“Who?” Elena asked, feeling her stomach drop. “How?” Corinne was the absolute last person she’d imagine could be captured; the woman wasn’t one to be careless.
Frank shook his head, looking ten years older. “The Lestranges, who else?”
“How many?” Simon demanded. He tried to sound strong, but Elena could hear the fear in his voice. She understood—Simon and Corinne might argue but they were still close. Corinne hadn’t hesitated to run into danger to rescues Simon, and Elena was sure he would do the same for her.
“Bellatrix left her with Rabastan.”
Elena remembered the sneering man who Corinne had forced to reveal his memories and shivered. “He’ll want revenge.”
“That’s why we’re going to get her back,” Simon set his jaw.
There was never a choice not to, Elena knew that, but she was beginning to feel exhaustion settle in. She had been awake for hours, escaping the trap in the Death Eater’s flat, hiding from the men who had chased them, rescuing Simon from the fire, fighting, following, attacking the Lestranges, capture, escape, sacrifice and then escape once more. She didn’t know how much longer she could run without collapsing. And surely Simon and Frank had been through as much as her.
“Moody’s duelling Rosier,” Elena said, looking in the direction of the clearing where the Death Eater had questioned her. So there was little chance that he could help in any rescue mission.
Simon rubbed at his right elbow. “How many of them are dead?”
Frank voice sounded heavy. “None of them.” Elena saw his fingers turn the wedding band on his left hand round and round. There were only four Death Eaters and none of them were dead. Perhaps they were stronger, more powerful that the Ministry officials but Elena thought it was more desperation than anything. They were the last stand of a dead era and they were utterly convinced—to the point of madness—that their cause was still strong.
“And how many of us?” Simon could have been strategizing but Elena wondered if she might detect guilt. After all, so far, they were all alive. Only the others, who had been brought in with second’s notice without knowing the truth of things, had died. True, Simon hadn’t called them, but he had been in favour of telling the Ministry, of getting help. Perhaps he wondered if they’d be alive if they had been properly prepared.
Simon gave a resolute nod, as if that was what he had been expecting. “So we get the others. And we find Corinne. I’ll go for Rabastan, take care of him. If Rodolphus is there, he’s yours Frank. Elena can help Corinne if she’s hurt, and the rest of them will be there to help.”
That seemed so simple, but Elena knew it couldn’t be. “Where are the others then? If Rabastan has Corinne and Moody’s with Rosier.”
“Searching the woods. So yeah,” Frank continued, sensing the real question behind Elena’s words. “There’s not time to get them all together.”
“We’ll manage.” Simon shrugged. “The others were just back up anyways.”
Elena felt like she had to be honest. “Will we? Simon, I know we have to get Corinne but I’m exhausted. Fighting our way just seems like a way to get us killed and to let them escape.”
“We’ll manage,” he repeated tersely, not meeting Elena’s gaze.
There was something wrong about his tone of voice. “Listen to me Simon!” Elena bit her lip, “We will not manage. I don’t even have my wand.”
He frowned, “Well, well then just wait. I’ll make you a Portkey, send you to Alice. You’ll be safe and we’ll get Corinne. Come here!” With that, he summoned a stone from the ground and started transforming it into a Portkey.
“No!” Elena snapped and wrenched it from his hands, shoving it into her pocket. “No stop it, Simon. Look at you! You’re not alright. Look,” she grabbed his elbow, finally noticing a round puncture mark and bruising on the skin around it. “Did you even notice that? Did you think you wouldn’t bleed too terribly much if you just forgot about it?”
He winced as Elena prodded at the wound. “It doesn’t hurt.”
“Oh yeah?” she looked up at him, and saw a rather petulant expression settle onto his face. “Then it’s even worse than I thought.” When Simon was being so difficult it was hard not to take a tone with him. “Shut up and give me your wand,” she interjected when he began to speak again.
Frank cleared his throat. “Actually Elena, I have your wand.”
She raised an eyebrow at him and held out her hand. Frank tossed it over and Elena caught it, not bothering to thank Frank before turning back to Simon. She wasn’t actually worried about his arm, per say, though it was obvious it did hurt him. And with her own wand back, it wasn’t very difficult to purge any infection and knit the skin together.
Once the redness in the skin had faded, Elena was satisfied and turned back to Simon. “Hey,” she said softly, putting her hand on his face. “Hey, listen. We’re not going to leave Corinne behind. But we can’t just go storming in hoping to overpower them. Don’t pretend like you’re not exhausted. Okay?”
He sighed. “Sorry. I’m sorry and you’re right. But I’ve got to get Corinne.”
“If she heard you talking like that she’d hit you,” Elena smirked. “She’d say she can take care of herself.”
“Yeah she’s more capable than me, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t need help.”
Elena reached up and kissed him quickly. “Okay, Frank,” she said, taking a deep breath. “You have any ideas?”
Elena watched Frank stumble into the clearing. He had an arm clutched to his side and a smear of fake blood on head.
“Alice?” he cried, dropping suddenly to his knees, as if he could no longer stay upright. He crouched beside a body, shaking it anxiously and peering at the face.
“No, no. ALICE?” Frank bellowed, standing again and shuffling over to the next body, this one splayed on the ground on its back.
Again, he examined the fallen woman, only to force himself to his feet. “Alice?” this time his voice sounded weaker, more desperate. “Where are you?”
With a groan, Frank pressed his hand to his side, and sank to his knees once more. “Is there anyone there? Please! I’m injured.”
Silence and then scrabbling as Frank began to drag himself across the ground, panting loudly and whimpering in pain every few seconds. “Alice!”
In a minute he had crossed to the other side, where the trees were more densely clustered. Looking utterly exhausted, he collapsed, body crumpled and bent awkwardly. His left hand rested with the palm open and a wand lay on the ground a few inches away.
Elena inhaled, exhaled. She clutched her wand tight in one hand, and ran the other through her hair. Her fingers just grazed the rather impressive gash across her forehead. Simon had told her it was easily visible from far away. “Good,” she said to herself, nodding. With one more deep breath, Elena raised her voice. “Hello? Where are you?”
“Here!” Frank choked out.
With one more smile of assurance to herself, Elena started to sprint. She had mapped out a pathway, so that she wouldn’t come near any of the bodies, except Frank.
“I’m a Healer!” Elena said loudly, as if she were afraid he might be hard of hearing. “What happened?”
Frank shifted, rolling to one side. “Alice.”
In order to get close enough, Elena had to crouch down, but she made sure her weight was on the balls of her toes, so she could stand at any moment. She noticed that as Frank had rolled, he had freed his right hand and the wand that was clenched tightly in it.
“I’m a Healer,” Elena repeated, keeping her eyes locked on Frank’s face. She couldn’t see into the trees behind him, but he could. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
Frank moved his head, in a tiny nod and Elena sprung upright, as Frank rolled to his feet. Elena pushed her way through the trees.
It was only a few yards until she saw a slight shimmer in the air. “Simon!” she screamed, putting out an arm to stop Frank.
At that, the barrier warped, bent and pulled away, leaving Elena with a clear view of Corinne, tied to a tree and a tall man in front of her.
The man pulled back, a look of surprise on his face. He had to have heard the distressed man searching for his wife among the dead and the brave Healer racing across the clearing to save her friend but he probably hadn’t suspected that the injured man had just sprinted without any assistance from the Healer. He had probably spent just enough time scoffing at the spectacle that he hadn’t notice when a third man had skirted the edges of the clearing undetected.
Of course, his surprise all depended on Corinne’s acting skills. If she appeared confused as to why Frank was searching for Alice when she was safe at home, the ploy might have failed. But Corinne was slumped against the tree, held upright only by her bonds—there was no need for her to act.
“Stupefy!” Simon leapt out from another tree.
The Death Eater dodged the spell, only to whirl around and barely block a silent hex from Frank.
Elena didn’t waste time making sure her path was clear—she knew Simon would cover her—before running towards Corinne. With a quick slice of her wand, the taller woman was free from the ropes that held her against the tree. Elena wrapped her arm over Corinne’s shoulders, trying not to stagger under her weight.
“Rennervate,” she hissed, as she began to drag Corinne away from the fight.
The Auror mumbled a few words and was silent.
“Damn it.” Elena kept pulling Corinne. A featherweight spell would have worked under normal circumstances, but who knew what kind of injuries Corinne had and what such a spell might do to her.
Behind her, Elena heard a cracking of wood and a thud as a tree limb fell. Simon and Frank just had to distract Lestrange for few more moments. They had agreed that if they couldn’t capture him easily, they were all going to leave. Everyone was injured, at least slightly, not to mention the crippling exhaustion. It wasn’t defeat, so much as a retreat and it was certainly a transfer of power to Moody and those he had summoned.
At the sound of another spell hitting a tree, Elena turned around. It really wasn’t helping to have to worry about avoiding tree branches while carrying Corinne. Surely Simon could be a bit more creative in his methods of distraction than chopping down the forest around Elena.
And then she saw it. A spinning ball of purple fire, hurling through the air straight at her. “No!” Elena screamed, dropping Corinne so that she fell to the ground. She tried to follow, knowing that there wasn’t enough time to pull her wand from her pocket, but Elena didn’t have the advantage that being unconscious gave to falling.
The spell hit her chest, and Elena screamed again, expecting fire. Instead, she felt only numbness. No heat, no ice, only a weight as her limbs lost sensation and dragged her down. She tried to say something again, only to have her head sag to the side. Thud. Her heart seemed confused as to whether it needed to keep beating. Thud.
She didn’t feel Simon’s hands on her face, turning her head so that he could look at her but she could see him and hear him calling her name. Thud. He was asking her to move, to squeeze his hand. She hadn’t realized she was holding anyone’s hand.
Thud. Just nod your head. Thud. Just blink.
That Elena could do. Her eyelids were dropping, too heavy. She was going to blink, to show Simon she was still thinking. She closed her eyes. Thud.
She was shivering. So cold, shivering and shaking and trembling. She wanted to huddle up, to stay warm but she couldn’t think how to do that.
Something soft touched her arm, not exactly warm but soft. Something heavy, a blanket. But that didn’t stop the chill; she was still shaking, still unable to hold still.
Her eyes were closed but still the world was able to darken. A shadow passed over her face and this darkness was warm.
Later, the world reappeared. Images flickered above her, as if it were a dream. She saw bits of white mist floating through her vision. It was cool and a gentle breeze ran brushed across her face. The light this time was dim and soothing. She felt content, ready to sleep. But that was wrong, for she had only just woken up.
There was pressure below her right wrist and Elena became aware of someone’s hand, holding hers. Her eyes flickered, again, and this time her vision cleared.
“Elena?” a voice asked and Elena turned her eyes down a little, so that she caught sight of Simon’s face.
The sight of him, with a bright red line cut across his cheek made her gasp. “You’re hurt,” she said softly, trying to reach one of her hands out to touch it. It didn’t mar his features, but rather seemed to be pasted on top of them, a scar like an afterthought.
There was a slightly smile on his lips as he shook his head. ““No, I’m not. I’m absolutely fine.”
Elena bit her lip, unsure as to why she felt apprehension growing in her stomach. Hoping she could shake the feeling, she moved to sit, only to have Simon grip her hand tighter. “You, however, are not.”
“Simon, I’m a Healer,” Elena frowned, “I think I can tell when I’m injured.” Yes, she had dim recollections of drifting in and out of consciousness but now she was utterly lucid. There was no pain, no sign at all that she had been injured.
When Simon didn’t immediately protest Elena’s assertion, she moved her left arm to lever herself upright. “See?” she declared when she was sitting. “Perfectly fine.”
But the motion had occurred too quickly, Elena realized as her head and her vision clouded. She held still for a moment, waiting for equilibrium to reestablish itself. And then she noticed her heart. It was pounding, faster than usual. It wasn’t so much nerves as an escape attempt, for the rapid beating was accompanied by shocks of pain and crushing pressure on her chest. It was suddenly hard to breathe, knowing that each breath meant more pain.
Even as her body entered a state of distress, Elena’s years of training brought a diagnosis to the front of her mind. Even if she could barely stand the pain, she knew what each symptom meant. Simon had been right, after all—she shouldn’t have moved. Sitting up had dislodged a residual curse, bringing on this attack.
“Elena?” Simon stood so that he was leaning over her. “Do I need to call for help?”
Elena’s mouth had gone dry but she still managed to reach out and grab a hold of his forearm. “Simon, Simon listen closely. You need to do exactly as I say, right now. First, cast a counter spell for every choking curse you know. You mustn’t move me, my heart can’t take it. Then, I need you to put me to sleep, the deepest sleep you can. Slow everything down, breathing, blood flow, brain function. Get me as close to dead as possible without actually killing me. That should buy you enough time to get help. Listen, you’re going to have to do this quickly and if my heart ever stops, just restart it as fast as you can, okay?”
Simon had gone very pale. “Get someone here now,” he demanded through clenched teeth.
“You’re the only one I trust,” Elena felt tears in her eyes but she didn’t dare move to wipe them away. “I know you’re brave enough to help me. It has to be you.”
She barely noticed as Simon’s eyes flicked behind him for a second. “I’m going to help you lie down,” he said in a measured tone.
“No!” Elena gasped. “You can’t move me. You absolutely can’t.”
“Shh,”he gently peeled her fingers from his arm. “Just relax, alright?”
Elena saw his hands moving to behind her head. “I’ll die.” She hadn’t wanted to say the words, hadn’t wanted to scare him, but she had to stop him.
“I didn’t say it before, but if I move my heart is going to stop. And nothing you can do will fix that. So just don’t, Simon.”
The look on his face might just kill her too, Elena realized. Her heart felt frantic as she read the stricken expression on his face. But she knew him. She knew him and she knew that he was strong enough to help her.
He nodded once and took a step back. Elena stayed frozen, waiting for him to start the countercurses. And then the cold slipped over her again. Except she couldn’t shiver this time. Elena felt her muscles relax, felt her head go light.
“Let lie her down,” a new voice said.
“What?” Simon cried, echoing Elena’s own thoughts.
And then she felt herself being moved. Elena couldn’t even manage regret that this was how she had to die. She was too tired, too cold. Her heart was beating slower now. Soon it would stop.
She looked up at the ceiling, which was tiled and sterile white and all she could see. Maybe it would be the last thing she would see. But she knew that ceiling, she had stared at it often in her office, whenever she was taking a break from work. St. Mungo’s.
“I’m a Healer,” the new voice said. “I think I know what I’m doing.”
Again Elena woke, but this time, she felt lighter, could breathe finally. She noticed Simon in a chair next to the bed, and closed her eyes. “Why are you still here?” she asked with a smile.
“Elena!” Simon sounded a little too surprised. “You’re alright! I mean, you’re awake.”
Her eyes opened again. “Yeah.”
“It’s just that I thought, God, I was scared that you were—”
“I know,” Elena shook her head. “Listen, who’s my Healer? Can you get them? Is it safe for me to move?” She wondered if she were being treated by someone she knew well.
Simon frowned a little. “Yes, you’re safe now. And her name’s Healer Edwards.”
“Ruby!” Elena exclaimed, thinking of the older woman fondly. “But if I’m her patient that means serious curse damage…” Her voice trailed off. She had known it, of course, when she had felt the sensation in her chest, but she had been hoping she’d been wrong, or overreacting. Had been hoping that Ruby hadn’t had to bring her to the brink of death to slow the curse so that there was time to administer all the necessary potions.
“Yeah.” Simon lowered his head. “Yeah she should be here any moment now.”
“Oh my God.” Elena finally saw behind Simon to where two solemn figures, a man and woman, were standing like soldiers, wands at the ready. “Who are they?”
Simon didn’t even have to turn. “Protection.” But there was a note to his that made Elena pause. He was being too casual about it.
“Protection from what?” Elena began, before stopping. “Oh my God. I didn’t even ask. What happened?” Her mind was astonishingly clear, given her recent lack of consciousness, but she kept forgetting details, kept forgetting that there were questions that still needed answers.
This time Simon turned around for an instant, looking at the two stoic guards. “Everyone’s alright,” he said with a single nod. “Alice, Frank, Corinne, Alastor.”
“Oh.” Somehow, Elena hadn’t been expecting that answer. From the look Simon was giving her, she doubted that was the whole truth. Something was wrong about the others in the room. Something about the absent way Simon brushed a piece of hair out of Elena’s face as he looked behind himself again.
But before Elena could think further, the door swung open and a short older woman walked in. “I said to call me as soon as she woke. That was our agreement. You aren’t supposed to be here in the first place.” Ruby Edwards stood just inside the doorway, brandishing her wand at Simon.
He leaned back hastily. “Sorry, Healer,” he said in a tone that was much happier than it had been a minute before. He even winked at Ruby for good measure.
“How are you feeling?” Ruby asked, walking over towards Elena with a shake of her head at Simon.
“Ruby,” Elena shook her head. “I’m fine. Can you just give me a minute though? I need to talk to Simon.”
The older healer shook her head. “Absolutely not. You can talk to him after we have a little chat about your health. And you,” she turned and motioned to Simon and the guards, “Out! All of you out! Go get some tea if you can’t go home.”
Simon, apparently set on appearing as cheery as possible, was smiling widely as he walked out the door. That too was odd—he had gone from hiding something to a more casual demeanour, barely bothering to say goodbye to Elena. The man and woman said nothing but they followed him.
“So tell me about your young man then,” Ruby said, as she helped Elena sit up.
“Simon?” Elena asked warily. “I don’t know. Wouldn’t it be better to talk about what happened to me?”
Ruby started waving her wand at various cupboards, summoning several vials of potions. “First things first—don’t lie to me,” she said shaking her head. “I only saw you two together for a minute and I know.”
Elena blushed a little; she hadn’t meant that there wasn’t something between them, only that she didn’t know what to say. But she was saved from having to clarify as Ruby began to give her several of the potions. “You’re mostly better now,” Ruby said, before launching into a description of all the medicine Elena had received in the past days. “I do wish you hadn’t frightened that poor boy though, telling him you’d die if you moved.”
“I didn’t know I was here,” Elena protested. “If I had been—elsewhere, that would be the case.”
But that was all Ruby wanted to say on that subject. She was much more interested in telling Elena how lucky she was to have survived the curse than speculating on whether she would have had she been in the field.
Frank and Alice came the next day, carrying Neville.
Elena was still weak, but she managed to stand up to greet the family.
“You’ll be better in no time,” Alice promised, kissing Elena’s cheek.
Elena grinned, and waved at Neville, who waved back. “Yeah. And it’s good to see that you’re feeling better as well.” She could still hear the anguished cries of Frank, even if he had been only acting.
“Thanks to you,” Alice shrugged.
“No!” Elena shook her head. “No, you would have been fine without me.” That wasn’t strictly true, but she hardly wanted to be in debt for saving Alice’s life when anyone would have done it.
“Elena’s a Healer and brilliant actor,” Frank said, placing his arm around Alice, as if he still had to check to make sure she was beside him.
Elena responded immediately with a laugh: “Really, I’m not.” And she wasn’t. Her acting in the forest had been sketchy at best and she had never been one for pretending to be something she wasn’t. Laughing made her side hurt, and Elena realized that she should probably sit down.
As soon as Simon saw her moving towards the bed, he was at her side, offering her his arm. She accepted the help with only a touch of reluctance. “You certainly never act as though you’re scared,” Simon said, though is tone was less teasing.
Elena wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that. “But I do. I act scared when I am scared.”
Alice and Frank chuckled at that, as if it were amusing. “So you’re never scared then?” Alice offered jokingly when Elena couldn’t understand what was so funny.
“Oh.” She blushed. “No. No, that’s not it.”
Simon helped Elena sit down with a bit of smirk and pressed his lips to her forehead. “Stop it,” she whispered, and pulled his face down for a proper kiss.
Elena looked up for a moment, past Alice and Frank, and her gaze fell upon the silent duo, standing by the door. Whenever Simon was in the room, they were there and whenever he left, they left. She had to wonder what exactly he needed protecting from. “What is it?” Simon breathed in her ear.
Before she could think of what to say to Simon, Alice was holding Neville out to her. Elena set him on her lap, welcoming the excuse to avoid answering. “Hello, sweetie,” she whispered. “How are you? How’s your Mum and Dad? Are you glad to see them?”
“Papa,” Neville said.
Elena laughed and looked over at Frank. Simon had stepped away from her and the two were now having a quiet conversation. “Yeah, there’s your Dad, over there. I bet you’ll be just like him one day.”
Alice looked proudly at her son. “I hope so.”
“Seeing him makes me miss my nephew,” Elena said, thinking of Ollie smiling at her in the kitchen as they were baking. “He’s older than Neville, but I can remember when he was this little. I used to take care of him a lot while Mari was at work.”
“Hmm? Marianne? No, sister-in-law,” Elena shouldn’t have brought her up. Shouldn’t have started thinking about her brother.
“So do you want children, someday?”
Elena blinked, not expecting that question at all. She couldn’t help but glance at Simon again—just to see if he was listening, she promised herself. When she looked back, Alice had put on a very knowing look. Elena laughed and shook her head. “Caught me. And yeah, I think I do.”
Alice nodded, still smiling widely. “You’re good for him,” she said, motioning to Simon. “You didn’t know him before, but he used to be so reckless. He and Corinne—they’d always try to one up each other, do something more risky than the other, and then once it went wrong, they’d have a competition to see who would take the blame.”
Elena could see that. “Yeah,” she laughed. “That sounds about right, doesn’t it?”
“And it was funny to watch,” Alice continued. “It shouldn’t have been, because there was a war, but it was. But I don’t really think either of them were very happy. They had both lost people and liked to hide that by being stupid. But now, I don’t think Simon has to pretend to be alright.”
It would have been easy to be ridiculously happy about what Alice had just said, but there was something that was bothering Elena more. “Listen.” Elena scanned the room once. “You’ve got to tell me the truth. What happened? Simon won’t. Are they dead?”
Neville started pulling at Elena’s hair, and she gently detached his fists from her head. “Okay,” Alice lowered her voice. “Rosier’s dead, but that’s it.”
“Corinne? She hasn’t come to see me.”
“Well she’s perfectly healthy,” Alice shrugged.
That seemed like a half answer. “The men? Why are they protecting Simon?”
“Really? Death Eaters, of course,” the other woman laughed.
“So they’ve told everyone, about your dad.”
Alice’s face froze. “No. No, not yet. I believe the term is ‘devising a strategy.’”
Note: So I meant to post this sooner, I really did. The worst part is that I had about 90% of it written (minus the last scene with Frank and Alice). I also have about 50% of the next chapter written, but I keep reworking it, and that kept changing this chapter, hence the delay. If you're still around reading, you're awesome, maybe let me know that you're here?
Finally, the endless (5 chapter long) scene ends in this chapter! Basically Chapter 19 up until the first break in this chapter has been one long scene, without any breaks for anyone. Elena, as she says in the chapter, is exhausted.
We're near the end! I really can't believe it. There are a maximum of four chapters yet. One of them is definitely an epilogue, another is a sort of epilogue. And the other two could, quite possibly, be combined into one chapter. So that is where things are as of now. While I'm not in a huge hurry to have this story completed, I also would say that updates will hopefully be frequent, given that I know exactly what happens in all of these chapters--they've been planned out for a while.