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Chapter 23: Another One Down
23. ANOTHER ONE DOWN
Dead bodies were a bit of a mood killer.
Hovering a hand above Scorpius' mouth, Fred found no breath. He pressed a hand to his neck. No pulse.
A gasp. Fred turned to see Bea shaking her head—shaking all over—blood drained from her face. She had been the first one down the ladder.
"Al." Fred turned to the boy climbing down. "Get back to the school. Tell Flitwick we found him."
"Aye, aye!" Oblivious, Albus saluted and darted out.
"Be careful!" Then his lips shut tightly. He couldn't do this. "Bea..."
"No, no, he can't be." She shied away, as if his outstretched hand held the terrible truth.
"When the healers—"
"Do what? He's dead, isn't he?" Her voice broke at the terrible word.
"He's not..." His other hand lay over the torn lapel where Scorpius' heart was supposed to beat, so still and cold and far from flesh. "He's not dead."
"Freddie, tell me the truth. Please."
Fred scarcely believed it himself. He had never seen a dead body, being too young to remember his great-uncle's funeral. The boy under his hand toted dreams bigger than him and all of that was just... gone?
The shape of his answer formed on his lips but seeing the ghostly girl before him, crumbling in pieces of plastered hope, he could only shake his head.
A single sob cracked the silence.
Fred gathered Bea up before her knees buckled. "It'll be all right," he heard himself say, holding her tight as if pressing the thought in. His grieving would have to wait; they weren't out of danger yet. But he could spare a moment to close his eyes and let a few tears fall, owing to Anjali, who was standing guard over the ground floor for them.
Something jabbed his elbow. Fred brushed Bea's matted curls from his arm where it spilled over in a thick curtain until his knuckles struck something metal. Feeling along the surface, he pinched the end of a wire and glanced down.
"Bea, is that... your invention?"
"It was behind the counter." She spoke in small chokes, fist clutched blindly on his sleeve. "I can't believe I-I thought he ran off with it, Freddie. Before you told me Scorpius was Imperiused and taken—I thought he stole it and didn't even think that maybe he was getting it back."
"Hey now, it's not your fault." Fred squeezed her shoulder, trying to get Bea to look up, but instead her gaze strayed to the crumpled boy.
"It is. I made this. If I didn't..." She wiped her eyes and brought her charred prototype in between them. "I can't believe I thought..."
"Hey—hey, don't do this to yourself."
Bea lifted Fred's hand away and knelt beside Scorpius, carefully tucking her skirts underneath her. Her darkening hair shone silvery-bronze under the sparse light as her disguise faded, but her face bore new wrinkles, weary and mournful.
Fred left her alone and climbed the ladder to the main floor, where Anjali was disarming the two fallen men, first Emeric's wand and then Cato's. She placed both on the counter. The crunch of glass under his foot drew her attention. Her lashes glistened, but there was no sign of crying.
"He can't be dead," she said, as Fred stepped around the shattered vials.
"It doesn't make sense. Draco's men aren't killers. And if they wanted to ransom him, they wouldn't..." Anjali faltered, lips pursed without finishing the sentence.
She was like him—holding in the shock—but she was too practiced and all Fred wanted was a little sign of lament. After all, hadn't Anjali been closer to Scorpius than any of the rest of them?
Questions resurging, one finally snaked between his teeth. "How did you know where to go after they announced he was missing?"
She turned sharply.
"Bea and I started looking for Scorpius as soon as they made the announcement. You couldn't have beat us here unless you knew where you were going." The image of that ashen skin and Bea's expression was boiling his calm. "You knew exactly where he was. You know the men who took him."
Fred slid his elbow down the counter, closer to her, but she looked away almost immediately. "I know how it seems, but I don't have a part in this," she said. No bite. No taunt.
"I feel like I have enough part in this by not finding him an hour earlier. Bea's bawling her eyes out thinking this is her fault, and god knows how Albus is going to react when he comes back. He's dead, Anjali. Have the decency to look guilty."
When she didn't speak, Fred shook his head and left to the other end of the room to inspect Cato, thinking of anything but death.
The corner stank of alcohol and medicine. Cato remained frightfully intimidating whilst unconscious. Disarming him meant little; his bare hands could probably break Fred's neck, and his grimace warned of vengeance once he woke up. He and Emeric were the types that no one would ever hope to meet—the real-life bogeymen that whisked away children and killed sons for gold.
But looking into the man's scar-stitched visage, Fred felt no fear, just a bitter sting. Indeed, what if he had arrived sooner?
Anjali had yet to move from her spot when Fred glanced over his shoulder. Ready to scoff, he spied her fingers at the hem of her robes, twisting a loose thread around and around. She wasn't one for restless habits.
She yanked out the thread and then spoke quickly. "I told Draco about the invention. Cato and Emeric were getting it. I knew they were coming through the Room of Requirement." A deep breath. "It was supposed to be an in-and-out job. Scorpius doesn't even know. He shouldn't be here."
"You—the entire time—" He should have been angry, like how he should have been afraid, but regret took its place again; like rust, it grew. It was in Anjali's eyes, too. "I thought his father wasn't interested in Bea's invention."
"Not in a Muggle-magic converter, but an anti-magic field strong enough to take down part of a castle?"
Dear god, they wanted a weapon. "So Scorpius really was trying to stop them," Fred murmured.
"Was he?" Anjali chuckled softly, gaze on the floor, already in remembrance. "He would. Of course he would. He loves her."
But the question choked as Cato's hand shot out and seized Fred's foot.
Time slowed to heartbeats. There were shouts to his right and bouncing off the walls as his back slammed onto the floor. Cato dragged himself from the rubble holding Fred by the neck, his other hand in a fist aimed squarely for his nose, and Fred tried to jerk away only to choke on his collar. He squeezed his eyes shut for impact.
Anjali's stun knocked Cato off-balance, freeing Fred. He gasped for breath.
There was a cry. Emeric had leapt up and yanked Anjali by her hair. He grabbed the two wands on the counter and threw one to Cato before she could intercept.
They had been lying in wait.
Staggering to his feet, Fred pushed Cato back with a shield spell, and he heard Emeric growl, "Get her!" pointing to the cellar opening, where Bea had emerged.
He would not lose another today. Fred flung himself in front of Cato. "Go!"
As spells arced overhead, Bea broke out in run through the mist of potion and glass and raced outside behind Fred's second shield spell. Anjali wrest herself from Emeric and turned on the spot, vanishing feet-first into a ribbon of black hair, and then that too disappeared with a pop.
The last one left, Fred stumbled down the entrance steps, pushed back by a fizzled hex. He just needed one—good—counter and then he could turn back and make a getaway.
A jinx nicked his hand and his fingers turned slippery, sending his wand flying forward. Cato snapped it in midair.
"Youse one of them Weasleys, huh? One of youse owe me a finger." And then Fred noticed that Cato's pinky gleamed gold and that his grin was even more terrifying. "Let's settle it eye for an eye."
Or he just needed to run.
Fred sprinted down the street the way only a dead man could and Cato's ground-shaking stomps followed fast. He didn't believe in any real chance of escaping, but his legs couldn't know what he knew in his mind. He was going to die, stunned on the street or cornered behind one of the buildings blurring past. His life was going to flash before his eyes and he would see, too late, the things he held most dear.
In defiance, his mind presented the most banal thoughts. Mr. Welly. The dinner menu. Did he have clean socks left?
But then he saw Mum, Dad, and Roxanne's pout. Dad's twin stood next to him—Fred the first, who had the luck of alliteration. He had given his life to the war, for his friends. Holding on to that thought, Fred ran all the way to Borgins and Burkes and into the alleyway where he and Bea had come from. The side door was already open and he skidded in, but Cato caught up at last and shoved him against a shipping container.
Heaving a mouth of blood and spit, Cato bore his sizzling wand toward Fred's eye. Every muscle heaved to escape but Cato's single arm was stronger than his body combined. He couldn't die—not now, when he could see the exit behind him.
Where there's no winning, there's always cheating. With all his might, Fred jerked his shoulder down. His sleeves tore—damn, it was new, too—and Fred wrest his arms free, leaving Cato holding his jacket. Fred leapt atop a crate and, with the boxes and trunks as stepping stones, bolted down the final stretch.
Cato's hex raced him. Fred launched himself off the last trunk and into the vanishing cabinet, flattening himself against the back panel. The hex burst yellow as it struck the closed doors and the light inside changed and his lungs seemed to collapse—oh gods, this thing was going to blow him into a void.
The space stretched his skin, pulling him to another elsewhere. With one final gasp of magic, the cabinet hurled Fred out in a shower of splinters and he tumbled across a black floor.
Hearing Albus, he nearly cried from relief. It was followed by a stampede of footsteps—people rushing into the room, from professors and prefects and curious eyes wedged in between. They were led by the galloping boy, who now came to Fred's aid.
Wincing from his splintered hand, Fred steadied himself on Albus' shoulder and looked through the worried crowd his cousin brought. Amongst them, he saw Flitwick, Professor Longbottom, Teddy, and Rose.
They dispersed, some to inspect the cabinet, while others corralled students outside, but there was one person missing. Fred searched the faces a second time—then a third and a fourth, until they muddled together dizzily.
Teddy caught him as he stumbled forward. "You all right? What happened?"
Coughing, he tried to hold back this bloody headache throbbing away at his temples. She had to be here. She was ahead of him. Heart spiraling downwards, he pushed himself to think—he had seen her running, hadn't he?
"Where's Bea?" he rasped.
The floorboard's loose nail dug into her ribs as Bea strained against the charm. The threads were weakening; she could almost move her arm.
When the full-body bind had snaked around her outside of Borgins and Burkes, she had fallen like a plank and thought it was all over. Emeric had taken the prototype and brought her back to the apothecary. Then Cato had come back—Fred had escaped, thank Merlin—but there was still the matter of her, their new prisoner.
Now locked in the darkness of the cellar, she could only hope that Aurors would arrive before the men finished whatever they had planned.
The ceiling rattled as they moved from one room to another. "Have you got... good. Watch the clock. Let it set for six minutes. No less or we'll end up a mile over the Atlantic."
The square outline of light around the hatch, cracked open two fingers' width around the faulty lock, was just wide enough for her to discern their words. They were making a portkey.
Her dad had told her that if she were kidnapped—and she remembered groaning, 'Dad, who would want to kidnap me, except Grandma?' but he stressed just in case—that it was better to risk yelling for help while she could, regardless of threats, than to be whisked away to some unknown location that Merlin's left nostril couldn't sniff out. There was the possibility of help in the former. Not so much in the latter. But in her case, it was lose-lose; unregistered portkey use was completely untraceable and yelling in Knockturn Alley would probably only bring co-conspirators.
The men hadn't hurt her—yet. She shuddered. Their first victim was still lying a few feet away. She hadn't looked at Scorpius since Emeric had thrown her down here; she had been too scared to cry, and there was no point in finding reasons to start.
While Bea kept working at wriggling her fingers, there was a pop from above and then a shout, followed by a flurry of spellwork. Emeric yelled for Cato, and then Bea heard a woman's voice and fought against the binds more than ever. Please let it be someone coming to save her.
Glass fell through the opening and she shielded her face, having freed her left arm. The spells slowed, culminating in the ding of a metal bucket. Then cease fire.
Emeric spoke first, addressing the newcomer. "Alone? Daring."
"You know better than to patronize me."
Bea gasped, and then coughed a fit of dust. Was that Anjali?
"I also thought Draco would have the sense to hire cronies smart enough not to kidnap his son."
It was her. Why did Anjali come back? Gripping a ladder rung, Bea pulled herself up to a sitting position; though her muscles protested, they had fully shaken off the charm.
"Ah... but how much does an heir go for these days?"
"Do you honestly think you can ransom him? You've worked for him for, what, nearly a decade now? You know Draco Malfoy doesn't negotiate. He'll have you hunted down." The ceiling creaked as Anjali paced about. She was getting closer to Bea, but another set of footsteps cut in front of her path and the light around the hatch disappeared. Someone was standing in front of it.
"Haven't you heard? He's dead."
"Yes, well, some do say that the power of belief—"
"He's not. I don't know what you did, but you wouldn't need him if he were dead."
Bea's heart pounded in her palm. Anjali sounded so sure and as much as Bea disliked her, Anjali was actually correct most of the time, even if she had nasty ways of showing it. As the murmurs continued overhead, Bea looked toward Scorpius' pallet. He lay exactly as she had left him, arms by his side and shirt smoothed down. Maybe the body was polyjuiced or it was a shapeshifter or—
She sniffled. Or face it, he was dead.
But one last stubborn holdout asked again: Or... what if...?
There were times when she acted on the pretense that there was nothing to lose, when in fact, there were many things to be lost but they merely belonged to other people. Time, patience, biscuits—the trinity. But this was a rare moment where there was truly nothing to lose. Scorpius was dead and she was likely to follow, and if anything could change that, now was the time to figure out what it was.
Bea saw the potions rack in the shadows behind Scorpius for the first time. A second later, she was on her feet, rubbing the tears from her cheeks.
Of course! They were in an apothecary!
Gingerly, she stepped over Scorpius' body, holding her breath. He might not have been dead, but he still looked very dead, and that churned her stomach enough. "I can pay the ransom," Bea heard Anjali say. She didn't know that Bea was there too, nor that she was scanning the potions rack desperately, hoping that her theory was right.
She had learned about the Draught of Living Death last year. The effects mimicked death exactly. The antidote was something with salamander's blood and honeywater. Wolfsbane, too. It would be green from the blood. What was the name for it? Wiggenweld?
Emeric's laugh rumbled through the floorboards. "Pay? Your family's in the hole. Don't think I don't know that." His sigh feigned pity, and she never thought there'd be someone whose tone was more grating than Ringleward's. "Ah, but I do appreciate your deal with Draco. Without you, we wouldn't be here."
Bea held her breath again. They were talking about her prototype, and Anjali was involved. Bea had been right about her, how dare she belittle her when she had been right —
Shaking her head, Bea picked up another potion. No, forget about it. Keep looking.
"I'll offer something even better than the boy," Emeric continued. "How about you cover our future business in Moscow when we start selling this and we'll cut you a share? We'll be needing papers, a few good men."
Anjali's response was surprisingly heartwarming: "Fuck off." A warning spell whistled through the air. "Now give him to me."
"Tut, tut. I don't believe you're in a place to bargain, birdie. You're stalling until help comes. I can see that."
"You're stalling, too."
Six minutes until the portkey was done. How many had passed? Bea ran her fingers through the next row of vials, turning their names forward. Memory potion. Invigoration boost. All-purpose anti-venom.
"On the contrary, we'll be leaving now. It was lovely to catch up with you, Miss Davies. Sorry we can't stay longer."
"Cato, get them."
Hands shaking, Bea dropped the Hair-Growth tonic as she put it back. It fizzled red on the floor. The pounding steps neared and the hatch creaked open, filling the cellar with blinding light. Then at the corner of her eye, she saw green—and a 'W'.
Thinking was for two seconds ago; she pulled the vial from the slot and skid to her knees, uncorking and emptying the contents into Scorpius' mouth in the same motion. It dribbled down his chin as she moved his throat up and down. "C'mon, swallow—no!"
Cato hauled her up by the ankles and dragged her over his shoulder as she clawed for the ground. His other hand had Scorpius by the collar. She beat her fists against his back, as fruitless as striking a cliff face.
Emerging from the cellar, she heard Anjali say, "Bea?" She was the slender figure not too far from the door holding her wand extended. "Let her go."
"Sorry, negotiation's over."
"She's not involved!"
"But she's the one who made this, isn't she?" Emeric raised her invention in his hand. "The boy mentioned a Bea. How lucky we found her. We'll be needing her to fix it up."
Bea let out a cry and reached for it, but he hid it away, leaving only a sneer.
"You're sick," Anjali spat, inching closer. "And loons if you think you can get away with this. You better hope that the Aurors get you first. Draco'll have your head."
Her heart pounded with rising panic. Just a little more time, and the Aurors would come and Scorpius would wake up. Wake up, please. A candlestick on the counter glowed blue. "Anjali—portkey!"
Noticing, Anjali switched targets. "Confringo!"
But Cato was quicker to the draw and put up a silent shield, and the blasting charm rebounded. Emeric's grin glittered as he grabbed the candlestick, all too prepared for this moment.
"My dear, I've tried to tell you three times. Draco is dead."
A dozen Aurors poured into the room, apparating in and breaking through the doors, as Anjali stared at the man in horror. Scorpius' eyes snapped open, and before Bea had time to gasp, the portkey pulled them through.
A/N This was probably the most difficult chapter to write almost ever. The whole world's probably heard my loud whinging over angst and all action and dead people why did i make this plot decision. There's a Schrodinger's cat joke in there.
Funny story, I actually grossly sobbed into my shower in order to write the beginning because I had no idea how to write the dialogue, so I... pretended to cry and then wrote that down. I clearly have no experience in hysterical grieving, finding dead bodies, being a kidnapper or being kidnapped. Please do not use me as an example.
Scorpius isn't dead! Draco might be?! Where have they gone? Why am I yelling at you? There's only 4 chapters to go! ♥ do leave a review!