"Childhood days so sweet and tender, Little things that we remember. But too soon the good times pale, As we slip beyond the veil."
"Memories" Ethel Kline
The night sky was stained ochre with the light of the capital city. The stars were drowned in a sea of false illumination as the Muggles raced through the busy streets, intent on their business and oblivious to the chaos about to befall a world they didn't know existed.
The centre of London was thriving with life. There were young adults going out on the town, whilst businessmen rushed for their taxis home. The West End was bustling in the pre-show hour, but folded within the grim heart of England's primary, industrious metropolis was a heart of darkness where magic thrived.
A man stood in the shadows of a grimy alleyway. Its walls were stained with neon scribbles, and rubbish bins spilled their detritus into the puddles on the ground. A red telephone box, battered with age, stood at the wall opposite him. He had been watching it for several hours. Dozens of people had used it, and time after time he had seen it slide downwards, vanishing from sight.
He shifted his weight; his black robes a mere extension of the darkness. A sagging cloth mask obscured his face. Two gaping holes were cut in the fabric, showing his eyes and the sallow skin around them. The only other flesh revealed was that of his hands. His knuckles were knotted, gleaming white in the gloom as he gripped his wand tightly and continued to wait.
Something flashed inside the phone box and he peered closer, raising his eyebrows at the small flower that had appeared. It was made of gold mist, a faint phantom of magic. Opening the box, he breathed in its subtle scent and watched as the rose bud opened, the petals fanning out before wilting and falling to the floor.
He'd been told to wait for the signal; he assumed that was it. Picking up the receiver, he dialled 62442 and waited impatiently.
'Please state your business,' the welcome witch's voice requested, filtering out of the air beside him. For a moment he appeared to choke; the fingers that held the receiver shook and he switched hands, wiping his clammy hand on his robe.
'Hello?' The witch's voice was impatient. 'State your business.'
The panes of glass in the telephone box door rattled from the force of his words, even though he only spoke in a whisper. He heard the woman scream as though in terrible pain, and shuddering, the booth began to descend into the darkness. He replaced the receiver, hearing the clatter of the little slot that deposited visitor cards, but there was nothing in it. Around him the earth slid past, until at last he could step out into the Atrium.
His footsteps echoed on the polished dark wood of the floor as his eyes swept the room. It was already full of people, sombre and androgynous in their robes that matched his own. More were joining them, stepping through the walls that the Cerebral's spell had made no more solid than water.
At last they stood, a collective of like minds. Distantly alarms were blaring, but they were of no more consequence than the buzz of a fly. He could hear the others drawing in their breath; he could smell the stench of the sweat upon them as they turned, as one being, to face their master.
One word was all they needed. The Death Eaters fanned out as the Aurors came running and curses lit the air. The fireplaces remained silent, with no one arriving or departing, and, one by one, the portals were caved in, closed off forever. The golden symbol had ceased to drift across the ceiling; it remained stationary, shining like the baleful glare of an eye.
The broken body of Eric Munch, the security guard, lay in the fountain, his clothes rapidly soaking with water as the pool turned pink. The gold gates hung from their hinges, the metal twisted and bent outwards by painful violation.
Voldemort looked upon it all with the expression of an artist appreciating his skill. With every fresh scream of the wounded or dying, his joy seemed to grow. Sweat beaded on his upper lip as his eyes glazed with passion. His crimson gaze turned to the woman at his side and darkened with triumph.
She looked soulless.
Her head hung limply, her glazed eyes staring at the floor between her feet. Her hair flowed softly around her head, the long, white waves ignorant of the laws of gravity. Her frame had become skeletal over the months that he had owned her. The ivory skin of her face and arms was marred with bruises, and cuts tore at her opalescent frailty.
At first the Cerebral, the creator of spells, had been fiery in her defiance. She spat and murdered his followers and thwarted him, despite the threats he offered. Now it seemed that her fire had died. She had stopped eating, as though she realised that there was no escape but death. Daily, one of his Death Eaters would force water and broth down her throat, but not too much, for with her weakness had come an unexpected occurrence.
Her magic had become stronger.
He leeched the spells from her, and she was helpless to stop him. There was magic of such devilish purpose; soul-snatching, earth-shattering and mind-destroying curses that had proved so useful to him. He preferred it this way.
He tore his eyes from her face as he heard his Death Eaters enter the elevator, ready to seek out the occupants of the other floors. No doubt the Minister had already been rushed to safety. It was of no matter; he too would be found and destroyed.
A Death Eater stepped out of the lift and walked along the dingy corridor of the Magical Law Enforcement department. There were posters pinned up to the walls; some were of sports teams, or a new Muggle film. There was a crude characature of the Minister of Magic, with the words "wanted for being inept" scribbled underneath it. The paper was crumpled as though it were frequently taken down in a hurry, but always replaced.
The cubicles were filled with the effects of the work place. Criminology devices were strewn across the desks alongside pictures of family members and stacks of paperwork.
A rustle made her jump and point her wand at one of the desks. As she watched a pile of sweet papers curled themselves into a ball and threw themselves into the waste paper basket. There was no one there. In fact, the whole department was deserted. Many of the Aurors had come charging down as soon as the alarms had sounded, and now most lay dead in the Atrium, but she had noticed a few were missing from the charge. She half expected one to leap out at her from the shadows.
She passed a sign that declared the area to be the "Wizengamot Administration Services" and stopped, listening carefully. Someone was breathing hard, gasping as they sobbed in fear. Peering beneath a nearby desk, she smiled under her mask and whispered, 'Aw, what's wrong, is the ickle girl scared?'
The girl was frozen in fear, her blue eyes huge in the darkness. Her hand was pressed tightly against her lips to stifle the sobs, but now it seemed she daren't breathe as terror overwhelmed her. Her badge declared that her name was Evette, and Bellatrix cooed at her gently. 'Come on, dear, come out of there.' When she didn't move, the woman's voice became more harsh and scraping. 'I said move!'
She reached out her hand and dug her nails into the young woman's scalp, dragging her out from her hiding place by her hair. The girl screamed and howled, clawing at her desperately, but a quick kick in the face sent her sprawling before a spell finished her off.
'Vermin,' the Death Eater spat.
The sound of hurrying footsteps and a slamming door caught her attention, making her look up and swear. She hurried along the corridor until she saw a door, still swinging on its hinges. Bursting through it, she half fell down the first flight of stairs before catching herself and looking out over the banister.
Someone else's footsteps beat a feverish staccato on the steps. She caught a glimpse of a green robe and a balding, ginger-haired head before she screamed, 'You won't get away, you know! We're everywhere!' A jet of red light spouted from her wand tip, lending the stairwell a hellish light, but it sailed past the man and struck the wall, melting the stonework.
Sweat trickled down her face as she gave chase, jumping from step to step, screaming abuse at her quarry. Distantly, she heard another door open and smirked, approaching it carefully. The fool—he hadn't made his escape, he'd trapped himself. What in heavens name could help him in the Department of International Magical Cooperation?
She burst through the door and collided with another figure dressed in black. The piercing blue eyes raked up and down her frame, and Lucius Malfoy's silken voice whispered, 'Playing with your victim, Bellatrix?'
'He slipped past me,' she spat, hating to admit it. 'Ginger-haired, going bald. Have you seen him?'
'Weasley? No, but I have his son. That will be what he's after.'
Lucius hauled a figure to its feet. The head lolled back, revealing a bloodstained face. His parted lips showed that one of his teeth had been knocked out, leaving hollow gums. His glasses had been lost in the fight, and his wand lay shattered on the floor, the pieces crunching beneath Lucius' feet. His robes were ripped and torn, as though he had fought hard, and a damp patch of blood on Malfoy's robes suggested he had managed to land a few blows—but it had done him no good.
'He isn't dead,' Bellatrix said accusingly.
'I'm aware of that, but I think you'll find it's to good purpose.' His voice changed, becoming silken and tempting. If Lestrange had been elsewhere, she would have found it attractive, but now, with the smell of death in her nose, it was nothing but sinister.
'Arthur, where are you? Your son is here, one of your precious children. Shall I kill him for you, save you a bit of money?'
There was no reply; the gloomy corridors remained blank and unyielding. There were so many shadows to hide in, mazes of passages that would lose any normal soul. The two Death Eaters looked around them, their wand tips flaring with light as they searched.
'Come on, Weasley, don't hide from us. Show yourself, or the boy dies.' The silk was gone; now the voice was barbed wire, all teeth and pain. 'Or we'll take him to Voldemort, is that what you want? For your son's last days to be filled with torture you can't even imagine? Are you going to let that happen?'
Lucius' laugh was chilling, and behind her mask, Bellatrix's eyes flickered with recollection of times past. 'I'll do it myself, kill him in front of you, are you ready?'
The wand tip was already sickly green, a chilling colour even to those who wielded it.
Arthur Weasley stepped into the circle of light, his eyes haunted, unable to leave his child's motionless face. He didn't even flinch when Bellatrix's wand stabbed into his chest. He moved as though he were numb, as though the world was a distant, impossible place and he was on the other side of a great divide.
Percy seemed to be coming around. His breathing was growing more uneven, and Lucius dropped him to the floor as though he were diseased. The impact woke him, but he did not move to sit up. His face was shuttered with pain as he stared at the two hooded figures.
The fear in his eyes almost brought Arthur to tears. He could remember a time when Percy had run into the kitchen screaming, terrified of the gnomes in the garden. The little worries of childhood were easy to wipe away, but now, as a man, he could see that Percy knew his dad couldn't make this all better. It felt as though he'd failed.
Bellatrix lowered her wand, giving a faint grunt of satisfaction as she kicked the prone boy in the ribs, removing her attention from Arthur to do so. She didn't see the older man lunge and screamed as his fingers twisted around her neck, throttling her from behind.
'Let us go,' he demanded, his eyes not leaving Malfoy's face.
Lestrange had dropped her wand and its lit tip spluttered against the floor as she thrashed around. Malfoy watched, his eyes lit with faint amusement. 'Kill her if you want, it will make life more peaceful. It really doesn't matter. You'll be dead in a few minutes anyway, and so will your boy. You and that hag of a wife of yours should have thought more carefully about money before you spawned so many. You should have got your priorities right.'
Bellatrix squeaked as Arthur's fingers tightened, her eyes bulging threateningly as her movements began to weaken. In that moment of breathless uncertainty, Percy inched his hand across the floor, taking a firm grasp on Bellatrix's wand and thrusting upwards, stabbing towards Malfoy's dispassionate, bright blue eyes. Their screams of pain filled the air as Lestrange fell to her knees, released abruptly.
The door slammed against the wall as the two men torn down the stairs, stumbling to get away. Words were left unsaid as the need to survive took over. Their joint breathing sounded loud in the close stairwell, and it was only as they were faced with the door to the Atrium that they paused.
Voices came echoing towards them, words overlapping and blending into one another. Someone was sobbing, deep gut-wrenching cries. With each breath they mumbled incoherently, and as Arthur quietly opened the door, he saw a familiar bowler hat, discarded on the floor.
The wreckage of the golden gates offered enough shelter to hide behind, giving the two Weasleys a clear view of the Atrium. Fudge knelt on the floor, visibly trembling. His pinstripe robes were tattered and stained with blood as he swayed gently back and forth.
Voldemort stood over him, his face twisted into a sneer, as though he were repulsed by what he saw. His voice was strong, that of a leader. It held no doubt as he spoke, as though he could see the future and was confident of its outcome.
'There will be nothing but anarchy upon your death. Most of your officials will lie in their graves and the country will be plunged into panic. Who will face me then, "sir"? Who will dare look me in the eyes?'
'The old fool is afraid. He knows what will happen, and he knows he has already lost. His age is showing, and with it, his weaknesses.'
'Potter.' The Minister sniffed and gasped a breath as the wand stabbed him in the cheek.
'He is a child!' Voldemort spat. 'He is of no threat to me. There is nothing in my way.'
Fudge carried on, the tears resting on his cheeks as he raised his voice. 'The boy survived the curse again; he's the one who'll do it. He'll spit on your grave and you know it.'
There was a short scream of pain as red light danced across the room. Percy, his face pale, tugged at his father's sleeve and motioned to a fireplace on the departure side of the hall. Only one remained whole, directly behind Voldemort's back, and the monster seemed completely mesmerised by the Minister's writhing body.
The flames were constantly active, the portal was open—if they ran, they could make it. There was only one Death Eater in the room, the sagging masked face staring at Fudge, along with the woman by Voldemort's side.
Arthur realised she was watching them, her dark eyes filled with tears. Her wrists were chained in front of her, but for a moment the sadness vanished, and something close to determination flashed in her gaze. Arthur pointed to the fireplace and she nodded, understanding his aim. She parted her lips and drew in a breath.
Her scream was terrifying. It was the worst sound anyone had ever heard, and as Fudge slumped to the floor, the green light of Avada Kedavra washing over him, it rose in pitch and intensity. It carried the grief and agony of thousands in its harmonics. It sounded demonic and unearthly. It made it hard to breathe, as all around her, the air seemed to tremble under the force of it.
Arthur sprinted towards the fireplace, his whole attention focused on the escape route. A spell hit him in the back, pushing him to the floor. Stumbling to his feet, he winced and continued moving, desperately aware of the dark shapes coming towards him.
The scream was cut off suddenly, and he heard a body hit the floor. He turned to see the woman on her hands and knees, blood pouring from her mouth. Voldemort's hands were curled into fists, and around him, like phantoms, were ranged his servants. Several held Percy back as he struggled, screaming for his father to go, but Arthur couldn't move. His heart was barely beating as the Dark Lord stared at him.
The wand was pointed straight at him. Part of his mind wondered at the ability for an inanimate object to be so threatening, but the dark wood shone in the dim light, reflecting the peacock blue ceiling. There was a vast stretch of floor between himself and Percy, and as he watched, the boy was forced to his knees.
'Will you beg for mercy?' Voldemort asked, his eyes narrowing curiously. 'Or will I have to force you? There's no escape, not whilst we have your son. I can't imagine a father who'd run away and leave his child to die here.'
'I wouldn't think any less of him for it!' Percy spat, only to be silenced by a smack in the mouth.
'How noble. I know a boy like that, too noble for his own good. He would give his life for the many with little thought for the few. Last time that was almost the case—are you going to go the same way?' Voldemort asked, his voice soft as his eyes focused on Percy. 'I've heard of your declarations about the boy's mental health and the threat he poses to your family, but now you kneel with pride in your eyes at the comparison.'
'I was wrong; he's different. Fudge said it a minute ago. He'll spit on your grave one day.' Percy's eyes flickered to his father and he squinted short sightedly. 'Tell Mum that I'm sorry.'
Arthur opened his mouth, but didn't have time to speak as the Cerebral raised her right palm to him. The spell was like a warm wind, pushing him backwards into the grate. The fire flared, flames engulfing him as the world began to spin. The last thing he saw was the curse light, and the last sound, the screams of his son, before the scene was gone and he stood, alive and safe, beyond the grasp of Voldemort.