I only fell for a couple of seconds, but screamed the whole way down until my throat felt raw. My eyes were shut tight, waiting for the landing that would surely kill me, but instead I hit something soft that only knocked out my breath before I dropped a matter of inches to the stone floor.
I lay motionless for a moment or two. My glasses had fallen off. Above me, I could see Scorpius on the window ledge, getting ready to jump - I shut my eyes again, not particularly wanting to see him fall.
He landed a couple of feet away. I started scrambling around for my glasses as he shot back up again, wincing aloud, cradling his left arm.
‘Told you,’ he wheezed, when I’d managed to put my glasses back on. ‘Cushioning charm. Some of the offices look down into this chamber…’
I could now see where we’d landed. The room was circular, lined with doors that had shining golden handles. Dim, flickering torches separated them. A dozen doors in all.
‘Which one do we take?’ I said, but the walls had started to move before I’d barely even got the words out. They were rotating - slowly at first, then faster - and the door handles and the torches turned into a singular, luminous blur that I covered my eyes to block out.
Scorpius dragged me to my feet with his good hand when the walls had stopped rotating. ‘I’ve been here before,’ he said, more to himself than anything. ‘There’s a trick to getting the door you want but I can’t remember…’
‘Which one do we take?’ I repeated.
‘Any,’ he replied, and we ended up opening the one directly in front of us.
‘We can find out way back out,’ he said. ‘I’m sure we can. And Albus…?’
‘He left. Before the door was locked.’
The room we’d gone into was dark at first, but as we walked in it began to light, filling the place with a blue gloom. The door had shut behind us. Rows of shelving filled this room, stretching up to a vast, vaulted ceiling. And there were hundreds of shelves, and upon these shelves were hundreds of glass containers, each filled with a milky vapour. I had to steel myself to keep walking, not to stop and admire these objects or to stop and think about the pain in the back of my head.
‘Where are we?’ I said.
‘No idea,’ Scorpius said. ‘Those questions…they were all bullshit, weren’t they? He knew from the start. Something about my dad. I bet he was waiting for us…’
We went down a row then took a left. The entire room seemed to be devoted to these glass containers, row upon row of them, stretching out as far as I could see. There was nobody working here, not one person in sight. Just us and the glass, the vapourish thing it held.
After five minutes’ silent walking we reached another door – one that was not set into any wall, but stood alone in the middle of an aisle. I barely noticed I’d taken Scorpius’ good hand in my left until it came to opening this door and I had to let go.
The next room was a lighter, but a lot like the last. A huge, vaulted ceiling covered us, and this room was made up of rows and rows of seating that faced a platform sunk into a stone pit, as if it were a room designed for theatre. There was a stone archway built on this platform, and a black curtain hanging in it, and I for a brief second wondered if this was some stage set we’d stumbled into, and that the curtain was a prop. But then Scorpius was staring at it in a peculiar way that made me think it was a lot worse than that, and his injured hand had stretched out to it, almost as if he meant to touch it from this distance.
‘Can you hear it?’ he whispered.
All I heard was the ringing in my ears. I grasped for his right hand again. ‘We’ve got to keep going,’ I said.
‘I can hear voices,’ he said.
I pulled him along a bit, imagining this was some mental breakdown brought on by the events up in that office with the wizard in emerald robes. But he wouldn’t budge, wouldn’t break his stare, no matter how hard I tugged on his sleeve and shook him, and I panicked for a moment and even thumped him on the shoulder, pleading.
But luckily – or unluckily, I guess – a door near the platform slammed open and his concentration was broken. At once, we started to run, me still holding onto his sleeve, as two others in emerald robes burst into the room. There was another door at the end of this passage, and I made a mental note of something to say to Scorpius if we ever made it out of this place – Department of Mysteries, how about Department of Doors?
This one slammed behind us just as before and we were back in the circular room again. The walls span, the doors blurred, and then when it all came to a standstill we picked another door that might’ve been one we’d gone through already.
But this room was almost pitch-black, and when we stepped over the threshold the ground dropped about a foot below us and I landed with stabbing pains in my ankles. The door behind us vanished when it shut. It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, but eventually I picked up all these twinkling lights around us, surrounding these great, glowing spheres of different shapes and sizes, all hanging in the dark air. There was an odd smell to the room I couldn’t quite describe, like the smell you get on Bonfire Night – chilled air, acrid burning, the smell of fireworks, I guess.
‘Planets,’ Scorpius breathed. ‘Fauna would kill to be here.’
‘No, she wouldn’t
,’ I said, sounding like a petulant child, and tugged on his arm again. We started to walk. The ground was weird, definitely solid, but not always easy to find. It was invisible, but dipped now and again, or rose, and a few times I felt like I was floating in empty space.
And space surrounded us. We walked through the shadow of Saturn, stepped over the rings, and continued out into the edges of the solar system. Uranus and Neptune loomed out of the darkness, and then Pluto was a little speck behind them.
‘I didn’t think Pluto was a planet anymore,’ Scorpius frowned. ‘I thought they downgraded it.’
‘Pretty, though,’ I said. ‘Yeah, I know what you mean…Fauna would love this room.’
I was suddenly aware of shouting below me, where the universe extended out into infinity. I looked down between my shoes and saw the two emerald-robed Unspeakables from the room with the platform, shouting up at us; a bolt of green shot up and barely missed Scorpius’ ear. So without a word we started to run again.
I wanted to keep hold of Scorpius, more to reassure myself than anything, but he was a lot taller and a lot faster, and within moments he’d managed to break out of my grip. I kept running behind, still a bit out of breath from the first fall, pain shooting through my ankles now and again. I wanted to keep up, hoped I wouldn’t fall behind, but he was too quick, and then there was a foot of space – actual space – between us, then a metre, and then I started to panic and suddenly it was difficult to breathe at all.
‘There!’ he yelled, turning to the left, and I saw another door standing entirely unsupported in the darkness. We made for it, and then Scorpius was there and through in a matter of seconds. It started to swing shut, so I put all the energy I could find into making my legs move, making my aching muscles work, drawing breath into my lungs. I ran for it. Only seconds from it shutting, but I was so close, and my hand was already out to grab for the handle.
I ran through empty air. Stupidly, I kept on going, even though the way ahead was clear apart from one of Neptune’s moons. I decided I could round back and make the door again, thinking I must have just blundered right past it. So I skidded to a halt and turned, but of course the door wasn’t there. It had vanished. And the two men in emerald robes were still running about below me.
It felt like being back in that office again with my forehead against the door and my hands over my eyes, crying. Knowing I was in for it now. No way out. Even in this ludicrous room that somehow seemed to contain the entire universe, scaled down to human-size, so that Neptune’s moon was only around twice my height.
At least if they found me here, if they caught me and captured me and dragged me away – at least it was a nice place to be before whatever was to come. At least I could say I’d been inside a scale model of the solar system before they got me. I turned again and sprinted for Neptune’s moon, hearing one of them yell from somewhere beneath me – my hands grappled through empty air then met something smooth and polished, something that was cold and hard to grip – but I somehow managed to hold onto the moon, trying to hide behind it.
I hung there for a moment, hands slipping gradually, until I couldn’t help but let go entirely and fall again. But the ground I’d been standing on had changed, and I fell far farther than I should have, entirely the wrong way, like gravity had been reversed, upwards instead of down. And I fell for ages and ages, not stopping, until my flailing hands hit a planet I couldn’t identify and I stopped, quite suddenly, the ground beneath my feet once more.
Except I was upside down. Below me, the men in emerald robes were tiny, running off into the distance. I don’t think they’d noticed me at all. Then they vanished.
I sunk down next to the planet, not knowing where I was in the solar system anymore, too worn out and scared to properly care. Miraculously, I still had my backpack, even after all the running and chasing and falling. The tiny leather backpack that I usually took to Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley. I might have been out for a trip at the shops.
I shrugged it off. There must have been something in there, something useful. But I’d given Albus the cloak and my wand was back in the Atrium. I shoved my hands into the bag and rooted around; lipgloss, my purse, my house keys, Scorpius’ inhaler. My stomach flipped over. Please,
I thought. Please don’t make him need it.
I took out the purse instead. A little plastic-fronted pocket in the inside held a photo of my mum with Willoughby in her arms when he was still just a kitten - not a great photo, and a static muggle one at that. Mum was cropped weirdly in the frame, half her head missing, and Willoughby yawning in the middle with his pointed teeth and little tongue showing. I slipped the photo out and held it in the palm of my hand, staring at it. Trying really hard to commit it to memory. I didn’t know if I was going to make it out of the Ministry or not, and I wanted to remind myself that there were nice things in the world if I did.
I kept an eye on my watch. An hour had passed when I saw them in the distance. At first they were little dots I mistook for more of the emerald-robed men, then they became fully-formed figures I knew and recognised, and by the time they got to me I felt so sick with nerves I had to fight not to throw up at Albus’ feet.
He reached down for me. I forced myself upwards, hugging him so tightly that the effort made me feel a bit sick again. Over the hour the pain in my head had got worse, and it hurt even more to move – he jerked away, grasping me under the arms and dragging me upwards, and I couldn’t help but cry out loud.
‘I hit my head!’ I gasped, but he wouldn’t let go of me or let me back down. His arm was around my shoulders and I clung to him, letting him take all the weight. We were surrounded by men and women, some in black robes, others in a strange assortment of muggle clothes, all holding lit wands, all grim-faced. Albus’ dad stood at the centre.
‘Which way did they go?’ he asked me.
I shrugged, helpless. ‘I don’t know, the door disappeared-’
Mr Potter cursed under his breath. ‘This department…Albus, get out of here.’
Without a word, Albus started to drag me away again. I felt a bit too weak to walk; my feet just scuffed uselessly on the invisible floor. I had a ton of questions to ask him, and the photo of mum and Willoughby still curled up in my palm, but I didn’t have the energy or nerves to do anything about either.
‘Dad told me to get you out,’ he muttered, directing me away towards a perfect, tiny replica of planet Earth. ‘As soon as we find the way out, anyway. To take you straight up to Law Enforcement.’
I must’ve seemed hysterical. I could barely walk, and I kept making these weird, shaky, wheezing noises whenever I tried to talk and found myself out of breath. I guess this was why he was so keen to prop me up. It kind of reminded me of the time I’d helped him walk Lucy back to our common room, except she’d been drunk and not fearing for her life.
He kept on shushing me like I was a little child. ‘It’s okay,’ he kept saying. ‘It’s fine. It’s alright.’
But then he seemed to run out of synonyms for ‘okay’ and stopped talking, and the two of us stumbled about trying to find an exit in silence.
We were by the moon. ‘Where’s Scorpius?’ he said.
‘He went through the door,’ I moaned, because by this point I was trying to walk properly and my ankles were aching. ‘I didn’t make it. And the door’s gone. He’s gone. We have to find him!’
‘I need to get you out of here.’
His grip on me got even tighter and he shushed me again. ‘The Aurors are here, don’t worry, it’s going to be fine.’
‘But what about him?’
He was properly dragging me along by this point; my feet barely touched the floor. ‘My job is getting you out of here. We’ll be fine. Don’t worry.’
‘But you don’t have a wand!’
‘I…no. I don’t. But I’m going to get you out and we’ll be safe.’
And then we found a door, almost walking right into it, because it seemed to loom out of the darkness with no warning. Suspended in mid-air, like the others. We went through it, and then we were back in that circular room me and Scorpius had found earlier. The walls started to turn.
‘Which door?’ I gasped.
‘I don’t think it matters,’ Albus said, and then the walls ground to a halt and we picked one on the left. It was a room I’d never been in before, bright with honey-coloured light, almost a hundred spindly instruments of gold covering leather-topped tables. Steam rose from some of them, and the room was in slight disarray, as if the people working there had left it quickly – I wanted to stay and look, but Albus dragged me on through an exit door. He was deaf to my pleas that we search for Scorpius. He just ignored me, or shook his head grimly, pulling me along all the time. Dragging me out of the depths of the Ministry back up to the light.
The circular room again. The walls turned. ‘Fucking hell!’ Albus shouted in frustration, and then the walls stopped in an instant. We picked the door in front.
But this one wouldn‘t open. So we gave up, and the walls turned again, and Albus yelled obscenities at the walls until they duly paused and let us into an enormous library.
‘The archives!’ he said, picking up the pace.
And we guessed that this, the most innocuous of rooms, might lead back to the corridor with the offices and the way out – but the next room was a tunnel of glass with flat white fog pressing against the windows, a passage of sorts to a chamber at the end. I felt like I might pass out from the pain in my head.
And maybe that was the way out. So we made towards it, and went through, but there were no more doors in this room apart from the one we’d come through. The room was cold, full of that white fog. Freezing. My breath turned to mist on the air. And the floor and the bits of wall we could see were a pale, icy blue, slippery to the touch, like it was built from ice.
It was empty. Almost empty, because there was someone huddled up in a corner. Wrapped up in fog like it was a blanket, and like he was asleep. I forgot the pain in my head and my ankles and skidded over to him. He could have been asleep, lying there with his injured wrist out on the icy floor.
But it was hard to tell because my eyes burned so much, and had gotten so blurry. It felt like the sore spot on the back of my head was an opening that had let the fog in, and I was slowing down. This was Scorpius, though, who’d somehow ended up here after we’d been separated. So colourless, but for the jaundiced bruises and the scabs on his hands and the pale blue colour his lips had gone.
‘Oh, god,’ I said to Albus. ‘Get me my bag,’ I ordered him, before I realised it was on my back and Albus was shaking his head like he couldn’t hear me. So I took the bag off and rooted around for the inhaler I knew was in there somewhere. I’d lost the photo of mum and Willoughby somehow on the way there.
Time-honoured tradition told me the inhaler should have been the answer, but he wouldn’t move. And my fingers were trembling so much they couldn’t keep a hold of it; I kept dropping it and scrambling for it on the icy floor. Soon my fingernails had shaved off enough ice to make a little pile of snow for it to sit on.
‘What’s this room for?’ I asked Albus. Then, in little more than a whisper, when I realised I couldn’t hold onto the inhaler and I wasn’t sure I could use my arms anymore: ‘Albus, please.’
He was taller by far, but Scorpius looked very small then. I was thinking about the first aid lessons I’d had when I was still a muggle and had gone to Brownie guides. I’d got a badge for it. I’d tied slings for my friends. This seemed like a funny thing to remember, and I tried to laugh about it but only heard this odd gurgling sound, so I thought I’d gone mad. And then I checked for Scorpius’ pulse and didn’t just feel a beat, but heard it, except it was only the door opening and I put the last bits of my strength into turning around and looking.
Someone with emerald robes and chaotic footsteps, with a nosebleed and a borrowed wand – the man who’d been stunned and lying like a dead weight on top of me only an hour and a half before. I let go of Scorpius’ wrist so I could hold my own hands up in surrender. I remembered reading somewhere that medics on the battlefield had a sort of immunity, and I reckoned I counted.
Palms facing outward. He must have seen the ‘M’ on my hand. Recognised me.
‘Please,’ I said.
The wand and the arm moved. I fell apart into separate pieces. The pain didn’t come until the world had gone horizontal and I had my cheek pressed to the ice. Numb fingers stretched forward, feeling nothing. Then the world slipped away and I was gone too.
: posting on the first anniversary of this story going up on the archives! annnnd posting with an evil cliffhanger.
I'm indebted to justonemorefic for her superior beta'ing skills on this chapter. someday, with her help, I will understand how a comma works. In the meantime we'll just sit here and share this 'we killed scorpius' cake.