Storming the Castle
Hermione was still asleep in Harry’s arms when he woke shortly after six am. Harry ignored his itching scar which told him that Voldemort was up to something. For a while he just lay there, stroking Hermione’s hair, listening to the sound of Hermione’s gentle breathing and Crookshanks purring at the end of the bed. Hedwig had already departed to collect the morning papers from the newsagent in Hogsmeade.
Harry’s thoughts ventured into territory that still unsettled him when he ruminated on his second “date” as Harriet with Hermione the night before.
Harry wondered if there was a reason for some of the feelings that he’d had since as long as he could remember - feelings he’d never felt comfortable sharing with anyone until Hermione. Or maybe he really was a freak after all. He wished Hermione was awake to help him sort things out, but he didn't want to wake her just for his own sake, and it felt nice to just cuddle her while she was sleeping.
Finally Hermione stirred, her eyelids fluttering open. She yawned and blearily peered at her husband. As her eyes adjusted, Harry’s features came into focus. Hermione could tell from his lost expression that something was bothering him.
“Penny for your thoughts, Harry?” she murmured. Harry started at the sound of her voice, not having noticed that she had woken up.
“Oh... er... erm...” The words stuck in Harry’s throat and he reddened. Hermione waited patiently for Harry to collect himself. Harry took a deep breath and tried again.
“I... er... I was just thinking... erm... I was wondering if there was something wrong with me, or if there was a good reason for... er...” Harry trailed off, not quite sure how to say it.
Hermione’s brain whirred as she tried to work out what was making Harry uncomfortable. An idea began to form, but the hunch puzzled her, as she had thought that Harry had come to terms with it already.
“Is... is this about you liking to be a girl sometimes Harry?” Hermione asked tentatively. Harry nodded, relieved that Hermione had figured it out for herself.
“Yeah... I don’t really understand it Hermione. It... it’s not really just about having fun. I’ve always sort of had a feeling which comes and goes... that I’m a girl inside. Does that make me a freak?”
“Oh Harry,” said Hermione sympathetically, “Of course it doesn’t. There’s lots of people who feel that way. That’s why some people have gender reassignment surgery. They feel like they’re stuck in the wrong body.”
“That’s one of the weird things though, Hermione. It... it’s not all the time - I mean I like being a guy too... It’s just... it’s just sometimes. I don’t know if I’d have ever been totally happy being stuck in one gender or the other. I’m glad that I’m a metamorphmagus, it seems more normal to me - but part of me still wonders if I’m not - not normal I mean. I don’t really know if I’m meant to be a guy or a girl.
“Ever since I’ve met people who knew my parents, they all seem to go on about me having my mum’s eyes. D’you think that might have something to do with it?”
“Hmm...” Hermione bit her lip and considered Harry’s question. “I’m not sure Harry. It might actually. Some people think that the eyes are the Window to the Soul. If that’s true, it might mean that you have a female soul.
“But you also have some of your father’s biological traits - you do look a lot like him other than your eyes, and you also have his talent for quidditch, and maybe other things. So that may explain why you feel like you could be both...
“It’s also quite possible that it’s something common to metamorphmaguses. Though, considering that Dora is perfectly happy being a girl who likes other girls, it might not be....”
“Hunh...” As Harry thought about what Hermione had just said, one explanation seemed to feel more right than the other. “Yeah... I think you’re onto something Hermione - the bit about having a female soul... but also having a strong biological connection to my dad.
“The more I think about, I think that’s it.” Harry’s features brightened and he felt a wave of relief. He leaned his head in for a kiss. “Thanks loads Hermione. I feel much better now...”
After showering and dressing, Harry and Hermione made their way to the Great Hall for breakfast and took their usual seats among the others at the Mingling Table. It wasn’t long before Hedwig arrived with the morning editions of the Daily Prophet and the Quibbler.
Harry’s stomach clenched when he read the ominous headlines regarding a number of Inferi attacks around Britain. He heard Hermione gasp in horror as she read over his shoulder and turned his head to share a dark look with her.
“What’s going on?” asked Ginny when she saw the looks that Harry and Hermione were sharing.
“More Inferi attacks,” Harry muttered, holding up the papers so that everyone else could see the headlines. There were shocked looks and gasps all around. Harry glanced up at the staff-table and spotted the professors grimly conferring.
The headmaster stood up, apparently having concluded the conference, and strode across the Great Hall, obviously intending to speak to those seated at the Mingling Table. Everyone peered at Dumbledore expectantly as he approached.
“I take it that you have all read the morning papers?” said Dumbledore as he keenly regarded the expressions on the students’ faces. When everyone nodded and replied in the affirmative, Dumbledore spoke again.
“Very good!” he sighed. “It is my contention that these attacks are designed as a distraction for the Ministry while Voldemort makes his move to take Hogwarts, very likely as soon as tonight when evening falls. Plans and preparations by the Order are underway, and it behooves me to make arrangements with you as well...”
“Professor Dumbledore,” Hermione anxiously interjected. “I’ve just had a thought, what if Voldemort uses the secret passages to get in?”
Dumbledore looked troubled for a moment.
“Thank you for reminding me Mrs Potter,” Dumbledore replied after a moment. “Yes, that is definitely a possibility. I will be certain to block any of the tunnels which we know about...”
“Er... what do you mean by ‘which we know about?’” asked Harry. “Wouldn’t the Marauders’ map have all of them?”
“That is not very likely,” Dumbledore replied with a shake of his head. “Your map would only contain the secret passages known to those who created the map - your father, Sirius, Professor Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew. There are undoubtedly more passages which we are unaware of, but which may have come to the attention of others.”
“Indeed, I would suggest that you have your map at the ready, so that you and your friends can keep track of any infiltrators who might breach the castle. The rest of the staff, the Order, and myself can look after ourselves...”
The headmaster paused and peered somberly around the Mingling Table at his students.
“I know that you have all been preparing for this moment,” Dumbledore continued. “I wish it were that you did not have to face this danger at all, but I have confidence in your abilities to defend yourselves. I simply ask that you please do not put yourselves in unnecessary peril to come to the aid of any professors.
“And Harry - if at all possible - I would like to remind you to please avoid contact with Voldemort if possible. And to all of you, it is not necessary for you to fight him unless you find yourself directly facing him, as he is immensely dangerous.”
Harry swallowed as he flushed with a hot wave of anger. The wizard who had killed countless people and murdered his parents was going to be at Hogwarts again - with Wormtail. And Harry wanted to see them both dead.
Professor Dumbledore stared at Harry, waiting for some sort of response. Finally, Harry sighed and nodded.
“Yes sir... I’ll do my best to stay out of his way. I won’t fight him unless I absolutely have to.”
“Thank you Harry. That is all I can ask. For now, I will be making arrangements for the defence of Hogwarts, but I shall be speaking with you all again later today to go over the plans and make any adjustments.”
“Right then,” said Harry, addressing everyone at the Mingling Table when Dumbledore returned to the staff-table, “I reckon we’re about as ready as we’ll ever be - we’ve still got the protection symbols and runes on us - but I was thinking we should maybe drill together a bit more, and have a think to see if we have any ideas to contribute when we meet with Dumbledore again.
“Sounds like a plan Harry,” said Dora. “We might as well get to it then...”
An eerie stillness fell over Hogwarts as the morning wore on. Clouds crept across the late summer sun, darkening the sky, and an unseasonably cold rain began to fall.
The professors and the Order members who had flooed to Hogwarts all cast additional protective charms and inspected the grounds, and were now waiting after having organised into teams. The Potters’ and their friends were shocked when they saw who else had arrived that morning.
“Daphne, Parvati - what are you both doing here?” Harry gasped.
“Helping of course!” Parvati replied. “Mum and Dad joined the Order last month. Mum stayed at home with Padma. They didn’t want me to come, but I told them I’d learned how to fight and begged them to let me come because besides Lavender, you’re all my best friends. Finally Dad said yes...”
“That’s more or less what happened with me too,” said Daphne before noticing someone she’d never met. “Oh, hello! Are you new at Hogwarts then?” she asked the girl with long black hair.
“Daphne, Parvati, meet Jennifer,” said Harry.
“Er... Hi!” said Jennifer shyly. “Yes, I’m... er...” Jennifer glanced at Hermione for help, not sure what to say. Hermione understood her quandary, and quickly jumped in.
“We don’t really have time to explain all the details right now,” said Hermione. “Jennifer’s sort of a Late Bloomer. There’s a bit more to it than that, but you mustn’t tell anyone else - well, it’s okay to tell Lavender too I suppose - but it’s a big secret, and nobody outside of our group can know about it... no-one at all. I’ll explain it all to you both later, I promise.”
“Alright then,” Daphne agreed.
Parvati nodded. “Of course Hermione. So... er... what are we doing then?”
“You’re going to join us in the Room of Requirement,” Harry grinned. “Hermione, why don’t you take everyone up and I’ll be there in half a tick...”
When Harry arrived in the Room of Requirement, the first thing he did was ink Parvati and Daphne with Runes and the Chinese symbols, while explaining what they were for. The rest of the day was spent drilling and practicing spells. Harry wished he had time to teach Parvati and Daphne how to conjure Patronuses properly, but settled for a brief lesson, and was happy to see that they were able to at least manage a basic shield.
After lunch, the headmaster had conferred with the Potters and their friends. At Hermione’s suggestion, Dumbledore had examined the Potters communication mirrors and replicated the enchantment, then passed out mirrors to all of the defenders. And the students were now biding their time in the Astronomy Tower as they had planned.
Dora chewed her fingernails nervously and glanced back at the open entrance where Luna and Ginny were huddled together whispering to one another.
The others were inside the astronomy room while Fleur and Dora were taking their turn at watch, looking out through telescopes over the battlements as the rain thrummed against the conjured umbrella which covered them. However, little could be seen as the grounds were shrouded in mist and darkness.
“I dunno Harry,” said Neville anxiously. “I’m not sure if I’m ready for this.”
“You’ll be fine Neville,” Harry replied in a reassuring tone which belied his own apprehension. “You’re as good as anybody with the fighting spells now...”
“...and we’re all just as nervous as you are,” Hermione continued earnestly.
“Hermione speaks truly,” said Viktor, who looked as stoic as a statue. “I too am anxious, though I may not look it...”
A clap of thunder interrupted Viktor and lightning lit up the sky. Moments later Dora dashed in through the open door past Ginny and Luna, her heart thumping so loudly that she was sure everyone could hear it.
“Harry, come take a look quickly, I think we saw something...” she gasped.
As the wind came up, the Dark Lord gazed across the dark wet grounds of Hogwarts from a nearby mountainside bluff where he stood with his top lieutenants, unperturbed by the downpour.
“What news do you have for me from your rodent spies Wormtail?”
“They tell me that Hogwarts is occupied my Lord,” Wormtail replied nervously. “Dumbledore and members of the Order have apparently anticipated our arrival and...” Wormtail hesitated, hoping that the Dark Lord wouldn’t be angered by the news, “and the Potter boy - he is with them.”
The Dark Lord hid well his surprise. It was far too late to alter his plans. The window of opportunity before the beginning of term was narrowing, and his forces were already in place at key locations, ready to breach the grounds of Hogwarts once he had countered the Protection Charms which warded the borders.
“It matters little,” Voldemort responded evenly. “Our occupying force is certainly vast and powerful enough to overwhelm whatever piddling resistance the Old Fool can muster.”
“I have prepared for every contingency,” the Dark Lord said to Wormtail and Bellatrix, “I do not know for certain what protected the boy the first time I encountered him, but I suspect an Ancient Magic invoked by his mother. It prevents me from touching him directly, or using the killing curse against him, and I expect it will also hamper my ability to possess him.
“But I know this much... it will not protect him again. What I know of the Prophecy is clear enough - and Harry Potter will die by my hand tonight...”
Lord Voldemort held aloft the enchanted ceremonial dagger which he intended to use on Harry Potter when the time was right. Bellatrix cackled gleefully as a swarm of Dementors hovered nearby, their cloaks billowing. A cruel smile twisted Wormtail’s features.
“We will carry on as planned,” the Dark Lord continued as the rain grew heavier. “I shall wait in the Forbidden Forest with Crabbe and Goyle, a squad of Lycans, and a squad of Inferi while MacNair leads a regiment of Inferi, Giants, Snatchers, Lycans, and Trolls in a frontal assault.
“The Acromantulas will join us once Hagrid’s little friend is dispatched with. Rodolphus shall launch an attack with the Snatchers from this very bluff. Bellatrix, you and Wormtail will take your team of Snatchers and Lycans through the hidden passages directly into the castle.
“When I give the order, moments before we begin the incursion, the new Inferi with the Contagion Curse shall be unleashed in towns and villages across Britain, and Snatchers will strike wizarding districts to keep the Ministry occupied. We strike at midnight...”
Huddled nearby, shivering from the cold and the wet, Theodore Nott edged towards the back of a group of Snatchers, hoping that no-one would notice. Without his father, Theodore’s lot in the Dark Lord’s army had grown even worse.
He wished he’d never participated in Draco’s assault of Daphne, or helped Draco kidnap Astoria and escape Hogwarts. Since then, his life had gone into a tailspin. Theodore had lost a handful of fingers, and ended up in Azkaban, and then in the clutches of a maniac who would just as soon torture and murder any of his own followers as look at them.
Theodore knew he deserved everything which had happened to him. His father had always encouraged him to embrace the Dark Path and taught him that his blood-purity gave him the right to use and abuse those lesser than him for his own pleasure - until they themselves had both ended up in the hands of the Dark Lord.
Theodore remembered the promise he had made to his father. And now the chance to escape lay before him. And if he should make it out alive, Theodore was done with blood-purity and Dark Magic; he would do whatever it took to make himself a better person.
While everyone's attention was still focused on the Dark Lord, Theodore slipped into the misty shadows of a copse of pines. The noise of the pounding rain and claps of thunder covered his footsteps. Once assured that nobody had seen him, his heart pounding rapidly, Theodore Nott scrambled around a rocky outcrop and disappeared into the darkness.
Despite the cold and damp, Gilderoy Lockhart was sweating profusely. For all of his bluster, dueling was not his strong suit. Indeed, if Gilderoy were being honest with himself - which was rare - he was quite pathetic at it.
And yet here he was, preparing to attack the school where he had once been a professor, waiting for Bellatrix and Wormtail to return, inside Honeydukes’ cellar with Fenrir Greyback and half a dozen Snatchers.
Lockhart considered making a break for it, but ruled it out almost as quickly as the thought came to mind. Running simply wasn’t an option; he had witnessed first hand what the Dark Lord did to those who disappointed him. A quick death would be a blessing in comparison.
Gilderoy and the Snatchers all started when Wormtail and Bellatrix reappeared with a loud crack, both of them drenched from the storm and dripping onto the floor. Fenrir grinned, hoping to see some action soon. He was getting bored.
“Get up fools,” Bellatrix snapped at the Snatchers who were lazing around eating sweets. “We move now!”
“What’s the rush?” asked one of the younger, more foolish Snatchers - unaware of the danger he was courting.
“It will take us some time to travel through the the tunnels up to the castle and find an entrance,” Wormtail hurriedly responded as Bellatrix’s eyes narrowed at the young Snatcher.
“Dumbledore will almost certainly have blocked the passage which led from behind the statue of the one-eyed witch as that is the one which Draco Malfoy used to escape the castle,” Wormtail continued. “We have the map provided by Nott, but we still have to find another entrance to this tunnel which hasn’t been blocked ...”
“Enough!” Bellatrix snarled. “All the idiot needs to know is that we need to get a move on and be ready when the Dark Lord gives the order.”
Everyone lit their wands and Gilderoy swallowed nervously. He followed the others through the trapdoor into the dark tunnel under the sweet shop, putting some distance between himself and the young Snatcher who had annoyed Bellatrix.
Harry ignored the rain and glanced at the mountainside behind the castle where Dora and Fleur were pointing. His eyes widened when he spied the numerous flashes of brilliantly coloured light, which appeared to be a hundred spells flaring against a nearly imperceptible globe enveloping the grounds of Hogwarts.
The nearly invisible barrier collapsed and a brigade of wizards raced down the mountain towards the castle.
Harry tapped his handmirror and spoke, “Professor Dumbledore, they’re attacking from the mountain behind Hogwarts. There have to be nearly a hundred of them...”
“Thank you Harry,” responded Dumbledore’s image in the mirror. “Stay at the ready and keep me informed of any other movements. We are already stationed at that wing of the castle...”
Ignoring the rain, Hermione had followed Harry out and grabbed a telescope which was aimed at the front lawn while Dora rejoined Fleur.
There was another flash of lightning and roar of thunder. Hermione gave a little scream and everyone else dashed out of the Astronomy room onto the observation balcony, their wands at the ready.
“Harry, look, on the front lawn...” beckoned Hermione.
Harry’s feet splashed through the puddles as he ran across the cobbled terrace and glanced downwards, seeing a swarm of shadowy figures moving across the lawn. He peered through a telescope, his heart pounding in his ears.
“Inferi...” gasped Harry. “Hundreds of them...”
“And Trolls,” moaned Hermione, brushing aside the strands of her bushy hair, which was quickly becoming saturated by the downpour.
“Not to mention Giants,” said Luna helpfully.
“And Wizards,” added Ginny, when she spotted the sparks and beams of light being shot from dozens of wands towards the castle.
“Merde,” Fleur groaned. Dora swore when she saw the size of Voldemort’s army. Daphne, Parvati, and Jennifer all looked shocked.
“Everyone, open fire!” yelled Harry, “Aim for the monsters. Leave the wizards for the Order. We’ll start with Bombarda Maxima on my mark... NOW!”
The teens reacted and powerful blasts ripped across the lawn dropping two giants and a dozen trolls. A hundred Inferi flew as well. But the Inferi picked themselves back up and rejoined the throngs which were growing larger by the minute. The Wizards were hanging back and kept the aim of their own explosive spells trained on the windows and the front doors of the castle.
The Potters and their friends fired several more times, dropping a dozen Trolls and another Giant, but the Inferi kept coming in waves.
At least seven Giants had already reached the castle and begun hammering the walls and the front doors. The castle trembled under the blows of the Giants, but the walls, windows, and doors appeared to be holding strongly for the time being.
The groaning Inferi which had reached the castle began piling up against the walls, clambering over each other, forming a mound of undead writhing corpses which reached higher and higher.
Viktor began shooting fiery explosive spells at the Inferi as the concussive ones were not enough to stop them. Dozens caught alight and Neville followed suit. But the flames soon sputtered in the downpour and the Inferi kept coming.
“It’s too wet for normal incendiary spells,” Harry shouted. “Just keep aiming Bombarda Maxima’s at the giants and the trolls. Hermione and I are going to try... ow!”
Everyone uttered little gasps at the stings - more out of startlement than anything - when the torrential rain turned to ice and large chunks of hail pelted them. Harry looked up; a large swarm of billowing black wraiths emerged from the churning clouds and swooped towards them.
“Dementors!” Harry grimaced. “Hermione, on my mark... NOW!” Harry yelled again.
The Potters’ Patronuses lit up the sky - briefly overpowering the flickers of lightning - and the Dementors shrieked. Moments later the Wraiths shattered, and black ice joined the clear hail which fell upon the students at the top of the Astronomy tower.
Harry and Hermione let their Patronuses fade, then refocused their aim at the grounds below which was teeming with groaning corpses.
“Just keep firing at the Trolls and Giants!” Harry shouted at the others. “Hermione and I will deal with the Inferi.”
The pulses of supercharged Patronus light flooded the lawn and the glowing ethereal stag and doe leapt from their wands, pouncing into the midst of the Undead. The grunts and moans of the Inferi turned into hideous shrieks and their eyes burst into flames in their sockets. The advance of the Inferi halted as all of those within the radius of the Patronuses shuddered.
The dead flesh withered and combusted from within, unhindered by the deluge, turning to ash which washed away in the rain. Hundreds of Inferi suddenly collapsed into heaps of skeletons, stilled forever. The Giants and Trolls kept hammering the castle, but the spells being fired from the other side of the lawn temporarily halted as the Dark wizards dropped their jaws in shock, nearly blinded by the dazzling pulses of light.
MacNair and the Snatchers were flabbergasted, and the Lycans were equally astounded. They had never seen anything like it.
Even though the strengthened walls of Hogwarts had already withstood the assault much longer than they would have prior to the Potters’ sex-magic powered “upgrades,” the headmaster doubted that they would do so forever. He suspected that eventually something would have to give - perhaps some windows - and that some of Voldemort’s forces would gain entrance through the breaches.
Dumbledore had left Snape, Lupin, Dawlish, Karkaroff, Hagrid, and Slughorn to guard the front of the castle while he, Flitwick, Sirius, Shacklebolt, McGonagall, and Hestia Jones had taken to the battlements at the rear.
Dumbledore had given Rita Skeeter the option of remaining protected by the House Elves. But Skeeter had surprised him by offering to help safeguard Hogwarts and had joined those defending the rear of the castle.
Pomfrey, Trelawney, Sprout, Augusta Longbottom, Mr Patil, and Arthur and Bill Weasley took one side of the castle. Moody, Cyril Greengrass, Elphias Doge, Daedalus Diggle, Emmeline Vance, and Sturgis Podmore took the other.
Amelia Bones had wanted to be at Hogwarts too, but Dumbledore had ordered her to remain in London at Number Twelve to protect the Potters’ relatives.
“Do not hesitate to use deadly force,” Dumbledore had warned everyone, much to their astonishment. “We cannot afford to be lenient or all shall be lost.”
As the wind and rain whipped Dumbledore’s long silvery beard, he gave the command, and the Order members with him on the stony ramparts facing the mountainside began firing spells at the phalanx of dark wizards approaching.
Theodore Nott heard the explosions in the distance and saw the sky light up time and again as he scrambled down the mountainside. He slipped and fell, splashing about in a burbling, muddy stream. Picking himself up in a panic, he suddenly realised that he couldn’t get off the mountain without entering the grounds of Hogwarts.
The Centaurs assembled in a wet clearing amidst a copse of gnarled, ancient oaks, deep in the Forbidden Forest, rain dripping from their sodden manes and tails. They shuffled and jostled, their voices carrying as they argued amongst themselves.
“We cannot stand idly by and let the Dark One take Hogwarts,” Firenze vehemently demanded .
“We should not interfere,” Ronan replied dolefully. “This war is for wizards. They must determine their own future. It is not our fight. The stars...”
“The stars be damned. Of course it is our fight,” retorted Firenze angrily. “Do you think that Voldemort will allow us to remain here in the forest should he take the castle? This is our home, and the master of Hogwarts is a good wizard and a friend to us all whether you accept it or not.”
Ronan looked troubled. He stroked his red beard pensively and glanced at the dozens of Centaurs gathered around to try and get a read on the general mood. Then he looked to the Centaur with the wild black mane who was being uncharacteristically silent.
“And what is your counsel Bane?” asked Ronan.
Bane hesitated. In times past, he would have expressed himself without delay, proffering his hopes that the wizards would kill each other to the last man. But Bane’s recent encounter with a most unusual coupling in the woods weighed heavily on his mind. Finally he responded.
“Harry Potter remains at the castle this summer,” Bane returned quietly.
Ronan lifted an eyebrow and began to nod, feeling reassured. He well remembered Bane’s infuriated reaction when Firenze had taken the young wizard upon his back. Firenze had been acting for the best in protecting Harry Potter at the time, but that had been a matter of preserving the peace. Joining a war was another matter altogether.
“I concur with Firenze,” Bane continued, his voice hardening. “We must fight.”
A flash of lightning rendered the shock on Ronan’s visage in sharp relief, and a number of other Centaurs began to stomp their hooves and whinny incredulously. But as stunned as they all were, none were as surprised as Firenze himself.
Bane’s nostrils flared and he whisked his tail when he realised that his apparent change of heart required further explanation.
“The Potter boy and his mate - they are not at all like most wizards. I discovered them coupling in our woods some weeks ago and felt their outpouring of magic - their essence permeating the very atmosphere of the forest. I bore witness to the blooming of new growth in a matter of moments. Their magic is pure - their magic is Life itself...”
A chorus of gasps and neighing greeted Bane’s remarkable proclamation.
“Many in the wizard world revere him,” Bane carried on, ignoring the sounds of astonishment. “Harry Potter has the power to change the hearts of wizards - the example he and his mate present to their world must be protected.”
The gathering of Centaurs was silent; naught could be heard but the roar of the rainstorm and heavy peals of thunder. Finally a dappled Centaur stepped forward.
“If Bane counsels that we should fight alongside the master of Hogwarts against the Dark One, then I stand with him,” said the dappled Centaur resolutely. A murmur of agreement swept through the Centaurs, and Ronan sighed with resignation. The decision had been made.
Harry groaned when he saw another horde of Inferi lurching forward from the shadows and mist, crushing the bones of the fallen. The wizards in the distance began shooting spells at the castle again. The sound of squabbling on the terrace caught his attention and he peered at Ginny and Neville who were arguing.
“Neville... NO! She’s too strong for you...” Ginny screamed as Neville darted back into the castle. “We’re supposed to stay here - come back.” But Neville was gone and Ginny chased after him.
Luna picked up the Marauders’ Map which Ginny had dropped as she bolted after Neville. Luna’s eyes widened when she saw who was on the map.
“Harry,” Luna gasped, “They’re in the castle - Bellatrix Lestrange and some others...”
Harry’s chest tightened as he peered at the map, which was thankfully impervious to water. Harry was torn. When he spotted Peter Pettigrew’s name on the map, Harry was stricken with the same violent urge as Neville.
“Bloody Hell!” Dora muttered as she looked over Harry’s shoulder. “We’ve got to do something Harry! Fenrir Greyback and that loathsome cretin Lockhart are with Lestrange too.”
“Hermione,” Harry looked at her beseechingly, “We can’t let Neville and Ginny face Bellatrix and Wormtail alone.”
“At least one of us has to stay here, and it should be you Harry. You stay here...”
“No, you can’t go by yourself - I have to go with you...” Harry retorted heatedly.
“Harry, please, I’ll be alright,” Hermione pleaded. “Someone else can come with me. You have to stay and direct the fight...”
“I vill go with her Harry,” Viktor responded. “You are needed here.”
“I... I’ll g...go too,” stammered Jennifer.
She gulped, but then her rain streaked face flushed and a flame sparked in her eyes. Harry stared at Jennifer as his heart thudded. He knew exactly why she wanted to go - why she needed to go.
“I’ll go as well Harry,” Dora said determinedly.
Harry closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath to steady himself.
“Right then,” Harry finally replied. “You go Hermione. Viktor, Jennifer and Dora can go with you. I’ll stay here with Fleur, Daphne, Luna, and Parvati. I’ll notify Dumbledore immediately. Just... please... please stay alive!”
“I will Harry. I promise,” Hermione tried to smile, but she couldn’t stave off the tears. “Just remember that I love you Mr Potter...”
Harry blinked back his own tears and embraced his wife, feeling a swell of warmth as he inhaled the scent of parchment and toothpaste.
“I love you too Mrs Potter,” Harry whispered, kissing her. “We’ll get through this - I just know it.”
It was a very soggy Dumbledore who sighed when Harry informed him of the turn of events. He turned and addressed the others as they retaliated against the dwindling legion of Snatchers below. He had to shout to be heard over the rainstorm and the barrage of spells being shot back and forth.
“Filius, Kingsley - Pettigrew and Bellatrix Lestrange are inside the castle with Fenrir Greyback and several others. Neville Longbottom and Miss Weasley have apparently taken it upon themselves to seek after Bellatrix...”
“I should go...” Sirius interjected forcefully. “She's my cousin - I know how she thinks!”
Dumbledore considered for a moment, then he nodded. “Very well - you and Kingsley then - Filius shall remain here instead.... Please be aware, I have notified the others to be on the lookout, and also dispatched Bill Weasley and Hagrid after the infiltrators...”
Harry couldn’t believe the number of Undead. Where were the Hordes all coming from? He hoped that his Patronus would still be powerful enough to do the job without Hermione at his side.
Another troop of reanimated corpses surged forward, piling up against the side of the castle, once more using each other as ladders. At Harry's direction, those still with him continued to use blasting spells while Harry did the best he could with his Patronus.
He knew that together with Hermione they could cover a greater area, but thankfully, his Patronus was still powerful enough to beam down on the lawn from the top of the Astronomy Tower, and several hundred more Inferi within the radius of the pulsing radiance crumpled into piles of inert skeletons.
Each time a wave of Inferi were destroyed, another battalion of them charged forth. Four of the young wizards at the top of the Astronomy Tower kept blasting at the Giants and Trolls while Harry kept recasting his Patronus.
The Snatchers continued firing their own spells at the castle, frustration setting in as the walls of Hogwarts refused to submit to destruction, and trepidation setting in as the wizards at the top of the Astronomy tower demolished the monsters. MacNair and several Snatchers tried to get in some shots at whomever was at the top of the tower, but the spells being fired from some of the First Floor windows of Hogwarts prevented them from getting a clear shot.
After what seemed like hours, the great hordes of Inferi were reduced to vast piles of bones and skulls, and the last Giant at the front of the castle keeled over, causing a minor earthquake.
The Snatchers and Lycans needed to get inside the castle, but for that, they needed to take out Hogwarts’ forward defences and create a breach. Lightning flickered again directly overhead, and a thunderclap rumbled through the grounds. As it faded, several squads of Snatchers darted forward across the muddy lawn, using the mist, the heaps of skeletal remains, and the bodies of fallen Giants and Trolls as cover.
One team focused their fire on the Ground Floor windows while other teams targeted the parapet of the Astronomy tower and the windows of the First Floor above, through which the Order were returning fire.
The five young wizards fell back from the Astronomy tower balustrade and gasped for air as spells from below rebounded harmlessly off the battlements, finally allowing themselves a breather. Harry was utterly exhausted, still not quite believing what he had managed to accomplish after Hermione had departed.
“What’s next Harry?” asked Luna as she soggily flopped through the entrance of the Astronomy classroom after dragging herself through the puddles.
“We can’t just let the Order handle the wizards and werewolves by themselves...” Parvati said, shaking the rainwater off.
“And we’re not.... going to...” panted Harry. “That’s why we brought our brooms - we can’t stay here anyway. We’re a sitting target now... so we’ll take the fight to them and distract them for the Order...”
“Now is ze time to bombard them from above?” asked a dripping Fleur. Daphne’s eyes widened as she pushed the wet strands of hair out of her face with her fingers.
“Yeah, you’re all decent flyers...” Harry nodded, “and on our brooms we’ll be moving too fast for them to draw a bead on easily. Still, be careful out there, and watch me for the cues...”
“They’ve split up,” groaned Hermione as she looked at the map, quivering with agitation. “...the infiltrators I mean - they’ve split into smaller teams. Neville is heading right for Bellatrix and Ginny isn’t far behind him...”
“Ve must hurry then...” said Viktor. Dora nodded in agreement.
“But keep an eye out - Wormtail and his team are nearby...” Hermione glanced at Jennifer, “in fact they’re unavoidable unless we go back the way we came...”
Jennifer nodded and took a breath to steady herself. She was as ready as she would ever be.
“Stop...” Hermione whispered. Dora and Viktor halted in their tracks on the other side of the corridor junction. Hermione bristled; she could see him on the map - Wormtail.
A bolt of magic lit up the intersection and a small blast rocked it, filling the corridors with smoke. Hermione and Jennifer were cut off from Dora and Viktor.
“Go...” Hermione yelled through the smoke at Dora and Viktor, “Find Neville and Ginny before Bellatrix Lestrange does - we’ve got this...”
“No,” Viktor shouted back, “I vill not go anyvere wizout you both..”
Dora grabbed Viktor’s arm, “I’ll keep goin’ after the other two - you ‘elp Hermione and Jennifer, alright?”
Viktor could see the determination in Dora’s eyes and nodded. “Go then, and hurry...”
Ginny finally caught up with Neville as he entered the dungeons.
“Ginny, go back,” Neville said angrily. “I need to do this... But I don't want you to get hurt!”
“No,” Ginny retorted, her eyes brimming with tears “We’re all in this together Neville... You’re my friend and I’m not letting you face her alone.”
An explosion to their left caught their attention. Ginny and Neville whirled to see Bellatrix Lestrange and three Snatchers standing with their wands all trained on the pair of them. Bellatrix returned her Foe-Glass to a pocket in her robes.
“Well, well, well...” Bellatrix cackled, “If it isn’t two little lovebirds. Oh my, my - how sweet...”
“She’s just my friend,” Neville muttered, glowering at the evil witch. “She’s got nothing to do with this. This is between you and me... Bellatrix Lestrange!”
“Do I know you?” Bellatrix narrowed her eyes. “Why yes - I believe I do. You’re the Longbottom boy aren’t you? Oh yes... I had lots of fun with your parents.”
“I know you did, you hag...” Neville snarled.
“Tut, tut, such language for such a little bitty boy,” Bellatrix giggled madly. “I think your mouth needs to be washed out with soap.”
Neville couldn’t dodge the spell or get a shield up in time. He sputtered as his mouth filled with foam.
“Reducto,” Ginny screamed. But Bellatrix and the Snatchers dodged the spell and it disintegrated a 17th century vase on a shelf instead.
Ginny shouted another spell, “Bombarda!” and the Dark wizards scattered as they returned fire. Ginny ducked into an alcove in the nick of time as their spells collided with the wall.
Furiously spitting out suds, Neville aimed his wand as Bellatrix darted into his line of fire to avoid being hit by Ginny’s spell.
“Avada Kedavra!” yelled Neville, tears running down his burning cheeks.
Bellatrix shrugged off the green sparks from Neville’s wand, and her laugh sent chills up his spine.
“Silly boy! Is that all the little bitty baby has? You need a bit more than righteous anger to do any damage my dear boy. You can’t just wish someone was dead - you need to really feel it in your bones! And above all, you need control. Allow me to demonstrate...”
Wormtail and his team had made it as far as the Fifth Floor. His nose told him that several wizards were nearby... and he recognised the scents of at least two of them. Wormtail furrowed his brow in consternation. One of the scents shouldn’t be here at Hogwarts at all - he didn’t understand how it was possible.
Putting aside his perplex for the moment, Wormtail gestured towards the junction at the end of the hallway, and the Snatchers nodded in acknowledgment. Two of them cast bombardas at the intersection and it exploded.
Viktor Krum stepped through the haze and fired a bombarda of his own, making himself visible to draw Wormtail and the Snatchers away from Hermione and Jennifer. Wormtail threw up a shield spell just in time to block it.
Two of the Snatchers gave chase after Viktor, and spells began ricocheting through the corridor, knocking over suits of armour and shattering busts as Wormtail and the other Snatcher began exchanging spells with Hermione and Jennifer.
The two young witches dashed back down the corridor they had come through and found themselves on the veranda in the Hall of Staircases, haphazardly aiming spells behind them as they ran. A tripping jinx felled Jennifer and Hermione tumbled over her, landing on all fours, wand still in hand. Hermione’s ears caught two people yelling expelliarmus and her wand flew from her fingers over the side of the balcony along with Jennifer’s.
Two more Snatchers appeared in the passage.
“He got away,” one of them said to Wormtail.
“Don’t worry about him for now...” Wormtail grinned as he eyed Jennifer and Hermione. He couldn’t believe his good fortune. “We’ll deal with him when we catch up to him. In the meantime there are these two...”
Wormtail and the three Snatchers leered at Jennifer and Hermione, who were now both disarmed.
“You may as well give it up my pretties,” Wormtail chortled evilly as he pointed his wand at them. “You’re both mine now...”
Jennifer saw Ratface and froze, petrified with terror. Hermione’s eyes narrowed as she calculated the distance.
In a blur of motion, Hermione flipped in the air as Dora had taught her during the Triwizard Tournament. With almost cat-like reflexes and fingernails she managed to gouge Wormtail’s face as she soared by him. Wormtail’s wand clattered to the floor as he palmed his face with both hands and howled in pain.
The three Snatchers tried to fire curses at the bushy haired blur, but they were too slow as Hermione rolled and tumbled, dodging every spell. One of the Snatchers hit another with the green bolt of magic which he had aimed at Hermione. The second Snatcher keeled over and the light in his eyes faded.
The remaining two Snatchers kept firing spells at Hermione and missing as pieces of decor exploded. Hermione air-flipped again and wrapped her legs around one of the Snatchers’ necks. Grasping his head as she swung her body down, Hermione sent the shocked Snatcher crashing into the other one. The momentum carried both Snatchers over the side of the veranda and they fell six floors to their deaths.
Hermione landed on her feet facing Wormtail. He had managed to pull himself together and find his wand and now he had Jennifer in his clutches with his wand pressed under her chin. Blood dripped from the deep marks gouged in Wormtail’s face and he was livid.
“Try that again you little whore,” Wormtail snarled, “and the slag dies.”
A pilot-light clicked on inside Jennifer and her terror vanished as a furnace of fury burst into flame in her gut. Jennifer jabbed her elbow savagely into Ratface’s large, overly-soft belly. Wormtail groaned and doubled-over in pain. His wand went flying again, and this time it too disappeared over the edge of the Veranda.
Something snapped inside Hermione as well. This was the disgusting mass murderer who had been responsible for the death of Harry’s parents and who had kept Jennifer as his sex-slave for months. Hermione had never loathed someone as much as she hated Wormtail in that moment - except for perhaps Draco Malfoy and Gilderoy Lockhart.
Hermione knew that the Chinese symbols didn’t make them completely invulnerable, but if her first practice with Harry had been any indication, they would be strong enough for her crazy idea - she hoped they would be. Hermione took the chance and charged at Wormtail who still had Jennifer in his clutches, sending all of them crashing into the railing.
The banister broke and the three of them tumbled from the balcony. The last thought which went through Wormtail’s head as the floor rushed up at him was one of utter disbelief.
Remus Lupin heard the fighting above and paused in casting curses through one of the First Floor windows at the Snatchers and Werewolves who were rushing in to get closer to the castle now that most of the monsters were down for the count.
Lupin dashed across the First Floor veranda from the window and peered up four floors, recognising the tawny head of bushy hair even from a distance. For the umpteenth time tonight, Lupin wished that he had the sort of control that Animagi had, instead of this wretched Lycanthropy - this Dark Curse - uncontrollable, except with medicine, like a disease.
If Lupin could have “wolfed up,” he would have bounded up the staircases in seconds, but all he could do was watch in horror as three people tumbled in slow motion from a splintering balcony four floors above him all the way to the Ground Floor below.
“NOOOOO!” screamed Remus Lupin as he charged down a staircase to the Ground Floor. He was shocked when he saw one of the surely broken bodies crawling towards another one which was stirring to sit up.
“Remus... we’re alright,” Hermione shouted, waving a hand weakly as she cuddled Jennifer, several metres away from another crumpled form on the floor.
“Thank goodness you’re both alive!” Lupin gasped, thrilled to see the two girls apparently none the worse for wear. “But how...? You fell six floors!”
“Chinese Protection symbols...” Hermione’s words were cut with wracks of pain. “Tattoos... Harry painted them on us... We’ll both be fine... I meant to push us all over... only way to get him...”
Hermione trailed off into a long groan. Every inch of her body hurt. At least she could move everything. Nothing seemed to be broken - though she was certain there would be a lot of bruising. Jennifer sobbed in Hermione’s arms.
“I froze...” wailed the dark haired girl as tears dripped from her flushed cheeks. “I saw him - and I froze!”
“Ssssh... its alright... you unfroze, Jennifer,” Hermione reassured Jennifer as she gently rocked her. “We could both be dead if you hadn’t. You gave me the moment I needed to get the drop on the Bastard.”
“Thank you Hermione!” Jennifer murmured, her sobs abating. “I’m alive - and Ratface is dead!”
Assured that both girls would be alright, Lupin drew closer to the crumpled, unmoving “Bastard” to see who he was. The neck of the rotund wizard on the ground appeared to be bent at an unnatural angle, a crimson pool spreading on the floor under his head. The familiar looking wizard’s dead eyes were still open wide with shock. Lupin gasped when he saw the bloodied face.
It was Peter Pettigrew. Dead of a caved in skull and broken neck!
Remus Lupin’s eyes narrowed, his nostrils flared, and he slowly nodded in satisfaction. The manner of Wormtail’s death was fitting for someone who had betrayed his friends and participated in so much killing and torment - the Avada Kedavra too easy and painless.
Remus allowed himself a few moments to savour the moment that Wormtail’s role in the murder of Lily and James Potter had been avenged by their son’s wife.
A moment later Remus realised that his own face was wet with tears and he turned his back on Peter Pettigrew’s inert form. Remus stalked over to examine the other two bodies on the ground nearby, neither of which he recognised; they were obviously Snatchers.
Hermione accioed first her wand, and then the map which had fallen nearby. As Hermione pored over the map her breath caught.
“Remus,” Hermione squeaked, “We’ve got to get to the Third Floor - Lockhart and Fenrir Greyback are closing in on Dora...”
Gilderoy Lockhart had a girl with bright purple hair in his sights but he hesitated. He had reacted in the nick of time and disarmed her after nearly running into the girl as he rounded a corner. She was young and pretty - such a waste.
And besides which, Lockhart really wasn’t very comfortable with the actual killing part of being a Death Eater. He had managed to avoid it so far by leaving it to the Snatchers and Werewolves in the Dark Lord’s Army whenever he had gone on raids.
Truth be told, Gilderoy was quite squeamish about killing, which was why he had developed his ‘Charm, Capture, Obliviate, and Release’ strategy at a young age.
“Kill her and be done with it...” snarled Fenrir Greyback.
Well, there was a first time for everything, reasoned Lockhart. Better the purple haired girl than himself.
Gilderoy leered at Dora, “Sorry Love, nothing personal! I prefer the Living to the Dead - but... well... I prefer being among the Living myself, so I’m afraid this is good-bye... Avada Keda...”
A scuffling noise caught Lockhart’s attention.
“YOU!” Greyback roared at one of the figures in the junction of the corridors.
Lockhart’s momentary distraction was all that Dora needed; she silently reached out her hand and her wand skimmed across the floor in an instant. Lockhart looked back too late.
Fire burned in Dora’s eyes - a rage she had channeled into being an Auror - a rage which she had done her utmost to bury. It was the rage which had nearly got her expelled from Hogwarts - and it was a rage fueled by the pain she felt for every one of Lockhart’s young victims - wizard and muggle alike.
The controlled rage exited Dora’s wand in an arc of green lightning and Lockhart fell to the stone floor, dead.
It all happened so fast. Dora heard Hermione screaming Remus’s name and looked up to see Lupin struggling with Greyback. Remus was bleeding from several bites and apparently losing the battle; Neither Hermione or Jennifer could get a clean shot without hitting Remus too.
But as the two werewolves rolled around, wrestling on the floor, an opportunity finally presented itself.
Another green arc of magic shot from tip of Dora’s wand, hitting Fenrir Greyback in his side; he collapsed on top of Remus. Lupin kicked up his feet and pushed the dead Lycan off himself with a grunt.
“Th... thanks Dora...” Lupin gasped. “I’m sorry... I let him get too close. He was on me before I could curse him...”
“Don’t worry about it Remus,” Dora replied, panting heavily. “Thank you! ...All o’ you - If you and Hermione and Jennifer ‘adn’t arrived right now... I’d be a goner...”
Dora had never killed anyone before, and it was unnerving to say the least to realise that she had it in her. But she was alive and Remus was alive.
And Jennifer and Hermione were alive; Dora spied the same hollowness in their eyes and somehow she knew that Wormtail was dead. The three young witches flung themselves on each other and embraced tearfully.
Remus Lupin smiled and turned away to give them a moment to themselves. He heard a voice calling him and turned to see Bill Weasley running up.
“Is everyone alright Remus? Who’s that on the ground?” Bill gasped. “Merlin! ...Is that who I think it is?”
“Fenrir Greyback and Gilderoy Lockhart,” Remus nodded. “Tonks got them both...”
“Protego,” shouted Neville as Bellatrix Lestrange’s spell exited her wand and the three Snatchers converged on the alcove in which Ginny was hiding. But Neville’s shield spell wasn’t strong enough to block Bellatrix’s Cruciatus Curse and he collapsed with a scream, dropping his wand and writhing on the floor in agony.
“Neville!” shrieked Ginny.
One of the Snatchers took advantage of Ginny’s distraction, and disarmed her, sending her wand clattering down the dungeon corridor.
“Bring the girl to me,” Bellatrix snapped.
“No... please,” moaned Neville, “Don’t hurt her. Hurt me instead...”
“My, my! How noble of you Longbottom!” Bellatrix snickered, “Oh I will hurt you... yes I will. This is just playtime for me, but for you, this will be a demonstration of what it takes to really cause someone pain or kill them. You have to really enjoy it little boy...”
Moments before she did it, Neville had a horrible feeling that he knew what Bellatrix Lestrange was going to do next. It all seemed to happen in slow motion. Bellatrix aimed her wand at Ginny.
“Expulso!” someone yelled.
A blast of energy launched into the corridor startling Bellatrix. She staggered back against the wall and the spell hit the Snatchers, knocking them all off their feet. Ginny scrambled back into the alcove, her heart pounding against the wall of her chest.
Every nerve ending was still on fire but Neville used every ounce of his will to focus and summon his wand. Strong hands pulled him to his feet and Neville finally got a look at his rescuer.
“Th...thanks Viktor,” Neville stammered.
“You are velcome,” Viktor responded, dragging Neville behind a pillar.
“Ginny...” Neville groaned, sweating anxiously.
“Do not vorry,” said Viktor, “I haff reinforcements...”
The Snatchers shook their heads clear and looked up at the entrance to the dungeons to see who else had just arrived. One of the Snatchers raised their wand, only to be hit by a bolt of green lightning coming from the doorway. The other two clambered to their feet and took off running.
Bellatrix’s eyes went wide as she peered around a corner
“Sirius!” she gasped. “What are you doing here?”
“Hello dear cousin,” Sirius said dryly. “Are you prepared to give up quietly? Or are you going to force me to kill you?”
“Kill me?” Bellatrix cackled. “You must be joking. You’re one of Dumbledore’s. You forget how well I know you. You don’t have it in you...”
“Really?” Sirius responded with a cold voice. “Two of your compatriots have deserted you, but look there...”
Bellatrix looked to see where Sirius was pointing and spied the unmoving Snatcher with dead eyes lying on the floor. She narrowed her own eyes, flaring her nostrils as reality sank in.
“You’ll never take me,” hissed Bellatrix. Thick smoke poured out of the end of her wand, blocking Sirius’s line of sight.
Sirius shot another bolt of green lightning through the billowing clouds, missing by a wide margin. Bellatrix had darted into another dungeon tunnel, but from his vantage point, Neville still had eyes on her.
Another curse came to mind, one which he had heard Harry discussing with Hermione when they thought Neville wasn’t listening - a spell the Champions had trained with before the Third Task. They had both decided that the curse might be too dangerous to teach the others, but Neville remembered the incantation.
“Sectumsempra,” Neville snarled, hoping that his aim was true; the running witch was almost out of sight. He heard a scream and knew that he had hit Bellatrix, but the receding sound of her footfalls on the stone floors told him that she was still on her feet.
The smoke cleared; Viktor and Neville ran to the alcove where Ginny was still trembling.
“Ginny, you alright?” gasped Neville, feeling guilty for putting Luna’s girlfriend in harm’s way. “I’m sorry... I’m sorry... I shouldn’t have gone after her.”
“I’m fine,” said Ginny who was still shaking, her face pale. “I’m okay Neville... really! And I understand... If she’d done to my parents what she did to yours, I would’ve done the same thing.”
Sirius strode down the dungeon passage which Bellatrix had taken to the next junction, but she was nowhere to be seen. All he found was a pool of blood on the stone floor and scarlet splatter dripping down the rocky wall.
“Damn! She’s gone,” Sirius muttered to himself. He heard footsteps behind him and saw Viktor.
“Bellatrix is in these tunnels somewhere, and so are two of Voldemort’s men,” he told Viktor as he pulled his mirror from a pocket. “We’ve got to find them. I’ll get Hagrid and Kingsley down here too...”
“Here is her vand,” said Viktor. “She must haff dropped it when she voz hit with Neville’s curse.”
“Good,” Sirius nodded. “I’ll give it to Dumbledore later.” Sirius glanced at the blood again, then peered down the corridor at Neville in surprise.
“That was quite a curse indeed,” muttered Sirius. “I never would have guessed that Neville had it in him...”
Harry swore when he spied Acromantulas swarming from the Forbidden Forest to join the Dark Wizards fighting below. He soared through the driving rain above the field of battle at the front of the castle, firing explosive spells at the Wizards, Werewolves, and enormous Arachnids.
He zigged and zagged to avoid the curses being fired back at him. Fleur and Daphne circled above the lawn blasting away at those below. Members of the Order continued shooting their own spells from the castle windows. Luna and Parvati swooped towards the Forbidden Forest, using every spell they could think of to cut the Acromantulas off.
It seemed to be working. The Acromantulas emerging from the forest saw the bodies of their brethren piling up and doubled back, thinking better of it. As much as they enjoyed the flesh of humans, they preferred living.
But then Harry’s worst fear came true. Dark Wizards were in the forest. He saw a spell hit Luna’s broom and it spiraled into the woods. Panic clutched Harry’s chest and he put on a burst of speed towards Parvati.
“Down there,” Parvati screamed when she spotted Harry flying towards her. “I saw her go down right there.”
“Right then,” Harry gasped. “I’m going in...”
“I’m coming too!” Parvati stated adamantly. Harry knew there was no time to argue. A flash of lightning over the castle made Parvati’s determined features all too clear.
“Alright,” Harry swallowed in trepidation. “Together then... But be careful. There are obviously more Wizards, and probably Werewolves in there too.”
Harry and Parvati didn’t want to provide whomever had struck Luna’s broomstick with another target, so they flew low just above the trees, coming from a different direction, and then dismounted near where Luna had crashed.
Rainwater streamed from the trees as they crept quietly through the sodden underbrush. The sounds of hooves and howling Werewolves nearby could be heard until another thunderclap drowned them out.
Harry’s heart beat loudly in his ears. He spied several wizards in a clearing ahead. A branch cracked to his left and Harry spun around, shoving Parvati behind him into the bushes. Harry didn’t recognise the spell which he took for Parvati. The last thing Harry saw before he blacked out was a slashing wand and a burst of purple flame.
Theodore Nott tromped through the woods along the outskirts of the Forbidden Forest, panting heavily when he heard a crashing in the branches above him. A body and a broken broomstick tumbled to the muddy ground. He wiped the rain out of his eyes and ran forward to see who it was.
Theodore recognised the dirty-blonde hair. Luna Lovegood? What was she doing here at school in the summer? Theodore didn’t have time to think though.
“Over here... The witch went down over here somewhere,” a voice called out.
Panicking, Theodore did the only thing he could think of. He picked up Luna’s inert form under her arms and dragged her into the wet bushes. Shaking with fear, Theodore stayed as silent as he could under the dripping canopy of the bushes as he watched the feet of several wizards stalking by.
“I see a broomstick, but I don’t see the witch,” another voice shouted.
“Never mind that, we’ve got Potter!” someone else gloated. “Forget the witch. She probably broke ‘er neck when she fell. That was a hard crash.”
“You’ve got Potter? Are you certain?”
“Yeah! It’s ‘im alright. I’d recognise ‘im anywhere - ‘e’s got the scar. The Dark Lord’ll be real pleased about this...”
“Good, because he’s right livid at the moment, the way this battle’s been going.”
Theodore waited for the gleeful wizards to leave, then he carefully pulled Luna out of the bushes and examined her as rivulets of rainwater poured onto them from the trees above.
“Please don’t be dead...” Theodore gasped. “Please don’t be dead.”
Images from the day he had helped Draco escape the castle flashed before his eyes along with an image of a little blonde girl lying on the floor of a tunnel with Draco on top of her, and Theodore felt an overwhelming wave of shame.
“Please don’t be dead!” Theodore repeated to himself, panting heavily.
Trembling, Theodore put his ear to Luna’s chest. He fell back with a sigh of relief. Luna Lovegood was still breathing.
“Get away from her, you lousy cretin,” snarled an angry witch. Nott whirled around and spied a very wet witch bearing down on him.
“No, you don’t understand...” Nott moaned.
“What’s to understand? That’s my friend you’re pawing at,” Parvati quivered with rage as she tried to decide which spell to use.
Parvati swallowed as her stomach tightened. She had thought herself prepared to kill any Death Eater or Snatcher she came across - especially someone like Nott. But finding herself face to face with him - and he didn’t even have his wand out - the idea of it just made her feel ill. It wasn’t the same as firing curses at people attacking her in the heat of battle.
“Please...” whimpered Nott, “I was just...”
“Shut up! Don’t even...” Tears began to stream down Parvati’s cheek as she saw Luna lying there, unmoving. Parvati didn’t know if Luna was alive or dead.
Parvati badly wanted to hurt Nott - the boy who had helped Draco kidnap Daphne’s sister - but her hand wouldn’t stop shaking. Why was this so hard? It should be easy. Finally something snapped inside of her and Parvati began to flick her wand.
“Parvati, stop...” Luna weakly said as she began to stir and her eyes fluttered open.
Parvati gasped and nearly dropped her wand, “Luna, what...?”
“Nott saved me,” Luna groaned in pain as she sat up.
“No... that can’t be...” Parvati glared at Nott who remained as still as possible. “You were out cold Luna - I thought you were dead. How would you even know...?”
“I was knocked out when I crashed through the trees,” Luna replied calmly. “But as my brain began working again I heard the Snatchers looking for me, and Nott pulled me into the bushes so that they wouldn’t find me - I would be dead if Nott hadn’t saved me...”
Still not sure whether to believe Luna, Parvati slowly lowered her wand as she continued to scowl. Theodore Nott let out his breath in relief, and burst into tears.
“I’m sorry!” Theodore sobbed, “I’m sorry for everything... I know I deserve whatever you were going to do to me. I... I know that what I did was wrong...”
Seeing that Nott no longer appeared to be a threat, Parvati allowed a surge of relief to flow through her and ran to Luna’s side. Parvati began to cry herself as she flung her arms around Luna who was smiling serenely now.
“I thought... I really thought you were dead,” Parvati wept. Luna wrapped her own arms around Parvati while Nott continued to sob.
“Where’s Harry?” Luna asked when she let go of Parvati.
“We have to go find him,” Parvati looked stricken. “I’m sure he’s still alive - I heard the Snatchers say so. They took him... We’ve got to get him back.”
“We can’t do it by ourselves,” Luna said reasonably. “Do you have a mirror? Mine’s broken...”
“Call Dumbledore then,” Luna murmured. “We’ll need whatever help we can get.”
As the blackness of the stormy night turned to grey, the headmaster realised that dawn was approaching. He was astounded that the walls of Hogwarts remained unbreached. Dumbledore knew that the Potters’ “upgrades” had been expansive, but he hadn’t expected them to hold out indefinitely.
The legion of wizards who had attacked Hogwarts from the mountainside were now strewn in puddles across the meadow behind the castle. No longer needed at the back of the castle, Dumbledore and the rest of those defending the rear had joined those at the front. He noted with satisfaction that the ranks of the attackers which were still standing there, were greatly diminished.
He was astonished that the Potters had wiped out what appeared to be the remains of several thousand Inferi, no doubt brought down by their remarkable Patroni. Well over a dozen Giants and numerous Trolls also lay broken and defeated on the lawn. But a growing anxiety gnawed at the headmaster when he only spied Fleur Delacour and Daphne Greengrass flying above.
That fear was realised when he received the mirror-call from Parvati Patil. Hagrid, Sirius Black, and Viktor Krum were still searching the dungeons for Bellatrix and her companions. Dumbledore knew that the task was his own, but he needed backup.
“Severus, I require your assistance,” Dumbledore called out. “Voldemort has Harry.”
The blood drained from Snape’s already exceedingly pale face.
“Then you shall require more than my assistance,” Snape replied.
“Indeed, I have summoned Bill Weasley and Remus as well.”
“Have you informed Mrs Potter?” Severus asked, raising an eyebrow.
Dumbledore looked troubled and his chest tightened. He didn’t know that Mrs Potter had remained in the castle. Snape saw the unwillingness to put Hermione Potter in harm’s way once again in the headmaster’s eyes, and he sighed.
“You must...” Severus began. An eerie loud hiss of a voice echoed through Hogwarts, and everyone within and without the castle stilled.
The Dark Lord was wild with rage. Hours had passed, and except for those who had entered through the secret tunnels from Hogsmeade, his forces had yet to gain entrance to the castle, and his army was crumbling.
The Centaurs had routed the Lycans, and those Werewolves which remained alive were now scattered throughout the Forbidden Forest being hunted. All of the Dark Lord’s plans were turning to dust. This made no sense. Where had he gone wrong?
But as dawn broke, Antonin Dolohov, Thorfinn Rowle and several Snatchers burst into the clearing which held Lord Voldemort and his entourage. The Dark Lord saw that they carried an unconscious figure, and he dared to hope again.
“My Lord, I bear a gift...” Dolohov bowed before his master. “I have the Potter boy.”
Voldemort was flanked by Crabbe, Goyle, and his remaining Dementors which numbered no more than fifty, Nagini curled at his feet. The Dark Lord nodded and a thin smile crept to his lips. With Harry Potter in his hands, the Dark Lord’s plans could yet be salvaged.
“Good, good... Bring the boy to me,” hissed the Dark Lord. “You have done well. I shall reward you handsomely when this is finished.”
Dolohov and Rowle lay Harry Potter down on a makeshift altar before their master as the torrential rain finally began to ease. The Dark Lord readied his ceremonial dagger - enchanted to absorb Potter’s life-force and transfer it to his own - and touched the tip of his wand to his throat. It was time to make his announcement. The Dark Lord’s voice carried throughout the grounds and castle of Hogwarts.
“Harry Potter is mine,” Lord Voldemort boasted. “Give up the castle and bow down before me, and I may spare him... But if you do not, I shall take his life and kill every last one of you. You have five minutes to decide how you wish this to be concluded.”
A cruel smile curled the Dark Lord’s lips knowing that whatever happened, Dumbledore would find Potter already deceased. He wasn’t going to wait five minutes. He, Lord Voldemort, was going to end the Potter line right here and now, and rid himself of the bane of his existence once and for all. Voldemort raised his dagger and drove it downwards.
Voldemort’s ceremonial dagger shattered when it hit Harry Potter’s ribcage. The resultant release of magic radiated explosively in a shockwave which knocked everyone in the glade into the mud except for the Dementors. The Dark Lord fell to the ground and blacked out.
Harry bolted awake with a gasp of pain and saw the Dementors swarming around him as he heard a number of apparition cracks. Harry could hear Hermione screaming his name. He didn’t know what was happening, but Harry knew he wasn’t going to lose his soul to a Dementor’s Kiss.
Remus Lupin had apparated closest to Harry and began to cast his Patronus. But Harry and Hermione beat him to it.
“EXPECTO PATRONUM!” Harry and Hermione both roared.
The last of Voldemort’s Dementors shattered in the crossfiring Patronuses, and Lupin was caught in the blinding waves of pulsating luminescence. The radiant, ethereal Stag and Doe bounded towards Remus and bowled him over. Harry leapt to his feet.
“Remus!” Harry gasped, terrified that his and Hermione’s Patronuses might have had some sort of ill effects on the Werewolf professor, “Are you okay?”
Lupin appeared dazed as he grinned up at Harry.
“Never better!” said Remus giddily as the euphoria washed through him.
All focused on Harry and Lupin, nobody noticed Voldemort returning to consciousness and clambering to his feet. Everyone but Lupin - still lost in a blazing white fog of exhilaration - was startled when Voldemort hissed loudly, rising through the air in a wisp of black smoke.
“You think this is over?” said the Dark Lord, his voice brittle and icy, cold fury rushing through his veins. “I am the Master of Death! I, who have attained power beyond your ken. I am Lord Voldemort and you shall all fall before my might...”
Voldemort soared above the still dripping trees into the early morning sun which was now peeking through a cloudbreak above the mountaintops. Everyone stood dumbfounded as they watched Voldemort fly without the aid of a broomstick. Nagini slithered off into the woods.
Albus Dumbledore winked at the flabbergasted Boy-Who-Lived-Yet-Again, “Don’t worry Harry. I have this well in hand...”
A white cloud swirled around Dumbledore and lifted him into the air. Dumbledore ascended rapidly and disappeared above the trees. Hermione flung herself on Harry as tears of happiness streamed down her glowing cheeks.
“Harry... you’re alive!” squeaked Hermione.
“Was there ever any doubt?” Harry grinned.
“Prat!” Hermione retorted before she snogged Harry silly. An apparent thunderclap took everyone by surprise, as the rain was little more than a light shower now, and more gaps could be seen in the clouds through the trees.
“Come on,” Lupin beckoned, having recovered somewhat. He grasped Harry and Hermione and the three of them vanished with a crack.
Moments later they reappeared on the front lawn of the castle where the few Snatchers still standing had thrown down their wands and were surrendering to the defenders of Hogwarts. Everyone looked up at the sky where a rainbow was forming.
A black cloud and a white cloud appeared to be in battle as bolts of multicoloured lightning arced between them. They swirled around each other and there was one final boom which shook the grounds of Hogwarts. The black cloud descended rapidly and hit the lawn with a solid thump.
The white cloud drifted towards the ground and settled lightly on the lawn next to the groaning crumpled form of Lord Voldemort. The cloud dissipated, revealing the tall figure of the headmaster looming above the prone Dark wizard. Everyone stilled, silently watching in anticipation.
Hermione curled one arm around Harry as they both drew their breaths. Albus Dumbledore sighed and drew the Sword of Gryffindor from within his robes as he peered unblinkingly at Tom Riddle.
Voldemort snorted angrily, then winced in pain, still not certain how all of his plans had gone so horribly awry. With his muggle father’s blood cast out, the Dark Lord should have been the Headmaster’s superior in every way.
Still, Voldemort consoled himself with the fact that he had an ace in the hole, six of them to be precise. He would find another wizard to bring him back eventually. Feeling somewhat mollified, he silently peered into Dumbledore’s crystal blue eyes.
“Well Tom,” Dumbledore finally said, “It appears that your second reign of terror has come to an ignominious end.”
Dumbledore’s piercing blue gaze penetrated Tom Riddle’s blazing red eyes as he stood over the prone “Dark Lord” with the Sword of Gryffindor in hand. Voldemort cackled in response.
“You are a fool Dumbledore,” the Dark Lord hissed, confident that his horcruxes would continue to bind him to life. “I have traveled further into the realm of Death than any before me, and returned. I have defeated Death and I shall rise again, even stronger than before. Besides, I know you... You are too much of a Coward to kill.”
Voldemort faltered slightly when he saw the Headmaster of Hogwarts’ eyes twinkling and a smile creep to the old man’s lips. Was Dumbledore really that stupid? Did he not understand that the Dark Lord was destined to rule Britain? Did he truly not see the futility of killing the unkillable? Had all those sherbert lemons finally gone to Dumbledore’s head?
Dumbledore had seen all he needed to see. Tom Riddle was rather adept at Legilimency, but he no longer had enough self-control to be a truly great Occlumens.
The headmaster shook his head. At one time he might have felt some small measure of pity for the pathetic delusional creature which he saw lying before him. After all, it hadn’t really been Tom Riddle’s fault that he had been marked by diseased inbreeding and magical rape from birth. Riddle had been left motherless by a severely damaged and emotionally stunted young woman dying of a broken heart. It wasn’t Tom Riddle’s fault that he could never feel love.
But the time for pity was long, long past. Lord Voldemort was the creation of a remarkably intelligent young man who had been given every opportunity to forge a new path for himself. As sad as it was that he had not the capacity to develop a more positive future for himself, and had fallen ever deeper into psychosis and delusion, Riddle had for too long wrought too much cruelty and destruction to be afforded the luxury of sympathy.
“Not this time, Tom!” Dumbledore sighed as he swung the Sword of Gryffindor.
The look of shock froze on Voldemort’s face as his head was violently cleaved from his body and flew through the air. It struck the sloping lawn and tumbled all the way down the hill into the Black Lake as a red puddle formed in the grass by the gaping neck of Tom Riddle’s corpse.
Dumbledore reached out with his senses, then glanced towards the Forbidden Forest and spied Nagini slithering away through the field of skeletal remains, and the dead and wounded Giants, Trolls, Lycans, and Wizards. With a crack the headmaster apparated to within the serpent’s striking range. Nagini hissed and lunged at Dumbledore.
The Sword of Gryffindor flashed in the morning sun once again and the Great Snake’s head was sent soaring after its Master’s into the Black Lake.
There was now only one horcrux left - besides the piece of soul attached to Harry - and thanks to Tom Riddle’s lack of control, the headmaster now knew where it resided. Albus Dumbledore strode back through the fallen towards the castle with some satisfaction. Retrieving Hufflepuff’s cup should be a relatively simple task.
Pending the destruction of the last horcrux, and the elimination of the one in Harry, the Order could now focus all of their efforts on publicly exposing the Minister’s crimes and bringing her to justice.
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