Chapter 11 : Chapter 11: Aftermath
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Hermione threw her hands to her face in horror, but Harry felt a flood of relief. Voldemort's axe had finally fallen after far too many quiet months, and it was the Ministry, not the Order, that was under attack. He needed no time to collect himself, dashing off immediately to assist Madam Pomfrey.
"Potter, thank goodness. Take those blankets over there and give one to everyone. Even if they don't want one; tell them you know it's warm but they're in shock. Cover them up yourself if they can't. Then get water and give it to everyone with a pink ribbon, and only the pink! Any other color means they need attention before they get any food or water. If they don't have a ribbon, they go over by the front door for triage. Got it?" Harry gave a single sharp nod and the two of them parted ways without another word.
Handing out blankets proved to be a more challenging job than he expected. Some people wouldn't answer him, while others delayed him as they tearfully recounted their personal experiences in the attack. Harry eventually assembled the outline of what happened: every entrance to the Ministry had suddenly been mobbed by Inferi, who created chaos while a band of Death Eaters stormed through the building, casting deadly and destructive spells at any target they could find. There were injured people from every floor except Level 10, where the courtroom was situated; Harry guessed that either the Wizengamot had not been in session when the attack fell, or it had been completely wiped out.
Voldemort had outdone himself with cruelty, using the cadavers of former Ministry employees as his stock of Inferi. Their animated corpses had to be literally cut down to stop them. Everyone understood, intellectually, that these were just the empty remains of the people they had known, but to their hearts, it didn't matter.
St. Mungo's was overrun with wounded, so any who could Apparate were being sent to Hogsmeade. Unfortunately, being of sound enough mind to Apparate didn't necessarily mean that their injuries weren't severe, and Madam Pomfrey was the only healer. When Harry finished distributing blankets and water, he regarded her anxiously, wanting to help but without an inkling of what to do.
"What can I do next?" he said, sprinting beside her between patients.
"Run up to the hospital wing and bring down everything you can carry." She barked her request without looking at him, focusing on the next injury. Harry made four trips to the third floor, until every potion, pillow, bandage, and bedpan he could find were in the entrance hall. He noticed Hermione again for the first time, organizing the supplies onto different steps of the marble staircase. "That's everything," he told her, and he swept up the pile of blankets for delivery to the latest arrivals.
The influx of injured people had already peaked by that point, and was slowing to a trickle. Harry made another round with pitchers of water, then one more sweep of blankets, before he began to sense, for the first time, that things were becoming manageable. Madam Pomfrey had stopped running between patients and was now ministering to people that, as far as Harry could tell, had milder injuries. Harry glanced for the first time at the watch of the nearest patient and discovered to his surprise that he'd been tending the wounded for four hours. He leaned against the balustrade for a brief rest, when he suddenly recalled that Lupin had told him to help Hagrid. There could be a huge queue of injured people sitting in Hogsmeade right now, waiting for transport to the castle!
With a quick word of his intentions to Hermione, Harry charged out of the castle and was well down the road to Hogsmeade before he realized with a start that he had no idea where the wounded people had been Disapparating. Fortunately, Hagrid was leading a carriage toward him from around a bend. "Hagrid! Do you need help?" he called, waving down the coach.
"Harry!" Hagrid's worn face cheered up immediately. "Nah, we're good. Could'a used yeh about two hours ago, but nobody new in the las' twenty minutes. Think they've finally got everyone outta the Ministry. You okay, Harry?"
"What? Yeah, I'm fine."
"Look a bit pale. You had summat ter eat?"
Harry hadn't realized he was hungry until that moment, when four hours of missed lunch all reared their stomachs at once. "Not lately, no."
Hagrid scooped Harry onto the carriage with one enormous hand. "Not good, Harry. Firs' rule of rescuin': don' endanger yerself. Las' thing anyone needs is teh have ter rescue you. Here," he said, tossing Harry a sack from the floor of the carriage. Harry peeked warily in the sack, then reached into it with relief; it was full of pears.
"What do you know about the attack?" Harry asked before taking a huge bite.
"It was bad, Harry. Firs' place they went was Law Enforcement. Lotta Aurors in St. Mungo's."
Harry dropped the pear. "Tonks?" he said, horrified.
"No, no!" said Hagrid, quickly. "Thank goodness, no. Most'a the Order were out with the giants at the time. Lupin's in a righ' state, you know, if he hadn' put the plan together so quick, they'd all be in the office. Bit of a close call, left him feelin' like someone stepped over his grave, yeh know." Hagrid pulled the carriage through the front gate onto the Hogwarts grounds.
"Where is Remus?" Harry asked.
"He's still at the Ministry," said Hagrid.
"Stop the coach here," said Harry abruptly, leaping off before it came to a halt. "I'm going to London." He reached for another pear, but Hagrid handed him the whole sack.
"Take him some food, then, an' be careful, Harry."
Harry had to pause a moment with an incredulous look. "You're not going to tell me not to go?" he said with a wry grin.
"Yer a man, now, Harry; can't order yeh aroun'. Besides, yeh'd do it anyway. Go help Lupin, he needs yeh."
Harry felt a flush of pride warm his body and regarded his friend warmly for a moment. Hagrid cracked the reins and the coach pulled forward before Harry could spot the tears brimming in his eyes.
Once outside the Hogwarts gates, Harry quickly Apparated straight to the Atrium of the Ministry of Magic. Having only encountered Inferi once before, under Dumbledore's protection and in near-total darkness, Harry was unprepared for the gruesome scene left by their invasion of the Atrium. The room was strewn with limbs, torsos, heads, all a pale greenish gray. There was no blood, he noted thankfully, which made it seem less real, more like an explosion in a mannequin factory, save for the occasional twitch from the larger, more complete pieces.
Harry peered around hopefully for a ruddy complexion, but there was none to be found. He wasn't surprised; there wasn't much point in hanging around this disgusting spectacle, and there were more important things to clean up than icky bits like these. To his surprise, he found that the elevators were still working, so he took one up to to Level Six.
His hunch nearly paid off; he found a crowd of living, breathing people in the Floo Network Authority, though he learned that Lupin had not been there in some time. "I don't know where he went," snapped the witch he approached, who didn't look up from the maps she was laying out on a wide table. She had a long abrasion on the side of her head, probably where she'd been skimmed by some spell. "Look, I'm busy here, the Floo Network is a disaster. Try MLE."
Harry nodded. "Good luck," he said simply, holding out a pear. For an instant, her forehead relaxed and she looked up at him with a hint of a grateful smile. "You too," she said kindly, then returned to her maps with a crunch.
Harry nearly plowed into Arthur Weasley as he stepped off the lift on Level Two. "Ho, Harry!" he said without breaking his stride. "This way." Harry followed him down the short hall to Auror Headquarters, or what was left of it. There was no sign of the orderly rows of cubicles that had been present on his last visit; the room was a shambles of rubble, paper, and scorch marks. Kingsley Shacklebolt and Mad-Eye Moody were having an intense discussion, not even noticing when the two of them walked in.
"We may have a solution, gentlemen," said Arthur, and both Aurors looked up, greeting Harry warmly but regarding him somewhat dubiously.
"Caught a prisoner," said Moody. "Need to interrogate him, and not a drop of Veritaserum in the place. Think you can help?"
Harry took a short but deep breath. "I...I don't know. What do you want me to do?"
"Can you tell us if he's lying or not?" asked Kingsley.
Harry bit his lip and looked at the floor, wondering for the second time that day if he had enough mastery of Legilimency to use it in a specific way. He frowned; that was something Sn-HE had mentioned during lessons, that Voldemort could expose lies, but Harry wasn't sure how to do it. Yet. But there was one thing he could do. "Hold on. What if I just go in and look around? Eliminate the whole questions-and-answers part?"
Moody and Kingsley eyed one another uncertainly. "Thought you weren't quite doing that yet," said Moody.
"I've been getting lessons," Harry said cautiously. "I can give it a try."
"No," said Mr. Weasley firmly. "You two can use Legilimency on your own. The issue is whether we can believe what we learn. Harry, if you can't sort lies from truth, then you shouldn't get involved."
"But I want to help!"
"I know. But leaping into a hostile mind is dangerous, especially since you...go so far." Harry suddenly recalled Ron's drunken confidence that Mr. Weasley was jealous of him for reading Molly just before the feast. For a split second, he wondered with a flare of indignation whether this was some sort of payback--if Mr. Weasley was deliberately keeping Harry from showing his worth in retribution for having that moment with his wife. Just as quickly, Harry felt ashamed of himself for even considering such a thing; Arthur Weasley had far too much integrity to harbor a grudge, much less act on one.
"Tur--Ondossi did mention this can make people insane," he conceded. "Maybe I'd better not. She could do it, though--where is she?"
All three of them shrugged. "No one's seen her," said Kingsley, and Moody looked as though he didn't particularly mind. "Not that she'd know how to find the Ministry, I suppose, she's not exactly from around here."
"I'll see if I can find her for you. But right now I'm looking for Remus."
"I think he's on Level Nine," said Arthur.
Harry got onto a lift with a sense of foreboding. The Department of Mysteries was on Level Nine, and it was hard to imagine anything benign that Lupin could be doing down there. It didn't help that the overhead light was flickering blue and orange, or that the car seemed to be descending at half the normal speed. Harry pointed his wand at the lamp irritably and extinguished it, which naturally left him in total darkness. "Lumos," he said to light his wand, but unfortunately it was still pointing at the lamp; both of them came on, restoring the annoying flicker.
Harry was in absolutely no mood for this nonsense. "Devilspawn!" he cursed in annoyance. Instantly a third light appeared at his feet; a creature about five inches tall, vaguely resembling a winged red centaur, shook a tiny fist at him from a circle of flames.
"And exactly what kind of Summoning was that? Pathetic!" it squeaked, rearing angrily.
Harry glared down in disbelief. Wild magic again, he thought. "My mistake. Sorry."
The little demon settled back on all four hooves. "Sorry? You bring me here like this, not fit to slay a bloody hamster, and all you have to say is 'sorry'? Tosser!" It poked Harry's shoe insolently with its trident and disappeared in a puff of acrid smoke. Harry felt it best just to ignore the light for the moment.
He broke out in a cold sweat as he stepped off the elevator; he hadn't been back to his floor since the night Sirius was killed here. It was hard to believe only a little more than a year had passed. Looking down the long corridor that led to the Department, his heart ached with renewed grief.
The main entry door had been blasted off its hinges. Harry stepped over the debris into the round room, its candelabras burning with their usual blue flames. Most of the other doors were missing or splintered, and the room showed no sign of its usual behavior, which was to rotate the walls into a wild blur and disorient its occupants. Harry reckoned there wasn't much point to it; one closed door looks like another, but each broken one would remain unique, no matter how dizzy the observer.
Remembering the maze of interconnected rooms behind those curved walls, Harry stopped just inside and called, "Remus?" There was no response. Sighing, he turned to the left and poked his head into the nearest door. It was pitch black inside; not even the blue glow from the candles penetrated beyond the doorframe. There was a sound like thousands of little wings flapping about, and Harry felt little gusts of air brushing his face from all directions. He yanked his head out quickly, feeling rather lucky that it was still attached to his shoulders--this was, after all, the Department of Mysteries.
The next door opened onto a long, empty corridor; Harry called out again and decided it would be more efficient to try all the doors before a lengthy exploration of each one. He eventually came to the great square room lined with tiers of stone benches; this was where Sirius had fallen. Harry felt a wave of nausea and desperation as he stood before the mangled door, but he knew intuitively that Lupin was within.
Harry poked his head inside and beheld a gaunt man in ragged robes sitting on the dais in the center of the pit below. The stone archway with the tattered veil was intact on the dais, apparently too powerful for the Death Eaters to destroy, though it looked like it would crumble if a butterfly landed on it. Harry set his jaw anxiously; he recalled only too well the hypnotic attraction of the veiled arch, and the voices that seemed to murmur behind it. He strode resolutely down the stone steps to the dais.
"Remus." Lupin didn't even move, much less reply.
Harry climbed up on the dais, feeling the irresistible enticement of the archway playing over his heart, but he ignored it. "Remus!" he said sharply, and dropped to one knee beside his friend. Lupin didn't take his eyes from the arch, but he sighed and leaned slightly toward Harry.
"Will you come out of here with me?" Harry asked, giving Lupin's shoulders a gentle tug.
"It would be so easy," whispered Lupin. Harry knew he was not talking about leaving the room, at least not by the doors above. He sat crosslegged beside Lupin, keeping a hand firmly on his shoulder.
"Easy. Yeah, I guess. Not particularly brave, though." Harry wasn't sure what to say.
"Courage is getting in short supply lately, Harry," said Lupin, swaying slightly.
"I don't know, I saw quite a bit today."
"You weren't here." Lupin's tears made tiny splashes on Harry's fingers and the fabric of his robe, but he continued to stare vacantly into the veil.
Harry reminded himself again to ignore the murmurs from the archway and put an arm around Lupin's shoulder, obtaining a more solid grip on the older man.
"Scrimgeour is dead," said Lupin in an empty voice. "Voldemort did it himself. He was so stubborn, a real thorn in my side in a lot of ways, but a fighter. Strong." Lupin began to tremble slightly. Harry nodded, but could come up with no reply. They sat in silence for a long time.
"I'm next in line," Lupin whispered at last. "There's no more Ministry. The Order is the last coherent force opposing Voldemort. He'll come for me personally, like he did for Rufus. He'll come, and I'll fall."
"This would be easier, wouldn't it?" said Harry slowly, looking at the archway and relaxing his grip slightly. "Painless. Not like he has planned for us."
For the first time, Lupin's expression changed, his brow furrowing in confusion for a brief instant. "Us."
"He'll come for me too, Remus. I'm his ultimate prize." Harry rose to his feet. "Escaping through that arch would make him angrier than anything else I could do, I think."
Lupin stood too, unsteadily; he had been sitting on the cold stone for a long time.
"And we'll see Sirius again," breathed Harry.
Lupin took his eyes from the veil. "Harry."
"Take my hand, Remus," Harry said in a distant voice. "We'll do it together."
"Harry!" Lupin seized Harry's shoulders and whirled him away from the arch, pulling him, stumbling, to the edge of the dais. Before he could leap off and drag Harry with him, Harry suddenly gripped his forearms. Lupin's eyes, wide with shock, slowly resumed their normal size as he understood the fortitude in Harry's gaze.
Lupin blinked. "You weren't planning to go through at all, were you?"
"No," said Harry grimly. "But I knew you'd have to stop me."
"That was a dirty trick, Harry," Lupin said dully.
Lupin mustered a weak grin in response. "Oh, it worked for you, got you what you wanted, I guess. I'm not so sure it worked in my favor."
"That's enough!" spat Harry. "You can't give in to despair, Remus. I need you! You're the only family I have left. I can't do this alone." Though Harry had never said or even thought of those words before that moment, he meant them with every fiber of his being. Even though Harry despised Rufus Scrimgeour, the news of his death made him want to weep; the killing had to stop, it had to. "I can't bear it if he takes everyone from me."
Lupin suddenly pulled Harry into a tight embrace, and for an instant, each man felt secure enough to stop the gap through which his courage had drained.
"Do I smell pears?" Lupin finally asked.
Harry smiled. He picked one up and handed it to Lupin, then began refilling the sack, which he had dropped, unnoticed, on the dais at some point. One of them had broken on the floor into a slimy mush. Harry glanced askew at the veil as he picked up the solid part that remained, then threw the pear violently into the archway. It passed through the fabric without a sound or a ripple, as though it had struck a sheet of mercury.
He sighed; he'd thought perhaps he might get a glimpse beyond the veil when the fruit whipped through the fabric. No such luck. Harry gathered up the last of the pears and jumped off the dais to join Lupin for the climb to the exit.
There was a thump and Lupin lurched forward, and both of them spun about, reaching for their wands.
The broken pear had bounced from Lupin's back and landed on the ground with a moist splat. Though neither man would admit it, even to themselves, each had, on the very edges of their consciousness, heard a distant, familiar bark of laughter.
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