Chapter 79 : Sometimes We Sort Too Soon
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written by Galawen (Hufflepuff)
plot by SereneChaos (Hufflepuff)
He wondered throughout the castle, walking through mostly empty frames; their occupants fled to safer landscapes in the many corners of the castle. The noise of destruction he had been hearing was nothing compared to actually witnessing it. Walls lay in broken rubble upon the stone flags that had in some places been crushed themselves. Many of the suits of armour that had stood in the corridors were missing, presumably gone to fulfil their duty of protecting the school and its inhabitants.
Moving from a portrait that he vaguely remembered containing some arguing shepherds, to one set in the kitchen of a stately manor along the next hallway Dumbledore froze. There in front of him stood a couple of students duelling a collection of masked figures. Death Eaters. A feeling of utter helplessness swelled up in him as he watched, unable to aid in any, as spell after spell was exchanged between both groups.
The death eaters were older and more experienced, but Dumbledore could see the passion his students had and their determination was shining through their eyes. Suddenly a wayward spell hit the wall beside them and a pile of stone came crashing down. Dumbledore peered anxiously through the dust, searching for signs of life. He could hear movements, but he didn't know if it was the death eaters or his students. Slowly the air cleared a little in front of him and he could see the two students on the ground in front of him. Both wore the blue of Ravenclaw and seemed to be of sixth year. A feeling of immense relief rose within him at the sight of them alive, but this quickly turned to despair as he observed a very important detail.
One of the students was lying on the ground, his leg pinned to the ground underneath a pile of rubble, his housemate trying frantically to pull him clear. Neither of them seemed to have their wands, and indeed Albus spotted splintered wood underneath some of the stone. There were loud sounds from the other side of the rubble and the stones separating them from the death eaters began to move.
'' Run Rachael! You have to run! Leave me here, my leg is stuck fast''
Dumbledore heard the boy cry desperately to the girl beside him. She paid him no heed, except to increase the speed of her frantic effort to free him.
"RACHAEL!!! You have to listen to me; you know I'm right; you're the clever one remember? There's no reason behind what you're doing, I can't get loose, you need to leave!!''
Rachael paused in her frenzied attempt at his words and Dumbledore could see the boy had finally got the hopelessness of the situation across to her. She looked at him and then across to the gap appearing in the stone and the vague movements visible beyond it.
"They'll be through in a minute! Quick go down the corridor and use the passageway behind the statue; it'll get you to the 5th floor in no time!" the boy exclaimed.
Dumbledore could hear the fear in his voice despite the fact that he had managed to keep it steady and he knew the girl had heard it too. Slowly and determinedly she knelt down beside him and grasped his hand.
"What are you doing!! LEAVE Rachael, please, please leave!"
The boy was almost sobbing at this stage as he hysterically tried to get his friend to leave him.
"No. Sorry Andrew, you're not getting rid of me that easily, you've put up with me for 6 years of friendship; you think I'm going to start listening to you now?" she said smiling at her friend, Dumbledore could see the tears running down her cheeks.
"Rachael please, please think about this; you're not being logical! You're a Ravenclaw; use your bloody huge brain! You can still get away, stop being stupid!" Andrew begged her, tears gathering in his own eyes too.
She continued to smile sadly at him as a cloaked figure appeared through the gap.
"Guess I've been hanging around with the Hufflepuffs too much eh?"
Dumbledore stumbled blindly through frames, his mind frozen with grief as he recalled the sheer loyalty the girl had shown her friend. He was almost shaking with rage; his usual clear mind clouded with the desperate anger of a man who knows he can do nothing to change the past. He was barely aware of his location; he passed through settings as varied as city streets and empty fields, with no clear destination in mind. It was the sound of shouted spells that awoke him from his trance. He glanced up with weary eyes to take in the scene before him. More death eaters. This time however they were not merely fighting students; there were a few members of the Order scattered amongst them.
There were various separate battles taking place all down the hallway, with flashes of light and words of Latin all anyone could discern. Closest to the portrait Dumbledore was currently occupying he watched as Eleanor Fields, one of his recruits from the Ministry duelled a masked figure. As he watched, the mask slipped however and Albus could see the smirking face of Albert Runcorn. Eleanor was fighting bravely but the strain was clear in her eyes and she was being forced backwards, spell by spell. Eleanor had been involved in the information aspect of the Order and had never been expected to carry out any of the missions or dangerous tasks of the other members, and Dumbledore could see the inexperience in her wand-work. Runcorn was getting closer and closer to disarming her and she was tiring rapidly. Dumbledore looked anxiously around for someone to aid her, but everyone was occupied in their own struggle for survival and a surge of helplessness rose once again in the former Headmaster's breast.
Suddenly though, without warning, a flash of light hit Runcorn from behind; no shouted spell had accompanied it and it took Albus a few moments to find the owner. Eventually though he spotted a tall seventh year girl making her way across the battlefield of a hallway. Her dark hair was gathered in a long plait down her back and her uniform bore the bright yellow that marked her as a member of Hufflepuff. There was nothing warm or easy-going in her expression though as she quickly stunned a death eater who stumbled into her path, once again without the need for words.
When she reached Runcorn, he had regained his balance after her spell and now he turned from an exhausted Eleanor to face this new threat. He raised his wand and opened his mouth to attack the girl. But before a single word could come out of his mouth she had whirled her own wand in a swish of complicated gestures, none of which she used a single word for but after every flash of light Runcorn stumbled backwards a step until eventually the final spark hit him and he collapsed, unconscious, on the ground. Eleanor and Dumbledore both stared at the girl in front of them. She walked over and helped Eleanor to her feet.
"Are you ok? Do you need any healing?" the student asked anxiously.
"I.....I'm fine. Wh.......where did you learn how to do non-verbal spells like that?!" Eleanor stammered out, asking a question Dumbledore was dying to know himself.
The girl smiled slightly and answered:
"Ravenclaws aren't the only ones capable of pouring through dusty old books for extra study. They just enjoy it more!"
Dumbledore continued down corridors, reassured slightly that at least some of his former students were holding their own. He stumbled across various duels, each participant much too preoccupied to notice the unmistakable figure of their dead Headmaster watching them from various frames across the walls. He didn't stop again until he reached a group of students having a heated and rapid discussion down a deserted corridor on the 6th floor. There were students from Gryffindor and Hufflepuff and their ages were varied. One boy wearing the red of Gryffindor seemed to be trying to convince the others of an idea and Dumbledore could see conflicted expressions on each of their faces.
"I don't understand why we're hesitating about this! Each moment could be costing us another life!" the boy exclaimed, his hands gesticulating frantically.
"Because what you're suggesting is so dishonourable and deceitful Jay! Disillusioning each other and sneaking through battles stunning death eaters who can't see us, just smacks of dishonesty!" one of the boy's fellow Gryffindors shouted back at him.
The others nodded in agreement and one girl added:
"It's not an admirable way of fighting! It's just so, so, so – so Slytherin!"
The first boy, Jay, stared at the two who had spoken, his eyes smouldering in an emotion Dumbledore couldn't identify.
"Dishonourable? Admirable? Tell me Amy, Ross where have you seen honour today? Was it in the Death Eater who slaughtered Colin Creevey? Perhaps it was in the kids we passed, holding their friends in their arms, crying? Or maybe it was in the way we witnessed 5 Death Eaters surround a single student?" he spat at them and Albus could see that his words had affected those listening to him.
"This is a war; if you want to survive you need to do what you can; whatever you can! I'm not asking you to kill anyone for the love of God! I just want to stop them hurting anymore of my friends, I just want to help!" Jay almost wailed.
Breathing deeply he regained his composure before turning to the girl:
"And Amy? If wanting to do that in the best way I can makes me a Slytherin, well I guess I'd better see about getting re-sorted hadn't I?"
Dumbledore could see the shame in Jay's audience, he could see the way the stood taller, tensing themselves and he knew what they would do. He didn't need to hear Ross say in a quiet voice:
"Ok Jay, we're with you. Let's do this."
The students began to disillusion each other and Dumbledore continued on his way. The conversation had distressed him. He felt immeasurable sorrow that children were being forced to make such difficult decisions in order to protect themselves. It was hard to think how they would manage to cope with what they were forced to do in order to survive during this battle. But the important thing would be that they would survive; they would have the chance to heal and repair the damage that the things they witnessed would do to their souls.
Dumbledore continued downwards, making his way through portraits onto the 4th floor. He could see a group of people gathered outside the entrance to the library and he moved towards them, eager to see who it was. As he did so a hush swept throughout the castle, stilling every noise that had previously been present. The group ahead of Dumbledore all looked up, startled as he himself was. Then slowly, accompanied by an excruciating, sinking feeling of despair he began to hear many people wailing. The sound of such grief nearly bowled him over and he blocked his mind to the despondent thoughts spinning around in his head.
He had reached the group at this stage and he could see the same thoughts rushing across their faces. This distracted him, for a moment, from identifying them but when he did so his mouth fell open in shock. Horace Slughorn stood in front of him with a group of 6th and 7th year Slytherin students. There was no sign of battle on any of them and they had evidently just arrived. As he stood there staring at them, perplexed, Horace opened his mouth and began to speak:
"Something's happened. We have no more time; this is the only chance you have to make this decision. I'm going down to join this fight, regardless of who is winning or losing. I came back to help my students and friends and I intend to do just that," he paused, before quietly continuing, "Whether I am the only member of my house to do so or not."
The students standing before him exchanged frightened glances amongst themselves, the tension in the air was palpable and Dumbledore doubted if Horace would have much help. However he was proved wrong in the next instant as one by one each student swallowed tightly and turned towards Horace, nodding at him.
"You won't be alone Sir. We belong here too, on Potter's side, even if no-one wants us there." One girl stated strongly, her comment supported by her fellow students and both Dumbledore and Horace had smiles on their faces.
"I knew I could rely on you," Slughorn, uncharacteristically whispered.
He then whirled quickly on his feet and sped down the hallway, towards the Entrance Hall and the source of the grievous wailing. His students followed him, at speed also, blurring past Dumbledore allowing him to hear just one comment between the last pair.
"Let's just hope the Gryffindors don't notice us rushing to help, or we'll never hear the end of it!"
Dumbledore smiled at the young man's words. He felt no need to follow them, there was nothing he could do and he had seen enough death and destruction. He began to make his way back to the Headmaster's office where he would surely hear any news. Despite the pain and grief he felt from his travails throughout the castle there were other emotions battling for precedent in his heart; hope being prevalent amongst them.
Today he had witnessed a Ravenclaw's loyalty, a Hufflepuff's intelligence, a Gryffindor's cunning and Slytherins' bravery. As he made his weary return to the frame that housed his portrait in the circular room he had once occupied, he glanced over at the stand the Sorting Hat usually stood on. His last thought before falling into an uneasy and tense slumber was one of speculation:
"Perhaps sometimes, we sort too soon."
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