The Broken Fortress
“Just rest here,” Padma said, rolling back her sleeves and giving Anthony a kiss. “Try not to fall asleep, just in case, but don't move, okay?”
“Blimey, don't ask much, do you?” he chuckled, catching her hand and holding it. In the distance, he could hear the battle raging on—but he had been barred from re-entering until he was no longer bloodless. He took a sip of the extremely sour Blood-Replenishing Potion Padma handed him. “I'm all right, just got a headache. Where are you going? More supplies?”
Padma bit her lip and avoided his gaze. “No, I—I think Madam Pomfrey's got it under control, for now—I—I want to find my sister. Michael and I are going to join in.”
Anthony's stomach twisted. “You can't be serious?” he demanded. “You're going out there?”
“I have to, Anthony,” she insisted. “I've got to find other ways to help.”
“No you bloody well don't! You—you're a Healer—you—you can help here!” he spluttered. “Padma, look what they did to me, and that was an accident! What'll you do if you get in a duel?”
“I'll do my best,” she promised, squeezing his hand. “I've got to find Parvati.”
Anthony's memories of Padma's frustration, trying to learn to duel properly—it wasn't a lack of skill that endangered her, but her deep-rooted unwillingness to do any real harm to her opponent—and he couldn't bear the thought of losing her because someone else wouldn't be as kind.
Michael hurried over, laying a hand on Padma's arm. “We should go now,” he said seriously, avoiding Anthony's gaze.
Padma nodded and faced Anthony again. “I'll come back,” she promised, reading the worry in his face and reflecting it twice over. She bent down and kissed him again. “I promise.”
And she released his hand and ran down the Great Hall, to the huge doors that led to the entrance hall and the war beyond.
“Padma!” Anthony cried, getting to his feet and starting after her—but he swayed on the spot, and Michael caught his arm and pushed him back into his seat.
They faced each other awkwardly for several moments. Finally, Michael cleared his throat uncomfortably. “I won't let anything happen to her, mate,” he said quietly. Then, furtively, he muttered, “I've got to go.”
“No—wait,” Anthony mumbled, and he staggered to his feet again, trying to seize Michael's arm, to stop him from leaving with Padma—
“Not yet, Goldstein,” said Madam Pomfrey soothingly, restraining him. “Calm down.”
“Padma!” Anthony shouted again, but her long, dark plait—tied at the end with a glittering bronze ribbon; one that he had given her, after some Ravenclaw Quidditch victory—had vanished through the vast doors, directly after Michael.
Michael gaped; the entrance hall was full of bawled curses, jets of bright light, and rubble, crashing down from the ceiling and the broken staircases. He ducked a Stunning Spell that hit the wall behind her, showering him with the dust of the stone wall.
“BOMBARDA MAXIMA!” shrieked a female voice, and Michael saw Bellatrix Lestrange standing in the center of the hall, indifferent to the war that surrounded her; she had seen him leave the Great Hall, and now she knew that there were others she could hurt or kill hidden within, and she wanted them. Michael felt hatred for her and for everything she stood for well up inside him. “NO!” he bellowed, flourishing his wand; a jet of fire flew directly at Bellatrix, but she was too quick, she blasted it back at him. He leapt in front of Padma, possessed by the instantaneous, bizarre thought that Anthony would never be the same if she perished.
“Protego!” Padma screamed, leaping from behind his arms, and though the force of Bellatrix's spell threw them both off balance and they tumbled backwards, hitting the marble staircase hard, they remained unscathed.
“Avada Kedavra!” screamed Bellatrix, and the curse hit inches from where Michael had fallen; she was advancing on them both, her wand raised.
“Run!” he bellowed, seizing Padma's collar and helping her to her feet. “Run, Padma, come on!” They scrambled up the rubble-strewn staircases, ducking the curses that continued to fly over their heads, narrowly missing them.
Just as Bellatrix shouted, Michael and Padma reached the top of the stairs and leapt into an empty alcove.
“Impedimenta!” he shouted, and they heard a yelp that meant the jinx had done its job, for now. He turned to Padma. “I'll lead her away so you can go and find your sister—”
“I can take care of myself!” Padma answered. “And I'm not leaving you!”
“I'll just give you a head start,” Michael insisted. “Come on, we haven't got much time!”
“No, Michael—” A spell hit the wall, taking a huge chunk out of the stone just inches away from Padma's head.
“We're splitting up!” Michael said firmly. “Go find Parvati, and I'll look for you when I've got away from her!”
“Michael!” Padma shouted, but it was no use. He had already ducked out of the alcove and skidded to a halt at the top of the stairs, barely five feet away from Bellatrix Lestrange.
She gave a low, evil laugh, raising her wand. “Oh, you're a young one…how lovely,” she murmured, licking her thin lips. “Avada—”
“Run, Padma!” Michael shouted, and he dropped to the floor and rolled out of the way of the Killing Curse. Out of the corner of his eye as he leapt up again, he saw Padma running full-tilt down the corridor. “Stupefy! Impedimenta! Expelliarmus!” But Bellatrix deflected him, again and again, and he was getting backed into a corner. His back hit the stones behind him, and in one infinitesimal moment, he knew that he was done for. He squeezed his eyes shut—
There was a horrible scream of pain, and Michael opened his eyes again just in time to see Bellatrix being taken on by a new opponent—a woman with bright pink hair had just hit her with a bright flash of golden light, and was bearing down on her.
“Run!” the woman shouted at Michael, as Bellatrix recovered herself, snarling, and fired off a return curse.
“Thanks,” Michael gasped, staggering forward.
“Don't mention it, just go!” roared the woman with pink hair, throwing up a Shield Charm just in time to stop Bellatrix's spell. Michael ran, desperate to find Padma, Terry, or any of his friends; he cast one last look over his shoulder—the woman he did not recognize was winning the duel. Satisfied in this knowledge, he put on a burst of speed, trying to find someone—anyone he could help.
Padma was in shock; the castle was crumbling around her, falling to pieces as she ran past fighters, Death Eaters, students, and teachers. She saw an arm protruding from under a pile of rubble, but she could not stop to indulge the horrible idea that it might be Parvati's. Her eyes filled with tears and she kept running. She had last seen Parvati with Professor McGonagall. Her best guess was that they had gone to Gryffindor Tower, and so that was where she ran. Then, suddenly, with screams that echoed down the corridor, Katie Bell, Alicia Spinnet, and Angelina Johnson, who was bleeding quite badly, ran past her. One of them caught at her elbow, trying to make her run, too, and then she saw what was chasing them. It was a massive beast, a man who could not quite be called a man—Fenrir Greyback, the werewolf.
He was not transformed, for it was not the full moon, but his brutal, bloodstained face was alive with evil joy. His yellowish, fang-like teeth dripped with blood and something more solid—flesh, perhaps. He gave a bone-rattling roar that was unmistakably joyous.
“STUPEFY!” Padma screamed, and the spell hit the werewolf directly in the chest. He howled again, and staggered, but it appeared that he was tough enough to withstand the jinx; in fact, it only caused him to give up the chase of the three Gryffindor girls, and he howled again, rounding on Padma. She sprinted away, not even bothering to try and hit him a second time; she could hear his pounding footsteps, the insane, hoarse, rasping laughter that tore out of his throat as he closed the space between them.
Greyback, some ten feet behind her, gave a yelp like a wounded dog, and Padma spun in time to see him hit the floor, brought down by the force of two Impediment Jinxes. She looked around again. Parvati, whose face was covered in blood from a deep wound over her eye, stood side by side with Cho Chang, whose face was twisted in fury.
“Padma, come on!” Parvati screamed, bounding forward and seizing her sister's hand. “Cho, let's go, now!”
“No,” Cho murmured, and her eyes were locked on Greyback, who seemed to be regaining consciousness; Padma felt a prickle of fear. She had never seen Cho genuinely angry before. She reached for her hand.
“Cho,” she said fiercely. “It won't bring them back—”
“I don't care!” Cho screamed. “I don't care, I want him—”
An explosion, somewhere deep within the castle, threw them all off their feet. Parvati and Padma were knocked away from Cho, and the ceiling overhead began to rumble. It was going to collapse.
“Protego!” Padma yelled, and she dragged her sister out of the way of the falling rubble. “Cho!” she screamed. “Cho!”
Padma whirled around at exactly the same time as Parvati, and they both raised their wands. A hooded figure stood before them, his wand drawn. “Look what I've found, Rookwood,” he laughed into the shadows over his shoulder, and a second hooded man stepped forward. The eyes behind slits in the black mask glittered maliciously, and he took another step forward. He twitched his wand at cut on Parvati's eyebrow.
“I expect your mother'll be grateful for that cut,” he hissed. “She'll need a way to tell you two apart, when we've finished—”
“Don't move,” Parvati whispered. “Wait until I say…” But Padma was furious—furious that her home was being destroyed, that Cho was almost certainly about to be murdered by the werewolf, and most of all, that she had never managed to truly defeat an opponent in a duel. She would tonight.
“DEPRIMO!” she screamed, and the curse collided with the masked Death Eater, who flew ten feet backwards and hit the wall, crumpling to the ground. Thicknesse, his companion, fired off a curse at Parvati, but she was more than ready for him. She gave a yell and began fighting with all of her strength, as Padma ran off after the one called Rookwood, ready to duel.
“Nice one!” George yelled, clapping Fred on the back as he, Hannah, Percy, and Lee ran away from the secret passage; they had just caved it in on top of a wave of incoming Death Eaters.
“Where next?” Hannah shouted, as they all ducked into an alcove (which usually stored a suit of armor) for safety.
“That was the last one,” George told her. “I reckon we ought to stay together—”
“You'll be all right, Ange, you're fine, you’re okay.”
George spun in time to see Alicia and Katie, whose shirt was missing a sleeve, hurrying down the corridor, supporting Angelina, who was bleeding freely from a cut on her face, but even more from an enormous wound on her left arm. Her right arm still clutched her wand.
“Angelina!” he cried, hurrying to meet them. He looked between Alicia and Katie. “What happened?”
“Greyback,” Alicia panted, her eyes shining with tears. “He's not transformed, but he clawed her—”
Angelina's face was screwed up in pain, and she was crying—actually crying. George reached for her hand, trying to assess the damage, when the castle was rocked with a massive explosion. Everyone swayed, but Angelina fell to the floor; George caught her, trying to pull her out of harm's way. He felt Fred's hand descend on his shoulder. “George, get her somewhere safe and figure out how bad it is!” he said. “Al, Oliver's run into some trouble with an acromantula! We're going to go and help!” He gestured between himself, Percy, Lee, and Hannah.
“I'm coming with you,” Alicia said immediately, her face whitening. She knelt down beside Angelina and George. “Angie, darling—you'll be all right—I—”
“I'll be fine, it's just my stupid arm. Besides, I've got George,” Angelina gasped, grimacing through her tears. “Go help Oliver.” George squeezed Angelina's uninjured hand, and she squeezed back.
“Take care of her,” Katie said, swiftly kissing George's cheek, and he nodded. She followed Alicia, Hannah, and Lee, who were already running down the corridor. Fred knelt before Angelina and George, Percy just a half step behind him; George felt a bit guilty, as he still seemed so disconnected, so distant, but he couldn't spare a thought on it now. Fred grinned at Angelina, whom George was propping up in his arms.
“You've still got those Magpies to play for, Johnson,” he barked. “I expect you in peak physical shape for summer trials, understand me?”
Angelina gave a pained laugh. “Yes sir!”
George grinned at his brother, who winked. Fred said, “I'll see you in a bit, Georgie—gonna go get Oliver out of his tight spot!”
“What?” George demanded. The grin slid off of his face, and suddenly, everything in the world stopped being funny; Fred could not leave. He could not. They had to stay together. “No!”
“I'll be fine, it's just a dirty great spider,” Fred promised. “I'll come right back here and check on you two.”
“I'll bring him back, George,” said Percy, stepping forward suddenly. For the first time in three years, George had a rush of affection for Percy. He could understand, he, who was closest in age to George and Fred, who knew that they could not be separated—Percy would bring him back.
“Okay,” George said, and he seized Fred around the shoulders in a brief hug.
“Take care of your girl, here,” Fred said. “See you soon, Ange!” And he and Percy took off down the corridor, hurrying away from the alcove where George was helping Angelina sit against the wall.
“How bad is it?” George asked, and Angelina held out her left arm. The werewolf had dug three of his claws into the middle of her upper arm and dragged them in a kind of spiral all the way down to the back of her hand; the gashes were bleeding profusely. George saw a piece of cloth—the sleeve of Katie's shirt—tied around Angelina's upper arm.
“So not bad at all, then,” he teased, and she fought valiantly to smile. “Don't worry, I'll get you to Madam Pomfrey,” he promised. “She'll put this right.”
Angelina tipped her head back against the wall and drew a steadying breath. “I'm okay,” she breathed, more to herself than to George. “I'm fine.”
“Can you stand up?” he asked. “I'll get you to the Great Hall, they've got medical supplies there.”
Angelina threw her uninjured arm around George's neck, and he helped her get up. With the brilliant fire that always burned behind her bright brown eyes during a really difficult game of Quidditch, she stared fiercely back at him. “I'll duel my way there, if I have to.”
And suddenly, George was seized with a mad desire to kiss her—
Another, massive explosion seemed to knock the entire castle off of its foundation, and George had the strangest, most sickening sensation that the world had turned upside down. Perhaps that was what had happened; perhaps Hogwarts was tumbling off of its cliff into the lake below. He flung out one arm, seizing the wall for support, and the other arm closed tightly around Angelina's waist.
“George! George!” she cried, and suddenly, his head stopped spinning; though he still had the horrible sensation that he had just fallen a great distance. Angelina was looking at him. She was pale, obviously losing blood, but she was the one watching him with great concern. “Are you okay?”
George looked around him. He felt horrible. He felt as though the bottom of his stomach had just dropped away, like his head was going to suddenly start aching, his insides to turn over, for no reason at all…but everything around him was just as it had been; the war raged on, and the Great Hall was still miles away…and he had to get Angelina there.
“I'm fine,” he lied, trying to shake the feeling. He had the terrible, terrible sensation of knowing something horrible had happened, but having forgotten what it was entirely. He didn't know what he had forgotten, but when he remembered, it would be dreadful, it would ruin everything.
“George,” Angelina said again, but now, it was not a question, or a worry; it was faint, pained, a plea for help. She had closed her eyes, and swayed a little on the spot. George pushed away the bad feelings and pulled Angelina close against him, drawing his wand and preparing to face the battle alone.
“This way!” Fred barked, and Percy was half a step behind him. “C'mon, mate!”
“Are you sure George will be all right?” Percy asked, hurrying along, his wand raised. Fred nodded, though his mind was still back with his twin. He was strangely worried about leaving George and Angelina; it made him nervous, worried for both of them. He couldn't handle it if anything happened to George. He couldn't handle being the face of something Angelina loved so much, and had lost. He pushed the matter from his mind. “George has it under control,” he promised Percy confidently. They rounded a corner. “Although I don't know where the hell Alicia and the others have got to. Let's try this way.”
“OI!” Percy roared, flicking his wand up just in time to deflect a curse that sailed directly at Fred. Down the corridor, two girls with long, dark braids, one of whom was bleeding profusely from a cut on her face, were dueling with a masked Death Eater, and one whose hood was partially up, his face shadowed.
“Get out of it! Parvati, Padma!” Fred bellowed, all thoughts of finding Oliver pushed from his mind. He ran forward and sent a jinx at the hooded Death Eater, who gave a howl of pain and fell backwards, his legs turned to jelly. His companion stooped to undo the jinx. “Run, you two, and stay together!” Fred barked at the twins—one of them, Padma, gave him a mutinous look, but her sister pulled her along. They sprinted past Percy and away up the corridor. “C'mon, Perce!” Fred flourished his wand and began dueling with the recovered Death Eater he had just jinxed; Percy had started in on the other. This man was quick, and dangerous. He fired jinx after jinx and did not take time to deflect. Fred couldn't get a spell in. He backed up, and Percy did the same.
“Let's take them—” Fred began, but Percy seemed to know exactly what to do; if they could get into the wider corridor of the Room of Requirement, they would have the advantage. They would be able to move freely.
Four jets of light had just sailed directly at Percy's Death Eater and knocked back his hood; it was Pius Thicknesse. Fred fired a curse at the one he was dueling, and saw out of the corner of his eye Harry, Ron, and Hermione darting forward to help. Hermione sent a Leg-Locker at the Death Eater Fred still fought furiously, and he grinned at her. She wore the old expression that all of Gryffindor House had come to associate with exam week; it struck terror into the hearts of first years.
“Hello, Minister!” Percy roared, sounding positively delighted. “Did I mention I'm resigning?”
Fred gave a peal of laughter and hit his Death Eater, who was teetering on the spot, trying to undo Hermione's jinx, with a Stunning Spell, followed closely by two more from Ron and Harry. “You're joking, Perce!” he cried in amazement, and he saw Percy fire a jinx at Thicknesse, who collapsed and sprouted spikes all over his body, clawing at them painfully as he writhed on the floor. Fred roared with laughter. “You actually are joking, Perce…I don't think I've heard you joke since you were—”
Four things happened at once; first, the entire world seemed to rip wide open into an inexpressible volume of sound; second, Fred heard Percy, Harry, Ron, and Hermione scream in anguish, and he felt a pain in his heart like he had never known because he could not help them; third, he could not tell if he was standing on his feet or if he was airborne, but the entire planet seemed to have been tipped upside down; and fourth, he was hit very hard, very suddenly by something that was stiflingly dark. It stopped all sensation, all sound, all sight at once. At first, it was mildly painful, like the time that he and George had collided on their broomsticks…
But, he remembered, that hadn't been a bad day at all. That had been the day that Harry had caught the Snitch, the day that Gryffindor had won the House Cup, and they had all smashed together in midair—he, and George, and Oliver, and Alicia, Angelina, Katie, and Harry—spiraling slowly, joyously back to earth.
And then the pain was gone.