Chapter 2 : Wrath
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“So he just... grabbed your boob?”
Ron couldn’t quite understand the exasperated look on his colleague’s face. As far as he was concerned, all he’d done was ask the question that was on everyone else’s mind. Why was she glaring at him like that?
“Yes, Ron,” Susan Bones replied curtly, “he just grabbed my boob.”
Ron tried his best to hold it together. He probably would have succeeded if he hadn’t accidentally made eye contact with Terry Boot. Within a few seconds, the two male Aurors crumbled into snorts of laughter.
“I’m glad you all think it’s so bloody funny,” Susan snapped as she cast another healing spell on the bruise on the side of her face. “Next time, one of you can take polyjuice and be Mary bloody Goldsmith.”
“Sorry, Suze, I’d make a terrible woman,” Neville Longbottom answered earnestly. He nudged another shard of the broken wine bottle into the middle of his desk with the tip of his wand and swept it with a revealing spell. After noting the pattern and colors of the flashes of light, he dropped it into an evidence bag.
“There’s the truth if I’ve ever heard it,” Justin Finch-Fletchley mumbled from his desk. He dipped his quill and continued scribbling away on the report the group was preparing. Ron was as eager as anyone else on the team to wrap up the paperwork on Kaspar Teufelshunde and go home. As often as Hermione reassured him that she understood the irregular hours of his chosen profession -- and as often as her own career pulled her into the Ministry on nights and weekends -- he hated missing out on a lazy Saturday afternoon with her.
Ron had been enjoying a nice lie-in with his fiancee when Harry’s Patronus burst into their bedroom. One of the Aurors’ best undercover informants had provided Harry with the location of an infamous and dangerous Snatcher. The entire team had sprung into action, gathering several blocks from the house where Teufelshunde was hiding and quickly working out the details of their take-down plan. The whole thing came together in a matter of minutes. You got used to working that way when you worked for Harry Potter. Planning was a luxury they were rarely able to enjoy.
“I’m not taking the piss here, guys,” Susan continued, studying her work in a mirror. “It’s sexual assault. It’s not funny.”
Ron took a second to fully compose himself before answering. “I’m sorry, Susan. It really isn’t funny. Just sort of pathetic, really. Judging from where the mediwizards were casting healing spells on him, I’d say you showed him the error in his ways.”
“If I’d had my wand, they would’ve needed a needle and thread to fix him,” Susan replied darkly, returning the slender piece of wood to the holster on her forearm. Ron shuddered involuntarily. There were many people in the world that he no longer feared crossing, having seen and survived everything he’d been through since meeting Harry Potter on the Hogwarts Express. Susan Bones was not one of them.
“Done!” Neville announced, dropping the last fragment of the wine bottle into the bag with the others. He turned toward Justin, who shuffled through the various pieces of parchment on his desk until he found the evidence catalog. “There was an illicit portkey spell on the bottle. It was keyed for Bavaria. It also looks like Teufelshunde cast half a dozen revealing spells on it. The wand signature from the portkey spell is a match for The Stranger. Other than that, just a faint magical signature from an elf. I’d say The Stranger swept it clean before making the elf deliver it.”
“Merlin’s beard, this guy is careful,” Justin muttered as he wrote down Neville’s findings. “So we still think The Stranger is Jugson?”
“Harry’s convinced of it,” Ron answered, scribbling a few notes in his own field journal. “He won’t say why, but he is. I think maybe the informant told him something.”
“I don’t like this,” Terry said quietly, not looking up from the report he was working on. “Not knowing anything about this secret informant. We’re a team. We share everything we know. I just... don’t like it.”
“We have to trust Harry,” Susan replied, lowering her voice to match Terry’s. “I’m sure he has a good reason for keeping this secret. He wouldn’t do it otherwise.”
“Susan’s right,” Ron chimed in. “This informant has led us to four fugitives so far. Poor bloke is probably in so deep that he can’t take any risks, like Snape was. He trusts Harry and we have to respect that.”
“I know,” Terry sighed, rubbing his forehead. “But I still don’t like it.”
“Harry’s the boss,” Neville replied after sealing the evidence bag with a tamper resistant spell. “If he says he can’t tell us, he can’t tell us.”
Ron kept a neutral expression, but he felt a twinge of discomfort for his best friend. Harry hated the mantle of leadership that had been placed on his shoulders, but everyone understood the necessity. When the former D.A. members had proposed forming a task force to hunt down fugitive Death Eaters and other war criminals, the surviving senior Aurors had been bitterly opposed to the idea. Kingsley had only agreed to override their objections if Harry became the public face of the team. It gave him the political capital he needed to make the Ministry’s army of bureaucrats fall into line. Even the name that had been chosen for them -- The Special War Crimes Investigation and Pursuit Squad -- seemed rather self-important and poncey to Ron’s ears. At least it had until the other Aurors took to calling them the SpeWCrIPS behind their backs. Even that was a damn sight better than the moniker the Daily Prophet had come up with.
“So... the Atrium is full of reporters and photographers, the Obliviators are working double shifts and a Healer is charming some half-arsed dark wizard’s ear back on in Holding Cell Eight.” Ron groaned inwardly, recognizing the voice without looking up. “The Death Hunters must be back from their latest escapade.”
“Hey Dawlish,” Terry replied sarcastically, “I heard somebody jinxed a toy broom in Diagon Alley. Why don’t you take Cheshire and Proudfoot and go investigate it?”
The look on the senior Auror’s face turned sour as he blew across the top of a steaming mug of tea. “Auror Cheshire and Auror Proudfoot have real cases to work on, and so do I. We don’t have time to run around blowing up muggle neighborhoods and chasing You-Know-Who’s low-ranking flunkies.”
“That low-ranking flunkie personally handed four muggle-borns over to Dolores Umbridge and her commission,” Susan spat back. “He sent them to their deaths. He tortured, raped and murdered more muggles than we’ll ever know. If you don’t think that’s worth your time, you shouldn’t be here.”
Dawlish took a step toward Susan’s desk. His eyes were filled with anger and contempt. “How dare you tell me where I should or shouldn’t be? I was an Auror before you were born, missy. Your aunt and I came up through Magical Law Enforcement together.”
“My aunt thought you were an idiot,” Susan replied, meeting his burning glare with one of her own. “I tend to agree with her.”
“Hey, Nev,” Justin piped up, looking past the senior Auror toward the door, “what’s your Gran doing here?”
Dawlish spun around so fast that he spilled hot tea all down the front of his robes. Ron, Terry, Justin and Neville howled with laughter as the older wizard slowly turned back from the empty doorway with a furious scowl fixed on his red face.
“Potter’s fame isn’t going to keep you sorry lot here forever,” he snarled, then he stalked out of their office toward the gents.
“Bloody tosser,” Ron wheezed, wiping his eyes.
“Bloke’s a good laugh, though,” Terry replied, searching for the quill he’d dropped somewhere among the piles of parchment littering his desk.
Another figure appeared in the doorway and the office immediately went silent. Ron marveled at how Harry never had to ask people to quiet down when he entered the room. They all just instinctively stopped talking, wanting to hear what he had to say.
“Alright, you lot, listen up,” Harry started, in spite of the fact that they were already listening intently. “I just came from Kingsley’s office. He and Robards were really pleased with how this morning went. Well, Kingsley is, anyway.”
The team shared a chuckle and Harry’s posture loosened a bit as his nerves started to settle. “Let’s go over it one more time and see what went well and what we could have done better.”
Ron settled into his chair as Harry perched himself on the corner of Susan’s desk. Step by step, they started to pick apart the operation, going over each piece of it in turn. It had become a ritual for the team, something that Kingsley suggested when he first approved their proposal. Ron thought it was a big part of why they worked so well together, not to mention why they always managed to come back alive.
After going over the team’s initial communication and the way they positioned themselves around the muggle house, Harry turned to Susan’s performance on the inside. “You managed to throw off the Imperius on the second prompt this time. Excellent work!”
The blond witch broke into a wide smile, with just a hint of hesitation. “I nearly got it on the first one, but he was a little too strong.”
Throwing off the Imperius Curse was something the team practiced regularly. They had devised a system of verbal prompts to help focus their minds and overcome the confusion and complacency that settled over a person who was placed under it. Aside from Harry, who had been able to throw off the curse since their fourth year at Hogwarts, Susan had developed the greatest ability both to cast the curse and to escape from it. Ron wondered how much of it she’d learned from her aunt before the powerful witch had been killed by the Dark Lord.
After another twenty minutes spent discussing the final fight inside the house, Harry slid off of Susan’s desk and beamed at all of them. “Brilliant work, everyone. Unless there’s something else we need to talk about, let’s get out of here and enjoy the rest of the weekend.”
Ron snapped his field journal closed and stood up from his desk. He was about to head for the door when Terry cleared his throat softly. “Harry, I know you can’t tell us much about this secret informant of yours, and you know that we trust you. It just...” The brown-haired Ravenclaw was silent for a moment, contemplating his next words. “Can you at least say that it’s not somebody with blood on their hands?” He stared at Harry for another couple of seconds before quietly adding, “Not somebody like Snape.”
Ron’s eyes flicked back and forth between Terry and Harry. He knew that not everyone fully accepted Harry’s explanation of the perilous double life that Snape had lived. The students who suffered while Snape and the Carrows ran Hogwarts were particularly doubtful. Harry’s gaze swept slowly around the group before settling back on Terry.
“The informant isn’t a Death Eater,” Harry answered, keeping his voice calm and level. “That’s the most I can tell you without putting an innocent life in even more danger.”
Terry nodded slowly. “And he comes to you with information...” He let the implied question hang in the still air. Everyone’s attention shifted back to Harry.
“As often as possible.” Harry locked eyes with Ron for a fraction of a second before continuing. “Our informant risks a horrible death every time we talk. Someday soon I hope the whole world will know what a hero she is.”
Taking Harry’s hint, Ron abruptly turned toward the door. “Alright, everyone. Have a brilliant weekend, see you on Monday.”
He was halfway out of the room when a small elf appeared in the middle of the room with a loud pop. All eyes snapped to the bone-thin creature as it slowly turned until its bulbous eyes settled on Harry. “Begging your pardons, please, but Bizzy has a message for Mister Harry Potter.”
Ron noticed Harry’s shoulders tense. The shabby looking little elf was dressed in tattered rags and her long, bony fingers were shaking. Harry gestured toward the team’s meager meeting room before he turned to face them. “Everyone hang around for a minute, yeah? This won’t take long.”
As soon as Harry closed the door to the meeting room behind him, Ron’s ears picked up the telltale buzzing of a Muffliato Charm. He turned to find all of the others staring at him, and he shrugged his shoulders helplessly in response. “Dunno. Not my elf.”
“Like Hermione would let you have one,” Susan replied with a smirk, settling back into her desk chair.
Even though she was absolutely right, Ron felt compelled to say something in his fiancee’s... he supposed ‘defense’ wasn’t exactly the right way to put it. Hermione and Kreacher had gotten on rather well once they worked out the proper boundaries. He was about to say as much when the door to the meeting room opened and Harry rushed out. Alone.
“Grab your stuff, everyone. We’ll talk on the way to the apparition point.”
They all looked at one another for a fraction of a second before the room erupted with activity.
“What is it, Harry?” Neville asked as he threw his cloak over his shoulders. “What did the elf tell you?”
Without pausing, Harry looked over his shoulder and replied, “I know where Jugson is.”
All thoughts of spending a quiet afternoon with Hermione were erased from Ron’s mind in an instant. Jugson was probably the most dangerous and elusive war criminal on their hit list. Aside from Rabastan Lestrange, who was believed to have fled to France, he was also the highest-ranking Death Eater still on the loose.
As the team hurried toward the Ministry’s employee apparition point, Harry filled them in on everything he knew. The information said that Jugson was staying in a dormer bungalow near East Sussex. The house belonged to a older muggle couple who leased it to a young woman. Because of his rampant paranoia, Jugson likely wouldn’t stay there for more than a day or two. If they were going to capture him, they had to strike now.
“As soon as we get there, spread out and surround the house,” Harry directed. “Susan and Justin, you get the anti-disapparition jinxes up. Terry and Neville, be ready to cover them in case Jugson spots us and starts hurling curses from inside the house. Ron, you’ve got the front entrance. On my signal, you lead Terry and Susan in. Justin, Neville, we have the back door. Questions?”
“What if he has a portkey?” Justin asked.
“Good thinking,” Harry replied. “We already know that he makes illicit ones. We’ll need to move quickly and quietly. As soon as all the spells are up, we go in as fast as we can. Stun anything that moves. We’ll sort out friend from foe when we’ve got the house under control.”
“Booby traps?” Susan added, then rolled her eyes at the juvenile smirks on Ron and Terry’s faces.
Harry nodded grimly. “It’s definitely possible. I’m hoping he won’t spend too much time protecting a house that he doesn’t plan to use for very long. Keep a close eye out, though.”
The team elbowed their way through a crowd of Ministry employees waiting to use the apparition point. “Official Auror business!” Ron shouted, side-stepping between a pair of witches from International Magical Cooperation. “Clear the way! This is an emergency!” Seconds later, they reached the octagonal area and formed up in a circle.
“You all know where we’re going and what to do when we get there,” Harry stated, sounding every bit the leader that he never wanted to be. “Remember the plan and watch your backs.”
“Let’s get this bastard,” Ron added.
Harry drew his wand and the others followed suit. “On three. One. Two. Three!”
Ron turned on his heel and the world collapsed into a crushing, spinning tunnel of darkness and vertigo. A fraction of a second later, he landed on the pavement in front of the house Harry had described. Susan began side-stepping down the breadth of the front lawn, sweeping her wand over the plane of the property line while Justin moved warily behind her, keeping his eyes fixed on the muggle home and his wand at the ready.
The house itself was unremarkable. Ron studied the casement windows carefully, searching for any hint of motion. He could see faint traces of light behind floral print curtains, but nobody seemed to be looking out. Susan was approaching the corner of the front yard and as she prepared to turn and extend the spells she was casting Ron got his first view of the side of the house. The windows were also dark and empty and he noted with satisfaction that there was no side entrance to worry about. While Justin continued to shadow Susan, Ron hung back where he could keep watch over the front door. It all felt too easy. Jugson had been on the run since the day the Dark Lord fell, helping other Death Eaters to escape and taunting the Ministry with violent assaults on muggle and magical folk alike. He wasn’t the sort to be caught unaware. Had he actually become this careless?
A few moments later, Susan and Justin hurried back toward Ron. The three Aurors crouched down and tried to stay below the line of sight from the first floor windows as they moved into position near the front door. Ron forced himself to relax his grip on his wand. Harry hadn’t been able to tell them much about what might await inside. The message delivered by the elf had been short and to the point. Jugson was there. As he waited for Harry’s signal, Ron tried to recall every detail from the Death Eater’s case file. He mentally ticked through Jugson’s age, height, weight, known aliases, magical strengths and weaknesses, favorite curses, even which hand he held his wand in. Any bit of information could be the difference between successfully completing their mission and ending up dead. Truthfully, he spent far more time pondering his own mortality as a fully trained Auror than he had as a seventeen year old battling the most dangerous dark wizard in history. If he thought about it, it was grimly amusing.
A shower of red sparks appeared over the house and Ron put everything else out of his mind. Susan swiped her wand over the doorknob and whispered, “Finite consummatum.” The door briefly glowed blue as all of its protective enchantments were swept away. Ron took a deep breath and reached for the doorknob as Susan cast a silencing charm and Justin aimed his wand toward the inside of the house. They were at the point of no return.
Ron twisted the knob and gently pushed the door open. From either side, Susan and Justin rushed in with their wands at the ready. Ron allowed them a second to visually sweep the adjoining rooms before stepping between them and covering the hallway with his wand. Carrying out a raid was a lot like chess in Ron’s opinion. It was all about understanding visual lanes and obstacles, advancing your position and gradually taking control of the playing field. The only difference was that sacrificing pieces was out of the question.
He met Harry at the bottom of the stairs as the rest of the team methodically swept the ground floor. They exchanged a quick nod and Ron stayed as close as he could to Harry’s back while his friend climbed the steps. The tactic came naturally after all of the missions they’d been on. Harry could protect them with powerful shield charms while Ron, who stood almost a head taller, lobbed offensive spells over his shoulder. It made them an even more formidable pair in a fight.
Ron heard soft footsteps coming up the stairs behind them and turned to find Terry looking up at him. The brown-haired Ravenclaw mouthed ‘ground floor clear’ and then turned to guard their backs. As Ron’s line of sight rose above the top of the stairs, he saw a short hallway with three doors. Natural light spilled out of the two on either side while the one at the end of the hall was closed. Harry looked over his shoulder and silently gestured first to the left, then to the right. Ron nodded in agreement.
As they side-stepped down the hall, Ron saw Susan take the rear guard on the stairs, allowing Terry to join them. Harry and Ron pressed their backs against opposite walls and moved toward the open doorways while Terry dropped into a crouch and covered the closed door with his wand. Ron raised his free hand and counted down with his fingers. Three. Two...
The two Aurors spun quickly away from the walls and fell to one knee with their wands pointed into the open rooms. In front of him, Ron found an empty bedroom. The bed was neatly made and the folding doors of the closet were open, revealing a modest selection of women’s clothes hanging beneath a shelf full of shoe boxes. Homenum Revelio. Ron cast the spell silently and swept the room with his wand. There were no telltale flashes of light to indicate the presence of anyone hiding inside. Noting that the windows were closed and locked, Ron turned around and had to stop himself from cursing out loud.
Harry was standing just inside the opposite room, surrounded by carnage. What had once been a child’s bedroom was strewn with bits of broken furniture and scorched debris. The bedding and stuffed animals that once adorned a trundle bed on the far wall had been shredded and flung haphazardly around. Blackened curse burns pock-marked the walls and ceiling. As Ron moved closer, he realized that his best friend was looking down. When he could see over Harry’s shoulder, he suppressed a gasp. Lying on its side in a pool of blood was a small dog. Its empty eyes were fixed on the burned remains of a teddy bear with the word Donny stitched across its belly.
Ron started as Susan appeared beside him. She covered her mouth in shock when she saw the destroyed bedroom. As gently as he could, Ron reached out and shook Harry’s shoulder. His best mate finally tore his eyes away from the horrific scene, but he didn’t meet Ron’s stare. Things had plainly just become very personal.
Harry stepped back into the hallway and tilted his head toward the closed door. Neville was watching them from the stairs, leaving Justin on the first floor to cover the only possible escape route. Susan took a step forward, sweeping her wand over the door. There were no curses or locking spells on it, so Harry and Ron both took a step closer with their wands leveled toward the doorway. On Harry’s slight nod, Susan reached up from her kneeling position and opened the door.
The sight that awaited them froze Ron and Harry in their tracks. A dark-haired young woman was standing in the middle of the room, holding a glass bottle at arm’s length. Her eyes were glassy and vacant, her posture perfect. The bottle glowed with a subtle, menacing red hue. Harry took a careful half step into the room when a gravelly voice from the master bath caught them all by surprise.
“Welcome, Harry Potter. So these are the famous Death Hunters I’ve heard so much about.”
“You’re trapped, Jugson,” Harry replied, aiming his wand toward the bathroom. The door was open, but Jugson was standing out of sight somewhere inside. “The house is completely warded. Throw your wand out and then come out with your hands above your head.”
There was a brief silence and then the dark wizard chuckled softly. “You sound very sure of yourself. Did you perhaps notice the bottle that the pathetic creature in front of you is holding?”
“I see it,” Harry answered bluntly. Ron frowned as he studied it. There was little doubt that it was cursed, but he couldn’t see how that improved Jugson’s tactical position. If the Aurors were in danger from it, so was he.
“If she lets go of it, the explosion will kill everyone in this house.” Jugson paused for a second. “What a shame that would be.”
Harry shifted his wand slightly, angling for a better shot at the bathroom doorway. “Agreed. Especially since you’re, at most, twelve feet away.”
Jugson laughed again, louder this time. “Always the hero, aren’t you, Harry Potter? Laughing in the face of death. I regret that I’ll be unable to watch you die, but you’re correct. This vantage point is far too close. Bizzy!”
Ron felt a helpless panic settle in as a sharp crack sounded from the bathroom and Harry swore loudly. Jugson’s mocking voice was barely audible above the wave of tension that crashed through the air. “Take me home, Bizzy.”
“Bizzy, no!” Harry shouted, but it was too late. A second crack sounded from the bathroom and Ron knew in an instant that the elf and the dark wizard were gone.
“Harry!” Susan’s terrified yelp snapped their attention away from the bathroom and back to the spot where the young muggle woman stood. She closed her eyes and shook her head slightly as her posture slumped. Ron’s attention flew to the cursed bottle now hanging loosely between her outstretched fingers. His wand reflexively jerked upward in an attempt to defend himself, but Harry was faster.
“Imperio!” Harry fixed his wand and his stare on the muggle woman and her posture stiffened again. Her fingers wrapped more tightly around the bottle. All of the Aurors let out a breath and then Harry spoke softly and deliberately. “Susan, can you find a way to remove the curse?”
The blond Auror carefully stepped forward and probed the air around the muggle woman gently with her wand. “He tied it into her blood. As long as she’s alive, the curse will regenerate as fast as I can remove it. It’s also timed. We have another thirty seconds, tops, before it explodes even if she doesn’t let it go.”
“Options?” Ron was pretty sure he recognized the tone of Harry’s voice. He sounded the way he always did just before doing something foolishly heroic.
“Strategic retreat,” Ron replied. “There’s no time to call a curse breaker. We have to get out of here.” Harry didn’t budge from where he was standing. Ron sighed and lowered his voice. “I’m sorry, Harry. We can’t help her.”
Harry’s answer was alarmingly predictable. “Not good enough. We have to try.” Ron noticed that the pulsing glow of the bottle had become more frequent, not unlike his own heart rate.
“Harry,” Susan said insistently, “we have to get everyone out of the house. That bottle’s going to blow.”
“No,” Harry replied evenly. “We can’t just leave her.”
“Look, Harry,” Ron answered, trying not to shout. “There’s nothing we can do. If she takes her hand off of that bottle-” He puffed his cheeks out before letting the air escape and flexing his wrists and fingers outward.
Harry looked thoughtful for a second. “Ron, you’re a genius.”
“I’m what?” Ron replied weakly. The bottle was emitting a constant, harsh red glow by that point and it had started to make a grating, whistling noise.
“Be ready with shield charms!” Harry yelled, then he turned back toward the muggle woman. Ron raised his wand, as did Susan. He had no idea what Harry was about to do, but getting a couple of seconds warning was better than he was accustomed to with Harry’s plans and he wasn’t going to waste it.
Ron watched in stunned disbelief as the muggle woman’s hand was severed cleanly at the wrist and flung, along with the cursed bottle, through the window on the far wall. Susan must have been similarly gobsmacked, since neither one managed to raise a shield until the bottle had already smashed through the windowpane. A fraction of a second later, the shockwave from the explosion buckled both shield charms. Ron felt the air leave his lungs as he tumbled backward, landing in a heap with Susan and Terry in the hallway. Sharp pains erupted across the front of his body as he rolled onto his side and struggled to suck down a breath.
“Harry!” Ron’s attempt to shout came out as little more than a wheeze. He stared numbly at the sunlight streaming into what was left of the bedroom through the gaping hole where a wall once stood. As he tried to pull himself to his knees, the stabbing pains intensified and he saw blood oozing out from tears in his robes made by shards of broken glass. How he fought through the pain, Ron would never know, but after a few seconds he made it to Harry’s side.
Blood was streaming down the side of his best mate’s face from an open wound in his scalp and his left shoulder was obviously dislocated. Harry groaned in pain as he struggled up onto his knees and used his one good arm to fumble his way toward the severely injured muggle woman. In the back of Ron’s mind, Hermione’s voice was listing off a hundred sound reasons why neither one of them should be trying to move. If he’d been able to vocalize any of them, he was sure that Harry would have ignored him anyway. Instead, Ron crawled forward, ignoring the crunch of pulverized plaster beneath his bleeding hands. He caught up with Harry at almost the same moment that Harry made it to the woman’s side. Harry dropped the wand that he’d somehow managed to hang onto and pressed his fingers against her neck.
“Is she...” Ron whispered, feeling the ache in his chest from even the minimal effort.
“Barely,” Harry replied. His voice was raspy and flat, barely audible over the ringing in Ron’s ears.
At that moment, Neville limped into the room and fell to his knees beside the two of them. “Justin’s sending a Patronus. Help is on the way. How bad are you hurt?”
Ron didn’t bother to answer since Neville was already sweeping both of them with simple diagnostic charms. He collapsed ungracefully onto his side and stared at the profile of Harry’s battered face. “What happened, Harry?”
“He knew we were coming,” Harry mumbled softly, more to himself than to anyone else. “Somehow he knew.”
“The informant,” Neville suggested as he tried to heal a large cut on the muggle woman’s shoulder. “The informant must have sold us out.”
“No,” Harry replied. His voice sounded more and more distant. “She wouldn’t have. Wanted this... too bad.”
“Wanted what, Harry?” Darkness seemed to be creeping into the periphery of Ron’s vision as the adrenaline faded and his injuries took their toll. “What did you promise her?”
Harry mumbled something inaudible in reply, causing Neville to shoot a concerned look in his direction. Ron tried to marshall what was left of his strength to prop himself up on his elbow. His best mate needed his help, even if he was about to pass out from the pain and his wand was who knew where. A soft pop on the other side of Harry startled Ron, snapping him back from the brink of unconsciousness. Neville whipped his wand away from the healing spell he’d been casting, ready to confront a new threat. Harry suddenly let out a low, horrified moan and started to drag himself toward the source of the noise.
“Bizzy. Oh, god, no. Bizzy.” Ron was astounded that Harry could still move at all. As his best mate slowly, painfully turned his body to the side, Ron was able to see the reason for Harry’s lament. The broken, battered body of a small house elf lay on the floor. Ron recognized her as the one who had visited Harry in the Auror office. Her filthy rags were soaked with blood and her bulbous eyes were nearly swollen shut. One of the large ears adorning the creature’s severely bruised head had been burned away.
A thin rivulet of blood spilled down the elf’s chin as she coughed weakly and spoke. “Thank you, Harry Potter, sir. Thank you.”
“No, no, no, Bizzy!” Harry replied. “I’m so sorry. I never meant... It’s all my fault.”
The elf took another tortured breath and forced one of her eyes slightly open. “Bizzy will never have to return to her master. Bizzy is free.”
A long moment passed as the awful truth dawned on Ron. A painful-sounding cough shook Harry’s body. Somewhere in front of the house, Ron heard multiple, loud cracks of witches and wizards apparating.
“Just hang on, Bizzy,” Harry mumbled with what sounded like the last of his reserves.
“Thank you, Harry Potter.” The elf’s voice was barely more than a whisper. A small, contented smile settled onto her beaten face. Just as the first of the Mediwizards rushed into the room, Bizzy the elf found her freedom.
Sorry to drop such a downer of an ending on you, but stories about wanted Death Eaters aren't known for being cheerful and uplifting.
The fact that I posted this chapter so quickly is an indication of how well Chapter 3 is coming along. I'd say the first draft is probably two-thirds done at this point.
Huge thanks, as always, to my amazing beta reader, sophie_hatter. If you're not a fan of her story, Evolution, you probably haven't read it.
Kindly take a moment and let me know what you think in the grey box below!
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