London was blurry and transforming before her eyes, undulating and swirling into unrecognizable shapes. Shades of grey twisted together and formed broken buildings and low clouds and trails of smoke.
She turned her eyes from the window and the rain which ran down the glass, and back to the figure who sat in the bed, eyes hard.
"It's the only treatment available. Now, I know it's unpleasant, but you'll feel better as soon as you take it. You must be very careful to do as the Healers tell you. These things have been known to become permanent, you know."
The patient stared back at her with a stubborn glare, one eyebrow raised and brown eyes burning beneath. Rose stood her ground, crossing her arms for further effect over the emblem on her chest which marked her as a trainee Healer. She cast a dangerous eye on the unwilling patient, waiting for her to make the next move.
"Alright," she agreed, an expression of regal distaste taking its place on her face. "But I'm telling you, it tastes disgusting."
"Well, maybe next time you'll think again about drinking your mum's potions, hmm?" Rose said more pleasantly, sitting down at a small chair and regarding the eleven-year-old girl who sat in the bed looking sheepish.
"Is it really that bad?" the girl asked her quietly.
"Not at all," Rose replied breezily, carefully pouring a measure of liquid into a spoon and handing it to the girl, steadying her small hand. "It brings out the color of your eyes. But your mum says that purple spots don't go with the curtains and she can't have you sitting outside all night, so they've got to come off."
The girl let out a reluctant giggle even as she swallowed hard, making a disgusted face. She examined one of the large, bright purple polka-dots that covered her arms carefully, poking at the skin. Even as she and Rose eyed it, it began to fade, and Rose stood up, satisfied.
"Your mum will be here very soon to take you home. And if I see you here again, madame, I promise I will find the smelliest, most vile potion we have and maybe that will cure you."
She patted the girl's hand and left the room, shutting the door behind her and wearing a small smile. She loved healing children, how quickly they could bounce back from even terrible sickness. But she didn't always get so lucky. Glancing at the chart on the wall, she suppressed a groan. She was do to check in with Mrs. Smithings again today, and she wasn't sure she was ready for another encounter with the extremely irritable old woman. Pulling her crimson hair over one shoulder thoughtfully, she checked the clock and saw that it was time for lunch. Eager to put of the unpleasant meeting as long as possible, she shrugged out of her Healer's robes and hung them behind a desk before continuing across the hall, down a few flights of stairs, and through the waiting room out into the dreary, wet London afternoon.
She Apparated to Diagon Alley but still managed to get soaked on the short walk to the cafe where she was meeting her cousin James, so that when she arrived he took one look at her and smirked at the sight. She scowled at him before performing a quick drying spell and sitting down at his table, beside a large window that was slightly fogged with the breath of the customers inside.
"Nice stroll?" he asked her, grinning.
"Very pleasant," she replied sarcastically. "I hope all the refugees thought to bring umbrellas with them."
"Probably not at the height of their priority list," James said, raising an eyebrow. She took a look at the menu and ordered and they spent a few minutes discussing his work in the offices of Which Broomstick?
, which he said was dead boring but a good opportunity. There was a lull for a moment while they ate, both looking out the window at the rain, before he turned back to her.
"How's your Mum and Dad?"
"Mum's alright. She's hardly gotten any time away from the office," Rose answered, frowning.
"I wonder if that's anything to do with what they said in the Prophet,
about the Muggle defense," James said darkly, before she could continue.
Rose met his eyes and found a similarly frustrated expression there. "She won't tell me anything," she admitted, shrugging. "And neither will Dad. I don't know, Jamie, it looks pretty bad. Dad hasn't even been able to come back to see Dora yet. Has Uncle Harry told you anything?"
"Nothing," James replied, and Rose could see the tension in his fierce expression. She patted his hand across the table and was not offended when he withdrew it, shrugging. "Al thinks it must be some kind of shield," he said quietly, drumming his fingers on the table. "You know, like some kind of armour."
Rose sighed, and bit her bottom lip. "I don't think so," she disagreed. "Didn't the Prophet
say it was related to the weapon they were using before? If it is a shield, there must be some way around it."
"Let's just hope someone figures it out before they find a way to break the protective enchantments and come swarming into the city," James said, stabbing at a piece of meat bitterly.
"Don't say that," Rose admonished him, pointing her fork at him for emphasis. There was silence for a moment as each of them sat absorbed in their own thoughts. She was thinking of the far-away war and how strange it was that she could not even picture the place that was the focus of so much energy. And she was thinking of their strange little island here in London, this place where wizards were now gathering from all over the continent as word was spreading that it was one of the safest places to be. Her parents had fought so hard against hatred of Muggles, her mother had been born one. But the world had changed so quickly. And it was so easy to get lost in her anger, at the injustice of it.
She couldn't help but understand how James was feeling. She wanted someone to blame as badly as he did.
"How is Beth, anyway?" she asked him after a minute, and she could see the change of direction helped him to clear his head.
"She's well. Her parents just moved into the city," he replied, and she laughed at his expression.
"Nervous to meet the parents, Potter?" she teased him, and he smirked.
"Who wouldn't love me?" he preened, running a hand through his already-tousled hair. "Besides, she said they worship Dad, so they heartily approve. What about you, Rosie, any boyfriends I need to meet or beat to a pulp?"
"This is the problem with having too many male family members," she sighed, shaking her head. "I can see how Aunt Ginny must have felt, with my Dad looking over her shoulder all the time. Hugo is the one you ought to be worrying about, anyway. I think he's lost his head again."
James groaned. "Who is it this time?"
"The girl in the restaurant next door to his flat," Rose explained, rolling her eyes. "Apparently he's in love."
"Again," James pointed out, and she nodded, smirking.
No one heard the sound of the engines droning above over the pouring rain.
The pilot skimmed the clouds, cautious now, the plane shaking when he ran into invisible pockets of cold air in the storm. It was a terrible condition to be flying in but perfect, according to his commander, for the mission. But it made his already raw nerves tighten further. He knew he was invisible to those below, as invisible as they were to him, in fact. But he couldn't help but wonder about their technology, whether they could somehow detect him up here. Could their wands shoot from that far below? The truth was, he didn't know anything about what they were capable of. He was flying blind in more ways than one.
He had been given detailed instructions, down to the last letter. Approach at high altitude, high enough that whatever protection they had surrounding they would, more likely than not, be out of range. Fly above the clouds. Wait until they got word from below and then move into formation and then, when the command came, press the button and get the hell out. He knew exactly what he was doing and he had no idea what he was doing because, truthfully, he didn't know what that button did.
But he was going to find out in just moments now, as he heard the first command, and expertly maneuvered the controls, flying into place as instructed. He would find out, and so would the people, or whatever they were, below.
"I have to go," Rose said, standing up and looking at her watch. She groaned aloud, she had all but forgotten the unpleasant meeting ahead of her. "Bring Al over tomorrow, would you?"
"Sure," James replied, throwing an arm around her shoulders briefly and squeezing. She smiled at her cousin and made her way to the door, but paused, startled, when a loud Crash!
echoed behind her. She jumped and turned around and saw the owner of the cafe in the center of the dining room, looking sheepishly down at the tray at his feet, where a pile of shattered glass lay which had once been the dining ware he had been levitating across the room. She watched as his muttered apologies to those sitting nearest him and waved his wand at the pile.
The glass rose into the air and began re-forming, but only the vaguest distinction of recognizable shapes had appeared before it fell to the ground again. By this point, the entire room had stilled, and all eyes were turned on the owner, who was blushing furiously as he waved his wand again. The glass clinked, twitched- and lay still.
Awkwardness hung in the air. A few made half-hearted movements toward their wands, as though to help the man, but he waved them off, huffing. Rose turned her back, uncomfortable, and glanced toward the window once more. She frowned. Something was wrong outside- people were emerging from shops, looking puzzled. A feeling of anxiety began to seep into her, making her lungs feel rather heavy and stiff as she exhaled. She pushed her way out the door, looking around. The people outside seemed quiet, but bewildered, and she could see why- all around, the things displayed in shop windows and entrances seemed to be breaking before their eyes. A floating display of books inside the bookshop fell to the floor with a loud Thump!
A model of a broom flying in circles outside of Quality Quidditch Supplies stilled and began to descend. Lights winked off. Noises ceased. It was very, very quiet, but for the hush
of the rain.
Around her, heads began to turn up as the first few became aware of something odd in the sky. Rose copied them, squinting through the rain that new fell into her eyes. Someone touched her arm- when she turned her head slightly, she saw that it was James, looking as puzzled as anyone. She heard the noise before she saw anything- a low drone, dull and monotonous. And then shapes in the sky. It was a moment before she realized what she was seeing.
Then someone yelled, and everything became very clear at once.
"Get inside!" James said loudly, and Rose followed him as he ducked back into the cafe, her heart pounding. Planes. There were planes in the sky where there should be none, where their Muggle Repelling Charms should have kept them away. What had gone wrong? Had the spells failed somehow? Around her came the sounds of Apparition, but as more and more people tried to turn into space, she noticed that it seemed to be going wrong, as well: the figures flickered out of sight, then back again, or else nothing happened at all.
"What is happening?" a woman nearby asked frantically, waving her hands in the air. Rose couldn't answer. She didn't know what was happening or why the magic all around them seemed to be failing. James took her hand and lead her further into the cafe, around the counter and into the back room, where a surprised cook waved a ladle threateningly at them. Ignoring him, they darted through another door and found themselves in a back alley, beneath the awning of the door.
"Where are we going?" Rose asked loudly, looking to both ends of the alley, where she could see people running back and forth.
"I don't know!" James admitted, his forehead creased.
Rose took control, leading him to the mouth of the alley opposite the street they had just left. The rain seemed to be falling more heavily now and she stayed beneath the awning as much as she could, where she could see better without the water in her eyes. Her wand was in her hand but she realized with a heart-thumping clarity that it might not protect them, might not be any use against whatever was going on. For the first time, she felt truly helpless, standing at the mouth of the alley and looking around for some sign of which way to go.
"Dominique's place!" James said, nodding down the street. "It's not far from here!"
Rose nodded her consent and began to run, her cousin at her side, weaving through people on the street who all seemed to be moving in different directions. They turned a corner and continued, and on this street was more of the same: useless attempts at Apparition, broken magical objects lying in the street. As they reached a more residential area she could see people ducking into buildings, hurrying up stairs, locking doors against the outside world. One man stood in the street and waved his wand repeatedly, crying out different spells and letting out a choked sort of sob each time nothing happened, snapping to attention each time a tiny spark flew from his wand.
Distracted by the man, Rose was surprised when James suddenly came to an abrupt halt, pulling her backward against her momentum when she didn't stop in time. She followed his gaze ahead of them, where she could see strange shapes appearing in the fog and mist, and then she heard another rumble, not the same as before, but closer, too, this time. She watched as the things moved toward them, and after a moment she recognized them for what they were: automobiles, unlike any other automobiles she had seen before. She had seen the ones which Muggles in London drove, the ones the Ministry adapted for use, but these were massive and lumbering, with lights that flared toward her through the rain like two bright beacons.
She and James turned and ran the opposite way. But she slowed when she heard, from behind them, the haunting sound of a voice amplified echoing through the streets.
"Come out of your buildings. We know you are inside. Do not attempt to fight back. Your magic has been neutralized."
For a moment there was stillness again and Rose held her breath, staring at her cousin, who looked back at her with wide eyes. And then, as though a dam had broken, doors began to open around them and people poured out, running, crying, and the street was chaos once more as, collectively, the mass began to move away from the vehicles and the echoing voice. She heard the engines rumble again as the automobiles began to move, and she joined the crowd in its push for the other end of the street, the sound of the motors barely audible of the cries of the people around her and the thump of her heartbeat in her throat.
She ran faster, shaking rain-sodden strands of crimson hair from her eyes. It was a moment before she realized James was not beside her.
"James!" she called his name and halted, trying with difficulty to remain still in the throng, being pushed and prodded from all sides. She was moving against her will, stumbling backward as she frantically searched the crowd for the tall figure of her cousin, for his messy black hair towering over the rest.
"James!" she yelled his name again, but she could barely make herself heard over the sound of the rest of the crowd. It had quickly become a mob as witches and wizards, helpless without their wands, pressed forward, blind to everything but the menacing vehicles approaching behind them. Rose stepped backward and felt herself wobble as her foot came down unevenly on a cobblestone. She lost her balance, righted herself, and then lost it again, buffeted by the storm of bodies around her. She fell hard against a man beside her and he pushed past, and she ricocheted from person to person, kept upright by the lack of space between pounding feet.
"JAMES!" she called until her voice was hoarse, and she heard no reply. And then she was falling, properly falling now, sinking beneath the crowd and frantic to get away from the rush of feet pounding the cobblestones just inches from her head, and she was covering her face with her arms and crawling, moving through the panic in no particular direction, and she reached the edge of the street and a storefront. She stretched up for the handle of the door, to pull herself upright and out of the crowd, but before she could reach it a knee came into contact with her temple, and she sank into the cobblestones and blissful peace, darkness, and unconsciousness.