Chapter 39 : End Game
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As always, that which you recognize belongs to JK Rowling.
The sensation is most peculiar, watching as your body responds to the commands of another mind. Your arm moves back and forth in front of you. Your wrist twists and turns as curses tumble from your lips. The words are not yours, but the voice you hear is your own. The sights and sounds that reach you feel filtered somehow, lacking in depth and substance which has been stripped away by the consciousness layered on top of yours. Even the thoughts that fill your mind are foreign to you, as though somebody was shouting into your ear.
Percy Weasley was most keenly aware of the last point. He had no desire to see his brother Ron or Draco Malfoy die, in spite of the waves of hate and aggression that fueled his curses with lethal intensity. Percy felt like he was watching from a great distance as his wand released blast after blast of angry red light. He wanted to put a stop to it, but the invading thoughts smothered his own. His mind seemed to be buried beneath heavy, woolen blankets that snuffed out every attempt to control his actions or even disapprove of what his possessed body was doing. The harder he tried to resist, the more he felt suffocated.
The invading consciousness pressed down hard as he struggled to summon words from his memory. The foreign thoughts surrounded his rapidly dwindling sense of self, disconnecting him from the experiences that defined him. It felt like drowning. The light was growing dimmer. He tried desperately to find something that he could cling to. What was it that Harry had told him?
He said that you didn’t kill Stoops. It was all a lie!
The words cut through the darkness like a beacon, and Percy grabbed hold with all of the focus he could muster. Following them back toward the light, he managed to wriggle free of the oppressive darkness just enough to take in his surroundings. Ron and Draco were hunkered down in the cave entrance, hiding from the dark curses his wand was firing at them and occasionally scrambling to avoid one of Arabela’s killing curses. Harry’s body lay still on the stone floor. Percy felt a stab of grief, and he clung to it in spite of the pain. As much as the thought of losing his brother-in-law hurt, at least it was his own.
He felt the invading thoughts relentlessly trying to consume him, and he fought desperately to maintain his separation. The pile of blankets was pressing down again, and Percy struggled to focus on the image of Ron taking cover. His little brother, who was so brave. The tiny, red-headed toddler who stared at his big brothers in awe and grew up to outshine them all. He needed to protect Ron. He had to do it for his mother and father and for... Ginny.
She listened to you when everybody else in the family had written you off. Don’t let her down.
Through the muffled din of the fight, Percy heard a growl of frustration escape Arabela’s lips. Mixed into the fury and hate that flowed into his mind, he began to feel frustration and strain. The harder that the oppressive thoughts tried to smother his self-awareness, the less she seemed to be able to focus on Ron and Draco. Percy fought back with renewed vigor, determined to occupy as much of her attention as possible. He latched onto every stray thought that emerged, looking for any tiny advantage. Sadness and concern and excitement and love mixed together and fueled his resistance. For just a moment, he regained a small measure of control over his right hand and he tried with all his might to open it and let go of his wand, but he only succeeded in letting it dangle loosely between his fingers.
He heard Arabela curse loudly, and suddenly the full force of her mind came crashing down on top of him. All the room’s sights and sounds ceased to reach him, and he was once again drowning in silence and darkness. As he felt his very essence being torn away, Percy desperately scrambled for anything to grab onto. Once again, his subconscious came to his rescue.
Now is your time, Percy. Be the hero that they need. Fight!
Percy seized on the thought and clawed his way toward the tiny sliver of daylight that accompanied it. He could feel the oppressive weight easing slightly, and he realized that something must be distracting her. Sounds began to reach him again. With a supreme effort, Percy’s mind found its way back to his senses, and he was amazed by what he saw. Half of the room was shrouded in a cloud of inky darkness. It dawned on him that someone must have taken advantage of the lapse in Arabela’s attack to use Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder. Percy added an appreciation of his brother George to the emotions that formed his bulwark against the invading consciousness that still tried to destroy his sense of self.
Next to him, Arabela was blindly firing curses into the darkness. He could hear the sharp cracks as they made contact and shattered the stone of the far wall. Octavia whimpered miserably on the stone table. Percy realized that he had forgotten about her, and for an instant he was able to force his gaze onto her shuddering form. She looked completely terrified, writhing in the magical ropes that bound her. Once again, Arabela tried to crush his resistance, but this time he was better prepared. He focused as hard as he could on his need to protect the poor, innocent girl lying before him. He imagined the concern and the love that both Ron and Draco felt for their granddaughter, letting his love of his own family add to the powerful feelings that shielded him.
With renewed clarity of purpose, Percy forced the curses to stop falling from his lips. He could feel Arabela’s frustration, but it seemed as though she didn’t dare to divert her attention from her attack. Stop fighting me! Her voice hissed inside his mind, terrifying and seductive all at once. Give yourself to me and I will allow your wife and children to live. Force my hand and they will die.
Her threats washed over his mind like icy water, paralyzing him with indecision. Did she really have the ability to kill Audrey and the kids? Would she use it? The smothering weight of her angry thoughts buried him again and he was alone in the dark silence of his own mind.
Hermione completed the final layer of magical wards over the mouth of the cave and stood back to inspect her work. She waved her wand up and down, searching for any gaps or weak points in the complex layer of spells that would need to contain the spirit of Herodonthus the Imperious. She tweaked an enchantment here and there, making the protections as even and comprehensive as possible. Finally, she was satisfied that she couldn’t do any better. She checked her watch and grimaced. Ron, Harry and Draco had been gone for eight minutes already. She peered into the mouth of the cave, but all she could see was darkness.
The seconds crawled by. Hermione began to pace, which was its own exercise in frustration due to her cane and the damp, slippery stone of the outcropping. They’re counting on you to keep watch, she tried to tell herself. You’re their last chance at survival if something goes wrong. She stared into the depths of the cave again. You have to be patient, even though... She snorted dismissively to herself. Even though you know Ron or Harry would just go charging in there if they were in your place.
After another minute passed, she decided that it couldn’t hurt to poke her head past the wards and see whether she could hear anything. Initially, she was pleasantly surprised to discover that the layers of protective wards filtered out most of the noise from the crashing waves. As soon as her ears adjusted to the relative quiet of the cave, however, she could make out the telltale sounds of cursefire coming from deep inside. Hermione lingered for a few moments, making sure that what she was hearing wasn’t just an isolated incident. The cracks and pops continued to echo softly off of the ancient stone walls.
She pulled her head back outside of the entrance and gathered her cloak around her body, preparing to turn. Then she stopped. Not this time. She couldn’t just run away. Expecto patronum. She cast her shimmering, silver otter into the air and whispered a short message to it, explaining where they were and what was happening. Then she sent it streaking away to find Luna. She would pass on the message to the others.
Turning back to the mouth of the cave, Hermione stepped through the wards. She lit her wand and peered into the dark depths that led toward the sounds of a fight raging in the distance. Grandma is coming, Octavia, she thought to herself. Just hold on.
She shuffled along as fast as her weary leg muscles would allow. For a fleeting moment, she longed for the strength that Herodonthus’s hateful spells made possible. No. Never again. She redoubled her efforts to motivate herself. Her cane tapped softly against the weathered stone of the floor. The din of spells cracking grew louder, but she couldn’t make out any lights. Eventually, the sounds seemed to be coming from directly in front of her, but her wandlight still found only inky blackness. She took one more hesitant step forward and held her cane out in front of her. The end of it suddenly disappeared into the darkness. Somebody was using Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder.
Without warning, an errant curse burst from the darkness and struck the wall by her side, shattering it and pelting her with hot shards of rock. As Hermione dropped to her knees and huddled against the wall, it dawned on her that the implications for Ron and Harry were bad in nearly every case. If Lady Tenabra had dispersed the darkness powder to blind them then there was no way they could risk firing a spell that might hit Octavia. If they had used it to hide from her, then she must be tapping into the power of Herodonthus’s book to overwhelm their defenses. Hermione recalled the awful, dark power that she had been able to draw on and shuddered. If that’s what they were up against, the danger was far greater than they had thought.
Somewhere in the depths of Percy’s mind, his subconscious shook him from the grip of darkness and despair.
She’ll kill them whether you cooperate or not. Everyone you love is a threat to her.
He desperately wished that he could feel so certain. Listening to the voice of authority came naturally to Percy. At the moment, Arabela was the only authority in his miserable, smothered existence.
You didn’t kill that muggle. She’ll lie to you any time that it suits her.
That sentiment was certainly hard to argue with. She had lied to him and manipulated him at every turn. But what was he to do about it now? Buried under the choking layers of Arabela’s powerful, angry consciousness, he could no longer remember how to find his way to the light and sound of his own senses.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Stop wallowing and get your arse moving.
Percy drew a deep breath, or at least imagined that he did in his disembodied state. Having no idea which way to go, he simply pushed in the direction he was already facing. The oppressive weight of her invading mind tried to immobilize him. The thick layers of blankets pressed down with renewed intensity. Inch by inch -- or whatever tiny increments of distance were relevant to the depths of his own mind -- Percy wormed his way forward. After what felt like hours of exhausting effort, he thought he could make out faint hints of sound. Pressing onward with renewed vigor, he eventually spotted a speck of light. The sounds became louder as he propelled himself forward with pure willpower.
Percy’s mind suddenly reconnected with the cacophony of his own senses. The fight was still going on and Ron’s wall of inky blackness was still holding up. He could feel Arabela’s rage and frustration pulsing through his mind. An idea came to her suddenly, like an evil whisper of inspiration from the shadows of the dimly lit cave. She whipped her wand over her head and conjured a wall of orange flames. The spell swept around the room, searing the very air.
The black cloud that concealed Ron and Draco seemed to incinerate, and it drifted to the floor in a fine layer of ash. Ron and Draco stood near the back corners of the room, still shielding their faces against the heat of the orange flames. Hermione was huddled next to the wall of the entrance tunnel, and she looked alarmed by the sights that must have been concealed from her view only moments earlier. But all eyes immediately gravitated to the figure standing in the middle of the room.
Harry calmly stared at Arabela. His arms were hanging loosely by his sides and he was holding a black, hawthorn wand in his hand. Percy had no idea where it had come from. Arabela’s eyes instantly flicked to the trio of wands lying on the stone table in front of her, and in his mind Percy could see that they were undisturbed. He was pretty sure that Harry had been unarmed with Arabela killed him. Tried to kill him. Percy corrected himself joyfully, and added Harry’s unexpected survival to the list of pleasant thoughts that helped to shield him from Arabela’s control. At the moment, however, she clearly had bigger things on her mind than his small measure of independence.
“Don’t you ever die?” Arabela hissed, pointing Harry’s wand at him.
“More often than I’d like,” he replied, meeting her furious glare with a serenity in his eyes that Percy hadn’t seen in a long time.
Arabela howled with rage and cleaved the air above her head with Harry’s wand. At the same moment, Harry raised his arm to counter and a winding tendril of red light erupted from the hawthorn wand held loosely between his fingers. It met Arabela’s jet of orange flames in the middle of the room and for an instant everyone was blinded by the golden light that bathed the dank walls of the cave. The two spells twisted and writhed as Harry and Arabela struggled for control. Errant streams of orange flame and red light licked the floor and ceiling of the cave, leaving charred marks on the ancient stone, but still the contest of wills continued.
Percy could feel the irregular vibrations that seemed to radiate through Arabela’s arm. Harry’s wand twitched and jerked dangerously in her hand. She responded by pouring more and more of her dark power into the curse, tapping into the hateful energy that seemed to fill the air around them. It did her no good, as the meeting point of the two spells began to move slowly toward her, following the streak of orange flames. Arabela’s rage and frustration continued to build, but even the immense power of her anger seemed unable to fix whatever was wrong. At the last possible moment, Arabela let go of the wand and threw herself to the floor just before the orange flames rebounded and erupted against the wall behind her. The wand she had been using spun gracefully through the air and landed in Harry’s outstretched hand.
Arabela quickly pulled herself to a kneeling position behind the stone table where Octavia lay. Percy could see Harry’s intense expression through Arabela’s eyes as each of them waited for the other to make a move. Arabela’s attention flicked to the three remaining wands lying on the stone table beside the cursed blade she had used to threaten Octavia. Harry’s eyes found the same objects. In an instant, they both pounced. Arabela snatched the deceased Minister’s wand while Harry summoned the knife to himself.
“Stop, or she dies!” Arabela thundered, pointing the wand at Octavia’s head. Harry appeared as calm as could be. He tossed the knife to the floor several feet away and pointed his wand at it. “Reducto.” The blade shattered and the broken pieces of the knife ricocheted off of the walls and the floor.
“I said stop, Potter. I’ll kill her! I have nothing to lose!” Percy could feel Arabela’s hate and aggression, but a new feeling had joined them. Desperation. Harry continued to ignore her. He flexed his wand between his fingers, testing its integrity. When he was satisfied, he tossed the hawthorn wand to Draco Malfoy, who seemed almost too surprised to catch it.
“You’ve already lost,” Harry finally replied, fixing Arabela with a calm stare. He took a step toward Arabela, who gestured menacingly toward Octavia. Again, he ignored her threatening actions. “Doesn’t it seem odd to you that you haven’t been able to possess her with the dark spells you learned from that book? Did you notice, maybe, that every time you try to harm her, something stops you?”
Something clicked inside Percy’s mind -- the mind inside of his mind -- and for an instant he and Arabela independently shared the same thought. When she had tried to strike Octavia for speaking insolently, Percy’s hand had moved of its own accord to stop her. Their shared consciousness converged on the realization that it had been neither his doing nor hers when he reached out and seized her wrist. While Percy felt emboldened, Arabela’s mind recoiled in shock.
Harry seemed to read her expression, and he took another step forward. “You want me to explain it to you? Fine. When you killed Ginny, when you used the Imperius Curse to make Edwin Stoops pull that trigger, she threw herself in front of Octavia. She sacrificed herself to save Octavia. To save her from you.” Harry’s green eyes blazed with pride and righteous fury. “There is nothing you can do to harm her, Arabela. It’s over.”
Arabela stared at him and Percy could feel the hatred radiating from her. She was so focused on Harry that Percy actually managed to induce his hand to let go of his wand and she didn’t even notice as it clattered to the floor. “You’re wrong,” she hissed. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.” A wicked sneer spread across her lips. “I think a demonstration is in order. Crucio!”
Hermione yelped in alarm and Draco Malfoy roared angrily, but Harry didn’t even flinch. For an instant, Octavia’s chest and Arabela’s wand were joined by a tendril of red light. Time seemed to come to a standstill. Arabela’s wicked grin quickly faded, replaced by a look of confusion. Suddenly, the curse rebounded, striking her with its full intensity.
Arabela howled in agony as her body was thrown into the wall. Through their mental connection, Percy felt her pain and he collapsed to the floor, clutching his arms and grinding his molars together. The pain blinded him, filling his vision with blazing streaks of multicolored light. When it finally began to recede, he became aware of two things. First, he could feel the smooth wood of the wand that Arabela was still clutching in her hand. Second, there was a crumpled leather hat on the floor next to him.
Percy could see blood through Arabela’s eyes as she pointed her wand at Hermione, the easiest available target. Drawing on the the dark energy that filled the air, she unleashed another blast of orange flames. Hermione managed to cast a shield charm that lasted only long enough for her to roll aside before it buckled under the furious onslaught. Percy saw Harry summon Ron’s wand from the stone table and send it flying into his friend’s hand. The battle began to rage anew as Arabela unleashed a torrent of hate-fueled curses.
“The hat, Percy!” He heard Harry shouting, and he managed to marshal his concentration and lower his arm until his hand came into contact with the worn, leather brim. As Arabela immersed herself in anger and aggression, he could feel her once again growing stronger. He struggled desperately to close his fingers on the brim of the hat, but she was using all of her dark power to reassert control over him.
Several inches in front of his feet, his discarded wand lay on the stone floor. The instant she saw it through his eyes, he could feel her trying to force his hand to pick it up. His arm started to move against his will, and Percy fought with everything he had. He managed to stop his arm, and it hovered in the air just above the the hat. She was so focused on the wand that he decided to make a desperate gamble. He switched his focus to relax his lower back, and suddenly he could feel himself slumping forward. His arm’s reaction was so instinctive that not even Arabela’s powerful dark magic could stop it. As it moved to arrest his fall, it landed squarely inside the hat.
What he felt with the tips of his fingers surprised him. Inside the hat, he had expected to find only more hat. Old leather, worn smooth and perhaps tainted by the greasy heads of the generations of students who had donned it in front of the Great Hall. Instead, he felt something warm and metallic. Its surface was textured, the smoothness of the metal interrupted by intricate patterns of some sort. He felt confusion in Arabela’s thoughts as well, and he took advantage of her momentary lapse to close his fingers around the mysterious shape.
In an instant, Percy felt himself being torn away from his surroundings. Suddenly he was standing in a dark, cavernous room lined with giant statues. In front of him, eleven-year-old Ginny lay on the cold, stone floor, unconscious. The spectral form of Tom Riddle stood next to him as a great, green shape slithered in the shadows. A leather-bound journal lay open beside Ginny’s body.
In a flash of light, he was once again standing inside the cave. Arabela was furiously casting curses at Harry and Ron as they scrambled to repel her dark fury. He realized that he was standing up, although he could not remember climbing to his feet. Arabela’s thoughts still pressed against the edges of his mind, but they had grown distant and less distinct. He took advantage of his sudden liberation to study the mysterious object in his hand. It turned out to be the hilt of a very ornate sword. It was crusted with rubies that twinkled in the flickering torchlight. He focused on one of the gemstones and suddenly the reflected light brightened and blinded him.
When his eyes cleared, he was standing on the lawn of Hogwarts, staring into Lord Voldemort’s evil, red eyes. Strangely, Percy felt no desire to turn and run for his life. The great serpent Nagini was coiled in front of him, ready to strike. Over the thunder of centaur’s hooves and the roar of angered giants, he could not hear Voldemort’s shout of fury as he swung the blade.
Another flash of light. Percy was standing next to the small stone ledge where Arabela’s book lay. Shouts seemed to be coming from everywhere at once. Arabela cried out in horror, realizing too late that her servant no longer obeyed. Harry shouted encouragement, although the exact words were lost in the din of curses and the haze that clouded Percy’s perception. As he raised the blade above his head, a low, angry hiss filled his mind. You fool. You have no idea what you are about to unleash. If you strike at me, you shall perish!
“Then we die together!” Percy shouted as he swung the sword down with all of his might. It struck the surface of the book and a furious howl filled Percy’s mind. An instant later, everything went dark.
Harry heard a howl of pain and rage inside his mind and suddenly Arabela’s hand flew to her temple and she crumpled to the floor. For an instant, it was as though the entire cave was bathed in an angry, orange hue. Then it faded and the room grew silent except for the soft flutter of the burning torches. Behind the stone table, the halves of Herodonthus’s book lay on the stone ledge, cleaved in two by Godric Gryffindor’s sword. Percy lay on the floor below it, still clutching the sword in his hand.
Harry stumbled forward mechanically, feeling the weight of exhaustion pulling on all of his limbs. He reached Octavia at the same time as Ron, and waved his wand to vanish the magical ropes that held her in place. Ron lifted the crying little girl off of the table and pulled her into a smothering embrace. Harry could see tears of joy falling from his best mate’s eyes as he clutched his granddaughter tightly to his chest. Draco Malfoy reached Ron’s side a moment later, and Octavia managed to pull one of her arms free and wrap it around his neck. For a long moment, the three of them were joined in an awkward but seamless embrace. Harry heard the soft tapping of Hermione’s cane against the stone floor, and Octavia squealed with joy, wriggling free from Ron and running to wrap herself around Hermione’s waist.
“It’s over, baby. It’s all over,” Hermione kept repeating, letting her tears fall into Octavia’s long, curly hair.
On the floor behind the stone table, Arabela was struggling to try to pull herself to her knees. The mere sight of her filled Harry with revulsion. He stalked toward her with his wand trained on her head. She managed to roll onto her side and point her wand weakly toward him. He could see her cursed arm pinned uselessly beneath her body. With a swipe of his hand, her wand was knocked away and went skittering across the stone floor. Rage built in his chest as he came to stop, towering over her broken form. Harry lowered his wand slightly so he could look into her eyes.
“It’s over. You’re finished.” Harry could feel all of the anger and hurt he’d been smothering throughout their ordeal boiling to the surface. “You’re never going to hurt anybody again, you understand?” Without realizing it, his voice rose to a shout. “Never again!” His breath was coming in fast, shallow gasps. “Esme, Katerina, Neville... they’re all dead because of you. You killed Ginny. You took her from me and you’re gonna pay.”
The dead cry out for vengeance. Her blood for theirs.
The room had grown silent around Harry, but he paid it no mind. “You killed her for nothing! She was no threat to you. She didn’t have to die!”
Take your revenge. Complete the circle.
Arabela coughed weakly. “Go ahead, Harry Potter. Kill me if it makes you feel better.” She tilted her head slightly toward her cursed right side. “Save us both some time.”
Harry’s hand shook with barely controlled fury as he pointed his wand at the bridge of her nose. The words formed in his forefront of his mind, dangerously close to tumbling past his lips. Avada...
Harry shook his head and stole a glance toward Percy. His brother-in-law moaned softly and his head rolled to the side. The sword was still clutched in his hand. As the torchlight danced across the shining blade, Hermione’s words came back to him. The magic involved in making a horcrux is very tricky. The spell has to be cast precisely when the soul is torn apart. Otherwise, it doesn’t work.
“What are you waiting for?” Arabela croaked insistently. “There is nothing left for me in this world. Finish this!”
Use your anger. Destroy her. It is the only way to keep the ones you love from dying.
Harry turned back to Arabela, lowering his wand a fraction of an inch so he could look into her defiant eyes. The sword destroyed horcruxes because the soul depended on a physical vessel to survive. But if the book wasn’t a horcrux...
She stole everything from you! Kill her or the misery will consume you!
“No.” Harry could feel the stares of the others as his wand arm fell to his side. The room was silent except for Percy’s soft moaning as he rubbed his eyes with his free hand. “I’m not going to kill you. I’d just take your place.”
“Harry, what are you talking about?” Hermione was staring at him intently. Octavia still clung to her leg as she absently smoothed the little girl’s hair.
“You were right, Hermione. When you said that the book wasn’t a horcrux.” Harry swept his gaze around the room. If he looked very closely, he felt like he could almost see the orange haze hanging in the air. “Herodonthus is not dead. He’s still with us. Here, in this room. And he wants to go on living.”
“Harry, what are you talking about, mate?” Ron asked, clutching his wand nervously. “Percy destroyed the book.”
“The book was just a container, Ron,” Harry continued. “Now he’s looking for a new container. Clear your mind. Listen to your thoughts. Can you hear it?”
The room fell silent again. Ron and Hermione both screwed up their faces in concentration. Revulsion creeped across Ron’s features. The orange haze swirled around the room. Harry could feel it more than see it. Suddenly, it coalesced around Draco and began to flow through him. His face twisted into a mask of anger and fear. “What is this madness, Potter?” He sounded outraged and horrified. “Which one of you degenerates is doing this to me? Make it stop!” He clutched the sides of his head, trying to shield his ears. “Make it stop, Potter! Make the whispers stop!”
“Draco!” Harry shouted, causing Malfoy to look up at him. “Calm down. Angry and aggressive thoughts are what he uses to control you!”
Draco took a deep breath and seemed to be trying to calm himself, but the anger quickly returned to his eyes. “It’s no use, the whispers won’t stop.” He suddenly raised his wand and pointed it toward Arabela. “She’s trying to drive me mad! She tried to harm Octavia. If you won’t kill her, I will!”
Octavia suddenly released her grip on Hermione’s leg and hurried to Draco. She reached out and wrapped her small hands around the trembling arm that held his wand. “Don’t kill her, Grandaddy, please. Good people don’t kill other people. Please, Grandaddy, be good.”
Draco’s shook his head and blinked rapidly. Gradually, he managed to tear his eyes away from Arabela. He stared at Octavia and his furious scowl melted away. He allowed the little girl to pull his arm down, then dropped to his knees and hugged her tightly, burying his face in her hair. The orange haze that surrounded and penetrated him was suddenly driven back, clouding the air around them.
“Is it better now, Draco?” Harry asked softly. Without looking up, Malfoy nodded his head.
“You need to do something,” Harry continued. “You’re not going to like it, but it’s important if you’re going to leave this cave without taking him with you.” Draco looked up from Octavia’s curls, meeting Harry’s gaze. “You need to remove the curse from her arm.”
At first, it appeared as though Draco couldn’t process what he was hearing. His face slowly screwed up in disbelief. When he spoke, his voice was slow and incredulous. “Are you insane?”
Harry shook his head slowly. “Everyone must leave this place in peace. Otherwise, he’ll latch on to the anger in our minds and escape again. This is how it has to be, Draco.”
Octavia tightened her arms around Draco’s neck and whispered something into his ear that Harry couldn’t hear. Draco took a fortifying breath and turned so that he could look into his granddaughter’s eyes. He forced a smile and nodded. When she released him, he took one of her hands and placed it on his wand, next to his own. Holding her close, he pointed the wand toward Arabela’s prone form and swept it through a couple of abbreviated motions. The incantation was barely more than a hiss. A stream of blue light spilled out from the tip and connected with Arabela’s body. As Draco gradually swept the spell over her, the ugly green color staining her pale skin began to fade. After a moment, the blue light disappeared and Draco pulled his wand back.
“She’ll live,” he said simply before pulling Octavia close to him again.
Harry watched as the misty orange haze flowed around the room, searching for an anchor in the corporeal world. Ron and Hermione held one another tightly, and it was unable to touch them. Draco kept his arms wrapped around his granddaughter, and the mist was held at bay. Percy’s hand remained tightly wrapped around the hilt of Gryffindor’s sword, which seemed to protect him. Harry let his memories of Ginny’s love and sacrifice warm his heart, and the evil whispers disappeared from the edges of his mind. Finally, the orange haze flowed back into its only remaining refuge.
Arabela closed her eyes and shook her head, as though she was trying to clear her thoughts. Her eyes opened again and they blazed with hatred. When she spoke, her voice carried a deep, menacing resonance, like an echo from the depths of an old well. “Insects! Do you seriously believe that after seven centuries of plotting my return, I will be denied by the likes of you? I prevailed over the greatest wizarding champions ever assembled. I have defied Death, himself. Pitiful fools. You’re nothing. You will all pay with your lives for your pathetic attempt to thwart me.”
The wand that Harry had knocked away from Arabela suddenly flew across the room and into her hand. She pointed it at Harry, who reflexively dropped into a crouch. Octavia suddenly tore herself away from Draco and stepped directly into Arabela’s line of fire.
Arabela’s laughter filled the cave, ear-splitting and evil. Ron, Hermione and Draco all scrambled to try to grab Octavia, but Arabela knocked them to the floor with a casual flick of her wand. “Stupid child! I offered you everything! I offered to share power beyond your wildest imagination. So you wish to be the first to die? I grant your wish.”
Octavia screwed up her face and fixed Arabela with a glare familiar to generations of Weasley men. Then, for good measure, she stuck out her tongue.
Arabela’s voice rose to a thunderous crescendo. “AVADA KEDAVRA!” Her wand erupted with a blast that bathed the cave in an eerie, green glow. The jet of light seared the air between Arabela and Octavia, who stood defiantly before her. It struck the little girl squarely in the chest, lifting her off of her feet. The spell writhed and twisted in the air. Arabela’s face was screwed into a mask of focused hatred as Octavia cried out. Suddenly, a golden glow emerged from inside her chest. Arabela’s wand shook in her hand, straining from the energy of maintaining the curse. Tendrils of golden light flickered around Octavia’s body. Arabela’s mouth fell open, and an instant too late, realization filled her eyes.
Louder than a cannon blast, the spell rebounded. Octavia fell to the floor, still bathed in the golden glow of her great aunt’s dying gift. Arabela was momentarily illuminated from within. Green light mixed with a fiery, orange glow before both were consumed by a blinding flash of sun-like brightness. Everyone was forced to turn away. A agonized cry sounded inside Harry’s mind, filled with rage and mortal terror. An instant later, it was over.
Draco and Ron pulled themselves to their knees and scrambled to Octavia’s side. Arabela’s body lay crumpled on the stone floor, lifeless and still. Harry reached out with all of his senses, physical and magical. The room was still. No more hateful whispers tugged at the edges of his mind. Herodonthus the Imperious was finally, truly gone.
Octavia moaned softly and both of her grandfathers let out childlike yelps of joy. Draco pulled Octavia to his chest and Ron wrapped them both in a huge hug without even thinking about it. Harry heard Hermione laugh softly, and turned to see tears welling in her eyes. “She would have made Ginny proud, wouldn’t she?” Hermione asked without taking her eyes off of her granddaughter.
“More than she’ll ever know,” Harry replied. His heart swelled with pride, tinged with just a hint of sadness.
As Octavia’s grandparents fussed over the bright, red scar adorning the middle of her chest, Harry walked over to Percy and pulled him to his feet. “Are you ready to leave, Minister?”
The expression that settled on Percy’s face was almost indescribable. He looked shocked and frightened and somewhat pleased with himself all at once. He hefted the blade of Gryffindor’s sword so that it rested against his shoulder and marveled at the ornate, goblin-crafted hilt. “It was incredible, Harry. I saw the inside of the Chamber of Secrets through your eyes. I saw Voldemort’s snake just before Neville lopped its head off.”
“The sword is imbued with powerful magic,” Harry replied with a knowing look. “I think it shielded you from Herodonthus’s control.”
Percy nodded enthusiastically and began to walk toward Ron and Hermione. Draco picked Octavia up and started to carry her toward the cave entrance. Percy suddenly looked at Arabela’s body. “I suppose we should take her with us.”
Harry nodded somberly and began to transfigure her cloak into a suitable shroud for her body.
“I wonder how much of it was true?” Percy asked, suddenly looking thoughtful. The others gave him a quizzical look. “Everything she told me about her parents being killed by Death Eaters at the end of the war,” he explained. “I wonder whether anything she told me was true. I guess it still wouldn’t explain how she ended up so twisted and evil.”
“There’s no way to know,” Harry replied quietly. “I’ve spent a lifetime dealing with dark witches and wizards. Each one is different. I always find myself looking for that one moment in their life where things could have turned out differently. Speaking of which...”
Percy stared at Harry, waiting for him to continue. Harry took a deep breath and turned to face his brother-in-law directly. “Minister, it is with great regret that I have decided to tender my resignation as Head Auror.” Percy looked confused, then aghast. He started to object, but Harry raised his hand and shook his head slightly. “I can recommend a strong candidate to serve as my replacement.” He nodded toward Ron, then he couldn’t resist adding, “He’ll do a great job sorting all this mess out. He’s a dab hand when it comes to paperwork.”
Percy, Hermione and even Draco gave Harry shocked looks while Ron merely scowled at him. “Care to explain?” Percy finally stammered.
“Neville made me promise him that I would take care of Hogwarts,” Harry replied somberly. “It was his dying request.”
Octavia broke the silence after a few moments. “Uncle Harry, does that mean you’ll be at Hogwarts when I’m old enough to go?”
Harry gave her the best smile he could muster. “Well, that depends on a few things, sweetheart. Maybe you could talk your Great Uncle Percy into putting in a good word for me with the Board of Governors? I hear he’s got a lot of pull these days.” The adults all broke into a chuckle when Octavia turned a very serious look toward Percy.
“We should go,” Hermione said. “I sent a message to Luna. The others will be arriving at the cave entrance soon.”
Ron levitated Arabela’s body and the group slowly made their way toward the mouth of the cave. Harry could honestly say that he had never felt so exhausted in his entire life. As they approached the entrance, he recalled Ginny’s parting words and a smile crept across his lips. Suddenly, he didn’t feel quite so tired.
I love you, Harry James Potter. Always. No matter what.
We've come to the end of the major conflicts that defined Conspiracy of Blood. There will be two more chapters. The last is an epilogue. The next will be a series of vignettes that address what I think are the major, unresolved questions lingering at the end of the story. Are there questions that you would like to see answered? Opinions? Reactions? Please leave them in the box below.
Thanks are due, as always, to my wonderful beta reader, sophie_hatter. Don't miss her story, Evolution (M)! Also, congratulations to her! She knows why...
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