Chapter 47 : Darkness
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Let me tell you something about breaking into the Ministry:
It’s easy. Disturbingly so.
It was eight o’clock by the time the six of us left the house, piling into Freddy’s minivan in solemn silence. We had everything we needed — the potion, the coin, the recorder — and we’d been rehearsing each step of the plan together for the past hour, going over and over its steps like generals before a battle. We knew it by heart, now. It was all a matter of seeing it put to action.
The van was quiet, save for the gentle rumble of the heater. We sat tersely and stiffly — none of us willing to violate the silence — as Freddy maneuvered the car through the snowy residential streets. Through the window, I watched quaint suburban houses fly by in the darkness, twisting out of view like black ghosts. Most of them had lights on — warm, amber squares that served as reminders of the other world that existed outside my life, the masses of people who had no idea what was about to happen.
I was oddly calm.
After what was either an hour or ten minutes of driving, we arrived at a shabby public parking space completely void of people or other cars. Fred guided the van into one of the many empty rectangles and cut the engine.
The snowy suburbia we had been passing through had transformed into a small cityscape — grey buildings with faces shadowed by the dim glow of streetlights. Without a word, we all hopped out the car and crossed the lot in bold, knowing steps.
The entrance to the Ministry was disguised as an abandoned hotel, shabby and worn, either too small or too unimportant to warrant any attention from the Muggles who passed by, everyday, without realizing it was there. A sign hung from its roof, swinging vertiginously on creaky hinges. Its letters had rusted off, rendering the hotel's name unreadable.
We stood outside its metal, ornate doors, and for the first time that night, I hesitated. Could we really just… open it? Waltz inside? Wasn’t there some sort of security check we had to pass through first — metal detectors, a secret password, some beefy guy in a tight black shirt with a clipboard?
Potter's hazel eyes flashed to me in uncertainty. I shrugged at him and, in response, he reached out to grab the metal handle. A second’s pause, and then he pulled it smoothly open.
It was your typical post-apocalyptic Hollywood scene — chairs turned over, the carpet singed and ripped, the cliché chandelier twinkling gloomily in the darkness. The hotel was obviously huge and beautiful once but had fallen to decay.
I exhaled as we stepped inside, gingerly picking our way through the dust and debris of the lobby. We walked to the very end, where the elevators — old-fashioned brassy rectangles, one right after the other — were lined in a golden row. Taking initiative once more, Potter crossed over to the wall and pushed a small, innocent black button. Creepily enough, we didn’t have to wait for even a second before all the elevator doors immediately slid open with a loud, metallic groan.
Freddy gulped, turning slightly pale.
None of us budged. The elevators gaped open at us, waiting.
“Okay,” Evelyn began slowly, voice slightly higher-pitched than normal. “Does anyone else find this whole situation to be…?”
“ — incredibly terrifying?” Dom finished quickly.
“I was going to say strange, but yeah,” Evelyn nodded vigorously. “That works too.”
I breathed deeply, trying to ignore the goosebumps on the back of my neck. Abandoned building, creepy elevators of death, flickering lights, and six idiot teenagers with no means of protecting themselves… Okay, so this was the perfect set-up for a horror movie. That didn’t mean we had to be scared, right? Right?
“This one.” I gestured to the elevator that looked the least dilapidated, trying to keep my hand from shaking so obviously. “Let’s go in this one.”
“Okay,” Evelyn said faintly.
Aidan cleared his throat. “Sounds good.”
"Let's go," Dom squeaked.
There was an awkward pause.
“So,” Freddy blurted, his lips pressed into a thin line. “Ladies first?”
I gave him a withering look. “Gryffindors first.”
Freddy stared at me for a moment, face ashen, and then abruptly nodded. “Right. Right. Of course.” He cleared his throat, puffing out his chest, and stepped forward. “Here we go!”
He stepped inside.
We all watched him for a moment, eyes wide in the hushed silence. I don't know what we were expecting, but nothing happened. No surprise attacks or sudden blackouts. No dementors or Death Eaters. Just Freddy standing in the elevator, looking very meek and pale.
Finally, Potter followed Fred, and the rest of us trickled in.
“State your name and business,” said a cool female voice from out of nowhere.
I jumped. Evelyn screamed, Freddy screamed louder, and Aidan hopped into Dom’s arms Scooby-Doo style. Unfortunately for Dom, who had not been expecting 77 kgs of boy to be launched at her anytime soon, the two went crashing into the wall.
“State your name and business,” the voice repeated neutrally and Potter, who had been the only one to stay calm, flicked his eyes to the ceiling.
“James Potter, Dominique and Fred Weasley, Evelyn Stanford, and Agatha and Aidan Bennett,” Potter said evenly, shoulders tensed. He turned towards me. “What’s our business?”
I blanched, heart still racing. “Er, visit? Rescue mission? Maybe lie and tell them we’re the press — “
“WE’RE HERE TO FUCK SHIT UP!” Freddy suddenly shouted, for no apparent reason whatsoever. “SO FUCK YOU, YOU… YOU… FUCK!”
When we all turned to him, shocked and gaping, he shrugged.
“What?” he said defensively, as if he had just displayed incredible insight by being the one to scream aggressively at the invisible person in the box. “You gotta make some noise. Establishes authority. That’s how it works in the wild.”
Luckily, we were saved rom having to respond by a mechanical whirring sound seemingly coming from within the elevator’s walls. Then without warning, six visitors’ passes appeared in a slot by the door. I reached across, picking one up and handing the rest to a shaken but recovering Dom.
I glanced down. The badge said in glossy, official letters:
Ministry of Magic Official Visitor:
HERE TO FUCK SHIT UP SO FUCK YOU YOU FUCK
“Huh,” Potter said, which pretty much summed it up.
And then, with a scary jolt that caused me to stumble into Dom (who had just barely managed to right herself), the elevator began to move.
“Wow, okay. So here we go,” I said casually. What I said was very different from what I was thinking, which was something more along the lines of ‘oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit we’re all gonna die oh shit.’
“Does everyone remember what they have to do?” Potter turned towards all of us expectantly, and I nodded mutely.
For all his hesitation earlier, Potter was now acting very calm and prepared for what was about to happen. Not that I minded — I was glad there was at least one stable presence, one anchor that I could hold on to amidst all this fear and tension and wondering.
The elevator came to a screeching halt, and then the doors parted to reveal a cool, dark atrium with slick obsidian walls that seemed to stretch into infinity. Seeing those walls again brought back memories of The Christmas Ball, memories of slipping down this very same atrium with terror at my heels.
I felt an unpleasant jolt in my stomach.
Fred stepped out, peered grimly around the side of the elevator, then signaled with his hand for the rest of us to follow.
Together, we shuffled across the glossy black marble towards the huge, polished set of double doors at the end, behind which was the conference room where we knew the press conference would be taking place. Already, I could hear the faint strains of voices and snapping cameras.
“Here,” Fred whispered, and from his messenger bag he pulled out six pairs of simple black Rayban-style sunglasses.
“What are these?” Potter said as Fred handed him one. Holding his pair up to the light, he squinted into the darkened lenses.
“They’re one of my dad’s prototypes. They’re for disguising yourself. They don’t exactly make you invisible, but... Well, just try them on and see for yourself."
I slid on the shades, blinking furiously as the world was suddenly plunged into darkness. While my eyes adjusted, I looked around at all my friends. Already, I could tell what Freddy was talking about.
I squinted at Dom, who had her glasses on as well and was looking equally baffled. Although I knew, deep down, that it was my best friend I was looking at, her appearance seemed to sporadically shift and morph like slides on a glitchy computer screen. One moment, she had braided blonde hair. The next, it was a cropped black pixie cut. Her nose seemed to elongate and then shrink and then grow again at rapid speed. At one point, she looked a lot like my third grade English teacher, before turning back into a businessman with a tie. After every time she changed, however, I would immediately forget what she had looked like previously, leaving me confused and feeling as though my vision was lagging behind reality.
"And here's the charm that goes with the glasses," Fred said, waving his wand and muttering a few quick words under his breath. "It makes it so we can see each other clearly, but other people will still be confused."
I watched as, before my eyes, Dominique wavered and then suddenly snapped back into her normal form — strawberry blonde hair, cat-like grin and light green eyes that were now sparkling in wonder.
"Woah." I gave myself approximately four second to marvel at the genius of George Weasley before I snapped into action, turning around and clapping my hands together in the most authoritative way possible. It was time to go. "Alright guys. I think it'd be best if we went in separately, so as not to attract attention."
No response. Everyone was too busy looking at each other, patting their own faces in bewilderment. Aidan was holding a chunk of Evelyn's hair in his hand and, with a confused frown on his face, was staring at it like it held all the secrets of the universe.
I sighed. These were the idiots about to stage a Ministry takeover.
"GUYS!" I clapped my hands together again, and immediately the group jumped to attention.
"Right." Fred puffed out his chest, shoving the Raybans up his nose with a hasty finger. "Aidan and I will go first."
He huffed out a big breath and then glanced at Aidan, who nodded in grim acquiescence.
"Ready. See you lot on the other side." Aidan turned to me, eyes beseeching, and in them was everything I knew he wouldn't say out loud. Be safe — take care — I love you. The words seemed to transmit through some special twin telepathy, and I nodded at him in quiet understanding.
With that, Fred reached out and shoved open the door. There was a burst of chatter, of cameras snapping and applause and other white noise, and then the two of them disappeared, the door shutting behind them with a very definitive click.
Dom and Evelyn were next, bickering as they went in ("I go first!" "No — I go first, remember the plan?" "Fuck the plan!" "Fuck you!"), and then finally, it was Potter and I's turn.
I dawdled in front of the closed door, rolling my wand between my fingers anxiously. I could feel Potter's eyes on me, and for a very long moment, it was silent.
Completely silent. Just two people with a lot to say but no desire to speak, standing together in an immensely big and empty hallway.
"You don't have to do this," Potter said stiffly, white knuckles clenched around his wand.
I turned to him. Meeting his gaze caused something inside my stomach to clench. "I'm going to. It'll work out fine, trust me."
"I do," Potter responded, easily. He stepped closer and bowed his head, hazel eyes restlessly scanning my face. "But still."
"I've got it all under control," I reassured him. "Every possible obstacle or snag has been accounted for. Nothing is going to stop me."
"That," Potter said. "Is what I'm afraid of."
I allowed a smile to tug, briefly, at my lips, before fixing him with a more serious expression.
"When this is all over and we're safe and sound — which we will be, because I have a plan, and that plan is awesome — do you maybe... want to go on a date?"
Potter's eyebrows quirked into his messy hair. Amusement twitched at the corners of his mouth. "A date?"
"I mean, I know it's a little old-fashioned but... Yeah, a date. Where we get dinner and see a movie, and you drive up in your car, or whatever, and at dinner we'll do that schtick where you insist on paying and I'll pretend to get cross but secretly be really pleased. Do you... Do you want to do that? With me?"
Potter grinned. "Yeah. Yeah, I want to do that. I'll pick you up at seven. Tomorrow."
"Tomorrow." I said, and in that word there was a sense of comfort, of certainty. I smiled, almost surprised it'd been that easy. "Okay."
Potter's eyes flicked to the closed door in front of us. Behind it was a crowd of Ministry officials, the most important man in the wizardring government and four very ill-equipped, over-confident teenagers. Behind it was my future, whatever that might entail.
"We should go."
I took one last, long look at him. We stepped inside.
The thing about saving the day — which you really don't expect — is that there's a lot of waiting involved.
When we stepped inside, Potter and I immediately separated. He went towards the back corner as we had planned, while I tried to worm my way closer to the podium, where the Minister was speaking. The room was huge, and as I flitted my gaze back and forth in search of the others, I registered around a hundred faces. Journalists, mostly, but some important officials as well, recognizable from the papers and even history books.
They all had their attention fixated on the Minister, wielding notepads and cameras.
Dom, Aidan and the rest were in their positions, scattered at various points throughout the room. Now, we just had to wait for the signal.
"The Sword of Gryffindor is a precious symbol," Minister Humdudgeon was saying, and even in this muddle of anxiety and anticipation, I could still notice the clear ringing of his voice, the way his presence seemed to saturate the room and command everyone's full attention. "Its theft is a blight to our society's history — a long history of heroism, of courage and sacrifice. My only hope is that the individual who stole this artifact will step up..."
I tuned him out. Now was not the time for politician's speeches, for artifacts and history. Casually, I leaned against the wall I was standing by, quirking my chin in a brief nod at Aidan. No one had noticed us, it seemed; everyone was too focused on the Minister.
And then Vespertine walked in.
It wasn't like she was uninvited, or like she was crashing the party. People expected her to be there, after all. She was a prominent member of society, a scholar with educated and important opinions. And yes, maybe it was a little weird that she brought three beefy, henchmen-looking guys with her, but that was just her style, right? It seemed normal.
...Until you realized she was a deranged psychopath with a history of arson, violence and assault. But. You know. Technicalities.
I watched as Vespertine and her Party Posse (Cooper Fallon among them) wound their way through the crowd, coming to sit at the very front of the journalists. Praying that the enchantment on my Raybans was still holding up, I locked eyes with Freddy and gave him the signal — a barely perceptible nod — which he then passed to Aidan, who nodded to Dom, and so on.
Like this, our signal moved down the group until it reached Potter, the last person in the chain, who stared at me with dark understanding in his eyes and slowly withdrew his wand from his back pocket.
My lips dropped open. For a moment, a moment warm and flushed with possibility, the world narrowed in until it was just the two of us, and the beam of grim acknowledgement that arced between our bodies. I wanted to say something, anything, to even mouth it at him from across the ginormous expanse of the atrium.
But then Potter was looking away and flicking his wand, and all of a sudden everything went dark.
There was a yelp of surprise, the crowd bristling with unease. This was the Ministry after all, blackouts — as customary and harmless as they be — weren't supposed to happen. Which made it all the more imperative to act fast, before someone charmed the lights back on. Already, wizards were whispering to each other, fumbling amidst the swathe of blackness.
I stalked towards the podium, eyes half-adjusted to the dark, until I was directly behind the Minister's head bodyguard. He was standing at the very edge of the stage. I'd singled him out in the crowd before, memorized his position down to the angle at which his head was cocked, the way his right foot rested two inches in front of the left.
He could sense me — or someone, at least — getting near, but one quick flick of the wand and a surreptitious Stunning spell later, and the protector of the leader of the wizardring world was crumpling at my feet.
"Nice one," whispered a hushed, familiar voice, and I looked up to meet Dom's wide eyes and grinning face. She bent down over the bodyguard's slack body, plucked a hair out his head with two slender fingers, and held it in front of her like a precious gemstone. I tried to ignore the rustle and rumble of the Atrium, the white noise of people who were beginning to stand up and realize something was not right.
Instead, I focused on Dom's agile hands as she uncorked the Polyjuice Potion, dropped in the hair, and downed the whole concoction in three big gulps. I was a bit surprised by how fast she drank the thing, but then again, this was the girl who once did ten shots of tequila at a Hufflepuff house party. In a row.
In the faraway darkness, I could make out the Minister at his podium, whispering to one of his aides. He seemed concerned. There was no time to waste.
I snapped my gaze back to Dom, who had almost completed her transformation. She was standing a foot taller than me, maybe twice as wide and, oh yeah, she was now a guy — that was worthy of note. Before coming tonight, she had purposefully dressed in some of Aidan's baggy clothes, which she'd been swimming in previously, but now, in her new form, filled out perfectly.
If anyone had been able to make out the vague shapes of a metamorphosis happening in the dark corner, they didn't anything.
"You know what to do?"
Dom jerked his/her head in acknowledgement, then with typical Dom confidence (which, admittedly, did not go well with her new form. It was weird to see a bodybuilder strut like that), walked towards the Minister and his podium.
"Sir," I heard her say. "You're going to have to come with me."
Minister Humdudgeon, of course, completely trusted his head bodyguard — or who he thought was his bodyguard, at least. Which is why he let Dom Weasley, sixteen-year-old girl and avid boyband fan, guide him out the door behind the podium, into the new hallway and out of danger.
That was stage one of the plan, complete. Now for the harder bits. I swiveled around, leaving the real bodyguard's slumped-over body in the corner — Fred would hide it somewhere, later — before trying to track down Vespertine. I had an estimated ten seconds before someone figured out how to counter Potter's incantation (it was more complicated than a simple Lumos would fix, but still not impenetrable), bringing light back in the room. Ten seconds.
Most people mention feeling an 'adrenaline rush' in situations of extreme danger, and I was pretty sure that was what I was going through at the moment. I don't know how to describe an adrenaline rush, other than it must be like how one would feel if they rode a motorcycle off a cliff and then did a lot of hard drugs afterwards.
In short: it's amazing.
This is what meth is, I thought to myself as I floated through the crowd. This is why so many people do meth. My vision was sharper, crystallizing each line into cold, sparkling perfection. My limbs had the weight and floppiness of pool noodles. I literally had no concept of my own safety or life. The only thing that mattered was finding Vespertine.
And find her I did, in the heart of the crowd, surrounded by her cronies — Cooper Fallon among them. They all seemed tense, backs rigid as their eyes snapped back and forth in unison. They saw me of course, but thanks to Fred's glasses, they didn't register me as Agatha Bennett — or anyone important at all. Instead, they let me push through them and, consequently, slip Dom's coin into Vespertine's robe pocket.
I was literally two inches away from Cooper. Good thing I'd only been wearing the Raybans and not an invisibility cloak, because otherwise I would have been sorely tempted to do something immature, like maybe give him a noogie or tie his shoelaces together. Git.
I got out of there quick, the triumph of completing Stage Two coiled tightly in my chest. Twisting on my heel, I turned back towards the podium — ducking under a reporter and his large, lethal-looking camera — and made my way to the door. Potter and Aidan were waiting for me there. Even in the darkness, I could see that their mouths were drawn into flat, serious lines.
"Everything okay?" Potter's smooth tone had a bite of anxiety to it, and I knew he didn't like me being so close, to Vespertine or to Cooper, but I shrugged it off.
"Easy-peasy. Dom alright?" I shot back, voice a hushed murmur in the dark.
"She just left out the exit." Aidan tossed a flippant glance at his watch. "Our turn. Go go go."
We shoved through the door just as the lights flickered on behind us.
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