- Cho Chang/Harry Potter Hermione Granger/Viktor Krum Original Female Witch/Ron Weasley
- Harry Potter
- Action Suspense
- The Harry Potter at Hogwarts Years
- Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire
Published: 02/06/2003Updated: 02/18/2003Words: 264,404Chapters: 34Hits: 87,813
Harry Potter and the Flying Squad
- Story Summary:
- Fifth year in Hogwarts. Even before terms start, Harry is involved in the defence against an evil attack from the Dark Forces, something which ``later will be called 'The Hogwarts Express Accident' ...``In Hogwarts, many things are different - most of all, the joining of all four``Quidditch teams in the 'Flying Squad', for patrol and exploration services.``For Harry, this looks like a path toward Cho Chang, except that - well, ``maybe this should really be left to the story itself ...``At any rate, expect Giants, Goblins, and house-elves to play their roles in ``this fic - as well as some new characters.
Chapter 04 - The Hogwarts Express Accident
- Chapter Summary:
- Harry and his friends travel to Hogwarts, using the Hogwarts Express. As predicted, the Dark Forces attack the train ...
- Author's Note:
- If this fic is truly English, then it's thanks to the efforts of two people:
04 - The Hogwarts Express Accident
In the past years, the shopping trips for the new school year had been done with the help and company of the Weasleys. This time, Harry was left alone at the task, and at first, it seemed very difficult.
He decided to ask Uncle Vernon for just one ride.
That took him to Gringotts, where his first action was a visit to his vault, getting some money. That done, he asked for Muggle money in exchange for a few Galleons.
The bank clerk very politely asked for what purpose Harry might need Muggle money.
"For a cab," was the answer.
He had to explain what a cab was.
When the clerk finally understood, he asked - still very politely - why Harry wouldn't be using the Knight Bus.
Since then, the shopping chores hadn't been difficult any longer.
* * *
What was an unconspicuous way of guiding a large black dog through the streets and onto the train? Sirius had found the answer.
A man would wait for Harry just before the train. That man would give him the leash with the dog at the other end, then he would guide him to a reserved compartment. Adjacent to it, a second compartment would be locked, an 'Out of Order' sign on the door.
Except it wouldn't be, and Harry would have the key.
This way, Harry would find enough room for his supporters - Ron, the twins, Hermione - as well as for the other people he had to protect. Thinking of Cho as someone to protect was really a weird feeling.
He reached King's Cross and found a good spot to wait, close to the passage toward platform nine and three-quarters. In a few minutes, he would be meeting his friends, and that would mark the end of a difficult period during which Lupin had been the only one to talk to.
A group of figures appeared in the station hall, noticeable by their red hair. Harry's heart jumped - the Weasleys. Watching, he saw that Hermione was with them. That would make things simpler.
They saw him and closed in, Ron two steps ahead of the others.
"Harry, you dirtbag! How are you?"
"Hi, Ron - awfully glad to meet you ... Hello, Mrs Weasley."
The next moments were filled with greetings and hugs, before a look at the clock told Harry that it was time.
"Let's go ... There's somebody waiting for me."
"Really?" Ron looked surprised, then grinned. "Does this somebody happen to be - "
Just barely, Harry managed to cut his friend short. "Wait and see. I have to take something to Hagrid."
"Not a dragon, I hope." This was Hermione.
They passed through the hidden entrance, both Ron and Hermione eager to see Hagrid's delivery, if only for their peace of mind.
Exactly where Harry had expected him, a man stood with a dog at his side; the dog's shape and colour made it clear from a distance that these were indeed the right ones.
Coming closer, he registered the moment when the man recognized him - one of the few occasions on which a lightning-shaped scar was proving itself a benefit.
The man passed him the leash, pointed to a compartment behind him, and left, without exchanging a single word.
Ron had reached Harry and the dog. "Of course, it's a pet for Hagrid, because to anyone smaller, that beast would - " Ron stopped in mid-sentence, examined the dog more closely, then turned to Harry with wide eyes.
"But that's - "
"It's the dog for Hagrid!"
Harry had accented every word sharply; now he looked hard into Ron's face and relaxed when he saw that his friend had caught on.
Hermione had too. She kept silent, which perhaps was a discipline as heroic as Harry's own when declining the Weasley offer. Only her eyes were bright with surprise.
Her desire to listen and learn was easily matched by Harry's impatience to tell. He said, "We have a compartment with a special dog allowance. Come in."
Of course, when entering, his friends saw the locked compartment next door at once and looked at him questioningly, then hurried forward upon realizing that they'd be told more only behind closed doors.
In the open compartment, Harry let the dog jump onto the seat next to the window, then sat down at its side, suddenly feeling dwarfed. He turned around.
"Ron - please tell Fred and George to join us right after we've left the station ... No - don't ask me now, I'll explain everything to all of you together."
Ron opened his mouth, closed it again, nodded, and left.
Hermione stroked the dog's fur. Then she bent closer and whispered, "Hi, Sirius."
The dog's answer was a wagging tail and a quick slurp with the tongue in Hermione's face.
About to comment on that, Harry heard the door opening and turned quickly to send off any unwelcome travellers.
Unwelcome, oh yes ... Draco Malfoy was standing there, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle.
"Harry Potter ..." Draco's eyes were glittering. "I still owe you one, for the last time."
Peeking over Harry's shoulder, he added, "And you too, Mudblood. This will be a long and eventful journey."
A deep growl from the corner made Harry turn aside. The dog was baring his teeth, tensing his muscles, ready to jump ...
"Your pet can't help you," hissed Malfoy, already retreating. The three figures hurried away from the open door.
Moments later, Ron was back.
"I met the unholy trinity," he said. "They were looking quite happy."
If Harry had needed a final confirmation, Ron's observation gave it. At least Draco Malfoy knew what was going to happen. Suddenly, an evil but so far rather abstract plot had gained unpleasant reality.
A whistle blew, then the train started to move.
Outside, Mrs Weasley waved one last time, and moments later, the train had left the station and was on its way.
Harry exhaled deeply, feeling as though stones were falling off his back. Maybe there was a nightmare waiting ahead, but at least he was with his friends.
Ron bent forward, impatience and expectation on his face. "Okay, Harry, spit it out. What's up? What's Sirius doing here? What have you done the last weeks?"
Harry grinned, grew serious again a second later. "In a minute, Fred and George will be here, then I'll only have to explain things once. But listen - until Sirius shows himself, this dog is just a dog for Hagrid, even for the twins. All right?"
Before Ron could answer, the door opened, this time for welcome guests. Fred and George entered the compartment.
"Speak of the devil," said Ron. "Er - sorry, devils, I mean."
His brothers wasted no time paying attention to that. "Harry, big sponsor," said Fred, and George added, "You've called us?" They sat down.
"First off, every word's true. Remember Lupin?"
"He's on the train. Once I've told you everything, I'll need you, Ron, to look for him."
Then he told them the full story, starting with his visit to Hogwarts and ending with his training lessons, leaving out only the details of the real Dementor and the Golden Patronus. He finished with, "I promised Dumbledore not to talk to anyone until the train was under way. That's why I didn't dare to accept your invitation. I guess I'd have spilled the secret within minutes."
Fred and George exchanged glances, for once silent.
Hermione was the first to recover. "What are we supposed to do, Harry?"
"Well, we have to gather Cho and the two boys. I've got pictures of them, and there's a letter from Dumbledore for each of the three - you know, in case they won't follow our orders."
"Leave the boys to us," said George, "and let Hermione get Cho. I can't help thinking that she might need that letter."
Harry nodded. "Yeah, that's what I had in mind."
Hermione's comment was a smile - a brief one, Harry could see how the full impact of his story was wiping it off.
That reminded him. "Wait - before you go, there's something else. Draco knows about the plan." He told the Weasley brothers about the brief encounter, instantly followed by Ron describing what he'd seen passing the three figures outside.
"Ron," said Harry, "go find Lupin and tell him." He pointed toward the front of the train. "The last compartment before the freight car will be locked. Knock twice, then wait a second, then once, and finally twice more - that's the code. Ask Lupin what we should do about Draco."
"I've got an idea," replied Ron, his glance passing over the dog in the corner. "But you're right. I'll ask."
As the others rose, Harry added, "Oh, I almost forgot - I've got a key for the compartment next door, the one that's marked out of order. Fred, George, bring the boys in there and stay with them until I join you."
Alone with the dog, he had a few minutes to prepare his rhetorics for the talk ahead, which seemed quite a task on its own. Somehow, the thought of explaining the situation to Cho was more frightening than an encounter with some Dementors.
This would have been an excellent opportunity to bite his nails, except he wasn't prone to it.
Days before, when meeting Dumbledore again, the Headmaster had suggested telling the two boys only as much as required to keep them together. That was one reason why he wanted to separate them and Cho - there was no doubt, he had to tell her the full truth.
And even if he might have found another reason inside him - the official one was enough, wasn't it?
* * *
Deep in his thoughts, Harry registered the knock only in retrospect, when the door was already opening. Looking up, he saw Hermione coming in, followed by Cho Chang.
Followed by another girl??
Before he could do anything more than stare in bafflement, Cho started talking. "Yeah, exactly what I thought. Hi, Harry."
With some effort, he turned to Hermione. "Why didn't you bring her alone?"
Under different circumstances, it might have been fun to watch someone outperform Hermione as easily as Cho did, spilling words.
"This is my friend Almyra. Almyra and I are as inseparable as you thr - " Cho stopped herself, looking astonished. "Where's your red-haired friend?"
"You mean Ron? He'll be back in a minute." Slowly recovering, Harry made an attempt to say hello to the other girl.
But again Cho was quicker.
"Yes, of course," she said. "I just thought you had transformed him into that dog, except that one's black."
Harry could't believe his ears. Had she really said, "That one's Black?"
"This dog is too black - if it were Ron, it would have to be red, wouldn't it?" A short giggle escaped Cho's throat.
Suddenly, Harry knew the reason for her rapid-fire speech - she was at least as nervous as he was. The insight eased him sufficiently to steady his voice.
"Hi, Almyra, I'm Harry. Please, sit down."
He hadn't planned any additional words, which was just appropriate since Cho fired her next shot, this time with her gaze fixed on Hermione.
"Okay then, so what's your story?"
"My story?" Hermione made big eyes. "What do you mean?"
Cho seized at her pocket, came up with a parchment, and opened it. "That's the letter from Dumbledore, the one I just got from you, remember? It says" - she scanned the letter - "the holder of this letter will explain the matter to you, and so on, and so on. So please explain!"
Hermione tilted her head toward Harry. "He's the one with the story. I'm just the messenger."
"Must be a new role for you." Cho turned away from Hermione, missing a furious glare, and looked at Harry.
"Okay, Master of Ceremonies - tell us the story."
The last exchange had given Harry time enough to regain his balance. He said, "Please, Cho - I'll have trouble enough telling you what's up, even without ..." He didn't dare finishing the sentence, but found help from an unexpected side.
"What he means," said Almyra to Cho, "is that your wisecracking doesn't improve things very much. So please, shut up and let him explain."
To Harry's great astonishment, Cho stopped talking and just sat there, looking at him.
Almyra said, "Must be a hell of a story."
"Unfortunately," agreed Harry, "it is."
This earned him the undivided attention of the two girls.
"Remember how the train was stopped two years ago, when they were looking for that escaped prisoner?"
His audience nodded while Harry forced himself not to look at the dog.
"Something similar will happen today, except it's much worse. The train will be stopped by the Dark Forces, and what they have in mind is not a single prisoner - quite the opposite. They plan to take the students as hostages."
He explained how the captured students would be used to blackmail the parents and, at the same time, discredit Dumbledore and Hogwarts from their reputation as a central force against Voldemort. He told them that their plan, although desperate, was to repulse the attack and publish the event as a victory.
Cho's comment was the quickest. "I can see why they didn't go public before. If the attackers win, there's nothing lost because the Death Eaters could have captured one student after the other at home. But if we come through, all students will be much safer at Hogwarts." She looked at Harry. "But what's so important for us being here?"
"I haven't finished. You know, a hostage is only good for putting pressure on somebody else. What the Death Eaters want is to take control of the wizarding world. So they can use only students to pressure other wizards." Harry paused, searching for words.
Almyra's eyes went big. "Hermione, what kind of parents do you have?"
Hermione nodded. "Yes - you've got the point."
It took Cho some more seconds to understand. Slowly, she said, "Our parents aren't wizards. Blackmailing them would only be about money - Muggle money. That's useless." Her head came around to stare at Harry. "And your parents are dead. Those bastards are going to kill us, right?"
"That's their plan - that's why the Muggle-born students need special protection. It's you, Hermione, and two younger boys. Fred and George are collecting them right now ... We know that the Dark Forces are going to use Dementors for - er, for that part of the plan."
Cho nodded. "Putting us together makes the protection easier. So the only question left is, where's our bodyguard?"
"Somewhere in the train is Mr Lupin," replied Harry, feeling satisfied at the expression of pleasure on the girls' faces. "By the way, that's where Ron is heading. Lupin will be one of those who gather our own troops as soon as the train has stopped, and the place of the attack is known. But - "
Cho interrupted him. "Oh, I see - then Lupin will come and rescue us, right? I really hope he'll be fast enough."
"No ..." Harry bit his lip. "Lupin will be too busy fighting with the others. But he was the one who had the idea of a permanent bodyguard, and Dumbledore agreed ... even McGonagall agreed."
Hearing the name of the Gryffindor head, Cho's eyes widened in surprise. "Harry, don't tell me it's - "
"Yes, it's me." He watched Cho's face carefully.
"Yes, against them. I've been working with Lupin every single day for the last three weeks, honing my skills on what he taught me two years ago."
Hermione jumped in. "Cho, I was together with Harry when he chased away a bunch of Dementors. Ever heard of the Patronus spell?"
Cho shook her head.
Almyra said, "I've read about it. It's not even part of the curriculum at Hogwarts." She turned to Harry. "You can do a Patronus?"
"I did one after the other - until last week. Then Lupin declared the training finished, and we worked at something else."
Cho was staring at him. "Why was it finished last week?"
"We had been using a boggart because, to me, they appear as Dementors."
This information, as he suddenly realized, wasn't doing anything to improve their trust in him, so he continued quickly.
"Then Lupin presented me with a real Dementor. But it was just good for one more try ... Anyway, Lupin was satisfied with it."
"What happened to the Dementor?" Almyra asked.
"It went catatonic."
Stunned silence filled the compartment.
Hermione looked as if she would like to cross-examine Harry for the details.
Once more, Cho was quicker. "And what's this dog doing here?"
"It's for Hagrid. I promised him I'd take care of it, so there was no need for him to travel to Diagon Alley."
"Yeah, right." Cho's tone made clear what she thought of the answer.
The door opened and Ron came in. "Hi, everybody ... Harry, can I say something?"
"I've found Lupin. Actually, there's a very nice cat sitting with him. She's got such an interesting pattern in the face, looks like glasses - if you get my bearing."
The others nodded and smiled with pleasure. What Ron had described was Professor McGonagall's animagus.
Cho sent another thoughtful look into the corner where the dog lay.
Ron continued, "Lupin says we should avoid any contact. Probably Draco's supposed to give some signal or whatever. Only if they come to mess with us are we free to teach them a lesson."
Seeing the blank look in the girls' faces, Harry explained that the other side also had agents among the students, and how they'd found out about them.
Ron had still another message from Lupin.
"Then he asked me to tell you something. I don't know what it means, but his words were, 'Tell Harry the Golden Centaur is always alone'."
Harry nodded, understanding perfectly. Lupin's reminder told him that he would be able to conjure only one Patronus at a time. He remembered Dumbledore's warning not to interfere in the outside battle while leaving the students with him unprotected.
His thoughts were interrupted by Cho's next remark.
"It's strange," she said. "I'm sitting here, hearing that soon some creature is coming to kill me, and listening to you telling us a bunch of half-lies. And still - I feel as if this is really the safest place on the train."
"You bet," grinned Ron.
Harry said, "Thank you for the, erm, compliment. But I didn't lie to you."
"No - sorry, I used the wrong term. What I meant was, you told us just enough of the truth to keep us here."
"But I told you all about the plan. The only thing that's missing - I haven't had the opportunity yet - the attackers will be Dementors and Giants. But our troops also include Giants; Hagrid's been the one who won them."
"How reassuring, to know Giants are going to take part in the fight." Cho was counting on her fingers. "Half-truth number one, this story about the dog is crap. I'm pretty sure it's some kind of second bodyguard, except I don't see how. But okay."
She raised the next finger. "Number two, your training with Lupin. I listened carefully, but somehow I missed the part where the story began. I guess you didn't want to bother us with boring details from the past. And it ended quite abruptly with a catatonic Dementor."
She turned to her friend. "The ending feels a little loose, don't you agree, Al?"
The other girl nodded. "The book I read had nothing about that kind of effect from a Patronus. It only said the spell could be used to protect against Dementors."
Cho's third finger came up. "And just when I think all right, mind your own business, Ron comes back from Lupin with a mystic message about Centaurs ... Mr Potter, would you please explain this to us?"
Looking at Hermione, she added, "It's as new to us as to your friends, I can see that."
Harry still hesitated, not knowing exactly why he had trouble talking about his new skill.
Hermione said, "Harry, we're the planned victims. It's better for us to know what to expect. Don't you agree?"
He sighed. "Yes, of course ... What Lupin's message means is that you can conjure only one Patronus at a time. As Dumbledore told me before, I'm not supposed to fight against Dementors outside while you are at risk."
Suddenly, the others were reminded that a dangerous encounter would be taking place soon.
"About the Centaur ... You must know, a Patronus takes the form of what the wizard considers the essence of grace and power. Until recently, my Patronus had the shape of a stag. Lupin told me that it was my father's preference for transformation."
At the mentioning of his father, the others tried to look anywhere but into his face - except for Almyra.
"When Lupin confronted me with the real Dementor, I changed something in my technique - I mean the memory I used. One effect was that the shape that came up was a Centaur. Obviously, as Lupin told me, that's my own choice."
Hermione was beaming. "Harry, that's super. I guess mine would be an otter, but I wouldn't disagree with you."
"And the Centaur was golden?" The question came from Almyra.
"Yes ... Until before, the Patronus was always silvery, and its effect was to chase the Dementors away. But the new one was golden, and it turned the Dementor catatonic ... I'll never forget the sound it made before it collapsed."
Harry didn't want to tell them how unusual a Golden Patronus was.
"And which mem - " Almyra stopped herself. "Sorry, that's really none of my business."
Harry saw Cho looking thoughtfully at Almyra. It was clear that she would squeeze her friend tightly for the literature on the Patronus issue - provided they survived the day.
A knock at the door interrupted the lasting silence.
It was Fred. "Hi there ... Harry, I know it's much more fun to talk with the girls, but I think now it's our turn. Those boys are waiting for you. So, if you'd just take this dog with you into the next compartment, George and I can raise the spirit here."
Harry's reply was half a laugh, half a giggle. He looked at the dog, who jumped up immediately.
They went into the next compartment, where George did the honours.
"Boys, this is the famous Harry Potter, together with his pet. Harry, meet Rupert Tyrrell, who is very pleased to meet you" - George pointed to a sand-haired boy who was watching Harry with shining eyes - "and Damon Harker, for whom everything is new and very exciting."
The younger boy reminded Harry of himself on his first journey to Hogwarts.
George stood up. "Now I'll leave you alone. The ladies are waiting for my appearance."
* * *
After the discussion with Cho and Almyra, the task of telling these two boys a carefully edited truth seemed like kid's play to Harry, something to recover with before the events started.
As a first step, it turned out, he had to stop them from addressing him with Sir. Then he asked them how much the twins had already explained and completed that by telling them about the planned attack and about a possible risk for those students without a wizard in the family.
To his horror, the careful censorship was a total waste - both boys had seen too much Muggle TV.
"Yeah," said Damon Harker casually, "they want to kill us, like in these movies. But you're our bodyguard."
"You must know," said Rupert Tyrrell to the other boy, "last year Harry won the Triwizard Tournament. And the others were much older."
Supported by Harry's occasional nod, he continued to tell the newcomer about Hogwarts and its rules and rites. Naturally, the Sorting Hat was a central issue. Rupert Tyrrell was Ravenclaw, and poor Damon couldn't decide whether to prefer the house of his new friend Rupert, or that of his new hero Harry.
The coming attack didn't bother them, and Harry was grateful for it. He decided to deepen the conversation's track.
"The Sorting Hat will make the decision for you," he told Damon. "Although - you know, when I was sorted, the hat first thought I would fit into Slytherin."
"Really?" Rupert, the second-year, seemed genuinely horrified.
"Yes." Harry nodded. "He said I would do fine there. But I didn't want to do fine there, so he put me into Gryffindor."
Rupert was relieved, while the younger boy was still confused. "But then, if I'm offered a choice, I still don't know what to do."
"It's pretty unlikely," said Harry. "As far as I know, my case is special. I inherited some evil powers from my encounters with the Dark Forces, that's why the Sorting Hat saw more than one option. Actually, that's what qualifies me as your bodyguard."
The two boys nodded without any question. Obviously, this explanation matched their experience from Muggle TV perfectly.
When the witch with the sweets trolley arrived, Harry announced that he'd been ordered to treat the boys with everything they wanted, expressing the hope they would want everything.
There was no opposition, probably again thanks to TV education.
Outside stood another customer - George, holding some money and grinning. "Harry, don't worry about the proper treatment of the ladies. Remember, we found the end of the rainbow."
Back in the compartment, Harry plonked a large pile of sweets on a free seat.
The next half hour was filled with tasting and eating. Rupert explained the various types to Damon, while Harry fed the dog and himself. Sirius had a clear preference for Chocoballs.
Every now and then, laughter could be heard from the other compartment.
Then the boys fell silent. After some more minutes, Harry realized that they'd fallen asleep. It gave him the opportunity to check on the others.
Opening the door, he found Hermione outside in the passageway.
"Everything okay?" she asked.
"Yes. They're sleeping. I wouldn't mind if they slept through the event. What are you doing here outside?"
"Making sure that the wrong people don't approach unnoticed. We take turns; each shift is half an hour."
Harry nodded appreciatively.
Hermione's voice dropped to a low volume. "Harry, I read the material about the Patronus spell myself. There's just one book mentioning something like a Golden Patronus, and it's considered unreliable."
Harry was amazed. "I should have known ... Well, even Lupin was quite surprised. He thinks it must be the very special nature of the memory, or at least that must be a major factor."
Hermione watched him. The question - the same Almyra had cancelled before really asking - was only on her face.
After a moment, Harry continued, "You know, the memory I used was that of my parents, when I met them during my fight with Voldemort. Lupin says the happiest memory embedded in the worst experience - that's what makes it so powerful."
Hermione's hand was on his shoulder. "Harry, you won't believe how much I appreciate the thought of a catatonic Dementor right now."
"Yeah - you won't believe how much I agree."
At that moment, the train shuttered and jolted. A gentle pull told them that it was slowing down.
One step took Harry to the door of the first compartment. He opened, sensing that his grip was firm but sweaty, and saw that all eyes rested on him.
"It begins. Cho, please come over into the next compartment. The two boys are asleep - at least they were a minute ago. Ron, Fred, George - can you place yourself as watchposts at both sides?"
Almyra said, "I'll join Ron. That makes two on each side." She touched Cho's shoulder and left.
Harry went back into the other compartment, followed by Cho and Hermione. Their faces were tense, mask-like.
The younger boy was still asleep, but Rupert Tyrrell came awake, sleepiness replaced by fright. The two girls sat side by side.
With one jump, the dog had leapt up from the seat and had reached the door. He was sitting there, motionless except for his head, which turned frequently to watch the floor in both directions.
Harry stood at the window, waiting.
* * *
The train rattled to a halt. The pass in which they had stopped looked like a narrow valley. On Harry's side, a zone of about thirty yards ran along the track where the ground was flat, with grass and a few bushes. It was bordered by a deep forest that climbed up a mountain.
Looking on the other side, Harry saw a similar picture, only the open range was even narrower.
It couldn't have been designed better for the enemy. This was a different place than two years before. There was still daylight, in contrast to the last stop which had taken place after nightfall. Of course, the Death Eaters wouldn't want any students escaping.
Harry didn't know which side would benefit more from the daylight; at any rate, he was grateful for it.
The first voices of excited students could be heard along the corridor as Harry kept a watch out the window. Not able to see much with the limited viewing angle, he opened the window and peeked out.
Behind him, he heard a muffled shriek. Somebody, probably Rupert, didn't like the direct exposure to the creatures waiting outside. The cool evening air rushed into the compartment. Harry heard sounds of yawning in his back - apparently, the sleeping Damon was waking up.
Then he saw the first movements.
Close to the head of the train, a few human figures appeared. They approached the next car and glanced up to the windows. It looked as if they were talking with the students, although Harry couldn't hear anything.
An impatient "Ssshht" and a wave of his hand made the compartment fall into silence.
Some students climbed down the steps and jumped to the ground. One of them shouted something and turned toward the group of men. Was it ... yes, it was Draco Malfoy, his two satellites close behind.
"Of course," hissed Harry. He turned inside. "Draco is welcoming some wizards."
He turned again, watching the scene. A movement in the corner of his eyes made him look more closely at the forest - trees were moving.
With a sharp contraction of his stomach, Harry realized that they weren't trees but figures. Giants.
The Giants stopped where the trees ended. Harry could see long pieces of wood in their hands. Compared to the figures, the pieces of wood looked like matchsticks. One end seemed thinner than the other.
The scene with the wizards hadn't changed much. It looked quite as if they were ordering the students to leave the train, with Draco and his bodyguards serving as the good example.
As clever as the idea was, it didn't work. The older students had no intention of following an example given by those three, and the younger students were waiting for the older ones to lead. Not even the Slytherins seemed inclined to follow.
A new group appeared under the trees, small compared to the Giants but huge against the wizards.
Harry heard himself snarl. Dementors.
The Dementors moved toward the first car, a fair distance from their own. The number of Dementors on the plain grew and grew.
Not more than three minutes had passed from the moment the train had stopped.
At the far end of the tree line, an uproar attracted Harry's attention. He could hear shouting that sounded like husky voices through a loudspeaker - Giants' voices. Then the rapid banging of wood on wood drowned the voices.
Moments later, a new group of Giants appeared from the direction of the noise, armed with the same type of wood weapons. Keeping a steady step, they moved along the border of the forest.
Harry watched the new group of Giants reach the first of the original group. They swung their weapons, knocked the Giant down, and moved on. As small as their number was compared to the total number of Giants along the trees, they fought as a group.
Harry clenched his fists - another point for their side. Then he saw a smaller figure moving along with the group. Recognizing it, he wheeled around.
"Hagrid's there, with our Giants. They're trashing the others, one after the other."
The wizards were moving toward Hagrid and his Giants. Before they could reach the middle of the plain, though, the large door of the freight car flew open, banging on its track like a cannon shot.
Green and blue spurts of light flashed through the air like lightning, hitting the wizards outside. Only two were still upright after the first wave.
A figure jumped from the car, a stooped shape running toward the Dementors. The figure stopped, then a blazing light shot up, condensing into the biggest wolf Harry could imagine, silvery and brilliant.
The wolf raced toward the Dementors and started circling the group, pushing them away from the train.
Harry felt like dancing up and down. He turned inside.
"Lupin's Patronus is chasing the Dementors. Our own wizards have knocked down most of the others."
The two boys gaped. Hermione and Cho sat with all senses alert to the battle, right hands close to their wands.
Harry scanned the battle scene again.
So far, it looked good. However, the Giants' fight no longer resembled an afternoon walk. The line along the trees had dissolved, and large figures were hurrying toward the cluster of Hagrid's Giants, which was making only little progress. Harry wondered if he would be involved at all in the fighting. But when Harry checked for Lupin's Patronus, his heart sank.
"Oh, my God," he moaned.
The big, silvery wolf was racing in a frenzy. Wherever it attacked, the Dementors retreated, but their group was too large. The wolf concentrated on the train side, protecting the Hogwarts wizards and preventing the Dementors from entering the train. But the Dementors only had to spread their group in a long line for some of them to reach their victims.
Harry's mind raced. He had to help Lupin, or his Patronus, but how?
Dumbledore's words and Lupin's warning rang in his ears. If he sent a Patronus now, one Dementor escaping into the train would be enough to finish them off.
Lupin's last lessons came to his mind. "What is your goal?" had been one of them. "Which are your ways?" had been another. Harry closed his eyes, straining himself to gain a moment of meditation.
Discipline in the heat of the fight ... think clearly ... he wasn't to leave his group ... he had to have his only Patronus with them ... he had to help Lupin ... Yes, of course!!
He dashed to the door. "Fred! George!" To the other side. "Ron! Almyra!" He wheeled around again to face his charge. "Get up! We have to reach Lupin!"
The boys rose hesitantly.
Hermione had started to ask, "But - " without ever finishing the question. Cho had gripped her and pulled her out of the compartment.
Harry bent to the dog. "Watch our path!"
They reached the exit and jumped down onto the grass. With all of them outside, Harry explained.
"There are too many Dementors for Lupin's Patronus alone. He needs mine too, but we must stay close together for our own protection. Have your wands ready. Stay away from the Giants - we have to reach the spot behind Hagrid's group ... C'mon!"
They hurried along the train, Harry in front, Ron at his side, then the girls and the younger boys. Fred and George guarded their back. The dog was moving in front of them, head and body in rapid motion from side to side.
Thirty yards was frightfully close to the Giants' line.
They reached the level where the group of Giants were fighting. Luck - none of the Dementors had made a move to attack the Giants, they were still pressing toward the train and the wizards. The fighting spot was all that separated Harry and his group from a safer place.
Harry turned. "Look - over there, the spot between the bushes, then we're safe."
"Harry, watch out!"
Harry spun around and saw Hermione, eyes wide open, stare at a figure close to the train - Draco Malfoy.
His skin looked pale, hate was twisting his face. He had his wand already pointing at Harry.
Harry started to aim his own wand, knowing he'd be too late.
Draco had inhaled and opened his mouth to shout his spell. Harry knew what it would be, the Killing Curse. The moment spun out to eternity.
Draco's voice was yelling at top pitch. A black shadow hung at his arm, two strong jaws clenched around his wrist. In the echo of the shriek, Harry remembered the sharp, splintering noise he had heard.
Two figures on either side of Draco were in stasis, not knowing where to focus their attention: the dog attacking Draco or Harry's group. Crabbe and Goyle at their usual performance.
"Get over!" Harry ordered his group. To the dog, he shouted, "C'mon!"
They darted through the open spot ... passed a Hagrid who didn't pay attention, ran a few more yards and stopped. An instant later, Fred and George arrived.
"Watch our back!" Harry turned, sucked in air, and closed his eyes. Behind his eyelids, his parents appeared, the shining arc ...
On the last syllable, he opened his eyes.
A cloud emanated from his wand, golden and magnificent. It bent, wavered, then solidified.
The Centaur galloped toward the line of Dementors. As he reached the first of them, the cloaked figure jolted as if hit by an electric blast, issuing a shrill whimper.
The Centaur raced down the line, turned, came back, never moving far from Harry's group.
One Dementor escaped the front, approaching them.
It hadn't come closer than six yards when the Centaur was there. The horse body seemed to jump right through the creature.
A high-pitched shriek started, became muffled, then ended abruptly. The Centaur was already hammering down the other side when the Dementor collapsed in the grass.
Exhaling deeply, Harry checked around.
The two boys stood with mouths agape, their looks following the Centaur's every move. Hermione's head switched from the scene in front to the fighting in their back, eyes shining. Cho and Almyra watched with fascination, only less open-mouthed than the boys. Ron, at his side, kept murmuring, "Oh my, oh my ..."
Fred and George had assumed a Janus stance, their heads in opposite directions. As Harry watched, they scrambled to change positions, so the other could see the Centaur.
The dog patrolled the side where they had arrived, watchful for any sign of Draco and his companions.
The line of Dementors faded. Trapped between two Patronuses, they retreated along the only path left - into the forest.
* * *
Minutes later, the plain was free of Dementors. Lupin's dog and the Centaur circled along the tree line, then entered the forest, never to come back.
The wizards - their own wizards - moved closer.
Harry waved to Lupin, who raised his arm without stopping his march toward the Giants. Harry saw other men, unknown to him, and in their midst a furious-looking McGonagall. Without glancing aside, she moved in Hagrid's direction.
When the hostile Giants saw what was approaching them, they stopped, turned, and hurried to escape into the forest. Those closest to Hagrid's group weren't lucky. Within seconds, they had been knocked to the ground.
The wizards stopped, checking around. The grass and the entrance to the forest were full of motionless figures.
The battle was over.
Lupin reached their group and quickly examined each student, asking, "Everybody okay?" He relaxed only when a chorus answered, "Yes".
To Harry, he said, "That was close. Without your Centaur ... How did you know?"
"I saw how the line was growing longer and longer. Then I remembered about Ways and Goals. Then I knew that we had to come over."
"Yes - the only solution, and you've found it. Harry ..." Lupin shook his head, mastering his voice again. "Let's talk later."
To the group, he said, "All right, back into the train. It'll move soon. What's left to do here isn't students' business."
Trotting back, Harry tried to catch Hagrid's look, then felt it more important to check their path. He didn't really expect to be confronted by Draco again, yet Lupin's axiom was in his mind - he had to safeguard four students until they arrived unhurt in Hogwarts.
* * *
They had settled again in their compartments. The whistle had blown, and the train had gathered speed, leaving some figures upright and many more lying on the ground.
The doors of the two compartments were open, people coming and going between them. The dog had placed himself in the corridor.
Harry went to him. He knelt, slung his arms around, and buried his face in the fur. "Thank you," he murmured, his eyes burning, "you've saved me again."
A purring sound came from the dog. Harry felt a tongue in his face.
When he came up, Harry saw that Cho had been watching him.
"Hagrid's dog, eh? I bet." She said it with a smile, not expecting an answer.
Harry sensed Almyra, too, examining him, but felt too exhausted to muster any embarrassment.
Almyra asked, "Can I do something for you?"
He barely avoided the slip of his tongue. "Yes. Has Si - has the dog left some Chocoballs?"
The dog's guard turned out unnecessary. Nothing more happened until Hogwarts. Only later that evening, when all students were to meet for the dinner in the Great Hall, would Harry see three empty seats - Draco, Crabbe, and Goyle had preferred to let the train continue without them.