Chapter Forty-One: The Seige of Hogwarts (Part One)
Harry left the hospital wing a few days later, after Madam Pomfrey gave him a clean bill of health, and as he left, he heard her note to Professor McGonagall, "having friends around him has helped a great deal. Particularly Malfoy. I’d give him access to the Gryffindor Common Room if I were you, Minerva... it certainly would help."
It was hard to tell who was happier about this, Draco or Harry. The rest of the Gryffindors were very wary at first, and many of them didn’t trust Draco near their belongings, but after a while, they got used to the idea. Ron still despised Draco and tried to put Draco in detention one night for sitting in his favourite chair.
Oddly, things started to pick up a little for Harry. It was though life had realized at last just what hell it had put Harry through, and had decided to give him a bit of a break. Homework slackened off, and everybody was suddenly being very nice to him. He knew this was partly from sympathy – they’d all found out about Kainda by now. Though nobody was treating him as though he was seriously ill, as he thought they might. They were just being friendly.
One thing that was going wrong in Harry’s life was the return of pains in his scar. He knew why this was happening. They were all warning signs. The Dark Mark on Draco’s lower back wasn’t getting any lighter, and had started oozing a dark red substance that was horribly like blood. He had to wear a bandage over his lower back all the time, in case it started bleeding in lessons and leaked through his robes. Harry had breeched the subject of the Dark Mark with Snape one night during occlumency practice. Snape didn’t seem too eager to talk much about it, but when the Potions master saw how worried Harry was about it, Snape said, simply, "It won’t get any darker now. If something is going to happen, it will, regardless of what colour somebody’s tattoo is."
Whenever Harry’s scar hurt, there always seemed to be somebody around to talk about it. Ron, Hermione and Draco were with him all the time, but if they were in other classes and he got a pain in his head, the teacher would often just look up, see he had a headache, and come over discretely to say, "You’re excused, Potter… go get a drink of water. See me about the homework tonight." Harry had an idea that Dumbledore had told the teachers to give him this priviledge, and he was very grateful of it.
The whole of Hogwarts seemed to be rallying together. Harry noticed that it wasn’t just him who was getting the good will. People were helping each other in the corridors, offering to do jobs for professors, sharing food at dinner. Even Snape was seen in the astronomy tower one day, administering an anti-rusting draft to the telescope eyepieces as a rather smug-looking Sinistra watched him with a smile.
The relaxed, warm atmosphere at Hogwarts carried all the way through the rest of the month, to when Professor Flitwick’s "Weird Sisters" calendar proclaimed that it was June, and time to book your Weird Sisters Christmas Concert tickets.
It was a Friday morning, and the third hour of Defence Against The Dark Arts was upon them. This lesson was always fun. Once their work was over during the first two hours, Professor Lupin was free to teach them more interesting, entertaining things. To most of the class's delight, they had recently progressed onto wizarding machines, and most specifically, those used by dark wizards.
So far, Lupin had shown them some of the most horrible torture instruments Harry had ever seen in his life. There were various weapons, all looking very lethal indeed, a wide selection of illegal items confiscated from wizarding homes (most of them wearing the label "From Malfoy Manor, Handle With Caution") and to Harry's surprise, one of the doubling coins that Snape had given him. Everybody watched, astounded, as Lupin held the coin tight in his hand, opening his palm, and revealed that another one had appeared. Everytime he squeezed his palm, the coins doubled.
"I could really, really do with one of those," said Ron, with wide eyes. "Where do you get them?"
"We think they originated from a bank in the south of France," Lupin explained. "It was an ordinary muggle bank, but a wizard worked there, and started experimenting on the muggle money. It wasn't long before he'd found out how to duplicate it flawlessly. After muggle money, he progressed onto wizarding. However, it's very hard to create one of these. There are only about ten in the whole world which create acceptable copies."
"And is that one of them?" asked Harry, trying not to sound as though he had another of the ten in his bag right at the moment.
Lupin nodded. "Discovered by accident. A great deal of money was found hidden under the floor of a muggle church, probably left there by wizard smugglers years ago. Somebody picked up one of the coins, and two fell from his hand."
"How can you tell which one is the doubling coin?" said Ron.
"The warm one," said Lupin. He tipped the excess coins into a bag, and locked them in the drawer of his desk, firmly pocketing the key. "A doubling coin was stolen from Gringotts about six months ago, and hasn't been retrieved since. The goblins have no idea how it was taken."
Harry felt a guilty squirm. Snape had given him the doubling coin about six months ago. He made a mental note to ask his magical guardian just where and how he had gotten the coin, and glanced back at Lupin, just as the professor starting heaving something out of a box under his desk.
"Everybody sit back now," said Lupin. "This is possibly one of the most dangerous, and I'd hate to cause anybody to lose their eyesight..." and he swung from under the table what looked like a muggle baseball bat, embedded with two-inch long needles. Everybody gasped and instantly scraped their chairs back. Lupin placed the end carefully on the desk, holding it around the handle, turning it around so they could all get a good look.
"What's so magical about it?" asked Hermione, raising an eyebrow. "Lethal, yes... but a good shield charm would deflect it."
"The inside is not solid wood," said Lupin, calmly. "A phoenix tail feather is built into it, so it can be used as a wand. Also, the needles are not just sharp. They're filled with a very lethal poison. I'm sure Professor Snape can tell you more about the various poisons used in Needle Bats."
"Where was that found?" asked a wide-eyed Hufflepuff at Harry's elbow.
"A place near Leeds," said Lupin, calmly. "Halfway through Voldemort's reign of terror. A gang of teenagers were found with it, vandalising a bus shelter. They were muggle teenagers."
"Muggles?" said Harry. "But... where did they get it?" He couldn't really imagine a group of muggle teenagers just coming across such a savage weapon in the bushes somewhere, and deciding to use it.
"Probably an anti-muggle Death Eater," said Lupin, as though explaining the calmest and most peaceful thing in the world. "They give a group of muggles a Needle Bat, the muggles go off with it, and they can cause nearly as much damage as a wizard with it - but unknowingly."
"Whoever made that is really sick," said Ron, staring at the brutal club, as Lupin took an orange from the edge of his desk.
"Watch carefully," he said. They all sat forward eagerly. Lupin tilted the Needle Bat, and holding the orange carefully in his hand, he pushed it down onto a few of the spikes, then took his fingers away quickly. The orange was instantly taking on a green hue, as tiny veins of a lime-coloured liquid spread across its surface. Lupin explained as the orange became slowly infected. "One of the fastest moving venoms in known history. And one of the most efficient as well. It travels through the blood stream, but sticks to the walls of the veins and arteries. There is no known antidote."
"And there were muggles wandering about Leeds with one of these?" said a Ravenclaw, her eyebrows so high up they were nearly hidden underneath her hair.
Lupin nodded solemnly. "Senseless acts of violence. There has, of course, been a law passed prohibiting the use or possession of Needle Bats, but - "
Everybody in the class jumped suddenly, as a blood-curdling scream tore the air apart, coming from the direction of the next corridor. Harry jolted and felt his muscles tense up, and judging by everybody else's reactions, they'd been shocked too.
Frowning worriedly, Lupin replaced the bat in the box, and moved over to the door. Harry watched him peer out of it, looking left and right up and down the corridor, still frowning. "How odd," the professor murmured. "It must have just been - " But he stopped talking again, as another noise reached their ears. It was an odd, rhythmic rumbling noise.
Harry instinctively shifted a little closer to Ron and Hermione, as the whole class looked around. Some people were getting scared. "What is it?" said Lavender Brown, her eyes as wide as golfballs.
"It's... people talking," said Ron, frowning, looking confused.
Harry listened more, and realised it wasn't talking at all. It was chanting, by many, many people at once, far away, but all of them singing the same line over and over. Whatever it was, it was coming closer.
"It'll just be another lesson," said Lupin, though Harry wasn't at all comforted by the nervous notes in his normally level voice. "There's no need for alarm..."
"Then who screamed?" said Ron, next to Harry. Harry noticed that both Ron and Hermione had shifted closer to him. Hermione was trying to catch his eye.
Lupin looked a little awkward at this, and opened his mouth to attempt an explanation, but he was cut off by another scream. This time, it was Lavender Brown who made the noise, as she leapt to her feet, pointing out of the window and gasping, "LOOK!"
Harry wheeled around, as the whole class sprinted towards the window. Hermione grabbed his arm and pulled him over, and he looked out upon a scene he had been dreading for months upon end. Even when they were two hills away, he recognised the Death Eaters.
They were the ones chanting. All moving in a single-file line, like a great black snake, winding its way down the mountain. They just kept coming and coming. When Harry thought no more would appear over the crest of the hill, another group would start. He tried to count. Ten, twenty, thirty... fifty... he knew there must be hundreds. All of them chanting, all carrying long black staffs, all with silver masks covering their faces. Harry was too frozen with fear to move. He just stood and watched, as more Death Eaters poured towards the castle, their singing growing louder with every step. Even worse, he then caught sight of a huge head coming over the hill, and a giant came into view, holding a staff that was more like a tree trunk, chanting along with the Death Eaters. It was happening. He couldn't move, as he realised that it was actually happening, after months and months of waiting, it was all starting.
And then, so suddenly that his heart stopped from fright, the siren began to scream, one long quavering note, like a war cry. All the class were starting to scream too, with panic, and some people were running for the door, knocking over desks to get out.
"Do not panic!" Lupin roared over the noise. "Come with me, quickly, into my office! There is no need to panic!"
"OH YEAH?!" Ron yelled. "What about THAT?!"
Harry looked out of the window at where he was pointing, and what he saw nearly made him faint. A group of Death Eaters, all still singing and bellowing their horrible song to the sky, had come over the hill, dragging a cage on wheels. And inside the cage was a very pale, white-skinned creature, bound in black material, the front of its robes stained with blood. A vampire. And more giants were coming now, five, six, seven, another vampire in a cage, Death Eaters by the hundreds, and every voice was now chanting that song. It could even be heard over the shriek of the siren, as though the voices were inside Harry's mind.
Hermione and Ron grabbed him by the back of the robes where he had been frozen with fear at the windows, dragging him across the room. As he passed his desk, he reached out and grabbed his bag, clamping it to his chest.
"Harry, no, leave it!" shouted Lupin. "It will slow you down! Quickly! There isn't much time!"
Harry wouldn't let it go. Ron gave up trying to prize it off him, and just hauled him through the door into Lupin's office. Lupin slammed it after them, as the siren died. Harry almost wished it would come back. The Death Eaters' chanting was driving him insane. He could now hear words to the song, and though he couldn't hear every verse, he could pick out enough to make him feel sick.
"Mudbloods, half-breeds, slime blood sources! Surrender to the Dark Lord's forces! Fire and blood, the darkness shall come, fed on flames and muggleborn scum!"
Everybody was huddled together now around Professor Lupin. He was doing his best to comfort people, though Harry could see he was just as scared as them. Hermione suddenly grabbed Ron and Harry and hugged them, so tight they could hardly breathe, as she trembled, "We'll be okay... we'll be okay..."
"We're going to die," said Harry, quietly.
The only reply to this statement was a heart-stopping crash as the bars slid into place over the doors and windows. The protection didn't make Harry feel any better. They were still trapped. Still vulnerable. Every spell that he had ever been taught to defend himself with had suddenly been wiped out of his head. Ron looked to be thinking the same things. His cousin was biting his lip, and murmuring something under his breath.
"Are you okay?" asked Harry.
Ron nodded vaguely. "Just a bit... scared. I don't know what class Ginny's in at the moment... I want to know if she's alright."
"She will be," Hermione soothed. "Just be calm and relax, and we'll get out of this fine... the teachers will get rid of the Death Eaters, and that's that."
"There are hundreds of them," said Harry. He wasn't surprised at the tremble in his voice. "And vampires, Hermione... and giants... What about Hagrid and Kibbles? And the opsittops? They're all outside... the Death Eaters will kill them..."
"Hagrid's got sense," said Hermione. "He'll have run inside now, with the opsittops. Everybody will be fine." She tightened her grip on Ron and Harry's necks. "We'll all be fine."
"Children," said a soft voice from the fireplace. Harry looked around, and saw Dumbledore standing there next to the fireplace. "Come with me... you are being moved to the dungeons, for extra safety."
There was something comforting about the sight of Dumbledore's face, so calm and collected, that made Harry's mind stop throbbing with fear, even if just for a moment. He crossed the room, and stood in line, watching as his classmates scrambled into the fireplace and were whisked away in a whirl of flames. Lupin hurried Ron and Hermione in, and then turned to him, as Dumbledore vanished. "Come on, Harry," he said, calmly. "You'll be safe in the dungeons."
Harry nodded, and was about to step through into the fire, when he saw something out of the window that made him stop. There was a fire starting over the hill. At first, Harry thought that the Death Eaters had set fire to the Forbidden Forest - before he realised that it wasn't something as harmless as just a fire. The grounds seemed to be turning into hell on earth, and appearing over the hill were huge, towering figures, like the skeletons of dinosaurs, but they were ablaze. They left footprints the size of cars, and even the air around them had burst into flames. Heliopaths. Harry realised now why the wizarding community were so scared of them.
"Harry!" said Lupin, urgently.
Harry nodded, turning away from the window and darting towards the fire. Lupin leapt in with him, and in a whoosh of flames and ash, they were whipped away from the Dark Arts office.
The contrast of warm, harmless fire around his skin and the cold and damp of the dungeons was quite startling. It was somehow darker than he remembered it. Looking around, he realised he didn't even recognise the room he was in. There weren't any windows or doors, and if they were there, he couldn't pick them out through the gloom. All the other students were huddled around in groups, pale-faced, wide-eyed and scared.
Hermione's voice spoke in Harry's ear. "Harry? Is that you?"
He turned around and nodded, scanning her darkened face. "Yeah... where's everybody else?"
"They're over in the corner," she said, quietly. "Come on... watch where you step..."
They made their way silently through the crowds of people, past crying groups of girls, teachers trying to comfort the frightened students, and packs of terrified first years. Almost everybody was silent. What was there to say?
Hermione lead Harry over to one of the far corners of the blocked-off dungeon room, where Ron, Draco, Ginny, Neville and Luna were all waiting. Neville looked as though he was about to die of fright. Ron had a firm arm around his little sister. Draco was leaning against one of the walls, holding where the Dark Mark was, his face contorted in pain, and Luna was looking fairly blank and hollow, as she stared around at various people.
"Harry?" Neville whispered, his voice little more than a squeak, as Harry was pulled into the middle of the group.
"Yeah, it's me," he said. "You alright, Neville?"
"No," Neville quivered. Harry could feel him shaking fretfully. "I... I'm scared..."
"We all are, Mr Longbottom," said a deep voice nearby, as a shadow Harry recognised as Alrister came striding over through the darkness. "Is there anybody missing that you know of? Any friends?"
"No," said Hermione. "Um... Professor? How long will we be here?"
Alrister's silhouette shook its head. "I don't know, Miss Granger... quite some time I expect. Try to stay calm and get comfortable."
"Can't we get a light on?" said Ginny. "Please, Professor... I don't like the dark..."
"You're all welcome to get your wands out," said Alrister. "But no noise, okay? Let's keep things quiet... and don't start any fires." He sounded very grim indeed. "They'll be able to sense them."
"They?" quivered Neville.
"The Heliopaths," said Alrister, heavily. "But with any luck, the ministry reinforcements will be here as soon as possible... we'll be out of here in time for tea, don't worry. Potter? Where are you?"
"I'm here," said Harry, moving forward. Alrister's hand fumbled vaguely around for a moment then grasped him gently by the arm.
"You've got to stay with the teachers, Harry," said Alrister. "Come on with me."
"Can't we come with him?" asked Ron's voice from Harry's shoulder.
Alrister sounded a little reluctant. "Well... technically, no..."
"But we're his moral support," said Ron. "Please, Professor, he'll be happier and calmer with us around him, won't you, Harry?"
"I will really, Sir," said Harry.
Alrister gave a quiet sigh for a moment, and then said, "Alright, but stick close. I'm not rooting around in all the students to find you again if you get lost."
Harry let Alrister lead him off through the crowds of people, across the dungeons, with all his friends following behind. Draco was staggering a little from the obvious pain in his back. Ron very kindly helped him with this by prodding him in the head whenever he slowed down.
Finally, Alrister stopped, and said, "I've got him."
"And a few spares?" drawled Snape's voice from the blackness before Harry. He couldn't even see a vague shadow to tell him where the Potions master was.
"Moral support," said Alrister. "Have we got everybody here? Not lost anyone, have we?"
"I haven't heard Luna say anything for a while," said Ron's voice.
"Why should I speak, when I have nothing to tell?" came Luna's dreamy voice from the back of the group.
"Oh," said Ron, disappointedly. "She's still here."
"Be quiet," Snape's voice hissed from the darkness. "Potter, come here..." A cold hand curled around Harry's wrist, and pulled him forward away from his friends. There was movement before him, as Snape crouched down to look at him properly, and Harry could only just pick out the white of his skin and the dark shadows that were his eyes. Alrister had started a conversation with the rest of his friends to mask Snape's words to Harry. "Scared, Potter?" the Potions master's voice murmured.
"A little," Harry admitted, quietly. "Professor? My... my scar's starting to hurt."
"Understandably," Snape muttered. Harry felt the Potions master inspecting his scar, and just stood still, letting him get on with it. Snape then said, so quietly that Harry could hardly hear him, "Do you have the bag?"
"What bag?" said Harry.
"Your emergency bag," said Snape, impatiently.
"Yes," said Harry. He unzipped his schoolbag, and reached inside to fish out the velvet pouch, but Snape stopped his hand.
"Not now, Potter," he muttered, a slightly patronising note in his voice. "Keep it out of sight, but at hand, should it be needed. Though I still expect you to think before you use anything from it - those items are a very, very last resort. Just before a suicide pill. Are we clear?"
"Yessir," said Harry, nodding, even though Snape couldn't see it.
There was suddenly a cold feeling at his shoulder, and a voice said, "Haven't missed anything, have I?"
"Peter?" said Harry. He felt his spectral magical guardian giving him a very chilly, watery hug for a moment, then said, "Are they inside the school yet?"
"No," said Peter's voice. "Far from... I just went to have a look from one of the windows upstairs. They seem to just be rallying together at the moment, waiting for something. They're all there though. Well, I can't see any others coming over the hill."
"No, Peelish," said Snape's voice. "There are still more to come."
"Oh?" said Peter. "Are there really?"
"Mmm," said Snape, in a very scathing way. "Or are you, myself and Malfoy not counted as Death Eaters any longer?"
"Oh yeah," said Peter, remembering.
"Peter?" said Harry, suddenly realising something he'd never asked before. "Where's your Dark Mark? How can they mark a ghost?"
"I was marked when I was in a human form," Peter explained. "It only shows up when I'm like that. Lucky me, huh, Snape?"
"You insufferable cloud of smoke," Snape hissed. Harry felt the professor grasp his forearm convulsively. "Do not talk about things you don't understand."
Harry heard Peter chuckle. "Sorry Sev."
"Do not call me Sev," came the hissed reply.
"Can I go now?" Harry asked.
"No," said Snape's voice. "You are to stay here with Peelish, myself and the Weasleys, for your own protection. In case you haven't noticed, the school is being besieged by Death Eaters."
"How long am I going to have to stand glued to your side?" asked Harry, trying not to sound too waspish.
"As long as is necessary," said Snape, coolly. Harry felt him draw his wand out of his sleeve, give it a flick, and then the Potions master handed Harry a plastic cube. "A Rubix cube... some bland uninspiring little muggle device, child's play, though it should keep you entertained for at least a few hours."
"But I can't even see the colours," said Harry.
"Which makes it all the more challenging," said Snape. "Let's up the stakes, shall we? If you manage to complete it by the time we leave here, I will consider sparing your class the end of term test."
"And what if I don't?" said Harry, raising his eyebrows.
"A week's detention should do the trick, I think," said Snape, thoughtfully.
Harry stared at the darkness before him, and spluttered, "You can't put me in detention for just not doing a puzzle!"
Snape chuckled. "Oh, but that's the only good part of my job."
Peter's voice gasped next to Harry. "Did I just hear what I thought I did? Or am I dreaming? Could that have possibly been the first real joke that Snape has ever told in his life? Surely my ears deceive me!"
"Alternatively, Potter, if you get bored with that cube, just ram it down Peelish's throat, it would no doubt amuse us all for at least a few minutes."
Peter made a funny noise of contempt. "I don't have a throat, Snape, if you hadn't noticed. Perhaps you should open your eyes once in a while, that is, if you can successfully get your head from out of your own - "
And that was when the rumbling started.
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