Ginny took the stairs two at a time, seeing no one, not even a ghost. At the first floor, she thought she heard something to her right. “Harry? Ron?” she called out, getting no response. She hesitated calling for her other brothers by name in case a teacher may overhear. Ginny pulled her wand, stepped off the landing, up two stone steps, through a heavy door, and into the narrow, darkened corridor. At the end, shadows lengthened as a door at the bend swung gently as though in the breeze, its hinges creaking faintly.
Ginny had spent the last week growing accustomed to an empty castle as home. This was most likely what made her bold enough to step to the end of the dim corridor to investigate. At the corner, the runner rug had been oddly shifted to the left and piled up against the stone wall so that it resembled half a giant decorative bow. A heavy stone statue also rested on its side, blown in the same direction. On the floor in between these two things lay something difficult to recognize in the low light. It bore a faint likeness to a human form, except one lengthened to the point of being peeled apart and it was haloed by a black shiny pool. A piteous howl went up. It was Mrs. Norris, crouched beside the crude old boot lying at one end of the disturbing remains.
The door at the end of the corridor slammed closed and Ginny raised her wand and put up the block of her life which, given that she was still thrown hard into the wall beside her, perhaps was the only thing that saved her life. As she fought falling to her knees and the fireworks that had erupted into the darkness of her vision from her head striking the stone, she realized with an oath, that she had walked into a trap.
Her next block had time to fully form before the rush of the second curse arrived, so she had a chance to send a blasting curse of her own in its wake. A curtain rod clattered to the floor somewhere in the distance and someone grunted. Ginny sent another after that one, feeling heat rising from her core and a growing detachment to what was happening around her. She blocked to her right down the corridor where she had entered, just as a flash of something appeared there. The cutting curse shredded the rug piled at her feet, but otherwise flowed around her. Mrs. Norris hissed and howled. Ginny felt liberated as she cleanly followed her block with her own vicious cutting curse and then ducked behind the corner to avoid the next attack from the other direction. The spell wash prickled her arm painfully. She should have put a block up anyway.
“You could take down one of them,” she hissed at the cat, tired of its plaintive caterwauling that did nothing except break into her concentration.
Mrs. Norris’s glowing eyes spun away and moments later a human gave loose a plaintive howl of his own. Ginny snorted as she countered and attacked yet again as though the flow of the battle were as natural as flying.
“Did you hear something?” Hermione asked as he and Harry stepped into the corridor.
“Sounds like a ghost,” Harry commented, regarding the echoing, inhuman howl filtering up to them.
Hermione grabbed Harry’s arm and looked both ways down the corridor. Harry already had his wand out, but he raised it then, freeing himself. Hermione pulled her wand back out too. “I don’t like this, Harry.”
“The castle should be safe,” Harry said. “The Ministry secured it additionally for the funeral, in fact. I could try taking you out of here, if you want.”
“What . . . abandon the others?” she demanded.
“Just a suggestion,” Harry said as they started toward the armory, vaguely in the direction the howl had come from. He did not want to tell her that he thought she was not up to a serious fight; they had too much history of fighting together for him to find the words. “Stay close, all right?”
The double doors to the armory stood open and moonlight filtered into the corridor. Harry let his wand lead him into the room, but it was deserted. A third of the way along what was really a wide corridor, a creak brought his wand around. One of the suits of armor had taken a step forward.
“Harry!” Hermione gave a sharp tug on his robe. Something whistled through the air over Harry’s lowered head. The battle ax that had nearly missed him was caught by a suit of armor on the other side and thrown at them again. Harry hit it with a blasting curse and turned to face the suit on the other side. Hermione threw a rusting charm at another, slowing it.
“Back up!” Harry shouted, pushing her bodily toward the doors where they had entered. A clatter brought his wand over that way. The suit he had shattered apart had reassembled and approached again, dented but unhindered. “Blast!,” Harry muttered. He used a netting charm this time on the nearest one that was swinging its sword a little too close for comfort. Again the pieces, with a great flutter, freed themselves and re-assembled.
“We need Ginny and her welding charms,” Harry muttered, mentally kicking himself for not having her teach them to him on the spot; his stupid pride had been in the way. They were almost to the doors, which gave them a wall to back against for better defense as well as an escape route down the side corridor. “Send a silver message to McGonagall’s tower,” Harry ordered her. “I’ll hold them off. And Severus too, just in case he’s in his office.”
Harry needed a Titan block to ward off the next battle ax that was thrown their way. His whole arm rang with the vibration of the strike. The ax fell to the floor, only to zip back to its owner, who, along with half a dozen other suits of armor were fighting their way out the double doors toward the two of them. Hermione sent off the messages and Harry yelled, “Run!” and cast a netting charm wide enough to cover the door for the precious seconds they needed to get away. He could hear it being rended as they turned the bend and reached the open staircases, where they paused.
A voice from above called out: “Have you seen Ginny?”
Noises could be heard everywhere now. Ominous noises. Hermione yelled back, “No, isn’t she with you?”
“No,” Neville called out sheepishly.
Harry closed his eyes despite the danger approaching. Ten or so shadows hovered close, menacing. Harry swore.
“Have you seen Ron?” Hermione yelled upward.
Hermione began running downstairs. Harry grabbed her robes and pulled her upward instead, ignoring the sword that embedded itself in the step just in front of them, thrown from the corridor. “Run, Neville!” Harry shouted. “Get in a defensible position and stay there!” At the next floor up, Harry dragged his companion down the widest corridor.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“Harry . . .” she said breathlessly as they rounded a corner. “You sound like me!”
Harry slammed the door of the library closed and headed quickly for the Restricted Section. “Stay back,” he said in warning when she followed. “Guard the door.”
Hermione stopped and stood watching him. “The door, Hermione,” Harry repeated as he went to the far wall to retrieve Ravenclaw’s book.
“What are you doing, Harry?” Hermione asked. He could hear her casting something. Hopefully it was something with enough power to buy him enough time.
Harry turned the thick and varied pages of massive volume, glancing over each, refreshing his mind with each spell and each plan he found. “Just guard the door!” Harry shouted. He tried to speed up, but the book rattled, threatening to slam closed and make him start again. Sweat dripped down Harry’s ribs inside his shirt as he passed pages of the spells that were supposed to be protecting the grounds. He longed to just Apparate away and make sure Snape was all right, and McGonagall, and Hagrid, and Ginny, and Ron, and any other teachers left in the castle. He could not rescue everyone in time, he was certain. This was going to have to do.
- 888 -
Remus Lupin heard an odd scratching at the door to his office. Just as when Snape was direly injured, Flitwick’s funeral made him want to do nothing more than throw himself into work. Teaching was not something he had ever intended to do when he was younger, it was not a calling for him like for the others, but working on teaching felt like the only way to fight down the helplessness that overcame him when something tragic happened to one of his colleagues.
Lupin opened the door, but the corridor was empty. He started to pull it shut, but something forcefully restrained it. Lupin had his wand out just as the leering figure of so many of his nightmares stepped into the light from the reading lamp. Lupin cast a blasting curse, but it wasn’t enough to halt the oversized half-werewolf as he leapt inside. They scuffled on the floor. Lupin got in another grazing shot, even though his wrist was grabbed up and pressed to the floor. His wand hand was lifted by a powerful arm and slammed down. Something cracked, making him cry out. He held desperately onto the wand still, but could not tilt it to aim.
Greyback laughed in a canine manner, oversized tongue lolling and his breath heating Lupin’s face. The fatefulness of his dilemma made Lupin give in. His arms went slack.
“What? No fight? What kind of werewolf are you?” Greyback mocked. “You take all the fun out of it.”
“Good,” Lupin uttered, half-laughing out of stress.
“You’re a pathetic excuse for a wizard,” Greyback said, and snapped his jaws threateningly.
“You aren’t even a man,” Lupin mocked. He displayed a sneer of his own and gave his attacker a hard knee to the groin. Greyback flung himself aside in an attempt to curl over his middle. Lupin grabbed up his wand in his uninjured hand but as he brought it around a powerful jaw closed around it. For an interminable moment, Lupin was paralyzed by the horror of recollection, but then he jammed his fingers into Greyback’s eyes as hard as he could with his broken wrist.
One floor below, Snape pushed his chair back and stood, the silver message still dissolving in his hand. The floor above him creaked as though something heavy had fallen. His wand raised in that direction out of natural reaction. Moving rapidly, he waved the protective charm off the potions cabinet and grabbed out two bottles stored as far from each other as possible. With the bottle necks hooked between the fingers of one hand, he slipped quickly around the visitor’s chair to stand beside his office door. He took a deep breath followed by another.
Had the silver message come from anyone other than Hermione Granger, he would not be assuming the worst. Anyone else, even Harry perhaps, he may have believed them to be exaggerating the behavior of the castle’s armor. What would he do if he were invading a castle? He would recruit the objects within it to his cause, and he could only assume his former associates would act the same. If he were wrong, he would simply have to replace the potions and apologize to Mr. Filch for having to clean up the mess.
The next breath he held in tightly. He cracked the office door open just far enough to toss the bottles out into the corridor before slamming it closed again. A spell struck the door, but Snape had propped his foot against it, which kept it from flying fully open again. Yellow vapor snaked in before he could slam it closed again, Its touch caused his heavy sleeve to curl and smoke. He shook his arm to dissipate it. He continued to hold his breath and began to count slowly to thirty.
- 888 -
The glass in the door to the library shattered. “Harry!” Hermione shouted.
Harry glanced up to see that she was hovering a table onto its side and hurrying to get behind it. Harry was carrying the heavy, stone-bound book on one straining arm while building up energy in two spell columns as the diagram indicated. The notes did not give instructions on how to do this, so Harry was enormously grateful that Snape had once explained how while showing him more powerful magicks. The power foci stood as glowing blue columns of heatless flame. He paced between them and began the long incantation. “Lacrimablius incurcio phychrucio incurcius . . .”
“Harry, what the hell are you doing?” Hermione demanded. “And it’s most likely psychrucio; what you said is nonsense otherwise.”
Harry repeated that the whole phrase and continued on, thinking that Salazar Slytherin should have learned to spell. The door to the library splintered and a rush of flame could be heard followed by billows of steam, which Harry assumed was from Hermione’s water charm. More flames could be heard following this exchange.
“Harry!” Hermione pleaded. “I don’t know what you’re doing and I can’t . . .” Another explosion of flame filled the air. The scent of burning paper followed closely. “ . . . hold them off.”
“Just half a minute more!” Harry shouted and finished the last line, “. . . aegrescere laquetomorphos,” while circling the wand around his head like a lasso.
The spell columns erupted into a rippling network of lines that crawled rapidly over the walls before sinking in and making the stones glow. Their effect could be seen out of the window spreading over the adjoining wing of the castle. The room fell silent.
Hermione stood with a groan and spritzed the smoldering books lying on a nearby table. The overturned table she had been using as a shield was blackened and also leaching smoke. “I couldn’t hear all of that spell, but it sounded awful. All shall be trapped in a nightmare of madness. What was that?”
Harry pushed the debris of the door aside with his foot. “It was labeled as the Doomsday Spell. I’m pretty sure it’s of Slytherin’s making.”
“You cast a spell Salazar Slytherin left behind in an old book?!” Hermione demanded, aghast.
Harry gestured at the two Death Eaters squirming on the floor of the corridor, wands cast aside, hands grasping their heads, faces contorted in horror. “Yes,” he replied. “It affects only the castle’s enemies, those who don’t belong within. It will lift when every last one of them is removed. I didn’t see any other way of helping everyone at once. There are a dozen or so Death Eaters here.”
“There are what?” she blurted. “Why didn’t you say?”
“Because I didn’t want to panic you,” Harry calmly replied, striding away. “We should check on everyone. Find Ron and Lavender.”
Severus Snape made the stone gargoyle at a run just as it leapt out of the way on its own. The walls nearby were scarred by recent spells. Two figures lay nearby, thrashing in small jerks. Snape Accioed their wands and held his wand aimed at them, even though they seemed thoroughly incapacitated.
“Severus, thank goodness,” McGonagall said. “I received the strangest message from Ms. Granger about the armor coming to life. Fawkes refused to take me to the spot—pecked me even. Dumbledore’s portrait insisted we stay put in the tower where it was safest, used some reverse password on the gargoyle to keep us in.” She huffed angrily and then noticed the figures on the floor. Richard and Professor Sprout stepped cautiously out behind her, brought down by the turning staircase.
“What is happening? Are the walls glowing, do you think?” Richard asked as he reached out a hand, but pulled it back before touching the stone.
“I don’t know quite what is happening,” Snape said, relaxing his aim on the enemy slightly. “But I fully expect that when we locate Harry, we will find out.”
“Your sleeve is burnt,” McGonagall said in concern.
“Battle with Avery,” Snape stated. “One I won this time. Fortunately, I also received a message, which gave me just enough warning.”
Harry came running. “You’re all right,” he said in relief. “Headmistress? Professors?” He glanced at Richard, surprised to see him still in the castle. As the other’s nodded, he stared at Harry with the same alarm as previously. Harry ignored him, since McGonagall presumably could take care of him.
“Yes, Harry, we’re fine. What . . . exactly did you do?” McGonagall asked, gesturing at the figures lying nearby.
“Trapped in a horror of their minds, or some such,” Harry tossed out casually. He went over and tossed their hoods aside. “Dolohov and Jugson, look at that,” he said happily. “There are about twelve of them here in the castle.” He paced back to the others. “Can’t count them in my head when there are that many. We may have got the lot of them,” he said with satisfaction, smiling.
“You may have got the lot of them,” Snape corrected.
Harry’s smile faded quickly. “But we need to check on everyone. Did you check on Remus?”
“I admit I came to check on Minerva first.”
Harry started to run off again. Snape’s voice shouting after him slowed his pace. “How long are we safe?”
“It will only release when the very last enemy is removed from the castle,” Harry quoted
They watched his figure dwindle down the corridor and turn on fleet feet. “Your main job overseeing Harry continues to be as interesting as ever, Severus.”
“It is all right,” Snape said. “I do think he is going to be all right, now. If things would calm down I could catch up to where his power is. It grows by leaps and bounds as he needs it. I think if he did not need it, its growth would slow.” He dropped his wand hand, deciding that the Death Eaters were truly no threat. “But we should contact the Ministry and search the castle.”
“I’ll go down to the Great Hall. Don’t have the Floo in my office yet. Didn’t expect to need it,” she grumbled. “Better bring Poppy in, too.”
Snape followed in the direction Harry had departed. He would start with who he knew to be present and then begin a floor-by-floor search. Presumably the Ministry would assist with that when they arrived.
He approached the Fat Lady’s portrait, which was empty. He found her hiding two portraits away. “It is safe now, and I have the password,” he stated, finding patience somewhere, knowing that brusqueness did not always work with this fictitious woman. The Fat Lady picked up her skirts and tip-toed back to her own portrait, looking around for danger all the while.
“Someone dark and mysterious came. He didn’t have the password.”
“Very good,” Snape said. “Periwinkle.”
The portrait flipped open and a freezing charm came rolling out, making the portrait hole crackle and steam with ice. It did not seem like a Death Eater kind of spell. “Who is there?” Snape queried, shaking ice from his robes.
“Professor?” Neville asked, bending down to look through the hole.
“Yes, Mr. Longbottom.”
“Harry said I should find a defensible spot and stay there,” Neville said, sounding as though he wanted it clear he had been obedient.
“Yes, very wise idea. But I need help searching the castle now, so come out of the tower.”
Neville stepped out, wand raised. “Who attacked?”
“Death Eaters.” Neville’s eyes widened and he peered oddly at his former teacher. Snape spun on his heel. “Come along.”
At the staircases someone was shouting and Harry came running up to them. “Is Pomfrey here?” he asked breathlessly.
“Minerva is bringing her in by Floo right now.” Snape hurried to follow down to the third floor and Lupin’s office.
The office lay in disarray and Lupin sat on the floor, clutching his injured arms around his waist, staring at Greyback, who like the others didn’t have attention for anything beyond his own internal horrors. Harry crouched beside Lupin and said to Snape, “He’s got a bad bite and his other arm’s broken, I think. Remus?” Harry prompted.
Lupin responded only slowly. He held up his bitten arm. “Look,” he said.
“What?” Harry asked.
“You cannot see it?” Lupin demanded.
“Let’s get you to the hospital wing, Remus,” Snape said. “Pomfrey will be here momentarily. Come.”
Between the two of them they put him on his feet and led him out. In the corridor leading to the hospital wing, they found Lavender crying.
“Where’s Ron?” Harry asked, nearly panicked by the scene.
Lavender pointed through the doors to the dispensary. Harry left Snape to handle Lupin alone and rushed ahead. Inside, he came to a stop. Ron stood between two beds looking down at something. “Ron!” Harry said, “you’re . . .” The object of Ron’s attention came into view. Firenze was splayed on a sheet on the floor, skin ashen. Blood dotted the sheet. “Oh, no,” Harry said. He closed his eyes, but there was nothing left. Snape and Lupin came in and stood beside them. “Where did you go?” Harry asked his friend.
“Out in the Rose Garden,” Ron said dully. “Came in the side door and found Professor Firenze like this. I didn’t know what to do for him.” He tossed his arm helplessly.
Pomfrey rushed in, followed by McGonagall. Heading for the door, Harry said, “We still have people missing.”
“Ministry’s on its way,” McGonagall informed him just before dropping her head at the sight on the floor. She quickly turned to the obviously battered Lupin and forced him to take a bed at the other end.
Harry went at a jog back to the staircases. “Where’s Ginny?” Footfalls came up behind him and Snape joined him. Harry informed him: “I told Hermione to start searching from the Dungeons up, so I know where she is. Ginny’s still missing. And the twins.”
“The Weasley twins?” Snape inquired with interest.
“Yeah. Ginny said they stayed after the funeral to plan some prank.”
Snape raised his wand. “If it was they who weakened the castle’s security, they are in serious trouble.”
“Yeah,” Harry said, worried that may be the case.
Harry started down the next staircase, thinking of checking on Hermione’s progress. A door banged open and Ginny stumbled out. “Ginny!” Harry said, relieved and alarmed. She was clutching her middle.
Ginny swore colorfully and leaned back against the wainscoting. “Witch used the same hex as last time.”
“Here, let’s get you to Pomfrey,” Harry urged, propping her up with his shoulder.
“I was doing so well, too,” she grumbled.
Harry grew alarmed by something moving inside Ginny’s robes. “Pomfrey. Now. Stop talking,” Harry ordered and marched her to the staircase.
“Yeah, but . . . I think Filch . . . ” Ginny pointed behind her, looked up and spied Snape. “Professor,” she said in clear dismay.
Harry read the potential for embarrassment in her tone. “Severus, can you find Hermione?”
Ginny overrode him. “Filch is dead back there, I think,” she clarified.
Snape gave her a sharp glare as though to verify what she said and then headed through the rough wooden door.
“What’d you get hit with?” Harry asked as they reached the corridor leading to the hospital wing.
“Don’t ask.” She heaved as though she might be sick and then made a very pathetic noise of distress.
“Oh, Ginny. Almost there.” He kicked open the door.
Ginny flopped down on the first bed, too wrapped up in her own troubles to notice the dead centaur across the way, still very recognizable under several crisp white sheets. She curled herself into a ball and moaned.
Pomfrey left Lupin’s side to assess Ginny, saving Harry from fetching her. Ginny shoved Harry. “Go ‘way!” she insisted with an almost childish voice.
Harry backed up, confused. Pomfrey efficiently Accioed a set of curtains and set them up. Harry stood on the far side of them, too concerned to move far. Pomfrey’s reassuring voice drifted out. “Now, now, the Tentacle Erasing Ointment will work in just a half an hour.”
Harry shuddered in sympathy and stepped down to where Lupin sat, propped up on pillows, his broken wrist already safely in a Kwikcast. He was staring closely at his other hand and this time Harry saw that his nails were just a bit too pointed and his knuckles hairier than before. His bites had been wrapped in rags soaked in something purple and foul smelling.
“Can you become more of a werewolf?” Harry asked in surprise.
“I’m becoming like him,” Lupin said bleakly. “Half a werewolf all the time.”
“I’m sorry, Remus,” Harry said.
Lupin shrugged as though trying to pretend it did not matter, even though it clearly did. “Better off than others, though,” he said, nodding his head in the direction of Firenze’s body. “Always have to keep that in mind.” He rested his injured arms at his sides and leaned his head back. “Something overcame Greyback. He just went mad.”
“I did that,” Harry said.
Lupin’s thicker than usual brow went up. “You did?”
“I cast an old spell of Slytherin’s that was described as bringing bane to the castle’s enemies.”
“If you were still my student, I would yell at you for trusting such a spell source. But since you’re not . . . I won’t.” Instead he appeared quite grateful.
McGonagall entered with a group from the Ministry: Arthur Weasley, Shacklebolt, Vineet, and Tonks. Harry patted Lupin’s shoulder and joined them. McGonagall crouched and pulled back the sheet from over Firenze’s head. His light hair was barely distinguishable from the bleached sheet. “Never really fit in. Living in a castle is hardly natural for such as he.”
Harry thought McGonagall must still have eulogies on her mind, since she seemed to be giving another again already.
“Who knows what happened to him?” Mr. Weasley asked.
“Ron found him,” Harry said. “I think he’s taken Lavender somewhere quiet. One of the nearby classrooms, maybe.”
“Up to helping with a search of the castle?” Mr. Weasley asked Harry, who had been communicating silently with Tonks.
“Yes, sir.” Harry glanced at the nearby bed with the curtain drawn around it. He did not say anything, figuring if Ginny wanted her dad’s attention, she could have easily made enough noise to attract it.
On the second floor staircase, they encountered Hermione. “I searched everything below here, except I don’t know the password for the Slytherin common room.”
“It’s the same as the Gryffindor one,” Harry said. “They make them all the same over the summer.”
“‘Periwinkle’ didn’t work though.”
“Well, we’ll look into it,” Mr. Weasley said, “Vishnu, why don’t you join Ms. Granger in continuing to search upward.”
Hermione appeared to be controlling her reaction to this by biting her lip. Vineet soberly followed her as she led the way up to the next floor. On the way down, Mr. Weasley asked Harry, “Tell us a bit more about this spell you used . . .”
Harry glanced back at his friends a few times before reciting the notes surrounding the spell. Snape stepped out of the narrow side corridor off the first floor landing, looking grim. “We have another body and three more Death Eaters here,” he said.
Mr. Weasley gestured for Tonks to take care of it. “We also need assistance with getting into the Slytherin common room, apparently.”
In the much cooler dungeon, while Snape investigated the stuck door leading to his house’s common room, Mr. Weasley said, “So, you think the spell was one left behind by Salazar himself?”
“I suspect,” Harry said, “that of the four founders whose notes are in the book, he seems the most likely candidate. He also apparently couldn’t spell . . . words, that is.” When Snape gave him a borderline insulted glance, Harry added, “The other notes don’t have quite the same issue with the English language.”
Snape considered the door. “The password has been changed. Anything in the Ravenclaw book about the commons’ gateways?” he airily asked Harry.
“Yeah,” Harry said. “It says: be certain not to forget the password.”
Snape stepped back, gesturing for Harry and Mr Weasley to do the same. As he aimed his wand at the exposed hinges, Harry said, “Don’t want to try to guess it?” Snape ignored him and fired a cutting charm at each hinge until they blossomed and clanked to the stone floor. The door still refused to move.
“The magic is on the door itself, it seems,” Mr. Weasley observed.
McGonagall appeared then, Minister Bones in tow. “If I ever get two good nights of sleep in a row, I will be forever grateful.” She waved her hand before her nose to disperse the smoke. “What is this?”
“The password’s been changed,” Harry said. “And we don’t know it.”
“Well, for goodness sake, Severus, you should have said something. There is an unlock charm just for this situation that only the headmaster or mistress is allowed to know. Turn around, all of you.” She cast something without an incantation and the door crashed to the floor, making them all jump. “At least it was your house door you damaged,” she said as she stepped by Snape to enter. “Well . . . it . . . was your house.”
Harry followed her in and stopped dead at the oppressive sight before him. The entire place had been redecorated as though by a mad grandmother afflicted with an obsession for pink and white doilies. Harry could not hold back a gasp. Simulated windows had even been added, complete with bright sunlight—despite the post-witching hour, probably just to highlight the yellow and blue flowered curtains pulled aside with broad pink sashes. The room made his arms tingle with revulsion; he rubbed them, which did not help. Snape reached up to tear down a Gryffindor Rulz banner but it snapped viciously at him.
“Oh, wonderful,” Snape said. “And it is all cursed.”
“Yeah,” Harry agreed.
Bones propped her fists on her hips and said, “Quite an improvement, I would say.” When Harry turned to her to gauge if she were joking or not, she said, “Thanks to you are in order, Mr. Potter, for your quick actions this evening. Quite a coup.”
“Quite honestly,” Harry said, “I was just trying to save my friends, as usual.”
Snape turned sharply and leaned into their conversation with: “What he means to say, is: Thank you for the accolades and I hope this means you will be supporting me tomorrow during the meeting of the full Wizengamot.”
Minister Bones smiled faintly. “Harry is not a political animal, Professor.”
“No,” Snape breathed in mildly disdainful agreement. “Despite my numerous attempts to change that.”
A noise attracted Harry’s attention to one of the dormitories, which was only partially redecorated. On the floor—one by the doorway and the other by a half-formed, simulated window that rose and set rapidly between day and night—lay the twins, clasping their heads and thrashing as though caught in a miniature fit. “In here!” Harry shouted.
“Fred and George!” Mr. Weasley exclaimed. “Buy why . . . ?”
“Enemies of the castle,” Harry said. “At least the castle thinks so.” He moved quickly to hover the twin who was tangled in curtains with a bright pattern of doe-eyed kittens playing with yarn or curling up to sleep with puppies. “I think if we get them out of the castle, the spell will lift.”
He and Snape hovered the two of them while Mr. Weasley cleared the way, showing distress at the state of his sons. They glided them out onto the dewy, moonlit lawn where the shadows cast by the torches stretched away to the lake. The twins fell unconscious, which was definitely an improvement. Something howled from the forest and a colony of bats fluttered overhead.
“Serves them right,” Snape muttered, too quiet for Mr. Weasley to overhear. His long shadow shortened as he bent down to check that the nearest twin was breathing all right, even rolling him onto his side and checking that he had not swallowed his tongue.
Mr. Weasley was shaking his head as he knelt beside the other. “Should get them to St. Mungo’s,” he said. To Harry, he asked, “Any idea what the recovery time on this spell is?”
Harry was forced to shrug, which made him feel almost regretful. He had not meant for anyone he cared about to get caught in the middle. With a cry of yah! one twin violently sat up, holding his head. “Bloody hell,” he kept repeating.
“Guess they’ll be all right,” Mr. Weasley said and Harry slumped in relief.
Harry followed Snape when he moved to return to the castle. Mr. Weasley also stood, pointed his wand at the nearest befuddled twin and said, “Stay put!”
Ron stood in the castle doorway, looking out. “You found Fred and George?”
“Yes, yes,” Mr. Weasley reassured him.
Ron took the heavy door from him as though heading outside, but spotted something that made him turn back and say, “Wha’s that?!”
Everyone turned and watched Lavender approach, carrying a familiar creature with matted and tangled fur. It was purring loud enough to hear across the hall. “I found her crying on the fourth floor,” she said, petting the animal.
Ron let the door go and it fell closed with a resounding boom! “That’s Mrs. Norris!” he exclaimed in horror.
Lavender petted the cat. “But she was so sad. And now look at her.” It was true that the cat was completely at home in her arms.
Ron was nonplussed. “But . . . but I HATE that cat!”
Lavender pointedly turned sideways as though to shield Mrs. Norris from Ron’s anger and petted her some more.
- 888 -
In a far wing of the fourth floor, Hermione and Vineet walked in silence. Hermione had only made two attempts at conversation but they had elicited nothing more than one syllable responses so she had given up. By this time her excitement at getting this assignment had dulled to a manageable tingle that was renewed every time she turned to her companion. They had not found anything for a while, so Hermione jumped more than expected when Vineet grabbed her robes to pull her back from approaching the curved stone staircase that led upward at the dead end of the corridor.
“There is a barrier here,” he said, sounding concerned.
The light was poor but Hermione could see the sky outside the windows reflecting in a small pool of water on the floor. “It’s just this,” she said, shaking him off to step closer. A frog leapt from the reeds, making a splash that reached her shoes. She stared down into the black water with some sadness. “This is where Professor Flitwick moved the portable swamp to get it out of the way rather than get rid of it.” She gestured along the corridor. “No one ever comes down this way, usually.”
Melancholia pervaded Hermione’s mood as they continued. Two corridors later, this allowed her to identify Vineet’s mood, although not the source of it. She wondered if she should ask Harry what was wrong with his colleague, but did not look forward to his look of disapproval if she did not ask very carefully.
- 888 -
When the search was finished and all eleven captured Death Eaters carted away, Harry stepped into the Great Hall in search of Tonks. Voices echoed from the pair sitting at the Gryffindor table near the freshly lit hearth. Harry came to a stop far enough away as to not interrupt Tonk’s interview of Ginny. The clock on the end wall was difficult to read without squinting, but it showed half past three. Harry yawned.
Ginny was saying: “Then this cutting curse came from the staircase side.”
“That’s what happened to the rug?” Tonks asked, writing all the while.
“I guess, yeah,” Ginny replied.
A figure approached Harry and stopped beside his shoulder. It was Mr. Weasley. Ginny went on, gesturing with her hands to show the layout of the corridor and the gestures of her spells, “I moved to get a wall between me and the attacker down the corridor . . .”
“But that one was farther away,” Tonks pointed out.
“Yeah, true,” Ginny said thoughtfully. “I guess I was thinking that was where the fatal spell that took out Filch must have come from. But I wasn’t thinking much . . . didn’t really have time.”
As Ginny continued to relate her part of the battle, Harry turned to his boss. “All right, sir?” Mr. Weasley did not appear to be all right. He ignored Harry’s question, so Harry said, “She’s pretty good. With a little training . . .”
Mr. Weasley grimaced and approached the two of them hunched over Tonk’s report parchment.
“Hey, Dad,” Ginny greeted him happily.
Mr. Weasley put a hand on her shoulder. “Go on,” he said.
Ginny finished describing the spell exchanges, growing more agitated when she had to describe the Tetchy Tentacle Hex that she had not managed a counter for, despite getting hit with it previously. “Do you know one?” she asked Tonks in near desperation. “I hate that hex.”
“I’ll find out one for you,” Tonks assured her.
“You should get home; it’s late,” Mr. Weasley tiredly said.
“I . . . can I go home?” Ginny asked eagerly.
Mr. Weasley rubbed his forehead. “That’s right. I forgot.”
“It was supposed to be safer here for you,” Mr. Weasley muttered.
“Yeah,” Ginny said. “How many teachers are dead now?” She frowned deeply and noticed only then that Harry was hovering on the edge of the light. “Hey, Harry.”
“You’re in better spirits,” Harry said, approaching.
Ginny rubbed her robe front. “Yeah, better without tentacles in uncomfortable places.” She blushed then, which was clear even in the firelight. “Can I really go home?” she asked her father.
Mr. Weasley continued to rub the thinning hair on top of his head. “I don’t know,” he admitted.
Ginny stood. “Guess that’s a ‘no’,” she muttered. “I’m going back to the tower then.” A few steps away, she said, “G’night, Dad.”
Harry hovered, waiting to see if Mr. Weasley would leave as well so he could talk to Tonks. Mr. Weasley rubbed his hair back and forth again, looking beaten down. Tonks said, “She’s not a baby anymore, Arthur.”
“Seven kids. Six boys,” Mr. Weasley complained. “Why does SHE insist on being an Auror? Why not one of them, like Bill?” Grumbling, he departed.
Harry sat down beside Tonks. He wanted to hitch an arm around her shoulder but worried someone may come in and see. He stroked her thigh under the table instead, feeling like a silly student again.
Tonks remained business-like. “I need to interview you next.” She found a fresh report sheet and filled out the top of it. Harry clasped his hands before him on the table and behaved himself.
Giving his version of events went smoothly. He had written out enough reports by now to easily order and describe the right details. Halfway through, while he waited for Tonks to finish describing Hermione’s defense of the library, Harry asked, “Do you want me to write?”
“No,” Tonks replied in such a way that Harry wondered if he had offended her but she was trying to hide it. This served as a reminder that maintaining a working relationship was not going to be straightforward or easy. Harry sat quietly after that, waiting for a cue to continue.
Without warning a hand fell on Harry’s shoulder. “You need to rest for tomorrow’s Wizengamot meeting,” Snape said.
“We’re still finishing up reports,” Harry pointed out, not wanting to leave Tonks’ side quite yet.
Sounding immovable, Snape said, “You can finish it tomorrow after you have slept. It is quite late.”
Tonks rolled up the parchments and stashed them inside her robe as she stepped over the bench. “You go. I should relieve Kingsley anyway; he’s patrolling the grounds.”
Harry asked, “Have you figured out how the Death Eaters got in?”
She shook her head. “Not entirely. They came in the side door where Firenze looks to have been waiting for a rendezvous with someone.”
“Another centaur?” When Tonks shrugged, Harry said, “Could the centaurs have carried the Death Eaters over the barrier spells?”
“The centaurs would never consent to do that,” Tonks said.
Harry turned to Snape. “But that would work, wouldn’t it?”
Snape pondered a moment before he agreed that it could. He patted Harry’s shoulder as though to get him moving. Harry stood and said, “But what happened to the elves?”
“To bed,” Snape commanded. “You can solve the rest of the wizarding world’s problems tomorrow.”
“But . . .”
Snape pointed and gave him a shove in the direction of the doors. Harry moved his feet to remain upright and went that way reluctantly. As he approached the open center door a large figure blocked the way.
“Got someone for ya’,” Hagrid said and held out a small mummified bundle.
Harry stared at it, shifting into the Entrance Hall where the light was slightly better. “Kali?”
“Aye, she took to thrashing in ‘er cage. I couldna calm ‘er down. Didna realize that meant trouble I ‘ave ta admit,” Hagrid explained as Harry lifted the tiny fox-headed bundle from his massive hand. Hagrid went on, “‘Fraid if she re-injured ‘erself badly she’d never fly again. We should keep ‘er like that fer a while, ta give ‘er a chance to heal a bit.”
Harry cradled her on his arm, where she immediately rested her head against him. A sense of utter relief washed through him, leaving his limbs jelly-like. “Thanks, Hagrid,” he said. He glanced back and hesitated on his toes while he judged whether Tonks’ or Snape’s postures, clearly outlined by the fire, indicated that the conversation may be one of concern. Harry decided not and gave Hagrid a wave before departing. His pet was asleep before he made it to the top of the Grand Staircase.
Next: Chapter 37 - Lux & Veritas
"No one," Fudge went on, sounding more and more like a carnival sideshow announcer, "in the history of wizarding, has ever before, removed the most fundamental energies from another being, the very thing that makes them magical. Until now." He turned to glare at Harry.
"You'd prefer I killed him?" Harry asked.
Fudge pointed his wand at him, although it felt less a threat and more simple pointing. "You are not called as witness at this time, Mr. Potter."