Chapter 6 : Like a Bat Out of Hell
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The minutes stretched into hours and Nora imagined a giant pendulum swinging back and forth in front of her sleepy eyes. Tick, tock. Tick, tock.
Finally, she had no choice but to stand up. If she continued sitting for much longer, Nora would surely doze off. Besides, the metal chair wasn’t exactly comfortable and her backside had gone numb over two hours ago. Wonder what time it is? she thought to herself before consulting her watch, and then wished she hadn’t. How could it possibly only be 2:30 a.m.? It had just struck two o’ clock about a million years ago, after having been 1:54 for an impossibly long period of time. Nora couldn’t wait to get out of there and go home – have a humongous breakfast and then probably sleep for the rest of the day. Her big, warm bed sounded wonderful…
Tick, tock. Tick, tock. It had to be at least 2:45 by now...
Nora was beginning to see the face of her watch wherever she looked, and to relax her agitation she leaned against the cool stone wall and closed her eyes. Soon enough, it would be six in the morning. Soon enough, Ministry security would be squatty old Elphias Doge’s problem. Nora mentally reminded herself to bring a book along for her next shift, but she knew she was so tired that she wasn’t going to remember anything in the morning. Indeed, Nora would probably have felt fine enough if it hadn’t been for flying all day. Now that she’d turned back into a human, she felt the pangs of how much strain flying can put on a body. Her arms hung like dead weights at her sides, aching and useless.
2:34. Nora sighed.
Tick, tock. Tick, tock.
Ever since she remembered that she was indeed wearing a watch, after sitting in the chair frustrated about not knowing what time it was, she’d been obsessively staring at it all night – or morning, that is. She had to hold up one wrist with the other to do so because her arms were too sore to manage on their own. And presently as she did this, not paying attention, she walked straight into one of the torches and caught her hair on fire.
“Aaaghhh! Aguamenti! Aguamenti!” A jet of water spurted from Nora’s wand and she plastered her hair with it. She combed several charred strands from her scalp, but on the whole it remained undamaged. It seemed for a moment that something had echoed from downstairs in response to her panic. But when she stopped and listened, there was nothing; just Nora all alone marching back and forth in front of the Department of Mysteries at……2:36 in the morning.
Seriously? Only two minutes?
Nora had already scraped all of her fingernail polish off, just for something to do. And she had stripped the shoelaces out of her trainers and bewitched them to flap around the corridor like butterflies. She had transfigured the can of paint into a pair of woolen socks and back again. Nora even pulled out the pair of Extendable Ears and played with them so much that the fleshy material connecting the two snapped apart. She tried Reparo, of course, but couldn’t be sure if it worked or not since the building was empty and there was no one to eavesdrop on.
Tick, tock. Clip, clop.
Clip, clop. Clip, clop. Clip, clop. Nora’s eyes flew wide open, fully alert. Were there ghosts in the Ministry? Surely there had to be at least one floating around. But Nora always thought ghosts were weightless. They couldn’t really touch things. They couldn’t make noise. Ghosts could not be the ones trampling up the stairs from the basement, as someone else was doing right now.
Not just one person – multiple people – at least one woman and two different men. Nora heard their voices just as the Sneakoscope in the pocket of her cloak began to spin maniacally, flashing brilliant purple and orange. She saw wandlight spiraling up the stairs, the starry white-blue glow illuminating more and more of the landing wall where her chair had been, growing out of the dungeons filled with old courtrooms that had previously been silent as a tomb.
“I wouldn’t have believed it, either, Minister,” a familiar drawling voice was saying. “Shacklebolt a Death Eater? But they say he has been inexplicably dodgy lately, coming home at odd hours of the night and travelling all over Britain during the day. How can he account for it?”
“Well I’m sure I don’t know, my good lad,” Fudge responded, sounding uncomfortable. “But he’s an Auror, isn’t he? Aurors are a dodgy sort in general; they’ve got tough jobs that make them nutters after awhile.”
“And you heard him saying he was going to infiltrate the Ministry, Lucius?” the female piped up. “You definitely heard Kingsley saying that he was a spy for Sirius Black and was going to use the Floo Network as a way for the other Death Eaters to get in?” Nora knew then that this must be Madame Edgecombe, and that’s why she’d joined Fudge and Malfoy on their little outing; Edgecombe’s job was overseeing the Floo Network. He must have asked her to shut it down so that “Death Eaters” could not escape.
Just then Nora felt a disturbance in the air around her; a rippling effect that sent chills crawling all over her skin. A gasp choked in her throat as she realized she could no longer cast another Disillusionment Charm over herself, and the other one had worn off hours ago. In fact, it seemed she could not use any sort of concealment charm over herself whatsoever. Someone in the party of three had sent ahead Dark Magic unknown to Nora, magic that would search out anyone lurking in the shadows and force them to reveal themselves.
The only one who knew a person should have any reason to be standing on the ninth floor outside the Department of Mysteries at this time of night was Lucius Malfoy. They were swiftly approaching and there was nowhere to hide. And Malfoy must surely know at this moment that someone was up here, that his spell had hit an obstacle in the field. They were so close that Nora could see the tips of their wands appearing from around the landing.
Nora was not in an enviable position. Her body surged with fear-fueled adrenaline, a horrible wrenching twisting her intestines as she broke out into a cold sweat. She had only seconds to operate, and operate quickly. Thank Merlin she possessed a bird’s reflexes.
Nora made the chair vanish with Evanesco, snuffed out the two lit torches, and transformed into an owl. Hoping that no one would notice vapory smoke rising from the candlesticks or feel to see if they were hot, Nora narrowed her sharp eyes and propelled herself forward faster than she’d ever done in her life, embracing great swallows of air under her wings and making a break for the lifts.
She slammed her beak into the ‘UP’ button and the grilles slid open with a deafening clang. “Right there!” Lucius bellowed, streaking down the flagstone floor. Nora could feel his desperate fury cutting through her like a sword as he yelled, “A Death Eater is inside the Ministry tonight! Fudge, you must send for the dementors to perform a Kiss. We don’t have time to mess with trials when Black’s henchmen are involved.”
“Oh, Lucius, I don’t see anyone up there,” Fudge said tiredly from far behind. “That lift’s been dysfunctional for ages and no one can seem to set it right. Opens and closes for no reason all the time – have a log of it doing so every night for the past several weeks.”
This only heightened Malfoy’s vehemence, and he let out a guttural scream of wrath when the elevator doors shut three inches from the tip of his nose. “The stairs!” Nora heard him order. Edgecombe and Fudge had stalled at the end of the corridor, unsure of whether they should join the pursuit or have Lucius carted off to St. Mungo’s.
Come on, come on, she urged, beating her wings inside the elevator, which was the most peculiar sensation she’d ever felt. It rose and rose and her head kept bobbing into the ceiling, gravity making her tumble this way and that. She feared that the lift would open and Malfoy would be standing there already, waiting for her.
The lift jerked and groaned but finally reached the main floor. “Atrium,” the bodiless female voice spoke through a loudspeaker. Nora prepared herself to race through the doors the moment they released; but when they did start to grind open, they contracted once more. The doors were jammed.
She screeched in protest, throwing her small body at the crack between the doors and hoping that it would make the sensors open it again, but Nora had no such luck. She was going to need her wand, and a hand to hold it. She bloomed back into a young woman, and she once again had full use of a weapon.
“Expulso!” Nora shouted, and the doors banged apart in a shower of gold sparks. Lucius Malfoy was just behind her, clamoring up the stairs and gaining in speed, his heavy footfalls and ragged breath pounding in her ears. The Atrium was ablaze, every torch lit, and a crystal chandelier above seemed to intensify the absence of darkness with its unnatural lighting at nearly three o’ clock in the morning.
“Stupe-” he began to cry, before realizing that she had already shot Locomotor Mortis at him with a swish of her wand. She didn’t have time to enjoy the whooshing thud of Malfoy’s leg-locked body hitting the hard ground. Nora was running; running for her life like a bat out of hell.
A dazzling beam of red light bouncing off of the Fountain of Magical Brethren told Nora that Malfoy was back up again and racing for the only exit she could now use – the phone booth. She spun around and shrieked, “Confringo!” – blasting twenty feet of wooden floorboards up into the air and temporarily blocking him.
“Avada Kedavra!” The blinding green rays soared over Nora’s head and hit a banner that hung from the ceiling, stitched with ancient rules about the Statute of Secrecy. The banner exploded into billions of microscopic fibers, floating softly down throughout the Atrium like fine snow.
Nora laughed fanatically, aiming Incarcerous over her shoulder but not waiting to see if the thick ropes she’d conjured had landed their mark and bound him. Apparently they didn’t, because not a half-second later did Lucius cry, “Impedimenta!”
Nora felt a jolt in her spine and then inevitably, her legs and arms slowed down, as if running through jelly. She persevered, but it was futile – he was going to catch up to her now. She attempted to cast the Cruciatus Curse but he was now much quicker than she, and deflected it with a simple Protego.
“Diffindo!” he called out triumphantly, and a searing pain split Nora’s shoulder open. She could feel warm blood seeping into her clothes, staining them scarlet. If she didn’t do something now, Lucius was going to kill her. Nora would die in the Ministry of Magic, her first night on watch for the Order.
“Expelliarmus!” she hollered, and Malfoy’s wand was sent hurling toward her. The Impedimenta spell made her hands too slow to reach out and catch it, and the wooden stick thumped into the Visitor’s Desk. Nora was almost at the exit now. She muttered Finite to dissolve the slowing jinx and made to turn, but he had her by the ankle. Lucius dragged her towards him, twisting her body so that the gash in her butchered shoulder grazed against the floor. Nora cried out with pain and then blasted him in the abdomen with Petrificus Totalus. He toppled over across Nora’s body, his fingers curling over something thin and solid…his wand…
The air was squeezed from her lungs as she fought him off of her, and she could feel gritty debris from the gouged-apart floor digging into the open, streaming flesh on her right shoulder. Malfoy lunged at her throat, wand abandoned, staring heatedly into her wide honey-colored eyes to relish every moment of her death. Nora’s face blotched with purple as she struggled to breathe, grasping at Malfoy’s sleeves, pawing at his face. Malfoy’s eyes glinted madly and he tightened his grip on her neck, trying to shatter her windpipe. She pushed into his ribcage with her foot, attempting to drive him backwards, but all that succeeded in doing was making him angrier.
Lucius seized a handful of broken glass and grinded it into her mangled shoulder, clogging the flow of blood and ripping a series of endless screams from Nora’s white lips. The pain was such that Nora was blinded by it, and she convulsed with something like a seizure, the glass grating into her nerves and between her bones. She entwined her fingers in his hair and pulled, and his hands flew to her throat again, shaking her violently and trying to wrest the life from her body.
Nora spasmed, the white spots in her vision clouding out her surroundings. She trained her wand at him and shouted Avada Kedavra inside her head, but it was useless. She wasn’t physically strong enough right now for powerful curses and probably couldn’t muster a Jelly-Legs Jinx if she tried. Blood thumped painfully in her ears, unable to circulate throughout her bloodstream. The world was growing steadily fainter, her brain flashing confused signals with pops of bright light – reminding her vaguely of fireworks.
Lucius plied her with his full weight, knees digging into her ribs. Despite the fact that she was slowly suffocating and there was a screen of bursting colors that rendered her incapable of distinguishing the man six inches from her face, Nora kicked and thrashed in an attempt to loosen his grip, her sweaty fingers pulling at the hands on her neck. Lucius grabbed her left wrist and snapped it sideways in a clean break, and she gagged on her screams. Nora was dying and helpless and blind.
Blind. What was it about that word that triggered her memory? Something Sirius had gotten from the Weasley twins, something he had insisted she bring along just in case. What had it been? Her body fell limp as she thought it over, devoting the last few functioning cells in her brain to extracting this memory.
And at that precise moment, Nora slipped her fingers into a pocket inside her cloak and pitched a handful of Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder right in his face, plunging everything into black abyss. For a fraction of a second, Malfoy let go.
He clawed at her arm, but she was already rolling away, coughing and inhaling great gasps of oxygen. Nora somehow got to her feet and fled, feeling weightless and rapidly closing the distance to the Visitor’s Entrance. She fumbled all along the wall, her numb hands groping for the button – and when she found the round surface she punched it. A shaft of soft, dewy light from the single streetlamp outside washed over Nora’s figure, and she scrambled up into the box without waiting for it to fully descend. Somewhere in the distance, Fudge and Edgecombe were calling Malfoy’s name, stumbling around in the blackness. And Malfoy was screaming, bellowing profanities because he knew he was going to lose her.
Nora was wholly inside the telephone box and had therefore surpassed the bounds of Malfoy’s Anti-Disapparition Jinx. A livid white face appeared from below just before she rose out of sight, and she tauntingly blew him a kiss, feeling surreal with the dots of white in her vision and the blood pumping painfully in her extremities. His shrieks of madness echoing all around, Nora turned on the spot and vanished.
Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, she thought feebly, heartbeat throbbing beneath her temples. Nora was sucked through a spinning vortex and emerged, stumbling, onto Sirius’s doorstep. She opened the door with a shaking hand and staggered inside. Now that she was safely away from the promise of imminent death, she could give in to the unbearable pain and sheet of numbness just on the edge of her focus. Loss of blood slowly sapped away her consciousness.
Sirius was lounging on the bottom of the stairs in the entrance corridor, smiling over a piece of parchment in his hands. He glanced up to see her in the doorway, and all traces of humor drained from his face. “Nora?” He stood up and rushed to her, catching her just as she collapsed. “Nora! What happened?”
Everything was blurry except for Sirius’s features. Eyes fluttering, she whispered in a haggard voice, “Malfoy. My wrist is broken, my shoulder…” she couldn’t speak anymore. Nora fell silent and deathly still, white as chalk.
Sirius deftly removed her hand from where she clutched at her shoulder, seeing for the first time the gaping hole in her green cloak and Nora’s exposed muscles and bone, encased with congealed blood and splintered glass. He tore her coat away, his face ashen and terrified as he digested the sight of her clothes drenched in blood, fresh red gleaming over the dried black. All down her left arm were five vicious nail marks, peeling away bits of skin and dotted with more blood. As his eyes travelled further, he saw that Nora’s wrist was resting at a grotesque angle.
Sirius knelt weakly to the floor, gingerly holding her in his arms and feeling sick. Her neck was veiled in purplish bruises, she was bleeding right through his shirt... Aghast, he locked his eyes on Nora’s, which were peppered with burst blood vessels. She seemed to stare right through him to the ceiling with half-closed eyelids, the pupils glazing over and shrinking even in the brilliant lamplight. “Nora!” he cried.
Heart racing, Sirius laid her gently on the threadbare carpet and jumped to his feet. All he had in the house was a dusty old bottle of dittany, but that wouldn’t nearly be enough, and couldn’t be poured into a wound anyway until it was cleaned properly. She needed a hospital, but he couldn’t very well march her into St. Mungo’s. Everyone would be screaming in terror at him, summoning dementors for the mass-murderer Sirius Black, and Nora would fall completely by the wayside.
Grasping at straws, Sirius yelled, “Expecto Patronum!” A shimmering silver creature exploded from the end of his wand. He pointed to it and shouted, “Nora was attacked by Malfoy at the Ministry. Very hurt. Need you at my house quickly.” The Patronus disappeared like a puff of smoke and he turned back to Nora, who was still bleeding profusely and not stirring at all. Sirius wasn’t a Healer. There may have been a time when he knew a spell or two about how to properly revive someone from the brink of death, patch up their wounds. But he didn’t dare try his unpracticed hand now, not after so many years in Azkaban, lest he make it worse. He spent several minutes in agony, powerless to help her.
The door finally opened behind him, and Sirius flooded with relief. “Oh, good –”
But it wasn’t Dumbledore striding forward and shoving Sirius out of the way. It was Severus Snape. “You?” he sputtered. “Where’s Dumbledore?”
Snape ignored him, crouching to Nora’s side and examining her with long, expert fingers. The little color that had previously tinged his sallow face promptly washed away at the sight of her, and his black eyes crackled with a dark electricity. “She must come with me,” he murmured.
“Where?” Sirius demanded, but Snape just glanced at him warningly. Severus lifted Nora into his arms and carried her back to the doorstep of Number Twelve, pushing past Sirius without a parting acknowledgement. As he began to disapparate, Sirius reached out and pinched Snape’s sleeve, vanishing with them.
This chapter's a bit shorter than any of the others, but I couldn't end it anywhere else or it would disrupt the flow. The next one is usual length, though.
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