"James, wake up! This is important! I think something's wrong!"
There was no reaction from the seventh year Gryffindor. James Potter slept soundly, not even mildly disturbed by the desperate attempts his friend was making to wake him up. His friend was persistent, however, and would not allow James to sleep in when he felt something was amiss in the castle.
James blinked, renewing his friend's determination. He turned his head towards his friend, attempting to blink away sleep as he asked, rather groggily, "What?"
"The whole castle is deserted."
James frowned, now determined to go back to sleep. His friend was simply being paranoid. He had likely walked down into the common room, seen no one and panicked. That was silly; why would he wake James up for something like that? Hadn't he even bothered to leave the common room to see if anyone was walking around the castle?
"Aidan, go back to sleep. It's what, only ten in the morning?"
Aidan Abercrombie shook his head, though James couldn't see that; he had already closed his eyes and buried his head in his pillow. "It's eleven, James," he corrected him, biting his lip. He was terribly anxious, and it didn't help that James refused to move. Aidan sighed, running a hand through his messy brown hair. "I'll write your Charms essay for you if you get up."
James didn't move, though after a moment he began to slowly flip over in his bed. He then allowed a small smile to play across his face, his brown eyes meeting Aidan's green ones, and he said, "Promise?"
Aidan nodded, standing up and offering a hand to help James out of bed. "Promise."
James' smile grew larger at the prospect of not having to write his Charms essay, and he quickly kicked the sheets off and took Aidan's hand. Pulling himself out of bed, he said, "Give me a second to get dressed, and then we'll see what it is you're so freaked out about."
Aidan nodded, sitting down on James' bed while the other boy ducked into the bathroom to get changed. It was Sunday morning, only eleven o'clock, so there would be no classes in session. Usually, most people would sleep in today. He and James were the only ones still around in the dormitory. Of course, most of their dorm mates were early risers, so Aidan didn't need to worry all that much in that regard.
James came out of the bathroom; he hadn't combed his hair, but other than that he looked quite decent. He had thrown on a maroon T-shirt and some blue-jeans. Nothing special. Aidan was wearing something similar; a navy blue T-shirt and black jeans.
"So," James began, his eyebrows raised, "what did you wake me up for? You were saying the castle is deserted?"
Aidan nodded, sticking his hands in his pockets. "Well, yeah. There's no one out in the common room, and I even went out in the hallway and checked a bit of the seventh floor. No one."
James shrugged, looking mildly annoyed at being woken up for such a silly thing. "Aidan, please. They're all probably downstairs eating breakfast, or lunch I suppose. Don't worry. How about I walk you down there and you can see for yourself?"
"Alright," Aidan said. "That would be fine."
James smiled. "Great. And while we're down there I can grab a bite to eat."
Aidan stood, happy that James had finally gotten out of bed and had decided to, at the very least, humor him. Aidan had only walked around a bit of the seventh floor before he had hurried back into the Gryffindor Common Room and woken up James.
They left their dormitory and walked down the stairs, James taking the steps two at a time while Aidan made his way slowly and cautiously, as though he was afraid he would trip and fall. Once James reached the bottom, he turned to Aidan and asked, "So, what you're trying to tell me is that everyone in the castle has vanished without a trace? You didn't see anyone at all this morning?"
Aidan shook his head, finally reaching the bottom of the stairs and following James over to the exit of the common room. "No one, James. I've already told you this."
"I know," James replied, grinning as he exited the common room and stepped out onto the seventh floor.
Aidan frowned, and then glared at his friend. "Are you making fun of me?"
James started laughing. Aidan, almost immediately, put a finger to his lips and shushed him. "James, please! What if something is actually wrong?"
James rolled his eyes, motioning for Aidan to follow him. "Let's go have some lunch, Aidan."
They made their way down the Grand Staircase, Aidan trying to take the steps as quietly as he could and James, once again, taking them two at a time. Once they had reached the third floor, Aidan whispered, "See, James? No one."
"Aidan," James said, frowning back at his housemate, "We're on the Grand Staircase. I don't expect to find anyone hanging out here."
They were about to begin descending the stairs once again when they heard shouts coming from below on the ground level, and they both looked down to see what was going on. A large archway served as the doorway between the Grand Staircase and the Entrance Hall, and they saw an older man stumble through it, as though he had just been pushed. James immediately recognized the man as their Transfiguration professor, the one who had replaced McGonagall when she had retired. James elbowed Aidan, a triumphant grin slowly forming on his face as the first signs of life began appearing, though Aidan pointed towards the figure that followed their professor.
The man was tall and stooped, wearing a tattered black robe that looked two sizes too big. His hair was long and mangled, and his face was pockmarked and thin; his features were gaunt, and it looked as though he hadn't eaten a decent meal in years. His wand was out and pointed at their Transfiguration professor, who had fallen to the ground and been unable to get back up before the other man had pulled his wand out.
"What is it you want?" their professor asked, trying to appear unintimidated by the man's wand. The other man seemed to think for a moment before he spoke, taking a step closer to the professor. "We want revenge."
Their professor appeared confused for a moment before what the man had said registered. "Revenge for what? Who are you? Why are you here? This is a school! Don't you know that? Those are children in there!"
The man nodded, though from the expression on his face it was quite obvious he didn't care at all about the children. "You won't need to know the answer to any of those questions once we're done here."
The professor's facade was over; the fear he had been attempting to hide came rushing to the surface, and he began to stutter as he spoke. "W-why do you n-need to... t-to..."
"It isn't any of your concern," the man said, still looking quite emotionless. He paused, looking over the professor before he spoke again. "It is a shame that we must waste our breath on you pathetic excuses for wizards."
The professor, thinking that this was the man rethinking his decision, began to plead with him, "Yes, i-it is-"
A jet of green light flew from the man's wand and hit the professor straight in the chest, killing him instantly and ending his pleas for mercy. The man kicked the body lightly, assuring himself that he was indeed dead, and returned his wand to one of his pockets. He stood for a moment, as though admiring his work, before a voice called for him.
"Rookwood! Lestrange wants to talk with you!"
He frowned, sticking his hands in his pockets, and left the room, heading out into the Entrance Hall. James glanced at Aidan, who appeared absolutely terrified, and silently wondered if he looked the same way. He had just seen his Transfiguration professor murdered, by this man named Rookwood no less. He was certain he had heard the name before, and he turned to ask Aidan where the name was from.
"Rookwood was a Death Eater," Aidan replied, still staring at the corpse of their professor, stunned. "You should know that, James. Your dad was around back then."
James nodded, looking anywhere but down. Of course. If Rookwood had been a Death Eater, his father had likely fought him back when Voldemort was around. But hadn't all of the Death Eaters been imprisoned or killed?
He nudged Aidan, motioning with his head for him to follow, and began walking down the stairs. Aidan hissed at him to come back; he obviously didn't want to go meet Rookwood face to face.
"What is it, Aidan?" James asked, speaking as quietly as he could.
Aidan looked at him incredulously. "What do you mean, what is it
?" he whispered, "You saw what he did, didn't you? He murdered him, James! There are Death Eaters here! At least three. Rookwood, Lestrange and whoever that voice was. We can't fight Death Eaters." Suddenly a thought seemed to dawn on him. "What if that's why they... killed him? The professors are the only ones who could really stand up to them, and-"
"Aidan," James interrupted, "Calm down."
"Calm down!?! Our professor was just murdered, and you want me to calm down?" Aidan's eyes were wide with panic as he spoke, telling James that Aidan was not about to calm down.
"Yes, Aidan. Shut up. Panicking is only going to get us killed."
Aidan nodded, quickly seeing the logic behind this statement. He took a deep breath, calming himself as best he could, and then asked, "So what now?"
James responded, "We go downstairs and see what's going on."
"Assuming we aren't caught and killed, we figure it out from there."
James could tell by the look on Aidan's face that that had not been the correct thing to say. Hoping to sound confident, he added, "But we won't get caught. Promise."
Regardless of how he felt, Aidan knew he didn't have much of a choice. If there were Death Eaters in the castle, they needed to figure out how many so that they could alert the Ministry. Then the Ministry would be able to send a suitable amount of Aurors that would be able to handle the situation. Aidan nodded, reluctantly, and followed James down the last three flights of stairs.
"James, they probably escaped from Azkaban."
"So wouldn't the Ministry be coming for them right now?"
"Aidan, think about it. They're not stupid; they probably escaped in the middle of the night and apparated away. The Ministry probably has no clue where these guys are."
"Way to be optimistic, James," Aidan mumbled as they reached the bottom of the staircase. He watched James pull out his wand and quickly did the same. He didn't believe it would do any good against wizards who possessed decades more experience than they did, but it did make him feel safer with it by his side.
James stood against the wall, his back to the Entrance Hall. Aidan stood at his side, waiting for James to say something. James peered out into the Entrance Hall, checking to see if Rookwood or anyone else was standing outside. He glanced back at Aidan and whispered, "No one's there."
With a nod, he headed through the archway and out into the Entrance Hall. Aidan followed, his wand out and at the ready. The Entrance Hall was indeed deserted; Rookwood and whomever else had been there had moved on. However, Aidan could hear quite a few voices in the Great Hall, producing such a racket he was surprised he hadn't heard it before. He trailed behind James as the other boy quickly crossed the Entrance Hall and stood against the wall, near the doors to the Great Hall, so that he would not be spotted. Aidan mimicked his friend, and they stood for a moment before James peered inside.
Inside the Great Hall was nearly every Hogwarts student and professor, crowded into the center of the room. The tables used for meals had been placed around the large group so that they completely surrounded them, and on top of some of the tables stood men dressed in a similar fashion to Rookwood. "More Death Eaters," Aidan whispered.
James counted quickly, and guessed that there were no more than forty Death Eaters in the room. He assumed everyone who wasn't crowded in the center was a Death Eater. On one table stood a tall, handsome man, dressed in a dark green cloak that had obviously been stolen from someone, considering everyone but one other Death Eater was dressed in tattered robes. The man smirked; he had hair that fell to his shoulders and was littered with patches of gray amongst brown. He had the beginnings of a beard, and it looked like he was getting on in age, as though he had been around for awhile. James could see him call out for silence; a few people near him quieted down, though everyone else remained talking amongst themselves. The man pulled out his wand, placed it at his throat and mumbled a spell. When he spoke next, his voice boomed and could be heard across the entirety of the Great Hall and, very likely, the entire castle.
"Silence!" he cried, causing some people that stood near him to cover their ears and wince in pain. It took only a few seconds before everyone had quieted down.
The man stood silently for a moment, as though he had only wanted the quiet so that he could think. Then he opened his mouth to speak once again. "I'm certain that most of you, if not all of you, are aware of who we are. If not, well, I suppose you need a better History of Magic professor."
Several of the Death Eaters snickered at his comment, though a look from the man standing beside the speaker silenced them. James hadn't noticed him before; he seemed to blend into the background and go completely unnoticed by everyone. By his features, he was quite obviously the brother of the speaker. He looked to be a bit younger, and his robes were of the same, brand new condition that his brother's were in. James decided that they must be the leaders of the group.
"For those of you who still aren't sure as to who we are, allow me to give you a hint; our leader was struck down by The Boy Who Lived just twenty six years ago. None of you students were even born yet. Your professors, however, may know what I'm speaking of. A select few of you may have even been present at that battle," he said, looking directly at an abnormally short wizard who sat with a group of professors. He glared at the man, his white hair sticking out from underneath his hat.
"However, we are not here to harm you. This is necessary for your own safety. We will take what we need from this castle and then we will leave."
A girl sitting in the center of the group of students raised her hand, a gesture that amused nearly everyone in the room. Nevertheless, the man pointed to her and asked, "Yes?"
"Um, sorry to interrupt sir," she said, trying her best not to stutter, "But what is it you're looking for?"
He frowned at her, examining her closely before responding. "What's your name, girl?"
"Rose Weasley," she answered, now looking incredibly nervous.
"I'm afraid it's none of your concern, and even if I were to tell you, you wouldn't be able to help. I believe a few of your professors may be able to lend a hand and speed up this process," he said, looking towards the short professor again, who was now staring a hole in the ground.
"Now, on to business. Let's clear this up right now; anyone who attempts to leave this room, or even leave their seat on the floor, dies."
Amongst the students and professors, there were a sudden surge in conversation, to which the man immediately shouted for silence again. The man on stage smirked, and his gaze left Rose, the short professor, the students and everyone else in the room, and drifted to the door, where James' head was poking out. His smirk vanished as he spotted James, though after a moment's pause it was replaced by a maniacal looking grin. "And if any of you has a problem with it," he said, now staring directly at James, "You can direct all of your concerns to Rodolphus Lestrange."