There was a brief outburst of pattering feet as the Ministry wizards hurried into position. They spaced themselves evenly throughout the rock formation, crouching behind the jagged stones.
The moon shone down upon the scene, the shadows making a stark contrast to the silver-white of the hundreds of faces peering around.
Gastor Abel leant against the cold surface of a rock, his wand held tightly. His division, along with seven others, had been sent into Northern Europe two weeks previously. The Ministry had received information that the giants were gathering, and had dispatched a force in an attempt to stop the old allies of Voldemort from joining him once more. They had no idea, however, just how many giants would come, and with only four hundred men, Gastor was worried.
Behind the lines, he could hear the heavy weapons crew unpacking their equipment. He listened intently, trying hard to ignore his rapidly beating heart. But another noise echoed up to him from beyond the hill, stealing all of his attention.
Great booming thuds shook the ground. They became more numerous and far louder. Gastor could feel the noise through his legs. He took a deep breath and held it, his eyes screwed shut.
“Sir? Sir, what are your orders?”
Gastor turned to a small wizard crouching beside him. He was looking up expectantly at his captain, but Gastor could see fear etched across his face.
“All units will attack on my command.” He whispered in reply, finally letting out the breath he had held for so long.
The wizard nodded, signalling to the others further along the line. There was a brief flurry of activity as they prepared themselves. The noise over the hill reached such a level that small stones began to dislodge themselves from the rock formation, rolling down the slope into the darkness below.
Gastor glanced to the floor. The pitted white rock, illuminated by the moon’s rays, suddenly turned jet black as the shadow of an immense figure obscured the light. The shadow grew larger as its owner emerged over the hilltop, followed shortly by others.
The Ministry wizards shifted uneasily, and Gastor could almost feel the wave of cold fear sweep along the ranks. He took a second deep breath, his eyes never leaving the advancing shadows.
Swallowing hard, he swung himself out from his hiding place into the open, and raising his wand he yelled out into the night
“ATTACK! ALL UNITS OPEN FIRE!”
Harry awoke very suddenly, as if someone had slapped him across the face. Sitting upright, he heard the drowsy mutterings of his friends as they too came out of sleep. He drew back the red curtains of his four-poster and glanced across the room at Ron, who returned his bleary-eyed stare.
“Whassgoinon?” he mumbled.
“Sounded like a window smashing.” Said Dean, scratching his head lazily.
But he was cut off. A sharp voice echoed up to them from somewhere in the castle, followed by a loud crash. More shouts could be heard soon after.
“That’s not Peeves,” said Ron, his eyes wide “what the bloody hell’s happening down there?”
“Dunno,” Replied Harry, slipping his jeans over his pyjamas. “but I’m going to find out. Coming?”
There was a flurry of activity as the other boys hastily clothed themselves. Harry got up and strode towards the door, Ron (his head down one sleeve of his jumper) at his heels. They descended into the common room to find other Gryffindor students standing around and talking anxiously, all staring at the portrait hole.
Pushing through the fast-growing crowd, Harry made for the exit. He extended a hand to open the portrait, but it swung away just before he could touch it.
He found himself face-to-face with a very worried-looking Professor McGonagall, who grabbed a handful of his pyjama shirt and threw him back into the common room.
“Oi!” he cried indignantly “What’s going-“
“Get inside Potter, immediately!” Professor McGonagall interrupted, her face white. “An intruder has entered Hogwarts, and you are to go back to-“
The Gryffindor students began asking questions in unison, and Professor McGonagall’s voice was lost in the din.
Eventually giving up on trying to shout over them, she directed her wand at her throat, muttered “Sonorous”, and the room was filled with her magically-amplified shrieks
“Get to bed! All of you, immediately!”
She moved aside and the hulking figure of Hagrid came into view, crossbow raised and Fang at his heels. He squeezed through the portrait hole, dislodging several pictures with the vibrations of his immense footsteps.
The students moved away to allow him room as he turned back to Professor McGonagall.
“Hagrid, you are to stay here and guard the exit. The Fat Lady has been told that only Dumbledore may enter.”
“Leave it ter’ me, Professor.” He replied, sliding a long wooden bolt into his crossbow.
With that, Professor McGonagall swept out of sight, the portrait swinging shut behind her.
“Righ’, you heard the Professor.” Hagrid growled, his beetle-black eyes surveying the students and eventually landing on Harry.
“Get ter’ bed!”
The doors of the hospital wing flew open. Muffled footsteps echoed over the walls as Professor McGonagall approached, wearing her usual tartan slippers.
The small group of wizards standing clustered around the bed looked up at her.
“All house common rooms are now secured.” She panted, clutching her chest and swallowing hard. “The magical defences are up. Impregnable charms have been placed on all windows, and the main doors are locked down.”
“Thank you, Minerva.” Dumbledore replied, his voice hoarse. He, unlike the other people in the room, was fully clothed, having been working late yet again on a Ministry doctrine.
He turned back to the bed, concentration etched across his wrinkled face.
Professor McGonagall stopped beside him, also looking towards the metal-framed bed. Lying sprawled across it was a man, clearly dead, who wore the unmistakeable black cloak and mask of a Death Eater.
“We tried to subdue him,” Dumbledore croaked “but he was too quick. He turned his wand on himself…died instantly. I suspect he was under the influence of the Imperius curse.”
Professor McGonagall looked up at him, her eyes wide with shock.
“Do you…have any idea why he came here?” she whispered.
“None at all.” Dumbledore replied. “He entered through a ground floor window, nowhere near Harry…It makes no sense. Why would Voldemort send a single agent here, and risk him being caught and interrogated?”
“Maybe he was a scout.” Squeaked Professor Flitwick from the bedside table on which he stood. “Sent to make sure that Hogwarts was ready for invasion.”
“But why not just attack immediately? Why risk making a commotion?”
“You think he could have been…mad?” said Madam Pomfrey, looking horrified.
“No, Poppy, this was not a random act. Whatever his intentions were, they were crucial to Voldemort’s plans…I only wish we knew…” Dumbledore removed his glasses, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand.
Professor McGonagall noticed then just how bad the headmaster was looking. His skin was more wrinkled than ever, and his face was gaunt with lack of food and sleep. The others had noticed too, and they were all looking worried.
“I must speak with Phineas immediately, and ask him to visit his portrait in the Malfoy’s house. We may be able to obtain some information from there.” He sighed deeply. “If only I could make contact with Severus…he is deep within Voldemort’s council, and would surely know why this has happened.”
“Is there no way of talking to him at all?” Professor McGonagall asked.
“He is monitored too closely, the Death Eaters do not trust him.” He sighed again, turning to the arched windows.
The first rays of the morning sun lit the nearby hills with burning brilliance, crowning them in pink and gold.
“The Ministry must also be alerted of this unusual event…I will send an owl once the sun has risen.” He looked around at the small crowd of teachers, some staring worriedly back at him, others surveying the Death Eater on the bed.
“Our most important task now is to maintain the safety of our students. Think no more of this intrusion…no damage has been inflicted, and the Ministry will surely have some idea of why it has occurred. They accept now that Voldemort has returned, and will do all in their power, I believe, to aid us.
Remember this also – help comes ever closer in this war…on the wings of an angel.”
[Note: I hope this chapter did not appear too short…it kinda seemed that way to me. But still, at least it means quicker updates!]