Chapter Eight: The Dark Lord's Army
The remaining few weeks passed very quickly to Harry. He spent his days with Ron and Ginny, just hanging around the house and trying to eavesdrop in on Order meetings, or Mr Weasley would take them for a walk down Diagon Alley. Harry noticed that Mr Weasley and Ron stayed close on either side of him during these walks, so he was fully covered by Weasley protection.
But having people always around him was marvellous to Harry. Normally, his summer holidays were the meaning of loneliness. He used to sit at the Dursleys in the garden or in his room, and just dream of Hogwarts and his friends for hours on end until they were almost real - but then he'd be ordered out to cook or clean, and the dream would be gone and he'd be completely alone again. At the time, the Dursleys were the only family he'd had, and they hardly cared about his existance at all.
The Weasleys were everything Harry had ever dreamed of. Mr and Mrs Weasley fussed over him and spoilt him somewhat, making sure he always had enough to eat, making sure he never got bored. They even asked him to call them Uncle and Auntie. "Auntie Molly has such a nice ring to it," Mrs Weasley said, beaming, her eyes very glossy before she planted a huge kiss on his cheek, gave him a plate of pizza and told him to come straight back for more when he was done.
He and Ron still weren't allowed into meetings about the Order, and probably with good reason, as nearly every member turned up once every two days for some huge conference. Mundungus generally brought some news from the criminal underworld that he was all too happy to share with Ron and Harry, but most other people wouldn't talk. Tonks and Lupin were staying at Grimmauld Place with the Weasleys, and Tonks was put in charge of keeping Ron and Harry out of the meetings - though more often than not, she was at the door with them listening.
Snape attended the meetings too, and Ron and Harry were always hanging over the staircase banister when he arrived, though he had no major accidents, which made Harry think that perhaps Dumbledore had got through to Snape somehow. He stumbled on the doorstep a few times, and once a bird had flown down and attacked him as he stepped through the front door, which both Ron and Harry had found extremely funny until Snape threatened to gouge their eyes out with a spoon.
Once or twice, Harry, Ginny and Ron were allowed to have friends over. Neville Longbottom found Grimmauld Place a bit un-nerving at first, though Hermione soon calmed his nerves, and Luna Lovegood said the place smelt of nye dung, though what exactly a nye was, nobody really knew.
With all the fun he was having, time seemed to pass speedily by, and in what seemed like the blink of an eye, it was growing dark on the night before their journey back to Hogwarts. For the first time, Harry knew he would miss the summer holidays and quite wanted them to go on longer, but then he thought of Hogwarts and all the things he loved about the castle, and he was soon as eager to get back.
He, Ron, Ginny and Luna, who had come for the day, were sitting at the top of the stairs overlooking the entrance hall, all trying to make a model of Hogwarts castle out of the mashed potato and chicken they were supposed to be eating for tea. It was around seven o' clock, and the Order would soon be here for the customary meeting.
"Luna, what's that?" asked Ron, squinting at an odd lump Luna had stuck on the end of the Defence Against The Dark Arts corridor.
"No, I didn't think you'd know what that was," she said, softly, shaping it carefully with her spoon.
Ron clearly decided he'd rather not know, and carried on with Hagrid's cabin. "Can I have that carrot for a chimney Harry?"
"Sure, here you go," Harry said, handing Ron the carrot.
He stuck it neatly in the middle of the mound of mush that was Hagrid's hut and smiled, pleased with himself. "I think it looks pretty lifelike, actually."
"Except being made out of potato," said Ginny.
"Yeah, well, the potato speaks for itself," said Ron. "Obviously, I mean - ooops!!"
His elbow had knocked the plate as he turned to speak to Ginny, and the whole plate had gone through the broken railings, sailing gracefully through the air. Even worse, somebody gave a startled cry and there was a squishing noise as the potato Hogwarts ambushed from above.
"Oh no, who did we hit?" said Ginny, peering down.
Mr Weasley lay sprawled on the floor, the plate of potato squashed over his head so his face was hidden by a fluffy white mass, a little like a snowman hit by a steam roller.
"Dad!" said Ron. "We're sorry, we didn't know you were down there!"
Mr Weasley heaved himself off the floor, blinking potato out of his eyes. "What on earth are you all doing up there?" He pulled the carrot from out of his nose with a loud sneeze. "And why are you throwing it at me?"
"We were making models out of potato," said Ginny. "We're really sorry Dad."
"That's quite all right," said Mr Weasley vaguely, wiping potato off his face. "You'll all have to go to the bedrooms I'm afraid, we've got an important meeting tonight that you're not allowed to hear." He blinked and wiped more mush off his face, extracting a large piece of chicken from his top pocket. "And no more eating on the stairs."
"Sorry Uncle Arthur," said Harry. "We'll be more careful."
Mr Weasley smiled at being called Uncle. "That's alright. Now go on, off with you, and no trying to listen!"
They all scrambled away up the rest of the stairs into the bedroom. Ron voiced all their feelings quite well with a relieved, "Well, it could have been worse. It could have been Snape or McGonagall."
"Or Dumbledore," said Harry. "Actually, Dumbledore would probably have laughed and thrown it back at us."
"I think Snape would have been the worst," said Ginny, opening the door and leading them all in. Luna nodded in agreement, though Harry and Ron said nothing, glancing at each other. They hadn't told anybody what they had heard between Snape and Dumbledore, except Hermione, and she couldn't make any sense of it either.
"Professor Snape is rather harsh, isn't it?" said Luna, dreamily, as though she quite liked the fact that he was harsh.
"Yeah," said Ginny. "He hated Fred and George most of all our family. Well, he doesn't like you Harry, does he? So I guess you're probably his least favourite."
"The only person he does like is Malfoy," said Ron, bitterly. "Stupid arrogant prat. He's not even that good at Potions, it's just because he's a Slytherin."
"Hey, listen, I can hear people arriving," said Ginny. They all fell quiet and heard people coming into the hall, greeting each other in murmurs so as not to wake Mrs Black. Ron and Mrs Weasley had done a good job with silencing charms, so it would take much more noise than before to wake her, but there was always the chance.
"I want to know what's happening," said Ron. He got up off his bed. "Quiet, come on and we'll go to the Hearing Hole."
The Hearing Hole wasn't really a hole, more of a pipe that lead from the boiler room into the meeting room. The Order hadn't realised it was there at all, and so all of them could crowd around it to listen in. It was hard to hear anything properly with three other people squashed around a pipe with the diameter of an orange, but it was better than nothing.
"What if your father catches us?" said Luna, in her dreamy tone, with wide eyes.
"We'll throw more food at him," said Ron, opening the door and padding out. "Come on, hurry up and be quiet!"
He crept out of the door and gave a loud shout of surprise as he came face to face with a purple-haired Tonks, standing block their way with hands on her hips. "And where are you all going?"
"Uh... nowhere," said Ron.
"A likely story," said Tonks. "You're all sneaking off to listen in on the secret meetings aren't you?"
"Um... no," Harry tried, weakly.
She sighed, taking a bowl of popcorn from behind her back. "Then gee, who am I going to share this with while I'm listening in? Oh well, more for me."
"No, wait!" said Ron. "We like popcorn! And listening in!"
She grinned. "Come on then, and watch the creaky steps."
They all hurried down stairs into the boiler room, slipping inside. Tonks shut the door carefully and they all crowded around the pipe with the popcorn in the middle. Ron took out a massive handful, Tonks frowned and took half off him, eating it herself with a grin.
"Who's nearest the pipe?" Harry whispered.
Tonks peered down it carefully. "I dunno... I see a lot of black hair..."
"Snape," Ron groaned.
"Shh," she said. "He'll hear us. You don't want us discovered, do you? And stop eating all the popcorn, this has gotta last us hours."
"Hours?" said Ginny. "How long is this meeting going on for?"
"Put it this way," said Tonks, "your Mum's set out about twenty jugs of pumpkin juice and snacks. Pillows everywhere for people to sit on. I think it's something big. I saw Dumbledore earlier and he looks kinda worried."
"Probably heard what we did to Dad," said Ron, with raised eyebrows.
"I don't think so," said Tonks, smiling. "By the way, you're helping me fix that plate later, it's broken in two."
"But it didn't break when it fell," said Ron.
"Yeah, but on the way to the kitchen I slipped in the potato and broke it." Tonks took a handful of popcorn and grinned at the look on Ron's face. "What?"
"Shhh, they're starting!" said Ginny, leaning closer to the pipe.
Harry leant in too and all five of them listened hard as Dumbledore's voice came out of the pipe, ringing slightly because of the echoes.
"I have called you all here for a reason tonight," he said, solemnly. "And the nature of the reason is not a cause for celebration, I am afraid. This meeting could take some time, so if anybody wants to contact their families to tell them they may be here all night if they have to, Molly has a sack of floo powder ready for you. Nobody? Then there's no time like the present...
"We have reason to believe that Voldemort is beginning his rise back to power. Up until now, the casualties have been terrible but mercifully few. Thanks to our spies, we have learnt of his collection of more Death Eaters and steadily recruiting more and more dark creatures to his services... the dementors are now fully in his power, and we are of course already working on means of reflecting them.
"However... it seems that Voldemort has managed to contact a group of creatures we never thought would become an issue in this fight." Dumbledore sounded very worried indeed, and just the tones in his voice made Harry's spine prickle with fear. "I am referring to the Heliopaths. I know that a lot of you - " But his words were drowned out by the mumbling of many people in the room, all of them expression fear and worry, some of them calling out questions.
Harry took the opportunity to look around at the other people in the boiler room. "What's a Heliopath?"
"Fire spirits," muttered Ron. He was very pale. "Nobody knows where they live or how you can get there, but they're supposed to be really dangerous... they have a brand of magic that no human can conjure up..."
"If You-Know-Who's got the Heliopaths," said Tonks, nervously, but Dumbledore was talking again.
"Please, please," he said, loudly. "There is no need for alarm. We need to think logically and calmly to come up with possible defences and solutions to this problem. Severus, could you tell us what exactly you have found out?"
The shadow at the end of the pipe moved as Snape stood up, his voice ringing down the pipe as though into a microphone. "The Dark Lord, by means I am not yet sure of, has managed to contact the Heliopaths. He is confident of their loyalty, very confident, and he plans to showcase their power to the wizarding world before the year is out. At the moment, it seems likely that he will attack one of the major magical locations in the world. All wizarding schools are on the target list, St Mungo's Hospital, Diagon Alley, all Ministry of Magic buildings, Hogsmeade, any Quidditch locations and of course any settlements with a high population of wizards."
"Dumbledore, has the ministry been told?" asked a woman's voice that Harry didn't recognise.
"No, not yet," said Dumbledore. "That is in fact one of the issues I wish to discuss. Cornelius Fudge and the rest of the Ministry, no matter how accepting they are of Voldemort's return, are not taking the stance we need to wipe out the dark forces once and for all. Everytime I send him a report on Voldemort's activities, he warns me not to send a copy to the Prophet. His priority is the heaven he has created, and not the hell he could well cause if he doesn't not listen to us."
There was more mumbling throughout the crowd, most of it agreeing with Dumbledore's words. He waited for silence to fall again, and then continued seriously.
"I believe that we can act as a far more effective force if we talk to the wizarding world without Cornelius's interference and filtering. We need people in higher places, most of all, a source where we can contact everybody in this world at once. The Daily Prophet is too controlled by the Ministry and ultimately, the minister."
"How about we start our own?" somebody suggested.
"Precisely my thoughts. We need writers, photographers... could I have some nominations for an editor?"
Back in the boiler room, Tonks raised a hand and whispered, "Me..."
There were a few mutters from the meeting room, and it seemed like people were being picked out. Dumbledore said, "Thankyou all... if you could work something out between you that would be much appreciated. Second item on the list is defence. Protection for the places most under threat. Obviously, in foreign countries, all we can do is warn them and let them suffer the consequences if they do not heed that caution. Here in Britain, we can do something. The places most at risk... Hogsmeade, Diagon Alley, St Mungo's and Hogwarts. We need people stationed in or around each place at all times to protect them, and to be able to alert the rest of the Order should need for concern arise.
"Firstly... Hogsmeade. Mundungus, I believe you spend a lot of time around the village...?"
There was a grunting noise as Mundungus woke up with a start. "Yeah, I 'gree with... 'ooever spoke last."
Dumbledore chuckled. "Hogsmeade, Mundungus. You spend a lot of time there, yes?"
"Yeah," said Mundungus, who sounded as though he was worried it was a trick question.
"I want you to... oh, never mind. Does anybody else spend a lot of time around Hogsmeade?"
Tonks turned away from the pipe, taking a handful of popcorn and munching it in a rather thoughtful way. "So Voldemort's got the Heliopaths. We've got a problem on our hands now."
"Father's been alerting the wizarding world of their presence for years," said Luna. "Such a shame that nobody took notice until now."
Ron took some popcorn from the bowl. "I reckon he'll attack St Mungo's. The mediwizards are famed for being great at healing but no good at duelling. It'll fall like... like a mash potato Hogwarts on Dad's head."
"I don't know, Hogsmeade isn't exactly full of powerful wizards, is it?" said Ginny.
"Shhh!" Harry hissed. They all fell quiet and listened.
"Now that we've sorted out that, could somebody please go to the boiler room and bring Nymphadora Tonks and the four children, who are listening to every word and might as well join in the discussions?"
"Ooops," said Tonks.
Dumbledore chuckled. "Thankyou, Arthur."
A few seconds later, the door opened and Mr Weasley smiled down at them all. "Tonks," he said, pretending to tut. "You're no better than a child yourself."
She smiled, her mouth full of popcorn. "They made me."
"We did not!" Ron said, outraged.
Mr Weasley chuckled. "Come along. Dumbledore wants you in the meeting. Though stay quiet and don't interrupt anybody."
They followed him out of the boiler room, down the hall and into the meeting hall. They were a lot more people than there usually were, most of them Harry didn't recognise, a few he did. He didn't stop to look over every face packed into the hall, and instead followed Ron over to the Weasleys and Professor Lupin, sitting cross-legged on one of the pillows and looking up at Dumbledore.
He smiled down at them all, the way he did at the Hogwarts welcoming feast. "I trust you all know that any information you hear tonight is a complete secret?"
They all nodded silently, and Dumbledore turned back to his audience in general, looking a little more relieved than at the start of the meeting. "The last place we need to discuss which is in danger is Hogwarts. The castle is, of course, heavily protected already, though against Heliopaths, those defences can and will fall. This year, I intend to take extra precautions.
"Firstly, as some of you may know, Harry here - " Dumbledore smiled to Harry before continuing " - set up and successfully ran a Defence Against The Dark Arts club, all after school and all in secret, and he remains the only sixteen-year-old wizard I am aware of who can produce a corporeal patronus. It is my intention for him to continue his good work, and with the help of our Defence Against The Dark Arts master Professor Lupin, the students will be given extra defence lessons this year. Harry, do you think you can do this for me?"
Harry nodded numbly, aware that every eye in the room was fixed on him. "I'll try," he said.
Dumbledore's eyes sparkled behind his glasses. "Thankyou, Harry. Secondly, throughout the summer holidays I have had a... ah... highly able person try his best to find the problems with my castle defences, and he has certainly found quite a few."
Ron leant across to Harry and murmured, "Peeves... Fred and George said he'd been wrecking the castle..."
Harry nodded, then glanced back to Dumbledore.
"These have been patched up and tested vigorously. I am confident that no spirit, beast or being can get into my castle if they are not wanted." The headmaster smiled, took a sip of water from the glass on the table before him, and then continued. "Also, I have introduced a new subject this year which will be taken by all students. I hope that this new knowledge will teach them to defend themselves better when the time of war comes."
Harry wasn't exactly comforted by Dumbledore's use of the word 'when'.
"And finally," said Dumbledore, "something not quite related just to Hogwarts but to young wizards in general throughout this country. The age required to do magic has been lowered by a year, so that the younger members in our fight against Voldemort can learn to defend themselves far earlier and have sufficient practice. The ministry has also been very hard on children performing underage magic, and my deepest regret would be for a child in danger to not dare defend themselves, in fear of the consequences." He looked around at them all seriously. "We are no longer safe. For the past sixteen years, we have been able to walk the streets freely and be confident in our laws. We have let our children out to play with no doubt that they will come back safe and sound. We have gone about our normal business with no worries in our head. But the time has come for action to be taken. Lord Voldemort is very much alive, greater and more powerful than he was before. There is no need to be afraid of staying safe. It is my belief that every child in this world should be just as useful as their parents and the adults around them." He looked down to the four children sitting on the floor in front of the Weasleys, all looking up at him with hope in their eyes. "I have been headmaster of Hogwarts for quite some time now, and my students still amaze and surprise me every single day. There are many problems in this world at the moment, and even if the wizards of my generation are more than likely going to end their lives surrounded by death and darkness. But if there's one thing I want to be sure of when I can fight no longer, it's that our grandchildren will grow up in a world free of hatred and violence. Muggle children, wizard children, children whose parents died before Lord Voldemort, children whose parents died for Lord Voldemort, they should all be able to join hands and stand tall, and be able to look out at the world and know that they are safe. If we can accomplish this, then there will be no such thing as the forces of darkness any longer."
Everybody cheered and clapped wildly, shouting and whistling as Dumbledore smiled gratefully, picked up his water glass and drank deeply. Harry found himself clapping so hard his hands hurt. When the applause finally died down, and it was at least a minute, Dumbledore put down his glass and turned to them all.
"Are there any questions?"
Harry put his hand up after a moment, glancing around nervously.
"I was wondering," he said. "Why are the Heliopaths so dangerous?"
Dumbledore smiled weakly. "The Heliopaths are spirits of fire, Harry. They have no true bodies and so physically attacking them is likely to damage you far more than it will them. Nobody is quite sure how they can exist... with no body, there is surely no heart or brain, are therefore life itself seems impossible, though they do. The thing which conjures the greatest fear of Heliopaths is most probably how little we know about them. Where they live, how they live, speech capabilities, anything. What we do know is that they are immensely powerful. Being fire spirits, they of course control fire, conjure it, live in it and can exist only inside it. For this reason they are tremendously difficult to subdue or kill, and the fire must be quenched before the spirit can be tackled."
"Well.. wouldn't a hosepipe...?" Harry began, and the crowd chuckled.
"Yes, hosepipes have been found effective," said Dumbledore, thoughtfully. "Of course, it takes a lot of water to quench a fire so large, and the oxygen in the air around us feeds them to become more powerful. The Heliopaths are dangerous creatures, Harry, probably more deadly than any of us can imagine."
Harry nodded, sitting back, and Mrs Weasley spoke up. "Albus? The children are due to be at school tomorrow, they really need to go to bed..."
Dumbledore nodded. "Of course, Molly. I usually find that warm milk and chocolate biscuits speeds me into the Land of Nod, so they have my hearty recommendation. Goodnight, Harry, Ron, Ginny, Luna."
"Night," said Harry, smiling, as Mrs Weasley lead them all out into the corridor. Mr Weasley followed them out, pulling on his jacket.
"I'll take Luna home, shall I?"
"Yes, I think you should. Into bed, you three, and I don't want to hear a peep out of you until tomorrow morning. Are you all packed?"
Harry and Ron nodded. She kissed them all goodnight and shooed them into their rooms, Ron protesting, "Professor Dumbledore said we could have biscuits!"
"You can have biscuits tomorrow," she said. "Goodnight, dears. Sleep well."
Harry and Ron changed, then got into their beds and settled down under the covers. Ron yawned widely, and then said, "Harry?"
"Let's not tell Hermione about that new subject," he said, sleepily. "So she won't bore us both to death with wondering aloud about it all the way to Hogwarts tomorrow."
Harry smiled into his pillow. "Good idea. Night, Ron."
"Night, Harry." Ron reached out, gave a tug on the chain and the light went out with a chink. Harry was fast asleep within minutes, his dreams lingering on great balls of fire flying across Scotland to a mash potato Hogwarts, crashing plates, popcorn and Snape falling from the astronomy tower, Dumbledore standing above him and shaking his head with a murmured, "I warned you, Severus...", but when he woke up in the morning, he didn't remember a thing.
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