“GO!” Harry shouted as he watched the study group mount their brooms and fly out after them. “To the forest, we can lose them in there.”
Ron didn’t have to be told twice as he and Harry rocketed across the sky, trying to make it to the safety of the forest as they flew around the perimeter castle, hoping they could outrun Andre and Talbott.
Harry veered hard to the left, his senses screaming out a warning just in time to avoid a streak of red light that nearly clipped his shoulder. ‘Too close,’ he thought as he avoided another spell. ‘They’re trying to take us alive,’ he realized, recognizing the spell as a stupefy.
“They want to interrogate you and your friend first,” Merlin replied. “And get the ritual book back,” he added.
Harry could only nod in agreement as he veered to the right to avoid another spell. He glanced at Ron in the midst of a barrel roll, just barely avoiding a spell himself. ‘He can’t sense their spells,’ Harry thought. ‘We need to escape, and fast.’
Ron let out a ragged breath as he zigged and zagged through the air, immensely grateful for the times Charlie took him flying, and the chaser training he put him through, hammering a sixth sense into him to avoid bludgers, or in this case spell fire.
Harry pulled out his wand, and without looking behind him, cast a quick spell, “Fumos!” He said, creating a thick cloud of smoke behind them.
Andre smirked when he saw the cloud of smoke. ‘Not this time,’ he thought confidently. “Ventus!” He shouted, sending a powerful burst of air forward, immediately dispersing the smoke.
Harry cursed mentally as the smoke cleared, diving down to avoid another spell from Talbott.
“They’ve learned from your last encounter,” Merlin observed. “The same tricks won’t work twice.”
Harry grit his teeth as he dodged another spell from Andre. As he glanced behind him, he could tell they were focused on him. He breathed a sigh of relief, glad that it was at least taking some of the pressure off of Ron.
Ron was sweating, both from fear, and pushing himself as hard as he was, just barely dodging another spell from Elspeth.
With each passing second, the study group closed the gap, even with their comparatively slower Cleansweep 7’s, forcing Harry and Ron to change course multiple times, and slowing them down.
Harry glanced over his shoulder, knowing they were losing ground, but unable to think of anything to turn the tables on them.
His eyes widened as he sensed the Reducto Talbott held on the tip of his wand. He knew immediately that Ron wouldn’t be able to dodge and quickly flew up beside his friend. “Protego!” He shouted, creating a shimmering barrier behind them just before the spell impacted.
“Thanks mate,” Ron said gratefully as he heard the loud gong as the spell struck Harry’s hastily shield.
Harry nodded to Ron, realizing his plan to hide in the forest wasn’t going to work. Andre had clearly worked out their plan. He was corralling them away from the forest each time they tried to change direction. With all the spells they fired back and forth he was surprised no one came to investigate yet.
“No one’s coming,” Merlin said. “The same thing happened when they chased you through the school the first time. Somehow, they’re able to hide their activities from the rest of the school, including the professors.”
Harry glanced over at Ron as they circled the castle for the second time. He was getting tired, they both were. Every time they tried to veer away from the castle, the study group reigned down spell after spell on them, forcing them to change course again.
Ron cursed a spell landed on his arm, cutting through his shirt and leaving a gash on his forearm that he wasn’t fast enough to avoid. He knew he was slowing down, both from fatigue and expending so much magic in such a short amount of time.
He breathed hard, looking over his shoulder. He didn’t dare cast a spell, needing to focus all his attention on avoiding the spell fire and keeping the broom in the air.
It was only Elspeth targeting him, but the power she could put behind her spells was astounding. He didn’t know how much longer he could hold out.
He looked over at Harry, expertly dodging and weaving around Andre and Talbott’s rapid spell fire, even returning fire occasionally, but he was slowing down too. It was only a matter of time before one of their spells hit him too.
Ron pushed himself harder, refusing to make things easy for Elspeth as he drew upon all the training Harry put him through.
Andre smiled as he dodged around another spell from the one disguised as Roger. It wouldn’t be much longer until the rest of the study group joined in, then they would take down these pests, and get their ritual book back.
Harry gripped his wand tightly as he charged up an incendio as much as he could, careful not to put too much into the spell and risk burning out his magical pathway again.
He compressed the ball of magic tightly together, turning the ball of flame from a flickering red to a hot white as he concentrated the fire into a beam before letting the spell loose on Elspeth.
Elspeth’s eyes widened in shock as the charged spell flew towards her. She wasn’t fast enough to dodge it completely, and let out a scream as the fire burned a hole through her wand arm, piercing though her skin on the other side, and continue forward, impacting on the castle wall, leaving a deep scorch mark.
She cursed under her breath as she slowed down, taking her hands off her broom, and holding onto the broom with her legs as she cradled her now useless arm. Biting back a scream of agony as she moved it to her chest. The heat of the spell had cauterized the wound, stopping her from bleeding out, but the pain was excruciating. She slowly descended to the ground, knowing that she was out of the fight.
“You should have taken her out!” Merlin accused, seeing that Harry aimed for her her arm instead of her chest on purpose.
‘She’s still out of the fight. I got her wand arm,’ Harry thought back, but acknowledging that he had held back from killing her.
“And how long until she’s back in the fight?” Merlin demanded. “Or what about when the rest of them show up? What do you think they’re going to do to you and your friends after they finish interrogating you?!”
‘I don’t want to kill anyone,’ Harry thought back. ‘I’ve never-’
“I know you haven’t!” Merlin snapped, cutting Harry off mid thought. “But they aren’t going to hesitate to kill you! Then who’s going to be left to stop them? The rest of your friends, the professor’s? They don’t stand a chance and you know it!”
Harry went into a barrel roll to avoid the barrage of spells from Talbott and Andre, but not fast enough to avoid the cutting curse that slashed across his leg. He quickly re-directed his magic, encasing his leg with as much magic as he could to blunt the power of the spell, but it wasn’t enough to stop the spell entirely.
Harry clenched his jaw as the spell tore through his magic, leaving a deep gash in his leg as he dodged around the rest of their spells.
“You’re lucky,” Merlin said, a little calmer this time. ‘That spell would have sliced off your leg if you were even half a second slower.’
Harry nodded grimly as the blood poured from his leg. ‘Is there anything I can do about the bleeding?’
“Not now,” Merlin replied. “It would take too much of your concentration.”
Andre growled in frustration as the obvious leader of the pests dodged his spell, if only just. ‘Where are they?!’ he thought, wondering where the rest of the study group was.
He glanced down at Elspeth, seeing that she was out of the fight. “He took out her wand arm,” he shouted to Talbott.
“Yeah, I noticed,” Talbott said, sending a spell in Ron’s direction as Harry put up another shield to block the spell. A slow smile worked its way onto his face as he got an idea. “Target the other one!”
Harry had just enough time to put himself between Ron and a barrage of oncoming spells as they hammered into his hastily cast protego. He grit his teeth as Talbott and Andre continued to rain down spells on his shield, forcing him to use more and more of his magic to keep it from collapsing.
“This isn’t working,” Merlin said as he felt the strain Harry was under to keep the spell up. “You can’t save him. You’ll both end up dead.”
‘I’m not going to leave him to die!’ Harry denied with gritted teeth as he felt his magic buckle under the pressure.
“You don’t have a choice, Harry. Either he dies or both of you die,” Merlin replied.
Ron stared wide eyed behind him at the dome of shimmering energy Harry created as Andre and Talbott’s spells impacted against the shield. He had no idea how Harry was maintaining the shield, much less flying under the constant barrage of spells.
His life flashed across his eyes as watched the shield spell weaken. ‘They’re going to break through,’ he realized. ‘All I am to Harry out here was a liability. He has a better chance of surviving this without me.’
“…Harry,” he said to his best friend, knowing what had to happen. “You can’t get away and protect me at the same time. You have to go.”
Harry looked at Ron, nearly dropping his shield in shock at what Ron was asking him to do. Even Merlin was uncharacteristically silent at the admission. “I can’t just leave you behind,” Harry denied, his hand shaking as the strain of maintaining the spell increased.
“It’s the only way,” Ron said, more calmly than he felt. “You have to survive. The minister is only going to believe what Andre and his friends are doing if it comes from you, and you’re the only one that can protect our friends from them in the mean time.”
Harry felt his eyes well up as he looked at his friend. He could feel the shield spell wavering. He could only hold it for a few more seconds.
“You have to go, Harry,” Merlin whispered. “…Listen to your friend.”
“NO!” Harry denied venomously, silencing both Merlin and Ron, as he reached deep, using his other magical pathways to take some of the strain off, and further re-enforcing the spell. “There has to be a way to stop them!”
“There isn’t Harry,” Merlin replied. “You’ve bought yourself a little more time, but it hasn’t changed anything.”
Ron watched as Harry’s shield weakened again, accepting the inevitable. There wasn’t a way out of this for him. “It’s ok Harry… it’s ok. This isn’t your fault. I chose to follow you. I chose to fight them instead of burying my head in the sand, and I don’t regret my choice.”
‘There had to be a way,’ Harry thought, delving into his memories, trying to glean some spell or tactic he could use to get them out of this, finally latching onto a glimmer of an idea. The Gringott’s card was keyed to him, and it wouldn’t work for anyone else. “…Unless,” Harry thought, latching onto the slim hope that it would work.
He reached down with his free hand, pulling out the Gringott’s card, and pressing it against the gash on his legs, coating it with his blood.
“What?” Ron started to say before Harry pressed the blood-soaked card into the palm of his hand.
“You’re going to be ok Ron,” Harry said, hoping desperately this would work. “Tell them I sent you. They’ll be able to heal your injuries. You’re going to be ok,” he promised.
“What are you talking about, Harry? Who’s going to-” He started to say, only to be interrupted by Harry. “Gringotts.”
Harry watched as a flash of light enveloped his friend before he disappeared with a soft pop. He let out a sigh of relief just before his shield finally buckled. As it collapsed, he dove down sharply, narrowly avoiding the spells.
“Damn it,” Andre growled as he watched one of them portkey away. “We have to make sure he doesn’t get away too!”
Harry weaved through the spells Andre and Talbott cast, pushing more magic into his broom, trying to get as much speed out of it as he could.
“Careful Harry,” Merlin warned. “The broom wasn’t meant to take this much magic.”
Harry ignored him as he put the broom through its paces, having little choice as Andre and Talbott got more aggressive with their spell casting. ‘Any ideas?’ he thought.
“They’ve learned since your last encounter,” Merlin pointed out. “The same tricks aren’t going to work twice. You’re going to have to get creative.”
Harry thought about his meager repertoire of spells as he circled the tower, narrowly avoiding another one of their spells. ‘I hope this works,’ he thought as he settled on a strategy.
“Lumos Maxima,” he called out, holding the spell on the tip of his wand, and compressing the magic as tightly as he could. As his wand began to shake from the strain, he cast a second spell, “Flipendo,” creating a chained spell.
The pressure increased even more as he struggled to contain the two spells, all while trying to avoid Andre and Talbott.
As he turned the corner, he lined up his shaking wand with them before releasing the spells. He quickly turned, shielding his eyes, and hoped it would be enough of a distraction for him to reach the relative safety of the forest.
He heard a pair of surprised shouts before the unmistakable sound of two bodies smashed against the castle wall. He changed directions quickly, putting on as much speed as he could to reach the relative safety of the forest.
Talbott groaned as he slammed into the castle wall, struggling to stay airborne. The lumos had caught him by surprise, temporarily blinding him. His broom spun wildly as he tried to gain his bearings.
His vision was blurry, but he managed to pull up just before he crashed into the ground as he finally came to a stop, hovering in the air as he rubbed his eyes.
Andre averted his eyes just before the thief cast his spell, but it was still strong enough to sting his eyes, and leave him wide open for the flipendo. ‘Whoever they are, they’re difficult to predict,’ he thought. ‘He’s using mostly first year spells but his technique and power is incredible.’
“Harry!” Merlin shouted out a warning that came just a moment too late.
Harry didn’t have time to think as he felt a searing pain across his back, arms, and legs, as he lost his grip on his broom and started to fall. ‘Everything hurts,’ he thought weakly as he hurdled towards the ground, his eyes drooping as the adrenaline finally wore off, and his blood loss set it.
“Concentrate, Harry!” Merlin shouted into his mind. “You need to cushion your fall!”
Harry sluggishly cast his magic, fighting to stay awake, as he slowed down his descent. It was just enough to save his life, but he still hit the ground hard, skidding across the grass before finally coming to a stop.
He groaned as he lay on the ground, feeling every one of his injuries as he lay in the dirt.
“You need to get up, Harry! Get up NOW!” Merlin said urgently.
‘What happened?’ He thought, painfully rolling onto his back. The spell hadn’t come from either Andre or Talbott.
“The others are here,” Merlin answered. “They hit you with diffindo’s.”
‘I didn’t even sense them,’ Harry thought as he grunted, getting on his hands and knees before collapsing again to the ground again. “Ugh,” he groaned, not even able to stand after his crash landing.
“You need to get up, Harry,” Merlin repeated. “They’re coming.”
“I can’t,” Harry gasped. “It hurts too much to move.”
“I was hoping I wouldn’t have to teach you this trick for a while, but we don’t have a choice,” Merlin said.
‘What?’ Harry thought, only to stop as all the pain he felt abruptly stopped. ‘What did you do?’ He thought, looking down at himself, finding all of his injuries still there.
“I turned off your pain receptors,” Merlin explained. “But you’re still bleeding out, so you need to get up right now.”
Harry nodded, getting to his feet. He could feel the blood trickling down his arm and onto his fingers as they dripped down onto his wand. He raised his arm shakily as he watched the six shadowy figures getting closer and closer.
That’s when he heard a slow clap as Andre appeared, disheveled and bloody, but otherwise no worse for wear.
“Impressive,” Andre smiled. “Incredible really, to hold out for so long, even managing to take one of us out of the fight temporarily,” he said, nodding towards Elspeth. “But you’ve lost.”
Harry said nothing as he stared them down, watching as they formed a semi-circle around him.
“Answer our questions, and I promise I’ll make the end quick,” Andre said, observing the man carefully. ‘He may be hurt, but that doesn’t mean he’s not dangerous,’ he thought.
“I’m not going to tell you anything,” Harry said, pointing his wand squarely at Andre. “But if you take me down, I’ll make sure to take at least one of you down with me.”
“You’re on the wrong side of this,” Talbott said as he took in the bruised and bloody form of the man that had been a thorn in their side since the ritual.
“The wrong side of what?” Harry asked, hoping to at least learn something about who they were and what they were planning.
“History,” Ismelda said simply, aiming her wand at him.
“Tell us where our book is,” Andre demanded.
“Tell ME why it’s so important to you!” Harry demanded. “What are you going to do once you’ve stolen enough magic? How many people are going to end up dead for you to get what you want?”
“You’ve got it all wrong,” Talbott replied. “We’re not doing this to hurt anyone, we’re doing it to save-”
“Talbott!!” Andre shouted, cutting him off.
“What?” Talbott asked. “Look at him. He’s bleeding out. He’s only got another five, maybe ten minutes left.”
“Not another word,” Andre ground out.
Harry and Merlin observed their interaction carefully. “That’s the second time he’s mentioned trying to save someone.”
‘I’m less concerned about that than getting out of here,’ Harry thought. His vision darkening around the edges, as his blood loss worsened.
“I’m doing what I can,” Merlin said, using Harry’s magic to speed up his cell division and slow down the bleeding. “But it’s going to take some time.”
‘How long?’ Harry thought.
Merlin didn’t answer, but the feeling he got re-affirmed how bad his situation was. It would take longer than he had left to heal him.
“Look, just tell us where the book is, and who your accomplices are,” Beatrice said, trying to end this peacefully. “No one has to die here. We can petrify you until after we’re done our work, then we’ll let you go.”
“I’m not giving up my friends,” Harry denied without hesitation.
“We won’t kill them either,” Elspeth promised. “Not unless they make us.”
“Why are we even bargaining with him?” Lucian asked. “Let’s just kill him and get this over with. He’s not going to give us anything.”
Andre nodded his head in agreement. With the time he had left, there was no way they could get anything reliable out of him, anyway.
“Stop! Just wait,” Beatrice said to Andre and Lucian, before turning to face Harry again. “I know what this must look like to you. I do. But I promise you, we’re not doing this to hurt anyone. We’re the good guys.”
Harry studied Beatrice’s face carefully. ‘She at least believes it,’ he concluded.
“What they believe, and what they’re actually doing, isn’t the same thing,” Merlin denied. “I’ve seen it enough times in my life to know the difference.”
‘Yeah,’ Harry agreed. After everything they had done, he knew he couldn’t trust a word coming out of their mouths, no matter how much they believed it. ‘We’re out of time, aren’t we?’ he thought, looking into the stony faces of Andre, Talbott, and Ismelda.
Before Merlin could say anything, a bright blue light appeared in the sky, followed by a red, then yellow, then green. ‘Fireworks?’ he thought, his eyebrows furrowing in confusion.
The study group had a similar look on their faces as more and more fireworks went off, before a dawning realization hit all of them as they looked at the castle. The lights were turning on. It was only a matter of time before someone came out to investigate.
A smirk worked its way onto Harry’s face as he worked it out as well. “How long do you think before someone comes outside?” Harry asked, his vision swimming as his knees buckled, the blood loss finally catching up with him.
“We have to go!” Talbott said, backing away.
“No, not until his dead!” Andre denied.
“We don’t have time!” Ismelda shouted. “If someone sees us out here with him, it could ruin everything.”
Andre looked between his allies and the collapsed form of the near dead man they’d been hunting. “Fine,” he muttered, putting away his wand as they dashed back to the castle. ‘He was the most dangerous one, anyway. The other two will be easy pickings without him.’
Harry’s fingers went numb as his wand dropped from his hand as he watched the study group fade into the darkness. He couldn’t feel the pain, but he knew he was dying. He could only hope his next incarnation would be ready in time for what Merlin warned him about.
“You’re not going to die! At least not yet,” Merlin denied, coming to a decision. It was something he hoped to avoid, but there was no choice. “Get to the lake.”
Harry nodded, using the last of his strength to stagger to his feet as he stumbled towards the lake, too tired to question Merlin.
“Almost there, Harry, just keep going,” Merlin urged, even as Harry fell to his hands and knees, forcing him to crawl forward.
It only took a few minutes to arrive at the shore of the lake, but to Harry, it felt like he had been crawling for hours. He collapsed forward, his fingers splashing into the water.
“Call for her, call Nimue,” Merlin said, as Harry grew weaker, getting closer, and closer to death.
“…Nimue,” Harry said, his voice barely a whisper before his vision faded to black.
“He did it. He kept his word,” Fred said in surprise, looking at all the fireworks going off.
“What about Harry and Ron?” Hermione asked, hoping they were safe. “Where are they?”
“I still can’t see Ron,” George said, looking down at the map, “but I see Harry, he’s near the lake.”
“Let’s go!” Hermione said as they made their way to the front entrance, only to be met by at least a dozen students doing the same thing.
‘Good,’ Hermione thought as they blended into the crowd. ‘No one is going to question why we’re out here.’
They cleared the doors, staying out of the line of sight of the study group as they made their way to the lake.
Hermione observed the other students, looking up at the fireworks, smiles on their faces, having no idea what really happened tonight.
“That was too close,” Beatrice said as they made their way back into the castle. “If we waited around another second, they would have seen us.”
“Everyone go to your dorm rooms,” Andre instructed. “When they find the body, we can’t be anywhere near it.”
“What about me?” Elspeth asked, gesturing to her arm. “I have a hole the size of a galleon in my arm,” she pointed out.
“Here, let me take a look,” Ismelda said, examining the wound. “You’re lucky,” she said after a moment. “The wound is cauterized, so you’re not going to bleed out,” Ismelda said. “Episkey, Episkey,” she cast the minor healing spell twice. “Ferula,” she said, wrapping the wound in bandages. “It should be ok in about a week.”
“Thanks,” Elspeth said, grateful for at least some of the pain to be reduced.
“Where are they?” Hermione asked, looking around. She couldn’t see Harry or Ron anywhere.
George pulled out the map again, searching for them. “I can’t find either of them now,” he said, looking around the map. “But Harry was supposed to be right here,” he said, pointing at the shoreline.
“Lumos,” Draco said, lighting up the tip of his wand, searching where George pointed. “He was here,” he said, pointing to the muddy hand print on the ground, and the trail of blood.
He didn’t have to say it out loud, but they were all thinking the same thing. Harry and Ron were both missing. They weren’t showing up on the map, and they had clearly fought for their lives against the study group.
“What are we going to do?” Draco asked.
They all looked at each other, trying to come up with some sort of plan, but they didn’t even know where to start.
“…I think we have to consider the possibility of leaving Hogwarts,” Fred finally said.
“You can’t be serious!” Hermione said in shock. “After what they did?”
“You don’t think I know that!” Fred snapped, surprising even himself with how angry he was. “They’re untouchable. Who would take our word over theirs? And what do you think they’re going to do to us? To our families when they find out what we know about them?”
“…I,” Hermione faltered, trying to find the right words, but failing as her eyes welled up with tears. ‘They can’t really be gone, can they?’ She thought.
Before she could say anything else, they all heard the amplified voice of their head of house. “JUST WHAT IS GOING ON HERE? ALL OF YOU SHOULD BE IN BED!” followed by the dull roar of all the students trying to explain themselves at once.
“IT’S ALRIGHT PROFESSOR. THIS ISN’T THE FIRST TIME PEEVES ACTED OUT, BUT CERTAINLY THE MOST MEMORABLE,” the headmaster said next. “THEY WERE ALL QUITE RIGHTLY CURIOUS ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED, BUT NOW THAT IT’S OVER ITS TIME FOR YOU ALL TO RETURN TO BED.”
The other heads of houses quickly appeared, organizing the students and leading them back into the school.
Hermione, Draco, Fred, and George took one last long look around before reluctantly joining their classmates, and returned to the school, each wondering what they were supposed to do now, and if they would ever see Harry and Ron again.
Hi! What did you think of the new chapter? How was the fight scene? I wanted to show the study group as more powerful, but still lacking the skill and technique to fully capitalize on their new found power. How do you feel about the cliff hanger for Harry?
thanks for reading and supporting me,