Chapter 17 : Terror at Hogwarts
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The strangeness began during Minister Scrimgeourís speech. Later, everyone agreed on only that one point. Some claimed that the giant squid tried to eat them while others shuddered with the idea that Hogwarts itself had nearly fallen on them. Those who spoke the truth were far outnumbered and not believed.
Hermione frowned as she heard the crow cawing. The people behind them began whispering. The more they whispered, the angrier she grew. She wanted to turn around and demand how they could forget that they were here for Harry and Ginnyís funeral. They deserved a good lecture about this not being a social or party, but a funeral. Her red-rimmed eyes narrowed as she tried yet again to look at the single casket in front of them and failed to keep her gaze there for more than a few seconds. She dropped her eyes again because she couldnít stand the pain of knowing her best friends lay there. Or rather, one of her friends lay there. A family photo album stood in place of her other best friend who still hadnít been found.
There was one whisper about the lake that caught her attention. She pulled her head from Ronís shoulder to see for herself. She stared wide-eyed at the water, disbelief etched on her face. She elbowed Ron, nodding slightly towards the gray lake where small waves were continuously lapping against the shore, creeping closer to those gathered for the funeral.
Neither she nor Ron listened to Minister Scrimgeour as he continued speaking, though Ron had stopped paying attention to him out after his first sentence. Harry had been the same way, she thought to herself as she bit her lip to keep from sobbing out loud. She suspected that no one was listening to the Minister any longer, if anyone had been paying attention to him. She had found it difficult to listen which might not have seemed unusual with someone else, but she would memorize the speeches as they were given. Harry and Ron had grown accustomed to her telling them what the speech had covered. It was likely that only Professor Umbridge and Percy continued listening to the Ministerís speech, ignoring the lake as not important with the possible exception of Mr. Fudge.
The lake drew everyoneís attention with its churning waters as they began to wonder what would happen next. Slowly but steadily, the waves grew larger and larger, white caps slightly foaming as they struck the shore. Foam remained on the sandy beach as the waves ebbed slightly before crashing once again against the shore.
Hermione glanced up to the sky, but there was no storm rolling in. Instead it was a bright sunny day with a sky so intensely blue that it hurt to look at it. This day was very much at odds with their business. She turned her attention back to the frothing water. Small eddies appeared here and larger eddies there.
She was surprised to see the Merpeople watching the funeral just as they had for Dumbledore. They must have arrived while she hadnít been looking. Another thought reminded her that Harry had very likely earned their respect by the courage heíd shown while trying to save everyone their fourth year instead of just taking Ron back to the surface. The Merchieftainess had explained what happened to Dumbledore who had credited Harry for nobility. Their expressions were hard to read, but it appeared they looked unsettled as they glanced about them uncertainly.
More foam remained on the shore as the waves drew away. She could see more foam in the lake where the churning eddies and waves stirred it up. She didnít think that it could grow any worse. What she saw was already far worse than any she had seen before, and there had been many since their fifth year.
She suspected that the lake had caught nearly everyoneís attention when she didnít hear Minister Scrimgeour speaking. Even in all her reading, she couldnít remember anything written on the lakeís current behavior. She wasnít alone in trying to remember if the lake had ever reacted like this before. If it had happened, no one had written about it.
It was only when water began spilling onto the shore, threatening to soak those attending the funeral, did anyone actually do anything. Several Aurors pulled out their wands and began creating Shields between the lake and the funeral. Those closest to the Shields eyed the lake with fear as they inched their way closer to the castle itself. She was astonished to see the level of the water continue to rise against the Shields as if they were the sides of a wall. More Aurors rushed to the front where they added their Shields to the ones already there. Those inching away abruptly stood, rushing to the aisle where they remained standing, their eyes fixated on the churning foam.
Minister Scrimgeour calmly considered the frightened people standing before him then glanced once more at the water frothing at the Shields behind him before clearing his throat, picking up where he had left off in his speech. He had only completed the next sentence when a groaning crash stopped him.
He looked up at the castle with every other person gathered there, staring in shock as a tower disappeared and reappeared with another booming crash which was echoed by the churning water. Another spire sparkled brightly, but remained in place. A third tower seemed to crumble in on itself, adding the dull roar of destruction as dust curtained about where it had once stood.
The anxious people stared wide-eyed between the looming lake and the crumbling castle before beginning to scream and yell at the sight. Many started hurrying to the edge of Hogwarts so they could Disapparate before the peculiar occurrence could worsen. No one doubted that it would get worse. After all, how could it not with the Boy-Who-Lived dead by the one he had defeated?
More towers sparkled with what Minister Scrimgeour fancied as trying to decide if they would move of not. Some of the towers that had moved continued moving as if they hadnít found just the right spot. The castle itself seemed to stretch and shrink. More Aurors, the ones who didnít have Shields against the water, turned their attention to the castle. A few put up more Shields, just in case. No one knew what was happening.
A tremendous roar stopped all shrieking and yelling from the gathered people. Everyone silently looked from the changing castle to the forest with trepidation. Nerves began to fray as everyone froze, trembling with terror. Water began to seep among the chairs unnoticed as Aurors turned their attention from their Shields. Not one sound issued from a throat as eyes tried to pierce the gloom of the forest. Unearthly screams and bellows continued to sound from the forest. A few of the Aurors turned their attention from the castle to place themselves between the forest and those gathered for the funerals, readying their wands just in case.
Neville swallowed hard. He hadnít liked the forest too terribly much before his first year and he liked it so much less after spending a detention in there searching for the wounded unicorn. Malfoy had snuck up behind him and scared him. He was sorry when Harry had gotten stuck with Malfoy after that. As he looked at the forest with dread, he thought he had seen a young man with pale blond hair moving towards the gates to Hogwarts. Why would he be here? Had he come to gloat that his adversary had fallen? Or had that fleeting look been no more than his imagination?
He noted grimly that the gathered centaurs were agitated, far more than the Merpeople. The centaurs began to ready their bows as they faced the forest. He suspected they knew what was making that horrendous sound and if they were scared, he really didnít want to see that creature.
He glanced through the crowd to find Professor Umbridge. A small smile of satisfaction grew on his face when he saw her pale face. It served her right for what she had done. She should have known not to insult centaurs while in the forest. Hermione had told him what had happened. He also knew that she had tried to sneak out of Hogwarts without anyone knowing. He chuckled when he remembered that Ginny would make clopping sounds that would startle Professor Umbridge.
Another loud groan rent through the air.
He swayed, trying to catch his balance as the ground rippled under his feet. He watched as more and more people started running to the edge of Hogwarts, disappearing as soon as they could. Screams grated on his ears as people fell, certain they were doomed. He found it difficult to remain standing and started to fall to the ground as another large wave washed through the earth. His eyes widened as he watched the earthy mound move towards him causing the chairs to topple this way and that.
ďNeville! Now!Ē his grandmother demanded, grabbing his hand. She was already starting to move towards the boundary of Hogwarts.
He yanked his hand free without taking his eyes off the churning earth. ďButÖĒ
ďNeville, for all thatísÖ We have to leave. NOW!Ē his grandmother snapped, losing patience with him.
He looked up at his grandmother with surprise. She pointed to the edge where people were disappearing. He nodded and started to make his way there. It was easier said than done. The earth kept giving way as he tried walking. He found he made better time sloshing through the earth instead. He could hear his grandmother behind him, grumbling about the mud and muck on her clothes.
Just as it seemed that everything would destroy Hogwarts and the ground it stood on, it stopped.
A silence was ringing in their ears.
A sob could be heard here and there from one of those who hadnít made it to the boundary to Disapparate. The braver people stood trembling, unsure if the strangeness was finished. Their wands were in their hands, even as it appeared they had been partly swallowed by the earth. When the ground remained steady underneath them, they began pulling themselves free of the dirt.
Minister Scrimgeour looked towards the Weasleys, noticing they watched him with pale and tight faces. He found Mrs. Longbottom standing at a distance with her grandson next to her. It appeared that their feet were buried in the earth. Mr. Abbot was still there with his frightened daughter standing next to him, trembling. He was relieved his Aurors had stayed instead of running, but frowned when he noticed Mr. Lupin standing in line with them. He knew there would be damage control when he saw Mr. Lovegood writing furiously, his peculiar daughter looking around with interest.
He studied the castle to find that the towers were now still. To say he was relieved that nothing was changing any longer would be an understatement. He turned his attention to the centaurs that were calming down now that the ground was steady. He turned to consider the lake which had quickly flowed back into its normal banks with very relieved-looking Merpeople who disappeared under the water after a final screech.
A black-robed man stood up quickly waving his wand at the coffin. An elegant crypt appeared on the spot. Once there, those that had stayed disappeared quickly. No one seemed to want to linger and he couldnít blame them. There didnít seem to be any reasonable explanation as to what happened.
He waited until everyone, including the Weasleys, had left before he nodded to Dolores and Percy. They disappeared together.
I hope youíve enjoyed reading this chapter.
Thank you very much for your constructive criticism!
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