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The Dragon by jardyn39

Format: Novella
Chapters: 4
Word Count: 21,717
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Mild violence, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: Mystery, Action/Adventure
Characters: Harry, Hermione
Pairings: Harry/Hermione

First Published: 10/02/2017
Last Chapter: 10/05/2017
Last Updated: 10/05/2017

Summary:


Continuing their Sixth Year, Hermione sets about researching the origins of Harry's Apprentice Piece wand. An attack in the refugee camp interrupts her telling of the story, but Harry intervenes and Ron gets a chance to earn his Prefect Badge back. The school is attacked again and knowing this is probably a trap Harry rushes to the aid of Dumbledore, standing alone in the middle of the pitch facing The Dragon. Part three of the Apprentice Piece


Chapter 1: Perenelle’s Offer
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

The Dragon
 
by Jardyn39
 
Part Three of “The Apprentice Piece”
 
Introduction
 
This is the third of five self-contained but linked stories set during Harry’s Sixth Year. This part was originally published on Portkey in February 2005 and has been edited slightly more than the preceding parts and a couple of additional scenes have been added.

The five consecutive parts of “The Apprentice Piece” series are entitled: The Apprentice Piece, The Crucible, The Dragon, The Sword of Light and The Accord. A brief prologue summarising the preceding parts is given below.
 
Prologue
 
## WARNING: SPOILERS ## 

Part One: The Apprentice Piece

Harry is in possession of a wand which he calls his Apprentice Piece which he made during the holidays. Mystery surrounds the wand and where the wood for it came from.

Harry is asked to set up Quidditch practice for non-team players. He readily agrees and the Rebels are formed with non-house teams. Ron does not approve. Harry is made captain of the Quidditch team, much to Ron’s obvious disappointment. Harry appoints Ginny their new play maker. Ron plays terribly until their first game, which they win convincingly.

The new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher and ex-Auror, Harbinger, has been giving Harry additional training in an Auror Tent. The tent is known to have killed before and everyone that knows about it wants it destroyed. Moody helped set it up.

Harbinger is in possession of letters from Harry’s mother and has promised them to Harry, believing they contain hidden messages for Harry. Harbinger’s tragic secret is revealed.

In the few short weeks since the start of term, Ron has lost his Prefect badge and been thrown off the Quidditch team. To the surprise of many, Harry has forgiven Ron and expects him to work to regain his prefect badge.

Harry was introduced to an Unspeakable named Fides who, known only to her mother and father, helped Harry save Hermione’s life. Fides allowed Harry to face a challenge to obtain an elixir to cure Hermione. Fides later admits to a deception but Harry has seen and used part of his potential as well as a much darker side of himself.

Harry learns that Dumbledore argued with the Unspeakables when he was an infant but that someone else won the day allowing him to grow up.

Hermione is asked to improve the tent’s simulated attacks. She does this with extraordinary effectiveness. Harry is livid. Unknowingly, Hermione broke Moody’s rules concerning the tent which caused him to believe it was real. Hermione believed Harry had feelings for Ginny and placed an image of her in the simulation. The tent needed to be repaired after Harry had finished.

The Regiment has set up a refugee camp within the Hogwarts grounds. Dumbledore insists that the traditional challenge between the Regiment and Hogwarts must proceed and will be lead by Peeves. The night of the challenge, which is a glorified food fight, is Halloween. The same evening dance is arranged for the senior years. Hermione finally tells Harry that Halloween is not a traditional wizarding celebration.

Part Two: The Crucible

Beginning just after Halloween during Harry’s Sixth Year. Fudge is trying to get his hands on Sirius’ estate. Hermione is shocked when Dumbledore allows Harry to enter the Auror tent at its highest skill level before the tent is destroyed. In the tent, Harry faces the Unforgivable Curses again but finally realises he won’t be able to use them.

Harry and Hermione show an elderly visitor around the school, and are quizzed by her endlessly. Dumbledore is not surprised to find them duelling when he invites them to lunch. Clearly very good friends with most of the senior staff, Perenelle jokes that she may be inspecting some lessons later. Harry is shocked when Perenelle tries to attack him in front of Dumbledore. He then discovers she also attacked Hermione. Perenelle’s memory of the incident and why she did it are modified. Harry knows that Perenelle is angry with Dumbledore for placing the charm on him. He does not know what she was trying to find out from Hermione.

Harry learns about a Crucible Charm that was placed on him as a child and Hermione is determined to help him break it. Harry must not learn how to break the charm as it must occur naturally. Harry is the object of a whispering campaign as Hermione’s co-conspirators set to work.

Harry spends Christmas with Lupin at Grimmauld Place after Dumbledore advises him the Ministry won’t know if underage magic is performed there, but it must remain a secret from the others. Harry finds he can do permanent transfiguration charms.

The Grangers and Weasleys join them on Christmas and Harry asks the Grangers to stay on while he reads his mother’s letters which are sealed. Harry confides in Winky and Mrs Granger about his performing magic there. Lily’s letters to Harry are revealed and he and Hermione spend an emotional day reading. Just after Hermione has received a letter apparently from Lily, Voldemort possesses Harry and tries to attack Hermione. At the same time Harry wakes in control of Voldemort’s body and is attacked himself.

Back at Hogwarts, Dobby is charged with stunning Harry every time he has a strange look about him. There are a number of false alarms but Hermione is safe.

Harry discovers Hermione in an ancient book store, accessed from a door within the restricted section of the library. Hermione is climbing dangerously high up seeking a book when Malfoy attacks Harry. His spell misses Harry but causes Hermione to fall. Harry dives into the falling debris to protect Hermione. Trapped, Hermione forces Harry to talk. The Crucible Charm breaks.

On their way back to the Headmaster’s office, they stop off in Myrtle’s bathroom to clean up. After seeing Dumbledore, Harry finally puts on his prefect badge and punishes Malfoy.

Part Three: Harry’s Sixth Year continues …
 
 

Perenelle’s Offer

Harry Potter was on his way back to the Gryffindor common room from the Hospital Wing. He was not in a good mood.

It had been late afternoon before Hermione finally turned up at the Hospital Wing sporting a nasty bruise on her forehead and several cuts that Harry hadn’t noticed when he’d left her in the Headmaster’s office speaking with the Headmaster and his old friend Nicholas Flamel.

“I’m fine, Harry, really,” Hermione had said, but he was concerned to see her hands still shaking.

“You’re not fine,” he had told her, guiding her over to the bed prepared for her by Madam Pomfrey. “You should have come straight here rather than staying to talk.”

Hermione looked like she was prepared to argue with him when Madame Pomfrey had come over then and insisted Harry leave so she could see to Hermione's wounds.

He had reluctantly agreed and promised to look in later.

Harry took a shortcut through the Arithmancy corridor, and seeing it was deserted stopped at the end. The window at the end was a convenient resting point for Prefects on patrol of an evening.

He sat and took out his Apprentice Piece wand as he had so often since the school year had begun.

Harry closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

The Crucible Charm had broken but in truth he couldn't really tell any difference.

Since learning of the charm, he had imagined it being in the form of a glass sphere somehow lodged in his chest. He knew it was a ridiculous notion, but it actually it persisted except now he imagined that glass sphere with a crack in it.

He didn't think the loss of the charm had changed him very much.

After all, he hadn't suddenly come over all evil or gained ambitions to take over the world.

True, it had been rather difficult to restrain himself and not use his Apprentice Piece to punish Malfoy like he really deserved.

He did feel a sort of nervous tension, though, that was definitely worse than he felt before Christmas.

He was nervous about having a certain conversation with Ron about Hermione. There was generally an unspoken agreement between them that forbade such conversations.

He was a bit nervous of Hermione's expectations too.

Mostly, Harry decided, he was nervous about being found unworthy of the wand.

He opened his eyes and looked at the wand that he had made.

Thanks to Professor Harbinger, Harry could now perform some very powerful offensive spells as well as defensive charms using this wand. He could even perform permanent transfigurations so long as he concentrated hard enough. Yet, he was convinced that if he misused the wand it would reject him. He would never become its true bearer.

He had tried so hard to recall the magic that Fides had allowed him to perform. He remembered what he had done, of course, but how was a complete mystery.

Fides had said the Apprentice Piece had nothing to do with it, but perhaps this was wrong. Perhaps the wand was influencing him.

Harry smiled thinking of what George Hellar had told him.

"It will be a reminder that whatever you choose to do, trying your best will always produce results."

Almost everything Fides said was cryptic, whereas George was all about clear instruction.

Given the choice, Harry knew which guidance he preferred to take.

Harry got to his feet and muttered softly, "Okay, George."

*

As Harry turned a corner in the corridor he encountered Perenelle once again.

She was looking rather sheepish and had clearly been waiting for him.

Harry’s mood was not improved by her appearance. He still hadn’t forgiven her for hurting Hermione the last time she visited the school.

“Please, Harry,” she begged desperately. “Please let me talk to you.”

Harry was in half a mind to just ignore her and walk past. As he drew level with her, a voice in the back of his head told him he should show some compassion. After all, it had been Perenelle who had argued for him as a baby while the Unspeakables debated his fate.

Dumbledore had said she even wanted to take him in to look after and refused to speak to the Headmaster for years after he had decided to leave Harry with the Dursleys.

“What do you want?” asked Harry, as politely as he could manage.

“I am so sorry for what happened,” she said. “Nicholas performed a memory charm on me, so I don’t actually remember what I did. Nicholas was very angry with me. He said I was wrong.”

“You don’t remember anything?” asked Harry.

“Nothing after we left Albus at lunchtime, no.”

“Well, you were wrong,” he said feeling his anger subside a little. “You performed Legilimency on Hermione and then tried to do the same to me.”

“I’m sorry,” she said again. “Was it something to do with the Crucible charm?”

“I assume so.”

“I’d like to try to make amends, if I can,” she said hesitantly. “Nicholas and Albus agreed I could ask but they both felt you and Hermione might wish to refuse, given what I did.”

Harry didn’t respond but encouraged by the lack of his outright refusal, she continued.

“I would like to offer to help you and Hermione with your defensive training. I thought I could encourage you to reveal your other talents quicker.”

Harry was not sure what she meant.

“What other talents do you think Hermione and me have to reveal?”

“Well, I was really meaning you, not Hermione,” she said before quickly adding, “although I’m sure she has many different skills that can be developed."

Harry was minded to refuse Perenelle's offer since he was already receiving defensive training from the former Auror, Professor Harbinger. He doubted Perenelle would be better and he was still unsure of her motives.

However, before he had the chance to say anything she went on, speaking quickly now.

"Did you know you are a metamorphmagus?”

“That’s ridiculous,” blurted out Harry. He was beginning to regret even considering her offer.

“Is it?” Perenelle replied with a small smile. “When did you last have a haircut?”

Harry brushed a hand through his hair absently as he thought.

“It just grows slowly, that’s all.”

“Really?”

“Yes, except for when my Uncle used to make me have all those haircuts. It grew quicker then.”

“Well, if that’s normal hair growth you can’t possibly be a metamorphmagus,” Perenelle replied with a smirk.

Harry frowned to himself, thinking back.

“Okay, I accept that my hair doesn’t grow normally, but I just assumed it was because I was a wizard and it just grew because I was scared of what would happen when people saw me after it had been cut really short.”

“So the question is, can you learn to change yourself on purpose?”

“I suppose it is,” admitted Harry.

They fell silent.

"You're not convinced, are you?"

"Well," began Harry, feeling a little embarrassed now.

“At least let me tell you about the Crucible charm?” Perenelle asked. “I can see that it’s broken now, but you must remember that it’s not gone entirely. The parts of you that were bottled up inside will only leak out over a long period of time.

"It could take years before you are finally free of it, but I believe I could encourage a quicker development. You also need to exert some control over the less desirable elements. I can see they are weak now but it will be up to you whether or not you remain a force for good.”

Harry sighed deeply.

"I appreciate the offer, but I think I'd prefer the Crucible charm or whatever remains of it to be left alone for now. I honestly don't know what effect the breaking will have on me or has had on me."

Perenelle gave him a wide, genuine smile.

"Nature will find a way, I'm sure," she said. "I think Albus knew that's what you'd decide to do."

Harry shrugged and still half expected to hear the sound of broken glass being ground together coming from deep inside himself.

Seeing Perenelle's sad smile affected him, though.

“Look, I can’t speak for Hermione,” Harry began, “but if you’d like to help me with some defensive training and it doesn't interfere with Professor Harbinger's plans, I'd be most appreciative. Anything else is not a priority at the moment.”

Perenelle clapped her hands together and grinned widely.

Harry held up his hands and continued, “Please remember, Perenelle, that after what happened I cannot trust you. This may change in the future, but right now, I don’t trust you. If you ever hurt or upset Hermione in any way-”

“I understand,” Perenelle interrupted.

“The other thing is that I won’t jeopardise what I might achieve in the future after Voldemort,” said Harry. “I will not resort to dark magic and I cannot use the Unforgivable curses.”

“Are you sure?” asked Perenelle doubtfully.

“Yes.”

"That's quite a handicap you're giving yourself."

"That's my choice."

“Then I will have to think about what you would be prepared to use,” she said frowning slightly. “I’ll come back when I’ve prepared a plan. Nothing dark at all?”

“Well, not too dark. I’ll consider anything you can suggest.”

“Okay,” she said a little brighter. “Will you give Hermione my regards and pass on my offer? Albus said I wasn’t to approach her unless you said it was okay.”

Harry nodded and said, “I will.”

*

After dinner, Harry and Ron made their way up to the Hospital Wing to see Hermione. Harry had told Ron only that some heavy books and shelves had fallen on them while Hermione was looking for a book in the library store.

Harry was surprised when Ron said he’d known the store was there and that the entrance was from the restricted section. He supposed they’d been told because they were prefects.

Predictably, Ron showed very little interest in the store or what it contained.

They got to the Hospital Wing only to find large group of female students blocking the entrance and a good length of the wide corridor. Harry wondered what could have happened since news of injuries and accidents generally went around very quickly at the school.

Harry saw the top of the Hospital Wing doors open and he couldn’t see who had just come out but as soon as they did so the group began showing signs of hostility.

Ron, being that much taller, could see what was happening at the front and without hesitation waded through the group right up to the front.

Harry didn’t follow.

“That’s quite enough, thank you,” Ron said loudly. “She’s has been though quite enough today without having you lot having a go at her. Go on, clear off the lot of you.”

Nobody moved.

“It’s okay, Ron,” Harry heard Hermione say nervously from somewhere at the front.

He immediately wished he’d followed Ron through the crowd.

“We agreed to help you, Hermione,” came an angry voice from somewhere near the front of the gathering.

“Was this your plan all along?” demanded another voice.

Harry looked around the group of people and it slowly dawned upon him that these must be the conspirators that had helped Hermione put together her psychological profile for him. Harry became aware that Ginny was standing beside him, looking worried.

With a quick glance at Harry, Ginny spoke out making a number of heads turn and realise that Harry was standing behind them.

“We agreed to help Harry, remember?” said Ginny.

“Well yes, but after what Myrtle said-”

Harry flushed. He ought to have known Myrtle would be indiscrete. He hadn't even said anything to Ron yet.

He then finally realised why these girls were angry with Hermione and his mood darkened.

“Hermione told us that she had no idea what would be the outcome,” said Ginny forcefully, “and I believe she told us the truth.”

Several members in the crowd had turned to face Ginny and then realised Harry was listening to the exchange.

Those that had seen Harry’s cold expression began to move apart and Harry could now see the front of the group through the gaps. Ron was standing protectively just in front of Hermione, who was looking flushed and upset.

“I’m sorry, but-” Hermione began to say but faltered, clearly in distress.

This was too much for Harry and he immediately withdrew his wand and cleared his throat. He could see Ron turn to look at Hermione, clearly at a loss what to do and concerned that she should be so upset.

“I don’t know what Myrtle told you or what you each thought you might get by agreeing to help Hermione before,” said Harry flatly, “but you are clearly upsetting Hermione and I won’t let that continue, now or at any time. Unless you want a reason to see Madam Pomfrey, I think you’d better all leave now.”

The group hesitated before Ginny said, “Come on, let’s go.”

Harry waited for them to go before he trusted himself to turn back to Hermione and Ron.

“What on earth was that all about?” asked Ron incredulously.

“I’m guessing that there was some speculation that the solution to breaking my Crucible charm might be something to do with my affections?” said Harry looking down at Hermione, her face hid by her handkerchief.

She gave a small nod and looked up at Harry. Ron frowned, looked between the two of them.

“I’m not too keen on the idea of being offered up as some sort of prize,” said Harry quietly.

“You weren’t,” said Hermione jerkily, “but once some of them got the idea nothing I said could dissuade them. I never even hinted what might break the charm.”

Harry put his wand back into his inside pocket and said, “Ron, will you take Hermione back to the common room and see no-one bothers her?”

“Er, sure,” he replied.

“Thanks,” Harry said with a small smile, “I’ll see you both later.”

As Harry turned the corridor he could have sworn he heard Ron say, “Okay, Hermione, tell me what is really going on.”

*

The Astronomy Tower

Harry opened the door out onto the top of the Astronomy Tower and looked around. It was a clear night and later there would be a class up there to study the night sky. In one corner, a small collection of telescopes had already been placed there ready.

For now, though, the viewing area was empty of students.

Professor Harbinger stood overlooking the battlements out at the refugee camp across the grounds.

Harry closed the heavy door and saw a familiar young girl on tiptoes desperately trying to look over the lowest part of the embrasures in the parapet stonework. She had been the very youngest of Harbinger's siblings and wasn't quite tall enough to see over at the sea of lantern lit tents in the distance.

The girl turned to him and immediately came over. Harry assumed she wanted him to hold her up so she could see the camp but instead she just wrapped her arms around his middle.

Harry was at a loss what to do but didn't want to disturb the Professor.

The girl looked so real she was quite indistinguishable from a real, live person. He also realised with some concern that she was very cold.

"There's a heater over there for when it gets too cold in the winter," he whispered quietly. "Why don't we sit over there?"

He led the girl over to the ancient iron burner next to the rear wall. The smoke blackened metal was quite cold so he opened the door and put in a couple of wood logs from the storage rack at the side. He closed the door and tapped the top of the wood burner with his wand.

Instantly he felt the warmth on his face.

"Better?"

The girl silently pointed to a seat so he brought it closer to the burner for her.

"Don't touch the metal or you'll get burnt," Harry warned her.

She ignored him and pointed down at the seat.

"Yes, that's for you," he said.

From her expression, Harry thought she disagreed and found himself being pushed towards the seat.

He sat as ordered and the girl immediately climbed up to sit on his lap.

"Oh," he said simply as the girl snuggled up to him and wrapped herself in his cloak.

Harry looked around, wondering where her brothers and sisters were. Harbinger was standing very still and looked like he was concentrating hard.

Something moving in the shadows made Harry look up. With a shock he realised someone was sitting up on the bartizan part of the tower where the exit door was housed. This was the very highest part of the tower. The pinnacle capping stone had to be only a few inches wide and there was a very long drop to the ground from up there.

The figure stood and lithely jumped down to the flat stone roof of the tower, her long brown hair flowing back as she descended.

The small lantern beside the door gave out just enough light for him to recognise her as another of Harbinger's sisters.

She glanced at her brother who still hadn't moved and then walked over to Harry and the girl.

"The others are in the camp," she announced, sitting down on the stone floor beside Harry. "They were following some refugees that John suspected were spying. If he concentrates, he can send us out quite a distance."

Her little sister poked her head out from under Harry's cloak and giggled.

The girl smiled and said sadly, "She doesn't understand she can't really feel the cold."

Harry nodded and again wondered at Harbinger's ability to conjure such lifelike individuals from memory. He suspected the hurt of their loss had a great deal to do with it.

Harbinger's head dropped slightly.

"They're coming back now."

A girl and two boys materialised out of thin air and went straight over to the battlements.

Harry made to stand and disengage the young girl but she was determined to hang onto him so he hoisted her up and carried her over to the others.

Harbinger turned with a serious look on his face but couldn't help but smile at Harry.

"I'm sorry, Harry. I quite forgot we had arranged to meet."

"That's okay," said Harry. "Did you find out anything?"

"We were following two suspects," said the eldest boy. "The one I followed didn't do anything. He just queued up for his meal and then volunteered to help clean up afterwards."

"Mine went into the forest," said the girl who was the eldest of the children. "I followed as far as I could, but that isn't very far."

Harry looked at the second boy but he didn't say anything. Perhaps he had been on a more confidential mission.

Harbinger sighed deeply and said, "They are managing to avoid all the traps. Both the Regiment and the Aurors are convinced they are getting help from the Ministry."

"Really?" asked Harry and they all looked out over towards the camp.

The small girl in Harry's arms was fidgeting now and he gently lowered her to the floor.

Harbinger turned to face him and said, "Oh, dear, Harry. So easily disarmed?"

Harry suddenly felt for this pocket.

"Hey!" he complained as he realised she had neatly pick pocketed his wand.

The spell from Harbinger's wand lifted Harry off his feet as the children vanished. With his arms splaying about, Harry hit the parapet and only just stopped himself falling. He had no fear of heights but that was too close.

Harbinger picked up the apprentice piece wand with a gloved hand and tucked it carefully into a cloak pocket.

Harbinger pointed his own wand at Harry but this time he was ready. Before the spell took full effect, Harry launched himself sideways and rolled across the flat stone roof.

Balancing himself, Harry swept his arm down low. Harbinger lost his balance as the wandless spell pulled his boots out from under him.

Harry tried summoning Harbinger's wand, but the former Auror had been ready for that and he fired a stunning spell at Harry.

Just in time, Harry summoned a bench to protect himself with. It scraped across the stone floor but it was heavy and moved far slower than he had intended. The red stunner hit the bench and flew off harmlessly into the night.

Harry realised too late what Harbinger was going to do.

The Professor aimed at the parapet and fired once again. This time his stunning spell bounced off the wall and went around the bench, hitting Harry on his back.

"Argh!" cried Harry as pain shot through him, although it was the realisation that he had been beaten so easily that hurt him more.

Harbinger was smiling when he offered out his hand to pull Harry to his feet.

"A shield charm would have been more effective," said Harbinger. "Still, at least you didn't let the height up here distract you too much."

"I'm sorry, Professor," said Harry, feeling ashamed that he hadn't put to use the charm Harbinger had taught him only days before.

"Oh, don't worry about it," Harbinger said encouragingly. "Mad-Eye insisted that he taught me at the top of the White Cliffs of Dover. I wasn't nearly as comfortable as you standing at the edge of a sheer drop."

"What happened?" asked Harry.

"Well, you know Moody. He seemed to think the sea would be therapeutic, but mostly I just got frustrated and wet!"

Harry laughed.

"So, ready to try again?"

"Professor? Why-"

Harry didn't finish his question, having been launched high up over Harbinger's shoulder. Harry just managed to grab onto the flag pole this time.

He thought he heard Harbinger say, "Damn. Forgot there was a flagpole there."

Harbinger took careful aim again as Harry desperately tried to remember the particular shield charm that would save him.

Harbinger smiled ruefully and Harry knew what would happen next.

Moments later a still cursing Harry landed with a loud splash in the lake.

By the time Harry had trudged wet-through from the lake for a third time, there was quite a gathering of students waiting for him. They were even giving him scores for the style of his landings into the lake.

He was about to climb laboriously back up to the top of the Astronomy tower when he met Professor Harbinger coming down the stairs into the entrance hall.

"I think we'll call it a night, Harry," he said above the complaints of Harry's audience.

"I thought I almost got it right that last time," said Harry, taking his wand back.

"You did that," said the Professor with an encouraging smile. "If you'll excuse me, I must just go and thank Kingsley for escorting you safely back from the lake."

Harry didn't follow. He ached all over now and didn't think he could stand to listen to more of Kingsley's laughter nor his repeated assurances that Mad-Eye's training methods were far more violent.









Next chapter:-


Out of Bounds
 
“It’s almost as if they were expecting you to be out of bounds today."

Harry follows Hermione and the others into the refugee camp where she begins to tell the story of a wand that piques Harry's interest.


Chapter 2: Out of Bounds
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Out of Bounds
 
Very early on Saturday morning, Harry was woken by the sound of Ron trying a little too hard not to wake the others in their dormitory.

“Ron, what are you doing?” he asked groggily.

“Getting dressed quietly so you don’t wake up, obviously,” Ron said irritably with his back to Harry. “Just go back to sleep will you, or Hermione will get mad at me.”

Harry, fully awake now, decided he would get up. He attempted to throw off his bed sheets but his legs got tangled in his sheets and had been clearly looking forward to a weekend lie-in.

“Why would Hermione be mad at you?” Harry struggled to ask, yawning widely and stretching.

“Because you can’t come and I insisted one of us had to go with her.”

“Why can’t I come? Come to that, where can’t I come?”

“Well she’s thought up this mad scheme and apparently she needs to do it in the refugee camp.”

Harry grabbed one of Ron's trainers and threw it across the room in an effort to slow him down. It flew over the top of Neville's closed bed hangings and Harry cringed waiting for a complaint from behind the heavy cloth.

However, they heard nothing and Ron simply summoned his shoe back. Frustrated that his plan had been foiled so easily, Harry quickly pulled on his clothes and followed Ron downstairs.

“Morning, Hermione,” Harry said with a grin, hoping his back-to-front jersey wasn't too obvious.

Hermione was sitting in her favourite chair by the fire reading some notes.

Her eyes narrowed dangerously as she replied coolly, “Morning, Harry.”

She reached for her wand.

“Hey,” said Harry putting his hands up and putting on his best disarming smile. “You wouldn’t stun me just for wanting to say Good Morning, would you?”

“Not just for that, no,” she admitted. “Well it’s nice to see you Harry, but Ron and I have business elsewhere this morning. We’ll see you later.”

“I’m coming too,” offered Harry at once. “I don’t think you should go to the refugee camp with only Ron for protection.”

“They won’t be alone,” said Neville coming down the stairs.

“Of course not,” chipped in Ginny from the dormitory door.

“Well,” said Harry, trying to ignore Hermione’s smirk, “at least you’re thinking along the right lines. I’m still coming by the way, just to be sure.”

“Okay, Harry, you win,” said Hermione with a sigh. “But only if you shower first. We’ll meet you in the Great Hall.”

“Great,” said Harry, rushing back upstairs.

It was only when the dormitory door closed behind him that Harry realised Hermione hadn’t actually promised to wait for him. She had only said they would meet him there, which could be at any time.

Cursing his stupidity, he rushed to wash.

*

A few minutes later, Harry ran into the Great Hall. It was, as he had suspected, completely deserted. It was so early, the breakfast things hadn't even been sent up from the kitchens yet.

He swore loudly to the empty hall.

“Language!” said an amused voice from behind him.

Harry spun around to see Luna.

“Sorry, Luna,” he said with a guilty smile, “but Hermione tricked me. She said they would wait until I had a shower before going to the refugee camp. Or rather I believed she was saying that.”

Luna nodded as if his words made perfect sense.

“Do you want to get something to eat or shall we just go?” she asked.

“Er, I’d prefer to just go, really,” said Harry honestly. “You know I’m not supposed to go there, don’t you?”

“I assumed so, yes,” she replied dreamily. “Are you coming or what?”

*

Harry and Luna walked into the refugee camp unchallenged after a walk that took them just over half an hour.

The winter sun hadn't yet broken through and a light mist hung in the air. They shivered slightly in the cold air.

On the way, Luna had told of Hermione’s increasingly desperate attempts to maintain control of all the speculation that had been generated as she gathered the information for his psychological profile. Luna and Ginny had both advised her it might be better to just drop the whole thing, as Hermione’s protests were just creating more wild speculations and rumours.

In truth, Harry's annoyance with Hermione hadn't lasted very long at all.

He knew she was trying to act in his best interests, although he did now wish she had listened to Luna and Ginny.

The refugee camp consisted of many identical small plain tents placed at regular distances apart with a few larger tents towards the middle. They walked along a wide thoroughfare towards the centre where they could see some larger tents had been put up.

It was still very early and there was little sign of activity with almost everyone still asleep inside their tents. It struck Harry how different this camp was from the one at the Quidditch World Cup. These tents looked entirely functional, which he supposed was fitting for a soldierly outfit like the Regiment. He also wondered were the Regiment soldiers were camped. He supposed they were somewhere here in tents as well.

Luna pointed out a signpost ahead which had a large noticeboard next to it.

They read the notices posted up on the board for clues what Hermione and the others might be up to.

“Good morning,” said a voice from behind them, “you must be from the school?”

They turned to see Lieutenant Davies smiling at them. They recognised him from the start of term feast on their first day back at school.

The Lieutenant was looking quite resplendent in a new uniform. He wore a bright red jacket with a high collar and with two vertical rows of gold buttons down the front each with gold braded links, blue pantaloons with gold lace stripes down the sides and black boots complete with riding spurs.

At his waist he wore a white leather belt with slings from which he carried a long curved scabbard complete with ornate looking sabre and under his arm he carried a polished black helmet complete with a white and red comb.

The uniform was clearly worn to impress and Harry wondered how long it had taken the Lieutenant to master his pose.

He resisted asking after his horse.

“Morning,” they both replied.

“We were looking for some friends of ours.”

“They are setting up in one the larger tents. Just follow the signs that way.”

They thanked him and set off in the direction he had pointed them in.

"Do you suppose they get to choose their own uniform?" asked Luna.

"Um, probably not," replied Harry, hoping the Lieutenant was out of earshot. "Still, perhaps he's the sort of person who likes to stand out."

"Yes, I noticed," said Luna. "Mind you, those pantaloons were rather tight."

Harry snorted with embarrassed laughter. Looking back, he was glad the Lieutenant was nowhere in sight.

“Still, strange he let us just pass like that,” said Harry once he had recovered himself.

“It’s almost as if they were expecting you to be out of bounds today,” said Luna, and Harry had to suppress another laugh. If it had been anyone else, he would have suspected they were being sarcastic; but Luna didn't really do sarcasm.

After a short walk they were overtaken by two small children urgently dragging their harassed looking mother along by her hands.

“It’s still early, not even nine-thirty yet,” she was insisting.

Harry looked at Luna who smiled and nodded. They picked up their pace and followed.

Up ahead the mother and her children disappeared into a large tent. When they got closer, Harry could see the makeshift sign next to the door. It read, “School” and underneath hung an elaborate sign saying, “Storytelling 10 am Saturday.”

The lower sign could only have been Hermione’s work. There was an animated picture of a clock looking frantic as its hands got closer to the hour.

They entered.

*

Inside the tent, Harry was surprised to see a number of small children sitting happily on some old carpets and rugs in the middle of the area, laughing happily and chatting.

To his astonishment, the inside of the tent didn't appear to be any larger than the outside. He wondered why this was but assumed that perhaps the Regiment had different requirements.

In front of them, Ron was trying to put up a folding table. Much to the children’s amusement, he was having a few difficulties. Every time he managed to stand one end up, the other would collapse. He would then move to the other end of the long table and try again, apparently oblivious to the howls of laughter behind him.

At the back of the tent several tables and chairs were provided for parents to sit and take refreshments. Ginny and Neville were there helping an elderly witch serve drinks.

Seeing Harry and Luna, Ginny came over.

“It’s almost ten. Harry, will you help Ron?”

By now the tent was becoming crowded with excited children. Harry carefully made his way over between them to Ron.

“Ginny says it’s almost Ten, so we’d better draw the act to a close,” said Harry smiling.

Ron looked up frowning and wiped his sweating forehead. Harry tipped the table over and locked the legs in place at each end before setting the table the right way up.

There were a couple of groans from Ron’s audience as they realised that the table wasn’t going to fall down again.

“Hermione’s going to be mad at you for coming, you know that don’t you?” said Ron with the faintest of a smile.

“Where is she?” Harry asked but at that moment she breezed right up to the front, beaming widely at the children sat cross legged before her.

“It’s lovely to see you all here this morning. Before we begin, let’s thank Ron here for entertaining us and putting up this table, shall we?”

Harry joined in clapping and cheering and then followed Ron to the side where they found a couple of seats.

“This morning I thought you’d like to hear a story,” said Hermione, “and if there’s time after you might like to draw some pictures about it.”

*

Story Time

Hermione waved her wand and conjured a comfortable armchair for herself. She sat down and opened her notes.

Ron gasped and whispered, “How long has she been able to do that?”

“If you’d like to move closer so you can hear, please do so,” she said gently. “If you have any questions, just raise your hand.”

A few of the children moved closer, not wanting to miss anything.

“Now the story I’m going to tell you hasn’t really got a name,” Hermione began. “That's because it is a true story, not something that has been made up. This story is about a wand and a dragon.

"But there’s a twist. You see, the wand isn’t really a wand and the dragon isn’t really a dragon.”

Hermione paused, allowing her young audience a moment to be intrigued.

They weren’t quite as intrigued as Harry, though, who slipped off his seat and joined the children sitting on the floor. Luna sidled casually around the tent sides and sat in Harry’s vacated chair next to Ron.

“Is everyone sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin,” said Hermione smiling.

Harry realised they were probably the only ones in the tent who knew she was repeating words from a Muggle story time radio programme.

“Our story begins many hundreds of years ago when a young boy, who was destined to grow up into one of the greatest wizards of his time, was eleven years old. Now very little accurate information survives about him when he was younger, but I like to think of him as rather scruffy, with patched too big second-hand clothes and quite a knack for getting into trouble. He had scruffy short black hair.

"We know him today by the name of Merlin. You may have seen him on the Chocolate Frog cards.

“One day in the middle of winter, Merlin was travelling through a forest. In those days the forests would extend for miles in all directions. It was said that a person could travel their entire lives and never leave the forest canopy.

"Now some parts of the forest were very dangerous, and poor Merlin was travelling through an area of forest he knew might be hazardous. Being sensible, he would normally have tried to avoid it, but Merlin had played a trick on a neighbour in the forest and he was still upset with Merlin.”

A small girl put up her hand, and Hermione asked, “Yes?”

“Please Miss,” she said tentatively. “What trick did Merlin play?”

“Well, we don’t really know,” said Hermione, “but Merlin did once make a farmer’s pigs to ‘cluck’ and his chickens go ‘oink’, and I suspect it might have been something similar.”

The children laughed and Hermione waited patiently for them to quieten down again.

“Although Merlin could do a little magic, he wasn’t yet old enough to do anything very advanced. Most of the magic he did, he didn’t even know himself how he did it. Merlin was also very poor and had hardly any possessions.

"The only toys he ever had were ones he made for himself and his friends. He became quite skilful at simple woodworking and his adopted family hoped he would make a living in the forest. In those days, of course, young people were expected to work rather than go to school.

“Then, as now, most people wanted more money, better clothes, and better living conditions. Merlin had no money, but the record suggests the only thing he really wanted was a wand.

"Merlin knew about Wizards and magic from stories, and like most people at that time, he thought if only he had a wand he’d be able to do anything! What kinds of things do you think he wanted to do?”

Hermione listened as the children volunteered ideas and then smiling said, “Those are very good. You might like to draw some of those ideas later.”

She opened her notes again and continued.

“On this particular day, Merlin came across an old man in the forest. He was standing in resplendent multi-coloured robes that looked quite out of place in the green forest. Merlin knew at once he was a wizard because he held a wand.

“Merlin, who wasn’t at all shy, introduced himself at once saying he too was a wizard even though he didn’t yet have a wand and didn’t actually know how to do magic yet. The old man conjured a fire and a fine meal and invited Merlin to join him.

"We do not know the old wizard’s name, Merlin never recorded it, but he did record that Merlin saw and heard many wonders that evening.

“The next morning Merlin awoke to find the wizard cooking a fine breakfast. Merlin had slept better than he ever had before thanks to the bed and tent the wizard had conjured for him. Over breakfast, the wizard made Merlin a proposition. Merlin could, if he wished, become an apprentice to the wizard so he could learn magic and assist the old man who travelled the land helping people.

“Merlin agreed at once but the old wizard said there was one condition to his offer. Merlin must have a wand first.

“Poor Merlin. He had no wand nor did he have any idea where he could get one. Wands were incredibly expensive and rare in those days. What was he to do?

“The old man appeared to take pity on young Merlin, and told him all about how wands are made, what particular wood species they are made from and what kinds of core that can be used.

"He also told Merlin of an extraordinary bush nearby. Wands made from this particular tree, according to legend, don’t require a core provided they are made according to special instructions.

"Such wands were steeped in legend even that long ago and were said to find their way to their true bearer using an ancient magic that is long forgotten today.”

Harry put his hand up, not wishing to appear rude.

“Yes, Harry?”

“Er, what species was this tree?”

Hermione smiled and picked up a bag from her feet. She reached in and drew out a small branch which still had leaves on.

“I brought this example for everyone to see. Here pass it around but be careful not to prick yourselves on the sharp bits. There is a smooth part at the end you can hold. Who can tell Harry what type of bush this branch came from?”

A small boy put his hand up uncertainly.

“Yes?” asked Hermione smiling at him.

Hermione’s disarming smile appeared to dissolve the boy’s nervousness, and he replied, “Holly!”

“Excellent! You’re quite right. Harry, put it on the table if everyone’s finished looking. Perhaps you could draw a picture of part of this later.”

Harry welcomed the opportunity to stretch a little. When Harry was seated again, Hermione continued.

“Even as long ago as when Merlin was a boy, this particular Holly bush was ancient. It was situated in a small clearing and many magical creatures came just to gaze upon it and feel the magical energy that seemed to radiate from its leaves and branches.

“Under close supervision, Merlin set about making his wand. It took several hours as no magic could be used and they had few tools. Eventually, though, it was finished and a rather proud and very tired Merlin went to sleep dreaming about the wonderful future he would have as a wizard’s apprentice.

"He was happier that night than he’d ever been.

“Unfortunately, Merlin was awoken at dawn. At first he thought he was dreaming he was nice and warm.

"Then be dreamt he was rather hot.

"Then he dreamt he was on fire.

"Then he woke up and realised he really was on fire!"

Hermione paused as the children gasped.

“Merlin rolled around the ground and put the flames out. He tried to get up but found himself staring up at an enormous, angry dragon. He looked around, hoping the wizard would help him. There was no wizard and all his things were gone, including the new wand Merlin had made.

“Merlin was absolutely sure he was about to be stomped on, burnt or eaten by the dragon. Probably all three!”

The children gasped again.

“But Merlin, who had never seen anything like a dragon before, decided that wizards probably encounter such creatures every day. He decided he would talk to the dragon and try to bluff his way out. Merlin had no idea that dragons were ferocious creatures but even he was surprised when it spoke to him.

Did you make a wand from this enchanted tree? asked the dragon, sounding quite angry,” said Hermione in her deepest voice to the wide eyed children.

Before she could continue, they all became aware of indistinct shouting coming from outside the tent. Most of the children looked around, obviously annoyed that the story was being interrupted but at the same time curious to know what the shouting was about.

Several of the adults at the back of the tent had gone outside now to see what was going on.

Harry felt a growing sense of unease. He got to his feet and took out his wand, trying to make out what the shouting was.

From almost directly outside the tent, they heard a loud chilling voice cry out.

“The Dark Lord is coming! Nowhere is safe. No-one is safe. By seeking protection at Hogwarts you will just anger him. Leave and he may be merciful. Stay and he will punish you for your insolence. Accept the inevitable, he is strong and you are weak. See, not even your children are safe!”

The tent flaps at the entrance opened and three masked figures entered bearing wands.

Facing them and blocking their path was Harry, closely followed by Neville, Ginny and Luna. Hermione and Ron were back kneeling in front of the huddled children.

Harry could hear Ron continuing to chat and distract the children. He was pleased that he sounded relaxed and calm.

The three intruders fired stunning spells immediately.

Protego!” whispered Harry and all three stunners bounced back. They dodged them easily but before they could fire again Harry swiped his wand in a wide arc past their legs. He didn't trouble to temper the strength of his jinx.

The bones in the intruder's legs cracked audibly and all three collapsed screaming in agony. Neville rushed forward and collected their wands, not troubling to be careful where he trod.

With a glance back at Ginny and Luna, who looked momentarily stunned at what he’d just done, Harry rushed forward. Before he got to the entrance, soldiers from the Regiment stormed in to collect the intruders. After unmasking and binding them they were removed for questioning.

“Are there any more?” asked Harry.

“Yes. One was killed but two more escaped into the crowd. They probably had help,” a corporal said darkly. “We came as soon as possible but I think the others were sent to distract us from what these three were up to.”

Ginny came over to Harry while Hermione, Ron and Luna remained and comforted the children. Ron, in particular, was still doing a good job at distracting them from what just happened. Joking, complaining that the story wasn’t finished and demanding to be shown exactly how to do some drawings was working for most of the children while Hermione whispered individual words of comfort to those that were more upset.

“They are fine,” said Ginny, “just a little shaken. Hermione will be mad at you later, though.”

“Why on earth did nobody try to stop them getting in here?” asked Harry, who was only half listening. “Would they have just watched their children being killed?”

“Why don’t you ask them Harry?”

*

What can we do?

A still angry Harry stepped out of the tent and was immediately greeted by a large crowd. Their clapping and cheers just made him angrier. Some people looked like they wanted to thank Harry personally and moved forward into the wide gap the Regiment had created as they moved through.

Several people hesitated seeing the angry look on Harry’s face.

Harry became aware that Ginny and Neville now flanked him as he watched a middle aged wizard in bright red robes walk forward smiling and holding his hand out, apparently either not noticing or ignoring Harry’s mood.

When Harry didn’t shake hands the wizard put his arm around his shoulder’s and turned to face the crowd, beaming.

“Harry Potter!” he said loudly, not looking at Harry. “On behalf of my fellow residents of this camp, I’d like to thank you for saving our children. Without your intervention-”

The man suddenly gave a start and let go of Harry as if he’d received an electric shock.

“You may not have noticed,” began Harry, desperately trying to control himself, “but there were five other students from Hogwarts who were also protecting those children, who are fine, by the way, no thanks to you.”

A murmur went around the crowd, which was swelling in number now.

“A group of pathetic Death Eaters march through here in broad daylight and not one of you stands up to them even after they announce what they’re going to do?”

“It all happened so quickly,” blustered the wizard, “and besides we came here for protection. Dumbledore should have stopped them. It was really his fault-”

Harry turned and raised his wand, pointing it at the man’s heart.

“Don’t you dare blame Dumbledore!”

The man immediately blanched and stepped backwards. Losing his footing he stumbled and sat rather indignantly into the mud.

Harry took a step forward but Neville reached out and put a precautionary hand on Harry’s upper arm.

It was enough, and Harry nodded, lowering his wand to his side.

“Professor Dumbledore invited you all here so that the vulnerable can be better protected,” said Harry loudly to the crowd. “He invited you knowing that amongst you there may be those spying for Voldemort, yet still he allowed you to come.”

He ignored the gasps and scandalised expressions.

“Nowhere can ever be completely safe,” Harry continued in a softer tone, “and it is unfair to expect Dumbledore and the Regiment to do everything. You must help defend yourselves and each other. You may not know how to fight, but you can learn. The Regiment can help you with that.

"And for those that cannot fight, what are you doing? I’m sure there are many ways you could help instead of just moping around this camp, too frightened to do anything.

"That’s where you must start, of course. You must resist. Draw a line. Stop giving in to fear and start resisting. Start encouraging each other.”

“But what can we do against You-Know-Who and his supporters?” asked the wizard dejectedly, still sitting in the mud.

“What can you do?” asked Harry giving a mocking laugh. “Where do I begin? You can help make and transfigure supplies for the Regiment, you can learn how to provide medical assistance, you can learn defensive spells and pass them on to others, you can learn to say Voldemort’s name.”

Hearing more gasps, Harry sighed deeply and continued, “Isn’t anything better than the state of fear you’re in now? Doing something, anything, must be better.

"If you keep yourselves busy you’ll have less time to be afraid and more time to think positively.

"Okay, there are going to be dark and dangerous times ahead. Maybe not all of us will come through them unscathed. So if we might die anyway, why not stand and make a difference?”

With nothing more to say, Harry turned and was about to re-enter the tent when he stopped and extended an arm to the wizard still sitting in mud on the ground. He gratefully took it and Harry heaved him to his feet.

“Can I clean you up a bit?” asked Ginny smiling. “Harry would but he sometimes sets the things he’s cleaning on fire.”

“Thanks, Ginny,” muttered Harry dryly, who would have preferred not to advertise his difficulties controlling the magic done using his apprentice piece wand sometimes.

“Er, no thanks,” said the wizard. “I think it gives me a humble look and I could do with some humility just now.”

Harry snorted.

“May I introduce myself properly? My name is Williamson and I’m on the camp committee.”

“Committee? What does that do?” asked Harry.

“Well, so far we’ve been co-ordinating and pursuing complaints about the facilities here.”

Harry raised his eyebrows.

“That will stop now, I can assure you. I look forward to seeing you again, Mr Potter.”

*

Harry re-entered the tent and was shocked to find himself face to face with Professor Dumbledore.

“S-Sir!” he spluttered as Dumbledore gave him a small smile. “I’m sorry if I spoke out of turn, Sir,” he said quietly.

“It needed to be said, Harry, but please try to remember that not everyone can be as fearless as you’d like.”

Harry nodded and was about to respond when a photographer leaped into the tent brandishing a smoking camera. He just managed to say, “Daily Prophet,” before he has roughly tackled from behind by the Regiment Corporal.

The Corporal quickly got up, grabbed the camera and opened the back. Thick coloured smoke poured out as he removed the film and forcibly returned the camera to its owner.

“Sorry about that, Sirs,” he said smiling, “but this one got away from me. Come on you!”

The photographer was dragged unceremoniously away out of the tent.

After a moment of stunned silence, Harry found his voice again.

“Will the Death Eaters that were caught provide any useful information?”

“It’s possible but I doubt it. They had such little skill that I doubt Voldemort would have trusted them to know very much, if anything.”

“Yes. Isn’t that strange in its self?” asked Harry. “I mean were they really even Death Eaters?”

“I suspect Voldemort knew there was a high risk they would be caught and didn’t wish to risk his more useful supporters. Anyway, Harry, I came to ask you to take up Perenelle’s offer to provide you with additional training.”

“I have accepted for myself,” said Harry, “but I haven’t had a chance to talk to Hermione yet. I’ll speak to her tonight unless she’s too upset about what happened today.”

“Good. I’ll leave it to her to admonish you about being out of bounds.”

Harry rolled his eyes and looking back into the tent remembered something he wanted to say.

“Um, Sir?” Harry said hesitantly, reaching into his pocket. “I think Ron earned his badge back today.”

*

Paying Attention

That evening at dinner, the Headmaster read out a letter from the Refugee committee thanking all six students for their efforts in defending the children. Enclosed with the letter were more drawings made by the children together with a request to hear the end of the story as soon as possible that made Hermione quite weepy.

Dumbledore added his own thanks and announced that they would receive a joint special award for services to the school.

He then invited Ron up to the front of the hall where he received his Prefect Badge back to loud applause.

The Headmaster finished by saying that the kitchens had sent supplies up to the Gryffindor common room should they wish to hold an impromptu party.

*

With the celebrations in full swing, Harry grabbed four butter beer bottles and mimed an invitation for Hermione to join him in a short walk outside. Stepping out of the noise into the cool, quiet corridor was a welcome change.

“That’s better,” said Hermione brushing her hair back before taking a bottle. She was still carrying the children's drawings.

They walked slowly until they found an empty classroom. This particular classroom was a favourite stopping off point for Prefects between duties because the large windows gave a spectacular view of the grounds and the deep windowboards were comfortable for sitting on.

“I’m so pleased Ron got his badge back,” she said sitting down.

“Yes, although I really thought he wasn’t going to get it back,” said Harry. “I tried to hand Ron’s badge to Dumbledore this afternoon but he wouldn’t take it.”

“That probably means you’re both Prefects now,” she said absently. They were quiet for a while.

“Was that Luna I saw in the Gryffindor common room?” asked Hermione.

“Yes, I suggested to Ginny she might like to invite Luna,” answered Harry. “That was before I found out Dumbledore had sent party supplies to all of the common rooms. Still, I’m glad she came.”

Hermione was still looking through the drawings when she said, “This one’s a perfect likeness. It looks just like you, Harry.”

“I thought that was Merlin, actually,” said Harry smiling. “Is the green thing the dragon or you?”

Hermione gasped in mock horror.

“You can’t go around insulting a Prefect, a story telling Prefect at that!” she said trying not to laugh. “Besides, you don’t want to earn another detention today, do you?”

“Detention? Who gave me detention?”

“I did,” she said smiling, “because you were out of bounds today.”

“Oh, that,” he said dismissively. “Ginny said you’d be mad at me.”

“I wasn’t mad at you for that. I was glad you were there with us, especially the way things turned out.”

“So what were you mad at me about, then?” Harry asked with concern.

“Well, it was just the way you reacted,” Hermione said looking down at the drawing. Harry knew that as she wasn’t looking at him, she must have been genuinely upset.

Harry took her hand and gently asked, “What is it?”

At last she looked up.

“When you realised they were coming into the tent, you just ordered us all into position.”

“Yes, I’m sorry. There didn’t seem time for a debate.”

“Of course there wasn’t, Harry,” said Hermione sounding a little annoyed. “That wasn’t the problem. By giving clear directions we all knew what we were doing.”

“Er,” managed Harry, feeling sure he should have a clue what the problem was by now.

Hermione sighed.

“I was upset that you delegated me to the back with Ron. I know I was scared but I can still-”

“Stop,” said Harry seriously. “Please listen. The only reason why I wanted you and Ron to be closest to the children was that if things turned bad you might have had to get them away from there. Of all of us, they knew you and Ron best. They would have trusted you better than any of us. If they had panicked and just run it could have been terrible.”

A solitary tear rolled down Hermione’s cheek.

“I wasn’t trying to protect you. The priority was the children’s safety, that’s all,” whispered Harry, knowing full well if he’d had more time to think about it, he’d still have wanted Hermione out of harm’s way.

Hermione buried her face in Harry’s shoulder and he held her gently looking out over the moonlit grounds.

After a few minutes, Hermione resurfaced and wiped her face. “I feel so ashamed.”

“So are you going to let me off detention?”

She punched him playfully before extending both arms around his neck and resting her head on his shoulder.

“You were amazing today, Hermione,” whispered Harry. “Those kids were totally captivated. So was I, actually. How does the story end, by the way?”

“You’ll have to risk another detention to find out. My next reading is on Saturday.”

“Tease,” said Harry and Hermione snorted. “In that case you’ll have to tell me just what the historical evidence is for Merlin having scruffy black hair.”

“Harry, you need to pay more attention.”

“I was paying attention.”

“Not now you’re not,” she said, once again throwing him completely. Hermione just sighed, removed her arms, grabbed his and put them around her waist and returned to her arms to their previous position.

“Oh,” was all Harry managed to say.

 




Next Chapter:-

A Distant Growl

“Neville, when was the last time you actually saw Ginny and Hermione?”

As the date of the next Quidditch match approaches there are rumours of disappearances and strange noises coming from the forest. A collapsing stand during the match signals the beginning of the attack.


Chapter 3: A Distant Growl
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A Distant Growl
 
It was late on Sunday morning before Harry remembered he still hadn’t told Hermione about Perenelle’s offer to provide them with additional defence training.

“Why didn’t you tell me before?” asked Hermione as they made their way from the library down to the Great Hall for lunch. Harry had insisted that she take a break.

“I’m sorry, but I was distracted last night for some reason,” he replied quietly, earning himself a sharp elbow in his ribs.

As they approached the entrance doors to the hall they were greeted by the Headmaster as he exited.

“I wonder if I might trouble for a word before you go into lunch?” he said with a small smile.

They followed him outside into the bright sunlight.

“I wanted to let you know. Minister Fudge has persuaded one of the Death Eaters from yesterday to spy for him and proposes to let him off on a technicality. The other two will go to Azkaban for the present but Fudge has offered them a deal as well.”

“Is that wise?” asked Hermione. “To let him go, I mean.”

“It’s very revealing,” said Harry.

They both looked at him.

“Those captured Death Eaters were unmasked and they were seen by a lot of people,” said Harry. “They won’t be much good to Voldemort as spies now, will they?

"Voldemort will know the one the Ministry releases must have done a deal to stay out of Azkaban. He’ll probably just have him killed unless Voldemort planned for this all along and wants to use him as a double-agent.

"Surely, the Ministry can’t trust any information that comes from this informant?”

“Perhaps Voldemort was trying to set up a line of communication between himself and someone the Ministry,” said Hermione.

“Or worse,” added Dumbledore darkly, “the other way around.”

They were quiet for a long moment.

“So, is it Fudge himself or is someone manipulating him?” asked Harry.

“We do not know,” said Dumbledore, “but we are assuming that there is an as yet unseen hand involved at the Ministry. Fudge is not, in my view, motivated by the Dark Arts, although he may be vulnerable to bribery or blackmail.”

*

Harry and Ron found themselves alone in the common room doing homework that they should have finished several days ago. Harry rubbed his tired eyes and stretched, noticing the time was gone midnight.

"This is all your fault, you know?" said Ron, who was still writing his conclusion.

Harry smiled and asked, "How so?"

"Hermione's stopped nagging us so much."

Harry snorted with amusement and was about to ask why exactly this was his fault. Even if he knew Ron was probably right, he felt he ought to muster some defence.

The portrait hole opened and in bounced Hermione, looking cold but excited.

“Hermione, where were you?” asked Harry. “We thought you’d gone to bed.”

“No, I’ve just come back from the Headmaster’s office,” she said going over to the fireplace and stoking the embers up to warm herself.

“Hagrid thinks there may be some new, dark creatures in the forest. Grawp has heard something but can’t explain what they might be. Grawp tried to explain it to me but I didn’t understand him very well either.”

“Grawp was here in the castle?” asked Ron, as an icy chill of realisation hit Harry.

“No, silly.”

“So that means you went into the forest, didn’t you Hermione?” said Harry. “What if you were attacked?”

“I was with Hagrid and Grawp,” she said, not looking up, “and I can look after myself. Besides, nothing happened.”

“Why didn’t you come back for us?” demanded Harry quietly.

“Well, Hagrid was worried about Grawp. He was in a hurry. You know how he gets.”

“Hermione,” said Ron getting up and gathering his things, “that was a really incredibly stupid thing to do. We know that You-Know-Who has spies in the camp and they are bound to be in the forest now as well.”

Hermione turned, red faced but ready to argue with Ron. She appeared to be taken aback as she watched Ron say nothing further but instead just went up to the dormitory. Harry was still sitting at the table, staring blankly at his unfinished essay.

Hermione walked over and sat down in Ron’s vacated chair.

“I’m supposed to be the reckless one, Hermione, not you,” began Harry, looking at her at last. “We are not going to argue about this. This must never happen again.”

He stood and started to roll up his parchment but was interrupted by a loud sniff. Harry dropped the parchment and hurried around to Hermione. He knelt next to her and she hugged him, tears flowing freely.

“Aren’t you going to call me stupid as well?” said Hermione in a muffled voice.

“No. You’re safe now and I just want you to stay safe.”

“It was only when Hagrid and I were on our way back that I realised how vulnerable we were, even with Grawp escorting us most of the way. Grawp was really concerned for us, I think.”

"It's alright," said Harry. "You're safe now."

Harry stroked her back and looked across into the fire embers.

“What we need is a way to communicate properly while we are apart,” said Harry. “Hermione, what do you know about twinned mirrors?”

“Nothing, why?”

“Well Sirius gave me one last year. I found it after he died. He and my Dad used a pair of twinned mirrors to talk to each other while they were in separate detentions.”

Hermione drew away from him, frowning.

“Oh, Harry,” she whispered.

“Yes, I know. I didn’t even unwrap it until the evening before we left for the summer holidays. We could have talked to Sirius if he had his mirror with him.”

“Why didn’t you unwrap it?”

“Because Sirius said it was something that would let him know if Snape was giving me a hard time. At the time I just didn’t want him to risk getting caught and then I forgot all about it.”

Hermione nodded and said gently, “It probably wouldn’t have made any difference. I’ll look up twin mirrors in the library tomorrow."

She hesitated and then said, "If you want to shout at me about going into the forest, I think I’m ready now.”

“No shouting, Hermione,” said Harry smiling at her. “It’ll be me that does something stupid next time.”

His expression grew serious.

“It'll take a miracle for us all to survive Voldemort, but we must at least make sure none of us lost cheaply.”

“And Hermione,” he added, “if you’re lost to me, there really won’t be much point in surviving.”

*

Harry woke late into the night. Thinking he heard something from outside, Harry got up, put his glasses on and walked over to the window.

He opened the leaded-light casement and allowed the cool night breeze to wash over his face.

Then he heard something. It sounded like a distant growl deep from within the forest.

It took some time for Harry to get back off to sleep.

*

Warning

Over the next few nights, the noises from the forest grew louder and closer. By now many people in the castle and in the refugee camp had heard the noises and everyone was becoming very nervous.

There was a rumour going around that a delegation from the camp had demanded access to the castle where it would be safer. Harry hadn't seen Mr Williamson around lately and he hoped he wasn't part of the delegation.

However, Harry came to realise that the nervousness being created was precisely the point. Voldemort wanted people scared.

Too scared to be rational.

It wasn't long before several more rumours started to go around the school about villagers and refugees going missing after taking walks after dark. It appeared there might be some truth in these rumours, however, as curfews were introduced in both Hogsmeade and the camp.

*

Just as Harry was about to enter the Great Hall for breakfast, he heard his name being called.

“Harry!”

He turned to see a grinning Kingsley Shacklebolt walking up to him. They shook hands and Kingsley indicated he needed a word. They walked just outside and took refuge from the morning rain under the canopy above the entrance doors.

“I’m sure you’ve heard about the curfew, Harry,” said Kingsley, who was constantly looking around as he spoke. Harry nodded.

“Well people have been going missing. We think they just strayed upon something going on in the forest.”

“We heard rumours,” said Harry. "Have you been searching the forest?"

"There are definitely some uninvited guests in there at the moment, but we've not managed to catch anyone just yet. To be honest, we don't have the numbers to be sure we won't be ambushed. We are limited what we can do at the moment."

"Can't you ask for more people?" asked Harry.

"Fudge could do more, but to be honest I'm not prepared to risk anyone going in there who isn't very experienced in facing the Dark Arts."

Harry nodded in understanding.

"We're patrolling around the forest night and day, but our aim at the moment is to simply keep whatever is in there inside the forest. We've put all kinds of protections and traps around the perimeter, but they're of little use to stop people entering."

Harry nodded again. The message was clear: don't get caught.

“What I wanted to tell you is that we’re expecting something to happen. We don’t know what yet, but it’ll be some kind of attack either on the school or the camp. Both, maybe.”

“We’ll be ready.”

“No, Harry,” Kingsley said seriously. “Think about this. It is highly likely that You-Know-Who will try to use you to distract Dumbledore. He’s got enough to worry about. I don’t want you falling into a trap. You need to be aware that You-Know-Who will try to provoke you into doing something. Please don’t take the bait, whatever it is.”

“You know I can’t agree to that.”

“I know, neither would I,” Kingsley said with a small smile. “Just be aware that what ever happens is likely to be planned to make you act in a particular way. Use that knowledge of how he expects you to behave to your advantage.”

When Harry sat down to breakfast a few minutes later, he was already changing his old DA Galleon. There would be a meeting tonight.

He noticed an audible increase in the volume of murmuring around the after he’d set the time and date on his Galleon.

*

At eight o’clock that evening, Harry walked into the Room of Requirement followed by Hermione, Ron, Neville, Ginny and Luna. Harry had arranged to meet with them a little earlier so they knew what he was now going to tell everyone else at the meeting.

Harry looked around and smiled at the large group of people gathered. The DA had grown in size considerably this year, mainly due to the enthusiastic recruiting of the Rebel Quidditch squad.

Stepping onto the dais that had appeared at the front, Harry addressed the group.

“Thanks for coming,” he said, suddenly realising he wasn’t at all nervous about addressing or commanding such a large group.

“I wanted to warn you about a couple of things. The first concerns the recent activities in the Forbidden Forest. I can confirm that something is going on in there and people have been disappearing.

"I've been told that the Aurors think that Voldemort is gathering followers in the forest. It seems anyone who gets too close is being caught.

"We don’t know what creatures are in there yet, but the chances are they will be dangerous and be there for a purpose.”

Harry paused, pleased that he got less of a reaction from DA members when he spoke Voldemort’s name these days.

“We need to organise ourselves into groups when we’re moving around the grounds. Remember, we need to look out for other students, especially the younger ones, not just ourselves.”

“Will we be patrolling the grounds?” asked a Third year.

“No, it’s far too dangerous at night,” replied Harry, “and the teachers have that covered during the day. We’ll leave night patrols to the Aurors. Don't worry, the Hogwarts castle is well protected.”

Harry paused to let everyone settle down again.

“The second thing is that we are advised that the Aurors are expecting some form of attack. It could be against the camp, Hogsmeade, the school or all three. We don’t know.”

Harry waited for the murmuring to die down.

“There are, however, a couple of things we can be fairly sure of. On Saturday there will be a two Quidditch matches. We understand that many people from the camp and the Ministry will be attending. It seems to me that it would be an ideal time to launch an attack.”

Everyone nodded in agreement.

“The other thing is the motive behind the attack. It’s a good bet that Voldemort will try to provoke me again. As well as causing chaos and mayhem, he’ll want to get me to act in a particular way.

"I have to tell you that my record in this regard isn’t very good. As many of you already know, he has consistently tricked me into doing something he wanted all along. The consequences of that have been very serious in the past. I can’t promise not to fall into the same trap again but you need to be aware that this might happen.”

Harry paused, looking around.

“Basically, I think Voldemort is planning to do something soon. He’ll probably take someone as hostage and use them as bait to get me. He'll use me to get to Dumbledore.

"That must not happen this time. Too many people need his protection.”

There were many shocked faces in the group now.

“You-Know-Who is supposed to be afraid of Dumbledore,” said someone.

“Voldemort is afraid of Dumbledore, and rightly so,” said Harry firmly. “But, Dumbledore is not invulnerable. I wish he were. He’s just a bit stretched right now and Voldemort knows it.”

“So what are we going to do?”

“We have a plan that assumes there will be an attack on the school during the Quidditch match. It’s a pity that I’ll be playing but at least I should have a good view of any trouble. I am going to propose that we divide into groups that will patrol the stadium before the games start and then station themselves around the pitch during the actual games.”

“I hope nothing happens, but if it does we’ll be ready to face it and help. If nothing does happen it’ll be good practice for next time.

"Now, for the rest of the meeting tonight I’d like to go through how we are going to be organised and co-ordinate. Any suggestions and criticisms will be gratefully received.”

*

The Match

It was lunchtime on the day of the Quidditch match. The sky was clear and bright and the temperature was quite comfortable, ensuring a high level of attendance.

The House match would begin at two o’clock in the afternoon and be preceded by a Rebel challenge match that would begin at noon. It was unusual to hold two matches on the same day but as there would be a large number of visitors, the school had been asked to provide some additional entertainment.

Having completed his inspection and satisfied that everyone in the DA groups were in position, Harry returned to the side of the pitch closest the changing rooms and watched the remainder of the Rebel match.

Harry watched for around half an hour, cheering and clapping along with the increasing numbers of the spectators. When the snitch was finally caught after a particularly fine dive, Harry was surprised by the volume of the cheering.

Looking around the stadium as he clapped, Harry wondered how many Death Eaters and sympathisers had managed to get into the crowd. There had been no indication at all up to now that there might be trouble ahead, but Harry still felt uncomfortable.

Rubbing his forehead and his prickling scar, he turned to greet the returning players.

Having personally congratulated every player on both sides, Harry followed them into the changing rooms where he joined the rest of the Gryffindor team.

*

A while later Harry emerged from the changing rooms ahead of the rest of the Gryffindor team and once again scanned the crowd. The stadium was now filled to capacity with spectators.

Fudge was sitting up in the VIP area and appeared to have surrounded himself with Aurors for his personal protection. Dumbledore was sitting apart from them close to Professor McGonagall.

Usually the teachers sat together to watch the match but today they were dotted around the stadium, mostly in pairs. Clearly the teachers thought there was a risk of something happening today as well.

Harry was rather thankful that they weren’t playing the Slytherins today. They were absent from the DA, of course, but had also shunned the Rebel competitions too. Even the few Slytherins who had expressed an interest had dropped out, and Harry suspected they had been pressured to do so by older students.

Most of the Ravenclaws in the opposing team were also in the DA and they had agreed a signal that would tell everyone that the game would be abandoned at once if there was any sign of trouble.

The signal was to be a display of golden sparklers as it was something everyone in the DA could do well.

Harry took off on his broom and circled the stadium.

He usually felt so much better once he was in the air, but today felt different. He carried his  nervous tension along with him like a great weight.

He felt his tension ease a little as soon as he saw Hermione wave up at him and grinning from her position down at the edge of the pitch. He hadn’t really wanted her to be so close to the Slytherin supporters but hadn’t the nerve to actually ask her to move to a different position.

At least she had some friendly company next to her.

Harry completed his warm up lap and landed.

Striding over to the centre of the pitch to where Madam Hooch was waiting with the Ravenclaw captain, Harry smiled warmly and extended out his hand. Cho was looking pale and visibly nervous and Harry felt her hand tremble has he shook it.

Harry held their handshake for a little while longer and squeezed Cho’s hand gently saying, “You’ll be fine when you get into the air, Cho. Nothing might happen, after all.”

Cho smiled a little. “Thanks, Harry,” she said.

Madam Hooch looked between them with a curious look and Harry realised this might not be the normal pre-match exchange between Captains.

They both took off and Madam Hooch released the Bludgers and the golden snitch. Finally she threw up the Quaffle and blew her whistle for the game to begin.

Harry soon began to get completely engrossed in the game despite his concerns. He couldn’t help but marvel at the plays performed by the Gryffindor Chasers and in particular, by Ginny. They were changing tactics so quickly, the Ravenclaw chasers were practically spectators.

The only thing in the way of a Gryffindor whitewash were the Ravenclaw beaters and their goalkeeper. The three of them were playing superbly and definitely keeping Ravenclaw in the match.

Suddenly Harry saw something glitter far below. Cho had seen it too and she instantly dived. Harry threw himself flat along his Firebolt and dived.

He was much faster but was diving from a far greater height.

It was going to be close.

As they approached the ground the two seekers drew level with each other. The ground was coming towards them at a frightening speed. Harry realised, probably at the same time that Cho did, that it would be touch and go whether either of them could put out of their dives in time.

Harry had one thing on his mind. He had to catch the snitch.

At the last moment, Cho pulled up, abandoning her dive.

Harry continued but pulled up a fraction of a second later. His feet scraped the ground but he recovered and shot back up into the air, his arm held high with the golden snitch struggling in his clenched hand.

A moment later the crowd erupted with cheers and clapping.

Harry looked up to see Cho flying high around the stadium. Relieved she was safe, Harry slowed and allowed himself to be congratulated by the rest of the Gryffindor team who were flying into him and patting him on the back.

There was suddenly a loud bang from the far end of the stadium.

Harry looked over towards the section of the stand that was occupied by visitors. Nothing appeared to be wrong and Harry was about to conclude that it must have been caused by an over-enthusiastic supporter.

Then it happened.

Almost in slow motion, the stand collapsed before their eyes.

Harry watched in horror as spectators fell into the rubble. Worse, figures in black robes and wearing masks were running out from underneath the front of the collapsed stand, firing curses into the crowd.

It looked like a tunnel entrance must have been opened up under the stand, but dust and smoke made it difficult to see from the air.

“This is it!” shouted Harry. “Everyone go to your positions. Now!”

Before he’d finished shouting, everyone from both teams was running off to join the other groups around the pitch.

Someone far below had launched a great shower of golden sparks into the air, although the signal was probably unnecessary by then.

Harry looked up to see Cho flying high up over the collapsed stand. He realised she was dangerously within range of the Death Eaters. He jumped on his Firebolt and sped towards her. Sure enough, a well aimed curse hit Cho just as she changed course and tried to give herself more height.

Harry urged his Firebolt on. Cho slowed and then tumbled off her broom. Fortunately, Harry caught her just in time. With difficulty he carried her to safety and landed back down on the pitch behind one of the DA groups.

Trusting that Cho would be safe, Harry quickly joined the front line of DA members fighting the Death Eaters inside the stadium. The Death Eaters numbered at least thirty at the beginning but the DA already had them surrounded in the middle of the pitch.

With Harry’s help, they soon made short work of them.

Thanks to Harbinger's tuition, Harry wielded his Apprentice Piece wand with a precise confidence. Not one of the conjured shields withstood more than one of Harry's spells and he was in no mood to moderate the power of his jinxes.

His only problem was himself. As he fired the last of a quick volley of stunning spells, Harry felt the familiar feeling. It was like a mild electric shock passing up his arm. Harry stopped firing knowing that he was pushing too hard. Had he continued, Harry knew he would eventually pass out.

The wand was eager enough, but his magical reserves were still limited. He still had much to learn.

Satisfied that these Death Eaters were no longer posed a threat, Harry directed the others to split into groups again and render assistance to the injured.

It sounded like there was fighting also going on outside the stadium.

Harry’s group ran over to the collapsed stand and helped free those people who were trapped under the debris. He looked around, concerned that he hadn’t seen Hermione or Ginny.

Someone grabbed his arm. Turning to look, Harry found himself facing a dishevelled looking Minister for Magic.

Fudge had lost his green bowler had and looked utterly shocked by the recent events.

“Harry! Thank goodness you’re alright,” said Fudge. “I can’t find Dumbledore and the Aurors have gone off. Harry, I think the Death Eaters have taken some students. One was a red headed girl that I think was playing on your team. One of the others was your friend Miss Granger. I saw them being dragged under this stand. From the way the Death Eaters came out there may be a tunnel entrance under there somewhere. I’m going to get some Aurors and then we’ll follow.”

Harry watched as Fudge hurried off.

Anger coursed through Harry. Yet again, people were being hurt because of him. Yet again he was being manipulated, just as he had feared.

Harry was about to dive under the stand when he was held back.

“No, Harry!” shouted Neville. “Listen to me! What did we agree? What did we all agree to do if this happened?”

Harry shrugged Neville off, and pointed his wand warningly at him.

Neville wasn’t about to give up that easily.

“Harry, I think Minister Fudge was mistaken, anyway. I’ve been here the whole time. If Hermione and Ginny have been taken, I’m sure I would have seen them being dragged under there. In fact, I'd have followed them and tried to help.”

Harry looked into Neville's determined face.

"I know you would have," said Harry. "It's okay, Neville. Thanks for making me see sense."

Just then there was a loud explosion from another part of the stadium and another group of Death Eaters looked like they were making a run for it.

Harry and Neville ran over and joined the fight which lasted several minutes. When the last of the attackers were subdued, Harry sought out Neville again, painfully aware of how much time had been lost.

“Neville, when was the last time you actually saw Ginny and Hermione?”

Neville was about to answer when a stunning spell flew just over their heads. Yet another group of Death Eaters were running back inside the stadium though a gap between two burning sections of arena seating. Harry assumed they had been fighting with the Aurors outside and were trying to make it back to the safety of the tunnel under the collapsed stand.

In their way, unfortunately, stood the DA.

Harry quickly organised themselves back into a single group and they fired volley after volley of spells and curses into the Death Eaters. It was a pitched battle and eventually only four of the masked Death Eaters remained standing. The DA had suffered casualties too, but their injuries were mostly minor.

Harry stood out in front of the Death Eaters and watched as they linked arms, including their wounded.

A shout of, “The Dark Lord will be victorious!” was heard from the centre and they all disappeared. They must have had some sort of Portkey, Harry realised.

There were new shouts coming from outside the stadium. Neville tapped Harry on the shoulder and pointed up. Floating high up, just outside the stadium was the Dark Mark. It looked like it was somewhere over Hagrid’s hut.

“Okay,” said Harry, willing himself not to think about what the Dark Mark signified, “let’s split into smaller groups again. Wounded stay here to be tended to. Ron, your group is to stay here. Guard that tunnel entrance and try to help anyone still under there if you can.”

Ron nodded and hurried with four DA members over to the collapsed stand. Two more limped along after them rather than stay and be tended to.

Harry looked around. There were six DA members left in his group, including Neville.

“Roger, stay here,” said Harry. “You need that arm seeing to.”

Roger began to protest but Harry said, "That's your wand arm and you are bleeding badly. Go on. You can help once you're patched up."

He nodded reluctantly to Harry.

The five remaining members followed Harry out of the stadium. Just as they exited they witnessed two Regiment soldiers dragging a reluctant Fudge out from under another stand.

Throwing Fudge down at the feet of Lieutenant Davies, one of them said, “We found him cowering under the stands. When he saw us he tried to dispose of these papers.”

He gave Fudge a kick and gold spilled out from his money bags. Fudge then desperately tried to gather up the money before he appeared to realise that everyone was looking at him.

The Lieutenant looked through the recovered papers with growing concern.

“These show defensive positions that were only set up yesterday. It’s no wonder we lost so many people today. What else have you given them?” Davies said angrily, reaching down and taking a fist of Fudges robes, clearly wanting a better target to punch.

Arthur Weasley rushed up to them and pulled the Lieutenant off Fudge. The Minister struggled to his feet and tried to recover himself.

“Now, look here,” he said in his usual bluff manner, “I am the Minister for Magic. You have no right to make such unfounded accusations.”

“But how, Cornelius,” said Dumbledore, “do you explain being in possession of these particular plans?”

Harry turned with a start and saw Hermione and Ginny right behind him.

“If it’s alright Professor,” said Hermione, “we’ll go and help some of the injured.”

Hermione beamed at Harry who had hardly believed his eyes. They were both safe and unhurt! Realising he had stopped breathing he sighed deeply and allowed the feeling of relief wash over him.

Dumbledore turned his head slightly and nodded, saying, “Thank you, Hermione.”

Harry turned his attention back to Fudge.

“Minister,” said Harry angrily, “You told me that Hermione and Ginny had been taken and that you’d seen them being taken down into the tunnel under the collapsed stand!”

“No, No. You must have misunderstood me in all the excitement,” said Fudge. “I didn’t say that at all.”

“Yes you did, Minister,” said Neville quietly. Everyone turned to see Neville, apparently shocked at his own daring. “Y- You intended Harry to go down into that tunnel, didn’t you?”

Kingsley Shacklebolt stepped out of the now growing group surrounding Fudge. He was sporting a bad cut above one eye.

“Minister, you are under arrest. You will have to come with me,” he said in his deep commanding voice. “You will have an opportunity to give your version of events later.”

Fudge did not move but stood transfixed at the look Dumbledore was giving him.

“I didn’t sell them anything important,” he said shakily, as Kingsley started to drag him away.

“Kingsley,” said Dumbledore calmly, “I wonder if I might interrogate him before he is taken away.”

Harry was glad to see a look of pure terror appear of Fudge’s face.

“We’ll see you later, then,” said Kingsley with a knowing grin, pulling Fudge back up to the castle.





Next chapter:-

Like My New Pet?

“Conversing with dragons is considered even worse than speaking to snakes, you know?”

The casualties are mounting as the attack continues. Dumbledore runs back into the stadium to face the dragon being possessed by Voldemort. Harry tries to defend Dumbledore but his Apprentice Piece wand is destroyed.


Chapter 4: Like My New Pet?
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Like My New Pet?
 
“Lieutenant, I regret to inform you that Colonel Nader has been found dead,“ said Dumbledore sombrely. “That is why the Dark Mark was flown.”

Harry was standing a little apart from the small group of Aurors and Regiment Officers just outside the Quiddiitch stadium. Smoke still rose from several fires around the Hogwarts grounds, including a few in the Refugee camp itself.

Around them the walking wounded were slowly making their way towards the hospital tents, stopping often to allow stretcher bearers to pass.

Harry shuddered seeing the still bodies of fallen Regiment soldiers. Most had been covered by their scarlet red cloaks and more than a few were accompanied by fellow soldiers who kept vigil until it was time for them to be moved.

The Lieutenant nodded slowly and asked, “Was all this really just a diversion?”

“We knew it would be,” replied Dumbledore, “and today’s events may not be over yet.”

Harry gripped his scar which had suddenly started to hurt. Voldemort was either close-by or very angry.

Dumbledore looked around, as if sensing something. His eyes rested on a point high above the Quidditch stadium. Harry forced his eyes open to look as well despite the pain, but didn’t see anything.

Harry shouted out, “Something’s going to happen!”

Without a word Dumbledore ran back into the Quidditch stadium at a speed that took everyone by surprise.

Harry gave chase but found himself unable to keep up.

*

Harry was too out of breath to gasp at the sight that was before him.

Dumbledore had already reached the centre of the pitch where an enormous black dragon was bearing down on him.

Harry ran as fast as he could to join Dumbledore. Harry realised that everyone had been moved from the pitch now, even the fallen Death Eaters were gone.

As Harry ran as fast as he could across the grass, he heard Voldemort’s amplified voice fill the stadium.

“Like my new pet, Dumbledore? I created him myself. All the strengths of a dragon with none of the weaknesses.”

Harry watched helplessly as flame completely engulfed Dumbledore.

The flames died away leaving Dumbledore still standing before the dragon, apparently unhurt. He must have put up some form of shield, thought Harry. The dragon began to back away slightly, as if suddenly wary of Dumbledore.

“Not so easy dodging fire without Disapparating, is it?” taunted the unseen Voldemort.

Instantly another flame blasted Dumbledore and with a swish of an enormous tail, all three goal posts at one end of the pitch were felled.

Harry noticed a group from the Regiment advancing on the dragon from the side. The dragon turned and almost lazily breathed fire over them.

A high cruel laugh erupted as they screamed in agony.

“Oh, dear. Their pitiful armour and shield charms aren’t much help, are they?”

Dumbledore took careful aim and fired a spell at the dragon. Harry realised he must be aiming for the collar. The dragon reared up at the last moment. Dumbledore’s spell just missed the collar but hit the dragon in the neck.

Furious, the dragon made to retaliate immediately.

Accio Firebolt!” yelled Harry, and instantly his broom appeared at his side. As Harry stepped onto the broom, he found his arm being held back.

He turned back to see a stricken Hermione.

“Harry, please don’t!” she managed to say, clearly holding a stitch in her side.

“I have to, Hermione,” said Harry, but she didn’t let go.

“Hermione!” shouted Ginny with some urgency from behind them. “Some help here?”

Ginny was struggling to hold up a wounded Regiment officer. Hermione seemed to come to her senses and released Harry.

Not daring to look back at her, Harry took off.

He flew a wide arc around the pitch. Harry wanted to evaluate the situation and give Dumbledore some advanced warning that he was going to attempt to help. Perhaps he could provide a distraction, at least.

As he flew behind out of the dragon’s sight, Harry held his Apprentice Wand out in front of him.

Dumbledore gave the slightest of signals and Harry dived, firing rapid stunning spells directly at the dragon. He knew it wouldn’t cause the beast any harm. The dragon's hide was far too magical to be troubled by his spells.

As the dragon turned to look at Harry fly by, very close, Dumbledore’s spell hit the collar.

As Harry dodged the flame he saw, just for an instant, the dragon look around. It seemed to be almost confused for just a moment.

Harry realised that Voldemort must be possessing the dragon. This was immediately confirmed by the pain that seared across his scar. It dulled again immediately after as Voldemort again took back full control of the dragon.

He was clearly intent on killing Dumbledore using this creature.

Another flame was directed at Dumbledore. Harry could tell he was burnt a little this time. Dumbledore was getting weaker and Harry knew he must hurry.

A high cold laugh erupted around them.

“Oh! Do get up, Dumbledore. At least let them see you die on your feet!”

Coming around for another pass, Harry jumped off his broom mid-air and grabbed onto the back of the dragon’s enormous neck. There were many pairs of sharp pointed scales extending from the dragon's head down to its tail that made for convenient handholds.

Desperately holding on as the dragon thrashed around, he slipped down to the collar. Close to, he realised the collar was a solid band of a silvery metal. The heavy band was at least two inches thick and had golden runic symbols all round.

With his wand tip touching the collar, Harry used a reductor curse to cut it clean through. The magical energy discharge surged back through his arm but Harry managed to hang on.

The dragon reared backwards in pain, but Harry was determined not to let go. Unfortunately, the thickness of the band kept the broken collar in place.

With one hand keeping a firm hold of the now hot collar, he tried again. His wand was already badly burnt and cold magical flames engulfed his hand at once as he urged the wand to cut once again.

The surge of magical power began to overpower him. He could tell from the way his field of vision was narrowing that he wouldn't stay conscious for much longer.

He tried to pull back, but the Wand wouldn't let him stop.

Harry shook his head and attempted to widen his eyes. All he could see was his Apprentice Piece wand glowing with an intense white light that hurt his eyes.

Yet, he could not look away.

Suddenly the collar broke cleanly into two halves. Harry saw nothing, but sensed gravity begin to pull him downwards. He yelled with relief as the collar pieces and Harry fell heavily towards the ground.

The dragon appeared to be in agony. It reared back, tossing its head violently from side to side.

Dumbledore must have recovered a little because Harry hit the ground with barely a thump. Harry struggled to his feet and ran back to his Headmaster. Dumbledore was propping himself up but clearly exhausted.

The dragon stomped back towards them, clearly very angry now.

Harry threw the half of the broken collar he still held aside and prepared to fire up at the beast. Then he realised to his horror what had happened to his wand.

The Apprentice Piece was gone. The remains were all burnt and charred. The only piece that remained in tact was the small length he was still holding and as he opened his palm to expose the remains of the wand, that too burst into flames in front of his eyes. He was so shocked he didn't feel any burning sensation at all as the flames flowed across the skin of his hand and up his arm.

Harry glanced down at Dumbledore, who was still sitting on the ground and propping himself up with both arms.

Dumbledore smiled back and gave him a sort of ironic shrug.

It was as if he was saying, "Oh, well. I think I'll sit here and wait for the end."

Stunned at Dumbledore’s reaction, Harry turned and looked up at the dragon. It looked rather different from the ground. Being this close, Harry thought he would feel more scared or intimidated.

As he looked up he realised he had no fear of this beast at all.

After-all, he rather liked dragons.

Sonorus,” he thought and then spoke aloud.

“Dragon, what is your name?”

Harry’s echoing question boomed around the stadium.

The dragon shook its head as if trying to clear its mind.

“I’ve removed the collar that was preventing me from speaking to you. I apologise if I hurt you when I cut through it. My name is Harry.”

The pain burned through his scar, and he knew Voldemort was losing his control over the beast.

“I’ve only ever met two dragons before, but you are by far the most impressive.”

The dragon calmed a little and looked straight down at him. Harry thought he saw an intelligence behind those fierce yellow eyes.

“One was just a baby,” continued Harry, hoping madly that his calm voice would pacify the dragon. “His name was Norbert. The other was a Hungarian Horntail but I never knew her name.”

“My name is Kales,” said the beast, flames blasting out as he spoke. “I do not remember travelling to these lands.”

“That is because you were possessed by a dark wizard called Voldemort.”

The dragon lowered his head and peered at Harry. He could feel the heat as it breathed.

“How do you come to speak by tongue?”

Harry was completely thrown by this question. He thought he was speaking normally.

“Voldemort tried to kill me when I was a child. His curse went wrong and I got some of his skills. I can speak to snakes too so I assume that’s why. We are still linked somehow. I can see what he sees and feels sometimes.”

The dragon surveyed the damage surrounding him and then looked closely down at Dumbledore.

“I am grateful for what you have done for me, young Harry. I will therefore not kill you.”

“Er, thanks,” said Harry, grinning now. “Could you also not kill anyone else here?”

“I’ll consider it.”

“Um, right. It’s not nice being controlled or used by someone else is it? Voldemort has tried to possess me as well. He tried to make me hurt someone very special to me.”

“Voldemort is dead. He died a while ago.”

“He’s back. He was controlling you.”

“You say you are linked?”

“Yes. Would you like to, er, have a word with him?” hesitated Harry.

Kales lowered his enormous head and stared directly at him. Their minds touched and Harry suddenly felt the panic in Voldemort’s head. Pain seared across his scar as Kales spoke powerfully in both their minds.

“You summoned me from a spirit world against my will. I will not harm you in this world, for anything I do to you here will also hurt the boy.

"Know this, as much as this boy will become your mortal enemy, I am your immortal enemy. When this boy has finished toying with you he’ll deliver you to me. I can wait a while longer.

"In the meantime, enjoy the heat.”

Voldemort’s scream of agony echoed through Harry’s mind before the link dulled. Harry grabbed his head, laughing despite the searing pain.

“Ha! You made him set himself on fire!” shouted Harry.

Kales sniffed Harry.

“Did I burn you? I can smell ash.”

“Er, no. I think it’s my wand you can smell. I destroyed it getting the collar off.”

“Ah, then you are in my debt, young Harry.”

“Sorry?”

“I’m not actually a dragon, you know? Dragons can’t talk. Dragon’s wouldn’t converse with humans even if they could. Once I too was the bearer of a wand, cut from the same holly tree as your wand.”

“What?”

The dragon appeared to almost chuckle at Harry’s surprise.

“You may not have realised it, but when the wand finally chooses the wizard it allows the magical properties to be absorbed into the wizard and it gets destroyed in the process. That way the wand can never be separated from the wizard that is its true bearer.”

“Oh,” Harry managed to say, wondering how this wizard became a dragon. “Er, Kales? Would you join us and help fight Voldemort?”

“No, but as I have enjoyed our conversation and it pleases me to have imparted some knowledge to you, I will forbid my dragon brothers and sisters from joining forces with Voldemort. You will not have them, but neither will he.”

“Thank you, Kales,” said Harry. “If ever you come back here know you have a friend.”

“Well, friend, know this. You cannot now be separated from your wand. You are free to choose what actions you do and no one can take it away. Use the wand wisely and for good and you will join me in Valhalla. Turn to the dark and I will drag you to hell with me.”

“Um. Thank you for warning me.”

He crouched down and spread his enormous wings in readiness to take to the air again.

“It may be many years before we meet again in person. Whichever world we meet in, I expect you to have given a good account of yourself. Live well, Boy."

The dragon turned his great head to look down at Dumbledore.

"I’m still keeping an eye on you too, young Albus.”

He leapt up and into the air and was suddenly gone in a loud crack.

Harry stood rooted to the spot until the sound of distant cheers made him turn back.

“Thank you, Harry,” said Dumbledore from the ground.

Harry checked that no-one else was within earshot before he spoke.

“Here, let me help you, young Albus,” he said grinning and extending out an arm. Pulling the Headmaster from the ground, he added, “I was worried you’d been injured.”

“No, but I considered it best not to move while you spoke with Kales. Thank you for asking him to spare everyone. He can be volatile.”

The crowd of DA members and teachers approached quickly now that the dragon had gone.

“It’s a pity he wouldn’t join us, isn’t it?”

“He may yet. He will not forgive Voldemort for manipulating him like that.”

“Was he really a wizard?”

“I’d like to think so, but only he really knows. I was only fifteen when we last met in person. He expressed the opinion that I should stop messing about and apply myself.”

They exchanged a smile.

“Sir, what did he mean by meet again in person?” asked Harry.

“You’ll see,” replied Dumbledore with a twinkle in his eye.

*

General Hermione

Hagrid shouted, “Look, the forest!” and pointed out over the crowd of gathering people.

Several dragons were flying off out of the forest. They must have been hiding there ready to attack.

Hagrid looked quite sorry to see them go.

“Cheer up Hagrid, at least they won’t have to suffer at the hands of Voldemort any more,” said Harry smiling up at him.

Hagrid shuddered at the mention of Voldemort but soon recovered.

“Suppose,” he said miserably.

At that moment a small dark haired girl hurried through the crowd and headed straight to Harry.

He recognised her at once as the magical manifestation of one of Harbinger’s dead sisters.

“It’s John, he’s badly hurt,” she said at once. “He wants to see you.”

Harry looked up at Dumbledore who suddenly looked very grave.

“Please, show us where he is,” Harry asked the girl.

Harry and Dumbledore dodged through the crowd as they hurried away from the Quidditch pitch. They soon came upon the scene of another battle, this time on the other side of the Refugee camp.

Bodies were strewn around the grass clearing where the attack had happened. It looked like Harbinger and the Regiment had been vastly outnumbered as the attempted to defend the refugees.

The ground was strewn with Death Eaters but amongst the casualties appeared to be a dozen Regiment soldiers and a few he assumed were refugees.

The girl dropped next to the familiar blue robes of Professor Harbinger. He was lying awkwardly on the ground in obvious pain. He had multiple injuries from where spells had hit him. The girl looked up at Harry with tears in her eyes. As Harry nodded in understanding, she vanished.

Harbinger opened his eyes and saw Harry kneeling next to him with Dumbledore standing over his shoulder.

He grabbed Harry’s forearm and gripped it tightly.

“Fudge,” he said, desperately trying to stay conscious. “It was Fudge. Fudge.”

“We have him, John,” said Dumbledore gently, kneeling next to Harry.

“They were trying to take hostages. I think we stopped them but there were injuries I think. I’m so sorry.”

“You did splendidly, John, you have nothing to apologise about. No-one could have done more. I am sorry you didn’t see Harry’s Apprentice Piece break, though. You helped the wand choose the wizard.”

Harbinger had a glazed look to his eyes by now and his body appeared to relax a little although he maintained his fierce grip on Harry’s arm. He was taking short panting breaths. Harry looked to Dumbledore again and saw him looking sadly down at his fallen friend.

Suddenly Harbinger gave a stifled cry and Harry heard his arm break. Harry let the pain wash over him and didn’t attempt to release his dead teacher’s hand from his arm until Professor Flitwick appeared at their side, crying unreservedly.

Harry prised open Harbinger’s fingers as gently as possible and released himself as Dumbledore put a comforting arm around Flitwick’s shoulders.

*

It appeared that the Regiment’s healers were out attending to casualties and had left just three inexperienced trainee Healers.

Harry had found Ginny with one of them outside the Hospital tent.

“Hermione explained to you what to do. It's called triage. You have to assess each patient and mark them so they can be prioritised. You can’t keep wandering off like this. People with the most serious injuries have to be treated first.”

She smiled and rolled her eyes seeing Harry.

“I’m glad you’re okay, Harry,” she said wiping her forehead trying to use a clean bit on the back of her hand. She was covered in blood, although he was relieved to see it didn’t appear to be her own. “Hermione’s inside. What’s wrong with your arm?”

“It’s just broken,” he said, defensively moving it away from her. "I was going to find Madam Pomfrey."

"No, she's a bit busy at the moment."

Ginny waved her wand towards his head and he assumed he now also had a marking.

“Go right in,” she said. “Thankfully broken limbs is just about the worst injury we’ve got left. Mostly burns and cuts.”

He thanked her and walked into the large tent.

Harry found Hermione barking orders inside the Hospital tent. She was instructing people who had volunteered to be porters, telling them that the markings on the casualties' foreheads told them were and in what priority they were to be dealt in.

He wandered over and quietly propped himself next to a trolley at what appeared to be the end of a queue.

He amused himself for about ten minutes watching Hermione at work. Even the Regiment’s Healers, who were now returning to treat waiting patients, quickly fell into line. Eventually, she directed an harassed looking Healer to attend to the group Harry was waiting with.

Hermione almost ran over to him as soon as she saw Harry. Almost at once her disciplined, unemotional façade slipped away.

“Harry, how long have you been waiting? The Porters should have moved you higher up.”

“I’m quite comfortable, Hermione, thanks but I’ll wait in line here.”

Hermione looked down the line at the waiting patients. They included a number of small children from the camp and she nodded, knowing Harry would refuse to be treated ahead of them.

The Healer got through the list of patients very quickly, confirming Harry’s suspicion that the injuries were relatively minor.

“Oh, this is more interesting,” he said smiling at Harry.

Hermione moved away to assist an elderly patient to a chair.

“Are there many casualties?” asked Harry.

“There were several killed but injuries to the survivors are generally minor,” said the Healer. “Is that young lady a student at the school?”

“Yes, she’s a friend of mine,” said Harry smiling. “Her name’s Hermione Granger.”

“Miss Granger?” said the Healer when he had finished with Harry, his last patient. “My name is Jameson, and I’m the Chief Regiment Healer.”

“Oh,” said Hermione, “I’m sorry if I was rude to you before.”

“Not at all. I’d like to thank you for your help. If you hadn’t prioritised our patients there would have been many more casualties. You saved several lives today by enabling them to get treatment in time.”

Hermione blushed and smiled.

“It’s not easy making people act rationally when everything is in chaos.”

“I felt like just panicking myself to be honest,” said Hermione. “I just thought if I concentrated on doing something then I’d stop worrying about what else was happening.”

The Healer smiled and nodded.

“Well if you or your other friend outside ever consider a career in medicine, please do contact me. The Regiment sponsors medical students and I’m sure we’d be able to offer you something. I should add, we don’t insist that Healers enlist at the end of their training, although several do.

"Our Healers are often seconded to medical establishments around the world and it can be an attractive career choice. Perhaps you’ll think about it?”

Hermione nodded and then smiled as they shook hands.

“Well, if you’ll excuse me?” the Healer said. “I think I’d better go and rescue my staff from your red headed friend before she court-marshal’s them!”

He left the tent and Harry saw that Hermione was giving serious consideration to what he said.

“You’d make a good healer, Hermione,” he said smiling, “although I don’t quite see you in the army though.”

“No?” she replied smiling, “I rather like the sound of General Hermione.”

As they exited the tent the smiles left their faces almost at once.

More Regiment stretcher bearers were returning with bodies. Already there were a few victims laid out before them, their heads and faces covered by a variety of cloths and robes. Hermione clutched Harry’s arm and they made their way back to the castle.

*

Dreaming with the Guardian

It was very late before a sombre group of Gryffindors helped themselves to some cold food in the common room. The Great Hall was being used as a makeshift ward for those students that Madam Pomfrey wanted to keep for observation.

They were relieved to find out that no students had been killed. There were many minor injuries but only a few students had anything more serious than cuts or broken bones.

Harry stared at the plate of food in front of him. He’d really only taken it for something to do. He should have been hungry by now but he had no appetite.

Hermione had spent most of the evening going around speaking words of comfort. Even those students who hadn’t suffered injuries were clearly shocked by what had happened. Harry noted with some pride that Hermione had stepped into this role having realised that the Head Girl was in no emotional condition to do so.

Wanting something to do, Harry went down to the kitchens and with Dobby’s help brought back hot drinks for everyone. They stoked up the fire and everyone sat together down in the common room.

Most people had managed to doze off before Professor McGonagall came silently into the common room through the portrait hole.

Harry immediately got up and offered her his seat on a settee. Hermione felt Harry move and sat up, stretching and smiling.

Professor McGonagall sat down on the settee and Harry sat down on the carpet at Hermione’s feet.

After a while sitting in silence, Professor McGonagall said in a quiet, carrying voice, “Conversing with dragons is considered even worse than speaking to snakes, you know?”

Harry snorted. So did quite a few people Harry had assumed were sound asleep.

“Sorry, Professor,” Harry whispered, returning her smile.

“Tell me what happened,” she said gently. Harry noticed that those that were awake were giving prods to those that were asleep. He realised that Professor McGonagall intended everyone to hear this.

He cleared his throat, looked deep into the dying embers of the fire, and began telling what happened. The room was dark now, and Harry found it easier to imagine that only Professor McGonagall and Hermione were listening.

He made an effort to tell everything, including his fears and feelings at the time.

He told them of the terrible guilt he felt when he believed Ginny and Hermione had been taken. He told of the bravery shown by the DA members. Yet again Neville had kept a level head and Harry made sure he told not only of his actions during the fighting but also how he’d warned him about Fudge.

He told of his pride seeing Ginny and Hermione brow beating the Healers to make sure injuries were prioritised and told them all the Chief Healer’s compliments.

Finally he told them about the dragon and how he realised Voldemort was controlling him.

Professor McGonagall stayed with them long into the night that evening.

Eventually, Harry too dozed off.

*

Harry found himself in the middle of the Quidditch pitch. There was no sign of any damage caused by the attack but bizarrely the grass was almost completely covered with tables and desks.

Hermione was there too but sleeping. She was in the middle of the pitch, sleeping with her head on her arms and laying on an enormous book, almost as big as the table.

He set off towards her, realising that this must be a dream.

Harry reached her eventually and thought about waking her before noticing the book she was resting on. The pages of the open book showed images. Harry realised they were frantic images of Hermione’s day during the attack and then again after at the field hospital.

As the images became more and more fraught, so did the sleeping Hermione. Instinctively he gently touched her shoulder and said, “Calm down, Hermione, you could not have done any more. No-one could have.”

Her sleeping figure seemed to relax at the sound of his words.

“I thought you’d never fall asleep, young Harry,” said a deep booming voice behind him.

Harry turned with a start and found himself looking at Kales.

“Hi,” he said uncertainly.

“Do you often dream of this Guardian?” asked Kales.

“Er, sometimes,” said Harry, not sure why he was embarrassed by the question.

“Now that the wand has chosen the wizard, I’ve come to tell you about your wand,” explained Kales. “She knows most of the story but in a moment I’ll ask you to wake her into your dream. First though, I’m afraid I must confirm some bad news.”

“I can’t use the wand's power to fight Voldemort, can I?” said Harry.

“Not if you want to defeat him, no,” said Kales. “You will never achieve your potential for good if you allow yourself to sink to his level. I’m glad you realise this. It will not be easy and victory may come at a terrible price for you.”

“Another prophecy?” asked Harry.

The dragon snorted and enormous flames erupted from its nostrils. If it hadn’t been a dream, Harry thought he would have been burned alive.

“No prophecy, boy,” said Kales. “I don’t accept that they truly exist.”

Harry smiled.

“Is there any advice you can give me?”

“Well, to be honest, none of the previous wand bearers have ever received their wands in quite the same circumstances.”

Harry nodded without really understanding.

“All I can really advise is this. You are not ready to believe it yet, but Voldemort fears you and is right to fear you. Young Albus’ motives are good. He is trying to protect you and allow you to grow in the hope and belief that you’ll have time to master enough of your potential. As in all things, some skills will come easily, others not. Make full use of those that wish to help you learn. The wand will help you in this.”

Harry considered these words.

“By the way, you didn’t learn to speak to me from Voldemort. The wand woke that skill in you when it chose you. Now, wake the Guardian.”

“Kales, why do you call Hermione the Guardian?”

“Look at the book,” he replied.

Harry looked at the open book Hermione was resting on. It showed a small tree in a forest grove. It was a holly tree. It was his holly tree. Just then the scene dissolved and Harry found himself watching himself and Kales on the Quidditch pitch surrounded by desks.

“Will she tend the tree?” guessed Harry

“No,” replied Kales. “Only non-magical people may tend it. It won’t grow properly if a wizard or witch touches it. Wake her gently.”

Harry gently stroked Hermione’s back and whispered for her to wake.

She opened her eyes sleepily and lifted her head. The book pages faded and became blank.

Hermione smiled seeing Harry and then she looked around.

“We’re in a dream, Hermione, don’t be alarmed.”

“A dream?” she repeated sleepily.

“I’d like to introduce you to a friend,” said Harry, taking Hermione’s hand. “This is Kales, and he wants to finish the story of my Apprentice Piece.”

“Hello, Kales,” she said smiling. “I’ve dreamt of you before.”

Kales bowed deeply, saying, “I’m flattered you remember, my Lady.”

“I can understand Hermione being a Lady but how come I’m just a Boy, Kales?” asked Harry with a small grin.

“Hm,” said Kales, “I see young Albus isn’t alone in thinking he can cheek me. Now are you going to let me tell the story or not?”

*

Harry woke to find the sun streaming into the common room. He was lying on his back in front of the fireplace with Hermione curled up by his side. She stirred almost at once.

Gingerly, they both sat up.

Harry looked around the room. Most people were still asleep. Professor McGonagall was chatting happily to Parvati and Neville, who were sitting very close to each other.

“Hermione, I just had a dream about a dragon,” whispered Harry.

“Me too!” said Hermione, beaming at him.

At that moment the portrait hole opened and in came Ron followed by Lavender, Ginny and Dobby. Each carried an enormous tray and as the irresistible smell of cooked breakfast spread across the room, everyone appeared to stir.

Harry was suddenly starving. He got up and extended a hand to help Hermione up as Dobby clicked his fingers. A long line of tables with white tablecloths instantly appeared. Another click and hot food appeared on heated silver platters together with heated plates and cutlery.

Ron, looking a little disgruntled muttered, “Dobby, you might have mentioned you could do that before we carried all these trays from the kitchens.”

“But Sir would not have had anything to eat along the way!” replied Dobby, beaming.

“Good point,” Ron conceded.

Harry snorted and Dobby came over to Harry and Hermione, beaming at them.

“Dobby is glad Harry Potter and Miss Hermione are alright,” he said.

They smiled back at him and Hermione asked, “How’s Winky? Were there any house elves injured?”

“No house elves were injured, Miss. The fighting didn’t reach the castle, but we were ready!” he replied. “Winky was a little shaken though,” he added a little sadly.

Harry made a mental note to ask Dobby later what he meant. Clearly the house elves were organised to defend the castle. It made sense. They were very magical and would be very effective fighters. Harry worried, however, that it might be the house elf enslavement that would have forced them to fight rather than volunteer.

“I’m very glad none of you were hurt,” said Hermione, and from her tone he was sure she had just wondered the same thing.

“Breakfast, Hermione?” said Harry. “I think we should hurry before Ron gets his appetite back.”

Harry realised that Hermione was trying to straighten her bushy hair and make her clothes neater. He had to admit to himself, she was quite a sight. Her hair was all over the place and her robes were caked in dried mud. He knew he was in a similar state.

“You look great, Hermione, honestly,” Harry whispered, smiling at her. “Let’s have something to eat and then get cleaned up after. You need to eat.”

Hermione looked uncertainly back but finally smiled and nodded before following Harry over to the food.

*

After breakfast, Ron sidled over to Harry and muttered, “Hey, Harry. Let’s avoid the queues to the showers. Prefect’s bathroom.”

Harry looked around. He didn’t really want to take advantage of his badge. After all, he wasn’t really a prefect anymore. On the other hand, he desperately wanted to wash.

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible, Mr Weasley,” said Professor McGonagall loudly from across the room.

Harry was stunned that she had even heard Ron.

“Sorry, Professor?” said Ron, trying to sound innocent.

“Miss Granger has commandeered the Prefect’s Bathroom for the Gryffindor girls, so you won’t be able to use the facilities in there until they have finished. I’m sure you understand.”

As she spoke Harry realised that all of the girls had gone from the common room.

At that moment a slightly red faced Hermione lead a single file of female students from their Dormitory door, down the stairs and out of the portrait hole. Each clutched a towel and a toiletry bag. It seemed to take a while for them all to pass through.

“They’ll be hours!” complained Ron loudly.

Days, possibly, Ron,” quipped Ginny with a wicked grin as she passed.
 
END OF PART THREE

 




The two remaining parts of the Apprentice Piece series are:-

Summary of Part Four: The Sword of Light

After the battle, the dragon named Kales returns to Harry and introduces him to a new way of travelling undetected. This leads to a shocking discovery that not even the attentions of First Aid Club members and Snape can distract him from. Battling his own conscience, Harry needs a weapon to fight Voldemort’s unseen agents from the shadows. After Harry is stabbed and poisoned, the DA battles to protect Dumbledore and Hermione. At the same time in another world Harry stands alone, fighting the creatures coming out of the darkness to attack his friends as they fight and fall.

Summary of Part Five: The Accord

Two unwelcome visitors arrive at the school and announce that a wizard will arrive shortly to challenge Flamel, the unwell and eldest member of a group of sorcerers that guard Hogwarts’ greatest secret. Can Hermione cope with any more House disunity, Crookshanks’ new look and Harry’s determination to fight the charismatic challenger himself?


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