Chapter 5: London
For an instant no one moved as Harry struggled to accept the impossibility of Death Eaters having Apparated into the middle of a Muggle street in broad daylight. But in the next moment, two curses, one from farther up the block, the second from across the street, ripped into the Death Eaters' ranks. Two of the dark wizards fell and pandemonium erupted. Several of the Death Eaters turned to face the unexpected attacks, but the rest let loose with curses aimed straight at Harry's party.
"Contego!" Remus cried and four curses bounced harmlessly away.
Tonks had turned to defend against the attackers behind them and Harry did the same, peripherally aware of Ron, Hermione and Ginny all parrying curses too.
"Spicula!" Harry yelled, determined to fight off this ambush he'd led his friends into.
"Shields only!" Tonks snapped at him as the Death Eater Harry had been aiming at, deftly deflected his curse.
Harry frowned but followed the instructions. "Protego!" he shouted as the next curse came his way. It rebounded on its caster as did another curse that hit at almost the same time. Harry staggered under the twin assault, but his shield charm held and one of his attackers dropped, having been hit from behind by another curse from across the street.
Harry glanced that way and spotted Snape hiding in a doorway and taking aim at yet another of the exposed Death Eaters. Suddenly, Harry understood their strategy. Since they were outnumbered, the only way to keep from being overwhelmed was to use purely defensive spells that were effective against multiple curses. While they held their ground, Snape and Moody were whittling away at the Death Eaters from their superior vantage points.
No wonder the two men had been nowhere in sight for most of the day. They weren't just acting as lookouts; they were insurance. Anyone following Harry's group wouldn't have realized that Snape and Moody were with them and the Death Eaters were now paying the price for that ignorance.
Unfortunately, they were also adjusting to the situation. At least a few had caught on to their prey's strategy. Some were trying to position themselves so that Harry and his friends would block them from the attacks and they were all moving closer to Harry in order to make it more difficult for Snape and Moody to take aim at them.
"Harry, get out of here!" Remus shouted urgently over his shoulder.
Harry glanced at Remus in surprise. They were winning this battle. Half of the Death Eaters were already incapacitated and the others were drawing closer and closer together for protection as Snape and Moody's curses continued to take their toll. Why should Remus want him to flee like a coward?
"Harry, go now!" Remus insisted.
Confused and frustrated, Harry blocked another curse, then tried to focus his mind on the alley across the street from number twelve Grimmauld Place. He concentrated and took a deep breath, but as he began to spin, several of the Death Eaters rushed at him. Tonks jumped in front of Harry to block this physical assault, but one of the men lunged past her and grabbed Harry from behind. Harry's concentration broke and he lost his balance. He heard Ginny scream his name, then felt the suffocating constriction of Apparation.
Harry and his assailant landed in a heap in an alley, though not the one across from Grimmauld Place. The man's arms were still clamped tightly around Harry, pinning his arms to his sides. Harry struggled to free himself, but couldn't break the Death Eater's grip. In desperation Harry twisted his wand to point behind him.
The spell hurled the Death Eater away and sent Harry tumbling in the opposite direction to crash into a rubbish bin which tipped over, strewing garbage everywhere. Harry rolled onto his knees and raised his wand just as the Death Eater cried "Stupefy!"
Harry dove aside and took aim at his attacker from behind another bin. "Spicula!"
The Death Eater waved aside Harry's curse. "Reducto!"
The rubbish bin Harry was hiding behind exploded. Harry rolled away and stood up.
The other man parried Harry's first curse, but the second sent him stumbling backwards. He recovered quickly though. "Mobiliquendam!"
The rubbish bin to Harry's left leapt into the air and hurtled towards Harry. Harry dodged it, but he'd been fatally distracted.
Harry's wand went flying and he was thrown back against the brick wall. There was nowhere to run or even left to hide in the narrow alley since all of the rubbish bins had either been destroyed or overturned. The Death Eater smiled and raised his wand. Without thinking Harry lunged at the man, tackling him around the legs and they both went sprawling. The Death Eater's wand hand slammed into one of the upturned bins sending his wand skittering away.
Harry rolled to his feet and the Death Eater did the same, but to Harry's dismay, the man only grinned.
"All right then, lad, let's see how well you fight man to man."
The Death Eater advanced on Harry. It reminded Harry of the times Dudley had cornered him in some alley when they were children, only Harry knew that this man would do more than leave him with a few bruises. Harry tried to dodge past his opponent, but the Death Eater had anticipated his move. He cut off Harry's escape and punched him in the jaw.
Harry staggered back against the wall, tasting blood, as the man closed in on him. His opponent was bigger and stronger than he was and obviously no stranger to street fighting. He easily blocked the punch Harry aimed at his nose, then grabbed Harry and slammed his head against the brick wall. Next, the Death Eater brought his knee up hard.
Harry gasped in agony and dropped to the ground. Before he had time to recover a vicious kick sent a sharp wave of pain through his side. Another kick caught him in the head and Harry collapsed face down in the alley, barely conscious. The Death Eater wasn't finished. Harry felt rough hands roll him onto his back then the man straddled him.
Harry cried out as his opponent's weight settled against his injured ribs, sending daggers of pain shooting through him. Harry struggled, but the man outweighed him by at least fifty pounds and had him hopelessly pinned. Then a large, beefy hand closed around Harry's throat and he suddenly found himself unable to breathe. Frantically, Harry fought as panic rose within him, but try as desperately as he might, he couldn't budge the hand clamped around his throat. The Death Eater leered down at him.
"Don't worry, lad. I'm not going to kill you. The Dark Lord wants the pleasure of that. You just need to take a little nap."
A terrible roaring was building in Harry's ears and black spots were gathering before his eyes. He knew that he was going to pass out soon and he knew that if he did, the next time he opened his eyes he'd be looking into Voldemort's snake-like face. Terror coursed through Harry. Barely realizing what he was doing, he reached out, groping for anything he might use as a weapon amongst the rubbish littering the ground from the blasted and overturned bins. His hand closed on the neck of a bottle and he swung it blindly, with all his failing strength.
Harry didn't feel the impact but suddenly the Death Eater's choking grip was gone and he could breathe again. Harry gasped, gulping down air as the roaring in his ears faded and his vision began to clear. He blinked away the last of the spots before his eyes and stared up.
The Death Eater still sat straddling Harry, but his mouth hung open and he wore a look of astonishment. He was now clutching his own throat with a hand that Harry realized was covered in blood. As Harry watched, more blood spurted between the man's fingers. Then the hand fell away to reveal a long deep gash in the man's neck and with an inarticulate gurgling sound, the Death Eater pitched forward onto Harry's chest.
Shocked, Harry dropped the broken bottle he was still holding and pushed hard against the Death Eater's chest with both hands, but the man's dead weight refused to budge. A horrifying amount of blood was pouring from the wound in his throat, soaking Harry's clothes. A fresh spurt hit Harry in the face, splattering his glasses.
Appalled, Harry shoved with all of his strength and at last managed to roll the Death Eater off of him. He scrambled away and sat shaking as he watched the last of the man's blood pooling on the ground while the unseeing eyes stared back at him.
Harry heard his name being called from what seemed like a great distance. He tore his gaze from the dead man and look up. Snape was running towards him, but slowed as he took in the scene. Snape spared the dead Death Eater only the briefest glance before stepping over the body to rake Harry with a dispassionate gaze.
"Is any of this blood yours?"
Harry blinked up at Snape then shook his head slowly. Snape took his arm and pulled him to his feet. Harry looked down into the vacant eyes of the dead man one last time as Snape steered him around the corpse and back towards the entrance to the alley.
Remus and Moody had arrived. Both looked grim as Snape dragged Harry over to them.
"Lovely outing, Lupin; we really must do this more often."
"Severus –" Remus began, but Snape cut him off as he shoved Harry towards him.
"Get Potter out of here."
Remus looked as if he wanted to say something else, but simply nodded and laid a hand gently on Harry's shoulder as Kingsley Shacklebolt and several other Aurors appeared
"Come on." Remus led Harry out of the alley and away from the other wizards.
"Where's everyone else?" Harry asked.
"Back at headquarters. The Death Eaters fled the moment you Disapparated. Tonks Apparated back with Ginny and we insisted that Ron and Hermione go as well."
"How did you find me?"
"When an Apparation is interrupted the way yours was, it doesn't take you far. You're less than a mile from where we were. And remember what Moody said? The use of magic in a Muggle area is easily traceable. It wasn't difficult to get a bearing on you."
"I didn't mean to kill him," Harry whispered.
Remus squeezed Harry's shoulder and his voice was full of compassion. "I know. It's all right. This wasn't your fault."
Remus looked up and down the street to make sure no Muggles were around, then grasped Harry's arm firmly. "I'm going to take you back to the house now, Harry."
"I can Apparate myself," Harry said, but Remus didn't release his grip on Harry's arm.
"I'd feel better if we went together."
Harry began to protest but found that he was too weary to argue. He really didn't care, so he nodded his consent and let Remus pull him close. A moment later they were standing in an alley adjacent to the small square outside number twelve Grimmauld Place. Remus glanced around cautiously then hurried them across the square and up the walk into the house. He didn't stop, but led Harry straight upstairs to the bathroom.
"Get cleaned up, Harry. I'll bring you some fresh clothes." Remus didn't wait for a reply. He shut the door and Harry was alone.
"What in Merlin's name happened to you?" the mirror asked in a horrified tone.
Harry turned to glare at it but stopped at the sight of his own reflection. He really did look horrific. His clothes were covered in blood. There were blood and dirt smeared on his face and clotted in his hair, and his hands… Harry looked down at his hands and swallowed hard. He turned away from the mirror, stripped off his clothes and stepped into the shower, turning the tap on as hot as he could bear it. Even so he was shivering as he stood under the steaming stream of water. He washed his hands three times, followed by his hair twice, then he began to scrub every inch of his body all the while trying not to look at himself or to notice when the water ran red down the drain.
As he scraped his left side with the soap, however, he winced in pain and looked down. There was a large bruise where the Death Eater had kicked him. The Death Eater – Harry realized that he didn't even know the man's name, though he was certain that he'd never forget his face.
Harry turned off the tap, wrapped a towel around himself and stepped out of the shower. His soiled clothing was gone. In its place was a neat pile of clean clothes. Harry dressed quickly and left the bathroom. Remus was waiting for him in the hall and smiled reassuringly.
"You look better. Come down and have some tea."
Ginny, Ron and Hermione were all seated at the kitchen table when Harry arrived.
"Harry! Are you all right?" Hermione asked as they all jumped up and came to meet him. "We were so worried."
Ron wore an expression that was both troubled and impressed. "Is it true about the Death Eater? I mean is it true that you… that you…"
"That I killed him? Yes, it's true. I didn't mean to," Harry added at the stunned looks on his friends' faces.
Ginny wrapped her arms around Harry and gazed earnestly into his eyes. "Of course you didn't. It was self-defense." She hugged him tightly and Harry gasped as a stabbing pain shot through his side once more.
Ginny pulled back, frowning. "You're hurt!"
"Just a little," Harry assured her, forcing a smile as he pressed his hand gingerly to his side.
Remus came up to Harry. "Let me see."
"It's all right," Harry said, trying to turn away, but Remus laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Let me see, Harry." He gently pulled Harry's tee shirt up and scowled worriedly at Harry's side.
"We'd better let Severus take a look at this."
"Snape?" Harry said in surprise.
Remus smiled. "Madam Pomfrey isn't available and Severus is really quite capable. Go and lie down and I'll send him up straight away when he gets back."
Harry sighed. Snape was the last person he wanted to deal with, but he didn't argue. He simply nodded and went up to his room where he collapsed on his bed with a groan. He ached all over. There was a knot on the back of his head where it had made contact with the brick wall in the alley and the area around his left temple throbbed where the Death Eater had kicked him. His side was by far the worst, though. It felt as though a knife had been thrust into it. Every time he breathed it hurt. Harry closed his eyes, but the Death Eater's face immediately appeared in his mind and with a start he opened them again.
Harry had seen some horrific events in his life, especially in the last year when he had witnessed the Death Eaters' gruesome exploits through Voldemort's eyes. But watching a man's life bleed away in front of him, knowing that he was responsible, was something he had never experienced before. He had been no innocent spectator this time. Today he had killed a man with his own hands.
Harry held his hands up in front of him and stared at them. They were pale and slender with long fingers and slightly knobby knuckles. They looked perfectly ordinary and it seemed impossible that they could have killed someone. In fact, here in the mundane surroundings of his bedroom, Harry could hardly even believe that the fight with the Death Eater had happened at all. It seemed unreal like some garish nightmare that he couldn't forget.
Harry dropped his hands to his sides once more, irritated with himself. Dwelling on what had happened wasn't going to change anything. Besides, it wasn't as though he'd committed murder. As Ginny had said, he'd fought in self-defense and he certainly had nothing to feel guilty about.
Harry's reverie was interrupted as the door opened and Ron came in. He flashed Harry a smile that tried to belie the worry in his eyes, but only emphasized it. "You okay?"
"Of course." Harry sat up and shrugged dismissively, relieved to have some company other than his own thoughts. "I've been hurt a lot worse than this."
"I don't mean your side. I mean… you know." Ron watched Harry in anticipation, but Harry had no idea what to say. How could he explain what it was like to kill someone when he hadn't even figured it out himself?
There was a sharp rap on the door which was flung open before either Harry or Ron could respond. It was Snape. He had changed out of his Muggle clothes and was holding a goblet. He was also clearly not in a good mood.
"Out," he told Ron who scowled at being ordered out of his own room, but knew better than to argue. With a last consoling look at Harry, Ron left and Snape shut the door behind him.
"Where are you hurt?" Snape asked at once, setting the goblet on Harry's bedside table.
"Here." Harry pulled up his shirt to reveal his side which was even more mottled than before. "It's nothing, really."
"I think I'll be the judge of that. Take off your shirt."
Harry obeyed, wincing in pain.
Snape bent down and ran his hand over Harry's side, then without warning jabbed the tender ribs. Harry cried out in pain and pulled away, clutching his side.
"I thought it was nothing," Snape sneered.
"And I thought you were here to help," Harry panted through gritted teeth. "If that's your idea of a healing touch, I'll pass."
"Don't be ridiculous, Potter," Snape scoffed, straightening up. "Your ribs are obviously broken. They need to be mended." Snape retrieved the goblet he'd brought from Harry's bedside table. "Drink this and lie down."
Harry glared at Snape a moment longer then took the goblet. He recognized the potion instantly. It was the same one Snape had often given him the previous year when he'd suffered some particularly traumatic vision of torture or murder through his mental connection to Voldemort. Harry drank the potion down and handed the cup back to Snape.
"Lie down," the Potions Master repeated.
Harry sighed. The last thing he wanted to do was to lie down and let Snape prod him some more, but he knew he had no choice. Reluctantly, he lay back on his pillow and braced himself, determined to remain stoic no matter what Snape did to him.
Snape sat down beside Harry and examined the injury once more, but this time his touch was feather light as he gently traced Harry's ribs feeling for the breaks. "McFarlane always was prone to use excessive violence," he said in disgust.
"McFarlane? You knew the man who attacked me?" Harry asked in disbelief.
"Yes, he was three years ahead of me in school. I didn't know him well, mostly by reputation, but few who have fought him have lived to tell the tale." Snape's lip curled contemptuously. "As usual you were remarkably lucky."
"He wasn't trying to kill me. He said he was going to take me to Voldemort."
Snape tensed slightly at the name and scowled at Harry. "That is the Dark Lord's standing order. Believe me; whoever delivers you to him will be well rewarded."
Harry couldn't suppress a shudder at that and he knew that Snape felt it.
"Perhaps you might remember that the next time you decide to put yourself and others at risk needlessly," Snape continued.
"I was wondering how long it'd take you to get around to saying 'I told you so'."
"Am I wrong? You are reckless by nature, Potter. You stubbornly insist on having your own way and arrogantly believe that your judgment is superior to everyone else's. This is hardly the first time –"
"I know!" Harry sprang up in bed, ignoring the stabbing pain in his side.
Snape immediately pushed him back down. "Lie still! I don't need to repair a punctured lung today on top of everything else."
Snape drew his wand, pointed it at Harry's side and murmured a spell. He repeated the words again and again almost like a chant as he ran his wand slowly along Harry's ribs.
Harry lay staring up at the ceiling, furious with Snape. He loathed admitting that the man was right. He had put them all in danger, though he certainly hadn't meant to. Maybe the Ministry was right in insisting that he be kept away from the rest of society: he certainly seemed to be a menace. But how could he have expected a score of Death Eaters to show up on a Muggle street?
"How did they find us?" Harry asked.
"I don't know," Snape said, glancing up from his work. "Most likely one of their agents spotted you in Diagon Alley and raised the alarm."
"But Volde –"
"Potter." Snape glared warningly at Harry.
"He's never come after me like this before. Why now?"
"Because he can. His recruitment efforts have borne considerable fruit of late and he now commands the resources to hunt you more aggressively than ever before. I warned the Order of this, but naturally they chose to ignore me and indulge you."
"All I wanted was a day out of the house!" Harry complained indignantly. "Just one day to do the normal things that normal people do. Is that too much to ask?"
"Yes! You aren't normal, Potter. You will never be normal, nor will you ever have a normal life as long as the Dark Lord lives! Pretending otherwise is childish and will only lead to disaster."
Snape turned his attention back to Harry's injuries and began his healing charm once more. Harry went back to staring at the ceiling, feeling more miserable than ever. His anger had faded to a brooding resentment that was mostly directed at himself.
Snape was right. After the attack at Hogsmeade he should have known better than to think he could go wandering around Diagon Alley unnoticed; Voldemort probably had people constantly on watch for him there. It seemed obvious in hindsight, but of course he hadn't seen it before. He'd walked right into yet another trap and had once again dragged his friends along with him. Why hadn't he realized the danger? Why hadn't he listened to Snape's warnings, especially after the conversation he'd overheard between his teacher and Remus?
Because I wanted to be a normal teenager for one day, Harry thought bitterly. Was that really too much to ask? Could he never have any semblance of a normal life until Voldemort was defeated? …And neither can live while the other survives… Unbidden, the line of the prophecy sprang to Harry's mind. That phrase had always seemed absurd and almost paradoxical, but now suddenly Harry understood. He couldn't really live as long as Voldemort was alive. He would always be looking over his shoulder, waiting for the next attack and wondering if the next time he'd have to kill again or die.
"You're shaking, Potter," Snape commented.
"I'm cold," Harry lied, clenching his fists and continuing to stare fixedly at the ceiling. He couldn't explain to Snape what he was feeling; he hardly understood himself. Besides, he was sure that Snape would think him weak and childish and he didn't need to give the man another reason to taunt him.
"All right, Potter, take a deep breath," Snape said at last.
Cautiously, Harry breathed in deeply and was surprised to feel no pain whatsoever.
"Again," Snape instructed, laying his hand against Harry's side.
Harry let out the breath he was holding and took another feeling a grudging admiration for Snape's skill. He never would have thought Snape such a capable healer.
Snape grunted in satisfaction. "That should do."
Harry sat up and pulled his shirt back on as Snape continued. "If you experience any difficulties breathing or any lingering pain let me know at once. This is not the time to play the hero."
Harry nodded only half listening as he looked down at his side, feeling his newly mended ribs. Then without warning, Snape reached out and ran a hand through Harry's hair. Harry jerked away from the unexpected touch as though it had burned him and looked at Snape incredulously.
"You're bleeding," Snape said in an accusatory voice, holding up his fingers which were stained red.
Harry reached up and felt the moist, sticky patch of hair over the tender spot where McFarlane had kicked him. "It's not that bad."
"Would you like me to heal it," Snape asked irritably, "or do you prefer to wear your injuries as a badge of honor the way Moody does?"
"Do whatever you like," Harry said, weary of Snape's sarcasm.
Snape scowled, but raised his wand and a moment later the abrasion was healed. "Do you have any other injuries that aren't worth mentioning?"
"Just here." Harry indicated the knot on the back of his head.
"May I?" Snape sneered.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Go ahead."
Snape quickly felt the lump. "That should go down by morning. Here, take this tonight." Snape withdrew a vial from the pocket of his robes and handed it to Harry.
Harry took the vial then looked questioningly at Snape. "Dreamless Sleep Potion?"
"You killed a man today, Potter," Snape said impatiently as though being forced to explain the obvious. "Regardless of the fact that it was justified, it was your first time, so unless I'm much mistaken you're going to need that."
Snape sounded insufferably sure of himself and Harry immediately bristled at the insinuation that he was too weak to face what he had done.
Harry held out the vial to Snape. "Thanks, but I'll be fine," he said coolly.
Snape raised an eyebrow at Harry, obviously unconvinced, which only annoyed Harry more.
"I don't need it," Harry said firmly.
"Potter, is there any limit to your arrogance?" Snape said in disgust.
"I'm not arrogant!" Harry snapped. "I don't want it, that's all and if you ask me you're the one who's arrogant. What makes you think that you know what I need better than I do?"
"Experience," Snape drawled. "Or have you forgotten that you aren't the only person in this house who has ever killed?"
Harry stared at Snape. That actually hadn't occurred to him and it didn't particularly make him feel better especially since Snape was giving him an alarmingly knowing look. The man's eyes seemed to bore into him, searching out the guilt and shame lurking beneath the certainty that he'd done nothing wrong. Snape wasn't using Legilimency, but it didn't matter. Harry felt naked and exposed all the same.
There was a soft knock at the door and Ron poked his head in. He looked quizzically at them. "Is everything all right?"
"Fine." Harry said quickly, scrambling off the bed to stand up.
Snape stood up as well and pursed his lips. "Mr. Potter has suffered no lasting ill effects."
"Well that's good," Ron said. "Because you're both needed downstairs. They reckon they know how the Death Eaters found us."