First time

The final battle

Chapter 23

The final battle

By the time Elizabeth, along with the other girls from her dormitory, had thrown on some clothes, grabbed her wand, and rushed through the portrait hole, the relative calmness which usually ruled castle had turned into pure chaos. People were screaming, running in all directions, and generally not being particularly helpful when Elizabeth tried to ask them where exactly it was that Voldemort had been spotted. Finally, though, the girls had found at least one person who had meanwhile managed to discover what was going on – Ernie Macmillan – who, it seemed, had made use of his recently obtained Animagus licence to turn into an owl and scan the school grounds from above.

“And?” inquired Elizabeth eagerly. “Where is Voldemort?”

Ernie winced at the sound of the name, but quickly said: “He’s coming from the direction of Hogsmeade. Most of the village is in flames now.” And, lowering his voice to almost a whisper, he added: “If I were to judge, we don’t stand a chance. His army ... his army is dreadful. I saw the most horrible monsters one can possibly think of – zombies, skeletons, vampires, all sorts of demons, even hell hounds... And in the middle of it all – You-Know-Who himself, surrounded by the Death Eaters.”

Elizabeth paled when she realized that she was most likely to encounter all of the creatures Ernie had mentioned in only a moment or two, but quickly pulled herself together and, hoping to sound braver than she was feeling, declared: “Maybe it won’t be as bad as it looks. Anyway, we should probably get down to the Entrance Hall now, shouldn’t we?”

And she determinedly set off towards the nearest staircase, with Ernie and the girls trailing reluctantly behind.

About halfway down the third flight of stairs, and a narrow escape from Peeves the poltergeist (who evidently took great pleasure in creating even more havoc than there already was) later, the group ran into a very flushed-looking Professor Flitwick, who immediately launched into a long monologue about how relieved he was to see them, and just how afraid he was of them leaving their dormitory before he could reach it.

“I was just on the way up to Ravenclaw Tower, you see,” he squeaked as they all made their way down the stairs and along the corridors, only with Flitwick in the lead this time, “but got a bit held up along the way. Most of the students and staff are already gathered down in the Entrance Hall, so we’d better hurry if we want to get there before everybody rushes out to start fighting.”

“We’re going to fight outside?” asked Elizabeth, surprised. “But ... wouldn’t staying in the castle give us better protection?”

“Definitely,” agreed Flitwick, “but not with the plan that we have. It can only be performed out in the open, you see.”

“And what’s the plan?” asked Jane, who, it seemed, had finally managed to wake up properly.

“That, unfortunately, is something I cannot tell you,” said the tiny wizard apologetically. “The Headmaster wants to keep it a secret until the last minute.”

“Ah, the famous secret plan,” said Elizabeth mysteriously, remembering what Hermione had told her about it some time ago. And she was just about to start persuading Flitwick to give them at least a hint of what kind of magic Dumbledore was intending to use on the Dark Lord, secrecy or no secrecy, but since at that exact moment they had finally reached the Entrance Hall, all thoughts of interrogation quickly left her mind as she frantically searched the wildly chattering crowd that was taking up most of the room for at least a glimpse of a certain Potions master, being only too aware that it might just as well be the last time she’d ever see him. Unfortunately, though, Dumbledore, having seen Flitwick and the others arrive, had just decided that losing any more time could prove fatal for the outcome of the battle, and so, after quickly wishing them all good luck, beckoned Mr Filch to open the castle gates, thus unconsciously destroying any further chances of Elizabeth spotting her beloved, as in the madness that ensued it was downright impossible to see anything at all.

“Good luck, Elizabeth,” said Jane gravely, coming up to her friend’s side. “Hope to see you alive and well at the end of it all.”

Elizabeth managed a weak smile. “Thanks, Jane. Good luck to you, too.”

And with that, both girls left the castle and entered hell.

***

The cool night air brushed against Elizabeth’s cheeks as she stepped out into the open, and (unlike Jane, who had immediately run off in search of Justin) for a moment the girl simply let her eyes wander over the scene before her in an attempt to decide what to do next. It was still dark, but the sky was so illuminated by the enormous fire in Hogsmeade that Elizabeth found she had absolutely no trouble seeing. Which way should she take, though? The castle gates behind her were slowly closing again, and eventually snapped shut with a huge ‘bang’. On the Quidditch pitch on her left a joined army of zombies and skeletons was unsuccessfully trying to fend off a group of students. Near the Forbidden Forest right ahead of her spells and curses were flying through the air at such a rate that she couldn’t even determine who exactly was sending them. On her right, by the lake, everything was quiet.

Finally deciding to follow Jane’s example and head for the Forbidden Forest, Elizabeth swiftly started walking, clutching her wand in her right hand like a sword and darting her eyes in all directions in an attempt to spot any potential danger before it could spot her. And it had paid off, too, because she had barely taken ten steps when she noticed two figures running towards her from the supposedly quiet right side, shouting something she didn’t quite understand. Elizabeth was as quick as lightning, and in a matter of milliseconds she was already facing the two strangers with her wand pointed in their direction, ready to say the fatal incantation as soon as she found out whether they were not, by any chance, her allies.

It seemed like ages before it was possible to determine who the two people were, but finally they had come close enough for Elizabeth to see their faces, giving the girl quite a surprise when she discovered that they were, in fact...

“Crabbe? Goyle?” she asked, as if for confirmation, and slowly lowered her wand. “What’s going on?”

“It’s Draco,” panted Crabbe. “He’s having a quarrel with his father. It ... it looks like they are going to attack one another soon, but we don’t know how to stop it. You’ve got to help him, Woodhouse!”

Elizabeth paused to consider what was being asked of her. Help Draco? The boy whom she had always wished nothing but the worst? Then again, after what she had heard in Snape’s office, she had to admit that she had somewhat changed her opinion of him, and while she still didn’t like him, she definitely didn’t think he deserved to die.

“All right,” she agreed finally. “Where are they?”

“Over there!” Goyle waved his hand in a vague direction of somewhere between the castle and the lake and started running. Elizabeth and Crabbe followed.

They had been sprinting along the castle wall for a minute or two when Elizabeth suddenly heard some voices coming from somewhere behind the nearest corner, and from the sound of it, their owners were definitely angry. Instinctively, Elizabeth slowed down, and, motioning for the boys to do the same, quietly started edging closer to where she’d be safe to see what was going on but wouldn’t be seen herself, all the while listening to what was being said.

“How dare you stand up to your father like that!” yelled a man’s voice, presumably belonging to Lucius Malfoy. “After all I’ve done for you, this is how you repay me?”

“Professor Snape has been acting more like a father of mine than you ever have,” retorted another voice, which Elizabeth instantly recognized as Draco’s.

“I’ll deal with that traitor later, don’t you worry. But for now...”

Sensing danger in the man’s voice, Elizabeth immediately dismissed all attempts at being cautious and covered the rest of the way in several giant strides, with Crabbe and Goyle hastily following her example. But as soon as she emerged from behind the corner and quickly took in the scene before her, she knew that she had come too late: Lucius Malfoy, his wand pointed at his son, had just yelled “Fulgur Ater!”, and even though Draco had managed to make at least some sort of move to dodge the spell, it still hit him dangerously close to the heart, causing the boy to collapse to the ground with a soft ‘thud’.

“You bastard!” yelled Crabbe when he saw what had happened to his friend, throwing himself forward before Elizabeth had had the chance to stop him. Lucius Malfoy reacted almost immediately, and, turning away from his son, raised his wand to get rid of his attacker in the same way that he had eliminated Draco. Elizabeth, however, anticipated what was going to happen, and was just about to finish Mr Malfoy off before he could cause any more damage when a flash of white light hit the man straight in the head from behind, killing him instantly. Someone had been quicker than Elizabeth, and it didn’t take long for her to figure out just who that someone was. Draco, whom she had thought to be either dead, or at least unconscious, was lying on his side with a wand in his hand and a satisfied smile on his face, but otherwise looked as though he wouldn’t live to see the next day. The wound on his chest had turned black, with the blackness now slowly spreading in all directions, creeping closer and closer to the boy’s heart. Elizabeth knew she had to act quickly if she still wanted to save him, and, conjuring a stretcher, ordered Crabbe and Goyle, who were now both standing nearby with looks of uncertainty on their faces, to get Draco to the hospital wing as fast as possible.

“Filch will hopefully let you in if you tell him it’s an emergency,” she told them, and was just about to leave them to their fate and head back to her original destination, the Forbidden Forest, when...

“Woodhouse!” a soft voice called, causing Elizabeth to stop dead in her tracks and turn around, only to see Draco giving her a ‘come-over-here’ look from the stretcher. Curious as to what the boy might want, Elizabeth caught up with his two bodyguards to walk by his side for a while, hoping a simple “Yes?” would encourage him to tell her more.

Draco seemed to have quite a bit of trouble breathing for a while, but eventually managed to find the strength to speak and whispered: “Make sure Professor Snape’s all right, will you?”

Elizabeth couldn’t help but smile. If only he knew...

“Of course, Draco,” she quickly assured the boy, noticing his expectant (and also a little curious) look.

“And also...” the blond wizard took a shaky breath, “...also Hermione.”

Whatever Elizabeth had expected, it certainly wasn’t this. “Hermione?” she repeated blankly. “But why would-”

Suddenly, though, Elizabeth knew exactly why Draco would care whether anything happened to her friend or not, remembering a certain episode in their fifth year when she had, simply to embarrass the boy, suggested that he might have a thing for the bushy-haired witch, but, despite his curious reaction, never cared to give it a second thought. Draco had stopped insulting them since then, after all.

“Oh,” was all she managed at first. And then, as if to confirm her thoughts: “You still like her, don’t you?”

Draco simply nodded, evidently not trusting himself to speak any longer, and so Elizabeth, seeing she could do no more for him at the moment, eventually chose to let him be and go about her own business for now, giving the boy a small reassuring smile before she did so. It was the least she could do for him, after all, and she suddenly found herself thinking what a shame it would be were he to die. True, they would probably never be friends, but at least she understood him a lot more now ... especially where it concerned Hermione. She knew perfectly well what unreturned love was-

Here, Elizabeth’s thoughts were promptly cut off by a group of vampires gliding her way, who had almost succeeded in catching her unprepared, but after she had managed to somewhat recover from the shock that their sudden appearance had given her, it was only a matter of seconds before she completely disposed of them with several of the fire spells Snape had taught them, leaving behind only several piles of ashes.

Having successfully endured a few more encounters of the same nature, Elizabeth finally reached the Forbidden Forest, and for a moment couldn’t help but simply stare in shock at the madness that was unfolding before her. Dead bodies everywhere and various curses constantly lighting up everything around her ... maybe Judgement Day had come at last? And maybe she should just dismiss any such thoughts for now and concentrate on keeping herself alive instead, seeing a Death Eater had almost managed to hit her with an ‘Avada Kedavra’.

A while later, said Death Eater had already joined the enormous mass of corpses littering the Hogwarts grounds, and Elizabeth, slightly out of breath, continued penetrating further and further into the heart of the whole battle.

‘I need to find Snape,’ she thought desperately, petrifying a hell hound just before it sank its teeth into her leg. ‘I need to make sure he’s all right. It’s what Draco wants me to do as well, after all.’

Firing spells left and right, Elizabeth eventually managed to reach the very centre of all happening, but while she did catch a glimpse of Hermione, Neville, Dumbledore, and even most of the other teachers, Snape was nowhere in sight. Nor was Voldemort, come to think of it, a fact Elizabeth didn’t like at all. But just when she was about to give up and start searching elsewhere, she finally spotted both men (if one could get away with calling Voldemort a man, that is) at exactly the same time, enveloped in a gruesome duel with one another some forty metres away from her, and slightly separated from the terrible battle that was raging all around them. What she also saw, however, was that some determined-looking Death Eater, who had until then been kept busy by Ron Weasley, but who had just blasted the boy off his feet with some spell or other, was now rapidly making his way in Snape’s direction, evidently intending to attack him from behind. Elizabeth didn’t even have to think about what she had to do, immediately breaking into a wild run and managing to throw herself between the Dark Lord’s servant and Snape just as the Death Eater raised his wand and yelled “Fulgur Ater!” What she didn’t manage, however, was to produce the adequate charm to protect her from the spell’s effects, letting out a muffled cry as the black beam from the Death Eater’s wand hit her left shoulder. Wincing with pain, Elizabeth sank down to her knees, but despite the blackness that was slowly threatening to overcome her, she knew there was still one thing to be done, seeing the Death Eater was now getting ready to finally finish Snape off. And so, having gathered every ounce of strength she still possessed, the blond witch shakily pointed her wand at him and, in a voice she barely recognized, cried the first incantation that came to her mind, which, fortunately, happened to be nothing more and nothing less than the ‘Fulgur Albus’. The Death Eater, not really expecting her to put up any more resistance after what he had done to her, was taken completely by surprise, collapsing to the ground in a lifeless heap before he even realized what had hit him. Satisfied, Elizabeth threw one more look in Snape’s direction to find out how he was doing, but after that she knew no more, the incredible pain she was experiencing causing her to finally black out.
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