He’s tall, with spiky black hair and broad shoulders. Like me, he’s wearing a sleeveless black t-shirt. His bears a grinning white skull; mine has a classic old photo of Siouxsie at her finest. I’ve been admiring his tattoo, an intricate pattern of Celtic knot-work on his shoulder and upper arm. Now it’s his turn to admire mine.
‘Nice dragon,’ he yells over the pounding bass.
‘It’s a Hebridean Black,’ I tell him proudly. I am safe in the knowledge that he has no idea that the tattoo covering the length of my right arm, from the snarling jaws at my wrist to the tail tip on my shoulder blade, is taken from a photograph of a real dragon. He strokes my arm in admiration then slips his arm around my waist—I’ve scored—my night is made!
That’s when the lynx Patronus arrives.
‘Potter’s at Hogwarts. Snake Face is on his way. Potterwatch is broadcasting a call to arms. Our agents are taking control of the Floo Network. We’re establishing a beachhead at the Cauldron. Now!’
I’ll say this for Kingsley Shacklebolt: he can pack a lot of information into very few words. But, bloody hell, his timing is terrible! I look around the pub. It’s packed, but—other than my slack-jawed conquest—no one appears to have noticed the arrival and disappearance of a talking silver lynx.
From the way his Patronus was flickering, I guess that Kingsley sent the message to every Auror who isn’t in Azkaban, and also to the Order of the Phoenix. The DA kids probably already know. For months, these various groups have been almost indistinguishable; we all work together. The Ministry and The Prophet call us “terrorists” and “subversives”. Most people call us The Resistance.
I look at myself in the mirror behind the bar. The sides of my head are shaved; I want a tattoo there, too. My hair is a black-dyed spiky Mohawk, my face is covered by white pancake, black and purple mascara, and violet lipstick. In addition to the Siouxsie t-shirt, I’m wearing a calf length indigo skirt, fishnets and Doc Martens. In this outfit, I have the words “Muggle-born” written all over me. I’ll make a really good target for the Death Eaters, but there’s no time to remove the make-up and change into robes.
I grab the good-looking guy’s shoulders and give him a snog; his still open mouth is an easy target, and he responds enthusiastically. I reluctantly push him away, elbow my way through the crowds to the ladies’ loo, find a cubicle, and Disapparate.
Merlin knows what will happen now. He may be the last guy I ever kiss, and his world might end not long after mine does.
Bollocks, I didn’t even get his name or a phone number.
There’s a narrow alley off Charing Cross Road which has no security cameras and is usually deserted (this is entirely due to the Muggle-repelling charms on it). When I arrive, there are two young men—two very young men—in the alley. They have their arms around each other. One is in his late teens and about my height; he has curly brown hair and he’s wearing Armani (I think) slacks and a very expensive looking shirt. I should pay more attention to ordinary Muggle fashions. The other male looks to be about twelve years old and wears hiking boots, faded three-quarter-length shorts and a checked shirt of the sort worn by lovers of the countryside and outdoors. They spring apart when I arrive, and both draw wands. Fortunately, I recognise the older of the two boys.
‘Polly Protheroe, Auror. You helped to relocate my parents, Justin,’ I tell the curly-haired boy. He’s one of the kids who call themselves “Dumbledore’s Army”, and like me he’s a Muggle-born. His dad is very rich, and they have been working to relocate Muggle-born families. We all do our best to keep them out of the clutches of the Umbridge cow. He looks at me and finally recognises me. I didn’t have the Mohawk when we met, but he’s staring at my arm; he recognises the tattoo.
‘That’s the first time I’ve tried Side-Along Apparition,’ Justin explains; he’s blushing. I’d actually figured that out, but it was fun to stare at them with an expression which made them think that I was under the impression I’d caught them in a tryst.
‘D’you know the Goth, Justin?’ asks the little boy suspiciously. Justin nods.
‘This is Colin Creevey, Polly,’ Justin tells me. I curl my lip, and I’m about to make some snide comment about his age when Justin adds. ‘You’ve heard of him. He’s “Seas”.’
I look at the weedy little boy with respect. This five foot two of skin and bone is the person the DA kids refer to only as “Codename Seas”; he’s the finest forger in the resistance. His documents have got me—Polyjuiced, of course—into the Ministry on several occasions. And much more importantly, they’ve got me out again. They got me, and a hell of a lot of others, out of the Cardiff Law Office cells, too.
‘I thought that you’d be older,’ I tell him.
‘I’m almost seventeen,’ he says. I find that difficult to believe—thirteen, fourteen, at a pinch.
‘Nice to meet you, Col,’ I say. ‘So, are we all off to kick some Death Eater arse?’
The kid grins nervously. He’s scared witless, but he’s going anyway.
‘Harry needs us,’ he says, holding up a gold galleon.
We stride out from the alley and along Charing Cross Road to the Leaky Cauldron. Unsurprisingly, people stare at us. We make an extremely odd trio, me, the toff, and the ten-year-old (in my mind he’s getting younger, not older). We’re so mismatched that we’d probably be less conspicuous if we were all in robes. The curious Muggles lose interest only when they lose sight of us as we enter the pub.
The place is packed; a short plump and harmless-looking middle-aged witch sits next to the door, she’s knitting. I recognise her immediately; Phillipa Fortescue is one of the cleverest Aurors I know. She’s obviously been given guard duty and despite her apparent disinterest, I’m certain that she’s seeing everything. I realise that she’s using her wand as one of the knitting needles and I grin at her. She nods towards the centre of the bar where dozens of witches and wizards are forming an orderly queue in front of the fire and stepping into the green flames.
‘Robards has a team in the Floo Network Authority Office,’ Phillipa says conversationally. ‘The entire network is closed, apart from this one link, which is for our side only.’
Robards is a tough old git; I wonder who’s with him in the Ministry, and how long they’ll be able to keep this connection open. I’m about to ask, but I’m distracted when the newest and youngest barmaid in the pub, Hannah, I think she’s called, runs over and kisses Justin.
‘We’re the last of the Army. Where’s Dennis?’ she asks.
‘I stunned him; he’s only fifteen, he’s too young to fight,’ Colin tells her. I sigh; this midget thinks that fifteen is too young, but sixteen isn’t. I wonder who Dennis is.
We join the back of the queue, wands drawn, ready for anything.
‘D’you three actually know Potter?’ I ask the kids.
‘Yes,’ they chorus.
‘Can he do it?’ I ask.
‘I bloody well hope so, otherwise us Muggle-borns are dead meat,’ Colin says. I nod at the truth of his words.
Merlin, help me! I’m with an army of children, and I’m going to a school to fight a monster who, if the rumours are correct, can only be killed by one particular seventeen-year-old.
Then I realise something else.
‘When’s the last time that you cast an actual spell?’ I ask Colin. ‘Apart from Stunning this Dennis kid, obviously?’
‘Last year at school, ten months ago. It’s a good job that potion making, photography and developing don’t register on the trace, or else I’d have been completely useless,’ the skinny little youth admits.
‘Can you fight?’ I demand.
‘Harry taught us,’ he tells me proudly, puffing out his scrawny chest.
I can tell by his eyes that he thinks that is enough. It isn’t. I know it isn’t, but I can’t bring myself to tell these worried-looking kids the truth. We won’t use Unforgiveable Curses, but they will. We will stun and bind and capture. They will kill. I wonder how many of the four of us will see the dawn.
Then we’re into the fire and out at the Hog’s Head and following the train of people through a secret passage and into the school.
Kingsley spots me when I arrive and beckons me over. He’s a good looking guy, too, I think. He frowns, and I wonder if he’s a Legilimens. Perhaps I should think naughty thoughts.
‘We need to find out what we’re up against,’ he says.
‘The Dork Lord, Snake Face, You-Know-Who,’ I tell him, though I know that’s not what he’s saying. I also know that he’s not my boss, and so does he. He isn’t going to give me an order.
‘D’you want me to go outside and scout?’ my mouth asks him before I can stop it. He nods.
Crap! I’ve just volunteered myself for a dangerous mission. I wish I knew how Kingsley does that. He just looks at me and waits, and I volunteer, every bloody time.
Someone’s got to scout the place, I remind myself, and I came top in the Stealth and Tracking part of the course during Auror Training. Of course, there were only two other people taking the exam with me; Dopey Dominic Strang and Butterfingers Tonks.
I disillusion myself and head out into the grounds and look around. It’s not good.
On their side, they have giants and trolls and Dementors and some of the nastiest criminals ever to be broken out of Azkaban. They are being led by a man who cannot, according to all the evidence we have, be killed.
On our side, we’ve got the battered remains of the Auror office, a motley collection of shopkeepers, office workers, teachers and children. And we’re here to help a boy who should really be in his last year of school.
So, it’s a pretty even contest, then.
I’m out in the grounds for over an hour, and I manage to get back safely just as old Snake Face makes the windows rattle with his lies and threats.
Kingsley and McGonagall are busy evacuating the school. They are sending the pupils to safety when I give them my report.
If we lose this fight, nowhere will be safe.
There is no sign of the great saviour Potter. He has “something to do,” and he’s “following Dumbledore’s orders,” apparently.
I don’t want to die, but, really, what choice do I have? I have seen the faces of the frightened, determined, children. If they’re of age, they can stay, because McGonagall can’t make them leave. They are seventeen and they think that they are all grown up. Fools! At least that means that little Colin, the sixteen-year-old forger, has been sent home.
Kingsley organises us into groups of four. We will be going back outside to fight.
I’m teamed with another Auror, Cuthbert Cleverley. I never really liked the man, a snooty pureblood. He’s now a grandfather, he tells me proudly as we make our way outside. He’s never seen his grandson he says, showing more regret—and humanity—than I ever saw from him in the Auror Office. He can’t, because his son’s house is being watched. Being a Pureblood doesn’t guarantee safety, not if you’re an Auror, not these days. Now, the dark wizards are the government and dark wizard catchers like us are wanted fugitives. This madness has to end!
There are two more members of my squad. I look at Bill Weasley carefully. Though he’s scarred of face, I somehow still manage to see the dashing head boy I had a crush on when I was fifteen. He doesn’t recognise me or acknowledge me. Why should he?
He’s a git!
His wife is with him, and she’s a few years younger and a hell of a lot prettier than I am! She’s called Fleur, it’s a name I take an instant dislike to.
She’s a cow!
By the look of her, his wife should be in her boudoir brushing her hair or polishing her nails before lying languidly on a chaise longue. Instead she stands by his side, pale and determined and so annoyingly beautiful that I have to fight to see her properly through the green mist of jealousy. No one ought to look so stunning just before a battle. I’ll have to keep a close eye on her.
The trolls and giants come first.
There’s a technique to attacking them—spells bounce off so you have to be indirect. A good technique is to levitate their weapons out of their hands and use the club or axe they invariably carry against them. It’s what Aurors are trained to do, but not many other people are clever enough to think of that the first time they face a troll.
Bill and Fleur are good!
I’ve been concentrating on watching them and a troll has sneaked up behind me. Cleverley pulls the swinging club from the troll’s grip and flicks it into the face of a giant. It’s a good move; the giant is so stupid that he thinks the troll threw the club at him deliberately. We leave the troll and giant to fight each other and not us. I smile my thanks to my fellow Auror and he’s smiling back at me when I hear a male voice shout “Avada Kedavra”. A green beam shoots out of the darkness and strikes Cleverley on his side. His legs fold and, still smiling, he falls into an untidy pile on the lawn.
I blast several spells in the direction of the spell which felled Cleverley. I dash towards him and quickly examine him. It does not take me more than a moment to discover that now Cuthbert Cleverley will never see his grandson. There is no sign of the Death Eater who killed him and I realise that, in the darkness, I’ve become separated from Bill and Fleur.
It is very dark, but not too dark for me to spot two giants approaching the school building. Two figures are crouched behind rubble firing off spells at them. The giants are holding their stone axes behind them and spells simply bounce off their hides. Clever giants! What next? The giants begin to swing their axes towards the two trapped figures so I Vanish a section of ground under them. They stumble and their swings go wide. Two figures to scurry towards me. Tonks and Colin Creevey.
‘Wotcher, Polly, mate. Thanks. You saved our lives there,’ says Tonks. She’s grinning as she greets me.
‘Wotcher, yourself, Tonksie. What are you doing here? Haven’t you got a baby to nurse?’ I ask as we use our wands to snatch the stone axes from the still staggering giants and start trying to counterattack. Colin scowls; he obviously thinks that I’m talking about him.
‘Got a husband here, too,’ she tells me simply.
‘Tonks has a new baby! And you shouldn’t be here either, Colin,’ I say. He just grins. He’s flicking stones and earth into the giants faces using nothing more than a simple levitation spell. That distracts the flat-faced behemoths and gives Tonks and me the chance to lift the stone axes high into the air and bring them crashing down hard on the giants’ ugly heads. My giant crashes against the castle wall; Tonks’ falls forwards, towards both her and Colin. I cast a shield spell and push my fellow fighters out from underneath the collapsing unconscious giant.
‘Saved you both again,’ I say. Those are my last words before my world turns to pain and blackness.
When I wake, I’m in St Mungo’s. A Healer hurries over to my bedside when I begin to curse and swear.
‘Who won?’ I croak.
‘We did, Harry Potter did,’ the Healer tells me. It was a stupid question I realise. I’m a Muggle-born Auror, had we lost I’d be in Azkaban, or more likely, I’d simply never have woken up.
‘Potter killed L-lord V-voldemort,’ she says. That’s not what I wanted to know, she’s told me that we won, so Snake Face must be dead.
‘What happened to me?’ I clarify my question.
‘The report says that someone knocked a giant into the castle wall and part of the battlement fell and landed on you. You must’ve got a Shield Charm up, otherwise you’d be dead. You suffered multiple fractures, and you weren’t found until after the first battle was over. You’re lucky to be alive.’
I smile. I almost killed myself! I don’t remember casting a Shield Charm; it must’ve been either little Colin or Tonks. The first battle! How many battles were there? How long was I out?
‘Are Colin Creevey and Tonks, dammit Lupin—Nymphadora—whatever she calls herself these days—around?’ I ask.
The Healer looks at a list and shakes her head.
‘They are not in the hospital,’ she says. Then she turns to a second list, I’ve never seen anyone’s face turn white so quickly.
‘Both?’ I ask, horrified.
‘I’m sorry…’ is as far as she gets before I begin to cry.