A Sixth year (pre-HBP) story: Harry decides the best way to fight back is to take the DA to the next level. He succeeds better than he thought he would. In this chapter, the first preparations for...
Friday, March 28, 1997
"I thought you weren't talking to me?" Ron demanded hotly.
Hermione glared up at Ron. "This is it, Ron," she said softly, Ginny and Neville supporting her from the back. "Are you going to sulk, or fight?"
Ron went pale. "Tonight?"
Hermione shook her head. "No, but soon. The officers, especially the sextet, have to meet and talk." She hesitated, but then told the three, "Trelawney has made another prediction. It concerns the six of us. And, some other things have happened we need to talk about."
"Alright," Ron agreed. "The usual room?"
Hermione just nodded. "We'll meet half an hour after dinner. Try and be inconspicuous."
"Right; after all a dozen or so people sneaking about are so inconspicuous," Ron muttered.
The sextet plus Ernie, Justin, Susan, Hannah, Padma, Lisa, Anthony, and Terry met in the DA officers room. Hermione explained about the finding of the secret room, and then the translation of the old codex. The eleven students who hadn't known of the ritual were of course shocked and even sickened by the idea. When Harry explained how several pregnant Muggles had already been cannibalized for practice, Ginny and Padma nearly lost their dinners.
"And why do we finally get to learn this?" Ernie demanded.
"Right," a very pale Justin agreed. "Did we really need to know this?"
"You need to know because Malfoy, Pansy, and Goyle escaped this morning," Harry told them. "They're being hidden somewhere in the castle for the time being."
"That took a lot of nerve, even for Malfoy," Ron said. "Showing his murdering face here! If it wasn't for the benefits this ritual might give Riddle, I'd say send 'em back!"
"Ron!" Ginny protested. "How could you be so cruel?"
"What?" Ron demanded. "They're a trio of murdering scum! No, Pansy doesn't deserve to be tortured to death; no one does. But they brought this on themselves, and I for one don't feel sorry for them! I don't like the fact they might not be punished for killing three students and I don't like that they're here. I accept it, but I don't like it."
"Well, in that case we're probably all in agreement," Harry said drily.
"Are they going to move Malfoy, or leave them here to lure Riddle and his forces to us?" Justin asked.
"They couldn't!" Susan and Terry protested.
"They are," Hermione told them.
"Why?" Terry demanded.
"Because we can defend the castle against the Death Eaters," Harry replied. "Riddle will have to attack first with his giants, and maybe the dementors, to distract us while the Death Eaters batter down the wards. Master Tomas told us that as far as anyone can tell, the vampires have refused to join. Still, I'd say an attack is possible any time after the news of the planned ritual is printed, perhaps even before. Master Tomas is working things out with Minister Bones as we speak. Professor Dumbledore is talking with the Hogsmeade Council. Unless they somehow portkey in on boats, the only paths of attack are from shallow positions from within the Forbidden Forest or from the road to Hogsmeade. A special set of wards has just been activated. Anyone, even Dumbledore, who tries to portkey onto the grounds or into the castle directly will be directed to secure areas in the dungeons. Master Tomas has already provided six operatives to keep an eye on them -- they arrived just after dinner. He'll bring in a few more operatives to help us, and a number of aurors and hit-wizards will be brought in over the next week, along with some associates of the Headmaster. Mad-eye Moody, for example, arrived just before we called the meeting."
Justin and Ernie looked at each other. "We await your order, Commander," Ernie said. Both boys were serious. To a degree, both had anticipated something like this since the previous August.
"This is it, isn't it?" Susan asked.
Terry slumped in his chair. "I had hoped. . . ."
"We all did, but the time has come," Harry said simply.
"We'll meet tomorrow morning at Nine," Hermione said. "When the attack comes, most of the SDA, including all the Fourth years, should be defending the younger students and some key parts of the castle. A few of the DA will be outside. We can use you in either place. Let us know your preference in the morning. Spread the word to be watchful, but keep alert; we might need to see you later tonight."
The eight DA officers left, after a few more minutes of general discussion.
"Somehow, I think I have less of a choice," Ron observed.
"As I said, Trelawney had a prophecy," Hermione said. "Even Firenze thinks it's genuine."
"Let's hear it," Ron said stoically.
Hermione produced a small quill. She flipped it into the air, and it wrote out the first paragraph of the new prophecy in golden letters in the air:
"/The time of the final battle nears,/
The Boy-Who-Lived must have no fear;
/The Darkness cannot withstand his Light,/
/As long as his loved ones are within Sight./"
"I think we can all understand the first paragraph?" Hermione asked.
"Who are Harry's loved ones?" Neville asked.
"Well," Hermione went on, "this should give you one hint."
"The girl of flame has loved him longest,
/As his young sister, he returns the love;/
Supported by the love of her life,
/Her strength caresses his soul like a dove./"
"I guess that's me," Ginny acknowledged.
"And me," Neville stated firmly, putting a hand on her shoulder. Ron snorted.
"/The girl of wisdom cares more than she shows,/
Yet acknowledges her love for him as a twin;
/The bravest maid in the House of the Brave,/
/If she shows her two loves she cares, they may win./"
"And I guess we know who that is," Ginny said, looking at her brother.
"I guess," Ron muttered.
"Harry knows how much I care for him, I think," Hermione said. Harry merely nodded his agreement. "Do you, Ron?"
"I know you care for Harry," Ron muttered.
"No, you great fucking idiot, I love you!" Hermione screamed, and then blushed at her language.
"Hermione, language," Ron teased in a mean voice. "I should take a point. . . ."
Harry and Neville stopped Ginny from slapping her brother. Hermione merely ignored him, and the next stanza appeared.
"/The Boy-Who-Follows must have the greatest care,/
His feet have strayed from his sure, straight path;
/Should this natural warrior acknowledge his love,/
/He shall smite many enemies with his great wrath./"
"Oh," Ron said simply and quietly. "So I'm just the Boy-Who-Follows?"
"In this, yes," Luna replied. "You have supported Harry in nearly everything. Leaders can not lead without followers and companions. Harry leads, but you are the field commander."
"Ron," Harry said equally quietly and going to the heart of the matter, "I know you are attracted to Gin, but do you love her, or Hermione?"
"I love you," Hermione said. "I'm sorry I'm not ready for any of the things you and Gin have been doing. . . ."
"Pain-in-the-arse," Neville said softly.
"Neville, that doesn't help," Harry warned.
"I care about you, and yes, I love you like a friend," Ron told Hermione. "I don't know if I just love you like a friend, or if I still care for you, well, love you, more. I do like Gin an awful lot. I love you both; I don't know who I'm love with, if anyone. Gin and I were just having fun! Just trying to learn about each other and . . . stuff. Merlin! I'm of age, and that just barely! Why the hell does everyone think we have to make life commitments now?"
"Haven't you made one with Harry?" Ginny asked. "I have. I love Harry, even though I love, and am in love, with Neville. I believe in Harry, and I will follow him into hell. I will go to hell to save him. I will kill for him; I will die for him! Will you?"
Ron looked away from the group, pale from shame. "You know I will. I would for all of you, even Neville."
Hermione merely nodded, and the quill wrote the next stanza. Hopefully all that was enough acknowledgment to fulfill the prophecy.
"/The Boy-Who-Was-Injured has yet to be healed,/
Yet his compassion will support the flame,
/And together they may yet burn the evil star/
/To whom his injuries deserve the greatest blame./"
Neville looked worried by the prospect of confronting Bellatrix Lestrange, but said nothing.
"The girl who sees all shall know her own path,
/Her love shall never fail, its power shall grow;/
Her sight should no more be doubted than her love.
/Victory shall only be gained when to her it does show./"
Luna nodded her understanding.
"So that means not to trust we've won until she says so?" Ron asked.
"These five, and the others who care,
/Must support the Boy-Who-Commands;/
With his love, and his power, he bears
/The ability to cleanse this entire land./"
"Well, we knew that," Harry muttered.
"/Should their love for each other fail/
The Boy-Who-Lived shall die,
/And the One-Who-Once-Died/
/Shall, to the horror of time, prevail./"
"And that," he growled.
Ron turned his attention away from the prophecy. "So the story on Malfoy will come out when? Sunday morning?"
Hermione had recovered her composure. "Yes; the attack could come at any time after that. It should take Him a day or so to move the giants who are allied with him."
"Snape will send word to Riddle late tomorrow night," Harry added. "Riddle could be ready at any time after Sunday afternoon."
"What if he guesses before then?" Ron asked. "We know he had some plans for the giants; maybe he just delayed them while this scheme evolved. He could attack at any time, really. It's not like there are any safe places to hide Malfoy in Britain or even Western Europe other than here!"
"You're right," Harry acknowledged, pleasing Ron, "especially if Riddle has managed to trace them here already."
"Let's just hope it's not until after Sunday evening," Hermione said simply.
"Why?" Neville asked.
"Because most of the Order members will be here or in Hogsmeade by then, as will most of the aurors and hit-wizards," Harry responded.
"And because the vacationing students will be back," Hermione answered. "Less chance of His taking hostages."
"That's why I think he will attack sooner if he possibly can," Ron told them. "Remember, all a student has to do in daylight is invite someone across the wards. And, in case you haven't noticed, there is one special student who went to visit her mother over the vacation."
"Bellatrix Malfoy!" Luna exclaimed.
Harry thought a moment, realizing Ron was again right. "Ron, would you please explain our conversation and your ideas to the Headmaster? He probably knows all this, but I do know he discounted the possibility."
Ron flushed, but nodded. It had been his idea, after all.
"Since he might still be in Hogsmeade, could you go to the Hufflepuff common room before that and tell the DA officers to be on alert status two starting tonight at ten?"
"All right," Ron responded. "Do you know their new password?"
"Oak leaf,' Harry answered. "Dumbledore's is 'praline'."
"Right." Ron took off.
"Luna, you alert Ravenclaw; Neville, Gryffindor. Ginny, inform Professors McGonagall and Lupin. Go!"
"What about us?" Hermione asked.
"We need to talk to the house elves, remember?"
As usual, the elves crowded around the pair of students. It still took Harry and Hermione a few minutes to actually get their attention. Finally, however, they quieted down.
"At some point soon, Hogwarts may come under attack," Hermione answered when one elf asked what they could do for the students. That brought a gasp of terror from the elves. "You are not required to fight to defend the castle, the students, or even yourselves. However, Professor Dumbledore has authorized us to give you full permission to protect yourselves."
"We may use our magic against . . . wizards?" one amazed house elf asked.
"Yes," Hermione said firmly. "Protect yourselves."
"These are the . . . evil wizards that follow He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?" another asked, her voice quivering.
"Yes," Hermione stated, "and probably even Lord Voldemort himself."
Most of the elves huddled together, shivering.
"You all have the power to defend yourselves," Hermione scolded. "Use it!"
"Just ourselves, Miss Hermione Granger?" Dobby asked.
Hermione paused, trying to think exactly how to phrase it so they would not take offense.
"All we can require of the elves owned by Hogwarts is that you defend yourselves," Harry said. "If you wish to do more, if you wish to help defend the castle and the students, you may. We would be very grateful."
"But . . . then we would be. . . ." one elf started.
"Where, oh where could we go!" another wailed.
"You could go wherever you want. . . ." Hermione started, which made most of them join in the wailing.
"Or," Harry said firmly, "you may stay here!"
That caught their attention. "If you do not help protect the castle and especially the students, there may be no place for you to work. If you don't help defend all the students, there will be no one to work for. Agree to defend the students, even if you are not called upon to actually do so, and yes, you will be free. . . ."
The elves, who had been paying close attention, started shivering again.
"You will be free to go, or you are free to stay here and continue your work," Harry concluded. "All would be welcome to stay!"
"But then, house elves must be wearing clothes, and being paid!" an elf wailed.
Harry had been thinking of this for a while. "Paid, yes. Absolutely. Clothes? Well, if you are free, you would be free to wear whatever you want. You could even wear those tea towels you wear now, if you want, or you could design something else."
The elves looked at Harry for a moment, then started talking amongst themselves, all at once and in a language the two students didn't understand.
"Miss Hermione?" Winky asked, stepping around the chattering elves.
"Could . . . could Winky work for Miss Hermione, after Miss Hermione leaves Hogwarts? If Miss would not require clothes, Winky would work hard for Miss, even if Miss paid."
Hermione looked shocked by the idea, but she had grown fond of the elf over the previous months. "Yes, Winky, you may."
"May Winky help Miss Hermione in the battle?"
"You are a free elf, Winky. You may help as Commander Potter or Headmaster Dumbledore commands, if you wish to fight."
"Mister Commander, sir?" Winky asked, turning to Harry.
"I'll let you know, as soon as the other elves decide," Harry answered. He and Hermione then noticed the elves had stopped talking.
The oldest elf spoke. "House elves wish to inform Mister Commander Harry Potter, sir, that house elves wish to help to help very much, if a bargain may be made. Mister Commander is authorized to do this by Headmaster Albus Dumbledore?"
"Hermione and I are authorized together," Harry said.
"And Mister Commander will also agree, as Champion of Hogwarts?"
Harry wasn't totally surprised they knew of his relationship with the castle.
"If I agree to your terms, it will also be as the Champion of Hogwarts," Harry said.
"We wants a sickle a day pay and one day off every month," the spokes-elf asked.
"That's less than twenty-two Galleons a year!" Hermione protested.
"Too much?" the elf asked, worriedly.
"Six sickles a day, eighteen days off a year, but only two sickles paid for each day off," Harry said. Hermione frowned, but said nothing.
"Mister Commander Champion drives a difficult bargain, sir," the elf said.
"Elflings," an elf hissed.
"Yes," the spokes-elf said. "What are elfling rights?"
"What rights do you have now?" Hermione asked, puzzled.
"Female house-elves have half a year off to have elfing; female elflings belong to mother elf owner. Male elfling belong to father elf owner. Female must provide substitute elf. Both must ask owners' permission to mate," the spokes-elf said.
"Elves must negotiate leave with the Headmaster ahead of time," Harry said. "Elflings born to free Hogwarts elves may have the right to work at Hogwarts. The same, err, gender assignment applies. Substitute elves will be paid the same as regular elves, free or not. Elves on leave will be paid half their usual amount."
"We are yours to command, Mister Commander Champion Harry Potter Sir," the spokes-elf said.
"First, just call me 'Commander Potter' until after any battle," Harry said. "Second, how much food do we have in the castle at any given time?"
"Three days of fresh food, and much preserved," the spokes-elf said.
"Do you know preserving spells that work well for fresh food?" Harry asked.
"Yes, Commander Potter, but while edible, many fresh foods start losing a little taste after three or four extra days."
"Try and have at least three or four extra days worth of food, in case we're under siege," Harry suggested. The elves nodded.
"You will be responsible for keeping the kitchens and any of your own areas, and the access to them, free of intruders and getting food and water to everyone. If you can, you are also free to aid any student or staff who is injured to safety and aid, and to attack any enemy of Hogwarts you come across. If the basics are taken care of, you may defend as you see fit within the castle."
"We understand, Commander Potter!"
"There are also going to be a large number of additional people coming to help," Harry told them. "We'll need food and beds for perhaps another hundred people by Sunday."
The spokes-elf nodded. "Anything else, Commander Potter, sir?"
Harry shook his head. The spokes-elf turned away. "We go! We work!"
"WE GO! WE WORK!" the elves responded, as if it was their battle cry, and they went to work.
"What about Dobby, Harry Potter, sir?" Dobby asked. "Will Harry Potter take on Dobby on those same terms?"
Harry smiled. "If I survive, yes."
Dobby smiled. "Have faith, Harry Potter, sir. Dobby has great faith in Harry Potter, as much as Miss Luna or Miss Hermione Granger or Miss Ginny Wheezy!" Dobby snapped his fingers and disappeared.
"We could have paid more," Hermione said. "That's less than a hundred and twenty-five Galleons a year."
"Probably, but we'll try to make up the difference in some other ways -- if we survive. Maybe we can look at their quarters and see if we can improve them in ways they'd like?" Hermione thought about it, and decided she was satisfied for the moment.
Coming out of the kitchens, Harry and Hermione ran into Fred and George Weasley. Protesting they were hungry, Harry dragged the pair off to see what kinds of mayhem the tricky duo could prepare.
Hermione gave Harry a worried smile, and then went to the library. That morning she had remembered a mention of a ceremony which might be useful. She hurried away, determined to do everything she could to assure Harry's survival on the day of battle.