Again, violence and graphic imagery. You can basically expect it in every chapter from here on out.
Parting hands with Ginny, Harry stood behind the sliding doors of the defunct train in anxious silence. He looked solemnly over his shoulder at his friends and raised his wand.
“Hold onto your knickers.”
With a swift flick of his wrist, the sliding doors opened and a deafening torrent of sound flooded Harry’s ears. The air, thick with a malodorous smoke that stunk of burning hair, caught painfully in their lungs, throwing Ron into a coughing fit. Harry’s eyes stung as he fought to see through the haze, but once they adjusted, he observed a scene that uncannily reminded him of pictures of Muggle warfare he had seen before. The sunken tracks throughout the station looked more like trenches within which both sides were sheltered as they launched curses over the concrete.
Diagonally down the platform, a single track away from where Harry stood, Aurors had taken refuge, volleying curses across the platform while McGonagall and someone he could not identify tended to the fallen; whether they were stupefied or dead, Harry could not tell, nor could he let his eyes linger long enough to see who they were.
Something else had garnered his attention. At the far end, the Death Eaters were matching the barrage of curses with striking precision, but behind their front line was a more disturbing sight. The Death Eaters were not tending to their wounded. They were huddled in conference.
Until that moment Harry had not realized how far away the track was from where they were hid. He turned to Ron, Hermione, and Ginny, grateful to whatever power that had inspired them all to bring their shield cloaks.
“Okay, get your cloaks on and stay by me!” he yelled, trying not to sound scared. “When I say ‘go’, run as fast as you can toward the track and don’t look back! I’ll cover you till you reach the edge!”
Wearing blanched expressions, they all assumed the offensive stance they had learned from Tonks in Defense Against the Dark Arts this year, draping the shield cloak across the chest with one arm and holding their wands cocked upright behind the protective fabric with their free hand.
Harry closed his eyes and mentally gathered himself together. It was time.
His blood thumping in his ears, he leapt off the train and sprinted towards the track where the Aurors were positioned, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione respectively racing after him toward the platform’s edge, dodging curses as they went.
“Watch out!” Harry shouted as Ginny ducked a red beam of light that whizzed past her head and careened into the concrete, spraying dust and debris into the air. Harry rushed ahead into a spot where the Death Eaters could see him and the curses instantly changed direction - but Harry was ready. At lightening speed, he halted and fired a hail of non-verbal counter curses sufficient to disarm four members of the Death Eaters’ front line while his friends dashed towards the track.
He could tell by the angle at which the lights struck the pavement as they ran that the Death Eaters were purposely avoiding hitting him; but while he, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny all fired at will, his friends were rapidly losing ground to the shower of lights that seemed to rain down all around them. Harry's blood ran cold; through the glowing green fog, he saw the Death Eaters’ malicious intentions written clearly on their shadowed faces. Tonight, though they did not dare touch Harry, they would instead try to take him down one loyal friend at a time.
A Killing Curse spiraled past him toward Ron.
“Ron!” screamed Hermione, tackling him around the waist as a comet of whizzing green light very nearly collided with his shoulder. Together they tumbled to the ground, falling behind. Harry skidded to a stop and aimed his wand at the space from which the curse had sprung.
“STUPEFY!” Harry bellowed angrily, and he heard a Death Eater cry out.
Beside him, the sound of Ginny's footsteps stopped. “Hermione, move!” she shrieked. As Hermione struggled to get to her feet, a curse struck her hard in the stomach, throwing her skidding backwards with a force that knocked the air out of her lungs. To Harry’s utter relief the shield cloak absorbed the brunt of its effect, the red glowing light bleeding into the fabric before vanishing completely.
Ginny was turning back to help Ron and Hermione. “No, Ginny!” Harry called out. He seized Ginny’s arm and pulled her forward. “They can see you! RUN!” No sooner had he uttered the words than a flash of light pounded into the cement beside her. Startled, she sprinted ahead, casting a frightened look over her shoulder at him. Once he saw Ginny had almost reached the platform’s edge, Harry spun around to help.
“Don’t turn around, Harry!” Ron draped Hermione’s arm over his shoulder as she gasped for air. “Cover me! I have her!” he yelled, balancing her weight on him. Harry turned back and shot blindly into the smoke to clear their way, keeping close to Ron and Hermione as they staggered to the platform’s edge.
Ginny was the first to arrive – she threw herself onto the ground and slid nimbly into the deep track. Ron and Hermione were merely a meter away, but with Hermione’s injury their speed was greatly hindered, and they now stood in plain view of the Death Eaters.
As he saw a violet light soar towards Ron and Hermione, Harry threw himself in front of them and braced himself for impact. The curse hit him in the chest with enough momentum to knock him backwards, but the cloak had luckily blocked its magic on contact. Quickly, he found his footing and, glancing down, saw Lupin and Ginny rush to help Ron and Hermione in. Now the only one left on the platform, Harry made a running leap for the track, careful not to land on the electric beam, and Ron and Lupin caught him just as another curse whistled past, missing Harry’s ear by mere inches.
Excited and panting, Harry smiled gratefully at Lupin and Ron and quickly looked up and down the rail. Ginny sat breathless next to Hermione, who now lay propped up against the wall of the track, wheezing, and from behind Professor McGonagall, Mrs. Weasley darted out, hurrying to Hermione’s side.
Feeling he could cry for joy at the sight of Ron and Ginny’s mother, Harry yelled above the noise, “I don’t believe it! You made it!”
She tilted up Hermione’s face and touched the wand to her heart. “Anapneo,” uttered Mrs. Weasley, and Hermione drew in a tremendous breath as though a vice had been removed from her chest. Relieved albeit shaking, Ron took his position beside Hermione and, finding reassurance in her face that she was okay, pulled her into an embrace.
Her patient now in good hands, Mrs. Weasley hurried over to Harry and hugged him tightly. “Dear, dear, Harry!” she cried, her eyes filling with tears. “Don’t you ever go off alone like that again! You’ll put me in an early grave!” Over her shoulder, she shouted, “Arthur! They’re all right!”
Now there’s a sight I thought I’d never see, thought Harry looking beyond Mrs. Weasley. Behind Bill and Charlie Weasley, who worked in tandem to revive Kingsley Shacklebolt from stupification, was Mr. Weasley. He stood crouched between Mad-Eye Moody and Lucius Malfoy at the front, donned in an ill-fitting shield cloak furiously casting spells. “You gave us… a scare there… Harry!” Mr. Weasley shouted between ducking and firing curses.
“Mrs. Weasley, I’m really sorry-” Harry hollered as Mundungus deflected a curse arching over the landing. "I had no idea it would turn out like this..."
At the sound of Harry’s voice, a bruised and dusty McGonagall looked up from tending to one of the wounded and for a moment, he thought she might cry too. “Potter, thank heavens you’re all right!” she shouted wearily. “What is the meaning of all this! Why did I leave Hogwarts in Filch’s hands to find you rendezvousing with a hoard of Death Eaters in the middle of a muggle station under the Dark Mark?”
“I'll give you the short version." Perhaps it was because until that moment Harry had kept all of his dangerous exploits a secret to every member of the Order but Lupin, but once he started talking, he couldn’t stop himself.
“I thought I was going to find a bit of Voldemort’s soul on the Hogwarts Express, but it turns out it’s in me, because Snape saw Voldemort kill my mum, but it’s Snape’s fault all these Death Eaters are here, and somehow I have to kill Voldemort before he and the Death Eaters invade London tomorrow morning!” he blurted out in one breath.
“What?” yelled McGonagall in disbelief, and she got to her feet. Ginny pushed past him and rushed to Lupin's side where McGonagall had been tending to the patient. “Snape…? Invade London…? What’s this about Voldemort’s soul?!”
“I’m a Horcrux!” Harry shouted desperately. McGonagall’s hands flew to her mouth as though Harry had uttered a particularly offensive swear word.
"You're the last Horcrux?!" Lupin’s head snapped up. “That can’t be!” he yelled in astonishment.
“A Horcrux! How do you even know what that is?” McGonagall gasped, her face glowing fuscia through the green haze.
Lupin turned to McGonagall. “Before Dumbledore died, he and Harry found out that Voldemort made them so he would be immortal-“
“Them? You mean there’s more than one?” cried McGonagall fearfully. “Harry, is this true? How can you possibly be a Horcrux?”
“It’s because he killed my mum first – he didn’t mean to put a bit of his soul in me – it was an accident!” Harry shouted exasperatedly. “Snape told me-“
“Snape!” exclaimed Lupin, leaping to his feet. “I might have known! He probably planned this whole thing! You can’t trust him, Harry, he’s a deceitful, snivelling-”
“You don't understand!”
Harry pulled Lupin down as a curse spun into the opposite wall, launching a cloud of dust into the air.
“Listen… I know I probably can’t vouch for anything else Snape told me earlier,” Harry exclaimed, sweeping grime off his glasses, “but he was telling the truth about me!”
“How can you be sure?” shouted Lupin.
“Because it explains everything!” he bellowed. A pained expression on his face, Harry looked ominously at him. “There’s an enemy inside me, Lupin – I can feel it! I think maybe I’ve always felt it!”
Mortified, Lupin looked away. “My God, you're right... You'd already destroyed five of them, I might have guessed that, apart from the sword, there could be no sixth object belonging to Godric Gryffindor that would be of any value to Voldemort!" His tortured eyes lifted to Harry's face. "I'm so sorry, Harry, I should have known!”
Before Harry could argue otherwise, McGonagall turned sharply to Lupin, looking betrayed. “Remus, do you mean to tell me Harry’s been going out destroying these things by himself-“
Harry blinked. “Actually, Ron and Hermione-“ he tried to interrupt.
“-And you’ve known about it all this time and didn’t think to tell me? All those times I blindly agreed to let him leave school on ‘Dumbledore’s secret mission’…” she yelled angrily as a red light buzzed past overhead. “You may think you’re the only one here who cares about Harry, but, as his headmistress, I have a right to know these things! He could have died!”
Harry felt his face turn red.
“He survived, didn’t he? He’s not a child!” Lupin got to his feet, suddenly incensed. “I am truly sorry, Minerva, but Harry told me of his mission in the strictest confidence - even against Dumbledore’s wish that he keep the task to himself!” he shouted. “Harry is James and Lily’s only son - my allegiance, first and foremost, belongs to him!”
“But now what are we to do?!” she snapped. “If you’d said something sooner, maybe we could have found a way to-“
“To what? To kill Harry and finish off Voldemort ourselves?” The remark, though spoken sarcastically, made Harry’s heart skip a beat. “It isn’t as though I knew Harry was a Horcrux before thirty seconds ago!” Lupin hollered.
As McGonagall and Lupin argued, Harry looked past them at the injured person they had been tending to. His eyes went wide; without her shocking pink hair, he had not recognized her.
“Tonks!” he yelled, interrupting their row.
Now a disheveled brunette, Tonks looked up at him glassy-eyed as he rushed to her side. “Wotcher, Harry…,” she muttered, wincing in agony. A chill running through him, Harry made out something dark and shiny all over her robes and hands. Ginny looked at Harry mournfully, holding their professor’s head in her lap; Tonks was drenched in copious amounts of blood.
“What happened? Who did this to you?” Harry cried.
Her head lolled to one side and, closing her eyes against the pain, she tried to force her grimace into a smile. “Bellatrix… we dueled… right foul woman, that one is,” she said, so softly amidst the noise that Harry had to bring his ear to her mouth. “It’s okay, Harry… I’m okay…”
“But how could she… what did she-“
“Out of the way,” shouted Lupin sternly. Harry had not had time to notice it before, but Lupin looked especially bereaved and broken as he knelt beside Tonks, pulled back her robe and widened the rip in her shirt, revealing an enormous gash in her side. By now, Ron and Hermione had joined them, and they looked down at the damaged, swollen flesh, appalled.
“Lestrange… curse… never heard it before… Sect… Sectus…” she struggled to say.
Just then, Harry felt an intense fury well up inside him as he came to the awful realization that there was only one curse that could have made that wound.
“Sectumsempra,” he snarled, clenching his fists.
“What?” cried Ron, turning white.
“Sectumsempra! Bellatrix knows the curse!”
“But how-?” Hermione began.
“How else do you think!” yelled Harry. “Snape told it to her!”
“Bloody hell…” Ron gulped and looked queasily at Tonks’s wound. “Now it’s official -- Snape's out to do us in!”
“The only thing is,” said Harry fearfully, “why is it so deep? I don’t understand – the effect wasn’t nearly as bad as this when I used it on Malfoy. It barely made a scratch on the Inferi…”
Hermione knelt down for a closer look, concentrated in thought. “Harry, don’t take this the wrong way, but you hardly knew what you were doing when you used it,” she asserted perceptively. “If this curse works like any of the Unforgivable Curses, then the damage it does is entirely dependent on how much the caster means it. Clearly, Bellatrix really wanted to… to…”
Hermione caught sight of Lupin’s despondence and refrained from finishing her thought. Not that it mattered to Harry anyway. He already knew that Bellatrix had meant to deal Tonks a fatal blow. There was precious little time to act; Tonks was slipping further away every second they wasted discussing it, and recalling what he saw from the platform above, he knew that the Death Eaters must be about to execute their counterattack.
“Can you heal her?” he asked McGonagall, half-afraid to hear her answer.
She pursed her lips and dolefully looked down at Tonks, who labored to stay awake. “The wound is very deep, Potter. I won’t deny that Nymphadora’s situation is delicate… I’ll need to get her out of here if she is going to recover at all.”
“See, Remus? My time’s not up yet…” murmured Tonks, staring vacantly out at nothing. Meanwhile, both of Lupin’s bloodstained hands were pressed hard against the fissure in her skin to slow the bleeding. Harry thought he never saw him look so ill.
“Time…” he whispered to himself. Suddenly an idea hit him. “I can buy you time…”
“Potter, what are you talking about?” shouted McGonagall as Harry ran to the wall and squeezed between Moody and Mr. Weasley.
“Get ready to get Tonks out of here, and don’t anyone follow me!” he yelled over his shoulder and, sticking one foot up onto a cable that ran the length of the wall, he hoisted himself up onto the platform.
“Harry, are you INSANE?!” Ron bellowed as Hermione and Ginny pushed through the front line, yelling in protest.
“HARRY, COME BACK!” screamed Mrs. Weasley, but it was too late. Now standing in plain view of the Death Eaters, Harry stared down into their track, his eyes instantly locking with Bellatrix Lestrange’s stunned gaze.
Please, oh, PLEASE let this work… he thought, sucking in a deep breath. Just then, Harry broke into a sprint straight towards the enemy.
The Death Eaters gaped at him as he came closer and closer; like those that Harry had just left behind, they too must have thought that Harry was experiencing a momentary lapse of mental health, because the curses stopped flying. He picked up speed. He was almost upon them.
I just need to clear the track…
“Don’t just stand there! Wands at the ready, you imbeciles!” he heard Bellatrix yell as he reached the platform’s edge. A blurry cluster of wands, all pointed at him, was the last thing Harry saw before he squeezed his eyes shut, made a running leap into the air, and then…
Destination, Determination, Deliberation…
Mid-leap, Harry disapparated and appeared with a loud *crack* on the side behind the Death Eaters, tearing off towards the hallway to the atrium of King’s Cross Station. As he realized what he had just done, Harry felt something in him rejoice. He had cleared the track and hadn’t even lost speed!
As expected, his excitement was quickly cut short. “Don’t let him get away!” shrieked a newly-ennervated Avery, and Harry looked over his shoulder to see Death Eaters clambering up onto the landing in hot pursuit. As he had hoped, his flight had caused them to disperse, abandon their posts and disorganize, leaving the aurors, if not an advantage, at least a fair shot at defeating those that remained on the tracks. Whoever needed to take Tonks away could now do so without being severely missed.
Unfortunately, that meant that Harry had to make up the difference by himself, and he mentally kicked himself for not having planned things better. Fifteen Death Eaters now raced after him.
Feeling his foot scuff against something, Harry faced forward - and before him was a vision that nearly made him stop in his tracks.
He had entered the concourse. Still awash in stark florescent light, it almost looked as though Kings' Cross was still operational but for the grotesque display that the Death Eaters left in their wake upon arriving at the station. Surrounded by the first example of what was to befall all of London if he failed, Harry was gripped by complete and immobilizing fear. Corpses of the innocent littered the ground.
Harry tripped over the arm of a janitor and nearly collided into the limp figure of an elderly woman, and he scrambled blindly to regain his footing. In a moment of sheer terror, Harry stared at the ashen bodies and imagined them all springing to life, clawing and grabbing at his feet as he struggled to reach an exit that did not exist.
This must be the meaning of 'Death Eater', Harry thought, horrified. In his mind, he was already guilty among the ravenous undead, fleeing the dark depths of Hell.
An enormous burst of light exploded through the window of the ticket counter at his left, showering him with shards of glass. "There's no way out, Potter!" shrieked Bellatrix, laughing maniacally as he slipped and stumbled towards the double doors that lead to the street.
Suddenly, just before reaching the doors, Harry crashed head-first into something unseen and fell hard onto his back, clutching his nose. Looking up, he saw only the air in front of him.
"My, aren't we the athlete tonight?"
The Death Eaters slowed to a stop and congregated several yards from where he lay. Crabbe Sr. stepped forward.
"Imperturbable Charm. Don't tell me they didn't teach you that one at school," he sneered.
Bellatrix joined Crabbe's side. "Oh, don't be so hard on the Ickle Pottykins!" she jeered wildly. "He had my poor pink-haired niece as his teacher, and as we all saw tonight, she's not terribly good at Defense Against the Dark Arts!" Bellatrix shrieked with evil laughter that quickly spread to the rest of the group.
Her howls subsiding, she stared at Harry, a queer madness behind her eyes.
"What's say we play with him?"
Harry got to his feet and aimed his wand at them. "You can't kill me," he said shakily. "Voldemort wants me for himself."
"Who says we're going kill you?" she said. "There are so many other fun things we could do..." In unison, the hooded lot drew out their wands.
Harry had run out of options. He might try and disarm them, but he was outnumbered, and any counterattack would only provoke their reckless hate. Soon to be the next victim of their barbarism, he backed against the invisible wall and braced himself for unimaginable pain.... How strange... I can almost hear the yelling already...
He almost didn't hear George call his name.
"HARRY, GET OUT OF THE WAY!"
"Wha-?" Harry looked behind him and couldn't believe his eyes. A gigantic firecracker-shaped object shattered through the glass doors, soared over his head into the ceiling and exploded, raining beams, tiles, and hunks of cement down upon the Death Eaters' heads. The Imperturbable Charm now broken, Harry leapt out of the way and burst through the double doors where Fred and George stood with a large rocket launcher, clad in their most flagrant protective gear, smiling widely.
"Guess that means there won't be any shuttle service to Cambridge tomorrow, eh?" Fred joked, admiring their handywork amidst the sound of crinkling glass.
Harry thought he might laugh himself to tears, for no other reason than that he was so unbelievably glad to see them. "Brilliant timing!" he exclaimed, panting. "What the hell was that thing, anyway?"
"New patent," said George proudly. "I call it 'The Destructinator'!"
"Erm... yeah, we haven't decided on a name yet," interjected Fred. "But after we heard what happened at the Astronomy Tower, we presumed a need for something to counteract Imperturbable Charms in the event of an emergency."
"It bursts through forcefields-"
"Any magically blocked passageways."
"It's not in the catalogue."
Harry turned around and looked wonderingly at the rubble. Surely the Death Eaters were crushed under the weight of the wreckage, he thought, and, realizing he was still holding in his breath, Harry blew it out slowly. His escape had been the result of pure luck, he reasoned, and whether there was any good fortune left for him remained to be seen. The fighting had only really just begun.
Just then, he heard a voice that did not belong to the Weasley twins.
"Sorry we're late, Harry. We got sort of lost."
Slowly, Harry turned around and his breath caught in his throat. The voice belonged to Neville Longbottom, Luna was at his side, and behind them was a sight more startling and welcome than anything he anticipated.
"You... you're... you're all here!" Harry stammered.
Dean Thomas stepped forward between Seamus and Parvati. "Who were you expecting? Sir Cadagon?"
Dumbledore's Army had risen again.