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Chapter 37 : Check
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When the world spun back into existence, Ron was standing on a rocky precipice, buffeted by cold, damp wind. His arm instinctively wrapped around Hermione, who was struggling to balance with her cane on the uneven ledge. Draco was windmilling his arms wildly and Harry reached out to grab him just before he fell over the edge and tumbled to the jagged rocks below.
“This is the cave where she held the meeting that Nott attended,” Harry shouted over the roar of the pounding waves. “The one where she ordered the attack on Hogwarts.” He closed his eyes and screwed up his face in concentration for a moment. “There’s old magic here. Really strong stuff.”
Ron listened to Harry’s explanation and also took the opportunity to study his expression. He felt a little better about Harry’s state of mind after their frank discussion at the Rowle Estate, but he still wasn’t sure exactly what was going on inside Harry’s head. The ambivalence Harry felt about staying alive had obviously been building for a long time and Ron doubted that a single conversation -- no matter how gut-wrenching and emotional -- was going to change it. At the moment, Harry appeared to have sorted himself out, but he was notorious for being able to smother his feelings when duty called.
Next to him, Hermione was casting her own revealing spells and she nodded in agreement. “There are traces of powerful wards all over the entrance. This has to be the cave that Herodonthus was imprisoned in.”
“How hard would it be to put those wards back up?” Harry yelled. “If the book is in there, we don’t want any part of him getting out again.”
“I don’t know how to do all of the spells,” Hermione replied as the wind whipped her bushy hair around her face, “but hopefully I can at least contain him until the Unspeakables are able to come out here and seal it for good.”
“For what it’s worth, I still think you’re all deluded,” Draco observed, fingering his wand anxiously. “But if those wards can keep her from getting out, then it’s time well spent.”
Harry reached into his pocket and pulled out a ragged, old leather hat which had been magically shrunken. “Remember, we have to destroy the book. If anything happens to me, this will be in my pocket.” Ron felt a pang of doubt, which Harry seemed to sense. “You’re as brave a Gryffindor as they come, Ron. I’m sure it will work for you, too.” Ron nodded and tried to force down his feelings of inadequacy. If Harry believed that the hat would work for him then it had to be true. Hopefully the sword would be enough to save them from the darkness that awaited.
Turning to Hermione, Harry drew a breath. Ron noticed the apprehension on his face and realized what he was about to say. “Hermione, I think it’s best if the three of us go on and you wait out here. We don’t have any idea what we’re going to find in there, and-”
Hermione’s eyes flashed dangerously. “Harry, I’m not possessed any more, but I’ll still hex the pants off of you if you act like a prat! If Octavia is in there, I’m not staying out here.”
Harry did his best to reason with her. “Hermione, somebody needs to stay out here and cast the wards. And we also need somebody to return to the Burrow and let them know what’s happened if something goes wrong.”
“You or Ron can cast wards,” Hermione retorted hotly. “Is it because I’m injured that you automatically assume that I’m the one who should stay behind or is it because I’m a woman?”
“Hermione, we don’t doubt your capabilities! In fact, we’re counting on them.” Harry was almost pleading. Ron tried to think of anything he could add to help persuade his wife, but he came up empty. Even Malfoy seemed to have the common sense to keep his mouth shut.
“If you don’t doubt me then there’s no reason for me to stay out here!” she shot back.
Ron sighed to himself. He felt like a cad for what he was about to do, but the situation was dire and the clock was ticking. “Alright, then,” he interjected, holding out his hand. “Stone, parchment, wand. On three...”
Hermione shook her head and looked at him incredulously. “You can’t be serious!”
“Do you have a better suggestion?” Harry replied. Ron assumed that he had already realized what to do. “We obviously aren’t going to agree on this, but every moment we waste allows Arabela more time to harm Octavia. Now are you in or out?”
Hermione glared at the two of them for a long moment, then held out her hand.
“On three,” Ron repeated. “One, two, three!”
Harry and Ron both had their hands open, palms facing down. Ron quickly looked up from Hermione’s closed fist to the shocked expression on her face.
“No, wait! This isn’t fair!”
“Malfoy, did you see anybody cheating?” Harry asked. Draco rolled his eyes and shook his head.
“You can’t... I mean... Augghhh!” Hermione threw her head back and shouted in frustration.
“Alright, then. Let’s go,” Harry said, and he started to make his way into the cave with Draco close behind. Ron lingered for a moment as Hermione stewed. She shook her shoulders free of his arm and began to size up the entrance with her wand.
“Look, love, I’m sorry,” he ventured, trying desperately not to make her any more upset. “But fair is fair. It isn’t going to be safe in there and all three of us can’t...”
She turned to face him. He felt himself withering under her glare and had to make an effort to stand up straight. Suddenly, he felt the point of her wand jab him in the thigh, just to the left of what would have been a much more painful spot. “If you two idiots aren’t back out here in ten minutes with my granddaughter, I’m going to come in there and hex both of you. Understood?”
Ron nodded dumbly, frightened and at the same time totally smitten by the breathtaking anger in her brown eyes. He turned and started to enter the cave, but he felt her hand on his elbow. He turned back to her and felt her hand slide up his arm to the back of his neck. She pulled him down and planted a rough, passionate kiss on his slightly gaping mouth. “Be careful, love,” she whispered. Then she started gesturing with her wand and placing wards around the entrance as Ron stumbled forward, trying to turn his thoughts back to the task at hand.
Scorpius slouched into the bedroom where Rose lay, feeling numb and completely drained. He had just finished calming his son down, talking him out of several ill-conceived ideas that actually sounded rather appealing to Scorpius if he was being completely honest with himself. Floo to the Ministry, find Percy and beat the truth out of him. It would be more Malfoy-like to use the Cruciatus Curse, but Aiden certainly had the right idea. The part about using his fists must have been the Weasley side coming through.
He sat down next to Rose’s bed and tenderly touched her cheek with his fingers. Lorcan’s wife had given her a strong dose of sleeping draught earlier in the day. Many people had wanted to see her when they returned to the Burrow after the battle and the room became too crowded, causing Rose to have a panic attack of some sort. By the time Debbie reached her side, she was wailing and shaking uncontrollably. As Scorpius stared at her pale, peaceful face, part of him desperately wanted to crawl into bed beside of her and pull the covers over their heads. Maybe when they woke up, the past few weeks would turn out to have been a bad dream.
There was a soft knock at the door, and a few moments later, Al poked his head inside. “Mind if I come in for a few, mate?”
Scorpius sighed listlessly and gestured toward an empty chair near the foot of the bed. Al quietly closed the door behind himself and took a seat. “How is she?”
“Resting,” Scorpius answered. “Beyond that, I don’t know.”
“She’ll be alright, Scorp,” Al said softly. “It’s just gonna take time.”
“So you’re a healer now as well as a nosy prat?” Scorpius immediately felt bad, but not bad enough to offer an apology. If you couldn’t snap at your best mate when your world was falling apart, who could you snap at?
Al chose to ignore the outburst. “Uncle Bill sent a patronus from the Rowle Estate. He said it looked like somebody fought a war inside the carriage house. They found eleven of the Blood Order wizards inside. All of them were dead or badly hurt. No sign of Dad or Uncle Ron or Aunt Hermione. Or your father.”
“Bully for us,” Scorpius mumbled, twirling a lock of Rose’s hair around his finger. The mention of his father needled at an especially raw nerve. They had fought side by side ever since the night they captured Goyle at the Ragged Fang. After spending half of his life in varying degrees of estrangement from the old man, he had to admit that it felt good to stand together as a family, in spite of the dire circumstances. Then his father had disappeared from Hogwarts without a word. Nobody was really sure when he left, but it couldn’t have been much before Ron and Hermione noticed that Harry was also missing and they went tearing off after him. Then the waiting began.
“Look, I’m sure they’ll contact us as soon as they know something. Your father is probably with them-”
“Al,” Scorpius snapped, cutting his friend off. “Just sod off, alright. I don’t want to talk. Get out and leave me alone.”
Al sighed and stood up. “If you change your mind, I’ll be downstairs.” Al opened the door to leave and gave Scorpius one last look before pulling it closed behind himself.
Scorpius exhaled loudly and buried his face in his hands. “You’re going to be alright, aren’t you?” he whispered to Rose. “I can’t do this without you, babe. You have to get better. We all need you too much.” He paused for a moment, processing the emotions welling up inside his chest. “It’s all my fault. I should have been here to keep you safe. I don’t know a sodding thing about war or fighting. I’m a failure as a husband and a father. I guess it runs in my family.”
There was another knock at the door, and Scorpius stiffened in his seat. It was probably Roxie or Dominique, ready to try to their hand where Al had failed. “What do you want?” he said the the door, not really caring who was on the other side.
The door opened to reveal his mother, and he reflexively sat up straighter. She moved across the uneven, wooden floor with the same stately air that she always seemed to exude. Scorpius steeled himself for whatever she had come to say, but she surprised him by completely ignoring him and walking to the other side of the bed. She gently laid her slender fingers on the side of Rose’s neck, checking her pulse.
“Where’s father?” he mumbled, watching as his mother rested the back of her hand on Rose’s forehead.
“I have no idea,” she replied simply, smoothing the sheets around Rose’s shoulders.
“And that doesn’t worry you?”
His mother turned to face him. The dark circles beneath her eyes were prominent against her pale skin and the small lines of her face seemed to stand out in stark relief. She fixed him with a stare that made him feel rather small. “Of course I’m worried. But I’m certain that he has a good reason to be wherever he is.”
Scorpius shook his head slightly. “How can you be so sure? He just... left after the battle. Everyone was in shock and so many people were hurt and Professor Longbottom was dead and in spite of all that, Father and Harry both just disappeared.”
The tiniest hint of amusement seemed to play on his mother’s otherwise grim expression. “So you expected your father to do what, exactly? Walk around offering hugs?” Scorpius looked away. As annoyed as he felt by her mocking questions, he would have welcomed a hug from his father. He felt her fingers on his chin and he allowed her to pull his face toward hers. “Scorpius, your father is worried sick about Octavia. If he saw what looked like an opportunity to rescue her, I’m quite certain he availed himself of it.”
Scorpius tried to draw strength from her blue eyes, but his doubts were too strong. “But what if something’s happened to them? What if they’ve been captured or injured or... or worse?”
His mother took a deep breath. Beneath the aegis of her aristocratic upbringing, she seemed to be struggling to compose herself. He regretted causing her pain, but he needed to know the answer. He needed to hear it from her. “Your father is a strong man. Much stronger than anyone gives him credit for, including himself. And he loves us all more than he could ever say. So until I have a reason think otherwise, I choose to believe that he is alright. That all of them are alright.”
Scorpius nodded slowly. His mother reached out and pulled him into her warm, familiar embrace. After a moment, she pushed herself away from his shoulders. “I need to get back downstairs. Debbie asked me to check her pulse. I understand, of course, if you’d rather be up here by yourself, but Aiden and the other children are still very upset about the day’s events. Your friend Albus and his cousins have been trying to talk to them and help them to cope with everything that’s happening around them. If you were there, I’m certain that it would make a difference.” She stood and kissed him on the top of the head, then quietly left the room.
Scorpius moved to Rose’s bedside and softly brushed her cheek with his fingers. “I guess I’ve moped for long enough, babe. I have to go help look after the kids. I know it’s what you’d do if you were in my place. I’ll be back soon.” He kissed her on the forehead and then quietly left the room.
Harry moved quietly down the gentle curve of the cave entrance, sticking close to the side. Malfoy followed a couple of steps behind and he knew that Ron would bring up the rear after he was done saying his goodbyes to Hermione. It never hurt to take a moment and say it properly when you were heading into a dangerous situation. I’d give all the gold in Gringott’s if I could have had that moment with Ginny.
“How did you know?” Malfoy hissed.
“That she would pick stone?” Harry replied softly. “It’s easy, actually. Her mind is too bloody logical to believe that a sheet of parchment can hurt a stone. The game was over before it began.”
They walked on for another few paces. Harry heard Ron’s muffled footsteps catching up to them from behind.
“Where did these caves come from?” Draco hissed, running his fingers over the worn stone of the wall as he walked.
“Dragons, I think” Harry replied absently, keeping his focus on the tunnel ahead. “I heard that they used these caves as hatcheries for thousands of years before wizards relocated them to reserves so the muggles wouldn’t see.”
Draco looked mildly alarmed at Harry’s revelation. “Did Granger read that in some book?” he snorted, trying to cover up his discomfort.
“No,” Ron whispered from behind, causing Draco to start. “My brother Charlie still has to come out here every few years when a rogue female settles herself into one of these caves.” Harry smiled grimly to himself when he noticed that Draco was suddenly sticking much closer as they walked.
Ahead, he could see a dim flicker of torchlight on the stone walls of the cavern. He turned to face Draco and Ron and placed his finger over his lips, then crept ahead slowly. A woman’s voice was softly mumbling, and Harry felt pretty sure that he recognized it. He crouched down near the final bend in the entrance tunnel and felt Ron and Draco settle in behind him.
Harry leaned slowly to the side until he could just see around the wall with one eye. Arabela Dynt was standing behind a stone table, waving her wand in a complicated pattern. He could just make out Octavia’s long hair falling over the edge of the table. A shadowed form with curly, red hair stood next to the wall behind Arabela.
“What’s happening, Potter?” Draco hissed. Harry could feel Malfoy’s hand on his back, but he didn’t respond. Arabela’s wand motions were becoming more rapid, her mumbled incantations more urgent.
“We have to move quickly,” Harry whispered urgently. “She’s trying to perform some spell on Octavia-” He never completed the sentence as Ron suddenly stormed past him.
“Expelliarmus!” Ron’s voice rang out and Arabela’s wand was torn away. “Get away from her, you bitch!” Ron shouted, leveling his wand at Arabela’s chest while he plucked hers out of the air. Arabela slowly straightened her upper body and raised the palm of her uninjured hand. Harry could see the sickly, green flesh of her cursed arm in the torchlight as it hung uselessly by her side. There were hints of the same color approaching her neck on that side of her body. She clearly didn’t have much time left.
He was paying so much attention to Arabela’s decaying flesh that he almost didn’t see Percy raising his wand arm until it was too late. Harry cast a shield charm in front of Ron an instant before the angry blast of red light from Percy’s wand seared the air. Ron dropped into a defensive stance and raised his wand to shield himself, but neither of them was willing to fire a curse at Percy. Arabela lowered herself into a crouch behind the stone table and produced a wicked-looking, black knife, which she held to Octavia’s throat.
“Stop!” she called out. Harry could see the anger blazing in her eyes. “This blade is cursed. Drop your wands or she dies.”
Nobody moved for a moment. Percy continued to point his wand at Ron and Harry. Draco’s wand was pointed squarely at Arabela’s head, his line of fire skimming just above Octavia’s chest. Arabela pressed the knife blade against Octavia’s skin, eliciting a whimper. “Now, gentlemen. I won’t ask again.”
Harry slowly laid his wand on the stone floor of the cave. Ron sighed loudly and followed suit, raising his palms slowly. Draco looked back and forth between the two of them and Arabela before dropping his wand to his feet.
Percy summoned the four wands and they floated across the room and landed on the stone table near Octavia’s head. Arabela slowly rose to a standing position, keeping her knife pressed against Octavia’s throat. “A wise decision. Although it may well be your last.”
“We won’t die alone,” Draco snarled, nodding slightly toward the left side of her body. “Your time is running out. If you let her go, I might be willing to remove the curse from your arm.”
Arabela laughed coldly. “Quite a nasty little curse you have here, Mr. Malfoy. I’ll have to make a point of learning it someday. But you overestimate the strength of your position.” She looked wistfully down the front of herself. “Like many artifacts from my prior life, this body no longer really suits me. I am in what you might call a purging phase. First, I rid myself the figurehead that I placed in the Minister’s office. Then I eliminated the so-called Blood Order that I used to destabilize the Ministry. Oh, you were able to kill the rest of those deluded pureblood fools for me, weren’t you, Mr. Potter?”
“Bloody hell,” Ron mumbled, “we were right. It was all a ruse.”
“Congratulations, Mr. Weasley. But like your wife, you have come upon the realization far too late.”
Arabela looked at the four wands lying on the table in front of her and selected Harry’s. She pressed the point of it against the surface of the table, studying its heft and flexibility. “You are all about to bear witness to a very important ceremony. In a few minutes, the essence of who I am will be transferred into a new, young body and I will cast my old, dying one aside. I will be reborn, with the newly elected Minister of Magic at my beck and call.” She tilted her head slightly toward Percy. “This will cement my control over British wizarding society for at least the next hundred years.”
“She’s already tried,” Octavia suddenly yelped. “It didn’t work!”
“Shut up, you stupid girl!” Arabela made is through to strike Octavia, but seemed to think better of it at the last moment. She slowly lowered her arm, fixing the Octavia with a forbidding glare.
“If you lay a finger on my granddaughter, I promise that you’ll apologize with your last breath,” Draco hissed, hatred burning in his grey eyes.
“Is that so, Mr. Malfoy?” Arabela replied icily, meeting his furious gaze. She gestured absently in Percy’s direction.
“Crucio.” Percy delivered the curse with a cold, mechanical voice and Draco crumbled to the floor. Harry felt helpless, watching Draco writhe in agony, but he was well aware there was nothing he could do. He looked past Arabela at the blackened, leather tome lying on a stone ledge behind her. Even from across the room, he could feel its dark power. It was a peculiar sensation, hungry and beckoning. He thought back to the way that it had affected Hermione. How her use of dark magic made its hold on her stronger. It suddenly dawned on him what was really happening.
“Arabela, stop!” he said urgently. Percy suddenly released Draco from the curse and Arabela eyed him suspiciously. “Please listen to me. What you’re planning to do, it isn’t going to work, at least not the way you think it is. I told you before, in the warehouse, that the book is cursed. It controls people. And that’s what it’s doing to you now. The book is more than just a powerful dark spell book. The spirit of Herodonthus lives on inside that book. But that’s not enough for him. He wants to live again, for real. If you go through with this, you’ll be resurrecting the most powerful dark wizard the world has ever known. It won’t be your spirit that gets transferred into Octavia. It will be his.”
Arabela started at Harry for a long moment. “Liar!” she finally hissed. “You’re trying to deceive me again, Potter. I can see through your tricks.”
“It’s not a trick!” Harry insisted. He took a cautious step forward with his palms open in front of him. “The book gets inside your head. It figures out what you want and then it uses that to manipulate you. Haven’t you noticed that whenever you need to know something, it always seems to turn up? Doesn’t it seem strange that the book has a dark spell for every occasion?”
Arabela’s face twisted into a hateful scowl. “More lies! Nobody alive has studied this book for as long as I have. Nobody understands the writings of Herodonthus better. There was nothing easy about it. The book guards its secrets jealously. It volunteers nothing. You’re stalling, Potter.”
Harry’s mind raced. Arabela seemed to be too far gone for rational thought; Herodonthus’s influence over her was too great. But if he couldn’t appeal to her sense of reason, perhaps he could provoke her into making a mistake. “Alright, so the book took years to reveal its secrets to you. That doesn’t change the fact that it showed Hermione the way to heal her paralysis in less than a day. Of course, maybe Herodonthus just thought that she was better suited to learn his secrets? She is a quick study, after all. Maybe he just got tired of waiting on you to figure things out?”
Arabela looked positively furious. “You shortsighted, arrogant fool! It doesn’t matter what you think. Soon, I will put all of your doubts to rest. I truly regret that you won’t be around to find out how misguided you really are.” She pointed Harry’s wand directly at the middle of his chest.
Harry knew he had only moments left. A ghost of a plan began to form in his mind. He pulled the shrunken leather hat out of his pocket. For his idea to have any chance of working, it needed to be as close to the book as possible. Even without a wand, the charm he needed was simple. He had performed it a thousand times. “Percy, catch! Engorgio!” Harry flung the Sorting Hat toward Percy, and breathed a quick sigh of relief as it returned to its normal size while it flew through the air. It struck Percy in the chest and his hands closed on the brim mechanically, without looking down.
Arabela appeared to be grimly amused. “This is your plan, Potter? Assault my servant with a ratty, old hat? Is there anything else you would like to say before you die?”
Harry managed to smile in spite of himself. “Yes, thank you for asking.” He turned toward his brother-in-law. “You didn’t do it, Percy. She modified your memory. She’s the one who killed Edwin Stoops.”
Arabela looked slightly confused, but undeterred. “Goodbye, Harry Potter. Avada Kedavra!”
So the endgame approaches. Will Harry survive? Will Octavia be saved? What will become of Ron, Hermione, Draco, Percy, Scorpius, Rose and the cast of dozens? Soon...
Thanks, as always, to my wonderful beta reader, sophie_hatter.
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