Chapter Forty-Four: The Seige of Hogwarts (Part Four)
Up on the hill near the gates leading into the grounds, the battle was continuing, getting more and more fierce with every second that went by. When the ministry first arrived, the Death Eaters guarding the gates were stunned, and it looked as though the school would be swiftly retaken, with a few good mass stunning charms and maybe a curse or two here or there. But quickly, everybody realised that this war was not going to be a matter of minutes. It would be hours, maybe even days. Death Eater and ministry member were perfectly matched, and no matter how many people were stunned or cursed and fell to the ground where they stood, more and more seemed to appear.
Everybody's greatest fear had become the Heliopaths and the vampires, even the Death Eaters who trained them. There were only three vampires, two still caged for a fact, but the other had mysteriously vanished, and was now out in the grounds somewhere. The Heliopaths continued to burn and claw, and whether it was ministry member or Death Eater they came in contact with, they didn't seem to care.
The sunset came, and finally, the ministry were starting to take the advantage. Half were left on the hill to deal with the Heliopaths and the few Death Eaters that had remained to guard, whilst the others broke through the wall of Voldemort's forces, and headed for the school and the people still besieged inside.
Harry told all this to Snape, as both of them sat trapped inside the shield charm, helpless to the war going on around them. It was just when their spirits started to lift ever so slightly that the Death Eaters decided to stop being quite so courteous, and the first real shock of the battle came.
Harry had already seen various people he knew running down towards the school, even Tonks and Kingsley Shacklebolt, sending curses over their shoulders at the Death Eaters giving chase. There were ministry members he'd glimpsed once or twice before, people that had sat at the high table with Dumbledore, people from the Order of the Phoenix, and Harry pointed them out to Snape.
"One of the Wizengamot just hexed two Death Eaters over by the greenhouses," he said, his eyes travelling back and forth. "And there's a fight going on between one of the Rookwoods and somebody else I don't know..."
"One of the Rookwoods?" said Snape's voice. "Ah, the copying charm..."
"What's that about?" asked Harry.
"Exactly as it sounds," was the reply. "The Dark Lord doesn't have nearly enough Death Eaters... and so he copies those he already has. Poor substitutes for real people; however, the size of the army can outrank skill."
"But... how do we reverse it?" said Harry, wincing a little as four Death Eaters ganged together and stunned one of the ministry members he had seen at the Quidditch World Cup once.
"It's a complex counter-charm." Snape shifted a little. "No doubt Dumbledore will be working on it now."
Harry nodded slightly, careful not to tug too much on the cord around their necks, and then he said, "Terrance McClavity's duelling with one of the Death Eaters... just over there..." He watched, idly, as the curses peppered backwards and forwards, turning nearby trees into twisted sculptures of ash and charcoal. McClavity had the upperhand. He described the fight to Snape as he watched them dart forwards and backwards, matching blow for blow, but then, something happened which made his heart stop.
The Death Eater, frustrated and furious with the battle, brandished his wand, and screamed, "AVADA KEDAVRA!" There was a pulse of green light, and Harry saw McClavity's look of wide-eyed, total shock, before he fell to the ground, lifeless and still.
"What is it?" said Snape, hurriedly, twisting a little against their bonds. "Potter?"
"McClavity," Harry whispered. "He's dead, Terrance McClavity's dead. One of the Death Eaters... it was Avada Kedavra..."
Snape was quiet for a moment. "McClavity was a good man."
"Maybe... maybe I should try and tell somebody," said Harry, worriedly, glancing around the people rushing past towards the school.
"There's no point, Potter, just sit and be still. He won't be the first."
The worst thing was that Snape was right. Barely five minutes later, another ministry member was taken by a group of four Death Eaters, and then two Death Eaters were taken on by the Order of the Phoenix. Harry didn't want to watch anymore. He just closed his eyes, and whenever Snape asked what was happening, Harry lied.
Darkness was starting to fall. The war would be continuing into the night. This, of course, would give the Death Eaters in their black robes an advantage because of camouflage, but they were unaccustomed to the castle. With any luck, the Hogwarts staff and students would be lying in wait for any Death Eaters foolish enough to wander about unarmed. The Heliopaths were now the only light, and many had fallen in the fight. Their skeletons lay in the burnt grass, still ablaze, just as dangerous in death as they were in life. The braver people would pull branches from the trees in the forest, dip them in the flames from the Heliopath corpses and then rush forwards into the fight again, now lethally armed with fire. Water charms were rocketing backwards and forwards, and Harry had counted fourteen times when one hit the shield around him and Snape, and engulfed them for a minute or some in a dome of rippling water.
The fifteenth time this happened, Harry said, quietly, in his mind's voice to Snape, "Water charm over the dome."
"Mmm," came the vague reply. Snape shifted uncomfortably. "Sit up, for the love of Merlin, Potter, I'm not your backrest."
Harry sat up obediently, both of them choked for a moment or so by the cord. Harry said, hoarsely, "We have to get this thing off... I can hardly breathe."
"Yes," said Snape, idly, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "We'll just reach up and take it off then, shall we? No, wait, they've tied our arms together so we can't do that. Who ever would have believed that Death Eaters could think ahead in such a way?"
Harry frowned, and nodded his head forward, making Snape choke for a moment. "Now you know what it's like wearing that stupid collar," he said, as Snape recaptured his breath.
Snape was quiet at that, his breath held, as though he'd suddenly thought of something. "Potter! The collar!"
"What about it?"
"Are you wearing it?"
"Um... yes... why?"
"Oh, use your brain, Potter! If we can get it to vibrate, it should loosen the neck bonds."
"Yeah," said Harry, sarcastically. "That's what I was thinking."
Next second, he regretted the sarcasm, as he heard Snape's muffled voice huff into his gag, "Zcurdya," and the collar buzzed angrily. Harry yelped with surprise as the entire neck bond echoed the buzz and just shocked him twice. Snape jumped, and his mind's voice said, "I don't remember designing it to be that strong... Potter, have you been tampering with your collar?"
"No!" said Harry, fiercely. He paused, and said, "Well... yes. A bit. Just once. I tried a loosening charm on it."
"Idiot boy," said Snape. He sighed. "Brace yourself. This will hurt."
Again, another shock shot across Harry's neck and he instinctively backed away from it, smacking his skull on the back of Snape's with a nasty crack.
"Damn it, Potter!"
"It's getting looser, brace yourself again."
Zap. Harry tried very hard to stop himself headbutting Snape again, and luckily, there were no more shocks, as the cord was now loose enough for them to both breathe properly. "There," said Snape's voice in his mind.
"Professor?" said Harry, finally glad of some air, watching the water dome melt away.
"How long are we going to be here for?"
Snape was quiet for a moment. "Some time. Don't count on anything miraculous happening any time soon. At the moment, the school is top priority, and as we are in no danger - Potter, what in the name of the founders four is wrong with you?"
For Harry had twisted his head to stare at the entrance to the gates, and he was absolutely and utterly lost for words, as he realised what was coming floating over the hills towards them. At first, he couldn't believe what he was seeing, sure he was hallucinating, but no. Other people were turning to stare at the latest edition to the battlefield, some of them with open mouths, all of them looking absolutely amazed. There were two Death Eaters and a ministry member all throttling each other nearby, and all three of them had forgotten to fight, too shocked by what they saw floating over towards the grounds.
"Potter!" Snape barked. "What is it? What's happening? Potter!"
Harry shook his head for a moment, and then said, unable to keep the laughter from his voice, "It's The House Of Fun."
Fred and George's masterpiece, Weasley's Wizard Wheezes House Of Fun, was floating pleasantly over the gates now, sailing along like a huge brightly painted cloud, as though it was just going for its early morning sail. As Harry watched, one of the large windows on the bottom floor was thrown open, and Fred and George's heads poked out.
"SORRY WE'RE LATE!!" Fred bellowed down at the stunned crowd below. "WHAT HAVE WE MISSED?"
Harry then realised that loud country music was playing from a large tube sticking out of the back end of the house, like an exhaust pipe, as it floated over head, expelling huge glossy multi-coloured purple bubbles every few seconds with a noise like a rubber chicken. Harry chanced a glance over at the courtyard, still shielding Ron and the others, and he fell about laughing as he saw Ron's expression of total and utter disbelief.
Something came tumbling neatly out of the window of the House Of Fun, something shaped like a giant rocket, and the two twins bellowed, "BOMBS AWAY!!" as the missile soared towards the ground. The Death Eaters all screamed and tried to run out of the way, but they were too late, as the rocket hit its target and there was a huge bang. Paint flew in every single direction, showering everybody in a fifty metre radius with swirling pink and green dots.
It was absolute pandemonium, of the sort that Harry hadn't seen since the food fight months ago. Fred and George in the House Of Fun were still floating pleasantly about, and every few seconds, another rocket would come whizzing out of one of the windows heading for as many people as it could. The Death Eaters, too shocked at such a light-hearted attack, were being picked off by the ministry members in their hundreds as they ran for cover from the airborne Weasley Bomber. People raced back and forth across the grounds, pursued by ministry members and Fred and George's rockets, all accompanied by the pleasant tones of a good old fashioned country hoedown.
The remaining Heliopaths had been struck temporarily dumb by this new occurrence, and two were walking along after the flying house, sniffing at it curiously. They were swiftly dealt with, as a rocket burst in their faces and doused out half their flames with bright yellow paint. They shrieked, lashing out furiously at the house, but rocket after rocket was lobbed out of the window, until finally, both of them sunk to the ground, overcome by paint and purple bubbles. Fred and George cheered and shared a high-five, before the flying house turned around, and started flying back.
Hogwarts and the ministry were getting the advantage now, thanks to the havoc created by the Weasley twins, and the Death Eaters were being completely annihilated. Wave after wave were knocked unconscious to the ground by the ministry spells, and this time when the House Of Fun started releasing bombs, it was feathers that exploded from inside. Hogwarts had been completely transformed several times in the last hours, from a happy school, to hell on earth, a war zone, and now the land of human chickens, as people covered in paint and feathers ran back and forth, trying to avoid the floating house.
"Potter!" said Snape, urgently in his mind. "What's happening? What's all the noise?"
"Fred and George in a flying house have arrived," said Harry, hurriedly, gleefully watching one of the Rookwoods running past screaming with a feather bomb in hot pursuit. "They've dropped paint and feathers everywhere, and big purple bubbles."
There was a pause, and then Snape said, "Potter, this is no time for games. Tell me what's really happening."
Another feather bomb went off nearby, and the dome was splattered with the little fluttery tufts, blocking Harry's view of the chaos. He pushed backwards hard, creasing Snape over, and then straining his arms backwards. "Take off the blindfold!" he said.
There was movement from Snape, and then the blindfold came down, and he sat back up. Harry could well imagine the look on Snape's face as he stared around at the feathers starting to get peeled off in the wind. "Merlin's beard," Snape's voice breathed.
"I told you so," said Harry, chuckling. "It's their House Of Fun, it's based in Diagon Alley, but I guess they - "
"Quiet," Snape hissed, suddenly.
Harry fell silent. The music had suddenly stopped, as had the squawks from the exhaust pipe of the fun house, and everything was deathly silent. Harry heard Fred shouting, "George, turn us around, we're going off course!"
"I can't!" his brother shouted. "It's stuck, something's tampering with the steering!"
"But it's foolproof!" Fred's voice said, but they were getting further away, and through the gaps in the feathers, Harry saw the House Of Fun starting to float away out of the grounds, heading for the hills. "It can't be broken! You must have done something wrong!"
"I haven't, I haven't!" George protested. "Come and see, it's breaking down!"
Their shouts got further into the distance, as the house, steering charm broken, began to float away. And unfortunately, it was the Death Eaters who got back into action first. No longer chased by the Weasleys' rockets, they were free to turn around, raise their wands, and the cursing started again.
Harry clenched his eyes tight shut as the ministry were hit hard by illegal curses. The Death Eaters, furious at being humiliated in such a way, were resorting to their worst methods yet. Cruciatus and Avada Kedavra took reign over the grounds again, as people started to fall.
"Potter!" Snape said, suddenly, "Don't look!"
Harry caught a split second's view of Kingsley Shacklebolt running past, with a Death Eater in pursuit, before he clenched his eyes shut and the bullet of red light hit Kingsley in the back. The screaming was so terrible Harry felt as though it was getting into his heart, inside his mind, tearing away at him. He tried to get away from the noise, desperately bunching his shoulders up around his ears, but it wasn't enough to hear the growl of the Death Eater. "Avada Kedavra..." Kingsley gave one last scream of pain, and then he fell quiet. Harry felt himself going cold, shrinking further and further backwards against Snape, trying to get away from what he knew he would see when he opened his eyes again.
Harry wished Fred and George had never come now. The temporary advantage over the Death Eaters was no compensation for the ministry members being killed now. People were screaming all around the grounds, spells flying back and forth, the Death Eaters were reforming as a huge group, and the chanting began again.
The ministry may have had a hold over the Death Eaters when they were divided, but now that the solid black mass was shrinking together up on the hill to form a huge crowd of Death Eaters, all of them chanting and brandishing wands or flaming branches, the ministry were powerless.
The Death Eaters were moving closer to the school, shouting their angry and fury to the sky, like a huge black shadow just making its way through the grounds, illuminated only by the flickering fire torches they carried. Harry found himself getting scared, and Snape's voice was saying, "Potter, just stay calm...", but it made no difference.
A branch of the Death Eaters had broken off, and were coming towards Harry and Snape instead. Harry saw the face of the real Rookwood and five copies marching towards them, lit by the amber glow of the fire. He felt sick now. Sick that he'd been laughing only minutes before. Snape was still talking into his mind, issuing him hurried instructions, sympathy, comfort, but Harry couldn't think anymore. All he felt now was fear, sick fear, that the Death Eaters were coming.
But then, Harry saw the shield around them shiver, and a dark little shape burst through the seal into the dome, breathing hurried and panicky. "Harry Potter! Harry Potter!" There were tiny hands grasping his bonds, and tearing at them frantically, trying to get them undone. Looking over his shoulder, Harry saw Dobby the house-elf, half-concealed under a cloak.
"Dobby! You have to go, Dobby, they're coming!" Harry panted, looking at the troop of advancing Death Eaters, and they were getting close now. "Run Dobby, run!"
"No, Harry Potter, sir! Dobby will save you!" The elf was crying, still tearing at Harry's bonds, trying to rip them undone. "Harry Potter must not die! He is too great to lose!"
"They'll kill you, Dobby, go!" Harry pleaded with him.
Dobby shook his head, tears splashing down his face, and the first string of the bonds came undone. "Dobby will sooner die than see Harry Potter killed!"
Harry subconsciously knew what was coming, a few split-seconds before it actually happened, and it sent a cold rush through his body. He started to panic, desperately pleading with Dobby to run, as he saw Rookwood raising his wand. But Dobby wouldn't go.
And even if Dobby had turned and run at just that moment, it wouldn't have saved him.
"Avada kedavra!" Rookwood announced to the darkness, and a jet of green light burst from the end of his wand. Dobby gave a gasp, and a final tug at the bonds, refusing to stop even though the bullet was shooting towards him, and then, it hit.
"NO!" Harry screamed, but it did no good.
Dobby tensed up, and then he fell, hitting the mud with one last sigh before he was gone.
He was dead.
Harry twisted against his bonds, trying to wriggle free and do something, anything, but there was nothing he could do. Rookwood stepped before Harry, stretched out one foot, and physically kicked Dobby's lifeless body away. Harry felt tears pouring down his face as Dobby came to a stop nearby, his tiny, cold body lying just outside the pool of light from one of the dead Heliopaths. Harry could see the light of the fire flickering off Dobby's tears.
"How touching," Rookwood murmured. "Loyal, house elves... aren't they?"
Harry couldn't speak from anger and misery. Dobby was an innocent. All he was doing was trying to save Harry, and now the elf was dead, kicked away like a ragdoll, his last living act of trying to save Harry tossed aside.
"Not laughing any more, are you, Potter?" Rookwood whispered. His wand was trained on Snape.
"Why?" said Harry, his voice choked with tears. "Why? What did he do to you?"
"Cared about you," was Rookwood's breathless, icy-cold reply. His wand tip left Snape, and instead drifted to Harry, resting between his eyes, as Rookwood reached down and grasped Harry's fringe, jerking it backwards. Harry gave a cry of pain, feeling his scar burning at Rookwood being so close. The Death Eater traced a single, cold finger across it, and the pain in Harry's scar seemed to double. "Foolish boy... foolish, foolish boy..." Rookwood was whispering, still stroking Harry's scar, the pain gradually increasing.
"Leave him, Rookwood," Snape snarled, furiously.
Rookwood ignored Snape, and went to touch Harry's scar again, but with a cry of pain he drew his hand back, grasping his fingers. They were burnt, blistering and red. Rookwood creased over, his face tightening in rage, before he drew his hand back again.
Harry heard the crack before he felt the pain, as Rookwood struck him hard around the head and he yelped with agony. "You ought to learn some manners," Rookwood snarled, suddenly very close to Harry's face again. "And learn your place."
He drew back his hand again, going to strike Harry a second time, but his attention was suddenly distracted as there was a noise like breaking glass, and one by one, the copies of himself burst into flames. Rookwood wheeled around. "What the - "
The ground was sprinkled with ashes, and in moments, all traces of Rookwood's copies were completely gone. Harry looked up at the hillside, and saw fires erupting all over the place, as every single Death Eater copy was destroyed. Almost the entire crowd was ablaze, and it only took a few seconds before the fires flickered out, and the full extent of Lord Voldemort's army was revealed. There were barely twenty Death Eaters left.
Rookwood's eyes filled with fear, staring up at the hillside, with the hundreds of ministry members, and the lone twenty Death Eaters. "No," he whispered, backing away. "Damn! Damn it!"
"The copying charm!" one of the Death Eaters howled from the hillside. "The copying charm! They've broken the copying charm!"
And if things couldn't get any worse for the Death Eaters, there was suddenly a roar from the top parapets of the astronomy tower, and a jet of flame burst into the black night sky. Everybody, ministry and Death Eater, drew back worriedly, but then Harry realised just what it was taking flight into the darkness, and he yelled, "IT'S HAGRID!!"
It was probably the most magnificent sight that Harry had ever seen. Hagrid, seated upon the back of Kibbles, gliding down from the rooftop, glossy green wings beating in the blackness, giving jets of flames every few seconds. Harry had never felt such a strong feeling of hope and pride before in his life. Kibbles was roaring and Hagrid was bellowing as they descended down towards the remaining Death Eaters, and they scattered, running in all directions. The ministry were after them in a heartbeat, and the dragon and its rider were flying low to the ground, hot on the tail of the Death Eaters who were trying to escape.
Kibbles and Hagrid were coming this way. Harry knew the shield charm would protect Snape and himself from the flames, but Rookwood was a different story. He turned, screaming, stumbling over the hem of his own robes as he tried to run, but Hagrid and Kibbles were gaining fast. And the only place Rookwood could run was blocked by the flaming corpse of the Heliopath.
Harry saw him turn to face the oncoming dragon, his eyes wide with fear, his greasy skin gleaming in the light of the roaring flames surging towards him. For a moment, Harry remembered that Lucius Malfoy had died like this, facing Rookwood, knowing that death was coming, and he felt a surge of justice at last for Draco and his family.
The flames, which surely should have hit Rookwood by now, were arcing away. It took a few moments for the effect to show properly, but when it did, Kibbles's jets of flames and smoke weren't even touching Rookwood, but curling around him in a ball, as though deflected by some huge spherical shield. Rookwood looked as shocked at this as everybody else. He stared around, his eyes wide with even more fear, clearly stunned and alarmed by what was happening.
It took perhaps half a second more for Harry to realise who was protecting Rookwood. For the flames weren't being deflected by a thing - but a person. A person that shimmered into view in the light of the fire, standing over Rookwood, arms spread out, and the flames were just curling around that figure, as though the laws of physics had no power any longer.
At the same moment as the realisation came, Harry felt a horrible, searing pain across his scar. He screamed with the intensity, arching back, all his vision and thoughts instantly wiped away by the pure, blinding agony. It was as though everything inside his brain was dissolving, leaving nothing but a hiss, a distant roar of flames, and in the back chamber of his mind, the sight of that black figure to whom fire was no worthy foe.
He saw, as though he wasn't really watching at all but just remembering a distant memory, the person in the fire raise one hand, and snap its fingers. Kibbles bucked backwards, instantly thrown aside by some huge force, even bigger than the car-sized dragon. Kibbles gave a shriek of anger and fright, whirling around, his tail swishing lethally along the ground at the dark-robed figure standing in front of Rookwood.
There was a metallic chink, and Kibbles's massive tail just reflected back, unable to get anywhere near the cowering Death Eater and his saviour.
"Call it off," a high, cold, cruel voice hissed from the middle of the rising smoke.
Kibbles was snarling, his hackles raised, tail swishing back and forth, though he backed away all the same. Perhaps, Harry thought, it was the same for animals. He just had that sense of power, and could inflict fear over them, as he could with humans.
The smoke was finally drifting up and away, and through the blinding agony in his scar, Harry could see those crimson eyes staring down at him, that pale serpentine face, scarred and twisted out of any human recognition. Lord Voldemort's lips curled into an ominous, horrible, gut-wrenching smirk.
"Hello again... Harry..."
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