The Tempest Part 2: The Labyrinth and the Keep
As the darkness grew deeper, dusk gave way to night, and only the silvery light of the crescent moon provided any illumination. And even that small sliver of light faltered at times when wisps of cloud drifted across it.
On the farthest side of the maze a large black dog peered around cautiously until he was certain that nobody was watching. Assured, the enormous canine wriggled under the canopy of the hedge. He emerged panting on the other side, twigs and leaves caught in his shaggy fur. Shaking them off, he looked both ways down the dark path, sniffed the air, and chose a direction.
Harry, Hermione, and Fleur waited nervously in the shadows for the others to arrive as the minutes ticked by. Their anxiety increased the longer they waited.
“What’s taking so long?” Harry grumbled.
“Viktor and Cedric are being held back by the judges because they’re in the last two places,” Hermione answered. “It’s supposed to give the first place and second place contestants an advantage.”
Finally two dark silhouettes approached.
“Ah, zere are Viktor and Cedric!” Fleur and the Potters all breathed a sigh of relief. Once the team was assembled, they lit their wands and briefly conferred.
“Alright,” said Harry, “remember to stick together. We don’t want anyone getting lost. Hermione, do you have an idea which direction we should go?”
“Just a moment Harry...” Hermione placed the wand on the palm of her hand, employing the spell she had created to help them navigate the maze. “Point me,” she murmured, and it spun around several times before coming to a stop.
“The Triwizard Cup is supposed to be in the centre of the maze,” she continued, “and according to my wand, it’s that way.”
“So, down vich path do we go?” Viktor queried.
“Some of ze paths will be blocked,” sighed Fleur. The five wizards peered at the branching paths, still uncertain as to which one to choose. Harry glanced at Hermione; seeing that she looked as perplexed as the rest of them, he reached a decision.
“Right, well the obvious path is the one that looks like its going the right direction,” he said. “But I doubt they would have made it that easy. Lets go this way, and if its wrong we’ll double back.
Everyone murmured their assent and warily, the five young wizards forged ahead, the ominous hedges looming over them. Apparently Harry had made a good decision, because finally they came to another three way fork. Hermione performed the Point-me spell again, and this time they chose the pathway to the right. Eventually finding it was blocked, they doubled back and chose the more obvious path this time. Twice more they found the pathways blocked.
Not having come across any creatures yet, they all began to grow more anxious, glancing about nervously, expecting something to leap out at any moment. Finally they came to a gated gap in the hedge.
“This must be it,” said Harry. Cautiously they followed Harry into the second ring of the maze.
The hedge came alive with a rush of wind and the entrance closed behind them. Gnarled branches unfurled; Fleur uttered a small scream as the branches and tendrils seized her and lashed out at Cedric, whipping around his ankles. Viktor dodged just in time as Harry and Hermione rolled out of the way.
The tendrils entwined Fleur and Cedric, dragging them into the foliage of the hedge. Heart pounding, eyes wide, Harry performed the first spell he could think of.
“Relashio,” Harry shouted to little effect.
“Lumos Solem,” Hermione squealed. Her wand light flared and pierced the darkness. The bushes trembled, releasing Fleur and Cedric.
“Devil’s Snare...” Hermione gasped, “or rather, a hybrid form of it. Thank goodness it still reacted to the spell.”
A skittering sound caught the wizards’ attention; they immediately took position in formation, backs to each other and wands out, as they had practiced ahead of time. The sound was coming from several directions.
“Over there...” Krum was the first to spot one of the Blast-Ended-Skrewts scuttling towards them out of the shadows.
It was enormous - at least ten feet long, looking more like a scorpion than anything. It reared its back end, preparing to plunge its stinger into whoever was unfortunate enough to get in its way. As if that weren’t enough, several more emerged from the mist and darkness, spitting hot flames and sparks.
“Aim your spells for the underbellies...” Harry yelled.
“Harry, look out,” shouted Hermione.
One of the burning jets of flame caught Harry’s arm; he grit his teeth in pain as his sleeve burned away. Quickly Hermione put out the fire with an Aguamenti Charm. Harry didn’t have time to thank her as the other Skrewts were bearing down on them.
Cedric and Viktor panicked and fired stunners at the ones hurtling towards them, but the red bolts of lightning merely glanced off their shells. Harry waited until the one approaching him reared and he slashed his wand at its underside. The sectumsempra opened a long gash and the skrewt’s entrails spilled out as it shrieked and expired.
Fleur shot a firebolt from her hands at the one approaching from her side. The skrewt shrugged it off and kept coming. It reared its tail to sting and briefly exposed its undercarriage as it lifted its front pincers; Fleur shot another burst of plasma, hotter than before. It hit the belly and the skrewt exploded.
Viktor pulled himself together and slashed his wand, as Harry had taught him, at the Skrewt lunging at Cedric. He gasped in relief when the sectumsempra curse worked, severing one of the Skrewt’s legs. He whipped his wand several more times; the limbless Skrewt screeched, shooting a burst of flame as Cedric rolled backwards and slashed at its underside with the cutting curse.
The Hufflepuff staggered to his feet in satisfaction as the crablike monster shuddered and died, then he was forced back down, quickly rolling out of the path of another burst of flame. As the Skrewt loomed over him he aimed a Reductor spell at its undercarriage and it disintegrated, screaming.
The wizards dodged flames and stingers as numerous Skrewts surged forward. The Skrewts were so quick that it was difficult to reach their underbellies, or even aim for the joints of their limbs. Many of their spells, even Sectumsempra, glanced off the Skrewts’ shells. The fight continued for what seemed like hours as time slowed down, but in reality, barely a minute had passed.
Eventually, one by one, the Skrewts succumbed, either exploding, disintegrating, or filleted by slashing wands. The wizards all took a breather, hoping that they would be allowed a few moments respite. When it seemed like everyone had recovered a bit, Harry beckoned them all forward.
They almost didn’t see it, as it was barely distinguishable from the mist. Caught in their wandlight, a misty cloud of golden hue hovered nearby, drifting towards them.
“Look out...” Fleur shouted as the golden mist billowed.
Cedric was directly in its path, unable to move fast enough as the golden mist swirled around him. Cedric screamed in agony as his skin blistered and burned, erupting in boils. Hermione and Fleur lunged for Cedric’s feet as he collapsed, dragging him away from the mist. Fleur was horrified; Cedric began to convulse, foaming at the mouth.
Hermione twirled her wand, crying out, “Ventus Maximus.”
A vortex of air burst from Hermione's wand and swept the mist away. Harry fell beside Cedric, his hand shaking as he pulled a bezoar out of his pouch; he shoved it into the Hufflepuff’s foaming mouth.
Cedric’s convulsions gradually eased, and his rolling eyes cleared. The bezoar had stopped the Poison Mist from killing Cedric, but it was clear that he was too badly injured to continue. A stinking pus oozed from his blisters and boils.
Harry grabbed Cedric’s wand and fired the Red Sparks into the night sky which gave a professor permission to apparate through the wards to retrieve their fallen student. Hermione fell back into the shadows as Professor Sprout appeared. Her face paled when she saw Cedric’s state.
“Good luck,” she gasped as she held her pupil and disapparated.
“We’d better get a move-on,” Harry groaned.
After several wrong turns, the young wizards finally discovered the entrance of the third ring. The four of them jogged down the paths until they spied the entrance to the next ring ahead. Hermione discerned the dark shadowy figures of numerous enormous spiders in the blackness before they emerged into the wandlight.
Harry knew this was bad; dozens of Acromantulas surrounded them. Arania Exumai, which only temporarily repelled the giant arachnids - and only singly at that - clearly wasn’t enough to hold them back.
He fired a bombarda into their midst, killing several of them and scattering many others. Fleur’s fireballs took out eight. Hermione’s Reductors took out a number of them. Viktor slashed his wand angrily and six Acromantulas collapsed, screaming. The rest of the Giant Spiders finally retreated.
Hermione panted, eyes darting wildly as she spun around looking for more.
“Keep your eyes peeled. They’ll probably regroup,” Harry gasped, his heart pounding, sweat dripping from his forehead as they passed through the gate.
The entrance of the fourth ring closed behind them. The wizards all groaned when they realised that they were trapped against the hedge as a Chimaera paced back and forth, eyeing them hungrily.
Suddenly the deadly looking beast pounced, opening its lion-like maw, an inferno pouring forth. The wizards all dispersed, but Viktor was caught off guard when the monster’s dragon tail whipped around. It slammed into the side of Viktor’s skull, and he collapsed.
Fleur was closest to him; quaking in fright she dragged Viktor into the bushes and fired his wand into the night sky. Karkaroff appeared seconds later, grabbing Viktor and vanishing.
Harry and Hermione didn’t even notice, concentrating on evading the Chimaera’s flames and savage tail.
“Over here!” Fleur waved her arms, drawing the Chimaera’s attention while the Potters circled behind the monster. As it lunged towards Fleur, Harry and Hermione whipped their wands. The Chimaera roared in agony as it fell apart at the seams, blood and viscera spilling onto the ground.
The three of them hurtled down the pathways, hoping there were no more Chimaera. All of them out of breath, trembling, hearts thumping in their ears, they had barely stumbled into the fifth ring when the Gorgon was upon them, hissing and slithering, its eyes seeking out their own.
Panicking, they scattered, trying to avoid its massive serpentine tail. If she’d had the time, Hermione would have breathed a sigh of relief that the Greek Symbols had protected them from the Gorgon’s Gaze. Harry rolled out of the way of the whipping tail, but Fleur was not so lucky.
The thrashing tail caught Fleur’s legs and she fell screaming as they shattered. Shocked that the humans had survived its gaze, the Gorgon lunged at Hermione.
Hermione shot a Reductor, but the spell had no effect on the creature and every serpent on its head opened its mouth in laughter as it cackled. The Gorgon bore down again on Hermione. Harry’s terror evaporated, his stomach clenched painfully and his blood boiled as rage took over.
Steadying himself, Harry utilised the spell which had thus far been one of the most effective. With one clean swipe of his wand the Gorgon’s head parted from its body and flew, tumbling, its mouth agape in a silent shriek, the serpents on its head flailing.
The torso and tail of the Gorgon thrashed and writhed violently for nearly a full minute, spraying blood everywhere from its gaping neck, before it gave one final twitch and stilled forever.
Trembling in fear and anger, Harry ran over and embraced his wife who was shaking and crying, covered in the Gorgon’s blood. They held each other silently, kneeling in the slick stained grass, and both slowly began to calm.
Harry grabbed Fleur’s wand and Red Sparks shot up like fireworks. Within seconds Madame Maxime arrived. Horrified at the scene, she nodded at the Potters and disapparated quickly with Fleur. Hermione’s breath quickened again when she spied Acromantulas approaching once more.
“We’ve got to go Harry,” she gasped, pulling him to his feet.
Together, they ran down the paths breathing heavily until they found the gate which led to the sixth ring of the maze. They groaned to see another skrewt in their path as at least twenty Acromantulas bore down on them. Hermione fired a bombarda maxima at the arachnids while Harry slashed his wand at the Skrewt.
The Skrewt’s limbs separated from its body. Harry fired a Reductor at its belly when it flipped on its back. Harry whirled around and joined his wife in firing Bombardas and Reductors until every enormous spider had been blown to smithereens or disintegrated.
Without waiting to see if more would be coming, they ran down the pathways until they found the entrance to seventh ring. As the gap in the hedge closed behind them, both of them halted, wheezing and gasping for air.
The world seemed to fall into silence, and the mist grew heavier until it was a thick fog. They could barely see a few feet ahead. Harry gulped nervously, knowing that the deceptive quiet couldn’t be good. The best thing that could be said as they crept slowly forward, was that Harry and Hermione had a chance to catch their breaths and gather their wits.
Harry spun around and Hermione’s breath caught when they heard the crack of a branch. Hearts beginning to race again, they peered around trying to see through the dense fog. A shuffling sound came from behind them; they pivoted back around but they still couldn’t see a thing.
An odd low groaning sound reached their ears. They could only just make out shadowy figures approaching - hear lurching footfalls. Terror clutched Hermione’s chest when a horrible thought struck her.
“Harry,” she whispered, her voice trembling, “I... I think they might be Inferi...”
“What?” Harry gasped, “Are... are you sure?”
“I think so Harry,” Hermione moaned.
Harry’s mind clouded with Horror. Despite Hermione’s offhand comment several months ago, neither one of them had believed that the Minister would actually stoop to Necromancy. What on earth were they supposed to do for Inferi? He racked his brain trying to think of something. Sectumsempra wouldn’t work on something without blood.
The shadowy groaning figures drew closer.
“Hermione, what do we do?”
“Heat and Light spells Harry... Maybe Reductors too!”
Hermione screamed as a greyish rotting hand grabbed her arm, eyes boggling at the sight of the exposed skull where the skin hung in peeling rags. Harry whipped his wand and severed the arm of the undead corpse. But more surged towards them, numerous Inferi emerging from the shroud of fog.
Recovering herself, Hermione yelled, “Lumos Solem.” She was shocked when they kept coming.
“That should have worked,” she whimpered.
“Reducto,” shouted Harry. One of the Inferi disintegrated, but there were many more.
Heat and Light spells... Heat and Light... Harry kept repeating the phrase to himself. Finally his brain began to work again and he remembered the incendiary spell which Moody had taught them.
“Confringo,” he suddenly blurted out.
Several Inferi burst into flame and exploded, and others were knocked down. But there were just too many, and the surging horde just stepped on the fallen, crushing them. Not to mention that a few pieces of flaming inferi fell uncomfortably close to Harry and Hermione. Harry whirled around, his back to Hermione’s when he realised there were more behind them.
“Bombarda,” he shouted, but it merely sent a group of them flying. More Inferi swarmed forward, filling the gap in their ranks, as the broken ones which had been blasted dragged themselves along the ground.
Soon Harry and Hermione were both yelling. “Confringo - Confringo...” before deciding that the explosive incendiary spell was a bit too dangerous in such close quarters. They returned to the safer disintegration spell, "Reducto... Reducto..."
But for every Inferi destroyed, ten more seemed to take their places - closing in. Harry and Hermione were surrounded - skeletal hands, decaying flesh hanging from their arms - reaching for them... tearing at Hermione’s limbs, scratching her face as she shrieked.
The stench of festering Death was unbearable. Biting teeth clamped on Harry’s forearm and he screamed in pain. Suddenly a crazy thought occurred to Harry. It might not work, but they had no options left.
“Hermione... Our Patronuses, Now!”
Hermione didn’t bother to think. She just reacted, all of her good memories flashing before her eyes... How she felt about Harry... Knowing she would break if she lost him.
“EXPECTO PATRONUM!” they both roared.
Blinding white light radiated from their wands in throbbing pulses - an etheric stag and doe charged the Inferi. Every animated corpse in the radius of the glaring light halted in their tracks - their grunts and groans turned into earsplitting screeches of agony.
The walking dead shuddered; what was left of their rotting flesh withered and blackened as they combusted from within, flames blazing from their eye-sockets. Blackened flesh turned to ash and the inert skeletons of a hundred or more Inferi collapsed, falling into heaps and mounds of skulls and bones.
Shaking and bloody, Harry and Hermione fell to their knees gasping in pain and fright. At least ten minutes passed before they both calmed down enough to stagger back to their feet. They waded through the skeletons, hoping that the worst was behind him. Finally they came to what they hoped was the last gate.
Harry and Hermione heaved huge sighs of relief. The gleaming silver Triwizard Cup stood on a plinth in the centre of the maze, bathed in a bluish light. It was over!
Then they heard a growl which sent shivers down their spine.
Harry sighed wearily and Hermione groaned in recognition of the Manticore guarding the Cup. The enormous human-like head grinned as its lion body paced, its scorpion tail unfurling. Harry slashed his wand but the creature was too fast.
“Foolish boy, you didn’t think the Minister would save the least for last did you?” the beast laughed, as it circled the two young wizards. Furiously, Harry whipped his wand several more times while Hermione fired Reductors. The Manticore dodged every spell.
Harry’s blood turned to ice in his veins when the creature laughed again.
“Hahahahahahaha... I am the King in this Realm. My power is no longer bound by magical oath. The Dark Witch freed me to do as I will. All she asked for in return was your death. A simple matter...”
The Manticore's taunts were interrupted by a ferocious outburst of barking as an enormous shaggy black dog lunged at the monster.
“Sirius... NO!” Hermione screamed in terror as the beast’s fangs sank into Sirius’s neck.
But the distraction was all that Harry needed. In a blaze of fury, Harry whipped and slashed his wand until the manticore was a bloody pile of flesh. Padfoot choked on his own blood as the two young wizards ran to his side.
“SIRIUS! Please... don’t die... don’t die...” Harry broke, hot tears streaking the dirt and blood on his cheeks. Harry knelt beside Sirius. Panicked and exhausted, Hermione’s legs gave out and she collapsed.
Slowly, with careful deliberation, the canine morphed back into human form, the puncture wounds on his neck shrinking.
“What? Sirius...” Harry gasped.
“It’s alright...” Sirius coughed and spat out some more blood as Harry tearfully looked on in disbelief. “...I’ll be fine. It’s very difficult, but for animagi, it is possible to heal an injury from one form when transforming into the other...”
Harry sighed as relief flooded through him. Sirius was going to live. Drained and exhausted, he collapsed as well, groaning on the ground next to Sirius and Hermione.
But something still wasn’t quite right. The first thing that Harry noticed was Sirius’s breath clouding, then he felt the bitter chill in the air and his bones, and the grass whitened as ice crystals crept along the blades. Hermione opened her eyes when she felt it too.
“Dementors!” Harry whispered as the tears on his cheeks froze. He should have known that the Minister would have a fallback plan.
The three of them looked up at the dark partly cloudy sky and their faces dropped. There had to be more than four hundred wraiths drifting towards them, silhouetted against the clouds, backlit by the waning crescent moon.
Harry looked at Hermione and took her hand, a flood of emotion filling him. The memories they had given each other, vivid in their minds, the love they felt for each other bursting in their hearts, Harry grinned, knowing that it wasn’t over, that the Minister wasn’t going to win this way. Hermione smiled back, cracking the frozen blood on her face.
Together they raised their wands and shouted the incantation for the second time that evening.
The white spectral doe and stag sprang forth, soaring into the midst of the Dementors as pulses of Blinding Magic lit up the Night Sky.
The first pulse of light stunned the Dementors; the second pulse of light trapped them, frozen in its matrix. The Dementors quavered and vibrated when the third pulse enveloped him. The fourth pulse hit them and all of the Dementors shattered - the shards falling like black hail on the wizards in the clearing at the centre of the maze.
Sirius was shocked beyond measure as the pieces of black ice struck the ground around them and melted.
Albus Dumbledore sprang to his feet enraged when he spied the massive Dementor Swarm invading the Hogwarts grounds, heading for the centre of the maze. Wards be damned! He would destroy them all to get to his students before the Dementors did, even if he had to kill Bagman and the Triwizard Commission Members to do it.
Dumbledore hauled the sputtering Bagman to his feet, pressing the point of his wand to the whimpering wizard’s temple while Senior Undersecretary Weasley cowered in his seat.
“Release the wards now...” the Headmaster uttered softly, dangerously.
“Look...” shouted one of the onlookers among the crowds in the stands. The Headmaster’s jaw dropped as he peered out over the maze.
“What is it?”
The crowd began to murmur in astonishment, and a thrill swept through them when the sky lit up explosively four times in succession as a pair of ghostly white entities spiraled up through the swarm of Dementors. When it was finished, all that remained was a precipitation glittering in the sliver of moonlight peeking from behind the clouds.
The Headmaster let Bagman collapse at his feet, warmth filling him. Astounded, Dumbledore realised that he had just witnessed the most powerful patronus charms in modern history, and that the Potters were still alive.
But one question remained; it was simply unheard of for a patronus to actually destroy Dementors.
After hearing Senior Undersecretary Weasley’s head in her fireplace describing what had happened, Minister Dolores Umbridge shattered every single last one of her collectible pink kitten plates against the pink pin-striped wall of her Upstairs Office.
“I HATE CATS!!!” the enraged witch screamed at the shards littering the pink shag carpet in her office, though she wasn’t really sure why.
Cats had done nothing to her after all. But seeing them gamboling cheerfully across the plates while her blood boiled with fury was just too much to bear. Dolores decided then and there that she much preferred dogs. Perhaps it was time to start collecting plates with pictures of pink poodles instead.
Dolores fumed, wishing she had more plates to break. She had no idea how Harry Potter had wiped out the Dementors. A patronus charm was merely a shield which could protect one from the effects of maybe twenty Dementors at best; and many adult wizards couldn’t even produce a corporeal patronus. Nor had she ever heard of any spell with the effects which Percy Weasley had described.
Somehow Harry Potter's continued survival had something to do with Dumbledore’s Secret Weapon. It was impossible to destroy Dementors - but somehow Dumbledore had created a device which could do just that. Potter must have deployed it at the conclusion of the Third Task.
Dolores really wanted to sack someone over the turn of events too, but such considerations must not be taken without deliberate calculation. She brought her savage emotions back under control, and as she cooled down, Dolores began to consider her options.
Bagman was the evident choice for a sacking of course. She already had the convenient excuse of his serious gambling addiction. Then it suddenly struck Dolores and her eyes gleamed - this was the opportunity that she had been looking for to achieve her goals.
Certainly, it would now be a relatively simple task to convince the Wizengamot that Amelia had to go. The Minister could easily lay the faulty decision to station a majority of Azkaban’s Dementors at Hogwarts for the conclusion of the tournament at Amelia’s feet. Everyone knew that the DMLE was the agency charged with overseeing the Dementors.
And of course someone had to be punished for their destruction. This was the perfect opportunity to bring Harry Potter to justice. Now he could be brought to trial as soon as he returned to Number 4 Privet Drive. Once convicted, it would be a simple matter to “lose” him in the system.
This really was a most suitable arrangement indeed.
The Minister cheered up immensely, satisfied that events had actually worked to her best advantage. And as she commanded the Ministry’s House-Elves to bin the debris of her rubbished plates, Dolores Umbridge poured herself a fresh cup of tea, added a splash of Brandy, and perused her Spode Magical Pink Room Collection catalogue, searching for plates featuring Poodles.
Following what was clearly the conclusion of the Third Task, Remus Lupin slipped into the maze unseen, disillusioned as he was. Even in human form, as a werewolf, Remus’s sense of smell was quite good. He quickly followed the scent of Harry and Hermione until he reached the centre of the maze.
There, he found Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Madam Pomfrey, who had just arrived via apparition. And on the ground lay Sirius near the bloodied and thrashed Potters who were lying beside him. The headmaster, the healer, and the professor turned around when Remus undid the disillusionment spell. Dumbledore beckoned him forth.
Seeing the Potters both stirring and groaning, he knew that Pomfrey would soon have them on the mend. Remus ran to Sirius’s side and looked down to see Sirius grinning up at him.
“Sirius, you scared me half to death, and there you are just grinning at me like a fool.”
“Glad to see you too Remus,” chortled Sirius. “Missing me already? ....It’s only been a couple of hours since I saw you last.”
Remus shook his head and sighed. He was torn between anger that Sirius had put himself in harm’s way yet again, and elation at finding him undamaged. But how could he really be angry with Sirius?
If Remus could have controlled his own changes and lycan urges, and passed through the wards, he knew that he would have been there as Moony by Padfoot’s side, doing everything in his power to protect Harry and Hermione.
Remus felt a gentle hand on his shoulder and looked up to see Albus Dumbledore smiling at them both through watery eyes.
“Go with Sirius, Remus,” said Dumbledore gently. “You still have a few minutes to apparate on Hogwarts grounds... Take some time to yourselves. We have everything well in hand here. The Potters appear to be safe, and despite some injuries, mostly sound. Poppy will look after them for now.”
Madam Pomfrey apparated the pair of young wizards directly to the infirmary, to avoid a mob scene with the spectators at the gates by the stands.
The headmaster reset Hogwarts’ anti-apparition charms immediately upon his own arrival in the Hospital Wing. Madam Pomfrey was already seeing to the Potters’ injuries, washing the blood off them with damp cloths. She scowled at Dumbledore as if daring him to disturb her patients.
“It’s alright Poppy,” Dumbledore said quietly. “I’m leaving now. Any ‘debriefings’ can wait for a day or so. I think everyone has earned a good rest.”
“And where do you think you’re going young lady?” Poppy snapped when Nymphadora Tonks stumbled into the infirmary past Dumbledore as he sauntered out of the door.
“Er...” was the best Dora could manage.
In truth, Dora had rushed up to the hospital wing in a panic, uncertain as to what had become of the Potters and Fleur. Like everyone else, she had witnessed the astonishing light show in the night sky above the maze, but had no idea what had occurred.
She couldn’t make out the details of the ghostly entities flying into the midst of the Dementors and feared the worst. And nobody had thought to tell Dora what had happened to Fleur.
By the time the frightened young metamorphmagus had squeezed through the crowd up to the gate, Mad Eye informed Tonks that he had no idea regarding the Potters’ or Fleur’s medical condition, but that Poppy had already collected them.
During Order meetings, Dora often found herself very close to Poppy when Sirius or Lupin weren’t around - they were the only ones who “got” her. But back at Hogwarts, here in the Hospital Wing, Poppy was Madam Pomfrey, Ruler of her Domain. Dora couldn’t help feeling out-of-sorts, like an awkward schoolgirl again as Madam Pomfrey glared at the intruder.
“Dumbledore’s orders... protection,” Order member Tonks made-up on the spot as she tried to calm herself, glowering back at Madam Pomfrey.
“Bah! Go on then...” Poppy huffed crossly. The first thing Dora did was scurry to the Potters’ bedside.
“Harry, Hermione, you two alright...?”
“Yeah... we’ll be fine...” said Harry, wincing as he shifted uncomfortably.
“...you should go see Fleur!” said Hermione, finishing Harry’s sentence, before letting out a little groan.
Tears sprang to Dora’s eyes when she saw Fleur lying there, groggy and full of pain potions. Her vision blurry, Fleur could just make out Dora’s violet hair.
“Chérie, ees zat you?” Fleur murmured.
“Yeah, Fleur... It’s me.” Dora clasped Fleur’s hand in her own. “You’ll be alright now - you’re in good hands.” Dora leaned over and gave Fleur a warm kiss.
Madam Pomfrey’s eyes narrowed, and her lips pursed, when she spied Diggory and Krum - both well on the mend - gawking at the scene, both with their own girlfriends - Brown and Chang - sitting beside them. With a sigh, Pomfrey waved her wand and a curtain drew around both the Potters’ bed and Fleur’s to give them all a bit of privacy.
She heard a commotion at the door of the infirmary and spotted a large group of people entering the Hospital Wing. Among them were Miss Weasley and Lovegood, Greengrass and Patil, followed by Longbottom, Thomas, Finnegan, and three Weasley brothers - not to mention Arthur and Molly. Fuming, Madam Pomfrey waved them all away.
“Please!” she snapped. “My patients need rest... There will be plenty of time tomorrow for visitations!”
“Alright... alright,” grumbled Ron Weasley. “We’re going...”
“Sorry Poppy,” said Molly, “You’re right of course. Ron - mind your manners...”
The Dark Lord had been most annoyed when the first day of summer came and went; Goyle and Crabbe still had not returned from the Caucasus region. But finally, early in the morning of June Twenty Third - the eve of the Third Task - Goyle had arrived with good news.
A phalanx of twenty one Giants which had been brought across the North Sea on a captured Russian Freighter were now awaiting the Dark Lord’s commands on an Orkney island very near to Azkaban. The Giants had been quite eager to leave the mountains of central Eurasia with the promise of starting a new colony in Northern Britain.
The Mountain Trolls captured and enslaved by MacNair numbered fifty, and he was waiting in an isolated natural harbour near Inverness where the freighter would pick them up. The Dark Lord made some final preparations with Wormtail and they departed for the Scottish coast.
It was nearly seven pm on the 24th when Voldemort, Wormtail, Goyle, and MacNair boarded the Russian freighter with nearly forty werewolves, the trolls, and thirty Snatchers. Soon they were well underway and nearing the island on which the Giants and Crabbe waited. When they arrived at Azkaban several hours later, the Dark Lord sent a message to a group of Snatchers which he had stationed in London.
Piccadilly Circus, Diagon Alley, and London Bridge erupted into chaos as Snatchers created mayhem during the assault upon Azkaban.
Silence echoed through the manor, but the naked teenage girl trembling in the basement hardly dared to hope.
Not more than an hour before, that horrifying... thing - the monster with no nose and red eyes - Snakeface - had stood at the top of the basement stairs, silhouetted in the doorway. He had called down to the creep she had come to think of as Ratface, who loomed above her.
“Wormtail... It is time,” Snakeface had hissed commandingly. “Gather our forces... We are leaving for Inverness.”
“Of course Master!” Ratface had responded obsequiously. “At once!”
Ratface had given her one last leering look, then strode up the stairs.
There had been a lot of clattering and banging of doors, then many loud cracking sounds, and after that... nothing. She waited, sure that it was too good to be true, dreading the return of the slovenly balding fat creep with the long pointy nose, crooked teeth, and far too much ear hair.
The girl shuddered in revulsion, her flesh crawling at the memory of his calloused touch, his unkempt fingernails, unable to get the stink of his breath - which seemed to hover long after he was gone - out of her nose.
When Ratface didn’t return, she was certain they had all gone. She would have been relieved, but unfortunately he had left her chained by one ankle, shackled to the concrete pillar. Wondering if anyone would find her or if she would die alone in the basement from starvation, she began to sob...
The stolen Russian freighter crested over the storm surge as lightning lit up the decks, water streaming from the bow of the vessel. The ship dipped as it tilted into the valley of the next wave and many Snatchers lost their dinners while the Lycans jeered at their weakness.
Storming the fortress proved much easier than the Dark Lord had imagined. The iron gates crumpled like tissue paper in the hands of the Giants, and the Aurors who were stationed to monitor the prisoners were no match for the Dark Lord’s forces. The lucky ones fell to the Snatchers’ killing curses. Those who were not so lucky screamed as they were torn apart by the Werewolves and the Trolls.
There were barely a few more than two hundred Dementors hovering around the ancient keep, far too few; the Dark Lord was puzzled at the turn of events. Scores of the wraiths hissed at the intruders and vanished, heading for London to answer the heed of the Dark Witch, abandoning the rest to their fate.
Those that remained gathered near the Rune-Wall as the Dark Lord approached, and bowed before him. Only a wizard could release them from the magic which bound them to this fortress, allowing them access to human souls beyond the walls of Azkaban, and the ones which stayed had made their choice. Voldemort’s features broke into an evil grin. At least, of those Dementors which he had numbered, the Dark Lord and the Dark Witch were evenly matched.
As the prisoners were released, the Dark Lord counted his supporters. Antonin Dolohov grinned and bowed to his Master, as did Thorfinn Rowle. Mulciber and Travers were shaken awake, their eyes widening in surprise as they prostrated themselves, begging forgiveness for their failures. One the Dark Lord presumed to be Nott’s son was dragged from his cell, screaming for mercy.
Rabastan Lestrange and his brother Rodolphus stood straight and tall with thin smiles on their lips as they re-pledged their troth. Finally the Dark Lord reached the cell of the one he had sought out the most - the one who would help him raise his Army of the Dead.
Bellatrix Lestrange stretched and yawned, gazing languidly at the Dark Lord when one of the trolls ripped her cell door from its hinges.
“What took you so long?” she purred, batting her eyelashes as a smile crept to her lips. “I’ve been waiting for you...”
Voldemort chuckled softly and shook his head. Bellatrix was ever the same, her Dark libido undaunted by years among the Dementors.
“What of Lucius’s son - the one known as Draco?” inquired the Dark Lord, “I was given to understand that he too had been sent to Azkaban, but he is not to be found.”
“The Minister took him,” Bellatrix cackled and leered, “Apparently that witch has had designs on Lucius for years. She obtained his son’s release some weeks ago. She bribed the Aurors on duty... No doubt Lucius belongs to her now.”
Voldemort chuckled again and nodded. “He does indeed... Lucius and his son shall meet the same fate as all who have betrayed me then,” the Dark Lord sneered. “And Rookwood?”
“He was the first to go to her side when she claimed him as one of her own,” Bellatrix replied.
The Dark Lord frowned. That was a shame; Rookwood had been one of his best operatives. Still, he would have been useless as a spy this late in the game.
The rest of the prisoners were released and added to the ranks of the Snatchers. One of them was making a fuss though and broke formation, falling at the Dark Lord’s feet.
“Please, my Lord,” the once quite handsome fellow begged, his golden curls now bedraggled and frayed, “I have skills... I can be much more useful as a Death Eater. I’m... I’m quite good at Obliviation Charms and Interrogations.”
Bellatrix smirked at Wormtail as she strode through the fortress by his and the Dark Lord’s side.
She could see the change in the Rodent, wrought by his claiming of Power. He wasn’t the weak little thing she had surmised him to be when he had begged to join the ranks of the Death Eaters, offering up the Potters as the price of admission. Like herself and their Master, he seemed quite at ease walking among the Dementors.
Bellatrix decided that Wormtail would make a far better General than the coward Lucius, or Severus, whom she had always suspected to be a traitor. Bellatrix did not begrudge the Rat his status, as the Dark Lord had finally agreed to take her as his Dark Consort when they returned to the Mainland.
The Minister had just placed an order for 20 collectible plates featuring Puppies - they weren't Poodles, but they would do - from Spode’s Magical Division by owl when the first memo from the DMLE arrived.
London was under attack. Scowling, Minister Umbridge decided that Muggle London could hang for now. She had already warned the Prime Minister of potential terror attacks by Voldemort, and he had assured her that as long as he himself was protected, he could turn any such situation into a political advantage for them both.
She was certain that at this very moment Azkaban was also under attack, but Minister Umbridge sighed in relief, secure in the knowledge that Lucius’s son was safe at her home, still recovering from the withering effects of the cold, damp, and malnutrition.
Fortunately, the effects of the Dementors didn’t seem to have damaged his mental state greatly. Draco had apparently been sustained by his fury and hate for Harry Potter, which had overridden his fears and despairs.
The Minister was surprised at how little the Dementors affected herself anymore. Upon her last visit to Azkaban, her Patronus had sputtered and vanished, but she found that she no longer required it. Dolores almost felt at home amongst the Dementors. She tapped one of the rune-stones which she had taken from the Auror sentry at Azkaban - whom she had bribed on her last visit - with her wand, knowing that the Dementors would answer her call.
Voldemort’s timing couldn’t have been more serendipitous, playing right into her hands. The blame for the Inferi in the maze would easily be attributed to Voldemort by all. And soon the DMLE would belong to Dolores as well.
Harry woke up in the middle of the night gasping for air, his scar on fire, his heart thudding against the wall of his chest.
Hermione bolted upright in alarm when she heard him. Despite her sleeping potion, nightmares of being eaten alive by walking corpses had woken her already. It was well after midnight and she had just been thinking of asking Madam Pomfrey for a Dreamless Sleep potion when she heard Harry.
“Harry, are you alright?” she asked worriedly.
“Voldemort... H...he’s taken Azkaban! I need to talk to Dumbledore.”
Madam Pomfrey was woken by her monitor. She bustled into the Hospital Wing and made a beeline for Harry Potter’s bed. Harry couldn’t be happier when he saw her.
“Mr Potter... what are you doing awake?” Madam Pomfrey peered at Harry with bewilderment. “That sleeping potion should have kept you asleep...”
“I need to speak to Dumbledore right now!” said Harry, interrupting her. “It can’t wait till morning - it’s urgent!”
Madam Pomfrey hesitated, but she could see the conviction in Harry’s eyes. “Very well Mr Potter. I’ll inform the headmaster at once.”
Ten minutes later, Dumbledore was sitting at Harry’s bedside, his brows knitted in consternation as he listened to Harry recounting his vision. Hermione gasped and shivered when she heard what else Harry had seen in his dreams.
“... Voldemort... He’s taken Azkaban!”
“As I expected he would.” Dumbledore nodded as he stroked his long silvery beard. “It was just a matter of time.”
“But that’s not even the worst of it sir...” Harry looked stricken as he recalled what he’d seen. “They left a muggle girl locked up in the basement of a manor when they left - we have to rescue her right now...”
“Harry, you are going nowhere...” the headmaster said firmly.
“I am very sorry Harry,” Dumbledore interjected. “But you have dealt with more than your fair share of harrowing circumstances in the last 24 hours as it is. I shall look into this myself... Can you tell me the location of the manor?”
Harry closed his eyes and thought for a moment, trying to remember what he’d seen in Voldemort’s mind. Voldemort had departed for Inverness, but from where? His eyebrows shot up in surprise when it suddenly came to him.
“It’s not far from Hermione’s aunt’s house... across the bay, on a hill not far from Corfe Castle.”
“What?” Hermione gasped. “Are you sure Harry?”
“Yeah...” Harry nodded. “Very sure!”
“Excellent Harry! Thank you!” Dumbledore stood up abruptly. “Don’t worry... we’ll find the girl and make sure that she is safe and sound...”
“Will you tell me as soon as you’ve found her? ... Please?” Harry beseeched. “I can’t go back to sleep until I know...”
Looking very distressed, Madam Pomfrey interrupted, “Mr Potter, I don’t think that is wise - you desperately need sleep...”
Dumbledore held up his hand, raising his eyebrows at Pomfrey. She quieted and let Dumbledore speak his piece.
“Poppy, under the circumstances, I quite understand Harry’s concern... Please, allow him to remain awake for the time being. I shan’t be long after all...”
And true to his word, an hour later Dumbledore returned, carrying a sleeping teenage girl in his arms...
Albus Dumbledore had the worst headache he could recall having in some years - the worst one since the night Lily and James Potter had been murdered. He almost asked Poppy for a pain potion, but he needed his wits about him. A hot cup of Chamomile Tea would have to suffice.
Dumbledore didn’t even know why he had the headache. It was not as if he had been surprised by last night’s turn of events.
He reread the Daily Prophet article and sighed again. Dumbledore considered releasing Rita Skeeter and forcing her to give evidence under Veritaserum to the Wizengamot, though it would likely be a futile endeavour as the Minister had turned the Wizengamot against him.
Dumbledore narrowed his eyes as he read between the lines and considered the implications of the slight change of tone of the Ministry's Mouthpiece. The current articles, while clearly still favouring the Minister’s views, were written in a much more straightforward manner. It was becoming increasingly evident that there was far more to the “Gossip Columnist” and unregistered animagus than met the eye.
Rita was hopeful when Dumbledore entered her cell the morning following the Third Task. She hadn’t been expecting to see Dumbledore at all anytime soon; perhaps he was in a more reasonable mood. Rita’s hope turned to puzzlement though when the Headmaster of Hogwarts was followed into the room by Severus Snape,
“Good morning Ms Skeeter,” Dumbledore began amiably enough, “I am going to ask you a few questions, and how you answer them could go a long way to assuaging my concerns and ensuring your timely release. Professor Snape has kindly agreed to provide some Veritaserum to aid you in providing truthful details if necessary.”
That wasn’t good. Not good at all.
“Really Dumbledore, surely you don’t think that I am in a position to lie to you...”
“Do not play games with me Ms Skeeter...” Dumbledore cut across her, his tone becoming colder as his piercing blue eyes bored into hers, “You are a remarkably good Occlumens; skilled enough to protect your secrets, but not at all adequate enough to hide the fact that you are a liar... a very well paid liar.
“The question which comes to mind is who is actually paying you? The focus of your propagandistic ‘gossip columns’ seem to have rather a lot of political import for someone alleging to be more interested in celebrity worship....”
The hairs on Rita’s neck rose; she licked her lips nervously. Surely the Headmaster was speculating. She would have to bluff as much as she could, but her options were running out.
“So tell me Ms Skeeter, how long have you been an Unspeakable? When did you begin working directly for Minister Umbridge? And how much do you know about the Minister’s connection to the attempts on the Potters’ lives?”
Rita’s blood ran cold and her breath quickened in fear. It was impossible for Dumbledore to know, yet the directness with which he asserted the “questions” was authoritative. She swallowed anxiously and replied truthfully.
“You won’t need the Veritaserum. I'll tell you all I know,” she gasped as her eyes widened, “But whatever you do, please - you can’t release me - or blow my cover while the Minister is in power. If you do, I’m as good as dead...”
It had been a long night for Fleur, but Dora had stayed by her side as she moaned and thrashed, fighting the wracks of pain caused by the reknitting of the bones in her legs.
It was true that Madam Pomfrey could “mend bones in seconds” for nice clean breaks, but too many bones had been shattered by the Gorgon’s tail, and they’d had to be removed and regrown overnight.
Fleur was sleeping soundly now as the bones had finally completed growing shortly before dawn, and Madam Pomfrey had felt that it was finally safe to give her a sleeping draught. The Potters had both refused to go back to sleep, and kept Dora and Fleur company through the night.
“Now, how about the rest of you get some sleep?” said Pomfrey firmly. “Tonks, you’re welcome to take a cot next to Miss Delacour’s.”
Harry blinked his red bleary eyes; he was wondering how the muggle girl was doing, and his stomach rumbled as he spied the rays of the morning sun peeking over the top of the mountains and streaming in through the window. He hadn’t eaten since yesterday morning, having been too anxious for lunch or the feast just before dusk.
“Er... I dunno, I’m famished now. Maybe after we’ve had some breakfast,” said Harry. “How about you Hermione, Dora? ... and what about the muggle girl?”
“I’m afraid that the poor dear is being kept sedated for the time-being Mr Potter - she has suffered some severely traumatic experiences. More than that I cannot say - and Professor Dumbledore has left strict instructions that this is to remain top secret... Not even your friends can know!”
“Of course,” said Hermione quickly. “It wouldn’t be good at all for it to get out that there’s a muggle girl at Hogwarts.”
“You can say that again!” muttered Dora.
“Yeah... what Hermione said,” Harry agreed.
“Very good then...” Madam Pomfrey brusquely shifted gears to the other topic at hand. “Now how about that breakfast... and then I simply must insist that you all get some sleep once you’ve finished.”
The Potters and Dora all nodded their assent. Several minutes later Madam Pomfrey wheeled a trolley into the ward, piled high with poached eggs, boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, ham, chips, baked beans, toast, crumpets, pots of jam, steaming bowls of porridge and a pot of tea.
Harry chortled at the excessive amounts of food. But as it turned out, the food on the trolley was quickly demolished as the three of them were all starving. Just after they had finished eating, Hedwig swept into the hospital wing and dropped the morning paper on the bedside table. Harry stroked Hedwig’s feathers and gave her a crumpet.
He picked up the Daily Prophet and sighed, having more or less expected the headline to read exactly as it did:
TERROR IN LONDON AND THE FALL OF AZKABAN
DMLE HEAD SACKED
Hermione scowled when she spotted a smaller headline just under the fold:
You-Know-Who Behind Inferi Attack at the Triwizard Tournament
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