Chapter 18 : The Dying Hour
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The second her luggage had been set down and she had brushed the dust off her clothes, a short and fast blur of color raced from the stairs and leapt at her. Ellie staggered back and placed a hand on the fireplace to balance herself. “Nice to see you Squirt,” she said a bit breathlessly and shocked. Quinn was never this excited to see her.
“I’m so glad you’re home!” he exclaimed. “It’s been horrible!”
“What has?” she asked, attempting to pry his arms away from her waist. “Is everyone alright?”
“The stupid baby was throwing up,” he said, showing her a face of disgust. “It was so gross!”
Ellie felt the sudden urge to smack her forehead, but she resisted. “What do you mean she’s been throwing up?” Ellie asked patiently. “Is she sick or is it just a bit of spittle?”
“I don’t know,” Quinn said. “It was puke!”
Ellie looked towards the ceiling and silently prayed for patience. After another few moments of pulling at his arms, she managed to unlatch herself and quickly made her way up to the nursery. Quinn, as she expected, stayed as far from the room as he could.
“Is she alright?” Ellie asked as soon as she spotted her mother.
“She’s doing fine,” Arabella said as she rocked the baby in her arms. “Probably just a little indigestion or something.” Ellie took Isabella from her mother’s arms and spent a good minute (during which her mother rolled her eyes) checking her over. When she finally completed the check, her mother said, “I told you so,” and headed downstairs to find Quinn.
Ellie remained upstairs, amusing herself by watching Isabella bounce on her feet and pass things between her hands. It wasn’t until she heard her mother call up to her in a strained voice that she even remembered that other people were in the house at all.
“What is it mum?” she asked as she walked into the den, Isabella balanced on one of her hips.
Her mother looked at her and that was all it took for Ellie to know that something wasn’t right. What her mother said, however, was completely unexpected. “It’s Rosaline,” she said quietly. “We need to go to St. Mungo’s….”
The moment they stepped foot on the Fourth Floor inside St. Mungo’s, Ellie knew something was horribly wrong. A group of Healers, who stood talking in low voices outside one of the doors closest to the elevator, abruptly halted their conversation upon seeing the Swifts emerge from the elevator. Ellie looked to her mother, who was staring around the floor hesitantly, and sighed. “Come on,” she said in a low voice.
Ellie took Quinn by the hand and led the way down the hall. The Welcome Witch had said Rosaline was located in Room 405 and it was with a sinking heart that she noticed the room the Healers were grouped outside was that exact room. “That means nothing,” she told herself. “Maybe they’re talking about her roommate or something.”
“Excuse me,” she said in her politest tone as she attempted to make her way into the room.
“Who are you?” one of the Healers asked, moving to stand in front of the door. “Only relatives are allowed in this room.”
“Is Rosaline Monticello in there?” Ellie asked back. When he nodded his assent, she took a breath and said, “Well, she’s my aunt and I fully intend on seeing her. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
Again she attempted to enter the room, only to be stopped by the Healers once more. Ellie clamped her jaw shut and forced herself to remain calm. “Do you have proper identification?” he asked. Ellie, in return, silently handed over her wand as her mother did the same. A few seconds later, they were handed back to them.
“I assume that you believe me now?” Ellie asked, a bit haughtily, as she pocketed her wand. “After all, we did have to pass through numerous security checks before being allowed up here at all.”
“Sorry,” the Healer said apologetically. She didn’t like the look of sympathy that was crossing his face now. “We can’t be too careful, especially when it concerns patients on this Floor. Many of them are victims of attacks by Death Eaters and their security if of the utmost important to us.”
“I’m sure it is,” Arabella said kindly. “What is your name?”
“Healer Fenwick,” the man replied. “But please, call me Benjy.”
Arabella smiled kindly. “Thank you Benjy. May we see my sister-in-law now?”
A ripple shook through the small group. A look of hesitation shaded his face as the others avoided looking at them. After a moment of this, he seemed to make a decision and gently took Arabella by the arm. “Why don’t we sit down for a moment,” he said as he led them to a sitting area down the hall.
With each step she took, Ellie felt her dread seeping deeper into her heart. “Is she alright?” she heard Quinn ask. His hand was shaking in her own. He had never been to St. Mungo’s before. When Benjy didn’t answer, Ellie felt the impulse to turn and sprint to the elevator and from the Infirmary as quickly as she could. But, of course, the pressure of Quinn’s hand gripping her own forced her to take a seat and wait for the Healer to begin.
“I’m so sorry to be the one to tell you this, but she’s dead,” he said. “Mrs. Monticello was in very rough shape when they brought her in a few weeks ago. It’s a miracle she made it this long at all. There was nothing we could do to save her.”
For a moment there was no feeling. . . just, an unsettling numbness. Rosaline dead? Sweet and loving Rosaline? Beautiful Rosaline with her golden hair and infectious laughter? How could she be dead? How could it be that she was gone from the world so suddenly, like a flickering flame blown out by the wind? How could it be that Ellie would never see her again?
The moment passed and Ellie heard an unworldly wail of pain. She looked around, settling slightly when she saw Quinn clinging to their mother and crying hysterically. He and Rosaline were close. With a flinch, Ellie corrected herself. He and Rosaline had been close.
“What happened?” she heard her mother ask in a shaky voice.
“Witnesses claim she was injured during the attack on Diagon Alley earlier today,” Benjy replied through a buzzing that had filled Ellie’s ears. “To be completely honest, she was in very poor shape when she arrived here with Aurors. I’m surprised she wasn’t killed instantly given her injuries.”
Ellie could no longer hear what he was saying. The buzzing had completely filled her ears and her sight was becoming wobbly. She leaned back in her seat and took several deep breaths. She couldn’t afford to lose it now, not when they had the trip home to make. She had to be calm, collected, and ready for anything. Giving into her grief would only make them easy targets for anyone who was following them and Ellie was now convinced that they were being followed. . . and if they could get to Rosaline in Diagon Alley, they were certainly capable of getting to them anywhere, including St. Mungo’s.
Ellie took a few moments to force her grief back under her control and, finally, turned back to the conversation.
“I just don’t understand,” her mother said, tears flowing from her beautiful eyes. “Who would do this to her?”
“I know,” Ellie thought silently, “and when I find them, they will beg for death before I finish with them.”
A few more moments passed before Benjy was called to tend to a new patient. Before he left, he paused long enough to say, “I am really very sorry we couldn’t do more.” Ellie believed him without knowing why. It might have been because he genuinely looked sorry for them. “Would you like to say goodbye?”
“No,” Ellie answered quickly. “I don’t at least.” The last thing she wanted was to see her aunt’s body bruised and battered and devoid of the spirit which had made her loved by so many.
“No thank you,” her mother said, as politely as she could given her tears. After shaking hands with all of them, Benjy disappeared down the hall. “We should probably head home,” Arabella said quietly. “We can’t do anymore here.”
“What about planning funeral arrangements?” Ellie asked in a small voice. Quinn was still sobbing into their mother’s arm.
“I’ll talk to my brother about that tomorrow,” she replied. She turned a sad smile on Ellie as she added, “Don’t worry about that now dear. I’ll see that arrangements are made.” She bit her lip as they stood and made their way down the hall, pausing briefly outside the door where Rosaline lay. “I do wonder where Sal is right now though.”
“I’m sure he hasn’t heard yet. You know how he is about work. He’s never home at a decent hour,” Ellie lied. She knew exactly why he hadn’t rushed down to St. Mungo’s already and it had nothing to do with work.
“You’re probably right,” her mother replied as she turned from the room.
The trip home seemed to take longer than usual. The walk to the designated apparition point for the infirmary wasn’t very far away, but every noise and movement sent Ellie’s senses into overdrive. When a cat knocked over a trash can and nearly gave her a heart attack, she heard the words, “If they could get to Rosaline to Diagon Alley, they were certainly capable of getting to them anywhere....” The thought sent shivers down her spine and it was with relief that they finally arrived home safely.
The first thing Ellie felt like doing, was throwing herself face down on her bed and staying there until this all turned out to be a dream. When she saw Blinky clutching a crying Isabella, however, she sighed and pushed those thoughts from her mind as she took the infant in her arms.
“Can you get Quinn some warm milk?” Arabella asked Blinky as she held him. He had stopped crying, but wore a look of immense grief. “We’ve all just had a terrible shock.”
“Of course Missus Swift,” Blinky said, looking at them with wide eyes. A moment later, she had Quinn in hand and was leading him off to the kitchen while telling him a story about a made-up war between the garden gnomes and the house elves.
“I think I need to go for a walk,” Arabella continued. She turned to Ellie abruptly and asked, “Are you alright? Is there anything I can do for you?”
The questions shocked Ellie. Her mother had never asked if she were alright when something like this had happened. She had always just assumed that her daughter was fine and capable of taking care of herself. “I’m alright mum,” she said. “I’ll look after Isabella.”
Arabella took a moment to place a hand on Isabella’s head, before she leaned over and kissed Ellie on the cheek. “You’ve been so strong Eleanor,” she said. “I couldn’t be more proud.”
Ellie swallowed over a lump in her throat as she gently rocked the crying child. “Thanks mum,” she said, honestly meaning it. She returned her mother’s smile and watched as she turned and left the room….
Two hours later found Ellie ready to place a silencing spell on her hungry younger brother. She was hungry too, but at least she hadn’t felt the need to complain about just how hungry she was for the past hour.
So Ellie found herself walking into the kitchen and flipping on the light. Her mother was nowhere to be seen and Blinky had been sent to the market twenty minutes before to get groceries. “I’m hungry,” Quinn complained from behind her. “When’s mum going to make dinner?”
“No clue Squirt,” she replied as she took a step into the room.
“Hope it’s soon. I’m starving.”
Ellie glanced towards the clock. It was already a quarter to eight. “Why don’t I start dinner?” she suggested. “Mum is probably resting or something.” Quinn made a face, but remained silent. He must have been hungry if he was willing to eat whatever it was Ellie was about to feed him. “Can you take Isabella?”
Quinn stepped forward and took the infant into his arms. For a nine year-old, he was pretty good at holding her. “Don’t see why I have to hold her,” he muttered. “It’s not like she’s my baby.” Ellie rolled her eyes, but held her peace. It had been a hard day for them all and arguing with him about doing his share wouldn’t help matters now.
She waved her wand and a pot filled with water began to boil on the stove. Spaghetti was one of Quinn’s favorite dishes and was simple enough to provide Ellie with few chances of messing up. It was possible that she could burn the pasta to the bottom of the pot, but she didn’t plan on that happening again.
“You feeling alright?” she asked casually.
“I don’t know,” the nine year-old said. “I miss Auntie.”
“I know,” Ellie said as a lump formed in her throat. “We’re all going to miss her. She was a very special person.”
“She made good cookies,” Quinn specified. Ellie shook her head, but stayed quiet. The kid had taste, no doubt about it.
Ellie turned and took Isabella from Quinn as she waited for the water to boil. The infant gurgled as she took her and looked up into Ellie’s face. Ellie stared back into her round blue eyes, a small grin crossing her face. A bit of drool slipped out of the corner of her mouth. She was the best thing Ellie had ever seen, not counting Quinn.
She handed her back to a grumbling Quinn, who eyed the spittle apprehensively. With a wave of her wand, the cupboard door opened and she stepped inside. She looked to the right, but couldn’t see any pasta where her mother usually stocked it. With a frown, she walked to the back of the pantry, wondering if she had put it in the back by mistake. When she didn’t see any, she turned to head back to the kitchen, but paused as she heard her mother’s voice. She turned away from the door and looked up to the small window at the top of the wall, which had been propped open to allow in some cool fresh air from the garden. She hesitated for a moment, not wanting to eavesdrop, but when she heard a second angry voice she made her decision. She pulled a stool over underneath the window and stood on top of it, getting as close to the window as she could.
“I told you, my children aren’t inside,” she heard her mother snap. “They’re visiting with relatives.”
“And I told you that you’re lying,” a deep and slippery voice snapped back. Ellie shivered a bit. She thought she recognized the voice, but she couldn’t be sure. “Where are the children?”
“I’d rather die than tell you!” her mother growled back. Ellie leaned against the wall breathing hard. She could hear Quinn say something from the kitchen, but ignored him.
“That can be arranged,” the man hissed back. “Ava-”
Ellie half-fell from the stool and stumbled away from the window as she drew her wand. Her mother was being attacked and was probably outnumbered. She needed help. Any plan she may have formulated, however, came to a halt when she ran into the kitchen and caught sight of Quinn and Isabella. What if she helped her mother and they both were killed? Who would protect them then?
She hesitated for a moment, but the sight of a spell rocketing past the window was enough to make her moved. She released a swear and sprinted over to Quinn.
“Squirt, I need you to stay quiet and do exactly as I tell you,” she said quickly. Without waiting for his answer, she tapped him on the head with her wand. She watched him melt out of view and blend into the wall. Isabella followed suit a second later. “Grab my arm and follow me.”
She felt a slight pressure from where his hand lay. Without looking back, she turned and silently slipped up the stairs. The halls were deserted, but that meant nothing. If the Death Eaters had made it to the garden, then there was a chance that they were in the house as well. Ellie quickly glanced around a corner. No one in sight. She stared across the hall to her father’s study. She assumed that they had already set up a perimeter around the house, so her father’s office was her only chance to get them out safely. She took a deep breath and in one fluid movement they were in the room and the door magically sealed.
“Grab some Floo powder,” she whispered hurriedly. “I need you to get to Grandma and Grandpa Swift’s.”
“What do you mean?” she heard his soft voice ask. “Ellie what’s happening? What were those lights? Where’s mum?”
“There’s no time to explain,” she hissed. “Do you trust me?”
There was a short pause before he said, “Yes.”
“Then trust that I know what I’m doing and don’t ask questions,” she ordered, grabbing the bowl of powder from the mantle. “Go to Grandma and Grandpa’s. Have them send for help.”
“What about you?” Quinn’s thin voice asked. He sounded terrified. “You’re coming too right?”
“Yes,” she lied, swallowing over a lump in her throat. “I’ll be right behind you.”
There was another moment of silence between them. A second later, the doorknob began to rattle. “Hurry!” she pleaded. Voices could be heard in the hall. She held her breath as she saw a handful of powder disappear from the bowl. Green flames filled the fireplace, Quinn’s voice whispered the address, and they were gone. Ellie took a moment to regret not kissing them goodbye, before she hurried to the window furthest from the door and threw it open. The door burst into pieces as she flung the bowl out into the night.
Without pausing, Ellie dropped to her knees and rolled behind her father’s desk. The first curse crashed into the window and rained glass down onto the ground. “We found the girl!” she heard a voice yell. Her heart was racing and her hands were shaking. She was terrible at dueling, just like Sirius had said. There was no way she was going to win this fight. She was going to die.
But she had managed to save Quinn, her courageous little brother. Isabella too; sweet and beautiful little Isabella. She had gotten them to safety, somewhere only she knew. The Death Eaters couldn’t follow them now and even if they could, she knew her grandparents would protect them with their dying breaths. Yes, she was going to die tonight, but she would die knowing that she had saved them.
Still, she couldn’t stop her hand from shaking as the curses flew above her. Despite herself, she was scared. . . but hiding would do her no good. Whether she hid or fought, the result would be the same. The only difference was that there was no decency in hiding like a child. If she was going to die, she would die like a Swift; upright, terrible in their fury, and fearless. Ellie took a deep breath to steady herself as she shot to her feet. She brandished her wand, almost like a whip, above her head. Her father’s desk flew across the room towards the Death Eaters, who leapt to the side with seconds to spare. The desk slammed into the wall, sending slivers of wood shooting throughout the room.
“Sectusempra!” one of the hooded and masked figures roared. Ellie ducked and the curse hit the wall behind her.
“Everte Statum!” she shouted back, sending a Death Eater into the wall.
“Immobulus!” another bellowed back. She dodged the spell with seconds to spare. Flicking her wand, she sent green flames from the fireplace shooting towards the Death Eaters. One of them waved their wand and the flames turned into a giant snake, which turned towards her. Just as it was about to lunge at her, Ellie waved her wand and the fiery snake turned into an inferno which raged towards the intruders. They barely managed to cast their own protective spells before the fire hit, blasting a hole in the ceiling.
“Protego!” Ellie shrieked as several curses flew at her. They ricocheted off her shield and rocketed into the wall behind the Death Eaters. With a loud roaring sound, it collapsed on top of them. There was no time to waste. Ellie sprinted across the room and towards the door, leaping over Death Eaters as they began to get up. She was almost there.
And suddenly she wasn’t. Suddenly, she was flying backwards through the air. She watched, as if in slow motion, as the Death Eaters rose to their feet and stood watching her. She saw the ruined wall pass by her. On the floor lay a family portrait from that summer and she saw her own beautiful face staring out at her. She was screaming.
Time sped up again and she fell against the fireplace. The breath was knocked out of her as a searing pain ripped through her left side. She looked down and vomited as she saw the gleaming tip of her father’s fire poker sticking out of her stomach. It was covered in blood. Her blood.
Ellie fell forward onto the ground and screamed in agony as the fire poker was forced back out of her abdomen. Blood poured from the wound, staining her clothes and pooling on the floor as she laid face down moaning. Her mahogany hair, which she had taken so much pride in, was matted and tangled with drying blood and sweat.
There was so much blood. Too much and it was everywhere. Who would have known that the human body could hold so much? Certainly not Ellie, but then again, she never was very interested in healing.
The steady dripping of the blood was the loudest sound in her ears besides the roaring of the green flames behind her. She had been so close to freedom, so close to escaping. If only she had gone with them. . . but that wasn’t a viable option. If she had left the bowl of Floo powder in the room they would have followed them and everyone knew that it was the worst idea in the world to try and transport Floo powder through the Floo System. Even a tiny spill would send the traveler careening into the sides of fireplaces and chimneys. If the traveler was lucky, they would die quickly; if not, they were doomed to a life in St. Mungo’s.
If only she had made sure they were all unconscious. Her mother had always told her that her impatience would be her downfall. Naturally, she had assumed that she had meant her lack of impatience would lead her to murder someone. But no. Of course her downfall would be from attempting to save people.
But there was no use in thinking of that now. What was done was done, no changing it. What she could concentrate on was the fact that she was feeling colder by the second. She knew enough to know that being cold was not a good thing. Too bad she never learned how to stop wounds from bleeding in class.
Her hands were shaking too hard to hold her wand any longer and it fell from her hands into a puddle of dark blood. She felt sick to her stomach. It wasn’t supposed to end like this, was it? She was only seventeen, far too young to be dying. But with a dreadful certainty, she knew that this was it. This wasn’t a game and there were no re-dos.
She felt the tears welling in her eyes as her breaths started to come in hysterical gasps. Torn between laughing and screaming, she shut her eyes and felt the first few tears squeeze through her lashes. Images of her family and friends, memories of times long gone and times barely experienced, swept through her mind. She would never see them again. She would never get the chance to visit the kitchens with Remus, tell Sirius she didn’t despise every fiber of his being, or even get the chance to reconcile with Lily. It seemed unbearable to think of it coming to this. Forever, after all, is a terribly long time.
Her eyes flickered open once more, her sight beginning to dim slowly. There was still so much she wanted to see and do. She had never been to Paris or Rome, had never let the waters of the Mediterranean wash over her feet. She would never get married, never pass her Apparation test or learn to properly transfigure a toad into a teakettle. Everything she had ever wanted and would never have, suddenly seemed very important. Maybe it was because she was sentimental or maybe because she thought it was unfair. It didn’t matter either way.
As ironic as she thought it was, scenes from her life began to flash through her memory. Learning to tie her shoes, Quinn’s birth, performing magic for the first, the Sorting, her first kiss with Ben, crying in the girl’s bathroom as Lily tried to comfort her, Isabella’s birth, the duel a few months earlier, the look of utter betrayal on her father’s face. . . Some were significant, others not so much. But Ellie didn’t want to bother questioning her self-conscious at the moment. All that really mattered was that these were the last things she would remember.
She felt a foot slide beneath her stomach and roll her over onto her back. She forced herself to focus as she stared up into a pair of familiar dark eyes and a face half-hidden by a mask. There was a sharp cracking sound and she shut her eyes once more. There would be no rescue, no escape. This was it. This was the end. . .
A/N: Oh me! Oh my! What horrible things will I do next? Check the next chapters for answers. :)
To anyone who hasn't ventured to my homepage, you missed out. I posted a teaser for this chapter over a week ago and I plan on doing that at least once more for this story. So, if you want teasers, head over to my homepage and check it out periodically.
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