Chapter 68 : Chapter Sixty-Seven: The Old Ministry
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This one's dedicated to my excellent English professor.
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Chapter Sixty-Seven: The Old Ministry
“You brought your Polyjuice with you, I hope?” Palmyitor said a week later. Lottie leaned against a wall in her office—in her true form, but dressed in Shaula’s clothes.
“Yeah.” Lottie picked up a foot and carelessly placed it against the wall. “Why?”
Palmyitor stared at her with that same old look of annoyance. “The Dark Lord knows you, Rowe. If the Death Eaters showed up you would be killed instantly. At least as Carrow, you can easily blend in with the Death Eaters.”
“Oh.” Lottie frowned. “What about the others?”
Palmyitor waved her hand in a dismissive way. The word that came instantly to Lottie’s mind was expendable. “I will go get them,” Palmyitor said, rising to her feet. “Wait right here—but take your potion.”
Lottie obeyed, but made sure her grimace was visible as Palmyitor exited. Ever since leaving school, she lost a bit of respect for the old professor; she no longer ruled her entire life and had even admitted Lottie’s superiority as far as Legilimency went. Lottie took a swig from the flask and winced as she transformed—although familiar, the sensation was far from enjoyable. Shaula’s slightly-too-large robes fit her perfectly now. She ran her fingers through her dark hair.
The door to Palmyitor’s office opened, and Palmyitor entered, followed by a file of students. Lottie recognized every single person; there was Edgar Payne, one of the Clynalmoys who had been Ally’s friends, and—Lottie realized with a pang—Colm and Andrea. She walked over to them both, grinning. She hadn’t seen either of them for months. Andrea looked practically the same, but Colm was even thinner and more emaciated than before.
“Hey,” Lottie breathed.
Andrea turned to her with a furrowed brow and smiled politely. “Hello,” she said, the look of confusion in her eyes unmistakable.
Colm just frowned. He was looking at Lottie as though she were disfigured.
“I’m sorry,” Andrea finally said after a long pause. “I don’t think I know you.”
“Andrea.” Lottie took a step back. “Andrea, it’s me. Lottie.”
Andrea took a step back as well, her eyes widening. “Lottie?” she repeated. “Are you serious? Merlin, you look different.”
“Well—yeah.” Lottie laughed awkwardly. “I took a Polyjuice Potion, you see.”
“No, not just that.” Andrea peered carefully at her. “Something in your eyes is different.”
Lottie turned to Colm, who instead of looking reassured seemed just as troubled. “I don’t look that weird, do I?” she asked.
“It’s just the Potion,” he said, though in his eyes, it was clear that he did not believe it. “Don’t worry about it.”
On that enigmatic note, Lottie broke off from the others to listen to Palmyitor, who had begun to speak. “Listen, everybody,” she said seriously. “This may be one of the most dangerous missions we’ve ever gone on. We know the Death Eaters are going to try to retrieve this, and it may very well be today that they show up.” Palmyitor reached into a drawer in her desk and pulled out a rather distressed looking parchment.
“We also believe that this note may have something to do with it.” She glanced down and continued. “It is a letter sent from Rookwood, a man who worked in the Department of Mysteries, but eventually became a Death Eater.” She ran her finger over the text as though checking to select the most pertinent section. “He talks of a ‘key’ leading to the place where ‘it’ is hidden.” She glanced up at the rest of them. “So this mission might be more complicated than finding a Dark object among ruins. We’ll have to find a key—”
“What does he say about the key?” Lottie asked.
Palmyitor raised a scornful eyebrow. “I hardly think it is important.”
“It might be.”
Lottie saw Palmyitor’s Occlumency falter as her frustration grew. She quickly recomposed herself and looked down at the note. “Well, he wrote that the key was somewhere ‘between infinity.’” She stared at Lottie as though challenging her. “Was that helpful?”
“Yes,” Lottie said through gritted teeth. “Thanks.” With a nervous smirk, she turned to Colm and Andrea for support, but they just looked back at her, momentarily stunned at her audacity.
“Anyway, in this mission, it is absolutely vital that you listen to any order that we give you—we being Professor Maelioric, Professor Stainthorpe and myself. We are going to be very exposed. We cannot place a Fidelius Charm around the location because nearly every person of my generation has been there already. We have the constant thread of Death Eaters—and even the threat of some members of the Ministry.”
Lottie frowned, and glanced around—everybody else seemed just as confused, except for Andrea, who was looking grim.
“Yes,” Palmyitor continued, “the Ministry has been acting very oddly lately. They haven’t caught a single Death Eater in days. Barksdale’s pregnant girlfriend was found dead two days ago, and we believe that may have something to do with it. In any case, we are not quite sure what is going on there, and it would be better to just avoid them altogether.”
Nobody said anything. Lottie couldn’t think of anything to say. On this mission they would hopefully find the final Horcrux, but it was also quite possible that they would all lose their lives. She wondered if anybody else knew how important this was.
Palmyitor got to her feet and motioned for the rest of them to file out of the office. When they reached the corridor, they were met by Maelioric and Hermione.
“You’re coming too?” Lottie asked Hermione in an undertone as they marched up the stairs to the entrance hall. “Isn’t it dangerous?”
“It’s always going to be dangerous.” Hermione’s face was set with a sort of determination that Lottie had never seen on her. “If this works out, hopefully it will all be over soon. It won’t matter if they know I’m here or not.”
Lottie didn’t know how to respond, so casually drifted away from her and stood with Andrea and Colm in the corner of the entrance hall. They didn’t speak—Lottie couldn’t think of anything to say to them. In this alien form, she was hardly even the same person in their eyes.
Palmyitor held out a rusty, old cauldron—a Portkey. There were few enough to only need one. Lottie laid a finger again the cold iron and waited until they were jerked away.
They arrived in the middle of desolation. Lottie blinked and looked around as her eyes adjusted to the light. They were indoors—underground, Lottie would have guessed. There were torches, and with a flick of Palmyitor’s wand, they all ignited.
They were in the center of a cavernous room. The walls had been almost completely knocked down, but there was a foundation where Lottie could see the ruins of several doors. They spun in a sort of half-hearted away, circling them lazily. Everybody else seemed too enraptured to speak. Almost all of the walls had been knocked down, so they could see everything from where they stood. Palmyitor began to walk and led them in the direction of what looked like a wall of glimmering light.
The silence around them was absolute. Lottie heard Andrea go “Eugh!” and leap away from something, which turned out, Lottie noted dully, to be a dried up, human brain.
They reached the source of light. It turned out to be thousands of glowing orbs, twinkling on shelves. They were so dusty that they looked grey, but Lottie could still see their faint light.
Lottie broke off from the group, enraptured by the orbs. She walked along a row of shelves. Under every ball of light, there was a set of names, and what seemed like a location. She wanted to hold one—to feel the light and warmth cradled between her fingers in this cold place. She reached out a careful hand to a shelf, when suddenly something grabbed her wrist.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Hermione said forcibly, pushing Lottie’s hands away.
Lottie looked at her. In this strange, flickering light, her face almost lost its wrinkles. She seemed almost to be her own age, though Lottie noticed there were restrained tears in her eyes. “Why not?”
“Old protections,” Hermione explained, leading them back to the center room where the others stood. “People go mad if they touch a prophecy that was not made about them.”
Lottie followed Hermione silently. That seemed like a strange rule—a recipe for disaster, really. She wondered vaguely whether anyone had ever thought of forcing the Dark Lord to take an orb, and forcing him to lose his mind that way, though something seemed too base about the idea to pursue it further.
“I don’t believe it would be in the Hall of Prophecies,” came Palmyitor’s voice. Lottie joined the group of students and watched Palmyitor, Maelioric and Hermione converse. Finally, Hermione gestured towards a room to their side, and led the entire group that way.
Lottie broke off from the others again as she combed the new room for clues. This one seemed to hold every clock in existence. They were everywhere—on every wall, on rows of shelves an even some in the ceiling. The ticking was unbearable. She walked among the clocks, trying to find anything significant about them, but unable to look beyond their dusty, grimy facades. They were all different. Some had no numbers; some had far too many; some had seven or eight hands, and one, enormous clock in the center of the room had only one.
They lingered in the Time Room for far too long, in Lottie’s opinion, before heading back to the center. For an extremely dangerous mission, this was very dull. Andrea seemed to be feeling the same way, because when they made eye contact, she stuck her tongue out playfully. Colm looked a little distracted. He kept looking over his shoulder.
“Nervous?” Lottie asked softly in his ear.
He jumped nearly a foot into the air. “That—that Time Room,” he said shaking his head. Lottie could see the goose bumps on his neck. “It freaked me out.”
“They’re just clocks, Colm,” Lottie said, but he just shook his head and followed the others’ lead into a separate room.
Lottie exchanged quizzical looks with Andrea and followed the group. Maelioric led them to another large chamber. Lottie could hear Hermione crying in earnest now. This chamber looked almost like a kind of amphitheatre. There were rows of vaulted seating, that would have been like stairs if they weren’t so far apart. Lottie had to awkwardly jump to get down to each level. In the center of the room stood a dais, although cracked and crumbled, and on the center of the dais, stood an archway.
Lottie frowned. This archway didn’t seem to lead anywhere in particular, or support a wall or anything. It just stood there. From the archway, a veil hung, fluttering even though there wasn’t any wind, and Lottie instantly knew that there was something very dangerous about that arch. She inched closer. Now she was at the foot of the dais, and with a little hop, she stood on it, just feet from the ominous veil.
“Lottie, what are you doing?” Andrea called from far away.
Lottie wrenched her head around to stare at her, but otherwise ignored her. There was something enticing about this veil. Voices seemed to emerge from it, as though it were a portal to a room full of people. The voices were a constant stream—Lottie had a feeling that it was just a stream that led to a much bigger river.
Lottie reached a hand out to touch the fluttering veil when several things happened at once to stop her.
Andrea shouted, “LOTTIE!”
At the same moment, searing pain burned across her left forearm.
Around her, there were several loud cracks!
Lottie hissed through her teeth and crouched down, pressing her palm tightly against her arm, against the precise location of the Dark Mark. She spun around to face the group but found that there were several more people in the room now—hooded, masked, and cloaked Death Eaters.
The first thing Lottie felt was panic—complete panic—rip through her and freeze her bones. She stood there, completely still, as though in a stalemate. Maelioric, in the middle of the room, was the first to move. After what seemed like five minutes, but realistically was a matter of seconds, he raised his wand. A jet of dark red light blasted against the chest of one of the Death Eaters.
With that, the battle commenced.
Hexes flew through the air, staining it with their magical glow. Lottie dodged off the dais and hid behind, using it as a momentary barricade before the Death Eaters discovered her. Her chest heaved wildly, but it felt like she was taking in no oxygen.
There was a rustling beside her. Lottie spun, holding her wand up before her with shaking fingers. Palmyitor dodged around the dais as well and, with her usual-neat bun falling out into her eyes, growled, “Rowe, the potion.”
“Go join them, Rowe. The potion.”
With that, Palmyitor pushed off against the stone dais and went back into the battle. Lottie blinked. In the panic of the moment, she had no idea what Palmyitor meant, so ran out into the battle herself.
They were grossly outnumbered. Maelioric dueled four at once, dodging and ducking under their curses like a dancer. Palmyitor stood at the top of the room, high above everyone else. Nobody noticed that she was there, but she quietly took Death Eaters out, one by one. The Clynalmoy student was dueling a single Death Eater, and doing pretty poorly. Edgar Payne seemed to be running in circles, and occasionally firing the odd jinx.
Hermione dueled another cloaked figure fiercely. The spells she fired were like none Lottie had ever seen before. The Death Eater dodged nimbly, though, and fired a particularly nasty curse that knocked Hermione off her feet.
She lay on the ground on her back—her body shaking with pain. Lottie could see her trying to push herself back up, but every time she made contact with the ground, her limbs froze. The Death Eater reached off and pulled off his mask as he approached her.
It was Snape. He was laughing. “Granger, you insufferable, little know-it-all, you will never learn.”
Hermione gasped for breath. Apparently whatever spell Snape had used was more powerful than it seemed. She squirmed on the ground in a last effort to raise her wand, but the Dark Magic that prevented her held true.
The corner of Snape’s lips curled. “Mudblood filth,” he hissed as he raised his wand.
“SNAPE!” Magic forgotten, Lottie ran at him, rage filling her every pore. Snape only had time to look up in surprise before Lottie tackled him full force and brought him to the ground.
With Shaula’s larger frame, overtaking him was easy. Lottie had Snape pinned to the ground with her knees and used both arms to deliver fierce punches to his face. His wand lay abandoned by his side.
Thick, viscous blood oozed from his large, crooked nose. It ran down his face, staining his lips and pooling at the base of his neck. Lottie delivered another blow to his jaw. More blood.
“You are digging your own grave, Rowe,” Snape growled, and impossibly, he smiled.
Taken slightly off-guard, Lottie sat back. How had he recognized her in this form? “You know?”
Snape only laughed. The blood from his nose ran down his face and into his mouth, staining his teeth pink. “You killed your own parents, Rowe. Shouldn’t you be ashamed?”
“I didn’t kill them.” Lottie raised her arm again to deliver another blow “Bran did. Bran killed them—”
“We would not have been able to find them if you hadn’t delivered us that Muggle.” Snape smiled still. With the blood in his mouth, he looked like some kind of sick vampire. “Now how else would an up-and-coming Death Eater know how to find the source of a revolt, if she didn’t already know where to look? How would a Death Eater get the information out of the Muggle without torture? I know your style, Rowe. You’re far too obvious.”
Lottie’s throat went dry. She couldn’t think of what to do. Her wand hung limp in her hand.
Snape carefully moved his arm, unnoticed by Lottie, and was finally able to grasp the handle his own wand. He sneered at Lottie, who still sat in a daze, and suddenly jabbed his wand in her direction.
The spell hit Lottie with such a force that Lottie was knocked aside. She landed heavily on her back and lay, stunned, for a moment. A stinging gash began to bleed along her face. Snape took the time and scrambled out from under her and rejoined the fray.
Lottie wiped the blood with the back of her hand and slowly got to her feet. She rushed to Hermione’s side, who was still struggling from her spot on the floor. “Finite,” Lottie murmured. The Dark Magic stopped instantly.
“Rowe,” Hermione panted, pushing herself up. “Your potion.”
“Watch out!” Hermione used the strength she had left to lunge from the ground and knock Lottie over. Her head collided painfully with the stone floor. Through the daze of stars that popped up in her vision, Lottie saw jets of green light fly overhead.
“Thanks,” she breathed as she got to her feet. She held out her hand to help Hermione up, and once she was standing, Lottie joined the fight.
She spotted Andrea battling a huge Death Eater. He had the advantage of power, but Andrea was too nimble for him. He shot a killing curse, which Andrea avoided by leaping from her feet and morphing into a sparrow in mid-air.
The sparrow landed by Lottie’s feet and quickly transformed back into Andrea. “Lottie,” she panted, picking her wand up off the ground, “you’re turning back—”
“What?” Lottie wasn’t paying great attention. From the corner of her eye, she saw a jet of light shoot towards them. “DUCK!” With her right arm she pulled Andrea to the ground with her.
They landed heavily; Lottie hardly noticed the slight sting in her elbows as the stone scraped the top layer of skin off. She quickly spun around on the ground and aimed at the man who had fired at them. A flash of green, and the man fell to the ground, a look of mild surprise still showing in his dead eyes.
“Your potion,” Andrea said. “You’re you again.”
Lottie blinked. She did feel suddenly lighter. The hair falling into her eyes was blond again, not Shaula’s thick black. She fumbled for the potion in her pocket but another Killing Curse forced her to forgo it and push Andrea and herself out of the way.
A jet of light aimed toward the pair again, and they leapt in opposite directions to avoid the curse. Out of the corner of her eye, Lottie saw Andrea scramble to her feet and join the fight again. Panting, Lottie stood up herself. She ran along the periphery of the battle, firing Killing Curses at Death Eaters. It wasn’t long, though, before she was noticed. A Death Eater turned to her, smiling like a wolf. It was Snape.
“You want to kill me?” Lottie taunted. “You had the choice a thousand times.” She dodged a jet of red light that he fired and smiled at him as she straightened up. “You hated me for years for being better than you—but you never took the chance to get rid of me?”
Lottie laughed, just because she knew that it would make Snape furious. There was so much blood on his face that he was almost unrecognizable. He made a noise that sounded like a growl and left her, whipping around to join the battle again.
Lottie stood still, watching him with wide eyes. He had given up the chance to kill her—again. She watched him fire curses from his wand, directed at nobody in particular—maybe just to release his frustration.
“SNAPE, YOU TRAITOR!”
The voice came from behind her. Colm came barreling past from the back of the room right into the fight. He fired a jet of green light at Snape, who dodged and jumped nimbly onto the dais.
Colm followed, and leapt onto the dais after a running start. He fired curse after curse. Lottie watched them duel, unsure of what to think. She had never seen Colm this angry before. Snape dodged every curse with a sneer, and they were speaking as they fought—Lottie could see their lips moving furiously, but could not hear what they said.
Finally, Colm, wand forgotten, grabbed the front of Snape’s cloak in an impossibly tight grip. Snape writhed to get out, but couldn’t escape Colm, who was bigger and had the unnatural strength of a werewolf.
Lottie heard the word Colm spoke from where she stood, though it sounded like a whisper. “Traitor.” With inhuman strength, Colm shoved Snape backwards.
What happened next seemed to occur in slow motion. Snape flew backwards, his heels just skimming the ground. Surprised etched his face, and in that moment, all of his memories flooded out of him like a wave. His back hit the fluttering veil, which seemed to suspend him for a moment.
Snape fell slowly. His eyes were wide, panic stricken, as the archway swallowed him. The veil gave one final, ominous flutter, and he was gone.
The battle seemed to stop. Lottie stood, frozen, staring at the space where Snape had just been. How could he be gone? Lottie’s memory went back to Snape—how much he had taught her—Occlumency, Legilimency—he had taught her how to kill. It seemed impossible that he was gone just like that—that the veil just swallowed him that easily. Colm turned around to face her, looking just as shocked as she felt. He stood rooted to the place, but luckily, all of the Death Eaters must have been stunned as well—not a single curse shot towards him.
A handful of the Death Eaters, too shocked, cast their eyes around desperately. They looked at Lottie, dressed in Death Eater robes but acting on Alsemore’s side, at Colm, still standing where he had committed the murder, and at the three heads, before Disapparating with loud cracks!
And just like that, the battle started again. Colm leapt off the dais and Maelioric resumed his duels. Lottie scanned the scene quickly—they were doing pretty well; not a single person on their side had died yet.
She kept fighting, but almost in a half-hearted way. Her mind was focused not on the duels in front of her, but on the veil. Its whispering grew louder until she was unable to ignore it. She turned around to glance at it, but nobody else seemed to notice. Nobody else seemed to hear.
Lottie dodged a Killing Curse and landed heavily against the stone dais. Something kept drawing her attention to the arch. For some reason, she was sure it held a key to their questions. “Lottie, what are you doing?” The voice was Colm’s, but Lottie paid it no heed.
With her eyes set on the veil, she carefully set her foot on one of the bottom stones that made up the archway. She clasped a higher stone with her sweaty palm and put her wand between her teeth to grab on with the other one.
Because of the stone’s jagged edges, it was fairly simple to clamber up. Lottie went unnoticed up the stone arch, carefully taking one step at a time.
The others seemed to notice that she was there all at once. Andrea screamed, “LOTTIE, WATCH OUT!” just as a jet of green came flying her way. Lottie quickly swung around to the other wide of the arch and heard the curse hit the stone. It sounded like an explosion. From her spot, Lottie could see the Death Eater prowling the dais’s perimeter, searching for her.
Lottie grabbed onto the stone tightly with her left hand, and used her right to fire the Killing Curse at him. She watched him fall before returning her wand to her teeth and resuming her climb.
Panting heavily, she glanced up—the top was so close. With one final push, she got there and balanced herself precariously. The other Death Eaters either did not see her or did not care. Lottie stole a quick glance down and ran her hand over the rough keystone. The key…
Lottie didn’t know why, but she was sure that this held the answer. She grasped her wand and looked at the stone beneath her. “Reducto.” It blasted apart easily—like it was designed to—but only the top layer.
“Stupefy!” Lottie heard the spell fired, and hastily blocked it with a Shield Charm. The Death Eater below snarled at her, but before he could raise his wand again, Colm, in a flying blur, tackled him to the ground.
Lottie looked back down at the keystone. With its top layer gone, it revealed something long that glimmered in the light from the curses. Lottie peered at it and ran her fingers over it. It was smooth, like metal, and was shaped like an arrow. Lottie would have guessed that it was half a foot long. It was crammed into stone like a plug.
This was it—Lottie was sure. The arrow protruded just enough for Lottie to grasp it with her fingertips. She glanced down quickly. The fighting that continued was brutal, but nobody seemed to pay her any heed. For good measure, she fired a Killing Curse at a Death Eater before focusing again on the metal arrow.
The whispers had gotten louder, as though they knew how close she was. Lottie tugged on the arrow, but it only moved an inch. The voices grew louder. A few of the others seemed to notice them now. Palmyitor turned and stared at the arch in horror.
Lottie pulled again. The arrow, again, moved only another inch, but the voices swelled in volume. Everybody else noticed now as well. Andrea shot wild glances at the arch, and the Death Eaters spun around, confused.
One more time, Lottie tugged. The effect was instantaneous. The arrow flew into her hand, and at the same time, there was a noise like an explosion.
It was deafening—like every voice in the entire world was screaming into her ear. The shock made Lottie lose her balance. The voices continued to scream. Lottie swayed, and suddenly her feet lost contact with the stone. She seemed to fall in slow motion, falling closer and closer towards the open archway and the fluttering veil.
She grabbed onto the keystone. With only the strength of her arms to keep her from falling inevitably into the veil, her legs dangled ominously. The archway tried to pull her in like a magnet.
The others had been affected too. Almost everyone had fallen to the floor, their hands clamped futilely over their ears, completely paralyzed.
It was louder than anything that had ever existed before. It was so loud that Lottie could hardly think. The veil pulled at her legs again, and she flailed helplessly, kicking against something that wasn’t there. It wouldn’t be that bad, maybe, to just let go and fall into the veil as compared to this.
But something seemed odd. Although it was more consuming than anything in the world combined, Lottie’s ears did not hurt at all. There was no ringing—surely she would have gone deaf by now if this were real noise. It was her head that hurt—her mind that could not function.
She needed control. Despite her precarious balance, halfway between life and certain death, Lottie took a few deep breaths and tried to clear her mind.
It was harder than Occlumency had ever been, but she knew right when she tried that it was the answer. Lottie breathed more and, despite the extreme pain in her arms, and the growing sense of numbness in her feet, forced her mind to go blank. Once she had an effective block up, the voices seemed to get quieter—just quiet enough for her to think.
Then the realization hit her like a block in her chest. This wasn’t actual noise—it was thoughts. She increased the strength of her block, used Occlumency stronger than she had ever mustered before to guard her mind, and only then did she feel like she had sufficient room for her own mind.
Lottie looked around. Students, professors, and Death Eaters alike all lay in equally nonfunctional heaps. The room, Lottie realized, was completely silent; no matter how hard they clamped their hands over their ears, the thoughts would still get into their minds.
Only one person was standing. Palmyitor moved about the dais with a sense of purpose, but slowly, as though she were moving through powerful, rushing water. She glanced up at Lottie, and Lottie understood. Their Occlumency is what saved them.
The veil of nothingness tugged harder at Lottie’s legs, and Lottie yelped in panic. Her voice cut through the silence like lightning. It was only then that she realized she could still hear.
“Hang on.” It wasn’t her own voice, but Palmyitor’s. The professor stood at the foot of the arch, gazing up at her.
“I can’t.” Lottie tried again to pull herself up, but physical exhaustion was taking its toll. Her arms felt like they were melting. The power of the arch was too great for her to resist. “I’m going to fall.” The veil’s pulls were getting stronger. She could feel the fluttering fabric against her feet.
“Rowe, just hold on.” Palmyitor blinked extra hard, as though trying to clear the voices out of her sense. “They’re thoughts, Rowe. They’re thoughts.”
“I know,” Lottie growled. Like the others, she had the sudden urge to clamp her hands over her ears, but knew it would lead to her death. Her Occlumency was slowly melting away.
“Do you think you can perform Legilimency right now?” Palmyitor shouted.
“Just trust me, Rowe.”
Lottie did not want to trust her. She wanted to just let go—to relieve the extreme exhaustion in her arms—she was going to die anyway.
“Focus, Rowe. All right? I’m going to do it too.” Palmyitor’s voice sounded infinitely far away. The thoughts were growing louder again. “Ready? Go.”
With a deep breath, Lottie focused all of her energy on just Legilimency. Just like when she performed it on a human, she created a ball of mental energy that manifested itself between her eyes.
“Fill—the—gap,” Palmyitor said, screaming each word as though they were not in an entirely silent room.
Lottie turned her attention back to the bead of energy. With all of the strength left in her, she willed it to move forward. It crawled along, inch by inch. She was vaguely aware of another incarnation of energy moving beside hers.
The two balls of energy reached the keystone, and with one final push, closed the hole.
The world was silent again. The voices all stopped promptly, and Lottie could hear a lot of groaning from below, where everybody else was recovering.
“Come on, Rowe,” Palmyitor said, still at the food of the arch. “Pull yourself up.”
Lottie panted. Her lungs felt like they were on fire. The voices had stopped, but the veil was still trying to suck her in. She could hear shouting below, some incantation fired again and again. Her head pounded miserably. She just wanted to be still and rest.
“Lottie Rowe,” Palmyitor shouted, sounding sterner than ever before. “You are wasting valuable time. Pull yourself together and get down this instant.”
Lottie groaned audibly as she tried. Her legs flailed uselessly until they finally hit something solid—the side of the arch. With the added strength of her legs (and a lot of obscenities), she managed to push herself back on top of the keystone. From there she scrambled down the side of the arch, and took the last three feet and a jump. She landed heavily on the floor, doubled over on her hands and knees and half-laughing with exhaustion.
Everything hurt. Her heart felt like it was going to break her ribs; her eyes thudded dully; her brain felt like it had turned to mud. But in her hand, glimmering innocently, was the golden arrow.
There was a lot of shouting. People were yelling. Lottie didn’t even feel strong enough to open her eyes, let alone stand. She could hear someone approaching; somebody stood next to her. “Lottie?” It was Andrea. “Are you okay?”
“I can’t move.”
Andrea knelt next to her. “What do you have?”
“The key,” Lottie said, using all the strength she had to hold it up. “It’s from the arch—I pulled it out.”
“Are you sure it’s the key?” Lottie felt Andrea take the arrow out of her hand. “I thought it would look more… well… like a key.”
Lottie rolled over so that she was lying on her back. She felt like she could sleep for a week. “It’s definitely it,” she said. “No idea what it opens though.”
Andrea fell silent. Lottie didn’t care to figure out what she was thinking; she just lay on her back and breathed. Even that hurt. Andrea was murmuring as though she had to think out loud, until she finally said, “The time room!”
“Merlin, Andrea, do you have to scream?”
“No—it’s—I’m sure it is. Hang on.” Lottie heard her get up and run away. Lottie lay for a minute in blissful stillness until a heavier set of legs approached.
“You feeling okay, Rowe?” It was Maelioric. He crouched down. Lottie forced her eyes open to look at him. He sported two black eyes and a bloody lip.
“Can you give me your arm? We’ve got to get you up.” Maelioric was smiling; Lottie counted two missing teeth.
Maelioric laughed—his booming laughter made Lottie’s head spin. “I think your friend figured out where to find a Horcrux.” Carefully, he wrapped his powerful arms around her shoulders. Without much help from Lottie, he heaved and got her to her feet.
Lottie’s bones felt like soup. Her legs were planted against the ground, but she could not support her own weight. She leaned against Maelioric as he walked, and stared at the scene around them.
There were piles of dead bodies—all Death Eaters. Lottie looked around. It didn’t look as though a single Death Eater had survived. Colm and Palmyitor stood over one of the bodies, shouting at each other.
“We needed to question them, Scrivener,” Palmyitor seethed. “We needed to find out how they figured out we would be here.”
“I’m sorry.” Colm spread his palms wide in a gesture of innocence. “They were going to kill us. We couldn’t afford to give them time to regroup.”
“We have spells for that.” Palmyitor gestured violently at the dead body beneath her. “Freezing spells—we almost found out some extremely valuable information.”
“Naesa, I hate to interrupt,” Maelioric said swiftly, “but I think this can wait.”
Colm turned to them, but his eyes softened when he saw Lottie. Completely dropping the situation with Palmyitor, he rushed to her side and took weight from Maelioric. “Are you okay?”
Lottie smiled. “I think so.”
Maelioric took a step towards Palmyitor. “Naesa, I think this is the key. This is what Rowe found in the arch. Woolbright thinks it may open one of the clocks in the time room.”
Palmyitor looked down at the arrow. She glanced at Lottie, then at Andrea, who stood to the side with the other Clynalmoy and Edgar Payne. Palmyitor just looked at the dead Death Eaters for a moment before saying, “Let’s go.”
The pack moved slowly. Lottie was able to hold a little of her own weight now, but still needed Colm to guide her. Edgar Payne walked with a limp, and Andrea seemed too exhausted to move any more quickly. So a good five minutes passed by the time they reached the time room.
There were thousands of clocks. Maelioric held the arrow up to the light and glanced at the rest of them. “Well—anyone have any ideas?”
They all stood in the center of the room, gazing at the clocks for a long minute until Hermione pointed to the opposite wall and said, “There—that big one.”
The group moved forward. Against the wall stood an enormous clock, probably the same height as Lottie, with only a long and narrow minute hand. Maelioric approached its face and pushed the smaller arrow into its center.
There was a clicking noise, and the arrow stuck. The hands spun quickly as though every second were an hour. They kept moving like that for a good minute, sometimes going the same way and sometimes switching directions suddenly. Finally, they stopped and the clock’s face swung open.
It revealed a tiny vault. Lottie was surprised—she had been expecting something bigger—but there was only enough room for her to sit in. But inside—Lottie grinned when she saw it—sat a tiny, golden cup.
Palmyitor moved forward and took it delicately between two hands. She turned to the group and looked back down at the cup. “We have to destroy it,” she said.
“Can’t we do that back at school?” Lottie groaned.
“Yeah,” Colm said. “Lottie’s exhausted. We can do it there.”
“I don’t want to risk it,” Palmyitor said sharply. “Somebody tipped the Death Eaters off—and they might steal it if we wait.”
They stood for a minute. Lottie sighed several times before an idea hit her. “The veil,” she said.
Palmyitor nodded, and once again, the group began the slow procession back. When they got to the dais, the veil fluttered innocently. There were no more whispers.
They stood in front of the arch for a good minute. Colm shifted his weight several times. Finally, Palmyitor inched forward and threw the cup; it soared in the air for a moment before the archway swallowed it. The veil fluttered, and it disappeared into nothing.
Suddenly, Lottie was filled with a rush of excitement. “That was it,” she said, finally picking herself up and standing on her own. “The last one—that was it.”
Palmyitor turned to her, a grim frown on her face. “The war’s not over, Rowe,” she said. “We’re only halfway there.”
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