! If you want, you can lock yourself in this room and wait here like Remus suggested but that’s the closest you’ll get to the battle today. I don’t know how you and your brothers got the message before we did, but you had no business sneaking your way into this school with them!” Molly yelled.

“Five months, Mum! I’ll be of age in five months. That’s the difference between being able to fight alongside my friends and staying behind like some… some potted plant!”

“Then you can come by in five months and cross that door,” she said, pointing at the room’s entrance. “In the meanwhile, you can go sit on that chair, or else I’m taking you home myself!”

Ginny let out a strangled sound of frustration, before turning to Sirius and Mia, hoping they’d intervene. They didn’t – they knew better than that, knowing that, if she was Izzy, they’d be doing just the same. So, hopelessly livid, the youngest redhead had to do as she was told. She didn’t stop eyeing the door, though. For a moment, Sirius was thankful his daughter had been asleep when they’d left, or else they might have needed to deal with a similar situation.

“What is it with children these days?” Molly commented in annoyance.

I’m not a child!” Ginny shouted from her seat, earning herself a glare from her mother, who didn’t grace her statement with any sort of response other than said glare.

“Can you tell us what happened while we were gone?”

Molly nodded, proceeding to share her account of the events: how she’d gotten there to see Harry leaving to go look for something in the Ravenclaw tower; how Death Eaters had arrived just outside of the school all of a sudden, where they currently lay in wait; and how Voldemort had given them a deadline to hand Harry over to him in return for sparing the school from a bloody battle. “Of course, I’m sure no one is even considering giving in,” Molly assured them. “We know that even if Harry was handed over, You-Know-Who would find another reason to attack us – if it wasn’t today, it would be tomorrow or the day after… Still, they said we had until three.”

Sirius checked his watch. “That’s about half an hour away.”

Molly nodded. “Everyone is all over the castle preparing already: underage students are being evacuated through here, the wards are being strengthened to hold them off a little longer, traps are being set up…”

“And I should be out there helping,” Ginny mumbled to herself on her seat.

“One more word, Ginny. One more word and I’m changing my mind,” Molly warned her daughter just as the sound of several voices and multiple footsteps reached their ears, coming from the outside.

McGonagall stepped into the room a few seconds later, a group of about a dozen students waiting to be evacuated in a tow. “Ah, Mia, good that you’re here,” the older woman said once she spotted her and Sirius. “I was just having a word with Poppy five minutes ago. She’s setting up things in the Hospital Wing but she’s not sure she and the nurses will be able to handle all the injured. I was hoping you could lend her a hand.”

“Do you think it will get that bad?” Sirius asked, feeling himself grow anxious.

The woman looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “Sirius, Voldemort is just outside the school gates with the full force of his army on a tow. Since I doubt anyone on our side would be willing to hand your godson over or let Voldemort himself come in here to get Harry without a fight, yes, it may just get that bad.”

“Minerva! Are you supposed to say his name?! It’s taboo!” Molly said in alarm.

“He’s already here, Molly,” the rightful headmistress said as the students in the background were guided to the passage to the Hog’s Head by Filch, who’d just joined them with his cat (why ever he thought she could come useful at that particular occasion was beyond anyone in the room’s understanding). “Might as well use it up, now that we can.” She turned to Sirius and Mia, then. “As I was saying, things may get very bad and Poppy can only do so much with only a handful of nurses to assist. She could use someone with full healing training.”

“I haven’t practiced in years, Minerva,” Mia stated.

“Surely you haven’t forgotten the spells or which potion heals which ailment.”

“Well, no. But I’m rusty. I could get in the way.”

McGonagall waved it off, clearly showing she regarded that part as nonsense. “You couldn’t get in the way half as much as some untrained volunteer they might find even if you tried. So, will you go, then? We could use some people to guard the Hospital Wing too, Sirius.”

Sirius was reluctant. “I was actually thinking I might go and find Harry.”

“Good luck with that. He’s running around the castle like a lunatic looking for the Grey Lady.”

The Grey Lady? As in the ghost?” Ginny asked from her seat, overhearing the conversation.

“Ginny!” Molly shouted.

“What? It’s a legitimate question!”

The headmistress nodded, ignoring the mother-daughter antics. “Potter is somehow convinced she can help him find whatever he’s looking for,” she explained before turning to Sirius again. “As long as you and Mia are settled in one place, though, I might be able to get him to go to you by spreading the word that you’re looking for him.”

Sirius and Mia looked at each other. The older woman did have a point: the castle was massive and he didn’t have the Marauders Map on him, so finding his godson when he was on the move would be as easy as spotting a needle in a haystack. So, without needing to share a word, they agreed. “Okay, Minerva. We’ll go there.”

“Good,” the headmistress said with a nod. “You should know that the Order is unblocking the secret passages, especially the ones leading out of the castle. I take it you’ll be able to find the fastest way out through them in case patients need to be evacuated, Sirius.”

He nodded. “There’s not a direct one from the Hospital Wing but can I think of a couple that should do the job put together.”

“Sounds good enough. Now, if you don’t mind, I need to make a quick trip to the Hog’s Head and make sure the evacuation is going as planned from there. Good luck, you two,” McGonagall said before heading over to the secret passage’s entrance.

After wishing luck to Molly and Ginny as well – hoping they wouldn’t need it, but knowing one could never have too much of it –, Sirius and Mia were off to the Hospital Wing.

On the way there, the signs of people getting ready for the battle were clear: they ran into groups of students, most from the DA setting up barricades and traps; professors running around with weapons related to their own subjects – Mandrakes for Sprout, exploding potions for Slughorn and crystal balls for Trelawney… Even Peeves was helping, letting down chandeliers so Flitwick could charm them into falling when a group of Death Eaters was under them. Seeing the school united to defend itself was at the same terrifying and uplifting.

When they reached the Hospital Wing, they found Madam Pomfrey running around it like mad, going from assisting three nurses as they sorted through the healing to watching a line of fuming cauldrons at the end of it.

“Poppy, Molly said you could use a hand,” Mia said, alerting the matron to her presence.

“Ah, yes. Good. Perfect. I need you to start setting up some extra beds in my office – I don’t think these ones will be enough. Just transfigure anything into them. Anna, Mrs Podmore and… I’m sorry, what’s your name again, dear?” she asked a nurse Mia didn’t recognize. Aside from Anna, Pomfrey’s regular nurse, it seemed the unnamed nurse and another plump, older one Mia vaguely remembered being introduced to her as Sturgis Podmore’s wife during an Order meeting, had joined the team.

“Nerys, ma’am,” she said in a welsh accent. “And it seems we’re out of dittany.”

“Yes, Nerys. Alright. Well, you, Anna and Mrs Podmore can help Amelia with the beds when you’re done. I need to keep an eye on the potions – I’ve already accelerated the brewing a little too much for them to be as effective as they’re supposed to. Wouldn’t want to add up to the tragedy by burning them. Now you, Black,” the matron said, turning to Sirius.

“Yes, me,” he said, surprised she had a task for him as well.

The woman tossed him a set of keys. “Go to the dungeons. You’ll find an extra supply room in there. It’s the…”

“…third door on the left from the Potions classroom. Yes, I know,” he replied. He might or might not have found his way there in the past and might or might not have ‘borrowed’ some supplies in order to tend wounds acquired during less… proper ventures with his friends.

Pomfrey raised her eyebrows at him. “I won’t even ask. Anyway, get plenty of dittany from there and bring it here… in fact, get as much of everything as you can possibly carry. Find some extra hands if you can, even. Oh and don’t be alarmed if you accidentally step on an unconscious Carrow over there – they shouldn’t be up for hours. Minerva reckoned they might have rigged the cells’ locks in case of mutiny, so she put them in there instead. Just make sure you lock up after yourself.”

Sirius eyed the woman incredulously. “Should I worry about finding Snape there as well?”

The woman frowned. “Too smart to get caught, that one. Made a run for it the moment the tables turned. I reckon he must be outside the gates with his blasted master. Now, off you go. Time is ticking.”

And ticking it was, indeed. It wasn’t comfortable working under pressure, but it was certainly effective. Maybe it was the adrenaline, Mia mused as she worked. The fact was that she managed to cram into about fifteen minutes an amount of work that, in normal circumstances would have taken at least double. Once she was done, she allowed herself a moment to look out the window.

From there, she could see them at a distance: the sea of Death Eaters just outside the gates, in the midst of torches and faint moonlight from the last quarter. To be honest, she hadn’t ever really stopped to calculate just how many of them there were. Hundreds, she’d always assumed. Now, looking at them, she wondered if they weren’t thousands, instead… How could a single man – if Voldemort could even be called a ‘man’ – have gathered such a large circle of hate? Then again, she thought, he’d been in power for a year. How many of these people in the sea of Death Eaters were there unwillingly? How many had been imperiused into fighting for something they didn’t support? The Imperius curse was a known excuse used by Death Eaters to justify their actions, but she had to wonder if, in some cases it wasn’t the truth.

“Six minutes until they burst in,” she heard her husband’s familiar voice saying as he joined her at the window. She hadn’t even noticed him returning.

“If they don’t get tired of waiting and come early, you mean,” she pointed out. They seemed quite jumpy, even at a distance, like they were craving for blood.

“Well, there’s that. But then again, five minutes less or five minutes more don’t really matter. Everything looked set up outside – everyone’s just waiting,” he told her.

And, just like that, it was set in stone. Any marginal hope she’d had that it would all turn out to be just a big scare, that the battle wouldn’t actually take place, was gone. Now, all she could hope for was that they’d survive that night despite it.

Sirius, Aunt Mia,” they heard a familiar voice saying behind them.

The two of them turned around in a flash and found themselves facing Harry. “Oh, thank Merlin,” Mia whispered before crossing the distance between them and wrapping her godson in a bone-crushing hug.

“C’mon, Mia. Try not to break the kid in half. At least not until he’s done saving the Wizarding World,” Sirius warned his wife.

“Thanks,” Harry managed to choke out as Mia loosened her hold.

“You’re welcome as always, kid,” his godfather said with a grin, patting him on the back.

“Are you okay?” Mia asked, anxiously. “Have you been eating well? And sleeping? We can’t have you running around ready to faint or anything.”

“I’m not ready to faint! I’m fine,” Harry told her in a slightly defensive tone (blokes didn’t faint!), feeling at the same time annoyed and elated at the motherly nagging. “You can have a report from my eating and sleeping habits from Fleur, if you want. She’s been mothering us like you wouldn’t believe.”

“Fleur?” Sirius asked. “So, that’s where you’ve been staying at, then. Bill’s.”

He nodded. “Yeah. But, listen, I don’t have a lot of time. I’m sort of in the middle of something and only really came by right now because Seamus told me you were here when I was just around the corner. I couldn’t really walk off without at least stopping by to check on you.”

Mia nodded, understandingly. “Of course. So, is it the Horcrux? Did you find it?”

Harry shook his head. “Not yet but I think I know where it is. I’m heading out to get it right now.”

“Do you want any help with that?” Sirius inquired.

Harry let out a sigh. “Everyone’s offering today,” he mumbled. “I’m thankful, really, but it’s just…” he huffed, thinking of how to word it “… too much, I guess. Look, the best way you can help me right now, is by staying here and helping the people who are helping me. Please. Just… worry about not getting hurt. That’s the best you can do for me.”

Their first instinct would have been to protest their godson’s dismissal. Still, something in the way he’d put it made them not to. He’d been off on his own for months and he’d probably been through more than they could guess: he’d grown. Not just grown grown but also grown independent. And, in a way – not a mean way, mostly just a practical one – he was letting them know that by joining him they might get on his way or somehow disturb the fluidity of the way he handled things now. And that was something they just couldn’t afford.

“Well, you be careful too, then,” Mia said. “Worrying about not hurting yourself for someone else’s peace of mind is a two-way street.”

“I’ll try my best at it – I always do, unbelievable as it is.” He checked his watch and frowned. “I really need to go. I just have to ask first: is Izzy hiding around here somewhere?”

Sirius shook his head. “She was asleep – thank Merlin – when the news came. Hopefully, she’ll wake up in the morning to quite an interesting story over breakfast. With all of us around the table with her.”

Harry smiled. “That’s something to look forward to.” He sighed. “Alright, it’s time. I have to go.”

Mia nodded, leaning forward to give him another hug. “I hope you won’t need it, but, in case you do: good luck.”

“Yeah, same to you,” he replied in the same manner. And thank you.”

“What for?” Sirius asked.

Harry shrugged. “Too much stuff to name in one go.” And then, he was off to that mission of his.

Then, it was as if something clicked with his exit. One look out the window showed the Death Eaters breaking through the wards like they were made of glass and bursting into the school like water through a crumbling dam.

And then it was eight minutes. Exactly eight minutes before all hell broke loose in the Hospital Wing. Thankfully, no Death Eaters made their way there: Sirius was part of just one of the many lines of defence McGonagall had apparently created to guard the infirmary, making it one of the closest things to a safe haven in the warring school. They went from people guarding the doors to local wards encouraging people with the Dark Mark on their arms to turn away, the same way Muggles were encouraged to ignore Hogwarts as just one more of many Scottish ruins. While those sorts of wards rarely worked at large scale to wizard minds, they seemed to do the job adequately for the most weak-minded Death Eaters (most of them, if one was honest) at a smaller scale… at least for as long as they lasted, which probably wasn’t that long with Voldemort shattering the school wards one by one. Hopefully, by the time those failed, most Death Eaters would be either down or otherwise occupied in duels.

Inside, chaos reigned as injured fighters started raining down on them like cats and dogs. Some walked on their own, which was always a good sign, others were carried unconscious. Usually, the ones who walked on their own were quickly patched up and allowed to return to the fight… the unconscious ones took longer and sometimes had to be evacuated by a couple of Kingsley’s Aurors who stood around for that sole purpose, having been briefed by Sirius on the best secret passages out of the school.

So far, no one had died under her care, which Mia found nothing short of a miracle. But then again, who knew what happened after the patients were evacuated, some barely stable? Or how many lay on the school corridors, too far gone to be healed?

In the meanwhile, as his wife healed inside, Sirius guarded the doors, waiting for the next poor injured sod to show up. Because he had no doubt there would be more of them, even if it might take a while. Sometimes they came as if in groups, others there was a few minutes between each one, but they always came, sometimes more than one time each. He’d need more than a hand to count those who’d left the Hospital Wing fully healed only to return all messed up again just a little later.

Sirius!” he heard his name being called. It was Hestia Jones running from the end of the corridor. She’d been there maybe three or four times already, once to heal herself and the others helping someone else. That time, however, she seemed neither injured nor carrying someone that was – that task had apparently been left for Kingsley, who walked behind her with someone unconscious in his arms. He couldn’t see who it was due to Hestia being on the way.

“Another one?” Sirius asked, approaching them in order to lend a hand.

“Sirius, you need to stay calm,” Kingsley said from behind the woman.

He frowned in confusion as he kept walking. “I am calm. That’s not exactly the first person that arrives here. One gets used to it at some point, as messed up as it is.”

“It’s not just any person, Sirius,” Hestia said. “We found her running from a group of Death Eaters on her own. First of all, you need to know she’s…”

His fellow order member’s voice faded into abstract ringing before he could finish hearing her. She could’ve been shouting and he wouldn’t have heard her because, all of a sudden he knew why they were telling him to stay calm. And all of a sudden the last thing he could was just that – staying calm. Because, as Hestia moved out of the way, he saw the face of the person Kingsley Shacklebolt was carrying.

And that person was his daughter.

---

Earlier in Hogsmeade

In hindsight, it would have probably been too much to ask the Portkey to land her exactly where she wanted, Izzy mused.

It was, after all, the first time she used one of those to travel farther than a few dozen yards .In normal circumstances, landing within a mile of the intended destination would have probably been a fairly decent result, considering her experience, and so, she’d half-heartedly prepared herself mentally to the possibility that she might end up stranded somewhere. She didn’t, however, prepare herself for the Portkey to drop her from about twenty-five feet above the ground.

Before she could even react, she found herself falling through the air... only to stop after about five feet, when she found herself falling arse-first onto the roof of a building thankfully placed right beneath the spot she’d fallen from.

It was several seconds before she unfroze, more than a little relieved she hadn't gotten herself killed or severely injured. Bloody hell, that was close, she thought as her heart raced in her chest. Aside from a sore bum, she was pretty sure she was fine.

She sat up slowly, mindful of the possibility she might just slide down from the high ceiling she was currently on and end her lucky break right there and then. She took a look at her surroundings and found herself smiling at the fact that she was surrounded by the unmistakable roofs of Hogsmeade. Now, all she needed was to find a way to get down from there...

There was no need to think for very long, though as, before she even had a chance to start sizing the logistics, a roof window a few of feet away opened and a grumpy-looking old man poked his head out.

“Oi! What are you doing on my roof, girl?” the man barked at her.

“Er... I sort of... landed here by accident,” she awkwardly explained. “Sorry about that. Small portkey miscalculation.”

“Small portkey...? What are you doing outside after curfew, anyway? Trying to get your arse dragged over to Azkaban? Bloody kids these days, always pushing their luck...”

“I wouldn’t be out if I didn’t have to be out,” she replied testily. “Look, if you could just help me down and point me to the Hog's Head, I’ll be out of your hair.”

“Out of my hair... not bloody likely. Downwards,” he replied.

“What?”

“You wanted directions to the Hog's Head, lass. You're on it.”

“Oh,” she mumbled. So that must be old Aberforth, she concluded. She’d seen him before, back in her fourth year when the DA had been formed, but back then, not knowing the man was Dumbledore’s brother, she hadn’t looked at him twice. “Then I guess I’m here for...”

“I can guess what you’re here for, lass. Bloody place is like a public road tonight,” he grumbled, clearly dissatisfied. “Just get in here quick... and don't you fall that roof. Don’t what the Death Eaters at the school gates to suddenly turn their attention here. Besides, a kid all smashed up on the pavement in front of my pub would be bad for business.”

“Thanks for the concern,” she mumbled dryly back to the man, shifting her position so she could try and crawl to the little window.

The pub-owner didn’t offer a hand once – not that Izzy had expected it, really – and just watched grouchily as she climbed through the narrow opening into what seemed to be his attic.

“Okay, so… if you could point me the way to Hogwarts…” she said as she used her hands to brush the roof’s dirt off her clothes.

Aberforth eyed her sceptically for a moment. “How old are you?”

She frowned – the man was just infuriating. One minute he acted like she was a bloody nuisance, the other he seemed to care if she was or wasn’t too young to fight. “Old enough to get here on my own,” she replied, trying to imply she was of age.

“Not old enough to apparate, though.”

“I'm prone to splinching,” she mumbled. That part was true, at least.

“Most kids are,” he replied.

“I’m not a kid. And I know how to fight well enough, if that’s what you’re getting to,” she firmly stated.

The older man keep looking at her in the same sceptical manner before shrugging, as if asking himself why he was bothering when he didn’t even know the girl, and turned his back. “Do what you will, lass. It’s your life and you’re not my kid. If you want to be stupid with it, go ahead.” And, with that, he made his way out of the room.

He didn’t tell her to follow, but she still did, guessing he’d be taking her to whatever way he had for people to go in and out of Hogwarts through his pub. They ended up in a darkened room with a large portrait of a young girl. Later, she’d realize it must’ve been Dumbledore’s late sister but at the moment she didn’t really think beyond how on Earth she was supposed to get to Hogwarts through a room whose single opening was the door she’d come through.

“The kid needs to go in… hopefully she’s the last one,” Aberforth told the young girl in the portrait, who nodded at him with a smile.

Before Izzy had a chance to ask what was going on, the large portrait started to move like a door, revealing a tunnel hidden behind it. She stared for a moment: had that thing always been there? Because in the long months she’d spent in Death-Eater-occupied Hogwarts, she’d gotten very well-acquainted with the many secret passages in the Marauders Map (supposedly all of them) and she was sure that one in particular wasn’t among them.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” the older man asked. “Weren’t you so eager to get yourself in the battlefield just a minute ago?”

“Right. Yes,” she mumbled. “Where is that exactly supposed to lead to in Hogwarts?”

“The Room of Requirement. And tell your friends over there they’d better seal off the damn thing – I don’t want bloody Death Eaters coming through here into my pub,” the man let her know.

Izzy raised her eyebrows – Aberforth was clearly not planning to lend a hand in the battle. Then again, who was she to bring that up? His role in letting people pass through his pub was, after all, no doubt invaluable in getting the Order into the school. “Right. Thanks.”

He replied with a nod before she made her way to the tunnel and climbed into it the passage, which revealed itself not as cramped as one might have expected and consisting mostly of stairs. It was lit inside by brass lamps hanging from the walls, so once the Portrait closed behind her, she was not in the dark.

She felt a bit nervous walking through the unfamiliar path on her own – her steps echoing up and down the stairs. To be honest, it wasn’t just about being all alone in there. She was basically walking into what could very well be hell on Earth and she knew she should be at the very least hesitant about it, which didn’t happen to be the case. Maybe there was something wrong with her – she knew she was being reckless, which seemed to run in the family, still she didn’t care. The thought of staying home for hours waiting to hear if her family had made it was just too unbearable as an alternative.

It took her some good ten minutes to get through the whole passage, the steps so steep at the end that she was nearly panting once she emerged from the little door similar to the one back at the pub.

“Bloody hell, how did you get yourself in here?” a familiar voice asked her from the other end of the room, which presented a rather unfamiliar layout at the moment.

Looking at the source, Izzy quickly spotted Ginny making her way to her from where she’d been standing right next to the room’s large closed doors. She had her wand in her hand as if she’d been prepared to attack whoever had been coming through the secret passage until realising it was her.

“I didn’t think you were coming. Your mum said you’d stayed home, so I reckoned that was it for you. How did you get here on your own?” Ginny asked.

“Portkey. Lots of luck,” Izzy mumbled. “I was half sure I’d strand myself in Southampton or something.” She shook her head. “Anyway, so my parents are already out there?”

The redhead nodded, proceeding to summarize the events of the night as well as she could in order to bring her friend up to date on the current state of things.

“What are you still doing here, then?” Izzy asked the other girl once she was done explaining what had been going on. She didn’t say it in an accusatory fashion – more in a surprised one. Anyone who knew Ginny had to be sure that, under normal circumstances she’d already be downstairs waiting to wipe the floor with some Death Eater-shaped mops (or at the very least wishing to).

“I had to promise Mum I wouldn’t leave this room unless I had absolutely no other choice, or else she’d have made me go back home. I’m not a fan of breaking promises, so I was giving it a little time, hoping the whole ‘no other choice’ part does happen.”

“How long have you waited?”

“Little more than five minutes, I think. I’m giving it fifteen and then I’m out of here, broken promise or not. At least I tried to keep it,” Ginny pointed out.

“Yeah… not really in the way your mother was hoping you would, though,” Izzy remarked.

“Look who’s talking – didn’t your parents tell you to stay home or something?”

“Actually, they didn’t – they snuck out while I was asleep… well, pretending to be asleep, anyway. In any case, they didn’t tell me not to come.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “As if it wasn’t implied…”

“What? Now you’re lecturing me?”

“No – I was just stating a fact.”

“Well, so was…” The sudden sound of loud banging on the room’s doors kept Izzy from finishing that sentence.

The two girls tensed, staring at the large doors with wide eyes.

Ginny! Ginny!” a familiar voice called from the other side.

And, just like that, tension became relief – Ginny was soon on her feet and speeding to the door. “Harry?” she asked

Yes. But don’t just take my word for it. Ask something.

Oi! But nothing about the weird stuff you two do behind closed doors – Hermione and I are out here,” her brother’s voice suddenly added.

“Well, since you’re there and can vouch for Harry, you can answer the question,” Ginny dared him. “What did you say you wanted to be when you grew up?”

A Quidditch Player for the Cannons.

“Wrong – that’s not what I recall Fred and George telling me about.”

That’s because they’re jerks and they tricked me into thinking that was what people nicknamed the Cannons’ players.

“You’re wasting time, Ron. I want to hear it.”

You’re just as bad as they are! Fine! Have a laugh, then: a ballerina. I used to say I wanted to be a ballerina. By which I meant Quidditch Player for the Cannons. Happy now?

Ginny snorted and, satisfied, opened the door.

“I was three and I was gullible,” Ron was telling Harry and Hermione just as Ginny laid eyes on him.

“Of course you were – they tricked you,” Hermione was saying as she understandingly – and quite intimately – placed her arm around Ron’s shoulders. Ginny half expected him to freak out like his idiot self usually did upon contact with his very obvious crush, but he didn’t. He just stood there, happily milking her support while carrying in his arms…

“Are those basilisk fangs?!” Ginny half-shouted once she recognized the items on her brother’s possession. Very white, very sharp and very familiar snake fangs like the one that had been sticking out of Tom Riddle’s diary back when Harry had saved her from the Chamber of Secrets all those years ago.

“Yeah… it’s a long story and…” Harry turned to Izzy “…why are your parents under the impression that you’re home asleep when you clearly aren’t?”

“Oh, are they?” Izzy replied, feigning confusion as she approached to give him a hug.

Harry huffed over her shoulder. “Why am I not surprised that you’re not?”

“I missed you too,” she replied with a smile, kissing him on the cheek before pulling apart.

“Right… listen, we need you to leave the room.”

Ginny’s face lit up immediately at that, as if Christmas had come early. “Do you now?”

“Yeah – I think there’s a Horcrux we need to find in here… well, not in here, in another room in this room… you know what I mean. A different layout. Anyway, we need the room to be empty for it to shift, so…”

“You really need us out of this room,” Ginny finished for him, openly grinning.

He was clearly confused by her apparent elation. “That’s what I’m saying.”

“The fate of the world depends on it,” she continued.

“Yeah… kind of.”

“There really is absolutely no other choice.”

“Er… sure. Ginny, what’s going on?”

She didn’t respond, instead just stepping forward, grabbing her boyfriend’s face and planting a big one on him, which had Ron turning his back with a mortified ‘bloody hell’.

When she pulled away, he eyed her at complete loss. “I’m confused now.”

She patted his cheek, in a slightly patronizing manner. “Don’t be, Potter. I bloody love you and you’d better live through this because I kind of need you to tell my mum just that.”

“That you bloody love me?”

“No – that the fate of the world depended on me leaving this room, so I didn’t really break my promise to stay in here until I absolutely had to leave.”

“Oh, but if you just wait a little, you’ll probably be able to go back in… In fact, you should probably go back in.”

She covered her ears like a little kid. “I’m sorry, what? I didn’t hear that last part.”

“Yes, you did. I know you did.”

“Did not and if you’re going to be difficult about it, I’m going to find myself useful elsewhere,” she warned him.

“Ginny…”

She stopped him with another kiss, which had Ron once again cursing, that time with Izzy along for the ride, slightly annoyed at the continuous displays of affection between her best friend and her brother.

“If you die, I’ll be very cross, so do us both a favour and don’t. I’ll try to do the same,” she told Harry. “And I still love you, even when you’re being an overprotective git.”

Harry let out a huff of resigned acceptance. “I love you too. Be safe.”

“Always am,” she assured him, before stepping back and walking over to the door. “Come along, Izzy. Let’s find ourselves something interesting to do.”

“Let’s,” Izzy agreed, following her friend as she walked out.

“Hey! The part about going back into the room after we’re done also applied to you, Izzy,” Harry shouted after them.

Izzy turned back to him for a moment. “After all the trouble I went through to get here? No, thanks.”

“They’ll be furious,” he warned her, referring to his godparents.

“I know,” she replied. “Good luck finding the Horcrux.”

“Good luck facing Aunt Mia’s wrath.”

She chuckled, turning on her heel and walking away. Sometime before they had to take a turn at the end of the hallway, they were stopped by the sound of someone shouting the word ‘wait’ repeatedly from behind them. When they turned, they saw it wasn’t directed to them but instead to the Trio – at a distance, a very rushed Tonks seemed to be hurrying out of the Room of Requirement at the last minute, having just arrived at the school for the battle. She said something to Harry for a moment and disappeared on the direction opposite to theirs without even noticing them.

They resumed walking on their own seconds later, soon reaching one of the secondary staircases and making their way down to the sixth floor and, later, after several minutes walking, to the fifth. They didn’t run into a single Death Eater on their way down – it hardly seemed like a battle so far.

“They must only just be arriving now. The Death Eaters,” Ginny said when her friend brought it up to her. “Voldemort gave us until three to deliver Harry. My guess is that even when they reach the castle, they’ll start by the lower floors.”

And so they descended two more floors without running into more than students, teachers and Order members, although the sound of explosions and shatters were already making themselves heard downstairs. They were on the third floor when they heard the first group of Death Eaters approaching.

Even as they stopped at a corner where two hallways met and took a peak at the direction of the Death Eater’s voices, the group was still out of sight. Going further in their direction was too much of a risk, as it might completely expose them if the Death Eaters moved. Still, they needed to see how many they were – maybe with the surprise element, they could handle three or four of them on their own. More than that would be biting far more than they could chew.

Ginny poked her arm, pointing at the hallway behind them. “I think if I go through there and then turn left, I might be able to take a peek at them from the end of the hall without them noticing me. Can you stay here to send me a Patronus in case they start moving my way?”

Izzy nodded. “Don’t take too long, though. Better stick together.”

She watched the redhead reply with an agreeing nod before heading the direction she’d pointed as silently as she could manage. Izzy then turned her face back to where she could hear one of the Death Eaters instructing the others and stood there watching. It was hard to understand the words being said both due to the sounds of battle downstairs and the fact that they were talking rather quietly. She thought she heard something about waiting and a sign, but she could’ve misheard it. Then again, if she hadn’t, that might explain why they were just standing around.

Every few seconds, she glanced at her watch to check how long it had been since Ginny had gone. And with every turn, she started growing more and more nervous. One minute passed… then two… then three. It shouldn’t have Ginny more than… two? Two and a half? One minute to go, a few seconds to peak and another to return. It was only a few yards, after all, and yet her friend had been gone nearly four minutes. Something had to be wrong and she couldn’t just stand there waiting. She had to go see what Ginny was up to.

She moved silently along the corridor and, upon turning left at the end, saw no sign of Ginny. Panic hit her for about ten seconds, during which she just stood there like a sitting duck staring at the spot where Ginny should’ve been. At the ten second mark, she forced herself to stop – she needed to check if there were signs of a struggle or something.

Before she could reach the end of the hall, though, she stopped next to a classroom’s entrance – she vaguely noted it was the school orchestra’s rehearsal room –, from where she heard hushed voices coming. It was with relief that she realized one of them was Ginny’s.

…can’t just go around snatching people! Who does that?” she was whispering furiously to someone else.

For a moment, Izzy was confused. Was her best friend seriously lecturing a Death Eater?! She was going to get herself killed!

Gripping the wand she was already holding much harder than before, Izzy stepped quietly towards the door, pushing it further open and slipping in. The room had some sort of antechamber, which she was thankful for, as it allowed her to get in unnoticed and still gave her the opportunity to lock the door closed behind her the other Death Eaters wouldn’t be a bother.

Yet, before she had a chance to attack, the ‘Death Eater’ spoke, causing her to freeze. “Someone who isn’t all that happy to spot their sister walking around all alone in the middle of a battle. Do you know just how stupid that is?

“I wasn’t on my own!” Ginny protested.

“Oh, really? Who were you with, then? Some sort of invisible entity I completely failed to see?”

“No, she was with me,” Izzy announced as she made her out of the antechamber and into the actual classroom, quickly spotting the two Weasleys at the far end of the room.

While Ginny simply grinned victoriously, her brother – very clearly George, though at that moment she couldn’t name the many signs that had given it away – turned on his heel and stared at her. The stare soon became an unimpressed frown and Izzy felt herself inwardly huffing, half-expecting him to start lecturing her about putting herself in danger right then and there – why did he have to feel the constant need to protect her? It might be sweet at times but it just felt bloody annoying at the moment.

“I feel like I should be a lot more surprised that you somehow managed to sneak your way here now of all times,” he stated. “And far more annoyed about it than I currently am.”

Izzy was surprised to note that, beyond the two-second frown he’d worn before, he didn’t seem annoyed at all anymore. In fact, his lips were starting to curl. And that was basically it for her.

Trying to contain the smile that forced its way into her face was a lost cause, just as it was resisting the urge to make her way closer to him. In fact, her pace seemed to increase the closer she got until she found herself in a mild run.

He caught her in a hug the moment she reached him like it was the most natural thing in the world. It surprised her and it didn’t at the same time. Somehow, they’d gotten to that place during their months of separation: a place where they weren’t quite just friends but not yet a couple. A place where they cared for each other and weren’t fearful of showing it to the other. She liked that place. She really did. It was like a breath of fresh air.

“I missed you,” she whispered against his ear as he held her, actually lifting her several inches from the ground.

“I missed you too,” he replied. “But you shouldn’t be here, Isabelle.”

“Be quiet and don’t ruin the moment. I’ve been waiting for it far too long,” she said, the last part slipping before she could stop herself.

“That makes two of us,” he replied.

Ginny cleared her throat, reminding them of her presence, just as George was putting Izzy back down. They looked at her sheepishly, having literally forgotten Ginny was there for a few seconds, mostly due to the fact that she’d done nothing but being quiet while they… reunited. Both of them were thankful for that… almost as thankful as they were for her next offer.

“Okay, I’m going to make the two of you a deal – a deal that is strictly the one-time sort, mostly fuelled by the fact that, like it or not, we could all be dead in the morning,” the redhead informed them. “I’m going to turn my back for five minutes, cover my ears and think of England so the two of you can do your… thing. In return, you’re going to allow me to believe that your… thing was nothing more than polite handshaking and courteous chatting – not that I don’t approve of this… thing of yours, mind you. But you’re my brother and she’s my best friend, which makes picturing whatever might go on behind my back other than handshaking just wrong. Now, does this arrangement sound suitable or will I have to be a bitch about it?”

While Izzy simply responded with a pair of raised eyebrows at her best friend, George was quick to make himself heard. “Do you know what I can’t understand about this arrangement?”

“What?”

“Why it wasn’t brought up when you and Harry were the ones it could apply to. Because, really, I did not need to see…”

“Time’s counting!” Ginny interrupted him, conveniently turning her back and placing her hands over her ears before he could finish. “Five minutes!”

George rolled his eyes but quickly turned his attention to Izzy. Time was precious for them and, at the moment, apparently in a countdown. “So… five minutes,” he said, sitting down on a chair opposite a tall sheet-music holder

Izzy nodded, sitting next to him and slumping down against the back of the chair. “Yeah.”

“Not really enough to have that major defining conversation about… us that I promised you last time we were together,” he mumbled, sounding disappointed.

She shook her head. “I’d have pushed for more time, really, but there are Death Eaters right around the corner. Five’s already pushing it,” she offered. “Then again, I guess that getting ourselves killed for the sake of ‘the talk’ would pretty much defeat the point of having it in the first place, wouldn’t it?”

He chuckled. “Monumentally so, I’d say,” he agreed before pausing and sighing. “We have the worst timing, don’t we, Isabelle?” He said it in a strange way: with a smile on his face, sounding almost fond. Oddly, it made her want to smile too.

They did have awful timing, always heading straight into bumps and blockages on the road, but somehow, as annoyed as said bumps had made her in the past – and still made her now – she felt like, somehow, without them they wouldn’t be where they were at that moment. And she liked where they were. It felt good. It felt… strong. At the end of the day, maybe without those bumps on the road they’d have been together for months already but, somehow, for some reason, she had a feeling that she wouldn’t have felt as strongly for him then as she did now.

“I think it’s worth it,” she told him simply, looking sideways at him and smiling.

“Yeah?” he asked, apparently glad she’d said that. “I thought so too.” He looked away, thoughtful, and without giving it much thought, his hand moved to lie on top of hers, which had been resting on her knee.

Izzy, on the other hand, turned her hand upwards, lacing their fingers together as she tipped her head sideways to rest on his shoulder.

“Funny thing how, when you’re on a countdown, all the stuff you’ve been planning to say just flies out of the window,” he pointed out. “And I had a lot to say.”

“So did I,” she admitted. “Maybe we should have drawn a picture about it – made a diagram or something. Muggles say pictures are worth a thousand words,” Izzy half-joked.

“Yeah?” he asked. “Couple of problems, though: my drawing skills are laughable even to a three-year-old and, as a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure what I had to say was far more than a thousand words.”

She looked at him, feeling unbelievable warmth inside of her. All of a sudden, she wanted to hear those thousand-plus words. Desperately so. If only she could stop time for just a little… but she couldn’t. Not really. “I’ll tell you what: if one word is worth… well, one word, and one picture is worth a thousand of them, I’d say that an action – the right action – might just be worth a million.”

He raised an eyebrow. “A million, you say?”

She nodded. “Is that enough?”

“I might be able to work with a million,” he said, pretending not to be quite sure about it.

“Good. So, if that’s the case I’d say you could just… act away – we can worry about er… translating the actions later.”

His lips curled. “You are something else, Isabelle Black.”

“And you’re on a countdown, George Weasley,” she reminded him, gesturing towards Ginny who still stood with her back turned, hands clamped on her ears and apparently humming to herself the melody to the latest Weird Sisters single.

He seemed more than eager to make the time they had left worth their while, reaching to cup her face and leaning forwards almost immediately. He stopped right before touching her lips, though, making her groan. “One thing first,” he said, pulling away just a little and looking her in the eyes.

“George,” she groaned in annoyance, almost in a threatening tone.

“It’s quick. I just need to let you know, in case for some reason we’re unable to collaborate efforts in this… translation, that when in doubt about the meaning of something…always go positive. You can’t get it wrong that way.”

“What?”

He quieted with the long-expected kiss. She melted into it almost immediately and, although later she’d be weighing his words like mad, at the moment she was content with experiencing the blissful oblivion of his lips.

It seemed each time they kissed, they got less and less restrained in showing their feelings. They were basically out there, gloriously obvious to one another, so who were they fooling? Truth was, like Ginny had said, they could all be dead in the morning, so they might as well live a little while they could.

Although those few minutes they’d had left after sharing words had certainly felt like much longer in their heads, they were still not enough at the same time. Too soon, Ginny’s voice was vaguely sounding in the room.

“Is it safe to turn back?” she was asking, a little too loudly, due to the fact that she was still covering her ears.

For a moment of defiance, they allowed themselves to ignore her. It didn’t work.

“Oi! I’m giving you a fair warning that I’ll be turning around in ten seconds. You’d better not still be smacking li… shaking hands, I mean, or else I might just regret making this deal,” Ginny warned them. “Turning in 8… 7… 6…”

They pulled apart at number 4 with matching annoyed groans and, by the time Ginny reached the 0 mark and turned around, Izzy was trying to untangle her now-messy hair and George was sitting around, slightly frustrated. Ginny ignored both signs of their not-so-real-handshaking and went right into business. “So, where did Fred go? One would think you two would be attached at the hip tonight of all nights.”

“We were. But Kingsley assigned us to unblocking the secret passages of the castle for the Order to use and, since doing it together was just taking too long, we had to split up. We’re supposed to meet up in the one behind the Lady of the Lake’s tapestry on the fourth floor in…” he paused, checking his watch “… fifteen minutes.”

“Have you finished your share of secret passages already?” Izzy asked.

He nodded. “Some of them are not perfect, but you can get through all of them if you’re willing to get a little dirty. They really did a number on some… Anyway, I was thinking the two of you might come along and stick with us for the rest of the battle.” He turned to Ginny. “Mum’s already cross that we brought you along – it might calm her a little if she knew we weren’t just letting you run around on your own.”

“For the last time, I wasn’t on my own!”

“Might as well be.”

“Hey!” Izzy protested.

“I don’t mean it like that, Isabelle. I mean that you were two girls on your own just a handful of yards away from seven Death Eaters probably looking for blood. Honestly, even with the three of us, once we leave this room, we’re going to be in a pickle if they’re still out there.”

“Or if they decide to go check every classroom for students hiding,” Ginny filled in. “We should really go. This place is a ticking time-bomb.”

George nodded and they moved to the door. Izzy removed her previous locking charm before the others had a chance to try the door and reached to open it. George stopped her.

“Let me check what’s going on outside first.”

I can check,” she replied, narrowing her eyes.

“You could lose your head,” he said.

“So could you. And I’d rather you didn’t – I’ve gotten rather attached to your head. Parts of it, at least,” she informed him, a little tartly.

“Well, same goes to you, so I guess we’ve reached an impasse.”

Ginny groaned loudly. “For the love of Merlin, just quit flirting and get out of the way!” And, for good measure, she pushed the two of them away – not-so-coincidently on opposite directions – and went for the door.

She opened it just enough for her head to fit and poked it out for about two seconds. When she closed back the door, she looked pale as a sheet.

“They’re coming this way. Just around the corner. I could see their shadows,” she told them, making the other two go as pale as she was.

“All seven?” George asked.

“Sounded like it,” she confirmed. “There’s no way they won’t see us.”

George bit his lip for a moment. “Well, we’ve got two choices: either we barricade ourselves in here and pray for a miracle or we go out and run for our lives. Hopefully we’ll run into someone from our side that’ll help us get rid of them.”

Ginny and Izzy looked at each other – it took them about a second to decide. “We run. Staying here is useless.”

George nodded. “I’ll cause a fuss first – buy us some time. When I say ‘now’, we all go.”

The girls nodded and so George opened the door slowly. Silently, he reached for something in his pocket – some sort of new and improved portable swamp, much smaller than the ones they’d seen before – and pointed his wand at it, casting a silent spell before stepping out of the door and throwing it the Death Eater’s way.

They heard a strange sound – a bit of an explosion mixed with the sound of liquid flowing and Death Eaters shouting – and, just as the swampy stink reached their noses, George grabbed one hand from each and said the key-word. Immediately, all three of them started running in the opposite direction.

Izzy knew they’d gotten a decent head start when she didn’t heard the Death Eaters following after them until about twenty seconds after they’d started running. The safe distance they’d gained did its job in messing with their aim, judging from the occasional flash of light missing them by more than anyone would be proud of. The first couple of spells had been the dreaded bright green, but the subsequent ones became red instead. Stunners, she thought. She wasn’t sure if it was somehow related to the blaring she’d heard behind – orders being shouted, maybe.

They must’ve run for yards and yards – she vaguely recalled there being wide hallways, narrower ones, stairs, a tunnel somewhere… she wasn’t even sure where she was anymore. She trusted George did, though. He knew every hall in that castle like the back of his hand.

They passed a few people on the way but they were mostly too busy with their own duels to care about somebody else’s. And then, they were once again in a heavily-windowed hall she vaguely recognized. It was in the second floor, overlooking the transfiguration courtyard, which was oddly illuminated for some reason… like something was burning out there. And right outside, partially blocking the light, there was a huge shadow – a huge shadow that seemed to be moving…

Everything happened pretty fast after that realization. One moment she was running, her hand still firmly connected to George’s, the next they were being pushed apart by a window exploding all of a sudden… no, not exploding. Being broken by a massive hand that had just burst through it.

It appeared roughly as wide as she was tall, no doubt connected to an equally huge Giant outside, and it moved around, grasping as if trying to catch something or, in that case, someone. In fact, it very nearly grabbed a handful of Ginny, who’d gotten somewhat disoriented by the exploding window, though she didn’t seem particularly injured – the one thing that stopped it from grabbing her was George making a run for his sister and throwing some sort of spell at the hand, which seemed to do little more than tickle it but was just enough to buy him enough time so he could push her out of its path. Annoyed, the Giant pushed his arm further in, nearly elbow deep, definitely blocking passage from one end of the hallway to the other.

It was only when George was already splattered on the floor, one arm around Ginny’s waist, that they realized what had just happened: on one side of the hand there were George and Ginny, marginally safe due to the blockage caused by the Giant’s roaming hand, and on the other, there was Izzy, seconds away from being reached by the Death Eaters. Crossing to the other side of the hand wasn’t an option as there simply wasn’t time to try and immobilize it or push it out of the way. Her only escape left was a corridor that met the one she was in about ten yards behind her. Ten precious yards of distance she’d have to give up between herself and the Death Eaters in order to escape.

“It’s okay,” she told George and Ginny, who were staring in absolute horror at her. “Take care of yourselves. I’ll be fine.”

“Isabelle!” George yelled after her, but she didn’t turn. She was already running.

She vaguely heard him and Ginny throwing curses and hexes behind her, maybe trying to hold the Death Eaters off a little longer, but it didn’t seem to do much, likely due to the huge hand on the way, as she could hear them running much closer than before behind her.

Escaping the spells thrown her way became much harder. She had to run in zigzags, which closed the distance even more and every once in a while throw a shielding charm behind her, which would last just seconds at a time. To put it simple, she was doomed.

At least they didn’t seem to be trying to kill her on sight anymore – they probably wanted to take her instead. Maybe use her as a bargaining chip later on… or maybe make some sort of spectacle of her killing by doing it in front of everyone. So, there it was again…

Should she simply expect to be killed and be pleasantly surprised if she wasn’t? Funny thought, that was. She guessed she should simply accept that one couldn’t always be as lucky as she’d been last time she’d ran for her life. She’d been saved that time. She’d gotten to snog George… well, she’d gotten to snog him that day too. That had been something. She only regretted not having said it: those three words. Blast the long, ‘defining the relationship’ talk – at least those three words were quick to be said and quick to be understood.

She was pretty sure George has said them, in his own way with that whole ‘always go positive when in doubt’ ramble. He had to know what the most obvious doubt in the book was… he had to know he’d basically given her free reign to assume the answer was ‘yes’ if the question ‘Does he love me?’ crossed her mind. Or maybe not. She didn’t care: her life was hanging by a thread, so she was allowed to assume, even if she really wasn’t.

The Death Eaters were mere feet away when she turned the next corner and she was sure she was done… until she wasn’t. At the end of the new hall she found herself in, familiar faces were visible: Kingsley and Hestia and… darkness.

Just darkness…

And then light again. Light and white noise. And voices. And a headache, only eased by something cold pressing against her forehead.

“… coming around. Izzy? Izzy, can you hear me?” a familiar voice said.

Her eyelids were heavy and there was just too much light when she opened them, just barely, so she closed them again with a groan.

No, don’t go back to sleep. Don’t you dare, Isabelle Kathleen Black. You’re already in a lot of trouble as it is.” It was her mother. She sounded worried and angry at the same time. That wasn’t good. That wasn’t good at all. Especially judging the use of her full name. Maybe she could just get to sleep a little longer… “Izzy, don’t. You’ve got a concussion. You need to stay awake.”

Well, that explained the headache.

Maybe she needs an incentive,” her father’s voice said. He didn’t sound amused. Not even in a jokingly serious way. That felt just… wrong. “Say… an extra week grounded for every second she insists on keeping her eyes closed. Let me see… here goes one… two.

She opened her eyes and, boy, was she right about her early assessment of her father’s moon. He looked furious. Livid. She’d never, ever seen him looking so furious before. And the fact that he was so clearly furious at her made her feel sick of the stomach… then again, it might be the concussion.

“How many do you see?” her mother asked, holding up two fingers in front of her.

“Er… two?” she replied. “Can I…? Can I sit up? The lights are blinding me down here.”

“Yes, but hold the ice in place,” Mia instructed. She was in full-healer mode, Izzy noted as she did as she was told. She had a feeling that wasn’t good – it seemed like a way to restrain the rage or something. “Can you remember the date today?”

“The first of May… no, the second. It’s past midnight.”

Mia nodded. “And do you remember what happened? Before you lost consciousness?”

It was a bit fuzzy at first. “I was running?” she said, phrasing it like a question. “Did I get stunned?”

“Yes. And then you hit your head. Kingsley and Hestia brought you. You were out for a few minutes even after we removed the stunner,” her mother told her.

“I have a question of my own,” Sirius announced in his edging-on-furious tone. “Can you remember what the hell possessed you to come here today?!”

Izzy didn’t respond. She just looked down at her hands in silence.

“What? No words now? Because I can tell you some words. I can tell you how I felt like when Kingsley Shacklebolt showed up with my unconscious daughter in his arms. My unconscious daughter who was supposed to be home, safe and asleep!” he shouted.

“Sirius…” Mia said in a warning tone. “She has a concussion.”

“Well, she was fine enough to lay there pretending to still be unconscious when she smelled trouble for herself. I reckon she’s also fine enough to hear about that trouble, then,” he told his wife before turning to face his daughter again. “What the hell were you thinking?!”

She looked at him and pressed her lips together.

“Well?” he insisted.

Something in his tone made her not want to stay quiet. Like, if she did, she’d be taking all the blame what part of her felt like they were due their own share. “I was thinking how unsurprising it was that you left me behind! Without even a ‘goodbye’, mind you!”

“We left a note!”

Izzy glared. It wasn’t until then that she realized just how… lacking it felt that they’d think a note served for a decent goodbye. Especially when they might not make it back! She’d been too busy planning her escape to think of that before. “A note! Good, a note! Why should I even worry if my parents are here risking their lives? If something happens to them, at least I’ll always have a note!”

“Watch your tone, Izzy,” her mother warned her as her father stalked over to the aisle in the centre of the room, pacing left and right as he fumed. She sighed. “Maybe you have a point and a note wasn’t the best… farewell. But you still had no business coming here today and you know it. You’re sixteen!”

“So was Harry when he was out with Dumbledore searching for Horcruxes. And so is Ginny, who is here today too. And Luna. And Merlin knows how many more students!”

“Not by their parents’ choice, let me assure you. And Ginny, unlike you, is locked in the Room of Requirement. Safe.”

“No. Ginny was locked until Harry needed to use it and she had to come out. She was with me until about five minutes before I got knocked out. And now, she’s out there somewhere with George and I should be with them.”

Fire blazed in her mother’s eyes. “You’re not going anywhere, young lady. You’ve got a concussion. Do you have any idea how serious a head injury can be? The last thing you need is to go back out there and risk putting yourself in a coma or worse by getting knocked on the head again. So, mark my words: even if I have to restrain you myself, you’re not stepping foot out of that door until I say so.”

She wasn’t kidding, Izzy could tell. Mum mode and healer mode mixed together served for an explosive cocktail.

And, by the way,” her father said, approaching the bed she was sitting on again still looking furious, though it seemed he’d vented a little during his long pacing moment, “in case it didn’t stick to your head before, you’re grounded. I’m grounding you and I’m going to enjoy every moment of it.”

“Fine!” she replied, dumping the ice on her lap and crossing her arms, making an effort to show she didn’t care.

“Fine!” he said in the exact same way, sounding far less mature than he’d been aiming for before he stalked his way to the door and went back to his post guarding the infirmary.

In the same way her father fumed at the door, Izzy moped as she lounged on her bed, watching as her mother went back to checking on the other patients. She kept eyeing the door, feeling the sting that was knowing she couldn’t go out looking for Ginny and George in order to make sure they were okay. Her father would have her back on her bed sooner than she could say ‘goodbye’ in spoken form rather than written. And lying there, doing nothing, only made it all sting more.

“So, am I just supposed to lay here and do nothing?” she asked her mother when she came over to check on the bump on her head again.

“You have a concussion – you’re not supposed to overdo it.”

“Isn’t there something to fix it? A potion or a spell… Or are you just keeping it from me so you’ll have an excuse to keep me in bed?”

Mia glared. “Izzy, you know I’d never do that! To you or to anyone!” her mother said, making her feel a bit ashamed for suggesting it. “In a case like yours, where there doesn’t seem to be bleeding or noticeable brain damage, it just has to heal on its own. The most I can do is give you something for the headache, which I have right here, by the way,” she added, handing her a glass of blue liquid. “Now, drink up.”

She did and it tasted like leftover water from someone’s extensive dish-washing. It did, however, relieve some of the pressure on her head, resulting from the headache, almost immediately. “Can’t I at least do something around here? Help something or other? I promise I won’t go around banging my head on cupboards. And it’s not like I can make a run for it with Dad at the door. It’s just… laying here doing nothing is murder, Mum.”

Mia took a breath. “Let the potion fully sink in. Then I’ll see what I can do.”

Izzy wasn’t sure if her mother did mean it or if that was just her way of putting off the matter, hoping she’d forget it. Which she wouldn’t, Izzy firmly told herself. And, apparently, neither did her mother – ten minutes later, she was back with an assignment for her.

“Go around the room and check which potions are running out,” she said, gesturing towards the occupied bed’s end tables and the main potion cupboard in the room. “When they are, get more of them. You can find more bottles in the boxes over there and don’t guide yourself by their shape or the colour – just read the labels. Cutting corner can end up badly. And, for the love of Merlin, Izzy, if the headache gets worse, just stop and call for me. Things can get very bad very fast with a head injury.”

“Okay, I will. I don’t… I don’t have a death-wish or anything,” she told her mother, as she seemed to doubt it. She’d come there to help, not to die.

Mia gave her a look. “Well, you’d have us fooled, then.”

Izzy didn’t respond. She just got up and went to do what she was told. Being potion-girl didn’t seem like a particularly exciting job, but it sure beat lying in bed, doing nothing. But, once she was done, roughly ten minutes after she’d started, she was, once again, feeling useless.

Then, some bloke she didn’t recognized whose leg seemed twisted in a way it really wasn’t supposed to was brought into the room and her mother, as well as Madam Pomfrey and all the nurses, got busy fixing him. Surprisingly enough, she soon heard her name being called by her mother, urging her to approach the bed the bloke was being fixed up on.

“We’ve got our hands full here, so we need you to go check on all the patients on the left-hand side beds. “They have head injuries, most worse than yours, so make sure they’re all awake,” her mother told her.

“Pay special attention to the girl in the third bed from the door,” Madam Pomfrey instructed. “Her speech was a bit slurred: ask her name – it’s Jenny McCarthy – and today’s date. If she says gibberish, call for one us.”

And so they kept her busy as they fixed up the bloke’s leg, giving her more and more responsibility. It started with checking on patients, then moved to giving another dose of Skele-Gro to the bloke in the yellow robes (‘half a measuring cup, not a drop more!’), then fetching them something to make a splint, then healing some cuts with dittany. It was fulfilling in a strange way: although every anguished scream that came from the bloke with the injured leg assured her more that she really needed to scratch ‘healer’ option out of her potential future career list, once her father ran into the room saying there was some commotion nearby he needed to check on, she didn’t have the urge to sneak out or follow him, now that her mother was busy healing someone and her father wasn’t really paying attention.

Apparently, there was some sort of big multiple-sided duel going on at the main staircase, Dedalus Diggle explained between gasps after Madam Pomfrey moved from the guy with the injured leg to him, in order to fix up the badly cut up arm Bill Weasley had brought him there with. It was all a big mess, according to him: spells flying everywhere, across the many floors the staircase covered; people unconscious all over it, both Death Eaters and fighters from their side.

Knowing that her father had needed to check on it, since the Hospital Wing wasn’t all that far from there and there was the risk the duel moving on to there since the local wards were history, made her feel a lump on her throat. What if he got hurt in there? What if he… what if the last conversation she’d had with him had been a big fight?

She didn’t need to wonder about that for long, though, as soon her father was back… and he didn’t look well. Not because he was hurt. No. He looked awful because there was another really injured guy to beat the leg bloke out of the ‘most banged up poor sod in the room’ title. And, not only was that guy actually unconscious (dead, maybe? she had to wonder), but he also had a familiar face. A very familiar face. It was Remus.

But he couldn’t be dead, she told herself. He couldn’t, because nearly all nurses, as well as her mother and Madam Pomfrey turned away from their current patients in order to gather around the bed someone had placed him on and work on him. No dead person could possibly steal so much attention from injured people. Not even Remus. He was still alive, if barely, and they were trying to save him.

“What happened?” Madam Pomfrey was shouting at her father.

“He fell! He just… fell!” her father said, like he couldn’t believe it.

“Fell from where?”

“The seventh floor… all the way down the open well between the staircases. Merlin, how high is it up there? A hundred feet? It had to be at least a hundred feet! Is he still alive? He was when we got to him… do you think he’ll make it?” her father rambled in a panic as he hovered by the team of healers and nurses.

“He’s alive but you need to give us space, Sirius,” her mother was saying without turning to him.

“He’s got a kid. He’s got a kid who probably won’t remember him at all if he dies like this,” her father said, immobile. “Merlin.”

“Sirius, you need to move,” her mother said again with no success. “Izzy!”

Izzy realized she hadn’t moved at all since her father’s return once her mother called her name. She also realized, even without her mother saying, that she was being called to get her father of their hair.

“Dad,” she called for her father once she reached him, pulling on his arm. “Dad, come on. They’re trying to help him. You’ll get in the way.”

Apparently, only that last statement got him to move. He was soon taking a few steps back, guided by her, and standing a reasonable distance away from the commotion, although he didn’t tear his eyes away from it once. She tried to get him to sit down but he wouldn’t go further than there.

“A hundred feet,” he was mumbling in shock. “He fell a hundred feet.”

“Maybe it wasn’t that high,” Izzy said. She had no idea how high the seventh floor was, to be honest – a hundred feet like he was saying, for all she knew. But he didn’t need to think that. “You were watching from down here, right? Everything seems taller when you’re watching from behind.”

He didn’t respond. She wasn’t sure if he’d even heard. Still, she stood by her father’s side, holding his hand, if only to make sure he wouldn’t wander back to where he’d been standing before.

Her mother approached some time later, not to talk but apparently in search for something in the potions cupboard on their left.

“How is he?” her father asked as she messed around with the potions.

“He should be dead,” Mia said without looking at him.

“What?!” he asked, unable to believe she was saying that.

“He should be dead. A normal person would be dead,” she specified, her eyes still fixed on the potions. “Izzy, the Punjab Drought – have you seen it? Isn’t this supposed to be on alphabetic order?”

“It is. You’re searching on D,” Izzy told her. Her mother was clearly too agitated by the situation to properly look. “Give me a second. I’ll get it for you.”

Mia nodded and her daughter was off to another cupboard.

In the meanwhile, Sirius frowned. “A normal person? You mean that because he’s a werewolf…”

“…he’s still alive? Yes. I think so,” she confirmed, finally looking at him. “You said he fell like a hundred feet. A hundred feet! He should be dead. He should be completely torn apart, at the very least. But fact is, his spine’s not even severed and that’s just not possible for a human being. Not on a free-fall.”

“So, you think he’s going to live.”

“I think he should be dead and he’s not,” she corrected him, careful not to give him too much hope when there was still a long way before Remus was out of the woods. It crushed him, though – she could see it in his eyes and, as his wife, she couldn’t just leave it there. “That’s a good thing, Sirius.”

And that was all she could offer, as Izzy was suddenly back with about half a dozen bottles of the same liquid, saying she hadn’t been sure how many were needed. Mia took two and walked back to the bed Remus was on, leaving her daughter to put the rest away.

“You really should sit, Dad,” Izzy insisted for the second time, not really expecting him to give in. “Standing here won’t help anyone, least of all Remus.”

That time, maybe because of her mother’s soft reassurance, when she pulled on his arm, he came after. They sat on a row of chairs at the entrance and waited. Just waited in silence… she wasn’t sure for how long.

When her father spoke again, she was a bit startled to hear it, having gotten used to the silence on his part. “This is what happens in a battle, Izzy,” he mumbled. “People get hurt, sometimes beyond repair. People get killed. Hearts get broken. Bad stuff happens and this should be no news to you. So why on Earth would you rather be here than at home, safe with your brother and sister?”

She eyed him for a few moments before responding. He didn’t sound like he was lecturing her anymore. He just sounded… tired. A little broken from the prospect of maybe losing the last best friend he had left… to be left the only Marauder alive. Terribly lonely in his own club.

Just thinking of it made her heart break a little, so, as if trying to reassure him he was not alone, she wrapped her arms around her father, resting her head against his shoulder. Only then did she answer. “My family was here, Dad. How could I stay away when nearly everyone I love in this world was right here risking their lives?”

Sirius didn’t respond to that. He was sure nothing would ever erase that image of Kingsley carrying his daughter unconscious… dead, for all he’d know. But, at the same time, now that she’d spoken her reasons, although he still didn’t approve, mostly because it was his daughter and he’d be okay with her being in danger, he could see himself feeling exactly the same thing if the roles were reversed. So, with a sigh, he wrapped one arm around her back, bringing her closer.

“You’re still grounded,” he reminded her half-heartedly, his main thoughts focused on his best friend’s recovery.

“That’s okay,” Izzy replied. And it was. If he enforced her grounding that would mean they were both alive. So, she hoped he did. “He’ll be fine, Dad. And you’ll laugh about this one day: the night Remus Lupin was lucky he was a werewolf.”

He kissed the top of his daughter's head silently. He hoped she was right.
 

A/N: To be continued... Feedback is welcome! Review!


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