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Chapter 25: Flight of the Angels
As always, that which you recognize belongs to the inimitable JK Rowling.
Hugo Weasley checked his watch and drummed his fingers nervously. “Fiona, come on, we have to go, now.”
“I am ‘urrying,” she shot back from the nursery. “Traveling with a baby is not like planning some stag party. You ‘ave to pack, darling.”
His wife was extremely upset about having to flee their home. Upset about the short notice, upset that they were leaving the two older children at Hogwarts, upset about being dragged into the middle of somebody else’s legal troubles... Fiona was just generally upset. And try as he might, Hugo had not been able to really convey the urgency of the situation.
He supposed that he could understand where she was coming from. He was having a hard time coming to grips with it himself. Less than two hours earlier, he had been running through the Ministry with Al and Susan while Ministerial Security officers hurled lethal curses at them. And even more recently, he and Al had desperately struggled to keep Susan alive until his father and uncle had arrived to take control of the situation. It all felt like one of those frightening muggle movies that James and Rosie used to put on the television when Aunt Ginny wasn’t paying attention, except that he was living it. And the only way out was the portkey in his pocket.
Hugo ran over the plan one more time in his head. When Fiona was finally ready to leave, they would apparate to a muggle shopping mall where she would be able to keep Amelie fed and entertained. Hugo would then travel to London and find Rose and Octavia. Once he collected his sister and niece, they would all meet up and use the portkey to travel to France. It seemed straightforward enough, provided he could locate Rose quickly. He looked at his watch again. Two more minutes had passed.
“Fiona, I’m not kidding. Ministerial Security could show up here at any moment. We have to leave!”
“And what if zey do show up?” she shouted back. “We ‘ave done nothing wrong. Why must we go sneaking around like criminals?”
“Well when you put it like that,” Hugo replied sarcastically. “I sure wish you’d been there to explain it to the security officers who tried to kill us in the halls of the Ministry earlier today.”
Fiona poked her head out of the nursery. She looked like she couldn’t believe what she was hearing, but Hugo could also see concern in her eyes. “Hugo, are you certain that zey were trying to ‘arm you? These are tense times. Your father ‘as been declared a fugitive. Per’aps zey simply wished to talk to you.”
Ever fiber of Hugo’s being wanted to blow up at her. To let her know how ridiculous her question sounded. To hex some sense into her. But she was his wife and she was also holding his child, so he forced himself to remain calm. “Love, they nearly killed Susan. Al was covered in blood from the waist down. Her blood. They didn’t want to talk. They wanted us dead.”
She stared at him for another long moment. “So if this situation is so dangerous, explain to me again ‘ow it is safe to leave Celeste and Robert at ‘ogwarts?”
Hugo bit his lip until he could taste blood. “Love, we’ve been over this twice already. The headmaster is a school friend of Dad’s and Uncle Harry’s. He’ll keep the kids safe.”
“But I thought that zee Ministry was specifically targeting friends of your father?”
Hugo couldn’t help himself. He banged his head against the wall. Then he did it again, for emphasis. Just as he was giving his wife the worst evil eye he could muster, there was a loud knock at the front door of their cottage.
In spite of her doubts, Fiona’s eyes suddenly got wide. Hugo placed his finger against his lips and gestured for her to be silent. He slid his hand over the front of his cloak, making sure that he could still feel the snow globe in his pocket. Then he slipped carefully along the wall until he was next to the front door. He was able to peek through a small gap in the curtains and his heart jumped into his throat. Two wizards in blue robes were standing outside the door.
One of the wizards pounded on the door again. “Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, this is Ministerial Security,” a voice announced. “We have a warrant to take you into custody on suspicion of aiding and abetting known fugitives. You have thirty seconds to come out or we’re coming in.”
Hugo hurried back to Fiona, who was clutching baby Amelie, trying to make sure she stayed quiet. He wrapped his arm around them and grasped the suitcase Fiona had packed and started to turn. Nothing. They were surrounded by anti-apparition jinxes.
“‘ugo, what are we going to do?” Fiona whispered.
Hugo drew his wand and pointed it towards the door. He had to think. There had to be some way for them to get out of the house. Unfortunately, all he could think of was the portkey, which would leave Rose stranded in Britain. His thinking time abruptly ran out when a curse blew the handle off of the door.
“Zat was not thirty seconds, you sons of bitches!” Fiona shrieked beside him. Amelie started to wail. Hugo cast the most powerful shield charm he could manage and then jammed his wand into his pocket. “Portus.”
The security officers kicked in the shattered door and rushed into the room. One of them fired a stunner at them, but Hugo’s shield deflected it.
I’m sorry, sis, he thought to himself as he clutched Fiona and Amelie tighter and thrust his hand into his pocket, grasping the portkey. As the inside of the cottage spun out of existence, Hugo had never felt like such a failure.
Harry felt a nudge at his shoulder and opened his eyes. The old elf healer was inches away from his face. “Your friend is out of danger, for now. Her injuries was very extensive. She is needing much time to rest and heal.”
“Thank you,” Harry replied earnestly.
She handed him a tattered sheet of parchment. “These are the potions she is needing to be taking. She must rest completely for at least three days, and no apparition or portkeys for a week.”
Harry stared at the list. Either he or Ron was going to need to visit an apothecary.
Two more elves approached from the surgical area. Susan floated along between them on a makeshift stretcher they had conjured. She was wrapped from the neck down in perhaps the only clean linens in the entire attic.
“She is ready to travel. You must leave now,” the elf healer said bluntly.
“Yes, of course,” Harry replied, feeling panicked. He hadn’t expected the healers to finish with Susan so quickly. “Let me just retrieve my colleague and we’ll be on our way.”
Harry stood up slowly, rubbing his back. The combination of stress and sitting on the hard floor had left him stiff and sore. He hurried over to the ladder and hissed, “Ron!” He heard bumping and clicking noises at the bottom, like several locks being opened.
“Right here, mate. You want to switch?”
“No, she’s ready to leave.”
“Already? Those elves are bloody quick.” Ron scrambled back up the ladder. He winced slightly at the sight of Susan’s unconscious form on the stretcher.
“Any idea how we’re going to get her out of here?” Harry asked. “The healer said no apparition and no portkeys.”
Ron nodded. “I reckoned it would be that after what happened to you. Wait here just a minute.”
Harry watched Ron disappear back down the ladder. He could feel the elf healer’s stare boring into his back. She would be tossing them off of the top of the building soon if they didn’t leave.
Ron reappeared moments later with two sets of green healer’s robes. “I nicked them from a lounge down the hall. I found a trolley, too. It’s parked out in the hallway.”
Harry quickly processed where Ron was heading with the idea, and nodded in agreement. He turned back to the old elf healer, who was glaring at them from the surgical area. “Thank you again. She wouldn’t be alive without your help.”
Riminy’s expression softened. “You is welcome, Harry Potter. Riminy hopes that when her time comes, she has a friend like Harry Potter to bury her.”
Harry smiled at the elf and then took a set of healer’s robes from Ron. He bundled his traveling cloak up and slipped it under Susan’s head, then put the green robes on. He and Ron cast rudimentary disguise spells on each other and then they carefully levitated Susan down to the top floor of the hospital. Once she was situated on the trolley, they made their way quietly toward the lifts.
“What happens if we run into Ministerial Security?” Ron asked as they rode down to ground level.
“I think we have an edge,” Harry replied. “They’re expecting somebody to be sneaking in, not out.”
They reached the lobby and as soon as the doors opened Harry felt like hitting the button to take them back up. Guarding the entrance were four Ministerial Security officers. He and Ron walked Susan quietly out of the lift and eased her trolley to a quiet corner of the lobby.
“Do you think they’ll stop us if we just try to wheel her past?” Ron whispered.
“Probably. People don’t usually leave St. Mungo’s until they’re able to walk for themselves. And we still have to work out how to get her back to Little Hangleton.”
They both started at the sound of somebody clearing her throat near them. Harry turned to find Charlene the Welcome Witch staring at them with her arms crossed. “Are you two taking this poor woman somewhere, or are you just going to stand here and chat all day?”
“Well, we’re just waiting for somebody...” Harry began.
“You know, to meet her. Her family...” Ron fumbled.
“She’s unconscious on a trolley and her family is coming to pick her up?” the witch replied, looking amused.
“Well, not exactly,” Harry said. His mind was racing. Of all the stupid ways to get caught. “You see, we’re...”
The witch broke into a nervous smile and drew closer to them. “I know who you are,” she said quietly. “As soon as they told us who they were trying to catch, I said to myself, ‘Charlene, this is Harry Potter we’re talking about. He won’t let some bunch of tossers from the Ministry stop him from helping poor Susan.’ This is Susan, right?”
“Uh, yes,” Harry replied, stealing a nervous glance towards the Ministerial Security officers manning the exit. They still appeared to be completely focused on guarding it.
“Oh, poor dear,” Charlene said, looking sympathetically at Susan’s unconscious face. “How did you manage to get her past them to get her treated? No, wait! Don’t tell me! I don’t want to know. It’s safer if I don’t know, right? I mean, they outlawed Veritaserum years ago, but with this new Ministry, you never know, am I right? So now you need to get her out of here, I suppose?”
“Yeah, we do,” Ron answered, looking amused and anxious all at once.
“Ooh, this is so exciting! A real, live escape!” Charlene bubbled. “I can’t stand the new Minister, you know? I’m a half-blood and my dear, departed grandmother would turn pale if she heard some of the horrible things the Ministry is saying about the muggles these days. When I was a little girl, she always used to say, ‘Charlene, don’t you believe any of the horrible things that the pure bloods say about the muggles, because you have muggle blood in you and muggles put their trousers on one leg at a time just like...”
“Charlene,” Harry interjected, cutting off her reminiscing. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but we’re in a bit of a hurry. Do you know of some way that we could get past the security officers?”
“Oh, that,” she replied. “Well, they’ve closed the floo and I think they’re guarding the loading dock, as well.” She paused and tapped her painted nails against her chin. “I know! I could distract them for you. They seem really bored, actually. It shouldn’t be that hard to distract them, right?”
Harry pondered her offer. It seemed fairly unlikely to work, but if it didn’t they’d just have to fight their way out, which is what they were going to have to do anyway. He reckoned that there was no harm in letting her try. “We have one other problem. She’s not well enough to travel by apparition or portkey. Is there somewhere nearby that we could find transport?”
Charlene looked thoughtful for a second, then gave them a sly grin. “Well, I suppose I shouldn’t be telling you this, but there was this witch who got hit by a muggle lorry this morning, right? Silly old bat tried to cross the street against traffic because the the little green man on the street sign confused her when he didn’t move. So she was on her way to St. Bartholomew’s when Magical Accidents and Catastrophes intercepted the ambulance and redirected it here. I believe,” she drew the word out and combined it was a fake look of innocence that would have driven George spare with its sheer lack of polish, “that it’s still sitting outside in front of Purge and Dowse, waiting for somebody from the Ministry to come and return it to the muggles.”
Ron and Harry exchanged a glance. It was certainly complicated, but at the moment it sounded like their best option. “Alright,” Harry replied, “we’ll take it. Are you ready to try to distract them?”
“Of course, let’s not wait another minute. You need to get the poor dear out of here before there’s trouble,” Charlene gushed, giving Susan another sympathetic glance. “Ooh, but they might decide to question me! I could accidentally let something slip.” Charlene tossed her head back dramatically. “You’d better confund me first. That way I can’t give anything away, right? You know, I think I’m pretty good at this. Maybe I should get into law enforcement?”
“Um, yeah, sure,” Harry replied. “Well, why don’t you go ahead and get started. Oh, here.” He pointed his wand at her face. “Confundo.”
Charlene twitched as though somebody had physically slapped her, then smiled at Harry and walked back to her podium.
“You didn’t cast the spell, did you?” Ron asked quietly.
“Nope. I reckon she’s confused enough as it is.”
When Charlene reached the podium, she pretended to study the visitor’s list carefully. Suddenly, she erupted into a tizzy. “Excuse me! Officers? Excuse me, please! There’s something here I think you should see!”
Two of the Ministerial Security officers walked over to the podium with annoyed looks on their faces.
“These are the sign-ins from this morning,” she began, gesturing towards the hand-written list of names. “See this one here? It says Horace Terwilliger. And this one two rows down is Mathilda Effington. Now, if you re-arrange the letters in ‘Horace Terwilliger’, replacing the L’s with T’s and changing the lone descender from a ‘g’ to a ‘y’, then reorganize the letters, it spells ‘Harry Potter.’ And ‘Mathilda Effington’, if you offset each letter by one position in the alphabet and reorganize, then drop the trailing eight letters, you clearly get ‘Susan Bones.’ I think it’s plainly obvious that they’ve already snuck past you into the hospital.”
“Wait, what?” the lead officer mumbled, scratching his head.
“Watch closely, my dear,” Charlene replied, drawing a quill from the podium. “I saw this trick in the puzzles page of Witch Weekly once. It’s very clever, indeed. No wonder you’re so keen to catch these two. Do you read Witch Weekly? Or does your wife? Are you married?”
As Ron and Harry watched from the corner, a third security officer walked over to the podium to see what all the ruckus was about. Charlene was gesticulating wildly with her quill, prattling on about letter substitution. They began to calmly roll Susan’s trolley towards the exit.
“So you swap all of the F’s with G’s,” Charlene rambled, scribbling rapidly in the margin of the registry. “But you have to remember to rotate your alphabet by two letters, in accordance with the position of Ursa Major. Do you follow astrology? I would think it would be very useful in your line of work, trying to stay one step ahead of criminals and all. Right now, Orion is at its apex, which is supposed to be very lucky for anyone who’s hunting something. I would be out looking for these two if I were you.”
“Wait, hold on...” the ranking security officer replied, screwing up his face in frustration. “Now what were you saying about spelling ‘Harry Potter’ again?”
“Oh, it’s right here, dear,” Charlene answered, gesturing towards the registry. “We were just about to start rearranging the letters, but first we need to do substitution based on the Roman alphabet. Hold on while I write the key out in the top margin here...”
The fourth security officer stole a glance towards his comrades as he moved to intercept Ron and Harry. It was all the time Ron needed. Confundo. The man’s eyes went unfocused and Ron and Harry quickly rolled the trolley past him and out through the exit. Harry breathed a quick sigh of relief as they suddenly found themselves standing on the street in front of the abandoned department store. The cool autumn air felt especially good on his face. The ambulance was parked in front of the store, and he waved his wand over the back doors to unlock them. Harry and Ron slid the trolley inside and secured it in place.
“You drive,” Harry said, causing Ron to give him an incredulous look, as though he couldn’t imagine that Harry had seriously considered any other possibility.
Leaving Harry in the back with Susan, Ron walked around the side of the ambulance and opened the driver’s side door, then his jaw dropped in surprise. Sitting in the driver’s seat was a muggle dressed in a paramedic’s uniform. The woman’s eyes were glassy and her mouth was slightly open. “Harry, we have a problem.”
Harry poked his head through the window that connected the rear compartment of the vehicle to the front. Without pausing, he drew his wand and pointed it at the muggle woman. “Confundo. Get out and stand over there on the pavement.”
The woman obeyed, stepping out of the ambulance and walking uneasily around the front. Just as Ron was climbing in, a pair of Obliviators appeared in front of the hospital with a crack.
“What are you doing?” one of them asked, eyeing Ron suspiciously. “This is a muggle vehicle. We have to get it and the driver back to their proper location before they’re missed.”
“We’re just moving it over there,” Ron replied, gesturing towards the far side of the street. “The hospital wants it out of the way.”
“You are in the middle of a Level Three Secrecy Management situation,” the Obliviator scoffed. “You’re not authorized to operate this equipment. What’s your name, anyway?”
The conversation ended abruptly as Harry poked his wand past Ron’s head and stunned both of the Obliviators.
“O’Malley and Bender are good blokes,” Ron mumbled. “We’ll have to apologize later for that.”
“Drive,” Harry ordered. “Just get as far away from St. Mungo’s as you can.”
Harry felt the engine of the ambulance start and it lurched forward underneath him. He barely avoided landing on Susan and crashed to the floor. “Sorry, mate,” Ron called from the front. “Just not used to the way she handles.”
“Well figure it out!” Harry shouted, pulling himself to his knees. He looked out the back window of the ambulance just in time to see two of the Ministerial Security officers emerge from the front window of Purge and Dowse, shouting and waving their arms. One of them leveled his wand at the back of the ambulance and Harry managed to duck just before a curse blew out the rear window. He scrambled back to his knees and cast a shield charm through the empty frame just in time to block a pair of curses.
Harry was once again thrown into the side of the ambulance as Ron took a hard left turn. “Merlin, Ron, it’s not a bloody broomstick!” he shouted, pulling himself back into a crouch.
“They were firing curses at us!” Ron yelled as Harry watched the officers disappeared into the distance. “Find something to hold onto!”
“There isn’t anything!”
“I don’t know, improvise or something!”
Harry scanned the back of the ambulance. There was a metal chair attached to the wall across from the bay where Susan’s trolley was anchored. Harry seized it with one hand and blasted it loose from the wall with his wand. Then he set it on the floor in front of the back doors and attached it with a sticking charm. He had just sat down when Ron made a hard turn to the right.
“I’m heading for the motorway,” Ron yelled. “We’ll be able to go faster once we’re on there.”
“Sounds good,” Harry replied. “And there are no bloody sharp turns,” he muttered to himself. As Ron drove, Harry checked the restraints holding Susan in place. The trolley was secured to the floor of the ambulance and she had three safety straps across her body. He checked her pulse and felt her face and neck. Already, she was starting to look a little better. Now they just needed to get her into hiding so she could recover.
Harry kept a careful watch out the window as Ron raced through the back streets of London. It took longer to reach the motorway, but it mostly kept them out of sight. Finally, Harry felt the ambulance accelerate again. He saw that they were merging onto the motorway and breathed a sign of relief. “How long will it take us to get there?” he asked.
“Should be about three and a half hours on the motorway,” Ron called back. “Then another half an hour to get to Little Hangleton.”
Harry settled back into his chair. He hoped that the difficult part of their journey was over. That hope was dashed when a loud bang caused the ambulance to jolt violently. “Harry! We have company!”
Harry looked out the rear window, scanning the road behind them. He couldn’t see their attackers anywhere. Come on Potter, you’re going blind. Where are they?
Another curse struck the rear bumper, spraying the back of the ambulance with a shower of red-hot sparks. Harry shielded his face with his hand, and it suddenly dawned on him where the attack was coming from. He crouched down so that he could look up through the broken window and spotted three wizards on brooms closing in on them from above. He managed to cast a shield charm just in time to block a curse that probably would have torn a hole in the top of the vehicle.
“Ron, they’re on brooms!” he shouted over his shoulder. “What are those idiots doing? They’ll be seen by hundred of muggles. Thousands!”
“I think they’ve already proven that they don’t care about that,” Ron yelled back. “Hang on tight. I’m going to make us a tougher target.”
Harry felt the ambulance swerve back and forth as Ron accelerated and began to weave through the surrounding traffic. He blocked three more curses while others blasted holes in the road on either side of them. The muggles sharing the road with them had begun to notice that something was happening, and several pulled off to the side of the road. “How’s traffic?” Harry yelled.
“Not bad for a Friday evening,” Ron replied. “If we weren’t being attacked, it would be a pleasant drive.”
Harry fired a curse at one of their pursuers, forcing the man to pull up on his broom. “If they get over top of us, I can’t see them,” Harry shouted. “We’re sitting ducks.” He parried two more curses aimed for the back of the ambulance, but one streaked over the top of his shield charm. It grazed the front of the hood and then struck the road in front of them. Ron yelped as pebbles of shattered asphalt struck the windshield.
“We need to slow them down,” Ron called back. “Hey, I have an idea!” Ahead of the ambulance, high tension electric wires hung above the motorway. As Harry fired more curses towards their attackers, Ron leaned out the window and cast an invisibility charm on the wires. Harry increased the intensity of his barrage, trying to distract their opponents. Two of the wizards pulled up to avoid Ron’s trap, but the third never saw it coming. One of the electric lines clotheslined the man and he fell to the asphalt with a thud as his broom shot off into the air.
“One down,” Harry yelled. The two remaining pursuers maintained a higher altitude and split out to the sides of the roadway, spreading Harry’s defense. Forcing them higher did help, inasmuch as the extra distance weakened the curses that made it past Harry’s shield charms. They left scorch marks on the ambulance instead of blowing holes in the sides. It occurred to Harry that he needed a better vantage point to fight back.
He stole a moment to peek through the front window and spotted an overpass ahead. “Ron, slow down when we pass underneath it,” he called out. He launched a furious volley of curses at their attackers, driving them higher into the sky. As soon as they drove underneath the overpass, Ron hit the brakes and pulled into the breakdown lane. Harry conjured a stream of white-hot sparks from his wand and used it to cut a hole in the top of the ambulance. He caught the circular piece of the roof and set it aside, then applied a cooling charm to the smoldering edges of the hole. Taking his wand between his teeth, Harry pulled himself up through the hole and on top of the ambulance. “Alright, hit it!” he yelled down to Ron. He felt the ambulance lurch forward again as Ron stepped on the accelerator.
Looking up, he saw that the two wizards on brooms had shot past them. Both had started to veer inwards, circling back to resume their attack when the ambulance emerged from the cover of the overpass. Harry took full advantage of the element of surprise, firing a volley of hexes at the wizard looping around from the right. He managed to block the first two, but the next caught his squarely in the chest, knocking him off of his broom. As Harry turned his attention to the second attacker, he heard Ron shout “Arresto Momentum!” from the driver’s seat.
“You big softie!” Harry yelled, feeling amused in spite of the danger.
“I’m sure he’s not a bad guy when he’s off duty,” Ron shouted back defensively.
With only one pursuer remaining, and a full field of vision, Harry had little trouble protecting the ambulance from further damage. The remaining security officer was plainly aware of his situation, so he simply chose to fall back and follow them from a distance, throwing an occasional curse in their direction just to try to keep them on their guard.
“We have to shake him somehow,” Ron yelled. “We can’t lead him all the way back with us.”
“He’s too far away,” Harry replied in frustration. “Even if I could hit him, the curse probably wouldn’t be strong enough to knock him off of his broom. Maybe I could apparate behind him.”
“Are you crazy?” Ron shouted. “No! No bloody way! We’ll pull over to the side and wait him out if we have to.”
“If we do that, we’ll have the whole Ministry coming down on our heads in minutes,” Harry shot back. “I can do this. Just apparate above him, blast him, then apparate back here before I hit the ground.” It was possible in theory, but even Harry had to admit that the idea was incredibly dangerous. Apparating to a point in mid-air based on visual sighting flew in the face of the First D: Destination.
“Harry, so help me, I’ll kill you,” Ron yelled frantically. “You are not gonna die today trying to pull off some stupid stunt!”
“Well we can’t just keep driving, Ron!” Harry shouted back. “How much petrol does this thing have left, anyway?”
Ron didn’t respond. Harry was pretty sure that he was getting the silent treatment. He stared out at the wizard pursuing them on the broom, trying to gauge the height and distance. Suddenly, he noticed two more black specks approaching in the distance. “Ron, I think there are two more coming!” he yelled. Straining his eyes, Harry tried to make out the approaching shapes. They were definitely moving faster than the lone remaining pursuer, gaining ground at a rapid pace. He steeled himself and prepared to duel the new arrivals. A jet of red light erupted from one of the rapidly growing pair of dark shapes, but to Harry’s surprise, it flew past the last security officer, narrowly missing him.
“Ron, slow down,” Harry shouted. “Whoever they are, I think they’re attacking the bloke from Ministerial Security.”
Ron eased up on the throttle and moved into the slow lane. Harry watched as the two new arrivals split up and soared higher, enclosing the remaining attacker in a triangle with Harry at the point. The security officer tried to evade them by diving, but they dipped behind him to maintain the trap. Harry carefully zeroed in on the security officer with his wand, waiting for an opportunity. The wizard provided it moments later when he tried to veer to the left, exposing his side to Harry. Stupefy! The jet of red light from Harry’s wand struck the officer in the hip, knocking him off of his broom. Arresto Momentum. Harry guided the stunned wizard’s body away from the motorway and brought him to rest in the tall grass alongside the road.
Harry lowered himself back into the ambulance. “We’re clear,” he said to Ron. “Pull off at the next exit. Let’s see who we have to thank.”
Ron turned off of the motorway after another few minutes of driving and made his way into the car park of a boarded-up muggle petrol station. Harry opened the back doors of the ambulance and stepped out, gripping his wand tightly in case the day had more surprises in store for them. He raised his arm skyward and began casting a perimeter of protective enchantments around the ambulance. Within a few moments, it had disappeared from the view of the outside world.
In the dim light of the evening, Harry could just make out the mysterious pair of broom-mounted wizards as they circled overhead and descended. He lost sight of them as they passed over a street lamp, but not before he noticed that one of them appeared to be rather shaky on the broom. Ron stepped up beside him, holding his wand out in front of him. Seconds later, their unexpected allies alighted on the ground in front of them.
“Justin, Neville!” Harry shouted, pocketing his wand and rushing forward to greet them. Justin seemed as nonplussed as ever, but Neville was still clenching his broomstick with white knuckles, looking like he couldn’t decide whether to kiss the ground or hyperventilate. As Ron slapped him on the back, he suddenly tossed the broom away as though he had just realized that he was holding a live snake.
“You’re all crazy, you hear me?” he gasped, rubbing his hands together and blowing on them. “Stark raving mad! Who in their right mind climbs onto one of those bloody things for fun? I have spent the last half hour staring death in the face.” He noticed the amused looks that surrounded him. “It’s not bloody funny!”
“There, there, Neville,” Ron chuckled. “You were brilliant up there, but we’ll wait ‘til next year to sign you up for the Quidditch Masters League.”
“How is she?” Justin asked, peering into the back of the ambulance.
“Bloody hell, Susan!” Harry replied with a start, pocketing his wand. “I haven’t checked on her since we left London.”
Harry climbed back into the ambulance and knelt by Susan’s side. Aside from her hair being a little tousled, she looked none the worse for wear. He slipped his fingers against her neck and checked her pulse, then smoothed her hair. She took a sudden, sharp breath and her eyes opened just a sliver. She turned her head slowly until her gaze fell on him. “Harry?” she asked, her voice barely a whisper.
“Yes, Susan. I’m here,” Harry replied quietly. Around the back of the ambulance, Ron, Justin and Neville crowded closer to try to hear her voice.
“I had the strangest dream,” she whispered, sounding very distant. “I was at work, and suddenly everyone was fighting, and Al and Hugo were there and...” Terror suddenly spread across her face as the memories came back to her. “No!” she moaned, trying to sit up. She groaned in pain from her injured side and Harry quickly eased her back down.
“Susan, it’s alright,” he said soothingly. “Everything is alright. You got them out. You saved them.”
Susan stopped struggling to move, looking relieved. But an instant later, she started to cry. “Oh, Harry,” she moaned softly. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have let them fight. I should have found another way.”
“Susan, don’t be ridiculous,” Ron replied. His words were genuine if a bit insensitive. “I’m sure you did everything you could. Hugo told us that they would have been captured or killed if you hadn’t been there.”
Susan seemed surprised to hear Ron’s voice, but the tears continued to well in her eyes. “Hugo’s just a kid,” she whispered. “Doesn’t know any better. I put them both in terrible danger. I’m so sorry.”
Harry smiled sadly at his friend, and brushed the tears from her face with his thumbs. “Look, Susan. I know I’m the last person in the world who should be giving people advice on when to feel guilty, but you should not feel guilty. You did your job today and because of that everybody made it out alive. I’m proud of you, and I can never thank you enough for saving them.”
“That goes double for me,” Ron added. “We owe you a big one.”
Through her tears, a small smile crept across Susan’s lips. “So no more overnight surveillance shifts?”
“When we’re all back at work, I promise, nothing but desk work until the day you retire,” Harry teased.
“If I wasn’t strapped down, I would hit you,” she retorted, the grin on her lips growing slightly larger.
“Um, speaking of work,” Justin chirped in, “I guess Susan and I more or less put our Auror careers on hold today.”
“Wait,” Susan interjected, struggling to move her head and focus her eyes. “How many of you gits are there?”
“Just Ron, Justin and myself, plus the flying ace over here,” Harry replied, gesturing towards Neville.
“Not bloody funny,” Neville mumbled, still wringing his hands together. “Not funny at all.”
Ron turned back to Justin. “What are you going to do?”
“Well, first I have to get my family into hiding,” Justin replied. “After what happened today, I don’t think that I can take their safety for granted.” He saw the pained look on Harry’s face and quickly added, “Don’t worry, boss. I got pretty good at this during the war. They can just blend in with my muggle relatives for a while. Everything will be fine. But once they’re safe, I think we need to start fighting back. This has gone too far.”
“We have to do something” Neville agreed. He seemed to have finally calmed down from his airborne adventure. “Harry, this can’t go on. The bloody Minister is tearing our world apart. Somebody has to put a stop to it.”
Harry noticed that the attention of the group was uncomfortably focused on him. “Guys, I can’t exactly stand for office right now. I’m wanted for murder.”
“That’s an excuse.” Susan’s voice was soft and raspy, but there was a hard edge to it.
“Excuse me?” Harry replied incredulously. “Since when is being on the lam not a perfectly good reason to stay out of politics?”
“You’re innocent and everyone knows it,” Susan answered sternly. “But the longer you continue to sneak around, avoiding your responsibilities, the more people are going to start to doubt that. And people don’t need to doubt right now, Harry. They need to believe.”
Harry felt himself getting angry. Who was Susan to judge his actions? She hadn’t lost most of the people she ever cared about. She had never been forced to watch other people die in her place. She didn’t understand the burden that came with allowing other people to believe that you were something more than you really were. “What exactly are these ‘responsibilities’ I’m avoiding?” He managed to keep the question halfway civil.
To his surprise, it was Neville who answered him. “The same one you’re always trying to avoid, Harry. People want you to take charge. They want to follow you. We want to follow you.”
Harry stared at his friends for a long moment. “I don’t think I should be leading anyone anywhere. The last time I tried to lead an army, too many people wound up dead.”
“People die, Harry,” Susan replied softly. “With your help, at least they have a fighting chance to live.”
There was a long silence. Ron finally said, “It’s getting late and we still have another couple of hours to drive so we can get Susan to safety. No offense to you two gallant fellows, but it’s probably safer for all involved if you don’t know where that is.”
Justin and Neville nodded in agreement. “Would the broom be any use to you lot?” Neville asked. “There’s no bloody way that I’m flying back to Hogwarts.”
“Can’t hurt,” Harry shrugged. He hopped out of the ambulance while Ron summoned the broomstick from where Neville had discarded it. “Justin, take care, mate. We’ll be in touch soon.” The two men shook hands.
“Think about it, Harry,” Justin said quietly. “You can fix this. People will listen to you.” He bid his farewell to Ron, mounted his broom and kicked off into the sky.
“Take care of the kids, Neville,” Harry said, smiling fondly at his old housemate. “If there’s any sort of trouble at the castle, send us a patronus.”
“Most of the trouble at the castle is caused by your grandchildren,” Neville replied with a grin. “But I’ll be sure to let you know if anything strange happens.” He shook hands with Harry and Ron and then turned and disapparated.
“What do you think, Ms. Bones?” Harry asked, climbing into the back of the ambulance and closing the doors behind him. “Shall we get you to your all expense paid holiday resort?”
“Are there strapping, young pool boys to look at?” she asked with a weak grin. “I forgot to bring a book.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Ron replied, climbing back into the driver’s seat. “Hermione has plenty.”
He put the ambulance into gear and they resumed their trip to Little Hangleton. The drone of the tires and the engine soon put Susan back to sleep. Once he was convinced that nobody else was following them, Harry unstuck the chair from the back of the ambulance and moved it closer to the window joining the rear compartment to the front.
“You were really gonna do it, weren’t you, mate?” Ron asked quietly without taking his eyes off of the road.
Harry didn’t answer. He honestly didn’t know what to say.
So this concludes my three chapter "Susan Arc", focusing on the lady who has become my favorite supporting character in the story. You will see Susan again before the story ends, but not for a while.
As always, huge thanks to my amazing beta reader, sophie_hatter. I also wanted to thank everyone who voted for Conspiracy of Blood in the February 2012 Gryffindor Story of the Month competition.
If you enjoyed this chapter, please leave a review below and let me know. Your feedback helps to keep the creative juices flowing.