In the still of the night...
Gwen and Draco led Anna, Theo, Arthur and Percy silently across the lawn to Hagrid's hut. Fang greeted them with a single bark, circling through the group, welcoming each one. Hagrid was sitting on the steps, spy glass in his hand.
"Seen any movement, yet, Hagrid?"inquired Anna.
"Naw, nothin'yet. This spy glass your boys made certainly does the job, tho', Arthur. Can see as clear as day and I can spot things movin' in the woods: birds and rabbits and such. Watched an owl huntin' earlier, just there." Hagrid pointed toward the edge of the trees, overlooking the lawn that stretched toward the Quidditch pitch.
"May I?" Arthur held out his hand, eager to see what his inventive sons had come up with.
"Sure, have a go, then." Hagrid gave the spy glass to the proud father.
"Let's go get ready." Draco nudged Gwen, who was greeting Fang.
"Oh, right. Anna, don't forget to give Hagrid his 'Felix' doses and Grawp, also."
"Got it covered. Good luck and hang on tight." Anna gave her step-daughter a hug.
"I won't drop her, Anna, don't worry," Draco assured her, as he gave Anna a hug.
"You...drop me? I don't think so, honey." Gwen linked her arm in Draco's as they headed for the paddock. "Although...having to put my arm around the waist of a young, handsome, rich Wizard is a bit of a good perk to this job, I must admit."
"Oh, now I'm a 'perk' am I? Nice."
"Don't like that title...Ok, how about boy-toy?"
"What! I'm telling Remus you said that!"
"I'll deny it."
"I bet you would!"
"I know better than to anger my werewolf un-necessarily. Crazy Muggle I may be, but not foolish!"
They had reached the paddock fence. Buckbeak was walking toward them but stopped and cocked his head.
Draco and Gwen both bowed, waiting for Buckbeak to return their greeting. After cocking his head the other way, Buckbeak bowed. Opening the gate and approaching the beautiful animal, Draco started to explain their unusual appearance.
"I know we look strange, Beaky, but it's to help us not be seen tonight, especially with our blond hair."
Buckbeak snorted and nodded his head. Gwen patted the hippogriff on the neck.
"We must look positively ridiculous to him," she remarked with a giggle.
"Apparently," replied Draco, watching Buckbeak shake his head. "Well, let's get mounted and take a look around."
Severus and Flitwick parted ways outside in the inner courtyard, each heading for their respective lookout positions at the places where the Inferi could emerge from the lake to try and enter Hogwarts. Severus' group was heading for the bridge across the ravine, leading to the stone circle. From there they could see the lawn that sloped down to the lake front on the back side of the castle. Flitwick and his group headed for the stone terrace overlooking the crooked, long flight of stairs that lead to the boat house. Fred and Katie went with Severus, while George and Angelina were assigned to Flitwick's group.
A small group Apparated at the top of the hill overlooking the lake and Hogwarts castle on the opposite shore. Voldemort stood, silent, gazing for several minutes at the ancient buildings. Meanwhile, Wormtail struggled to carry the Dark Lord's pet snake, Nagini, carefully balanced on his arms and more worryingly, around his neck and shoulders. Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle stood silent, unmoving, watching the large snake, its tongue darting out, checking the surroundings from its human perch.
"Ah, there it is, Wormtail...our future home."
"Home, Master?" echoed the short man, as he staggered to the Dark Lord's side.
"Yes. Hogwarts will, from this day forward, be my home and the hub of all activities pertaining to our world."
Wormtail looked from his Master to the castle across the lake, a few small lights flickering in various windows.
"Now," Voldemort's voice brought Pettigrew's focus back with a start, "put your hand on my arm; I wouldn't want you and Nagini landing on the wrong spot." Voldemort smiled at Wormtail, a truly blood chilling sight.
"I will call you two momentarily." Voldemort glanced over at the two young Death Eaters.
"Yes, Master," they chorused.
Do you see what I see?" Gwen reached around Draco and pointed at the hill top.
Draco and Gwen had been slowly circling, high over the Quidditch pitch and the lake front, alternately watching the valley to the north and then the hilltop across the lake. Buckbeak wheeled to the left, passing silently above and behind the figures facing the school.
"Whoa! Two of them just disappeared."
"Bet they went to the chamber."
"I'd better signal."
Gwen pulled out a laser pen from a vest pocket, pointed it at Hagrid's hut and flashed it four times. She saw a pin prick of light bob up and down four times.
"Ok, they saw them."
"If Voldemort's here, we better get ready for the giants."
Draco patted Buckbeak on the neck and turned him toward the head of the valley. With a few beats of his wings, the hippogriff gained more altitude and set off for the distant ridge.
"Do you really think they'll just come walking down the valley?" asked Gwen.
"Sure. And it makes perfect sense, too; why fight your way through the Forbidden Forest in the dark when you can just walk on grass in the open? Quicker and a straight shot to the Quidditch pitch and then the school; gives them agoal - landmark - whatever, to focus on. Remember, these giants are even dumber that Vincent and Gregory," Draco replied.
"Oh, now that's just cold, Draco!True...but cold," said Gwen, laughing quietly.
Voldemort, Wormtail and Nagini appeared in the Chamber of Secrets. Unseen by them, red lights blinked off and the trigger box on the outside of the chamber door released the monofilament line. It began its journey toward the school, whipping along the tunnel, each support ring the end passed through disappearing with a tiny 'pop'. As the end reached Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, a bell jingled merrily on the wall, followed by others, the sound reaching far and wide through the school. Peeves cackled and looked over at Myrtle's ghost, who smiled and giggled.
The invasion had begun.
As Wormtail set the huge snake gently on the stone floor, Voldemort walked over to the mummified remains of the Basilisk.
"Potter," he muttered, then kicked the head, which wobbled back and forth, the lower jaw sagging sideways. Then, with a sickening, tearing sound, the head separated from the neck and fell backwards to the floor, exposing the two upper fangs, one of which was broken off.
Nagini slithered over and reared up, surveying the carcass. She bowed slowly and then lowered herself and began to explore.
"Bring young Crabbe and Goyle."
Voldemort glanced around and then turned to study the carved skull of Salazar Slytherin.
'pop' 'pop, pop'
Gregory and Vincent looked around, properly gob-smacked as they realized where they were. Gregory gasped, grabbed Vincent's sleeve and pointed to the remains of the Basilisk.
"Yes...that was my pet, killed by young Mister Potter; one of the many affronts to my superiority, for which he will pay dearly...later today." Voldemort's voice drooped to a menacing growl "Are you two ready to assist with the start of the overthrow of Hogwarts?"
"Yes, Master." "We're ready, Master."
"Very well, follow me. Wormtail, remain here with Nagini."
"Yes, Master," whimpered Pettigrew, eyeing the snake warily.
Voldemort set off down the length of the chamber, the boys trailing after him, casting glances at the statues and side tunnels. They were remembering that Harry Potter had come down here, alone, as a second year, killed the Basilisk and rescued Ginny Weasley. Suddenly, they didn't feel quite as excited as they had only minutes before.
They left the chamber and followed the Dark Lord into the tunnels. Looking at each other, they knew they were thinking the same gloomy thought; no changing their minds or turning back. So, shrugging, they trudged on, past the shed skin and the rock cave-in, further and further and further, in silence, until suddenly, Voldemort stopped. Vincent and Gregory almost plowed into him, but skidded to a halt just in time.
"I will open the stairs. You will emerge in a disused girls bathroom on the second floor."
"Moaning Myrtle's," Vincent blurted out.
"I beg your pardon?" Voldemort's voice dripped venom, as he turned slowly toward the boys.
"Moaning Myrtle's," Vincent stammered, appalled that he had spoken his thought aloud. "She's the girl killed fifty years ago by that basilisk. She still haunts the bathroom where she died."
"Really? Well, I will have to re-introduce myself...when the time comes." Voldemort stood, silent for a moment, and then he leaned toward the two boys and his voice dropped to a throaty growl. "Make your way, without being seen, to the Slytherin dungeons. Once you are inside, seal it, capture Malfoy and kill Nott. If anyone should try to interfere, kill them. You'll be signaled when it is time to bring that blood traitor to me in the Great Hall."
"Yes, Master," replied Vincent, in a small voice. Gregory nodded, his throat suddenly too tight to speak.
Voldemort turned and, looking up, commanded the stairs, in Parseltongue, to appear and then he ordered the secret, hidden entrance to open. The sound of the stone steps sliding out of the wall was suddenly masked by another, stranger, roaring sound - rushing water. Looking up, Voldemort's eyes widened and even as he stepped against the wall, he threw up his wand and shouted a protective spell.
Vincent and Gregory weren't as fast to react and when the contents of the flooded bathroom hit them, they were tumbled, ass over tea kettle, back down the tunnel for several dozen yards. They picked themselves up and returned, soaked and covered with mud and debris. The water continued to pour from above, although at a greatly reduced volume.
"Looks like Myrtle'sbeen at it again," observed Gregory, as he stood, looking up the stairs, wringing out his robes.
"What?" Voldemort stood there, seething, but spun around at Gregory's pronouncement.
"The ghost...Myrtle...has a bad habit of flooding her bathroom...once or twice a term. We were always going to classes, wading through that flooded hallway on the second floor, it seemed, weren't we Gregory?" Vincent explained.
"Too right."Gregory agreed, nodding his head. "Don't worry Master; all the students learned drying charms. Mr. Filch had fits if we tracked water up and down the halls. We'll not leave any footprints." Gregory was quick to assure the Dark Lord.
Voldemort regarded the two for aminute, reading their memories of the many times they had had to wade through the puddles outside the bathroom door.
"Very well. Proceed...and do not fail me."
Voldemort watched as the young Death Eaters worked their way cautiously up the wet, slippery stairs. The glow from their wand tips finally disappearing over the upper reaches of the circular stone wall. The Dark Lord snorted, turned and after casting a drying spell, stalked off down the tunnel, back to the Chamber of Secrets.
Vincent and Gregory looked around the bathroom but didn't see Myrtle. With a wave of his wand, Vincent turned off the taps and the noise level dropped considerably.
"She really outdid herself this time."
"But why so much water?" wondered Gregory, pointing to the wet, 'high water' mark, at least two feet up the wall.
"Looks like someone finally sealed the door to keep the corridor dry, so...it filled up the bathroom."
"And the Dark Lord opened the only available drain."
"That we were standing under, like fools."
They laughed nervously and shook their heads.
"Oh well, let's get started."
As they turned for the door, Peeves and Myrtle peeked over the top of one of the stalls, both of them grinning wickedly.
Stepping into the hallway, Vincent and Gregory cast drying spells and set off toward the Slytherin dungeon. They were watched at various points, by unseen eyes, as the house-elves kept track of them.
Tykey reported to the Headmaster about their arrival and progress through the school.
"Very good, Tykey, please inform Missy Cissa and Miss Daphne."
"Yes, Headmaster, sir."
"They iscoming, Miss, Mister Vincent and Mister Gregory, Miss."
"Thank you Tykey."
"Yes, Missy Cissa."
"Yes; bottoms up!"
"Oh dear, that's vile!"
"Hey, I just thought of something," Gregory whispered, as he and Vincent crossed the entrance hall and descended the stairs leading to the Slytherin dungeons.
"We don't know the password."
"Don't be daft; the girls will let us in."
"Oh, right...forgot that bit."
"Will you calm down?! We've got the easy job; we seal ourselves in the dungeon and wait."
"Are you going to kill Theo?"
"I thought you were."
"We could do it together."
"Or 'Imperious' Draco and have himdo it!"
"Have Draco do what?" came a familiar voice from the far end of the hallway.
"Yikes! Oh, Millie!" Vincent skidded to a stop,hand over his heart, as Millicent Balstrode stepped out of the shadows on the other side of the entrance to the Slytherin common room.
Millie walked up to Vincent and throwing her arms around his neck, kissed him. His eyes popped wide open. Gregory was greeted in the same manner by Tracie, much to his surprise. Coming up for air, both girls smiled at the shocked pair.
"Wow...ah...good to see you, too, Millie," stammered Vincent.
"We are SO excited, Vincent, we just had to meet you out here and welcome you back, personally andproperly," explained the Slytherin girl, as she snuggled up to him.
"Can we see your Marks?" Tracie asked Gregory, nibbling on his ear as she breathed her request.
"Ah...oh, yeah, sure," he babbled, pulling up his sleeve.
"Did it hurt much?" Millie batted her eyes at Vincent.
"A bit, for a minute or so," he replied, chills running down his spine as her finger traced over the black lines on his forearm.
"Mostly it just itches," added Gregory, as Tracie pursed her lips in sympathy.
"So, what do you plan to do to Draco and Theo?" Millie inquired, hanging on Vincent's arm, face upturned to him with an expression of rapt attention.
"We wait until we get a signal and then we take Draco to the Dark Lord, in the Great Hall," Vincent informed her. "But first we have to kill Theo."
"We were just thinking; we could'Imperious' Draco and have him kill Theo." Gregory added, dragging his attention off of Tracie's lips, and turning his head toward Vincent and Millie.
"Ooo, you can do that? An 'Imperious'spell?" Tracie gasped, drawing the boys' attention back to her when she saw the flash of anger in Millie's eyes.
"Oh, sure, nothing to it," Gregory assured her.
"Millie, let's get the guys into the common room and out of sight,"Tracie suggested, giving the other girl a smile and a wink.
"What? Oh, right." Mille looked startled but quickly recovered. Turning to the ebony colored wooden door set in an alcove, she said, "Venom." The door swung open.
"Come on, honey!" Tracie grabbed Gregory's hand and led him through the opening.
"After you, my dear." Vincent gallantly swept his arm, directing Millie to enter.
"Why, thank you, sir," she simpered and then giggled, as she followed Gregory and Tracie. "We put
silencing charms on all the dorms, so no one will hear anythingtonight."
"Good idea, that," Vincent agreed, as he and Gregory stood looking around the familiar space.
"I'm so glad you think so," Millie said, smiling.
" 'Petrificus Totalus'!" the girls called out, pointing their wands at the two unsuspecting young Death Eaters.
Surprisingly, both boys had the same thought as they keeled over onto the floor, "Oh, no, not again."
Voldemort re-entered the Chamber of Secrets and stalked the length of the main walkway, robes billowing behind him. Wormtail jumped to his feet.
"All went well, Master?" he inquired, bowing low.
"Swimmingly," hissed the Dark Lord. "It appears one of the resident ghosts enjoys flooding the bathroom in which the entrance is located."
"Oh, Moaning Myrtle," Wormtail nodded.
"Apparently," was the grumbled reply. "Those two young fools are in the Slytherin common room by now, so I must leave for another few minutes to start the 'festivities'."
Voldemort appeared on the hilltop. Holding out his wand, he moved it slowly, back and forth, pointing at the lake below. Then he stood and watched carefully. The glass smooth surface was reflecting the stars but suddenly, the water began rippling as dozens of heads, then shoulders, then bodies appeared, near the shore line opposite his position. Inferi were also pulling themselves out of the water and onto the stone landing by the boat house. Both groups headed for the castle, moving slowly but relentlessly; the larger group moving up the slope of lawn, the other climbing the steep winging stairs toward the Great Hall.
Walden McNair Apparated at the Dark Lord's elbow and knelt.
"The giants are starting toward the castle, Master."
"Excellent timing; my Inferi are just making their way into the school, also. The time is here. Give me your arm."
Standing, McNair pulled up his sleeve, exposing his Dark Mark. Voldemort reached out and touched his wand to McNair's forearm, drawing a hiss from McNair. Voldemort smiled and then looked up. There was an immediate change in the surrounding atmosphere, as black shapes streaked through the night sky, landing in a circle around their Master.
"He's gone," Draco said over his shoulder to Gwen. They'd been watching afigure at the head of the valley that overlooked the Quidditch pitch.
"He's on the hilltop, there are two of them, actually," she replied, pointing. Just then, black shapes started zooming through the air. "What the hell..."
"Death Eaters. That's Voldemort down there and he's called his followers."
As Buckbeak wheeled high over the Quidditch pitch, they kept an eye on the ridge in the distance. They had seen the Inferi emerging from the lake, but knew that there were defenses in place to deal with them, so they ignored the lumbering figures. Suddenly, Draco pointed; five huge human shapes were walking over the distant crest of the valley.
"There they are; five of them, is looks like."
"Just five?" Gwen peeked over Draco's shoulder.
"How many did you want?" Draco inquired, grinning.
"Oh, five is just fine, but, well, I guess that would be all you'd need, come to that, big as they are, huh?" she replied, with a giggle.
The biggest one, standing in the middle of the group, started down the slope to the valley floor, the others falling in behind him, the shortest one last. They were dragging enormous clubs and weren't, apparently, too worried about keeping quiet or being stealthy in their approach; just steady walking toward the Quidditch pitch with its flags fluttering in the gentle breeze.
"We'll wait until they get to the bottom and get the last one first."
"Why wait?" Draco asked, steering Buckbeak in a circle to come in behind the moving shapes below.
"When first one goes down, if he rolls downhill, it'll alert the others that something's wrong. On the valley floor, he'll just drop, hopefully without too much noise."
"Good thinking. It'll make the job easier for Theo, Percy, Anna and Mr. Weasley, too, if they can stay in the valley. Can you see them?"
"Yes, they're behind that rock outcrop to the side...just there." Gwen pointed and then waved. Theo had been looking up and waved back. "And they're staying downwind, too, so the giants won't detect them. Good idea, that"
"Ready?" Draco asked, as he watched the last giant making his way to the bottom of the steep slope.
"Ok, here we go. Beaky, fly in, slow, behind that last one." Draco patted the hippogriff on the neck and pointed.
Buckbeak nodded his head and tilting to the right, swept down in a wide arch, to come up behind the last giant, just as he stepped onto the valley floor.
Cissa replaced the cap on the syringe and dropped it in Gwen's bag.
"Well, that's that; pleasant dreams, boys."
Daphne reached over and pulled the curtains closed on Gregory's bed. There were soft snores coming from Vincent's bed.
"Now what? We'll not transform back to ourselves for another," Daphne checked her watch, "twenty minutes or so."
"Just long enough for you to get to Hufflepuff and get in position. I'll get Tykey to go with you."
"Ok. Are you sure you'll be alright, here by yourself, Cissa?"
"Yes; Tonks, Mad-eye and Bill Weasley will be here in a bit, as I'll have Tykey alert them that it's ok to come down."
"Right!Good luck!" Daphne gave Draco's mother ahug.
"You too, dear. Tykey!"
"Yes, Missy Cissa?"
"Please accompany Miss Daphne to the group guarding Hufflepuff House."
"Then alert the Slytherin House guardians that the coast is clear."
"Oh, yes, Missy Cissa."
"Get as close as you dare," Professor Flitwick instructed Seamus and Hannah, in between shooting drying spells at theInferi that were slowly climbing out of the lake and heading toward the stone stairs. "When they get to the first landing, switch places with Dean and Luna, to rest your hands and arms. Concentrate on the torso and heads."
Fred and Katie were hovering behind the Inferi, alternating between drying spells and pelting the Inferiin the back with fluid filled wax balls.
"Don't get too low, Fred,"cautioned Katie, as Fred's broom came perilously close to the slowly moving corpses.
"Whoa!" He moved up a few feet in altitude and grinned at her. "Thanks, that was really careless of me."
"Lucky for you I'm here then, isn't it?" She laughed and launched another wax ball at one of the Inferi.
Severus had placed Justin, Terry and Silvia on side of the lawn nearest the trees, while Ginny and Susan stood with him on the other side, at the base of the cliff. They were all outside of the invisible fence that would funnel the Inferi to the stone circle at the top of the hill. They were shooting drying spells, as were George and Angelina, flying overhead. As the Inferi made the halfway point, they all switched to the wax balls and started pelting the plodding figures.
"Work back and forth, hitting as many as you can, as they move up the hill. They will probably get bottlenecked toward the top, so we can take our time. We must be sure and saturate them." Severus directed.
"Yes, Professor," the students chorused, grimly aiming and shooting their flammable ammunition.
The last giant in the line went down without so much as a grunt. The others didn't notice, but moved resolutely forward. Buckbeak wheeled around and started toward the next one.
Voldemort reappeared in the Chamber of Secrets, followed by the Death Eaters he had summoned to the top of the hill.
"You will wait here while I call the Dementors," Voldemort instructed them. "Do NOT touch the Basilisk."
The group of some 60 Death Eaters stood silently, some shuffling their feet nervously, none daring to say a word.
Voldemort cast a glance toward the pale figures of the Inferi across the lake, noting their progress with satisfaction. There were no lights or shooting spells, so no one in the castle was aware of them, He smiled. 'Excellent,' he thought.
A look toward the Quidditch pitch gave him no view of the giants, yet, but he could hear their footfalls, faintly, on the wind.
"Now, for the fools who resist,"he murmured, as he raised his wand and swept it toward the south. The wind picked up and the temperature dropped. A Dementor landed next to him and bowed. It was followed by a swarm of others.
"When you see signs of resistance at the castle, fly to the courtyard nearest the green houses, in that portion of the castle," he directed, pointing to the right side of Hogwarts. "That is where you will feast. Wait for me to come to you; do not enter the school buildings. Do you understand?"
The Dementors nodded.
"Dementors." Zack pointed.
"Yes, I see them. I'll signal the others." Harry answered. He walked to the other side of the tall tower where his godfather, Sirius Black had been imprisoned and whistled sharply. Answering whistles from three other rooftop positions let him know the others were aware of the arrival of the Dementors.
Dennis and Colin were on the clock tower, watching over Severus' group, while Padma and Pavarti were on the library roof, watching the Quidditch pitch and Hagrid's hut. Lavender and Anthony were on the tower overlooking the boat house, in order to cover Flitwick's group, while Harry and Zack were watching the Great Hall and the bridges that connected the two sides of the school. Being the best of the D.A. at casting really strong Patronus spells, they were charged with protecting those areas and groups. They all had their brooms and would fly down close and provide cover if the need arose. All they could do now was watch and wait.
Harry thought back to the short conversation he and Dumbledore had shared just before they parted ways and he started the climb up the tower stairs.
"Everyone is going to their posts, sir."
"Very good, Harry. I'll be in the Great Hall, keeping an eye on things with your wonderful map." Albus held up the Marauders Map, smiling, but then he grew serious. "Are you ready, Harry?" He peered over his glasses at the young wizard standing before him. "You seem troubled."
"As I can be, sir. I'm not so much concerned with what might happen between Voldemort and me as what might happen to anyone else. I just hope they'll get through this, that's all."
"A noble sentiment, Harry, but trust that they feel the same way about you; as long as you survive and are able to vanquish Tom, once and for all, any injury suffered would seem worth it."
"Yes, sir, I understand, but still. I hope Madam Pomfrey gets bored to tears, waiting for som one to treat tonight," Harry answered, with a wry grin.
"Ah, well...with a little luck, we may just see that happen," chuckled the Headmaster, as he turned and made his way to the Great Hall.
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