Chapter 16 : Chapter 16: The Witches' Sabbath, Stirring Counter-Clockwise
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Not knowing who this Doctor Dolittle was, but enjoying his friend's happiness, he actually agreed with her and told her he would seriously consider that idea, making her laugh again. The mood was broken, however, as a drawling voice alerted them of another person inside the owlery.
"Such undignified, yet oddly fitting behaviour for a simpleton Muggle-born and her arrogant, troublesome leader."
The children jumped and raised wands as one, only to have them pulled out of their hands with the flick of Professor Snape's own wand.
Chapter 16: The Witches' Sabbath
Part 2: Stirring the Cauldron Counter-Clockwise
"How dare you level your wands at me!" he said and took a few steps forward, looming over Harry and Hermione. "I will have you both scrubbing grime off the dungeon walls until All Hallows Eve is over. Yes, no sweet treats and fun games for either of you tonight, and ten points each from Gryffindor for threatening a member of the staff!"
They watched the Potions Master regard the children's wands in his hand with disdain and pocket them inside his black robes, taking another step towards the couple as Harry moved fast and hid Hermione behind his back. "Stay away from her, murderer!"
His words seemed to throw the man back, as if slapped in the face, but it was the timely appearance of a group of students looking for their owls that saved them.
"Oh, g-good afternoon Professor Snape," one of them said, stammering a bit. The rest winced and shirted away from the wizard, trying to walk back outside unnoticed.
"Out!" Snape yelled and the group of Ravenclaws ran away. "You two, my office in fifteen minutes if you ever want to complete your feeble attempts at educating your minds in Hogwarts." That said, the professor turned and left, billowing robes on his wake.
Harry turned immediately to care for Hermione, finding her white as a ghost and babbling something under her breath. "He didn't kill us! He didn't kill us!"
"And he won't, I'm not gonna let him." He forced her face to look at him with both hands, trying to get her eyes to focus on his own. "No one's gonna hurt anyone in the castle, not while I'm here."
"We. Not while we are here," she told him, snapping out of her panic. "He could have done the deed just now, but the fact we're alive means he hasn't yet obtained whatever treasure is hidden in the castle, and that Voldemort isn't going to risk facing Headmaster Dumbledore and his entire staff of powerful witches and wizards by killing you in Hogwarts proper."
Thinking that it made sense, Harry agreed and released her face. "Then we'll play along, be there for detention and watch our backs, while looking for any clues to what he's planning, right?"
Ten minutes later, dressed in their most comfortable clothes underneath Hogwarts cloaks, packing a first-aid kit and two pairs of winter gloves she had, Hermione and Harry walked determined down towards the dungeons, ready to face a madman with their bare hands if need be.
They paused before the Potions classroom, pushed the door and headed for the smaller door that should connect to the Head of Slytherin's office. The room where they learned to properly create potions of all kinds was regularly dark and damp, but at this moment it looked downright frightening, with a single torch lit on a corner and the empty tables pressed together against a wall.
Knocking twice, a silky, grave voice answered back. "Enter."
Harry pushed the handle down, slowly pressing his shoulder against the heavy, screeching door, expecting the tip of a wand against his face. Or a pillow, as Hermione had jokingly said once.
"Fortune, is arranging matters for us better than we could have hoped. Look there, friend, where thirty or more monstrous giants rise up, all of whom I mean to engage in battle and slay, and with whose spoils we shall begin to make our fortunes. For this is righteous warfare, and it is God's good service to sweep so evil a breed from off the face of the earth," their evil foe recited, eyelids closed at first, only to stare at them with the cold, bottomless pits he called eyes.
The well-read brunette gasped at the reference and joined Harry's side in front of the professor's desk.
"Beware of what giants you chase, dunderheads, lest real monsters slay you on your backs," Professor Snape drawled, before motioning a hand to a pair of buckets and brushes. "Third lowest dungeon. I will know if you slack, or if you try to leave."
Keeping a dignified haste, the young Gryffindors picked the cleaning equipment and left, closing the door and leaving the classroom, before sprinting away at a run. They didn't stop until there were no further stairs leading to any lower levels, and bent over trying to regain their breath.
"What was... That all... About?" Harry asked. "Did he... Threaten us... Or something?"
"I don't really know... Why would Voldemort quote Cervantes, of all people?"
"Muggle author from the late sixteenth century in Spain, his most famous work being the misadventures of Don Quixote. It's just that the quote he chose and his comments were... Well, it could mean we're chasing ghosts. Or that he'll strike when we least expect him to," she added as an afterthought.
"Whatever... Let's just start attacking the grime. I'm sorry I made you miss your first Halloween at Hogwarts," he said softly.
"Never mind that, it isn't going to be the only feast we'll ever have a chance to enjoy. Now, gloves on, and scrub away!"
Harry had been eyeing Hermione for the past hour or so, not really knowing if she was imagining Voldemort's face on each and every stone she rubbed fiercely with the hand brush, or his own for getting her detention, again. "She pulled her wand at the overgrown bat as well," he told himself, trying to feel less guilty. It didn't work, of course.
After hearing him sighing again over the sounds of scrubbing, as he had for the last half hour, Hermione had enough. "Harry, I pulled my wand on Voldemort's Potions Professor disguise as well, please quit blaming yourself. That goes for the ritual as well, you know very well that Madame Pomfrey is a Healer, and as such is bound by a magical oath to never do harm."
Startled, he looked at her while stretching. "How d'you always know what I'm thinking?"
"Not always, only when it's painfully obvious," she replied with a cheeky grin, before turning serious. "Do you think they've begun?"
* * * * * * *
Elsewhere, under the waning shadows of a stone circle built upon a node of magical lines directly connected to Hogwarts, a cloaked witch giggled softly to herself. Some tendrils of dark hair escaped the raised hood, and pink dragon hide boots peeked from under the golden garment covering the rest of her with every step she took.
"Then rise, beloved, twirl forth! Dance forth! And bewilder your lover," she sang, then giggled again while conjuring more flower bouquets.
"Marigold! It's been too long," greeted another witch that appeared out of thin air with a popping sound.
"Poppea, thank you so much for calling a Sabbath! I'm already having fun," the first witch said, hugging the white-cloaked newcomer.
"I do have an ulterior motive, I'm afraid..."
"Don't we all, my dear friend?" Marigold asked, receiving only a hesitant nod as a reply.
"When do we start?"
"As the first star shines."
"How do we start?"
"With the joy of our hearts."
"Where do we start?"
"In the Temple of our Mothers."
"What do we start?"
"The Witches' Sabbath!" both witches screamed and laughed a high-pitched cackle.
* * * * * * *
Back inside Hogwarts, very deep in the dungeons, Harry pondered Hermione's question. "No, but then again it's not like we'd feel anything according to Poppy."
"Oh, well. Back to back-breaking scrubbing then."
"We should learn how to do that whole fireballing thing that phoenixes do," he commented off-handedly after a few minutes of silent work.
She laughed softly. "Only you, Harry. All your interest in learning comes from extra-curricular activities, while regular lessons are barely appealing to you."
"You can't deny it's helped, I'm more of a wizard after you taught me to feel the magic. And that trinket of yours is so cool when we make it do sound and lights!"
"A show! Our magical results turn strangely overpowered and more refined when the puzzle is present, but all you care about is the pretty show!" she complained and threw her hands in the air.
* * * * * * *
"Florence! Welcome to Samhain Night."
"Abigail, Morgana, how fares life, you old witches? Poppea, darling!"
"Have you seen Marigold? She was singing around here just a second ago," yet another cloaked witch asked.
"No, I have not. Here," the newcomer said and produced a trunk from somewhere under her green cloak. "No Sabbath can be performed without these."
Poppea Pomfrey opened the top of the trunk only a crack, enough to peek inside and closed it quickly. "Thank you Flo, may the Mothers repay your kindness score-fold."
Another round of cracks and pops alerted to the arrival of more cloaked people, all witches by the tone of their voices and the eager greetings that included yelling and hugging. They all wore their hoods up, in all colours of the rainbow, and shades of each.
As the caller of the Sabbath, Madame Pomfrey had assumed the role of White Witch, and the responsibilities that came with the title until the next gathering is called for. The last White Witch had been Marigold Flowers herself, fourteen years ago, and she had done a remarkable job. Yes, it had been too long indeed.
"Sisters! Sisters all, come forth and gather 'round," she said with a magically amplified voice. "Thank you for answering the call. The first star is yet to shine and more witches may find their way to us, however I want to offer Marigold a heartfelt applause for her wonderfully orchestrated Sabbath of seventy-seven."
The witch under the gold cloak stepped forward and bowed under the applause, stepping back after a moment to let the White Witch continue. Two more Apparition bursts announced latecomers, who were fast greeted with hugs and shrieks, before Madame Pomfrey could speak.
"To those whose husband, or husbands," she paused for the giggling, "fellow wives and partners of all kinds," she paused again for the cat-calls and general teasing, "have graciously allowed their beloveds to gather in Sabbath, please give them our thanks. The Arch of the Waters is glowing, and while we prepare for Samhain, let me tell you all, under the secrecy of our Mothers' powers, the story of a little orphan boy as I know it."
* * * * * * *
Harry had paused his scrubbing suddenly, letting the filthy water slide through the moss covered cracks and joints of ancient stone. He felt as if somebody had suddenly walked over his grave, that feeling that someone or something has taken a great interest in him, making him shudder.
As they were the only living people in the dungeon, Hermione noticed and sided up to him, pulling damp hair from her face. "What's wrong, Harry?"
"Dunno, it's like... Like something is going to happen?" He shook his head. "Has happened, is happening... Argh! I can't think while doing damned castle cleaning under damn Voldemort's orders!" he yelled, throwing the brush at the wall and kicking the bucket with his right foot.
"Enough! I don't care how angry you are, it's no excuse to lose your temper like this." She let her own brush fall to the floor and held on to him, although he immediately struggled to break free.
"Let go! You're not my mother to tell me what to do!"
"That's true, Harry," she said in his ear. "I'll never be your mother, but who else is going to tell you off for letting anger and hate consume you?"
"What about revenge, then? What about wanting that murderer upstairs dead or behind bars for life?" replied Harry, resigning himself to be held tight. "Is it so wrong to wish him to pay for it all?"
"Revenge is a difficult thing. Do you wish to return to your relatives' house this Summer and curse them into oblivion, intentionally harming or killing them? Or does your heart tell you that you can do what's right, and bring justice to your home?"
"That place isn't my home, it'll never be home for me ever again," he spat at her, unconsciously running a hand behind her neck. "But wouldn't it be justice to have Petunia Dorothea trying to clean an ever-dirty charmed kitchen, or Dudleykins being swallowed by the fridge whenever he grabbed some food?"
Hermione chuckled at the ideas, but wouldn't let his joking distract her from the seriousness of the situation. Her friend had been wronged too much, and coupled with his temper, it could make him fall into the darkest paths of life. "That's retribution, Harry. Not justice."
"Then... Then I don't know what to do..."
* * * * * * *
"You mean to say there's a killer at Hogwarts?! I have great-grandchildren there!" exclaimed an agitated red-cloaked witch.
"I'm sorry, Poppy, but it just sounds so... So far-fetched," Florence, who wore a blue cloak, said while pacing around conjured chairs, sofas and chaise-longs.
"We are in the Temple of our Mothers, Flo. I speak the truth!"
"Albus Dumbledore may be many things, but he's as knowledgeable as he is trusting. If there were doubts about young Potter's soul, who are we to question it?"
"And what of this foolish girl? Drinking another's blood is bad enough, but the magical effects you described are unheard of!"
The ninth of thirteen arches began to glow and soon the gathering would start in earnest, but the Chief Healer had to reach an agreement before it happened in order to perform the ritual. "A mother's sacrifice can be powerful enough," she said and raised a sleeved arm to forestall the obvious observation. "I am aware of the fact that hundreds of mothers have died for their children, but how many of them were personally attacked by You-Know-Who? How many had the thirst for learning that Lily Potter had? How many have born a child by magic, not by flesh?"
An elderly voice coming from under a brown, ragged cloak broke the absolute silence after a moment. "Remember, what passes at Sabbath, stays within Sabbath. Now what is this riddle of words you weave, young Poppea?"
"The baby left the mother's womb of its own volition, in a flux of magic instead of pushing its way to the world in a river of blood. This is a secret I've kept for eleven years, and a sign that might explain his defeat of the Dark Lord, and the reason Harry hasn't been overwhelmed by the ever growing sentient magic infecting him."
"And what, pray tell, says the old codger to all of this?" a bitter voice spoke from the edge of the gathered group. "Or is he so blinded by possibilities that he's forgotten to look at the obvious reality?"
"As you've heard, Albus asked us all to keep distance from the boy, and would still have him isolated if Harry hadn't been sought after by the headmaster's phoenix."
She believed it best not to reveal that the Phoenix Dome had reappeared after so many centuries or it would create a veritable pilgrimage of wizards and witches looking for big and small favours, be it a cure to some yet to be defeated illness or eternal life by entering its fabled flames.
As the twelfth arch glowed, Madame Pomfrey knew she needed to reach an agreement or wait until next year, leaving Harry to protect himself alone. With a heavy sigh, she raised her arms again to speak, but an unexpected newcomer interrupted her first.
* * * * * * *
A mere minute earlier, back in the damp, grimy dungeons of a magical school, Harry could be seen trying to put his thoughts in order with Hermione's help. He knew he didn't want to become a violent bully like Dudley and his father were, but he wanted the satisfaction of watching them understand how wrong it was to make him hate his own parents, to treat him as if he was the cause of everything bad in their lives. Harry wanted to see them ashamed of all the lies he had been told.
"I believe justice is all about balance, Harry. Killing a man for stealing an apple is just as wrong as killing him because of the way he dresses, or for the colour of his skin. Conversely, that means the other way around by the way, it's also wrong to let a murder go unpunished, when it's done out of malice and ill-intent," she said, explaining her beliefs and hoping her friend would understand that, although no system is perfect, it must be a society as a whole that administers justice, not the individual.
"But Hermione, what if there's nobody to do the punishing? Look at what's going on here in school, that man could be killing someone right now!"
"That's why we need proof of who he is and what he's looking after. Then we can warn Headmaster Dumbledore and he'll take it from there." She scrunched her nose for a while and added, "Perhaps we should send the information to the Ministry somehow. But then again, adults only see what they want to see, and wouldn't really believe a couple of Hogwarts first-years..."
"We're so screwed," Harry mumbled dejectedly, however he yelped and ducked to the floor when an already familiar burst of red flames flashed above his head.
Fawkes flapped a couple of times on the air, trilled a melody that made him sound amused and landed on the boy's back, taking a glance at Hermione before vanishing in the same manner in which he appeared, taking Harry with him.
"Argh! That boy's going to be the death of me!" she complained and threw her filthy brush into the even filthier bucket of water.
* * * * * * *
The White Witch looked in surprise as a ball of fire turned into a red and gold phoenix holding a small boy in the middle of the circle. She recognized Fawkes immediately, and frowned when the magical creature let go of Harry, letting him fall flat on the ground.
Groaning, the boy turned on his back and looked around, finding himself surrounded by cloaked people peering down at him, some pointing and others snickering. He identified most if not all voices as female, and his acute hearing allowed him to understand the women.
"Look how cute he is," one of them said, while another took notice of how dirty he was. "In my time he would have been given detention!"
He propped himself up on his elbows, greeting the crowd. "Er... Hello?" he said with a feeble wave of his gloved hand.
"Good evening Mr Potter. What are you doing here?"
"That's a question for the mad firebird over here," he said, jerking a thumb at the phoenix on his shoulder, only to receive a slap on the back of the head from the mentioned mad bird. Harry rubbed the sore spot and looked around again, "Where am I?"
"At the Temple, young Potter. I am Morgana, daughter of Callisto the Charming. How do you feel?"
"All right, I guess. I'd really better be going back, Hermione must be freaking out by now," he said looking at Fawkes.
"Do you not want to be granted your fondest wish? Finding the Temple of our Mothers does grant men rewards beyond imagination," another cloaked woman said.
"I can make a wish?" he asked, standing up but still having to look up at most of the witches. "Any kind of wish?"
"Yes, make a wish!"
"Show us your desire!"
"Give us your wants!"
"Bring us your dreams!"
Harry spun on his feet as the witches shouted, demanding him to state his wish, to show them what he wanted most. With a shrug, he looked at the one who called herself Morgana again. "I wish to be sent back to my friend at Hogwarts."
The last he heard before vanishing in flames was the cackle of the crazy cloaked ladies.
* * * * * * *
Hermione sat on an overturned bucket, chin propped on her left hand while counting stones on the wall. She felt her friend's presence and watched as the fireball turned into a phoenix and a scrawny boy, who looked back at her with a bewildered face.
"That was the weirdest group of people I've ever seen," he said and picked the brush, going back to cleaning the walls.
* * * * * * *
After a while, the laughter faded and Madame Pomfrey looked at the gathered with a smug smile. "Is he worthy of our efforts?"
"Aye!" said dozens of voices together, as the thirteenth arch exploded in light, signalling the first star had begun to shine on the firmament.
Witches began running up and down the circle, conjuring things out of thin air, transfiguring rocks and twigs into ornate tables and colourful tablecloths. Trunks were opened and charms applied to cool the Butterbeer and warm the Firewhiskey for after the ritual, while other witches started Apparating to and fro, fetching instruments, decks of cards and other games, or this and that for the protection ritual the White Witch had begun to prepare.
First she slashed her palm to draw a heptagram on the ground, surrounding the seven-pointed star with a runic circle and derivative geometric figures, also inscribed with runes, that touched each and every arch of the Temple. After the magical tapestry was finished, she began chanting and blessing the tokens for each point, wondering if she could find even stronger anchors but knowing that to wait another year would be too risky.
"This token of goodness, this piece of love, this morsel of devotion. My all to you I give, your all to me you offer, our all to us shall come," she sang and waved her wand. "I am the wielder, I am the executioner, I am the messenger."
"This example of darkness, this taste of evil, this sample of temptation. My all to you I give, your all to me you offer, our all to us shall come. I am the healer, I am the culprit, I am the mage."
As she finished the seven tokens, the blood-painted heptagram flared and spears of light flew to six chosen, who accepted the role and pulled a huge golden cauldron towards the centre of the star, were it began to boil. The witches slashed their palms, letting the blood fall inside it before the White Witch did the same.
"Move to your places, sisters. We begin-- What now?" Madame Pomfrey asked, watching small bursts of fire on the table set for the tokens. She approached carefully and smiled, silently thanking the Mother and the powers of magic that were favouring Harry tonight.
After repeating the blessings on the new tokens, she resumed the ritual. Soft red light framed the cloaked witches from the ground and their faces were partially illuminated with the shimmering greenish glow of the cauldron, all seven standing over a different runic polygon, from a simple triangle under the White Witch to a complex tridecagon under a violet-clad witch.
Using their wands, each levitated a goblet to the cauldron, filling it and then drinking the boiling draught. Each then raised hands to the firmament, chanting.
"Great Magick, help us to be the always hopeful,
Gardeners of the Magick,
Who know that without darkness, nothing comes to birth.
As without light, nothing flowers."
"Grant, O Mother, thy Protection,
And in Protection, Strength,
And in Strength, Understanding,
And in Understanding, Knowledge,
And in Knowledge, The Knowledge of Justice,
And in the Knowledge of Justice, the Love of it,
And in the Love of it, The Love of all Existences,
And in the Love of all Existences, the Love of the Mother and all Goodness."
"Let the spirits of the Four Quarters be thanked for their blessings.
In the name of the hawk of dawn and of the element air, we thank the powers of the East,
In the name of the salmon of wisdom and the element of water we thank the powers of the West,
In the name of the great stag and of the element of fire, we thank the powers of the South,
In the name of the great bear of the starry heavens and of the element of earth, we thank the powers of the North."
"May the blessing of the Uncreated One, of Her Child The Created Word and of the Magick that is the Inspirer be always with us. May the world be filled with Harmony and Light."
The White Witch walked to the table where all tokens were lined, picked the first and walked to the heptagram point in front of her ritual setting. "Flesh of the champion, willingly given, he shall be the protected," she said and placed the scallop of flesh on the ground.
"Bone of the mate, magically taken, sche shall be his enchantress," Madame Pomfrey described as she placed some tooth shards over the next point of the star. She moved back to the table and then towards the next point, repeating the process seven times in all.
"Ashes of the mother, stolen from the grave, thy sacrifice shall be eternal." It had been difficult for her to disturb Lily's resting ground, but she knew a mother would help her child even after death.
"Flames of purity, unexpectedly gifted, your goodness shall bring him strength," she said in awe of the truly unexpected token. Madame Pomfrey dared believe the phoenix had been sent by Dumbledore to aid her, but she also knew he would deny it even if it were true.
"Feather of friendship, casually found, thou shall weave his bonds." Smiling at the white owl feather, she remembered her own familiar from her time at Hogwarts with fondness.
"Blood of darkness, forcibly taken, thy power shall balance his magic," was one of the last tokens. The blood had been brought by Fawkes as well, and she easily identified where it came from because of the yellow scales and black feathers.
One final powerful token was laid on the ritual tapestry drawn with her own blood: James Potter's transfigured copy of The Sorting Hat, the one that would reveal your most embarrassing memories out loud if you put it on. "Magic of the father, rescued from oblivion, thou shall grant him freedom!" she finished and returned to her setting, joining the other witches for a final chant. The blood-drawn runes started to glow and move, following the paths that led them closer and closer to the heptagram, which became thicker and shone brighter.
The gathered witches beyond the ritual setting had to shield their eyes and could only listen to the sound of rushing liquid, burning flames and chanting voices, until the entire Temple rocked with an ear-splitting sonic boom.
* * * * * * *
Headmaster Dumbledore was a happy wizard. Watching the students experience joy, happiness, and love in its various forms, made him smile in earnest and laugh freely, forgetting for a moment about all the hard choices he's been forced to make as Leader of the Light.
He had experienced a moment of uneasiness because Fawkes was quite active, and given his independent streak of late, Dumbledore feared his beloved familiar might be causing some mischief with another mischief monger named Harry Potter.
"Speaking of whom, he isn't here because of Severus and his ridiculous grudge," he thought, saddened because the man had lashed out yet again at young Harry. The headmaster understood the professor's initial concern regarding the child's possibility of possession, and he knew it was necessary to keep the poor boy fragile, otherwise he wouldn't be easily swayed towards his ultimate fate, however it may come, but he couldn't help caring for him more than he should.
The Feast was well under way and while the younger pupils had already began to show signs of tiredness, the upper-years had a look of anticipation in their eyes. Headmaster Dumbledore decided it was time to release the youngsters and begin the ball, when the double doors of the Great Hall were pushed open with a bang and Professor Quirrell stumbled inside, wobbling on his feet.
"Giant! Giant in the dungeons! Just thought you should now..." he yelled and collapsed on the floor, unconscious.
Two seconds was what it took for the average reasoning mind to kick that little stick holding the dam of panic, and it certainly flooded the vast majority of the Great Hall. The first scream was, oddly enough, a girlish yell of "we're all dead!" from a seventh-year man belonging to the house of the brave: Nicholas Stumpwood, from Gryffindor.
It took yet another couple of seconds for Headmaster Dumbledore to react, since he had to squash the dreadful cold feeling in his stomach first, and once he did, it was acting on his first instincts. "Everyone, everyone please!" he spoke calmly with a magically augmented voice. "Prefects, escort the students to your respective Common Rooms, and stay there."
He looked at his four Heads of House and quickly realised he had sent Slytherin, whose Common Room was in the dungeons, in a direct path against the giant.
"Tit for tat, headmaster?" Severus Snape asked, clearly letting Dumbledore know he considered his actions to be intentional, and that his real, hidden question was "Are two Gryffindors worth the entire student body of Slytherin House?"
Minerva McGonagall interrupted the private contest by asking who was going to revive Professor Quirrell, but nobody seemed to mind the wizard fainted on the cold floor. "Oh very well. In any event, Poppy asked to spend the night doing private business, leaving Healer Knoggings in charge, so he's better off like this." Her tone spoke volumes about how little trust she held in the substitute healer.
"Now, now, Minerva. He's a very competent healer, I'm sure rumours about his lack of proper judgement are quite erroneous," said Dumbledore. "Now, let us search for this supposed giant, shall we?"
* * * * * * *
Seven not-quite-so-young witches lay on their backs, legs sticking up on the air and cloaks bunched against the floor, which presented a less than dignified image. As one, they began to cackle and laugh, fisting and hitting the ground hysterically.
Where there once was cauldron only crystallized rock could be seen, and golden threads of smoke still billowed in a corkscrew pattern from the places where seven tokens of magical significance once stood. Slowly, several witches that had been observing the ritual began to pop their heads from behind pillars, chairs and tables, smiles on their faces.
"That was fun!" yelled Marigold, always boisterous. "Let's do it again!"
Her enthusiasm only made the witches on the floor laugh harder, making it more difficult for them to stand up. It took two or three pairs of arms, or just one wand, but where's the fun in that they must have thought, to lift everyone and the White Witch.
"Do you believe it worked?" Poppy asked Morgana.
"Quite well," the woman replied, Scourgifying herself and upturning a fallen settee to relax on. "The strength of those tokens... Whoever wishes harm to your young friend will find it quite difficult to reach him. How did you find ashes and magic from his parents?"
"I went to Godrics Hollow. Disturbed her resting place and broke into his home..."
"You what?!" Morgana exclaimed in awe. "You're very brave Poppea, I hope the boy knows how much you have done for him, and how much you've given of yourself. Artemis be blessed, you stepped where You-Know-Who stood his last!"
"We'll see what the future holds... For now, however, we have a Sabbath to enjoy." She turned and clapped her hands, "Ladies, the night is ours! Charm the music, stir the cauldrons and flick your wands, we witches will feast in communion with Mother, Magick and Nature!"
A rowdier group of witches hadn't been seen gathered together in Britain for a long time. Fourteen years, to be accurate.
* * * * * * *
"Aren't you going to tell me where you were taken to?"
"Would you believe me if I told you I was surrounded by women, who offered to fulfil my fondest wish all because I was a boy?"
She stopped brushing and blew a lock of hair from her face. "Harry, are you feeling well?"
"See? I said you wouldn't believe it," he said and shook his head. "Weird, crazy people. They even laughed when I said all I wished was to be back here with you."
Hermione dropped her cleaning brush. "Really? That was your fondest wish?"
Nodding, he continued to wash the wall and was easy target for the bushy-haired hugging tackler. Both kids fell to the floor and while Harry tried to wriggle his way to freedom, and to regain his breathing, they suddenly froze.
"Did you feel that?" he asked.
"I did, it sounds like those construction pile driving machines," she replied, disentangling herself and pressing an ear to the floor. "There's an odd scraping sound too."
Harry mimicked his friend and listened to the vibrations, closing his eyes. "Those are footsteps! The scraping sound is from a limp."
"How can you be so sure?"
"I learned to know who was walking closest to me around the house just by listening. I know what footsteps sound like," he said and frowned.
"But those are much too loud to be the sounds of someone walking. Unless..."
"Unless it's a giant!" Harry exclaimed. "He told us! He told us what he was going to do, Hermione! He set giants loose in the castle!"
"Let's verify if it really is a giant first. And if it's dangerous then we have to tell the headmaster, or a teacher at least," she said and tied her hair tightly after removing her sodden gloves.
"Pfff... Like he'd believe anything I say," he replied bitterly.
"Well, giants are somewhat difficult to miss, aren't they? Headmaster Dumbledore would have no other choice but to believe us."
Without speaking any further, they nodded to each other and began to walk the dark corridors towards the only set of stairs that connects the lowest dungeon to the rest of the castle. Harry would watch around the pillars first, run for the next one and wave for Hermione to run at him, and then she did the same for the next stretch of corridor.
Once at the base of the stairs, the rumble of something big pacing up and down could be felt through their shoes, and they cursed Voldemort and his disguise as Professor Snape for taking their wands from them.
"Be right back," Harry whispered and dashed upstairs. He peeked up and down the second lowest dungeon, just in time to see a massive leather shoe the size of a bulldog, disappearing around the corner. "Bloody hell!" he said in a perfect imitation of Ron's favoured expression.
"Language, Harry! What if giants don't like people swearing?"
"But Hermione, it's huge!" he said and called her upstairs. "It went that way, towards the upper corridors where the Potions classrooms are."
"Yes, perhaps we could lock him, or her. Well, it anyway, inside one of the rooms and then find the headmaster."
Agreeing on that course of action, Harry and Hermione gave chase to the giant, finally catching up to it on the landing where stairs led towards a part of the castle they didn't know but were sure would take them to the Slytherin Common Room, because whenever they had Potions that was the direction they usually came from and went back to, and the staircase leading further up to the farthest end of the hallway connecting the Great Hall and the East Wing of the castle.
"It's bald," Harry needlessly said. "And it's got a club."
"I'd say it's a he," answered Hermione, taking a step into the lights cast by the wall torches. "Excuse me, sir? May I help you?"
She flinched back when the giant turned. He was easily twenty-five feet tall, and had to hunch himself a little to avoid banging his bald head on the ceiling. Scars marked his face, and one of his eyes was missing without anything to cover it at all. Slowly but surely, the giant searched lower and lower for the origin of the voice and focused his only eye on Hermione.
"Blaaargh! Fraaagh!" the giant yelled and raised his wooden club, poised to strike.
Harry reacted first and pushed his friend between the giant's legs, lifting her from under the arms and then running with her until she regained her balance and could sprint away on her own.
Another unintelligible bellow was heard and small earthquakes followed them as the enraged giant gave chase, swinging his club and breaking huge chunks of stone from the walls. By unspoken agreement they decided not to place the rest of the school in danger and lock the giant in the nearest open room they could find.
"Over there!" Hermione told Harry as she spotted a door ajar some thirty paces away.
The couple escaped another swing of the giant's club and ran into the room, which turned out to be a tiled bathroom with a large ornate mirror in front of five marble sinks and five stalls at a right angle lining the wall on their left side. The door just as big as most doors in Hogwarts, but it was still half as high as the giant chasing them, so the one-eyed walking mountain had to lower his club and get on all fours to push himself inside.
Pulling her first-aid kit from a pocket, Hermione unscrewed the cap off a bottle of antiseptic and splashed the giant's only eye with it while he was still halfway through. The giant screamed and brought both hands to his face, giving the children time to climb over him and head out of the room, pushing the huge leather-clad feet inside and pulling the door closed.
It was as the gigantic screams ceased, however, that they heard another voice scream. A human voice. They looked at each other and blanched. "There's someone else in there!"
Pushing the magically feather-light door open again, their hearts stopped as the huge club was swung around, smashing tile, glass and stone around a girl curled on the floor. Luckily the giant seemed to be still blind, and it gave them the advantage to try and rescue her before anything bad happened.
"I'll distract him and you get her out of here," commanded Harry as he put gloves on and picked a long shard of mirror glass from the floor. "Do it!"
Hermione snapped out of her distress and watched with equal parts pride and fear how he climbed up the giant's leg, then higher until reaching his back, where he found a hole between the roughly hewn furry leather he wore as clothing and plunged the glass shard as hard as he could into his thick skin.
"Graaak!" the giant grunted and tried to reach behind himself to remove whatever it was that was making him hurt, dropping the weapon to the floor.
Seeing her chance, Hermione jumped over a heap of debris and shook the frightened girl to get her attention. "Get up! We must get out of here!"
"Her-Hermione? That you?"
"Lisa? Quick, do you have your wand?" Hermione asked, recognizing the girl she had met on board the Hogwarts Express. The Ravenclaw nodded and she explained what she wanted, "Do the Wingardium Leviosa to charm that club and hammer the giant on the head with it before he gets Harry!"
"I-I can't do it!" she said as her hand shook like a leaf.
In the meantime, Harry continued to hold on to the giant, making small cuts on his back which weren't life-threatening but enough to keep him distracted.
"Argh, give it here," Hermione huffed and plucked the wand from the girl's hand. "Wingardium Leviosa!"
The enormous weapon soared on the air shakily and Hermione understood what the wandcrafter had said about wands choosing the witch. Making magic with Lisa's wand was like trying to lift herself from a pit of quicksand!
Because of the weakness of her charm, the club barely scratched the blind giant, giving him a clue as to where it was and making a bad situation even worse after he caught it and began swinging behind himself to knock Harry out. The young Gryffindor was forced to slide down and jump, twisting an ankle in the process.
All Harry could see was Hermione holding a shaking girl while reaching out for him with her arm as the giant aimed straight at them with his raised wooden weapon. He extended his arm to grab hers and pulled both girls to him, using his left arm to grab hold of a broken toilet bowl. "No!" he yelled and swung the heavy porcelain as hard as he could towards their attacker.
The broken toilet flew like a Bludger straight at the giant's face, where it impacted with a mighty crack, shattering porcelain and bone alike. The enraged being went still, swayed on the spot and then fell like a tree over the remains of the marble sinks, either dead or knocked out.
Hermione and Lisa were staring at Harry, while he tried to see if her friend was hurt in any way, when the doorway was flooded with adult witches and wizards holding their wands high.
"What in Merlin's name?" was all Mrs McGonagall managed to say after seeing the three first-years and the fallen giant surrounded by destruction.
"Potter! What's the meaning of this?"
Ignoring the man pretending to be a Potions Master, Harry turned his attention to the still silent headmaster. "Headmaster Dumbledore, sir? I think there could be more of them around the castle," he said with a nod towards the form bleeding on the cold floor. "But first, can you save him if... If he's still alive, without any danger to the school?"
A full-blown twinkle shone in the headmaster's eyes for a moment, and then dimmed to bring the old wizard a look of regret, maybe even shame if Harry's skills at reading people's expressions were still sharp. He could see nothing but loathing on Snape's face, though, while the rest of the Heads of House looked confused or awed. "Great, more food for that Boy-Who-Lived crap," he thought to himself, glad that Hermione couldn't hear him use such foul language.
"Professors, are there giants living in the Forbidden Forest?" asked Hermione as if she were sitting in class instead of holding Lisa shivering in her arms. It was a novelty for her to be comforting someone when she grew up without being comforted at all, particularly after her first accidental magic, but it gave her a warm feeling to be able to do so.
"Yes, my boy, I believe Professor Quirrell is able to handle the creature safely. And no, Miss Granger, there are no giant colonies in the Forest," answered Dumbledore, intrigued by the scowls on both Gryffindors.
"How could he have come to be here, then? As implausible as it may sound, he must have been brought to the school on purpose, sir." Hermione said this while looking up at Snape, almost daring him to reveal himself. She smiled as she could feel Harry looking proudly at her in turn.
"Ridiculous! It seems Potter's ego has affected the know-it-all as well. That will be a point from Gryffindor for questioning your superiors, and ten points each for leaving the safety of your detention," the pale wizard said with a smirk.
Not a single teacher objected, but they could see Mrs McGonagall thinning her lips and looking disdainfully at Snape.
"Well, I would like to ask my charge, Ms Turpin, what she was doing--"
"M-m-my g-goodness, who c-c-caught the giant this quickly?" interrupted Professor Quirrell as he barged in running. Hermione looked at Harry and both had the same thought. "They weren't expecting him to be defeated so easily."
"As I was saying," Professor Flitwick resumed, "I'm worried about you, Ms Turpin." He reached forward with a small hand and made Lisa focus on him.
"I was... It's my own fault, I was curious and wanted to see it, professor. I wanted to see the giant," she said in a small voice. "I followed it here, but when it turned to attack me, it banged its head on the ceiling and fell."
Again, the Gryffindor pupils looked at each other, each wondering why would she lie about what really happened, as well as why would she be looking for a giant behind the stalls of a very seldom used bathroom.
"That's when Hermione and Harry found me, and soon after the professors arrived," Lisa added, looking at the kids in the eyes.
"Naturally," drawled Snape, "it would be preposterous to believe three first-years could defeat a grown giant by themselves. It's by sheer dumb luck that they're alive, headmaster, and they should be expelled for their stupidity!"
"Severus, you have already assigned fair punishment," Dumbledore said while nursing his beard. "While all of you have been very lucky, as Professor Snape puts it, it is also impossible to dismiss your lack of judgement, Ms Turpin, and your disobedience of a professor's directions, Ms Granger and Mr Potter. Five points demerit on Ravenclaw, and all of you shall serve detention with me Monday evening and Saturday morning the next."
The three children bowed their heads in acceptance, and Dumbledore sent them off to bed by themselves, purposely giving them the chance to discuss what he suspected was the truth of the situation.
Five minutes and four floors higher later, Harry finally broke the silence. "Why did you lie?"
"I had to!" Lisa replied.
"I don't like lies. It's one thing to hide something, but another to lie outright, Lisa. Why would you have to do it?"
"Let me ask you this, Potter. Where's your wand?"
"Vol-- Snape's got it, why?"
"You flung a toilet weighing ten kilos at a giant's face seven meters high, while lying on your back on the floor with enough power to break its skull. Without a wand! Now you tell me why I had to lie for you," she answered and then smirked. "How's your ankle, by the way?"
"Cricket, Harry!" Hermione jumped and spun him around, watching his feet. "You're healed!"
"And you managed to use my wand, Hermione, something that should be impossible for someone our age. I don't know what to think of you two, but I owe you my life," she said and trembled from head to toe.
"No you don't. We led the giant to that bathroom on purpose, only we didn't know there was someone inside!" Hermione explained. "What were you doing there, anyway?"
Lisa looked askance at Harry but neither Gryffindor acknowledged her uneasiness. Harry saw it but didn't understand the reason, while Hermione had never learnt silent girl-speak at all. Sighing, the young Ravenclaw searched for a suitable bench to sit.
"It's silly, I-- Let's just say it's ridiculously silly."
"If something made you hide in a deserted bathroom when there's a Halloween party going on, it can't be that silly," Hermione said. "We couldn't attend because of detention, but you chose not to go, or to leave for some reason."
"An older girl dropped a glass of pumpkin juice on my head. I cleaned it up with a household charm," she explained when Hermione and Harry looked at her hair. "It's just that, well, these pranks have been constant since the beginning of the year because I refused to do their bidding, and I wanted a lonely place to cry in."
"How do you mean, do their bidding?"
"Fetch books or quills and parchment for them, things of that nature," explained Lisa with a frown. "And refill their goblets, and check the schedules for unexpected changes, like all the other first-years have to."
"That's absolutely disgusting!" an agitated Hermione exclaimed. "Why does Professor Flitwick allow that to happen?"
"It's the apprenticeship way. Ravenclaw House has had the same Apprentice rules since the Founders, and they're actually a lot softer now, but still I disagree and I won't do it. However the pranking is starting to frazzle my nerves."
"Well then, I believe I speak for Harry too, we'll be there to help you anyway we can. We're guilty of almost... Oh my goodness... I'm so sorry, Lisa! You could have died and all because I had the stupid idea of locking a giant inside a room!" she said and buried her face in her arms. She tried to hold the tears but now that the adrenalin was gone, she could see how much of a disaster this could have been. "I do deserve to be expelled!" she thought and sobbed hard.
The situation and his feelings at that moment made Harry experience an epiphany. He was proud of using that word, because he had been the one to find it in the class dictionary and complete an assignment Ms Vowel had given a year go. Unfortunately he had paid for it with insults and a backhanded slap at home when Dudley accused Harry of making fun of him in school.
What he realized just then was that he could actually understand justice as Hermione put it. He could just as well want to hurt and kill the Ravenclaws that made Lisa Turpin hide in a bathroom to cry and risk being killed by a giant, but then he would have to punish Hermione in the same way, and do the same to himself for agreeing to lead the giant into that bathroom.
"She's all right, Hermione. Lisa's alive and nobody's gonna think less of you because it was an honest mistake. And even if she had... Well, died," Harry hesitated and looked at the blond Ravenclaw, saying "Please don't take this the wrong way, but even if you'd been killed, it wasn't Hermione's intent to murder you using that giant."
Harry gathered his courage and put an arm around his friend, pressing her flush against him. "Justice is all about balance, and though I can't shove you into a locked room with a huge crazed man holding a kick-ass wooden club, I'd say you feeling so guilty is punishment enough."
"No, it isn't," she answered between sobs.
"Yes it is," Lisa said, surprising them both. "You sure are full of surprises, Harry Potter. Those are very noble thoughts, I can see why you were sorted in Gryffindor."
"It's just Harry, Lisa. And thanks for saying that, but she's the one that taught me what justice is," he explained giving Hermione a small shake. "It just took me a few hours to understand it... And that's a speed record for me!"
"Harry! Don't belittle yourself... And Lisa, would you-- Would you forgive me for what I did?"
"There's nothing to forgive, but if it makes your self-punishment complete, I do forgive your mistake."
Hermione looked like she wanted to hug the girl, yet settled for a nod, a smile and a sincere thank-you. A minute later, since none of them had said another word, Lisa cleared her throat and said good-night. "I really should be back in the tower. Can we-- Would you like to share breakfast together? Tomorrow morning?"
"We'd like that, yes," Hermione said after a quick silent glance between Harry and her. With that, two Gryffindors and one Ravenclaw ended an unforgettable All Hallows Eve, filled with Halloween horror stories to tell their grandchildren, magicked by Samhain rituals for life, and spiced by a Sabbath gathering of their very own that could result in a beautiful friendship.
1.- I apologize if Harry's scar has been identified in the original books, because I don't really remember if it ever was. I've read fics where Harry's scar is an Eihwaz or Eoh rune, others where it's only described as a "protective rune" and if memory doesn't fail me, only one in which it was described as a Siegel, Sigil or Sig rune. It is quite unfortunate that this one was used as a base for the infamous SS insignia, which has given the symbol of Sun-related powers of greatness and victory a bad connotation.
Now, looking at the symbolism of canon Potterverse, my belief is that the idea was to use the Eoh rune as Harry's scar, because in what little source material I've got it's the one related to Death and more commonly associated with the yew tree (!) as well as personal knowledge and individual achievements.
2.- Translations: "rendezvous" = meeting; "laissez faire" = a tolerant attitude, to let others do what they will.
3.- Greeshma Ritu is one the traditional seasons in an Indian calendar; there are six of them "ritus" and each has unique weather characteristics and significance that apply to traditional medicine and even musical forms.
4.- Snape recited a famous line from Don Quixote, where the delusional knight charges at windmills convinced that they're giants. I realize Cervantes might be as little known in the Anglo-Saxon literature as Shakespeare is to Hispanic literature, but if anyone has the chance, please read it and look up the historical context of the times.
5.- Does Poppy Pomfrey have a full name? I don't remember, so I hope Poppea Pomfrey is adequate.
6.- The ritual chanting is of Druidic origin, I copied it from several very similar if not identical ritual texts performed in Samhain. The part where the four quarters are honoured is also repeated in other rituals, as it serves to centre the participants.
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