- 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 29 - Premonition
- Chapter Summary:
- Basically, this should be the time to come back to normalcy. However, for Ron, there is no way back because - well, for some reason, and Harry's chances are spoiled as soon as he pays another visit to his weird conversation partner ...
- Author's Note:
- If this fic is truly English, then it's thanks to the efforts of two people:
29 - Premonition
Easter had passed, and now classes again demanded proper attention, let alone the O.W.L. exams, which were inexorably drawing closer. Yet the two days in France had left traces which refused to fade - certainly in Harry but still more in Ron, who appeared as a different person.
There was no lack of attentiveness: Ron responded when addressed by teachers or students, but otherwise he seemed to walk in a happy haze.
The first days after the unforgettable weekend, Ron stayed in his office longer than ever. Asked what was holding him there all the time, he answered, "Writing - what else?"
Then Harry saw Ron passing a long parchment to Fleur. If there had been any doubt, seeing Fleur's expression was enough to confirm that this letter wasn't anything official. No - Ron was using Fleur as a postillon d'amour.
Harry decided to break the haze, at least enough to get an opening for a decent conversation between friends. The next day, coming back from Astronomy, he said, "To talk about someone a little closer than a light year - uhm, did she answer?"
There was no need to explain who he was talking about.
"Not yet," replied Ron sighing, his eyes dreamily, "but that's not surprising because, you know, my letter was really long."
"There's a link in the basement, and it's open to all students who can speak French - what about that?"
Ron looked a bit worried. "I know," he murmured, "actually, I could quote the rules for that with eyes closed, but - you know ..."
"No, I don't. Tell me."
Ron grabbed Harry at the shoulder. "Let's find a quiet place with nobody around."
This was a request Harry could understand immediately. They agreed that the lesson room would be safe enough for such delicate matters.
Sitting down, Harry said, "Come to think of it - in a way, it's even simpler for two people from one school to another. More than once, I'd wished I could write a letter to Cho, except it would have looked just too ridiculous."
Ron understood him perfectly. "But you're past that stage, you wouldn't prefer Cho was at Beauxbatons, would you?"
"Anyway, you're right," said Ron slowly. "The first page - I wrote it three times, it took me longer than the other pages together."
"Well - I won't ask you what's in that letter." Harry smiled sympathetically. "I don't need to ask you another question, either."
"Other question? What other question?"
"What happened to you!" Harry laughed. "You know, there's no way of confusing these symptoms."
His friend looked anxiously. "You mean - "
Harry nodded, beaming. "My dear Ron, you're definitely, deeply, desperately in love."
"Do - do the others know?" Ron looked horrified.
Harry had no trouble whatsoever keeping serious, too fresh were the memories of his own behaviour. "Which others? Hermione, yes ... Fleur, yes ... The other Gryffindors - they might have guessed, but if not they'll guess it soon."
Ron twitched. "And ..."
Harry waited, although knowing what Ron was about to ask.
After a moment, his friend was able to formulate his question more precisely. "Does she know?"
Every ounce the wise old expert, Harry said, "If the same happened to her, she doesn't know. Then it doesn't matter how obvious it is to anyone else - and it doesn't matter either what you wrote, unless - er, did you tell her?"
Ron twitched again. "Beware ..."
For a moment, he seemed relieved by Harry's confirmation, then a new anxiousness held him in its grip.
"Harry - what do you think - is she ... has she ... does she ..."
Knowing perfectly well that he wasn't the person from whom a simple "Yes" would be the saving answer, Harry decided to catch his friend by the statistics.
"During the visit to the Delacours, how long, counting from lunch, have you two been apart?"
"Erm ..." Ron didn't have to stress his memory particularly hard. "Once she went - I mean, no longer than a minute."
Harry nodded. "That's what I saw. Does it answer your question?"
Quite obviously, it didn't.
"Well - in this case, you have to wait for her letter."
Ron sighed. "I think I know, and next minute, I don't know anything - she might take me for some jerk, and it was just politeness from her side."
This wasn't the right time for jokes, and besides, Harry felt little temptation. "Listen," he said imploringly, "politeness holds for an hour, two at the most. So if that was the reason, around coffee time she would have been desperate for another conversation partner. And what happened?"
A smile of hope appeared in Ron's face. "She asked me which cake to put on my dish."
"That's what I mean," said Harry, the young expert in young love.
Ron was biting his lips. "Harry, tell me - what do you think of her?"
This time, Harry couldn't resist. "Seriously?"
Ron seemed to shrink a bit. "Er - is there something wrong with her?"
"Not the least bit," replied Harry quickly to put his friend at ease, then held up his hand. "I'm ready to confirm that Janine Baillard is very nice, good-looking, someone you like to share company with, and the best that could happen to you."
Harry nodded. "I'm not joking. When I danced with her, I thought, what a perfect match."
Ron beamed, however only for a moment, then he was grimacing again. "Harry, how ... how can you ... how do you say ..."
Harry waited a moment, then completed, "... that you love her?"
Ron nodded, looking at him expectantly.
"I know about two alternatives, both of them extremely difficult and almost beyond what one can muster. The first is, you go to her when nobody's around, and then you say to her, 'I love you'."
Ron nodded. "That's what I thought ... and your description's awfully precise." With new hope, he asked, "And the other alternative?"
Harry smiled. "Basically it's the same, except this time you say, 'Je t'aime'."
"Arrggh ..." Ron hardly noticed how he was being treated with his own medicine, his mind obviously too preoccupied with the matter at hand. "I'm trying to imagine it ... It's ridiculous, usually I don't have trouble saying what I mean ..."
Harry nodded sympathetically. "This isn't usually, that's the problem. Anyway, believe me, she'll make it as simple as possible - she'll give you a sign."
"And how do I recognize it?"
Harry's voice was affirming. "You will - don't worry about that. Let me give you an example. Assume you visit her in Beauxbatons, and you two are walking in the park, and talking. Then maybe you tell her you had trouble in classes, and trouble falling asleep, and were always thinking of last Sunday, and couldn't wait for this day - "
Ron looked surprised. "How did you know?"
"Never mind. So, around that point, you might hear a reply like it's the same for her. Well, that'd be the sign."
Ron had a shaky laugh. "It sounds like a three-Sickles-novel, except it isn't." He glanced at Harry, hesitated, then said, "Would you ... I'd like to know how it was for you - just say no, Harry, if you don't want to tell."
"A few days ago, I wouldn't have dreamed of telling you." Harry grinned. "But now - the difference is, I know that you'll understand me, and that's why I'm glad to share it." He told Ron about his conversation with Cho in the staircase, and its continuation in the storage room.
Again, Ron's eyes had a dreamy shine. "So it took you quite a while, right? Which means I could visit Janine next Saturday without telling her, couldn't I?"
"Sure you could - except that once you've said it, you'll regret each day you'd waited."
* * *
One of the traces left in Harry's mind of the weekend in France was the memory of Marie-Christine, the girl who had specialized in the topic of Voldemort. He would like to talk with her again, and tried to figure out what was tickling him more - her interest in him, strictly on the basis of serious research, of course, or his own interest in what she'd gathered. Somehow, he couldn't help thinking that she'd collected facts still unknown to him. As for the question of his motive, he was at a loss to answer, although it was absolutely clear how he would argue, should anyone ask.
He asked Almyra whether the two of them had found an opportunity to talk.
"Yes, we did," replied Almyra, "and that's why I'm sure about one thing: if I have a say in it, I'll let her talk with you only after three more interviews. Researchers are a greedy pack, Harry, I know, but with a few more interviews, there's no risk of me having to fight for your time."
"So there's no conflict of interest?"
"Not at all - except that you can answer only one question at a time, especially as close to the O.W.L. exams as that."
"Yeah ..." The reminder gave Harry a twist in the stomach. "Then let's talk with Dumbledore about the next one where he wants to join, and about the offer of Fawkes as a tranquilizer."
"We can do that any time, as far as I'm concerned."
Almyra would have done it right away, but they had to wait until the evening. Then, they visited Dumbledore, to hear that the day after tomorrow would be fine, since by then Dumbledore would have gathered some other information.
Harry wondered what that information might be, but he knew better than to ask now. If Dumbledore had been ready to answer the question, he'd have told them already.
There was another kind of interview lingering in Harry's mind, and the next day, he found the time as well as the required person, which was Lupin.
When they'd settled opposite each other in Lupin's office, mugs in their hands, Lupin said, "You were of course right, up on that stage at Beuxbatons. But you managed so well, I just can't feel guilty."
Harry grinned. "What a pity - it would make it simpler for me to ask you for something."
Lupin grinned back. "Okay, then - I feel deeply ashamed having left you there in the rain - er, in the spotlights, with that nasty conférencier, and as penance, you may ask me now."
"It's about more lessons," said Harry, "or training."
Lupin examined him. "And what in particular?"
"The ..." Harry swallowed. "The Killing Curse."
The expression on Lupin's face didn't change. After a moment, he asked, "Why?"
"Because I have to find a way to - to kill Voldemort." Now it was said.
Lupin nodded. "I thought so. But why the Killing Curse?"
Harry was astonished. "Well - how else will I be able to do it? After all, it's the only one without a counter-curse, so - "
Not looking upset at all, Lupin continued, "I know, that's how it's taught, with the effect that nobody thinks any more of it. Harry, you've countered it twice, even without that bad joke from Draco Malfoy which was so neatly modulated by Sirius. So please stop repeating that superficial babble as if you were a prayer wheel."
Calmly, Lupin waited until Harry's face told him that it made sense to continue. Then he said, "There's just one aspect in which the Killing Curse can't be countered, and this one's obvious - after a successful curse, there's a dead body, and nobody but God can make a dead body alive - even that's an open question, but never mind ... So that's the real contrast to, say, a stupefying spell which can be reversed easily. But as long as nobody is dead yet, there are ways to make the curse fail - not a million, agreed, but some."
"Then ..." Harry felt not too sure about his argument, but he had to use it. "Why am I the only one who's survived it?"
Harry remembered the scene well. "Mad-Eye Moody said so in the - "
"Wrong! It was Barty Crouch who said it."
Harry flushed. What a stupid mistake!
More calmly, Lupin said, "You just don't know, Harry - nor do I, for that matter. If people survive a Killing Curse, everybody'll say, 'Well, the other hadn't mastered the dark magic,' or something like that, and usually it's true - while nobody's ever going to say that about Voldemort, that's why your case is outstanding. Whatever, I disagree that this curse is mandatory to defeat Voldemort, and I don't think it's a good approach."
"Mastering this curse requires a lot of dark magic - even though it was Barty Crouch who said so, he was right about that. You'd be surprised the see the small number of wizards who really can do it successfully. At any rate, you have to pay a price for that: it marks you, Harry, and although I have no proof for my belief, I'm pretty sure that the mark would make it impossible for you to reach your goal."
This was a new thought to Harry. "Then how should I ever find a way?"
"Think about Zen: using your enemy's attack to defeat him, that's what I think should be your strategy. Look, as a one-year-old, you used this technique, with the effect that Voldemort was defeated for a long time. I'm convinced that - with the proper knowledge - the same technique will do him off forever."
Harry felt urged to protest. "But it wasn't me who did it - "
"Really?" Lupin stared at him with mocking reproach. "Who else?"
"My mother protected me, that's what Dumbledore - "
Again he was interrupted. "Sorry to be so blunt, Harry, but remember, when Voldemort tried to kill you, both of your parents were already dead. There was nobody else around." Lupin waved off the protest. "I know, I know - Lily sacrificed herself, and this sacrifice protected you, true, but it wasn't something like that shield on your Steel Wing. It was a quality she gave to you, your body, your mind, your soul - don't ask me but, for heaven's sake, it was you, and still is!"
Harry stared, speechless.
Lupin sighed. "As clear as it is for me that you'll have to go that way, Harry, I don't know the details. It's not as simple as a Patronus." He smiled to indicate that this bad joke was only acceptable here and now, and only between them. "What I expect is, you'll reach a state at which you know - like in Zen, only deeper."
Harry thought for a moment about Lupin's words. Then he said, "Prof, you said I countered it twice. But the second time, wasn't it just the wand?"
"The wand did something," confirmed Lupin, "and I think we agree it's not by coincidence that they're sibling wands, so we can safely assume that this is required to reach your goal. But aside from that, what happened? Did you just stand there and watch your wand fighting Voldemort?"
Harry shook his head. "I had to hold it with all my force, and willpower ... Somehow Fawkes helped me, also my parents - "
"Exactly," said Lupin. "Does that answer your question?"
Beaten by his own argument ... Harry had to grin. Then he remembered the other question he wanted to ask. "Draco's curse - Prof, what would have happened if Sirius hadn't stopped him?"
Lupin shrugged. "How would I know? My best guess is, you would have been hurt, or unable to act for some time, but definitely not dead."
"If ..." Harry hesitated, then said, "Assuming I met Voldemort again - I mean now, not better prepared than I am - what do you think would happen?"
"You mean - you would just do nothing to defend yourself?"
"I don't know." Lupin smiled humourlessly. "All I know is, that wouldn't be a good idea. Imagine the protection has waned a bit, and then?"
Harry felt relieved. When thinking about a training for the Killing Curse, his feelings had been quite bad. He told Lupin, receiving at least a hint of the steps before him.
"That feeling - it should have been enough to tell you that this approach doesn't work for you. Remember the Zen lessons and listen to yourself, whether you're up to it. I guess we have to work on that, so it'll stick better ... Mind you, it might even solve the puzzle - the last time we worked seriously, you came up with the Golden Patronus. Imagine the possibilities when working with something as complex and powerful as a human mind!"
* * *
Next day at lunch, Ron seemed less in a hurry than the days before. He was still sitting there after the meal, his eyes fixed on the table, as if there was a writing on the white cover that had to be deciphered.
Hermione, watching him, said, "Ron - qu'est-ce-que tu pense?"
"Er - j'ai recu une - "
Only now, Ron realized what had happened, and looked a bit self-conscious when Hermione said, "Listen to him - a week ago, he'd complain if something other than English was used at this table."
"Well," replied Ron softly, "that was a week ago."
Hermione could stop her teasing, though not her curiosity. "So what does she write?"
For an instant, Ron looked caught, then he smiled. "A lot, and none of it says I have to tell you." Even so, a moment later, he couldn't resist himself. "She's invited me ... Saturday, to Beauxbatons."
Hermione looked at Harry. "Now that's a real surprise - wouldn't you say so, Harry?"
"Definitely - of anything I could have dreamed, this idea would never have - "
Ron giggled. "Stop it - please."
"Okay," replied Harry. "Let nobody say I wouldn't respond to the desperate plea of a poor soul."
Hermione nodded. "Right - and he said the magic word, we mustn't forget that."
"There goes my Go partner," sighed Harry, "lost to someone who can offer freckles for stones - quite a lot, actually."
Ron's usual style was only hidden but not lost, as his reply made clear. "For that, you may ask Cho - I mean, if you two haven't anything better to do ..."
Harry found it wise not to answer, especially because Hermione had to suppress a giggle. Instead, he strolled over to the Ravenclaw table to break the news - after all, Ron hadn't mentioned any restriction, and a little gossip would probably be welcome.
He was right. Cho looked pleased, then said to Almyra, "No wonder - that girl has said 'Yes' when her own share of charm was due, and once more at her brother's account."
Almyra protested. "He's not that bad - "
"Yeah, sure, that's why you were so excited all day long."
Almyra chuckled. "I just wasn't interested ... thinking about the interview this evening, that's what's really exciting."
"Hrmphf." Cho had clearly swallowed a sharper reply, but was leaving it to anyone's guess whether it was for Almyra's lack of interest in other things or about the interview.
Harry had mixed feelings. The best that could be said - from his perspective - was that afterwards it would be done. On the other hand, maybe Dumbledore would reveal a bit more about the kind of information he was trying to gather.
Harry's hope was fulfilled. After supper, when he and Almyra had found their seats in Dumbledore's office, the Headmaster's first words changed the atmosphere at once.
"I'm sorry to ask you again, Harry, but I would be very grateful if you could try another visit to Nagini."
Almyra looked perplexed, and somewhat disappointed.
Harry felt his pulse quickening; this request had to do with the mysterious issue which kept Dumbledore occupied. He asked, "For what purpose, Professor?"
Dumbledore sighed. "One reason is that you might get some information about where they have settled in the meantime. But that's not my true interest - all I can say is, something's going on, and we don't know what. Except for some details, Harry, now you know as much as I do."
"Details? Such as?" If Harry was to cross that nowhere space again, he was entitled to a bit more, wasn't he?
The Headmaster seemed to come to the same conclusion. "All right," he said, "here's what we know: the Death Eaters are planning something. They're gathering, they've stopped all harassment whatsoever. An unusual number of visitors from other countries have been around lately." Dumbledore looked at Harry. "Maybe that's useful when talking with the snake - provided you find her."
Harry nodded. "Okay - I'm ready, Professor."
"Thank you, Harry." Dumbledore smiled. "Then we should have Cho here, to make sure you can find your way back. And I'll take the blame which is due as soon as she hears about it." He turned. "Almyra, would you please be so kind?"
"Of course." Almyra's disappointment had vanished before, replaced by concern. She went out, and returned shortly afterwards with Cho trailing her.
Harry listened calmly while Dumbledore talked with Cho; Fawkes at his side had caused the expected effect.
Cho didn't look happy at all, but nodded her agreement.
Harry leaned back. "Ready."
Almyra did it. "Mesmerisio!"
The room was gone. The void almost felt like a train station to Harry. As casually as if looking for the Hogwarts Express, he sensed around.
This was a new experience here. He tried again, concentrating more, not feeling any irregularity in the velvety void. This was really unexpected.
Lacking any orientation, he decided to try the same technique he'd used when ending the visits. Not here ...
It worked; he felt the change immediately: now there was a pulsing beat, which had to be Dumbledore's office. Something else? He felt nothing, at least nothing as clear as that ... It was like trying to hear a whisper in a noisy room.
He synchronized with the beat, sharpening his concentration for the moment between the pulses, forcing the memory of Nagini ... There! A tiny dent, lost within the next beat ... He had it again, and used it to approach like a climber on a rope, hand over hand, except there was no hand.
When it felt as if he couldn't come any closer, he reached for it.
Another room, somehow not much different, as far as Harry's view reached: fireplace, rug, obviously Nagini's natural choice where available, and the snake herself.
"Why did you come, Harry Potter? You are not welcome here."
"That might be the reason why it was so difficult to find you. Where are we?"
"It doesn't matter. Go."
"Not so quickly, Nagini. The last time, you had more to say."
The snake seemed very angry, showing an intensity of emotion Harry hadn't felt before. "The last time," she said, "I saw the possibility of a change - only I was wrong. When I made an offer, you didn't accept. When you were called, you didn't come. Now you come when nobody has called you, and nobody wants you here. You are not different from my master - only promises, no fulfillments."
"What did I promise you?"
"You pretended to be interested, and trustworthy. But it was all pretense, like that man who came in your shape. I had to suffer, and I blame you for that."
"Oh - did your master punish you?"
It seemed to make Nagini furious beyond measure. "I have no more to say to you, Harry Potter, apart from this: you don't need to come again, because we will come to you - then you may find the answer to your question!"
Before Harry could ask more, the room disappeared. The snake had pushed him away!
Still surprised, because he hadn't expected this to be possible, he sensed the pulsing beat without difficulty, closed in on it, and reached into it.
Reality filled his senses again; after a second, he was oriented. "Okay - I'm back."
Relief in the faces around him; Cho's hand holding his own.
Dumbledore smiled. "Very good - we almost called you back, Harry, because it took so long, only the next second you started talking Parseltongue."
"How long did it take until I said something?"
"About fifteen minutes."
"Really? In the void, you have no sense of time. Well, it seems that they tried to hide from me - I wasn't welcome at all, and it was Nagini who ended the conversation."
Dumbledore nodded. "That's more or less what I expected, but you've managed nonetheless. What did you find out, Harry?"
Only now, when thinking about how to answer the Headmaster's question, Harry registered the meaning of what Nagini had said. His eyes widened.
"They're coming to us."
Dumbledore's lips tightened. "Please repeat as precisely as you can, Harry."
The few remarks still fresh in his mind, Harry could do it to the last word. By the time he finished, Cho and Almyra had grasped the meaning, too, both of them looking pale.
Harry turned to Dumbledore. "Professor, I could swear that snake has lost her temper and has told me something she wasn't supposed to say."
After a moment's thought, the Headmaster said, "You're the best snake expert I know - myself included, so what can I say? Only this: I take it she didn't lie."
Harry shook his head. "Most unlikely."
"In particular because it fits so well ... so that's the explanation." Dumbledore's gaze passed from one face to the other. "The Dark Forces are going to attack Hogwarts - next week, tomorrow, or an hour from now."
Harry's hand found Cho's again. On the border of his vision, he saw her other hand connect with Almyra's. Maybe this was also a bridge for Fawkes' calming effect; at any rate, there was nothing similar to panic.
He asked, "And now, Professor?"
Dumbledore breathed deeply. "In a way, we have been waiting for this moment all year long, so it doesn't find us unprepared. Now we'll spend three more minutes restoring our presence of mind, and then, a lot of things will happen almost simultaneously. My feeling is that we have at least a few hours, maybe more - and when they come, we will fight."
Almyra swallowed, then said, "Professor, if you need a night guard - I'm ready."
"Thank you, Almyra. I'll take you up on your word, but the first and more important task is to alert people. I need Viktor first because he has to do another express flight."
"Shall I fetch him?" asked Harry.
Dumbledore stood up. "No, I'll do it by myself. There are other errands for you. Harry, Cho, please mount your Steel Wings, fly to Lleyrin, and tell him the news - wait a second, hear me to the end. Almyra, please fly to the dragon's nests and alert their guard. For both groups, my message is this: they should hold their position unless told otherwise, or unless they hear or see that it has started. An hour from now, I'll speak to all students in the Great Hall - please make sure that you'll be back by then."
The Headmaster looked around. "Ready? Let's go."
* * *
Together they left the office and walked down the staircase. If Harry had expected Almyra to follow him and Cho outside, he was wrong - she went to the Owlery; maybe gaining height was simpler with feet on stairs than with owl wings through the air.
Inside the storage room, Cho grabbed him by the shoulder. "Wait a second, Harry."
He turned. Looking in her face, he saw a pained expression.
With a voice not entirely steady, she asked, "They're really coming, right?"
"Yes ... and this time, it's not about taking hostages."
She pressed herself toward him. "Harry ... I'm so frightened."
"Of course you are." He held her tightly. "That's the right time for it, because later we'll be too busy for that."
A dry sob shook her body, then another. He changed his grip to hold her head close to him and heard her murmur, "It's unfair, so unfair ..."
After a while, he felt her grip loosen. She looked up at him. "Kiss me, Harry, then I'll be ready."
He did, murmured, "I love you," did it again, said it again, hearing her echo. Eventually, he asked, "Ready?"
"Just a second. If ... If I don't ..." She swallowed. "Harry - if something happens to me, please take care of Al ... Will you do that?"
He nodded, not even trying to say this wouldn't happen, although it felt impossible to think of such an outcome.
Cho didn't look at him. "She admires you. Sometimes I think she loves you ... Normally, I never would have told you, but - "
"Hey - even so, that's no reason for you to get killed."
A slight trace of a grin returned to Cho's face. "No, quite the opposite, but she'd never tell you, especially not after ... Anyway, I'm done with panicking, so let's go."
They mounted, took off, and raced across the lake. This flight was no patrol, this was real. Even in the scarce light from the stars, they could find the course easily, could have found it with eyes closed.
Cho dived down to the hut with the lighted window, shouted, "Lleyrin!" and touched down.
They heard steps inside, then the door came open, Lleyrin in the frame. "Cho Chang - and Harry Potter! Come inside."
Cho stepped forward, held her arms up, routinely like a child toward its father.
Lleyrin grabbed her and moved her up to the table. Next moment, Harry had followed. Lleyrin examined their faces. "You didn't come to exchange stories."
"No," confirmed Harry. "We have a message from the Headmaster. The Dark Forces - they are coming, pretty soon, except we don't know exactly when." He gave a summary of his visit and what he'd heard.
Lleyrin nodded. "Does Albus Dumbledore want me to do something?"
"He said you should stay where you are, until further notice, or until you'll hear - er, something unusual."
The Giant pondered the message. "Albus Dumbledore may not have found the time yet to think it through. Please tell him what I'll do: I'll send a patrol of three men right now, they'll guard your entrance. If I haven't got any other information by noon tomorrow, I'll move all of my men to a place from which we can reach Hogwarts within three minutes - maybe toward the Forbidden Forest. This camp is too far away."
"Yes, Lleyrin, we'll tell him what you said."
Examining them again, the Giant said, "Cho Chang, you're scared."
She nodded. "Yes, Lleyrin - less than I was some minutes ago, but you're right."
"That's good, Cho Chang. People who are scared tend to live longer."
Cho stiffened, unsure what he meant.
Watching her, the Giant smiled. "You're not scared of yourself, Cho Chang. The demons you fear don't rest in your mind - they're outside, and they're real. Your perspective is realistic, the virtue of women."
Cho asked, "Are ... are you scared, Lleyrin?"
"I'm concerned," answered the Giant, "because I know about fighting and because I'm the Chief. But like all men, I'm a dreamer who can't imagine himself to be the one whose time has come."
He walked to the cabinet, reached into a drawer, and was busy with a bottle and two tiny flasks. Then he came back. "Here - my present for you, Cho Chang, and for you, Harry Potter. You know it already, it's the same stuff I gave you in your patrol exam. When the moment has come to muster all you can offer, use it."
Harry took his flask, seeing a white powder inside. "Thank you, Lleyrin - that's a wonderful present. The last time, it worked a miracle."
After they were put down to the ground, they said goodbye to the Giant, who was eager to send his patrol.
Checking the time, Harry saw that they just could say hello to Hagrid before returning. Reaching the other hut, he knocked.
The door opened. Seeing them, Hagrid grinned broadly. "Harry! And Cho! That's nice yer come to see me. How yer doin'?"
"Hello, Hagrid. It's not nice at all - we just informed Lleyrin that the Dark Forces are going to attack Hogwarts. We have five minutes, then we have to go."
Hagrid's eyes narrowed. "How d'yeh know?"
"From Nagini, Voldemort's snake. But we don't know when."
In a face otherwise tense, Hagrid's eyes were shining. "That's my Harry - runnin' 'round with that Parselmouth, other people spittin' at him - an' then yeh come'n say, the snake's told me." Then he sobered up. "So it's real, huh?"
"Yes - it's awfully real."
"Okay." Hagrid looked grim. "We'll wait fer them, an' then we'll fight them. Harry, watch yer back - an' that of yer li'l bird."
Harry grinned, even wider when he saw that even Cho was smiling. "Will do, Hagrid - watch your own! 'Bye."
* * *
The Great Hall looked as full as on the first day of each school year, but this was the only resemblance. There were no banners, no Sorting Hat, all but joy in the faces of teachers and students alike.
Dumbledore stood up, pointed his wand toward his own throat for the Sonorus charm, and looked around.
"Some months ago, when we met here, I told you all about the new purpose of our school, which since then has developed to the Fortress of Hogwarts. Today, my dear students, my dear colleagues - today we are challenged to prove it: the Dark Forces, our enemy, is preparing to attack us."
Murmurs, disbelief in many faces. After a moment, the hall fell quiet again; everybody wanted to hear details.
"As with the attack on the Hogwarts Express, we were able to gather information." Dumbledore's voice grew louder, harder. "And as it happened then, we will fight back - and make sure that they aren't going to do it again! We don't know when they'll be here - maybe tomorrow, maybe tonight, maybe even before we're finished here."
It raised a lot of twisting around, and glances to the entrance, as if dark figures might enter any second.
Dumbledore gave them a smile. "The entrance is guarded by some Giants - you may calm down and listen to what I have to tell. We don't expect them within the next hours, although we can't exclude the possiblity, that's why we have to act quickly to organize ourselves. The school of Hogwarts, called fortress, has to change into a real fortress to protect the school and all people in it."
Then he informed his audience that Mr Krum had been sent out to start a series of actions among all wizards who could, and would, reinforce the school's own resources. Each wizard would pass the message further and then come to Hogwarts as fast as possible. This way, even an early arrival of the enemy could not prevent reinforcement by at least several of them.
He also announced a request that had been sent out for support from the Law Enforcement Squad, but warned his audience not to expect too much, in particular since the Ministry, never the quickest to react, might not be in a state to provide help in time.
"Now to our own organization," continued Dumbledore. "From first-years to fourth-years, all students will be evacuated to Beauxbatons. This will be done the moment we see them coming - until then, you will prepare for it, for example by exercising how to pass a large number of students quickly through the link ports."
Harry saw many relieved faces, while others were showing disappointment. Shouts of protest went through the hall.
Dumbledore waited a moment, then said, "I heard your offers. I thank you for them, and I appreciate the spirit, but it's out of discussion. Your skills are too limited - remember, this is not a game, it's deadly serious."
Apparently, many students only now realized what it meant, the Dark Forces attacking Hogwarts. There was quite some uneasiness and fright in the faces, and these emotions weren't restricted to the younger classes.
"For the classes five, six, and seven," called Dumbledore, "listen carefully to what I'm saying! Fighting - whether actively or in supporting others who do it - isn't everybody's cup of tea. And those who know this about themselves will do the greatest service to our common cause by acknowledging it, and by escorting and accompanying the others to Beauxbatons."
Of course, nobody dared, or was ready, to mark himself as one of that kind.
Dumbledore looked through the rows. "Admitting it takes another kind of courage - keep that in mind, everybody! Keep also in mind that every person here in this castle - once the fighting has started - takes the risk of getting killed. By law and duty, I'd be supposed to evacuate all students, except that we can't afford that, so - with a little luck, we'll have time till tomorrow to find out what's our best contribution."
Dumbledore looked at his colleagues. "This is true for teachers as much as for students. More - to make it clear that this is a reasonable action, and to have a Hogwarts representative at Beauxbatons, we need at least one teacher who'll guide the evacuation, and who'll be evacuated then. Who is the first?"
Watching, Harry saw heads shaking. Snape showed a humourless grin, as if saying, 'Don't wait for me.' Only after a pause, a hand came up - that of the Arithmancy witch.
"Thank you, my dear Zoe." Dumbledore turned to the audience. "Professor Vector is our evacuation officer. Contact her when your place is in Beauxbatons."
Then the Headmaster announced quite a number of tasks, for which he asked volunteers to contact Ron or Professor McGonagall, both of them located as of now in Ron's office, except for short naps in-between. These tasks included guards on top of all towers, runners that would carry out errands within the school, with a minimum of six as stand-by at Ron's office, and other duties to ensure quick communication between all forces. Some fourth-years tried a last attempt to sign up for them, but Dumbledore cut them off quickly.
A moment later, the Headmaster came to the tasks Harry had been waiting for: those of the Flying Squad. "We need one team to stay with the Giants," he said, "another one that stays with the dragons - until they have moved over here, which will take place tomorrow, assuming we still have the time. One team will run a continuous patrol, circling around Hogwarts, and two teams are required as stand-by at the office."
Suddenly the Squad seemed very small - five teams on duty, this meant two shifts, two per day if they were to establish six-hour shifts.
Ron stood up, raised his arm. "Professor Dumbledore!"
"Yes, Mr Weasley?"
"I'd suggest to place the office in the Entrance Hall - it's too narrow up there with all those stand-by people around."
Dumbledore smiled. "An excellent idea, Mr Weasley - we'll do it as soon as we're finished here."
Ron sat down, looking satisfied.
Harry bent closer. "Moving figures - there's no shortage now, is it?"
Ron nodded, his thoughts already on the job. "Harry - which is better, six-hour shifts or eight-hour shifts for the Squad?"
Hermione was quicker to answer. "Sailors do four-hour shifts, and they had centuries to figure out what works best."
"Makes sense," Ron said, nodding attentively. "If something else had worked better, they'd have changed it long ago. What do you think, Harry?"
Harry nodded. "Imagine, six hours round and round Hogwarts. Then you know why they do it that way."
Ron grimaced. "Somehow, suddenly it looks as if we'd like them to come as soon as possible."
"Not quite," replied Harry. "Once Sirius is here, and the dragons are here, and some of those re-inforcement wizards have arrived - yes, then maybe ... From then on, it means waiting ..."
He remembered the days spent waiting for a full moon, then realized how different it was today - not knowing when the enemy might appear, but more importantly, not being alone. He would be able to talk, to exchange opinions, and hopes ... Or fears.
Dumbledore gathered his audience a last time.
"For the hours, maybe days, to come, we're on permanent alert, which means there won't be classes. And because there's nothing like food and drinks to hold body and soul together, you'll find a permanent supply here in this hall!" He pointed his wand.
Suddenly the tables filled with plates and dishes, cans and cups.
At the Headmaster's last words, a memory resurfaced in Harry's mind. CONSTANT VIGILANCE! - this had been the shout of the false Mad-Eye Moody, and now it came true.
He pondered the thought of a late meal, then realized that he had all night for that, while right now it seemed more important to enlist in the Squad duty roster. Ron was already off.
About to walk over to the Ravenclaw table, he stopped and looked at Hermione. "Have you already decided what to do?"
Hermione smiled, although a bit miserably. "Yes - I'll be as close to Viktor as possible, which probably means office runner." She sighed. "Harry - on the Hippogriff, we could do it together. Now it's Steel Wings, and I'll be on the ground."
Harry grinned. "If something goes awry, get that timeturner and put it straight."
Hermione's eyes widened. "Hey - maybe it's only a joke, but I'll check it with McGonagall."
Harry went over to Cho and Almyra. He asked, "Anything new from the dragons?"
Almyra shook her head. "They hope we'll have time till tomorrow - moving the dragons in the night is almost impossible. Charlie says after dawn they defend their places very aggressively."
Harry turned to Cho. "Any preference for our shift? Or for the schedule?"
"I'd like to synchronize with Al, which means Hogwarts patrol would be the best choice. Otherwise, the Giants' team would be my choice."
Harry looked at Almyra. "I can't believe you can fly every other four-hour shift."
"No, that's impossible. Four out of twelve, that's the best I can do."
Harry was calculating aloud. "Then - er, that means we can synchronize only once a day. If we drop this shift and take the next for the round patrol, we'll be together - assuming this slot isn't booked already ... And I'd have a chance to meet Sirius - he should arrive within the next two hours."
Cho said, "Fine with me - if it's gone, pull some strings with Ron."
Harry marched to the Entrance Hall, only to realize that the office hadn't moved yet. Climbing the stairs, he found his way blocked by a large desk which floated in the air, moved by the Head of Gryffindor, who was walking behind, her wand aimed at the piece.
It was interesting to see that moving furniture wizard-style was certainly easier while not really faster than what Harry had seen near Privet Drive. He had to recede, and went back into the Entrance Hall to wait for Ron, and saw his friend arrive a minute later with a pile of parchments.
"Hey, Ron - can we have the Hogwarts patrol for the second shift?"
"Hold on, Harry. Give me a minute, okay?"
Harry watched as Ron settled his parchments, divided them into three piles, then sat down on the chair which meanwhile had arrived at McGonagall's second turn.
Ron reached for a list, then looked up. "Here we are ... The first shift will be a broken one, from now to midnight. So you want the after-midnight shift? ... Good for you, saves you from the pre-dawn. Okay, Hogwarts round-trip - oh-oh to four - Harry and Cho." He was writing.
"Huh? She hasn't got a - " Only then, Ron became aware that Al wouldn't need a broomstick. "Damn, Harry," he muttered, "that's just what I need to get lost in these parchments."
"Don't you record her schedule?"
Ron looked astonished. "Not yet - it's kind of irregular, to say the least ..." Then his sense of organization took over. "But you're right, here's the place where it should be known who's where ... Just a second."
He grabbed an empty parchment, wrote a title, a line, then said, "Done."
About to go, Harry saw Fred and George arrive.
While Fred was booking the twins for their first shift - dragons' nests, to join their brother, George turned to him. "Harry, want some dust bombs?"
Harry nodded. "If you have enough, that is."
"Right now, we can give you three - by keeping our own quota, which is eight for Fred and myself. Should be enough; I don't think we'll fight for hours." George grinned. "You've got the first offer for our surplus, but if we could get more dust, we could build more. Pity there wasn't an official task to build them, all Squad members should have some."
"What about Dobby?"
George waved dismissively. "Sold out - we took everything he could deliver."
"Hmm ..." Harry thought about fairies who used the dust for language lessons. He said, "I'll check, but not before tomorrow morning."
George reached into his deep pockets and came up with three of the thick firecrackers with the dust wrapping. "If you can find a bunch of dust, tell us any time. We might need a fill-in for our own shift, but that'll be Ron's problem. You just don't know when they'll come, right?"
"My fault," said Harry. "I forgot to ask them."
When the twins showed almost no reaction to his attempt of a joke, Harry felt strangely reassured.