Gabrielle Delacour: Wrath of the Unmaker
Chapter 1: Rage Awakened
Gabrielle was sinking. Down and down she went, falling through a star-filled ocean until the moon and all of the twinkling beams of light God created floated above her. Then, still, she sunk until her back hit the soft earth, like bumping against a coral reef while swimming.
Upon the earth she stayed, laying down in her childhood nightgown. Small and helpless in the dry desert sand she lay upon.
"Stand on your own two feet, child. Now is not the time to dither."
Little Gabrielle obeyed. Doing as the motherly voice instructed, wincing as her bare, stubby feet became dirtied by the soft, sticky sand. She tried to brush some of it off of her white gown and the back of her legs, but it stuck to her like ash. On closer inspection, it was ash. All about her was ash and tiny white splinters. Birch, perhaps?
She stood taller and looked for the source of the voice. She opened her mouth to speak but she was so cold her throat clenched. She hadn't been this cold since her chevalier had brought her up from the depths of that black lake. She so wished for him to rescue her now.
"Walk. One foot ahead of the other, towards the next sunrise. Always."
Gabriele looked up and, indeed, far out onto the horizon a glow began to form where the ashen earth met the black, star-studded sky. She took one step forward and the earth shuddered like an earthquake. She waited a second and it burst open into great spires of stone. Mountains grew and stretched towards the east, blotting out the faint glow of the rising sun.
She looked up to discover a man, a titan, standing above her protectively. The whole of the universe weighing down upon the pillar he held aloft with his mighty shoulders. His bearded face was so high he could nearly kiss the moon. Atlas.
"The sun is still there. Waiting for you. Walk on, no hill can keep you from touching it."
Little Gabrielle obeyed . Following the woman's voice she marched up the mountainside, weaving between the boulders and jagged, white splinters of birch. When she reached the top of the nearest hill, she could see the horizon to the north and south to her. To the north, a great sea that united the ancient world. Far to the south lay a deep, blue eye as if plucked from the head of Atlas himself above her and planted into the dirt. It stared into the sky, swiveling as if counting the stars.
It was then that the wind picked up and its mighty gale swept away the ash covering her mountains. It also greatly increased her cold. She choked on the ash, so thick in the wind that she could not see in front of her even had it not stung her eyes so greatly that she scrunched them shut. Yet on she walked, climbing ever upward and stopping only when a sharp pain dug into her feet.
By now the wind had taken away most of the soft, powdered ash exposing her to the jagged white shards beneath, and now they cut into the soles of her feet like knives. With them exposed she could see what they were, what the white blades of grass all about her were.
Bones. Shattered, splintered bones of countless men, women, children, goblin, mer, centaur, dragon and more. Their flesh seared to the bone and their bodies thrashed upon this rocky mountainside.
"The lightning-struck hero has fallen into darkness everlasting."
Gabrielle looked up to the sky from whence the voice came just in time to see a single yellow bolt peel across the sky. The thunderclap that followed shattered the mountains. Great spires of rock broke off and floated into the sky, as she had not long ago. Into a contest of strength like bulls bashing heads they floated about and crashed into one another.
"And so new heroes must arise to take his place. Come. Come to the light."
Little Gabrielle obeyed. Walking forward on bleeding feet made to bleed even more heavily by the ground of splintered bone. Towards the rays of light now piercing the gaps between the spires of stone and clashing boulders. The pain in her feet subsides as the rain began, amplifying her cold to the point of numbness, yet on she walked.
"I have chosen, from all of my descendants, only one to carry my legacy."
Statues jutted from the earth on either side of her like fast-sprouting palm trees. They fenced in her deer trail and spread their wings protectively around her. Like awnings they protected her from the rain and wind, these angelic statues of women long gone. The truest of beauty were their forms. Strong, muscled bodies of wives and mothers who toiled besides husbands and children to provide, whose hips bore life and whose breasts nurtured it. Their wings, some born from arms, others jutting from shoulder blades, sheltered her as they had once sheltered many other little Veela.
The light of the sun was brighter now, warmer, and it seared away the needles of bone into a new layer of ash, soft and hot between her toes, soothing the pain in the soles of her feet. And as its rays touched the winged mothers behind her, they took flight. The marble that once encased them shattered like a thin layer of plaster, revealing the beautiful flesh beneath. Valkyrie, Liliths, Furies, harpies and angels. All of them, one and the same. Veela.
"Come. You who carries the name of my most cherished sister."
Little Gabrielle obeyed. She marched on and saw three pillars of light far to the east beyond the sun within the earth, aligned to Orion's belt. She marched on, and neared the sun within the earth, encircled by shattered, flying mountains and winged ancestors each as reverent to it as a priestess.
"Come. You who received the love of the hero you must replace."
Little Gabrielle obeyed. She marched on, as the rays of perfect, white light reduced the hills of sharp bone and rubble into soft, black ash, whose softness and warmth drove away all pain and cold from her body. Soon those same rays vaporized the ash-covered, rain-soaked night gown she wore, along with the crime on her own skin leaving her naked, clean, warm and unafraid. Unafraid like she hadn't been since she was a baby.
"Come and accept your destiny."
Little Gabrielle obeyed. She marched on. Along the path of soft, warm blackened ash until she reached a precipice beyond which she could see nothing but pure, white light.
"Come and be reborn."
The owner of the voice revealed herself, as she rose above the precipice in a ball of perfect, white, purifying fire and wings. Lots of wings. Wings that enveloped her body so thoroughly that she could not count them until they spread out like a shattering egg revealing a raven-haired woman with shockingly violet eyes. Six. There were six, white wings about her, and from them came great, divine flames of perfect, pure white.
In her hand she held a spear, whose blade she turned onto herself in order to present the hilt to Gabrielle.
"Come. Be the last as I was once the first and cleanse the earth of evil as I once did. Come and have your soul awakened."
Little Gabrielle obeyed. She stepped forward to grasp the hilt of the bronze sword, and the moment her fingers wrapped around it her soul awakened.
Gabrielle flinched from her roommate's voice as she returned to the land of the living. Then the stench of her own sweat and something burning filled her senses. Looked down at herself it was to find her bedding burned and smoking.
Had somebody lit her on fire?
"I thought you were only a quarter Veela?" Eleanor said in confusion, her wand still out from - presumably - extinguishing the flames. "How are you able to transform like that?"
Gabrielle sat up in her ruined bed, as the knowledge that her bed things could not be repaired with magic - it having been burned - she thanked anybody listening that her mother's nightgown from home survived intact. Then Eleanor's words hit her.
"Wait... I transformed?" She asked.
"Yes." Said Eleanor.
"Like... fully? Beak, feathers and all?" She clarified.
"That's right." Her roommate nodded, still seemingly shaken from the experience of meeting a fully transformed Veela woman.
"Oh... I should probably see the nurse after class about that." Gabrielle said as she vanished the ruined sheets and conforter.
"For what? Night terrors? Get in line." Eleanor said dismissively.
Gabrielle opened her mouth with an angry retort prepared.
"I'm kidding! I'm kidding!" Eleanor said by way of apology. "Do you really not have any older Veela to guide you in this? Because I don't think Madame Chloe will know anything."
Gabrielle bit her tongue and shook her head.
"No. They all joined... Him." Gabrielle reinformed Eleanor of what she already knew.
"Well, good news is we don't have classes today." Eleanor told her. "Bad news is, us fifth years are in charge of the tent people."
Gabrielle groaned and got out of bed. That's right. Fifth through seventh years had to take alternating days tending to the destitute and injured that had flooded into Bauxbatons from the warfronts. Men, women and children, though the last was pointedly rare. More often than not they were maimed beyond being functional in a normal society, if not physically then certainly mentally. But it wasn't as if there was a normal society for them to function in anyways.
She peeled her mother's far-too-large nightgown from herself and cast the usual array of cleaning charms on it, very careful to use an odor removing charm that removed the smell of smoke and nothing else so as to retain that calming scent of her parents. Honestly she could just use this as a comforter in the future if need be, but not if she was going to light it on fire.
She sighed and retrieved her school uniform from the cupboard. Black skirt, white blouse. That was it. The classic Bauxbatons blue was abandoned a year into her attendance at the school due to the war cutting off supply lines for most things. His fiery campaign against the wizarding world left many cities in ruins. Thus, many industries forever incapable of providing goods and services they all missed dearly. Woad leaf for blue dye? Good luck getting any of that.
And so, they resorted to white and black. Simple, Muggle uniforms they were able to purchase in bulk. Soon they'd be wearing conjured clothes and be at risk of being made starkers by a whispered "finite" of the nearest pervert.
Folding the nightgown, she put it away and changed.
Still. At least she looked good in it. Fifteen felt a hell of a lot different from fourteen. But what she wouldn't give to have been attending Beuaxbatons when her sister had. During that brief period of peace between Voldemort's first and second wars. But nope. She wasn't so lucky.
"Ready for our rounds?" Eleanor asked, already changed into her own school uniform.
Gabrielle nodded and together they put on their matching black shoes and exited their little shared room into the hallways beyond. Past the many doors to other shared rooms they walked and exited the maze of their "apartment" area into the girl's common room. Most everyone was seated at their own small, circular tables eating a short breakfast before classes or patrols. Eleanor and Gabrielle both walked past them, uninterested in breakfast, and out into the greeting room. A large almost ballroom-like area where the boys and girls' common rooms met.
The vaulted ceiling was a nice, clear glass that became tinted during the hotter months but always showed the starry sky above the alps at night and let in warm sunlight during the colder day.
There was always a faculty member standing guard between the areas that the two dorms met, usually one of Madame Chloe's apprentices, and today was no exception. Nurse assistant McAfee was there at the desk reading for some upcoming medical exam or other.
"Morning ladies." He greeted casually without looking up.
"Good moooorning." Eleanor said heatedly with a flirty wave the man didn't see beyond the book he was engrossed in.
Gabrielle elbowed her roommate and the two went on their way, with the brunette giggling like a child all the while until they reached the door to the school at large. Out onto the third-floor corridor they slowed their pace.
"Why must you flirt with him like that?" Gabrielle asked. "When you know he can't be interested?"
"Oh! He's very interested. He just can't act on that interest." Eleanor countered.
Uck! Damn empath invading on other people's private feelings. Still, flirting with and trying to entice a nineteen year old into losing his job was not okay.
"Be disgusted all you like. It's legal." Elanor said.
As the days went on Gabrielle became convinced that the psychic was intent on finishing her education early and shacking up with a husband like three of their former classmates had in place of coming back for their OWLS. One little world war and all of a sudden every strong-willed, opinionated woman became a demure little housewife. Gabrielle was better than that. She would get her NEWTS, and be at the top of her class like her sister had. Assuming any other girls would still be attending by then.
"You could do much worse than a mediwizard." Gabrielle said as a nicety.
"Mediwizard in training!" Eleanor corrected. "Gotta catch him before all the other girls start wanting him."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. Hey, Machiavelli called, he wants some advice on his next book and Jezebel wasn't available.
They continued to the east staircase and descended the pane-glass enclosed spiral downward until they reached the first floor. It was really mostly a subfloor, carved into the cliff face of the island, but it let out onto the sandy beach so it came to be called the first floor while the second, that let out onto the rocky road and the kilometers-long bridge to the mainland beyond. Said bridges stretched from the cliff face above them towards the 'mainland' where the high mountains of the alps surrounded them protectively. It was a thin, single-lane bridge. Impossible to mount a proper invasion into the lake-locked island.
They walked along the beach in the opposite direction from the bridge, towards the rear of the castle-island of Beauxbatons.
"You know I read last night the American wizards wanted to make a school to compete with Illvermorny." Eleanor said. "They were going to put it in Washington, in Crater Lake. It has a little island like this too. But the volcano was too active for everyone's comfort."
As opposed to their little crater, which was carved out by a shooting star, not a volcano.
"Would have been a good location, with Illvermorny being on the east coast. Having only one school cover that entire continent sounds a bit taxing." Gabrielle said.
And like that they were out of new conversation topics and walked the remainder of the way in silence. It wasn't a long walk, and soon enough they were upon the rear pier and the hundreds of tents it contained. Thousands of people, men women and children alike - though the last seemed to be mot rare these days - walked along the alleyways of their tent city in their daily bid to raise one-another's spirits.
Laughter, conversation and more combined into a background buzz as they approached, reminding Gabrielle terribly of the bazaars she and her family had seen when they visited Cote D'Ivore so many years ago.
So many people bereft of homes, of their home cities, and thrown to the wind as the Dark Lord hunted them down like animals. This was supposedly the last place in France left untouched by the war. Bauxbatons was now the safest place in all of Western Europe. It came with the infuriating imprisonment of her students during the summers as well. No vacations, school all year.
The only reason these guests could be considered to be in worse shape was that they had actually seen the war. Seen cities burned to the ground by phosphorous, agent orange and fiendfyre. Seen the bright flashes of nuclear bombs and choked on radioactive fallout. Seen the titans of old rise up from the depths and rampage across the lands. Seen the Unmaker and his followers butcher and rend asunder hordes of people as if it were just another day at the job.
Some days Gabrielle thought madame Maxime only sheltered them here to keep the children content with how good their lives were in comparison.
The pair of teens walked through the tent city like ghosts. The Refugees always ignored them as they worked. With the multiple layers of language barriers between them and the seemingly constant state of shellshock most were in it was understandable.
Gabrielle and Eleanor weaved amongst the crowds and tents, casting surreptitious repairing and cleaning charms where needed. They ascertained where such help was needed thanks to Eleanor's handy dandy ability to feel the emotions, complex and minor as desire for cleanliness or a repaired tent included, as if they were her own. Gabrielle' being Veela, a being of desire, could then feel it secondhand through her. It was the reason they were paired up as roommates. Their rare abilities, when put together, were powerful indeed.
They were careful to keep any wand movements hidden and any incantations silent. Many of the Unaker's victims feared using magic at all, for they believed it would attract him to them. This was mostly superstition stemming from his genocidal designs upon all magicals, but partly due to his weaponizing the Trace against underage magic users upon invading nations. Then hunting them and their families down using it.
But the Trace in France ceased functioning years ago. And even back then it would never have led the monster and his followers to Bauxbatons. The trace did not exist within its wards.
Still, they danced around these fears. They did what they could surreptitiously and took notes of any injuries they suspected or other conditions in need of tending to by more experienced witches or wizards. Namely, Madame Chloe and her students.
Eventually they came upon a deeply cloaked man, wearing several layers of enchanted robes that seemed to be weaved with cooling charms, sensible in this May heat. His face and body were completely obscured from them. But his heart was laid bare to Eleanor, and by extension, Gabrielle.
"Cursed scar, healed over. A dark cutting curse. Pain will remain with you forever." Eleanor diagnosed the man in a whisper loud enough for him to hear.
He looked up, face still obscured, and made an exaggerated nodding motion to show he heard, understood, and wished to confirm Eleanor's diagnosis. He made a motion across his chest and abdomen, tracing where the cursed scar must have stretched. From left shoulder to right pelvis.
"We could get you some help with the pain?" Gabrielle offered. "Our nurse is excellent. And you can do more with your days than suffer."
The cloaked man, strangely expressive for a man with no discernible features, looked up and gazed upon the other refugees. His head slowly facing each and every one of them. Each in squalor, trapped in prisons of their own mind.
"Point taken." Gabrielle said. "But if you ever change your mind, a simple note will gain you relief if ever you wish it."
With that, the pair went on their way. And so, they passed most of the morning casting simple repairing and cleaning charms on people and their property. They took much longer in doing so by virtue of the fact that they had to keep it hidden. Surely most of the refugees noticed, but their charms teacher, Garnier, once told them that like Muggles wizards can enter a state where they will rationalize away the evidence of their eyes in regard to magic that they do not understand or respect. With these people, for whom all magic was terrifying, it may be possible that they were incapable of recognizing these simple acts as magical at all anymore.
"Alright, I think we're done with our round." Eleanor said. "Let's get this list to Madama Chloe. I think a few people are suffering from malnutrition, and I caught a few fevers from infection."
Gabrielle hadn't felt those ones from her, and for the life of her couldn't tell how Eleanor knew she missed those, but somehow, she knew. Or else she wouldn't have bothered mentioning only those amongst the many scrapes, bruises and several broken bones they had both felt. It was a little passive aggressive, but it delivered the message that they both had work to do on developing their symbiotic empathic abilities. Well, Gabrielle did. Eleanor seemed to have it down pat.
"Don't be like that." Eleanor chastised. "You are an excellent partner and roommate. We will never work as a perfect well-oiled machine, and I fail in my abilities more often than you know. But I appreciate you. You make me feel much less alone."
Gabrielle blushed at the compliment and suddenly found her feet in the sand so much more interesting than a heart to heart with her infuriating roommate whom she could keep few secrets from. They arrived at the edge of the camp when she finally found her voice and made ready to compliment her back. Before she could form the words something wretched crossed from the empath to the Veela and she felt the most horrific emotions she'd ever felt in her life.
Black. Sticky. Noxious. Stab. Bleed. Burn.
Gabrielle shuddered at the emotion she only felt secondhand through her empath friend. Eleanor keeled over and vomited her empty stomach onto the sandy beach.
"What the fuck was that?!" She hiss-screamed through her teeth so nobody else could hear.
She grasped her wand beneath her skirt in a death grip, scanning everyone around them with panicked eyes.
"I don't know!" Eleanor whispered back between heaves. "Something horrible. Something... not here. Not with us. Don't know how I felt it. Not close enough for empathy, more like... smell in the distance."
Gabrielle rubbed her roommates back as she kneeled to catch her breath and regain her composure. She didn't quite understand what the other girl meant by her words, but she calmed down and stopped looking at the now concerned refugees around them like potential serial killers.
"Are you going to be okay?" Gabriell asked.
"Yeah." Said Eleanor, standing up with a deep breath. "Just give me a second."
Gabrielle would have given her that second, but before it passed a loud BOOM echoed across the lake from the opposite shore to Bauxbatons.
As one, every refugee turned to look at the cliff faces on the opposite side of the lake. All chatter died. All music, shopping and cooking came to an abrupt halt. Even the petty thieves stilled, not daring to take advantage of the opportunity to steal from the ramshackle shops or pickpocket the now unaware neighbors. They all simply stared.
Gabrielle spotted no smoke plume nor any flash of light. No indication of spell or machinery.
The boom turned into a rumble and crawled across the lake like a rolling stone.
"Surely its nothing?" Grumbled an aged woman as she rubbed what must have been her daughter's shoulders.
"Yeah." Said the young woman whose shoulders the elderly one rubbed.
"Rockslide?" Suggested a man.
"That or a car crash." A man said back. "Somebody should send a search team to check. Surely they need help."
And on went the rationalizations and denials.
"War is far away... Right?" Asked a little boy.
"That's right deer. Russia. He is too busy to come for us." The boy's mother assured him. "And he wouldn't know how to get her either way."
But Gabrielle couldn't gain any strength from them, for all she could think about was her roommate and friend. She could feel nothing from the brunette. Not fear, not worry, not the secondhand emotions of the refugees, nor whatever thing had reached through the Bauxbatons wards and touched her soul. But she could see the girl's face. Red with held breath, wet with tears and jaw clenched tight.
She was trying to keep Gabrielle out from feeling whatever she was feeling. And whatever it was, it was a horrific confirmation of what the refugees were all trying to deny.
She grabbed Eleanor's hand and dragged her into a running sprint back towards to school. To shelter, to safety. And that's when the second bang came. This time it was much louder and accompanied by a flash, both directly above the school.
The mid-air missile spewed a thick cloud of what looked like silver confetti that then rained down upon the school. The edge of the wards, like a protective bubble, blocked every single piece of shredded metal something that had been meant for them and they slowly fell along the outer barrier of the Bauxbaton wards. With every inch they slid thick arcs of electricity sparked between them, until the whole bubble of protection around the island was visible.
It was a ward-mapper? Gabrielle had never even heard of such a thing before, and in that moment she was preoccupied with how brilliant such a device was and temporarily forgot her fear, until another pair of loud booms erupted above the school. She turned back from to the tent town they were running away from and there, hovering just outside of the wards reach, was an aircraft carrier. In the sky.
The flying steel vessel sported His mark. A triangle enclosing a circle enclosing a lightning bolt. The Dark Lord had come for them.
The panic was instant. The screaming, the running as one of every refugee in the camp with no care as to whether they trampled over their temporary homes, or one another. And so, they did exactly that.
Gabrielle thanked her foresight in grabbing Eleanor and running before everyone else caught onto the danger they were in, as the two were already upon the door back into the castle by the time the stampeding refugees made it to the sandy path there. They were both upon the door by the time the ward-mapper died away and the aircraft carrier began firing. It did not fire artillery shells as one would expect, but instead black, iron anchors and chains that they were attached to.
Gabrielle assumed said chains were connected to an empty ward stone each, and thus the iron would completely drain Bauxbatons wards into said stones. Weaponized ward draining. Warfare like this had never been seen before, and it was horrifyingly brilliant.
"In...side... Quickly." Eleanor gasped, bringing Gabrielle back to reality. "Children... evacuate."
Gabrielle understood and remembered how they were trained to respond to this exact situation. She wrenched the door open and they sprinted/limped back up the three flights of spiral staircases as the sound of heavy ship chains grinding against the outer wards echoed through the halls. It was like a cross between arcs of lightning and steel cables snapping and it made Gabrielle's teeth rattle.
By the time they reached the greeting room connecting the boys and girls common room people of all ages were filing out and assistant McAfee was trying to herd the children calmly without the aid of any older students. Somehow, Gabrielle and Eleanor were the first to arrive of all the upper years. Probably because they had been outside to see exactly what happened and everybody still hadn't caught on.
"What is happening?" The assistant healer in training asked.
"The Unmaker and his forces are here!" Gabrielle said in as loud and authoritative of a voice as she could muster. "His battleships are already draining our wards. We have MINUTES until they fall and he storms the castle himself."
The confused crowd of children stilled at her declaration and McAfee stared off into space, a million obvious scenarios going through his head.
"They still haven't broken through, so the bower passages into the catacombs are still the best option. You, as a healer, are best to guide them for now. The teachers and us seniors will join you shortly after we do our jobs. I just need to grab Eleanor's medicine and we'll be right behind you." Gabrielle went on, noticing fearfully that Eleanor's body dropped more heavily with each passing second.
"Right..." McAfee said, barely above a whisper. he then seemed to regain his composure and spoke with a similar booming authority as Gabrielle had moments before. "Right! Children, with me to the bower passages! Remain calm and orderly as you practiced! Let me know immediately if you injure yourself."
The children all filed after him as he opened the "secret" passage on the wall near the door exiting to the third floor. It was the least secret of the many secret passages in the school, one that connected to the most places in the castle. Meant as an emergency escape route from pretty much anywhere in case of fire, storm or war, and which all first years were taught to use in their first week of orientation. The path to the catacombs from there? All faculty, prefects and, recently, fifth years and above were taught.
Gabrielle continued to drag her roommate along, through the throngs of surprisingly calm and disciplined first through third year children, and into the girl's common room. She dragged the near comatose girl through the maze of hallways as the alarm bells finally began ringing. The old caretaker sure had taken his sweet time getting to the monetary on the north cliff to do his job and ring them, but at least now everybody knew. Hopefully the teachers and Madame Maxime had enough time to mount a fight and hold them off long enough for the evacuation to proceed.
The most well-planned preparations fall apart in contact with the enemy. Or however the phrase went.
"Where is your potion?" Gabrielle asked the barely conscious girl on her shoulders as they finally reached their bedroom door.
She kicked it in and stormed inside, tossing the now mumbling Eleanor onto her bed. She tore open her roommate's vanity and poured the contents onto the ground. Sleeping wear, makeup, undergarments, perfumes, misplaced potions ingredients and a whole lot of love letters that she totally hadn't snooped through before, but no potion. She knew it had to be here somewhere; Eleanor needed it most nights. That potion that dulled her sixth sense enough to sleep through the rampaging emotions of dreaming teenagers and their nightmares or erotic dreams.
"Accio sleeping potion!" She bellowed with pointed wand, suddenly remembering that she was a witch.
A box flew to into her chest from beneath Eleanor's bed. She barely caught it with a loud "oomph!" and suspected it would bruise later. But there was no time for that.
She opened the lid of the candy box, which is what it was, and pulled out one of the potion vials in the many squares within. Thinking better of it, she grabbed two and popped the quarks on them with a tap from her wand. She bore down on her roommate and forced the mind-numbing liquids down her throat. She choked, bereft of her senses and thus unprepared to have any liquid poured down her throat, let alone one that was in all likelihood quite foul.
She relaxed somewhat as she accomplished her goal. Taking a deep breath, she allowed herself to think.
She had nearly a minute before the potion took effect. One minute before they would sprint like bats out of hell from their bedroom never to see it again. Rifling through a quick mental inventory of all of their belongings Gabrielle shrunk the box of potions and began vanishing everything they wouldn't need. Goodbye makeup, goodbye perfumes. Clothes and letters all got shrunken and stuffed into a pillowcase. Both hers and Eleanors.
Gabrielle herself didn't have much outside of schoolbooks and supplies. Just her mother's nightgown, far too large for her but which she wore anyways. That, she stuffed down the front of her tucked shirt. The only other thing she had of value was at the back of her closet. A framed photo.
She dug it out, pushing aside and disregarding her school uniforms and books.
There she was, ten years old and innocent. With Maman, Papa and Fleur. A photo taken by a reporter before the third task of that damned Triwizard Tournament. In the background was Viktor Krum with his family on one side, That poor Diggory boy with his... and her Chevalier at the back with his red-haired surrogate family. It was the only photo of her family or him she could ever find, in newspaper archives after their home burned down during the war with Voldemort and everyone within it... vanished. Save for her, who had been visiting friends at the time and promptly taken back to Bauxbatons with nothing but the clothes on her back.
She Stuffed it into her bra and cast a pair of sticking and impervious charms to it for extra measure.
"Ohhhh." Eleanor moaned from her bed.
Good. It was high time for them to leave. The bells were getting louder.
"Can you walk?" Gabrielle asked. "Can you run?"
Eleanor nodded, stumbling out of her bed and to her feet. Gabrielle helped steady her and handed her the pillowcase containing most of their belongings.
"I lead, you follow. Any nasty side effects of your potion I should know about?" She ordered then asked.
"One hell of a whiplash when it wears off. Makes me more sensitive as an empath. Hence why I'm so nosy in the mornings." Eleanor said.
Gabrielle nodding. It made sense. Hopefully the double dose would give them enough time to get away from the horrors present that she won't outright die from shock when her empathic abilities returned with a vengeance.
Gabrielle and Eleanor both froze.
That was a ward alert. One most people weren't allowed to know the meaning of. It only rang during an emergency, like this, or after hours. When an unwelcome guest managed to enter through the wards. Gabrielle had only heard it twice before. When the disturbed and possessive brother to her old roommate broke in hunting for her... and now. The fact that it was so loud to them meant the person who broke in was close.
"Disillusionment!" Eleanor whispered as loudly as she could.
Gabrielle understood and cast the camouflage charm on herself, smacking the top of her head with her wand as Eleanor did the same. For a moment she wished Eleanor still had some empathic ability so they could sense where the intruder was but discarded it. Crying over spilt milk and all that.
She crouched down and reached out, feeling for Eleanor. Grasping some part of her she slid her hand down until she felt an arm and found her hand. Together they crouch-walked through their bedroom door and into the hallway beyond. A hallway that bared no resemblance to the one she had walked through just a minute before.
The floral wallpaper, all daisies and waterlilies, had peeled away and rotted through showing the plaster and lathes beneath, which themselves were rapidly falling apart. End tables and lamps along the hallway showed similar signs of decay and mold, as did the doors to other rooms. Before her very eyes what little wallpaper remained tore away into dust and the plaster beneath melted as if made of wax. Everything was hyper-aging, hyper-decaying.
Silently, they crawl-walked along the hallway towards the common room. They made it five paces before a figure crossed their path, walking along a hallway adjacent to theirs.
It was a woman. Her face was covered with a white mask, featureless save for the hands of a clock painted upon it. Behind her trailed long, waist-length hair, so curly and wild as to suggest she had just crawled out of bed herself, though not quite as thick and curly as an African's. Otherwise, she looked like any other Muggle, wearing plain jeans and a tee-shirt. She walked on her way, trailing fingers along the walls on either side of her. Walls that were pristine and new before she touched them began hyper-decaying as well. Wallpaper peeling like bananas and blackening as if burnt.
They waited there in that hallway, breathless, until the woman with horrific powers passed and her footsteps faded. When all was quiet save for the cracking of the rotted lath they sprinted forth into the common room. A common room more ruined and aged than the hallways behind them. Gabrille ignored the disgust with the destruction of her home and continued on to the greeting room beyond.
There, she promptly skidded to a halt.
A man stood on the other side of the hall, at the entrance to the bower passage. Patches of blonde hair peaked through is burned and soot-covered scalp.
he was turned away from them, fiddling with the secret passage that he had thankfully been unable to open. Gabrielle held her breath, hoping he wouldn't turn around and notice the distorted outline of their camouflaged forms. Thankfully, he didn't, but instead he lifted a silvery piece of cloth and... apparated away... through the wards of Bauxbatons that should have made apparition impossible.
With him gone, they could see what he had been doing to the wall protecting the secret passage and saw upon its face a thick clump of white clay.
"Oh... oh no." Gabrielle muttered, realizing too late what it was.
The earth-shattering kaboom that followed literally tore the greeting room in half and floored the two girls. The only reason they managed to regain their feet so quickly was because the stone floor beneath them shifted and fell away, sending them along the floor as if it were a slide.
"Hold on!" Gabrielle yelled, almost as much to herself as to her invisible roommate whose hand she clasped onto for dear life.
Rubble and dust filled her vision as they fell. The castle around them crumbled and somehow Gabrielle knew they were at least falling in the right direction, away from the girl's common room. Eventually she smacked against something hard and smooth. Then, a cool breeze raked through her now sweat-stained and dust-covered clothes and with it, sunlight filled her vision.
They were outside. Atop the parapets around the dormitory tower and above the great courtyard with its hedge maze and Quidditch pitch.
Gabrielle blinked away the dust that stung her eyes and caught her bearings. The loud crashing and crumbling behind them made her turn in time to see half of the dormitory tower literally fall away into the lake behind them. Hopefully that woman with the touch of decay had still been inside. To the north she could see the jutting cliff and ancient chapel upon it, which still blared the warning signal to evacuate. A signal they really ought to be obeying by now.
"Where is the closest entrance to the bower passage?" Gabrielle asked the vaguely Eleanor-shaped distortion in color beside her.
"That we can shimmy to from here?" Eleanor clarified, before seemingly falling into thought. "Charms classroom?"
It was a good suggestion. The parapets did connect the dormitory tower to the charms tower. But it was a dangerous shimmy. But based on the smoke now billowing out of the hole they had just slid out of it was probably their only avenue of escape. They proceeded onwards along it. Gabrielle focused all of her attention on keeping one foot in front of the other and holding onto Eleanor like a lifeline. She presumably did the same to her and if either of them fell the other surely would be unable to save them, assuming they did not fall with them. Gabrielle forced such thoughts aside and kept walking.
Above them the bubble of wards protecting Bauxbatons ached beneath the snaking chains and anchors. In the distance, on the cliffs opposite Bauxbatons on the lake, an army perched and prepared weapons. They occasionally fired mortars, or some other projectile, and when it struck the wards, they made an nice ping sound. Like a bullet on pipes.
They walked on, ignoring the Dark Lord's soldiers and their attempts to test the wards and calculate their imminent fall.
So many thoughts threatened to sap Gabrielle's focus. How had those two entered through the wards during a high alert? How had that demolitions man apparated out as if they weren't even there? How had the Unmaker even found them? What were those flashing lights below?
"The teachers are fighting somebody." Eleanor said suddenly.
Indeed, the flashing lights were coming from the entrance hall. Vibrant blues, reds and greens. Curses, charms, jinxes and transfigurations if the flock of pigeons was any indication. Gabrielle suspected Professor Monet, the transfiguration teacher, was holding somebody off. They had already encountered two of the Dark Lord's peons, why would there not be more in other parts of the castle?
"Professor Monet is strong, and he will have help." Gabrielle said.
"Yet, surely the Dark Lord would have only sent his most talented in, with the bulk of his forces on standby." Eleanor countered pessimistically.
Gabrielle stopped her shimmying and turned around to give Eleanor a scathing look. She surely couldn't see it, but her voice dripped with remorse at her next words.
"Sorry. I didn't mean too... please, cope. Help me cope too." Eleanor pleaded.
Gabrielle nodded and turned around to continue shimmying.
"We just have to get to the passages, and from there, the catacombs. When we regroup with the others, we will evacuate with them and get away." Gabrielle said. "That is all we need to worry about for now..."
The demolitions man must have planted another wad of C4 on the third floor, because it chose then to blow the roof off of the bit of castle in front of them. Shingles, bits of stone ceiling and wood spewed skyward like the vomit of a volcano. Smoke followed, rising upwards, as the two fell downwards into the fiery halls of the third-floor charms tower.
Gabrielle and Eleanor coughed as they swallowed lungfuls of smoke. Gabrielle thought quickly and reached back to grasp Eleanor by the head in order to drag her to the ground, where she followed. Face pressed against the hot, stone floor they were free from the rising smoke from burning desks, chairs and tapestries. They immediately began military crawling, still hand-in hand, towards where they prayed safety might be. Or at least respite from the fire and smoke.
Soon enough, they were clear of both, and standing in a marginally burnt hallway. A short one, with a door at either end and three more along each wall, one of which they had just come through. The small paintings of puffskeins between each door and the dragon-headed lamps in each corner told them exactly where they were. The door at one end led to a girl's bathroom, at the other to the boy's, and straight ahead of them would take them down a curved hallway to the charms classroom and, hopefully, Professor Garnier. If not, then the entrance to the bower passage behind his desk.
They proceeded, more carefully now, expecting to encounter either the woman with the touch of decay or the pyromaniac with enough C4 to... well to blow up an entire castle full of children. Instead, they pushed through the door to come face to face with an armored goddess of war. A Valkyrie clad in goblin-forged, sensuously form-fitting, plate mail. Silvery feathers decorated her shoulder-plates and hips. Veela fire erupted from every crook in the armor's joints along with real feathers.
This was a Veela. A purebred. And she was kicking the shit out of Professor Garnier. Literally, she just punted the man a full four meters as they entered, the long scythe slung over her shoulder lazily as she did so.
Not seeing them, as her back was turned to the door they had come through, she handled the weapon and it shifted into a war axe, then advanced upon their teacher.
Gabrille closed the door and ran. She felt no shame in it. Anybody who could use Professor Garnier as a football should be fled from, and so they fled. Through the leftmost door and down another stairwell they went. The hallway it let out to would lead them straight to the entrance hall where they knew another battle would be taking place, but beyond which they could get to the headmistress' office and yet another entrance to the bower passage.
As they approached down the hallway lined with wax horses and knights upon them the lightshow of spellfire filled the doorway on the far end, telling them that Professor Monet was still fighting, and that filled her with more hope than it should have. They slid to a halt at the end of the hall just as the light show ended.
"It is over for you, General Longbottom." They heard Madame Maxime's voice. "You are disarmed and outnumbered."
Gabrielle peaked out through the doorway and saw and the fighters beyond.
Maxime and Garnier stood, wands drawn on a man Gabrielle did not recognize. He seemed perfectly normal compared to the other three followers of the Dark Lord they had seen thus far. The grand doors to the entrance hall lay flat on the ground and the long, ornate bridge beyond sat, lit, by the afternoon sun. He was bloodied, one arm limp at his side. He had pudgy cheeks and a bulky build.
Gabrielle couldn't spot his wand, but it wasn't in either of his hands.
"Why? Why do you fight for him? Why do you kill your own kind?" Maxime pleaded with the man whose life was at her mercy. "You are one of us!"
If the man responded, Gabrielle didn't hear it. Not over the blood-curdling scream of the girl beside her.
She jumped in fright and looked to Eleanor, whose disillusionment charm faded in her empathy-induced near-seizure. She was screaming so loud you would think somebody was filleting her alive. Her mouth was wide in terror, from her eyes flowed tears unabated. Soon, those tears were of blood.
Then Gabrielle felt it. The echo of the empathic link they shared showed her just a glimpse of what Eleanor was getting the full brunt of at that very moment.
Infinite, Indiscriminate, All-encompassing hatred. More hatred than Gabrielle had ever felt for anything before in her life. More hatred than she could have imagined existed in the hearts of every man, woman and beast on the planet put together. Pointed in all directions all at once. Omnicidal, world-ending, hope-destroying, unquenchable hatred.
She threw up. With only a minuscule fraction of what Eleanor had suffered through for nearly a quarter of an hour now, she lost control of her bodily functions. When she finished turning her stomach inside out it was to discover Eleanor had passed out.
Then she heard it. A sound she couldn't quite place. Like a flame igniting and being extinguished at once, but louder and echoing. She dared creep back to the doorway and gaze towards the entrance door and the injured General.
A portal, like transparent gray curtains, stood behind him. It had not been there before, but from it now two men appeared. One a Muggle soldier, with a muscled build like a tradesman, or a formerly obese man who had then gotten into shape. In his hands was what might have been a modified trench gun. The other man... was a monster out of her worst nightmares.
If a man could be as black as coal and white as ash all at once, that was the color of his skin. Like charred flesh with a sheen of white chalk. Each step clanked, like his boots were weighted or his legs reinforced with metal braces. And indeed, metal braces run along and supported his fingers. A thick, black cloak covered most of his body, with plain jeans and an armored vest the only things visible beneath. He spoke through a terrible respirator.
"I... was never... One of you." He snarled through his voice-muffling respirator.
As he spoke his horrible words he looked up, revealing two perfect, beautiful orbs of emerald green. Behind him the Muggle soldier advanced on the defeated wizard and supported him by slinging this arm over his shoulders. Together the two men left through the portal that the Dark Lord had come through.
"I was never anything more than a golden idol, before whom your kind sacrificed two entire generations in burnt effigy to a god of cowardice and weakness." The Dark Lord continue, drawing a shattered but somehow connected sword of flaming goblin metal.
Twice now she had seen goblin-forged weapons enchanted with Veela fire. What little of her brain could still work at the sight of this twisted facsimile of her beautiful Chevalier registered that as a frightening non-coincidence, but she couldn't understand those warning bells.
"Harry Potter." Madame Maxime said fearfully. "Why? We didn't shelter nor aid Voldemort nor his Death Eaters in the war. In either war! So why? Why do you attack us?"
The Dark Lord chuckled humorlessly as the portal behind him closed, making the same sound of a flame igniting and extinguishing at the same time.
"You used my name! It's been so long since an enemy has dared call me such. What do they call me these days? The Unmaker, is it?" He asked rhetorically. "It's almost as if the whole of the wizarding world feels ashamed of what it did to turn the beautiful little boy who bore that name, into the wretch that stands before you... That tells me you do not feel sufficiently ashamed of your failures, headmistress. You did not harbor Death Eaters then? A strange claim considering you do so now. It also shows a fundamental misunderstanding on your part for why I do what it is I do."
Her headmistress scowled.
"Do you truly expect me to condemn the innocent relatives of Voldemort's followers... to you?!" She spat. "I will not stand idly by and allow a madman to kill and torture innocent children whose only crime is the blood they share with terrible people!"
"Funny." Said the Unmaker without missing beat. "I recall you had no misgivings about standing idly by and allowing a different madman to kill and torture innocent children whose only crimes were the blood we shared with good people."
Her headmistress took a step back at the recusation. Her scowl trembled, like she wanted to weep at his words.
"That isn't fair..." She pleaded. "And you know it!"
"What I know, headmistress..." The Unmaker answered, drawing with his right hand a hideously knotted wand. "Is that you have neglected these students as a teacher in favor of raising them as soldiers to fight your war. I know of your new curriculum. All warfare. Pawning off your responsibilities to put me down onto them, are you? You clearly did not learn the lessons that my descent should have taught the world. Just as I was raised up as a weapon against Voldemort and became a monster, you try to force the same fate onto them? Tis better for them to die than become like me, and so I am here to accept a third generation in burnt offering to the lunacy of wizardkind."
"And look at you! You no longer flinch at his name. Where was this strength of character when me and mine needed protection from him and his? You could not muster the courage to fight against him, but you can against me? If only you had done then with him what you do now against me. And merely stood up." By now he was speaking through clenched teeth, the sound of grinding rage. "But even now you only do so because I have forced you. You were more than happy to pawn off the duty onto them. And that is why I am here. To fulfill your wish and kill these children as you so clearly wish for me to do. And as I gut the youngest of them like fish and make you watch; I want you to remember. You did this to them."
He lifted his head as he uttered that last word, and while the bottom half of his face was obscured by that damnable respirator, Gabrielle knew by the twisted mirth in those once kind eyes that it bore a hideous and malicious grin.
Just then a great crash, like shattering glass amplified through a loudspeaker into a tunnel, nearly floored all of them, save for the Unmaker who was unmoved by it. Gabrielle saw beyond the open entrance hall doors shards of light and magic falling to the earth. Shattered remains of the wards. Their protections were gone.
"And now, the bloodbath begins. My only regret, is that you will not live long enough to see the bodies pile up and smell the burning corpses." The Unmaker goaded. "It is an acquired smell, but one I have grown fond of."
Thundering booms like the one the flying aircraft carrier had made signaled the arrival of more airborne vessels. One, two, five, ten and more such sounds indicated their arrival and Gabrille even saw a few of them appear in the sky beyond the doors.
Then came the mortars. Where previously they made a pleasing ping sound against the wards, now they exploded against the stone towers and earthen ground of the castle itself. Their time was up, and she had wasted it instead of charging into the catacombs with McAfee and the children.
Gabrielle moved quickly, recasting the disillusionment charm on her and slinging her over her shoulders as best she could. The pillowcase of clothes and letters abandoned in that doorway. She took a deep breath and charged into the entrance hall intent on crossing it and getting to the headmistress' office. She put her faith in the power of her disillusionment charms.
The Unmaker himself stood just meters to her left with her headmistress and transfiguration teacher the only thing separating her from him. The two faculty didn't see her, as their backs were turned to her. But HE did.
The moment she left the safety of the hallway with wax models his head snapped in her direction and his eyes locked onto hers. With every step she sprinted across the entrance hall he followed her with his gaze.
Madame Maxime took advantage of his seeming distraction and launched some kind of transparent spear at his head, which he lazily dodged by tilted said head. Professor Garnier followed her example and cast conjured ropes and a binding animation charm before the headmistress' curse flew over the monsters shoulder. He cut it in half by merely raising his sword from a downward position into an upward position with a twist of his wrist. All the while he never broke eye-contact with Gabrielle, and she dared not look away.
The immolation and castration curses thrown his way next made him finally break it as he ducked to a void the first and vanished to avoid the second, reappearing beside Garnier and delivering a hard blow to his jaw with the pommel is sword and simultaneous casting a simple ball-and-chain conjuration toward Maxime's feet, which somehow connected but didn't trip her. The full body swing of his sword the Dark Lord followed it up with nearly took her head off as she quickly vanished the chains. Gabrielle never would have imagined the half-giantess doing a backwards roll, but she pulled it off elegantly.
Gabrielle finally turned away from the fight as she reached the opposite doorway and continue her flight from the battle. By now the machine-like sound of rapid apparition filled the entire school as the Dark Lord main forces arrived. If she knew how she would have tried to apparate out herself... no, wait. That was a bad idea. They probably had a one-way apparition ward. Can apparate within the grounds or into the grounds from outside, but not outside from inside.
Suddenly remembering that she was, in fact, a witch she put Eleanor down and withdrew her wand.
"Levicorpus!" She yelled the spell that she had learned from one of the in-laws at Fleur's wedding so many years ago.
And now with her unconscious roommate dangling from the air she could move much more quickly, and did so. She sprinted up the staircase and down the hall towards the head office as the castle was bombarded by artillery. She had a very close call where the windowed wall on her right disintegrated from a mortar.
She paused long enough for the dust to settle and through the new bay window saw the refugees flooding into the massive courtyard. From her vantage point, she could see the many soldiers and wizards atop the parapets and entering the courtyard from other sides.
She tore her vision away from the courtyard and continued her mad dash so she didn't have to see what came next. She still heard it. The prattling of automatic weapons. The screaming death throes of people she had cared for less than a half hour earlier. The screaming didn't stop by the time she reached the office. The door opened for her and she made it to the blank, doorway shaped section of wall between the shelves and shelves of files.
She tapped it thrice with her wand and muttered "beautiful sticks."
The stone wall transformed into thorny vines that receded like slithering worms. The sound of rustling leaves continued as the wall continued to collapse inwards until a long, thin hallway entirely made of leaves and vines stretched out and downwards. The ceiling of the bower let in bright rays of sunlight like blades of white that shone gloriously against he blue support beams running along its length.
She continued her mad dash to safety through the hallway, the entrance closing behind her with more rustling of leaves as she did so. As she ran, she filled her mind with prayer. Not with any expectation that God would deliver her from this evil, but to drown out the screaming, the explosions and the sound of booming mortars. Then the bower broke.
The hallway in front of her split open, like a ship breaking in half, the part of the castle containing the hallway in front of her rose and fell away from her while the half she stood rose and fell towards her. She managed to hold onto an indigo support pillar as it happened, but soon she was standing on the wrong side of the passage, with the other like the other half of a raised drawbridge. It was not a short jump.
"Okay. I can do this." She assured herself between panting.
Prioritizing Eleanor, she levitated the unconscious girl across the gap until she hovered just over the angled mouth of the hallway. Then she simply canceled the charm letting her drop. She winced as she did so and planned to lie to her when she finally came to as to how she obtained all of those bruises. Now, it was her turn to jump, but before she could something terrible happened.
The bells stopped.
She finally allowed herself to look out at the castle on her right and north cliff on her left where the chapel sat. There was so much fire and billowing smoke on the right, with the latter being blown towards the former, so it was hard to see. She finally caught sight of it through a gap in the smoke and embers, in time to see a man dressed head to toe in neon blue, climb out the window as if merely walking on solid ground, and slowly fall to the ground with the aid of... an umbrella?
The man wore a complete jester outfit, headpiece French coat and all, but that was all she could ascertain about him aside from the splatter blood on his clothes and face before the chapel fell. Much like the dormitory tower, the outcropping of cliff bearing the chapel fell away into the ocean, crumbling like toy blocks.
She choked at the sight, snapped her gaze back to her goal and jumped.
She cleared the distance easily and fell into the stone slide that the bower passage had become, quickly descending to the end where Eleanor's unconscious body lay crumpled against the stone door frame. It wasn't steep enough for either of them to reach a high enough speed to hurt themselves or each other against the stone doorway to the catacombs, but Gabrielle cast an arresto momentum on herself all the same. She stopped elegantly on the side of the doorway opposite Eleanor, then recast the levicorpus charm.
Wrenching open the wrought-iron door she carried her friends, blessedly unbroken body, down the dark staircase into the catacombs.
The cold water at the bottom came as a surprise as it filled her shoes and socks and she sucked in a sharp breath at the sensation. Then the implications
...Why were the catacombs flooded? They weren't supposed to do that. And if the water level rose much higher then it would put at risk any of the evacuees who now likely hid in the hidden stone vaults all around these same catacombs. If not from drowning, then certainly from hypothermia or destruction of the food supplies stored there.
The plan was to evacuate into these hidey holes and outlast any invasion, escape when help or an opportunity to sneak out arose.
She knew the location of the nearest vault and charged through the chilling water towards it. It was dark but she dared not cast a Lumos charm. Not only out of fear that she'd give away her location, but at the risk of accidentally canceling her levicorpus charm. Dropping the unconscious girl into knee deep water would lead to a quick drowning.
She turned the corner of the nearest vault then turned right back around at the sight of four well-lit women flanked by two soldiers armed with lit flamethrowers. Each woman wore a different colored vest. The blonde wore red and gold. The Indian wore blue and bronze. The redhead wore yellow and black. The brunette wore green and silver. They spoke as one as they cast their spell.
"Bombarda." They intoned in unison.
Gabrielle turned and ran as the vault door was vaporized. The roaring of the flamethrowers that followed almost drowned out the children's screaming.
She ran and she ran and she ran. She knew not where she was going, but around every turn, down hallways that her footsteps somehow knew would lead to another vault, his followers were there, tearing down the doors and butchering what they found inside. Soon enough she was deeper in the catacombs than she had ever been before, forbidden from going, and dungeon walls turned into mausoleum walls as the sound of screaming and shooting faded away and the water level lowered enough that she was running on solid, dry stone again.
She entered an underground chamber like a common room, exactly like the girl's common room, safe for the altar and stone coffins. And the man standing atop one he had opened. A barred window near the ceiling let in enough light for her to make out his general shape and she knew he wasn't human. Not with that tail longer than he was tall and thicker at the base than the edge.
He reached into the coffin with a four fingered, no, four clawed hand and pulled the long rotted corpse into a seating position. He pressed his wand to the corpse' temple and began muttering necromantic obscenities that Gabrielle could not stay and listen to, for her feet already made her to retreated and flee down another unknown passage.
Dangers of kappas and magical defenses put in place by generations of wizards long dead in the times before Bauxabatons was a school left her mind as she breathed harshly and unsteadily. In her terror she lost track of time, of her whereabouts, and even her disillusionment charm. But thankfully she had kept presence of mind enough to keep Eleanor with her, though that had more to do with her painful, white-knuckled grip on her wand.
She eventually came to an underground auditorium decorated with vigils to dead knights, whose bodies were surely entombed behind said paintings. The stone seats all along the walls beneath said paintings were lit by fireflies, no doubt put there on purpose and kept there by some clever charmwork. It was actually quite lovely, lovely enough for Gabrielle to calm down and catch her breath.
She recalled from what little she knew of the school's history that at one time there was a debate hall beneath the school that later was turned into an illegal beast fighting ring where students would bet on fights between coerced animals and magical beasts. Now? It looked like it was a secret romantic liaison location for students, based on the picnic blankets, baskets, and charmed fireflies.
Gabrielle set Eleanor down and took more deep, calming breaths. She needed to think. To plan.
Could they hide here?
No. The Dark Lord's forces would continue their sweep and if she could find this place on accident, they could surely find it on purpose.
Could they find a way out of the castle through the catacombs? Absolutely. There were several passages deeper and underwater that had become flooded over the centuries and with the warm season as ice melt made the lake deeper. A simple pair of bubblehead charms and the two could swim out. Well, she could swim out and drag her along. But the Dark Lord and his forces would surely be scouring the waters and beaches for survivors or escapees.
Perhaps find an underwater crook to hide in with a pair of bubblehead charms? That could work. Homeno revalio didn't work underwater so even if, or when, the Dark Lord's followers dive into the sunken tunnels with scuba gear or their own bubblehead charms, they would be that much harder to find. But how long could they stay hiding in the water? Long enough to escape later when the Dark Lord moved on with most of his forces? that could be days.
The stone ceiling shattered like so many other stone structures that day and fell to the center of the auditorium. Among the large boulders fell a silver woman. The armored purebred Veela from before.
Gabrielle leapt up from where she sat in the stands and finally got a good look at her front. The Veela-faced mask looked like it must have been perfectly shaped to contain her real beak and elongated face when she transformed under it. She saw Gabrielle before she could even think to recast the disillusionment charm, and stood up, slamming her spear into the ground and leaving it there to approach her.
Gabrielle drew her wand at the woman, but stopped casting the cutting curse on her lips when the woman raised her hands in a calming motion.
"At ease, Gabrielle Delacour. I come in peace." She set before pressing something on the side of her helmet. "Tell Fleur I have found the target."
She turned back to Gabrielle as her helmet split apart and receded, revealing a scarred face, brutally and intentionally ravaged with a knife by somebody with designs to destroy beauty. These were not scares of war, but of a torturer who hated Veela for their virility and fertility.
"My name is Alexandria Bierna." She introduced in a thick, Spaniard accent. "I am second in command of the Dark Lord's Veela Corps. I am here on orders from your sister, first in command of our kind and one of his most faithful. They both want you, and I am to retrieve you."
Gabrielle gagged at the woman's declaration.
The confirmation that Fleur, like nearly all Veela, had joined the Unmaker in his insane rampage against the wizarding world was a long anticipated, but still stomach churning revelation. But to think they expected her to do the same? To do these terrible things to more children and refugees? Death first!
She did not deign to dignify this wretched Veela's offer with a response. She raised her wand and once again pointed it upon her breast.
"I see." Said the disfigured Veela. "Then I shall bring you in, broken and bloodied for them to rebuild into my successor, as I was promised. So that I might be rid of this duty in time and remove from you that detestable innocence and beauty that was taken from me. Come Gabrielle, come and understand the utter weakness that you have labored under for all these years." She said as she reached for her spear.
The Veela general paused as another person entered the arena from behind Gabrielle. A man cloaked from head to toe in several layers of cloaks so thick as to obscure what species he was even in. Gabrielle immediately recognized him as the mute refugee she and Eleanor had offered help to. The one with the cursed scar from shoulder to hip.
He lifted his hood, revealing a Death Eater skull mask, burned, no, melted to the point of being fused to his face so that all could know the horrible master he had sword his loyalty to. The punishment that the Unmaker met upon all captured death eaters. He disrobed, showing an emaciated body, bereft of one arm. The left arm which would have born the dark mark and identified him as a servant of Voldemort... wherever the hell he was hiding in a piss-stained bed and tail between his legs away from the Unmaker that hunted him.
For a split-second Gabrielle forgot what he was and, at the sight of his ribs poking out through his shredded undershirt, felt the need to provide him with a good meal. Then she remembered, and stepped away, but kept her wand on the Purebred Veela. She hated the idea of fighting side-by-side with a Death Eater as much as the next half breed in danger of being imprisoned and raped by one, but these were extraordinary circumstances.
"Identify." The Purebred Veela said commandingly, holding a finger to her ear as if waiting for an answer. It must have come, because she soon smiled wickedly at the masked man beside Gabrielle. "Gregory Goyle. Escaped Death Eater. Kill on sight order. What an... unexpected, but delightful, treat!"
As she spoke her silver helmet reassembled and her wicked grin grew, until she snarled the final word with erotic delight. The holes where her eyes would have been flashed red like LED lights and deep blue Veela fire erupted from every gap in her armor.
Most Veela fire was red. Blue Veela fire signified a stronger breed compared to most. No wonder she was second in command of one-fifth of the Unmaker's army.
Alexandria grasped her spear and ripped it from the stone floor. As soon as she touched it the weapon shifted. It went from spear to halberd in a split second and in a single motion she lifted it and swung it downward. Letting gravity do most of the swinging.
Indigo flames rose in spires from where it struck the ground as sharp, flowing towards them in waves.
Gabrielle and Gregory leapt apart, casting their independent and uncoordinated spells at her. Her red stunning charm splashed pitifully against the goblin-forged armor of her opponent, as did his vibrant green killing curse from Gregory. Gabrielle cursed herself for her weakness, casting a stunning charm in a fight against a monster like this woman. The split second of missed concentration nearly cost her her life as Alexandria swerved into a spinning slash with her halberd-turned-scythe and a blue flaming cutting curse washed over the auditorium turned arena and nearly took Gabrielle's head off.
She regained her bearings in time to crouch down and avoid being beheaded, and as soon as she did the purebred Veela was upon her with a clawed gauntlet aimed for her throat. Then, just as quickly as the Veela knight had been, her Death Eater ally was in front of her, blocking her clawed haymaker with the remnants of his amputated limb and an eardrum-bursting flashbang charm. It was directional, so it didn't affect Gabrielle, but blind and deaf their enemy only became more enraged as she followed up her first wild swing with a series of even more wild swings accentuated by whistling flames and wilder feathers erupting through her armor.
Gregory tried to block them, honestly, he did. But all he had to block them with was his one good arm and his thoroughly bony chest, neither of which held up to the metal, flames nor claws of the enraged Veela general. She shredded him before Gabrielle's very eyes, and despite being near death he backed away and pushed her out of danger in a very deliberate movement.
She tumbled away, instinctively bender her knees and bringing her arms up to cover her fall as she had been taught, but quickly stood back up with her wand pointed at the foe. Alexandria was striking blindly at air in the opposite direction of them. Vulnerable and unawares, she couldn't hope for a better opportunity against such an insurmountable enemy.
And yet she hesitated. Not from a moral sense of mercy, or at least not mostly from that, but from confusion as to what in the world she could cast to injure somebody bathed in goblin metal and Veela flame. No direct curse meant to effect the body would get past the armor. No elemental charm would pierce the flames and armor both. By the time she got it in her head to cast a bambarda at the ground beneath the woman's feat and let the shrapnel and concussive force to its work, Gregory had lifted himself into a crouch to stare pleadingly at her.
"Why... are you... still here?" He said in a raspy voice. "You were supposed to run... Escape from this madness we have wrought.. Go! Be done with our idiocy and horror."
Gabrielle stood frozen at his words. Once again, indecision stalled her. Elanor was unconscious on the other side of the room past Alexandria. Flee and leave her friend and this Death Eater who sacrificed himself for her? Fight and try, but surely fail, to save either of them, let alone both of them? Too late she remembered her wand and the bombarda incantation on her tongue, but Alexandra had recovered by then.
"How touching." The armored woman said like a mother cooing to her child. "A repentant Death Eater? How the sight soothes the aches of the knife that had carved apart my face. How the sound of your remorse makes memories of the red-hot poker against my skin go away."
The sarcasm dripped from her like acid as she grasped Gregory by his scalp. Or, at least, the scalp of his permanent mask turned helmet.
"What guilt you must live with, let me relieve you of it."
And as if he were made of water, she put her free hand through his chest. Her clawed fingers ripped through his lungs and heart like spaghetti, and his ribs shattered against her meta-fisted thrust.
Something in Gabrielle broke. So much ugliness. So much horror and evil in such a short amount of time finally got to her. The artillery barrages against the wards. The C4 reducing her favorite classrooms to rubble. Her favorite teacher being used as a sports toy. The twisted monster appearing in the form of the love of her life. The children dying in churning flame from soulless soldiers. And now, a man she knew not giving his life to try and save hers, and all for naught.
It was all too much.
The ringing in Gabrielle's ears drowned out what the terrible woman said as she tore her arm back out of the dead man, but not the voice of the other woman in her mind.
Little Gabrielle awakned. Without so much as an oath or curse searing flames erupted from her body, flames that dared not touch her clothes nor the downy of perfect, white feathers that covered every inch of her exposed neck, arms, legs and newly-beaked face. The fire born of the heritage within her boiling blood was not red, not blue, but white. In a saner moment she might have registered the strangeness of such a thing, but her mind was completely focused on achieving her ordained mission.
Smite this demon in human visage. Punish this wretch who dared wear the form of holy Veela.
She screamed, a high pitch caw like a vulture, and with it her divine white flames grew, filling the entirety of their arena in white embers. The flames burned away the dead man's corpse and tried to consume her foe, but the audacious armor protected her, along with the undeserved heritage that bathed her in weaker, but still substantial, Veela fire. Gabrielle pounced upon her like a lioness.
Scorched, clawed hands tore at goblin-forged steel as her wand clacked to the ground.
She tore, she ripped, she slashed, she bit, but the armor did not budge and her rage only succeeded in stunning and frightening Alexandria. So she resorted to fists. Her newly sharpened claws dug into her palms and wrist as knuckles made contact with breast plate and helmet. She even managed to dent the armor, the loud cracking of her own bones and sharp pain doing nothing to slow her down.
She screeched again, like the sirens her ancestors were once known as, and with her sharp beak close to Alexandra's face the sound reverberated in her helmet and Gabrielle knew, somehow knew, that the woman's eardrums were now as shredded as the stumps at the end of Gabrielle's own arms. She would have kept swinging, but the gauntleted arm that had hung uselessly in surprise seconds ago now grasped her throat, while the other clasped her beaks shut.
"Addictive, isn't it!" Alexandria shouted in the uneven tone of somebody deafened. "That first transformation, the power that makes you so CERTAIN you can take on any foe! Oh, how it misled me too!"
The squelching sound of her beak being ripped off of her face was only half as horrible as how it felt. Every connecting tendon, muscle fiber and nerve ripped with it, one-by-one, as she clawed and grasped at the woman's face in resistance of the vicious act of mutilation she was being subjected to. She screamed throughout it all, but her already deafened enemy was unaffected by her newly weaponized voice. Her flames, on the other hand?
Like a furnace, she breathed heat into the flames enveloping her body. Each breath in and out like the pumping of a forge blower. The sleek, silver metal around Alexandria, enchanted with her own Veela flames, turned red hot under the might of Gabrielle's more substantial embers and she flinched away, letting go of the now barely attached beak that hung against Gabrielle's face by a few loose tendons.
Another explosion echoed through the halls as some other part of the castle was laid to waste and water flooded in. Ice cold water as high as their knees covered the arena faster than either of them could register, and yet they charge through it at one another all the same.
Gabrielle thoughtlessly summoned her wand back to her hand and it came. Alexandria did the same with her shapeshifting weapon.
Flaming whip met flaming warhammer. Cutting curse infused with white, purging fire met shielding umbrella. With each strike Gabrielle made Alexandria armor grow more visibly hot, and the steam in their arena grew thicker.
She cast a wide area banishing charm with her wand arm to clear the water away from Alexandra, so as to not allow it to cool her off and undo the work Gabrielle had done. She could never break through that armor. Not by spell nor by fist. She could not overpower her nor outfight her. But she could out burn her. And if it armor got hot enough inside that suit of armor, she could kill her. Either by cooking her alive or by plain old heat stroke. And she would not be satisfied with anything less.
With her left hand she spewed a steady stream of white flames while she maintained the water banishing charm with her right.
Alexandria screamed and charged at her like a rugby player. She outright tanked the flames and tackled the teenager. Her now white-hot armor seared the skin of Gabrielle's wand arm like a steak in a frying pan and, thinking quickly, she reversed her banishing charm and felt sweet relief from the heat as the water came crashing back around them, but also relieved them both of the ability to breath as thick bobbles of vaporized water filled their vision.
They tumbled against one another under the now shoulder high waters as another tremor rocked the underground tunnels. Gabrielle pointed her wand straight at the woman's helmeted face and cast the strongest explosion hex she'd ever cast in her life. At point blank, the curse created an air bubble the size of a horse that sent them both flying apart. But both being in underwater they did not fly far, but a few feet from one another.
Gabrielle retained full awareness of surroundings as they were blasted apart. She took a mere fraction of a second to fill her lungs with air before she lunged back into the water after her opponent, who had not been so lucky. Maybe she had been dazed by the overpowered bombarda that had shattered Gabrielle's wand, maybe she'd even been concussed. Either way, it didn't matter. What mattered was that she was still and under the water, and Gabrielle took the opportunity to wrap her barely functional fingers around the woman's slender throat and squeeze.
Alexandria came to a few moments later and struggled blindly against the arms throttling her beneath the rancid water. She caught onto what was happening and zeroed in on Gabrielle, clawing at her face with those sharpened gauntlets. Gabrielle did not relent, even as she managed to resurface her head jsut above the water she held the woman down.
"Die! Just die! Fuck you! Die you ugly, baby-murdering BITCH!" Gabrielle yelled as if it were a chant. "Just! Stop! Breathing!"
A few moments later, Alexandria finally obliged. The heat rising from her body through the water that smothered her Veela fire ceased along with the panicked bubbles from her helmet. She sunk, lifelessly, beneath the now rapid waters.
Gabrielle let go, hands shaking, as the adrenaline died down and her transformation ended. Beak receded back into her face and feathers back into her skin. The pain of the rapidly-bleeding gashes on her bead, face and shoulders hadn't quite kicked in yet, neither had the shock at just taking another person's life. No, what filled her mind was thoughts of her friend.
"Eleanor!" she yelled desperately.
She raked the now fully flooded auditorium with her eyes but saw no sign of the girl, alive or dead. Had the rapid waters washed her away while she fought? had she regained consciousness and walked away?
"Eleanor!" She yelled again.
Then, another explosion, and this time the water's speed became to strong to swim against and it swept her away. Into dark tunnels she knew nothing of and could see nothing of, the current took her. She crashed against what might have been the edge of a door. She registered boulders, stone pillars, and other bodies floating in the water, most all of which she crashed against. Some of the bodies she vaguely recognized, but that may have been the delirium brought from lack of oxygen.
Soon, her vision darkened, and she knew no more.
Gabrielle came to in a fit of coughing and. All she knew was the pounding in her head that became exacerbated by each cough, wetness and bone-deep cold. Then came the pain in the rest of her body. Vision still blackened from unconsciousness, she stumbled to her own two feet. Vision still blurry from the same, she put one in front of the other and walked.
Left foot. Right foot. She vaguely recognized that she was missing her left shoe, so ditched the remaining one on her right. A few minutes later she also registered that she was walking on a beach of smooth rocks. Both arms limp at her side, jaw hanging opens and both eyes staring, wide open, at nothing. She breathed through her mouth as she stumbled on beside a river she did not recognize.
Ash rained down like snow as she limped along like a zombie.
She couldn't feel anything. Everything from her gauged scalp to her broken toes felt of nothing but the dull pumping of blood, like from the headache but everywhere. The only thing that didn't hurt were the clothes against her body.
Coming to at last, she patted down said clothes, wincing at the pain from touching her own body with such broken and bloodied hands. Except when she touched her front. Something soft and light was stuffed within her blouse, making it cushioned enough to not exacerbate her shattered knuckles and stiff fingers. She carefully, oh so carefully, pulled the collar of her blouse down with one shaking hand and reached inside with the other, pulling out the soft, white silk of her mother's night gown, with the other.
A wide, ugly burn covered most of it from when Alexandria had tackled her, but a quick once-over with a free hand showed the burn had stopped with the silk and not done any harm to her stomach. Her whole body shaking with a mountain of traumatic feelings she did not have the ability to parse, she fell to her knees and held the gown to her face and chest, then simply screamed.
She screamed and she screamed and then, as an encore, she screamed some more. She screamed until her voice broke down and all she could do was weep. She eventually collapsed on that river beach, conscious but not, with the last memento of her mother her only company, one that would never again smell like her. There she remained until unconsciousness once again took her.
The rhythmic beating of wings interrupted her sleep. The sound was so uniform and loud she thought for a moment it was a swarm of owls, but her blurry vision was just sharp enough to make out the bright, white lights of the helicopter landing just a few meters away.
The powerful wind from the rotors kicked more dirt and pebbles onto her and increased her pain, but the mass of red and gold laying on her shifted to protect her from it. The mass of feathers confused her, as did the black eyes and beak of the phoenix protecting her.
Her breath, already weak, hitched at the sight of such a beautiful creature crying for her, and she reached out with broken, but somehow no longer bleeding, fingers to caress and console it. It leaned into her touch and cooed appreciatively. That little trill was enough to drive the pain from her body as if by magic, but it didn't quite reach the sadness and horror in her mind.
The beautiful bird was meant to make people feel as if everything would be okay when it sang, but Gabrielle knew nothing would ever be okay again. Even if she might be. And as the blond man with the mechanical arm carried her away and tried to tell her that same pretty lie, she knew it was just that. A lie.
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