As always, that which you recognize belongs to JK Rowling.
Susan purchased a large cup of coffee from the cafe across the street from her flat and steeled herself for another thoroughly miserable day at the office. Since Harry, Ron and Hermione had fought their way out of Harry’s house and disappeared, her work life had become a mind-numbing ordeal of drudgery and boredom, punctuated by occasional “interviews” with her new boss from Ministerial Security. It seemed that the imbeciles in blue robes still hadn’t accepted the reality that none of the Aurors had any idea where the fugitives were holed up. To help pass the time, Susan had started to make a game of it. She would slip tantalizing bits of false information into her answers only to subtly contradict that information minutes later. As she added cream and sugar to her coffee, she thought ruefully, seven N.E.W.T.s and forty-five years of experience have culminated in this.
It wasn’t for nothing, however. She and Justin had been carefully keeping tabs on the comings and goings around the Ministry. Kline, the old head of Ministerial Security, was out. Nobody had actually heard from him in several days. He had been replaced by Strafford Rowle, which was shocking on many levels, not least because Rowle had been hired mere hours before assuming the position. The rumor was that the Minister, himself, had made the appointment. Rowle was a pure blood and he wasn’t shy about it. He fit nicely into the Minister’s broader strategy of appeasement.
She placed a lid and a cardboard sleeve on her coffee and made her way out of the cafe. There was another good reason to continue showing up for work. The junior Aurors and trainees needed help navigating the treacherous waters of a Ministry that was drawing ever closer to open conflict. None of them had seen anything remotely like this in their lifetimes. A half-century of peace and prosperity had begotten two entire generations of witches and wizards who tended to speak without thinking and lacked the instinct to be mindful of who might be standing behind them. They seemed like children, although at her age, many people did.
The wind was terribly brisk as she made her way around the corner towards the alley that she normally ducked into to disapparate. She pulled her cloak tigher around her neck and took a reinforcing sip of coffee. Taking a quick look from side to side, she stepped into the alley and started to turn when a voice hissed, “Susan!”
She whipped around, wand already in hand, scanning the alley. “Who’s there?”
“Sorry, it’s me,” Terry Boot’s voice called back in a slightly louder whisper. “Over here.”
Susan made her way further into the alley as she scourgified spilled coffee from the side of her cloak. A rubbish bin sat along the back side of a muggle bakery and she expected that Terry was on the other side of it. She was surprised to find nobody there, and she practically jumped out of her skin when she heard two loud cracks behind her. She spun around to find two bodies slumping to the ground beneath rapidly fading disillusionment charms and Terry standing at the entrance to the alley.
“You’re determined to see me spill every last drop of this, aren’t you?”
“Sorry,” he replied with a grin. “You had company. I think you’re starting to lose your edge from all this desk work.”
“Don’t go there,” she said with a frown. She knelt down and began to obliviate the first interloper. “Is this mission of yours going to be over any time soon?”
“Why?” Terry chuckled. “You and Justin miss me?”
“You?” She pinched her nose in mock displeasure. “The office has never smelled better. It’s just that Rowle keeps asking me about you and it would be nice to have some actual secrets to hide from him for a change.”
“Under the circumstances, I think it’s best if I stay where I am,” Terry replied. He raised his arms to shield himself as she threatened to throw her coffee at him. “Hey, I’m being serious here!” His expression turned more serious. “Something big is about to happen. I’m not sure what, but it’s causing a lot of buzz.”
Susan looked concerned. “Is this ‘big’ as in ‘dangerous’? Do we need to warn the Order?”
“I wouldn’t know what to tell them yet,” Terry answered. “As soon as I have something, I’ll get word to Ron. He was very explicit. Don’t break cover until he decides to pull me out.”
“But we don’t even know where Ron’s hiding,” Susan replied, letting her frustration show. “I hate this.”
Terry laid his hand on her shoulder, offering her a reassuring and sympathetic smile. “Harry and Ron have never let us down and I don’t think they’re about to start. We have to do our jobs and trust them.”
“I know,” she sighed. “I just wish they would come out of hiding and challenge all of this bollocks properly, in the open. We need a leader, somebody to rally around and fix whatever it is that’s broken at the Ministry. And right now that leader is skulking around, acting like he really has done something wrong.”
“We all know they’re innocent, Susan. And soon enough they’ll prove it to everybody. Right now we just need to keep buying them time until they figure this mess out.”
She managed to return just a bit of his smile, and he pulled her into a reassuring hug. “We’re going to make it through this,” he said quietly.
“I know we will,” she replied. “It’s just hard.”
Terry released her and took a step back. He looked at his watch and frowned. “I’m due for a meeting. You take care and watch your back, alright?”
“You, too,” Susan replied.
They exchanged one last smile, then both disappeared with a crack.
Draco sipped a glass of firewhiskey in his study and watched Kriffin pass by the door with his wife’s luggage floating in the air behind him. For the third time since returning home to Malfoy Manor, he nearly stood up and demanded to know how the elf had repaired the house. He vaguely remembered skimming a pamphlet from the Magical Creatures Department years ago and he could have sworn that it said that elves were not able to repair curse damage, but it wasn’t like he really paid attention to any of the Granger-Weasel’s moral crusades. Maybe he had elves mixed up with fairies or something.
A sharp peck at the window alerted him to the fact that the post owls were aware of their return. Two of them were sitting on the windowsill. The first was no surprise at all, a great, grey owl that clearly came from Gringott’s. There was little doubt what its message contained. The smaller owl was far more interesting. It looked very much like the owls used by the Ministry. Draco couldn’t think of a single reason why anyone in the Ministry would want to contact him. Setting aside Potter and the Weasleys, there probably wasn’t a wizard in all of Britain less popular with the current leadership. He retrieved both messages and shooed the owls away.
The letter from Gringott’s was exactly as he expected. He had forty-eight hours to come up with a five thousand galleon payment against the family’s debts or the bank was going before the Wizengamot to seize the manor. Even though he knew it was coming, seeing the words in print felt like a knife through his chest. Seventeen generations of his family had lived here, going back to his ancestor Brutus Malfoy who, if the stories his grandfather told him were to be believed, had confunded a muggle nobleman and bought the estate for twenty-five sickles. For seventeen generations, the family had been strong and prosperous, powerful and respected. Now he was about to preside over the end of it all. Their fortune was lost, his grandchildren were half-bloods and he was an outcast among pure blood society.
To make matters worse, he still hadn’t come clean with his wife about their money problems. The thought of explaining the situation filled him with dread. When she found out that he was a pauper, and worse that he’d been lying to her about it, she was certain to move back to Switzerland with her parents. He was sure of it. And that would be the cruelest blow of all. Losing his friends, losing his money, losing the house... none of it compared to the prospect of losing Astoria. It was almost too terrible to contemplate.
He set the letter from the goblins aside and turned to the small roll of parchment delivered by the Ministry owl. The message it contained was hastily scrawled and barely legible. He had to read it several times before he could get past the atrocious spelling and grammar and piece it all together.
Hop this letter finds you well. As youv probly heard, we ar in control of the Ministry. Things ar going well. I know you told Flint that you dont want to join us, but a lot has changed. I thout we coud meet for a drink and talk. You can find me at the Ragged Fang most nights if Im not at work.
P.S. - They mad me an officer in Minstral Security. If you hav any legal problems, I can fix them for you.
Draco took another long sip of his drink. Things were clearly as bad as he’d feared. The Blood Order was so firmly entrenched that a bumbling halfwit like Goyle with a criminal record could get a job in law enforcement. What was the world coming to? Calling Goyle a halfwit was probably giving him three eighths of a wit too much credit. Maybe he should have argued more adamantly in favor of remaining in Switzerland.
“What came in the post, darling?” He found Astoria staring at him from the doorway. She had developed a remarkable talent for sneaking up on him while he was lost in thought. He mentally weighed the two letters lying on the desk in front of him, trying to decide which would upset her least.
“More paperwork from the bloody goblins,” he muttered, settling on the letter from Gringott’s. “You’d think nobody had ever died before, they make it such a hassle.”
He tried to sweep the papers into a drawer but she was too quick for him. She snatched the letter from Gringott’s just before it slipped off of the desk. Draco felt a flash of abject panic followed by cold resignation. At least the letter from Goyle had dropped into the drawer unseen.
Astoria scanned the letter quickly. He found her expression impossible to read. “So you’re broke,” she said simply.
“If you want to sound common about it, yes.”
“Penniless? Destitute? Beggared? Impecunious?”
“Alright, alright!” Draco replied irritably. “So now you know. I suppose you’ll be wanting to return to Switzerland with your family?”
“Draco Malfoy! How dare you say such a thing?” The anger that flashed in her eyes took his breath away.
“Well... I just assumed that...”
“Then you assumed wrong. I didn’t marry you for your money, Draco. And this isn’t really news to me. The way you’ve been acting? The non-stop parade of owls from Gringotts? I loved your mother dearly, but she didn’t have the financial sense that Merlin gave a drunken mountain troll. She lost it all, didn’t she?”
Draco nodded dumbly as he tried to absorb everything he was hearing. She wasn’t going to leave him. In fact, the only thing she seemed angry about was the fact that he thought that she might. He felt slightly emboldened. “So what do you think we should do?”
“We came back to England to protect our family and that’s what we’re going to do.”
“I meant, what are we going to do about the goblins?”
“Oh, that,” she replied. He could see a glint of mischief in her eyes. “I said you’re broke. I didn’t say that we’re broke.”
“There’s a difference?”
“Father set up vaults for Daphne and I when we were born. In the aftermath of the war and Daphne’s disastrous marriage, I think he forgot all about them. But I didn’t.”
“So we have five thousand galleons to appease the goblins?”
“Yes, but I’m certainly not giving them five thousand galleons. This place?” she waved her hand around. “It’s been attacked by the New Blood Order and it has a legacy of dark magic. It would cost them two hundred galleons a week just to hire security and they still have to try to sell it. Malfoy Manor comes with a lot of baggage. If I start at two thousand, I’m sure I can talk them down to not a sickle over three.”
Draco stared at her in amazement. “You’re brilliant,” he mumbled. “Absolutely brilliant.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, dear. If we only owed Gringott’s five thousand galleons, I’m sure we wouldn’t be having this conversation?”
Draco’s shoulders slumped again. “At last count, the total was around one hundred thousand.”
Astoria nodded slowly, chewing on her lower lip. “We may still have to sell the manor.” The sympathy in her voice was completely genuine. Draco wasn’t sure whether it made him feel better or worse. “But we won’t do it in a panic.” She slipped her fingers under his chin and made him meet her gaze. “And dear, we aren’t going to freeze to death or starve. We are going to be just fine.”
She kissed him on the forehead and walked out of the room, poring over the demand letter from the goblins. At some level, he knew she was right. What amazed him the most was that two people who came from almost identical backgrounds could react so differently to a situation. The prospect of losing the aegis of his wealth and prestige -- no matter how tarnished the latter might be -- left him utterly terrified, yet she was being completely calm and rational about the whole thing. He found it incomprehensible and emasculating and a little bit inspiring that she could face their situation with such grace and determination.
Then again, she was completely single-minded about their ultimate goal. There was no harm in giving that a try, he supposed. He opened the drawer and took out Goyle’s letter. After rereading it and committing it to memory, he incinerated it in a puff of smoke. If things got really difficult, it wouldn’t hurt to have allies to call on. Or at least simpletons whose opinions and loyalties could be easily manipulated.
Susan’s day didn’t improve after she arrived at the Auror office. Waiting on her desk was a large pile of old case files. The senior Aurors who had yet to be “vetted” by the Minister’s new leadership team -- basically all of them -- had been assigned to dig through mountains of old files from the years immediately following the war. The objective was to identify pure blood families whose involvement might have been “overstated” in the Ministry’s zeal to capture and punish Death Eaters and other collaborators. The task made her physically ill, so she moved through the files in the slowest, most inefficient manner possible.
As she dusted off a folder filled with field reports on the whereabouts of the Yaxley family, she took at least small comfort in the fact that it was Friday. In slightly less than eight hours, she would be free of the drudgery and suspicion until it all began anew on Monday morning. She was planning to visit her cousin’s family at their house near Norwich. Getting out of London made it less likely that the Ministry’s spies would follow her. While she wasn’t planning anything especially seditious, the constant game of cat and mouse had grown very old to her.
Tired. That was a good word for how she felt in general. As the day wore on, she pondered the complete lack of energy and motivation that threatened to overtake her. She had never felt like this. Throughout her life, she had always been so focused and disciplined. Now she just wanted to crawl under her desk and take a nap. Whatever Ron and Harry were playing at, she hoped it happened soon or she was going to go crazy.
Several desks over, she heard Justin humming softly to himself. In spite of the grim environment in the office, he remained as cheerful as ever. She found him perplexing. As a muggle-born, he had far more at stake than her, but he acted as though he didn’t have a care in the world. Perhaps surviving a year on the run from Snatchers had given him a different perspective on what was truly a bad situation.
Morning dragged into afternoon and she could see the light at the end of the tunnel. It was almost half four when Rowle and Rosier suddenly stormed into the office and made a beeline for the Head Auror’s office. She involuntarily ducked lower over her desk. Such an entry often meant that they had stumbled upon some trace, real or imagined, of Harry, Ron or Hermione and they wanted to interrogate her about it. Fortunately, they seemed completely uninterested in her or anybody else. The office was nearly deserted due to the late hour of the week, and she suddenly realized that she could hear Rosier’s nasal voice. They had neglected to completely close the door.
She stood up from her desk and inched closer to Harry’s office. Rowle’s office. She silently corrected herself. A junior Auror had made that mistake already and it sent her new boss into a violent tirade. She pressed herself against the wall just around the corner from the door and listened.
“So it’s to be this weekend?” Rowle asked.
“That’s right,” Rosier replied. “She told me that the Minister is signing out a warrant for all three of Potter’s children, both of Weasley’s plus Potter’s godson. They’re all being charged with aiding and abetting known fugitives.”
Rowle laughed coldly. “She doesn’t mess around, does she? If this doesn’t flush ‘em out of hiding, I don’t know what will.”
“That’s not all,” Rosier continued. “She said to use only Blood Order members and familiars to make the arrests. We’re not to bring any of them back to the Ministry. Just keep them out of sight until we hear from her.”
“She must have something real special planned,” Rowle replied. “She’ll probably give ‘em to Gamp to play with. They’re gonna wish they hadn’t grown up famous.”
There was a brief silence before Rosier spoke again. His voice sounded slightly shaky. “Yeah, Gamp. You know she’s gonna go spare if we mess this up, right? I still got bruises from what happened after we tried to kill Potter.”
Susan heard Rowle’s fist strike the desk. “We’re not gonna mess this up! This isn’t the Head Auror we’re taking about. They’re just a bunch of lace curtain, middle-aged rich kids. If the Minister gets the warrants out soon enough, we can probably pinch ‘em before they’re even outta bed tomorrow morning.”
“Three of them work here at the Ministry. Why don’t we grab them before they leave for the day?”
“Good idea,” Rowle replied approvingly. “Get a message down to the Atrium and have Nott organize a team to get them out of here after we take them into custody.”
Susan had heard enough. She turned to sneak back to her desk and collect her things and immediately found herself face to face with Theodore Nott. “What are you doing, Bones?” he snapped arrogantly. “Shouldn’t you be at your desk?”
Susan heard the voices go silent inside Rowle’s office. She stopped thinking and just reacted. Two seconds later, Nott was lying in a heap against the wall on the other side of the room and she was diving behind her desk after snagging her cloak off of her chair. Her Auror career, it appeared, was coming to an end for the time being. She could hear Rowle and Rosier shouting orders as she disillusioned herself and crawled across the floor towards the entrance.
Justin stood up from his desk, caught sight of her concealed movements, and headed in the opposite direction. “I saw something over here,” he shouted, pointing towards the conference rooms. It was an effective ploy, drawing most of the office’s remaining occupants away from her escape route. Rowle wasn’t so easily misled, however.
“I’ll cover the door,” he yelled. “Sweep the aisles with revealing charms!”
Susan rose to a crouch and hurried to the end of the row nearest the entrance. She found Rowle standing by the door, sweeping his wand in a wide arc. Just before he zeroed in on her position, she popped up and blasted him off of his feet. His momentum carried him straight through the door and she followed closely behind as curses struck the door frame on either side of her.
She hustled to the nearest service corridor and ducked inside. It wouldn’t take them long to figure out where she’d gone. She needed to send a patronus to Harry, but she was feeling anything but happy. Summoning what felt like her last cheerful thought, she conjured the silvery falcon and dispatched it with a simple message. The Ministry’s coming after your kids and Ron’s. Get them to safety. As soon as it was gone, she turned and bounded down the hallway. She knew there was a service lift around the corner that would get her as far as Level Five. From there, things would get a lot more interesting. There would certainly be a huge reception waiting for her in the Atrium. She needed to locate Al, Teddy and Hugo and find another way out of the Ministry.
She stepped out of the lift on Level Five and disillusioned herself, then quickly moved down the service corridor. When she was nearly to the doorway, it burst open and two Ministerial Security officers stormed in with their wands at the ready. The wizard farthest from her began to sweep the hallway with a Homenum Revelio spell. She quickly confunded both of them and slipped past. Dropping the disillusionment charm, she stepped into the main hallway on Level Five, reckoning that the shimmering air would attract more attention than a lone witch strolling along, trying to look inconspicuous. She found a throng of witches and wizards making their way towards the lifts to go home for the day and eased into the flow of bodies.
Ahead, she could see three more security officers scanning the crowd approaching the lifts. She cursed to herself and slowed her pace. A disillusionment charm might get her past them, but the people surrounding her would think it very odd if she just disappeared. She began to move quietly to the side of the hallway when she felt a hand clap her shoulder.
“Hey, Susan, what’s up?” Al Potter’s cheerful greeting nearly earned him a stunning spell in the gut, and Susan grabbed him by the arm and pulled him towards the entrance to International Magical Trading Standards.
“What are you doing on Level Five?” she hissed, trying to place as much of the crowd between the two of them and the security officers as possible.
“I’m making sure Hugo leaves work on time for a change,” he replied, lowering his voice. “What are you doing here?”
“Resigning,” she replied with a grim smile. She saw Al’s confused expression and added, “We’re all in big trouble. I’m going to disillusion myself and walk directly behind you. Lead us to your cousin’s office.”
Al still looked very confused, but he did as she asked. Before they reached the security officers guarding the lifts, he turned and led them down a corridor towards the Customs and Transit bureau of International Magical Cooperation. Susan sighed in relief as they entered. The office was nearly deserted. They found Hugo sitting at his desk, mindlessly stamping “APPROVED” onto a pile of international portkey requisitions.
“Do you even read those?” Al asked.
“I used to,” Hugo replied without looking up. “Then I was told that reading upsets the pure bloods. Now I just stamp them.”
Susan momentarily enjoyed the sight of Hugo’s mouth falling open as she let her disillusionment charm fade and stepped out from behind Al. “Hello, Hugo. How’s work?”
“Um, it sucks. What are you doing here?”
“Yeah, Susan, what’s wrong?” Al interjected.
Susan stared at the two inquisitive faces in front of her. For some reason, she was gripped by memories of holding them as infants. She shook it off and focused. They were all in danger, and the longer they stayed in one place the worse it became.
“I overheard Rowle and Rosier talking in the Auror office. The Minister is going to issue arrest warrants for both of you, as well as Teddy, James, Lily and Rose. They caught me eavesdropping on them and I had to fight my way out. We have to get out of the Ministry and get everyone into hiding before something bad happens.”
If Hugo looked surprised before, he was now positively ashen. “But we haven’t done anything wrong,” he mumbled, trying to shake off the shock.
“That doesn’t matter, Hugo,” Susan said sympathetically. “They’re going to try to use you to get to your parents. Is Teddy here today?”
“I don’t think so,” Al replied. “The Muggle-Worthy Excuse Committee has him infiltrating the Transport Police, cleaning up the remaining problems from when the Blood Order tried to kill dad on the M4.”
Susan nodded. “Thank Merlin for small favors. But we still have a big problem. We have to get out of here and I’m sure the Atrium and the employee apparition point are crawling with Ministerial Security by now. We have to find another way out.”
The three of them sat in silent contemplation for a few moments. “What about a portkey?” Al asked.
“If we had one, we could get out through the Customs and Transits Arrival and Departure Point,” Hugo replied thoughtfully. “They might not think to guard that too closely.”
“Do you have any laying around?” Susan asked.
“No,” Hugo grumbled. “We just do the paperwork here. The actual portkeys come from Magical Transportation. Unless...”
Hugo stood up and peered over the top of his cubicle wall. Seeing nobody, he led them to another cubicle several spots away. “This is Brook’s desk. People say that he’s the guy to see if you want a portkey ‘off the record’ to visit places Britain isn’t too friendly with, like China.”
“Who wants to go to China?” Al asked while Hugo started rifling through the desk drawers.
“Are you kidding?” Susan replied. “China has some of the oldest dragon reserves in the magical world. Your Uncle Charlie would smack you for asking that.”
“This one’s locked,” Hugo said, pointing towards the bottom, right drawer. He drew his wand and waved it over the drawer. “Alohomora.” Nothing happened.
“Back up,” Susan said, drawing her wand. She mumbled an incantation and a white-hot stream of sparks erupted from the end. With one quick motion, she cut a round opening in the side of the desk.
“Brilliant,” Hugo mumbled as the severed circle of metal fell to the floor. He tightened his sleeve around his arm as best he could and reached through the smoldering hole. After fumbling around inside the desk for a few seconds, occasionally wincing when his arm came too close to the hot edge, he pulled his arm out and raised a rusty horseshoe in triumph. “Sneaky little git, I knew it!”
“Turn him in later,” Susan replied. She crouched and headed towards the entrance to the office with both men in tow. Opening the door a crack, she could make out two security officers standing guard at the entrance to the corridor.
“The Arrival and Departure Point is on the far side of the lifts,” Hugo whispered, trying to be helpful. Susan was already painfully aware of how much distance they would need to cover.
“You two put up shields and stay close,” she hissed. “Let me do the fighting.”
“Fighting?” Hugo asked. She could hear the apprehension in his voice.
“Well they’re not just going to step aside and hold the door for us,” Al snapped, saving Susan the trouble.
She continued to watch the guards through the crack in the door. Both of them suddenly stood straighter. Nott strolled into view, looking very angry. She noted with satisfaction that there was a huge bruise on the side of his head. After exchanging some terse words with the guards, Nott moved on and headed towards the lifts.
Susan raised her wand. Confundo. The guard on the left slouched his shoulders and gave a dazed look around. She repeated the spell for the guard on the right, then placed her wand under her chin. “They’re at the far end of the corridor,” she amplified the whisper. Both guards turned in alarm and began stumbling down the corridor, looking very unbalanced on their feet. As soon as the passed the doorway, Susan pushed it open. “Remember, shield charms as soon as we see anybody!”
The three of them slipped out the door and moved rapidly towards the intersection of the corridor and the main hallway. As soon as they turned the corner, they were confronted by a cadre of wizards in blue robes with Nott at the center. Al raised his wand and shouted, “Protego Maxima!” a fraction of a second before curses started to slam into the walls and floor around them. Hugo added his own spell to their protection as Susan stood tall and fierce between them. She whipped her wand in a circle above her head and conjured a ring of blue-white energy that erupted in all directions. The shockwave struck Nott and his team, knocking them off of their feet.
“Move!” she shouted, and the three of them began to rapidly shuffle towards the lifts, maintaining a tight formation. The Ministerial Security officers were pelting their shields with curses, and Al and Hugo had to constantly reinforce their defenses. Susan fired a volley of stunners at their attackers, forcing some of them into a defensive posture and knocking one out of the fight. Her priority became keeping Nott’s team confined to the hallway to prevent their path to the lifts from being cut off. Nott was probably thinking the same thing, she realized, as he urged his men in that direction.
“Incendio Obsaepsi!” Susan conjured a wall of flames between the security officers and the lifts. The nearest officers stumbled backwards with their hair singed while their comrades had to cast shield charms to keep the flames at bay. But the spell also weakened Hugo’s shield. An errant curse made it past their defenses, striking Susan in the left side. She clutched the wound and swore out loud as Hugo redoubled his efforts.
“Go, Hugo, go!” Al shouted. Susan felt his arm wrap around her waist and he nearly lifted her off of her feet as they rushed towards the lifts. Her side throbbed and she could feel blood trickling down to her waist. Her wall of flames was dissipating, but she didn’t dare cast another for fear of leaving them exposed.
Next to her, Al chanced a brief lapse in his shields to launch a pair of hexes towards the security officers. One of them was suddenly being attacked by a swarm of angry bats and she nodded approvingly. “Your mum would be really proud,” she shouted. Susan winced in pain as she fired a pair of reductor curses over his shield towards their attackers. Both missed to the high side, but they struck the wall overhead, bringing a shower of broken stone down onto the heads of the men below.
They soon reached the lifts and Susan cleared out the last remaining attackers separating them from the Arrival and Departure Point. “On the count of three, be ready to run,” she yelled over the din of the fight. “One... two...” She whipped her wand in a circle over her head again, feigning the stunning ring spell that she had used before. Their opponents mostly dropped into crouching positions and conjured shield charms. She was pretty sure she could feel something tearing in her injured side. “Three!” Instead of a blue ring appearing, everything went dark.
“Oi! Who turned out the lights?” Hugo shouted, but she was already pushing both of them past the lifts. She stumbled over a stunned security officer and clung to Al’s shoulder for support as they charged blindly forward. Her side was screaming in pain, but she fought through it. Suddenly they emerged on the other side. Al and Hugo looked back at the cloud of darkness filling the space behind them.
“It’s the same kind of spell that makes Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder work,” she explained breathlessly, continuing to urge them on. “But it doesn’t shield you from anything, so keep moving!”
Just ahead, she could see the Arrival and Departure Point. One frightened-looking wizard was crouched behind a chair near the entrance. Although his robes appeared to be foreign, Al knocked him out with a stunning spell. “Just to be on the safe side!” he explained, noticing Hugo’s reproachful glare.
All three of them started as a curse ricocheted off of the ceiling above them. “They’re coming through, hurry!” Susan gasped. She cast a shield charm behind them and suddenly realized that most of her energy was gone. She chanced a look at her robes and found that they were soaked with blood. A trail of bright red splotches followed them across the marble floor. Al had apparently noticed the same thing, and he wrapped his arm more tightly around her. “Come on, Hugo, get us out of here!” he shouted, adding his own more powerful shield charm to hers.
“I’ve gotta fix this thing,” Hugo replied. “Right now it’s charmed to take somebody to the Forbidden City. Where do we want to go?”
“I don’t give a shit, Hugo! Just out of the bloody Ministry,” Al yelled. Susan felt her extremities tingling. The edges of her vision were turning dark. She cast the best vulnera sanentur spell she could manage on her wound, but the blood loss was already severe.
Al was pouring all of his effort into maintaining their defenses. She could hear angry shouts coming from the darkness. Soon they would find their way through. She fired some completely ineffective stunning spells into the cloud before her arm dropped uselessly to her side. The most she could do was cling to her wand and try not to pass out.
“It’s ready,” Hugo shouted. Her world lurched as Al launched himself backwards towards his cousin, pulling her along. A fraction of a second later, she felt an agonizing pain in her gut as the pulling sensation behind her navel threatened to disembowel her. The world spun and twisted and contorted and suddenly she landed with a thud on cold, rocky ground. She immediately felt Al’s hands on her shoulders, easing her onto her back. The pain in her side was beginning to fade into numbness, which couldn’t be a good thing.
“Hugo, get over here!” Al’s voice rang with barely contained panic. More bad news. At the rate things were going, Hugo was probably digging a hole nearby.
“Oh, Merlin.” Hugo sounded like he might be sick. “Hang on, Susan. We’ve gotta get her to St. Mungo’s.”
“Are you nuts? There was blood all over the floor. That’s the first place they’ll look for us.”
“Well we can’t just let her die!”
“Nobody’s gonna die!” Al shrieked.
It occurred to Susan that the cousins were hopelessly out of their depth. “Call your dad.” Her voice was so weak she could barely hear herself. She could taste blood in the back of her throat. “He’ll know what to do.”
“Do it,” Al yelled, even though his cousin was mere inches away. She felt him cradle her head and shoulders and heard Hugo rise to his feet.
“Expecto Patronum.” Susan knew without opening her eyes that nothing was going to happen. Hugo’s voice was shaking and he sounded like he was presiding over a funeral.
“Dammit, Hugo, concentrate!” Al castigated him.
“You’re not making it any easier to think happy thoughts, you know!” Hugo snapped back.
“You want a happy thought? OK, picture this,” Al replied. “You and Fiona. On the kitchen floor. You’re sweating, she’s moaning.”
Susan felt a chuckle stir deep in her chest and it hurt worse than anything she’d ever felt. She resolved to kill Al if she managed to survive. Hugo didn’t seem to find it nearly as funny.
“Oh, this isn’t cool, Al. This isn’t cool at all.”
“She’s begging you, ‘More! More! MORE!’ in that sexy French accent of hers.”
“Knock it off, Al. I’m serious.”
“You’ve got scratches all down your back and your hands are all over those...”
“Dammit, Al, shut up! I’ve got it, alright. Expecto Patronum!” Susan could hear the characteristic hum as Hugo cast the spell. It all sounded so very far away. She was vaguely aware of Al casting healing spell after healing spell on her injured side. “Dad! We’re with Susan at the lake where you fell off the dragon. She’s hurt really bad. Come quick. Please!” His pleading words were the last thing he heard before the darkness claimed her.
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