“Hello, Nemesis,” Albus responded.
“Albus, what are you talking about? It’s me, Alex,” she said. Harry and the others looked momentarily relieved but that didn’t last long. “Only joking. I can’t believe how easy it’s been to fool these idiots. I thought they were supposed to be detectives,” she laughed.
Now the Aurors just looked confused.
“What do you want?” Albus growled.
“Don’t be like that. I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch sooner but I ‘ve been busy. I’ve missed the last fourteen hundred years so I’ve had some catching up to do. Don’t tell me how Breaking Bad ends!”
“Walter White dies.”
“Damnit! You’re mean!”
“Have you seen how many genocides there have been in the last fourteen hundred years, Albus? Seems like it’s been trending for a while now.”
“What do you want?!” Albus repeated, starting to lose his temper.
“I wanted to see how you are. The papers have been saying some pretty nasty things about you lately and your family only seems to be making it worse. I thought you could use someone to talk to,” she said actually managing to sound sincere.
“That’s funny, my dad was just saying the same thing,” he remarked while casting an ugly look at Harry.
“You in therapy? That’s a recipe for disaster. After everything that’s happened they still don’t understand you, do they? Maybe you’re the one that should be in therapy, Harry,” she quipped.
Harry went rigid.
“Yes, I know you’re listening. Say hello,” she said sounding amused.
“Hello,” Harry said after swallowing. It was starting to dawn on him that his son may have been right.
“And I’m sure there’s a nervous frown building inside an explosion of brown hair so, say hello Minister,” she added.
“H-hello,” Hermione’s voice broke a little.
“Oh, and Scorpius, I think you and Anya make a very cute couple. I’m happy for you,” Nemesis said causing Scorpius to look uneasy.
What she said next made him look downright murderous. “I’m also glad to see that there isn’t much green in her flat. Looks like she’s leaving her Slytherin roots behind, just like you.”
She made it sound completely casual but both Albus and Scorpius caught the hidden threat in her words. She knew where Anya and Hope lived.
“You didn’t call just to check on my well-being, so what do you want?” Albus said trying to steer the conversation away from Scorpius’s girlfriend.
“Actually, I did. I told you, I’m the only one that really understands you. You’re a man of action. You don’t need to sit around talking about your feelings. You need to be doing something,” she said.
“I am doing something. I’m ending this call.”
“Oh, you’re in a mood. Fine, but before you go could you just quickly tell me what time it is?” she asked sweetly.
Albus sighed. He checked the time on the front of the phone then compared it to the clock just above Iris’s desk.
“It’s nineteen minutes past eleven,” he said.
“Good. Then you have forty-one minutes to save your sisters life.”
It was as if all the air had suddenly been sucked out of the room. No one could move or speak or breath. The Ministry had become a vacuum in space and they were all just left floating there, helpless.
“What did you just say?!” Albus hissed breaking them out of their shock.
“I went to platform nine and three quarters this morning. I thought I’d catch a glimpse of you seeing your sister off but you never showed. I spos’ I shouldn’t have been surprised, you’ve had a lot on your mind lately but still, I was disappointed. And I decided to leave a little something on the Hogwarts Express to show just how disappointed I was. Disappointed that you weren’t there, disappointed at how you’re being treated, disappointed that they’ve actually decided to reopen that bastard school!” she sighed. “I might have gone a little too far.”
“There’s four-hundred children on train!” Albus pleaded.
“Four-hundred and twenty-six to be exact. And now, you’re going to save them,” she said excitedly.
Albus looked to his left. Scorpius had turned white. Lily, Hugo and everyone else that was returning to or starting their first term at Hogwarts was onboard that train and it had already left the station.
“Now, before you dash off, there are rules,” she added.
“And they are?”
“Well, we don’t want to make this too easy for you. You thrive under pressure, Albus. It’s one of the many things I love about you. So, with that in mind, you try to stop that train, it goes up. Try to warn the train, it goes up. Try to get the kiddies off the train and Thomas the tank engine goes into orbit, am I clear?”
“Good. I don’t think anyone from the Ministry should help you with this Albus, since they all think you’re crazy. I’m sure you and Scorp can handle it. Off you pop,” she teased.
“I said no.”
She sighed. There was a pause for a moment when she didn’t speak. Harry and Hermione looked like they were ready to grab Albus and shake him to death.
“Alright…I sweeten the pot. Onboard you’ll find a little clue to my true identity. You are still interested in that, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” Albus admitted. That question had dominated his mind for the last several months.
“Well, if the train explodes, so does the clue.”
“Why are you doing this?” Albus asked.
“Albus…you now have forty minutes,” she said and then the line went dead.
Before anyone could speak or move, Albus plunged into his mind vault, calling up the memories of every time he had ridden the Hogwarts Express. He visualized a clock that started at eleven am at platform nine and three quarters. In his mind, the train took off, moving a hundred times faster then it did in life. The clock moved with it.
11:04 – Market Estate
11:10 – Upper Hollow
11:16 – Finchley
11:20 – Whetsone
It was five miles north of them already!
He jumped out of the mind vault and back into reality.
“How do we get onboard?!” Scorpius asked franticly.
“Disapparate!” Calvis suggested.
“Onto a moving train, are you high?!” Scorpius snapped. “We’ll end up inside a seat or a wall or worse, one of the passengers!”
“Portkeys are only for fixed positions,” Hermione said desperately.
“Brooms!” Harry stated.
“Me, on a broom?” Albus laughed without humour. “I’d be dead for I passed Tower Bridge!”
“Well, then how?!” Scorpius yelled.
“Stick out your thumb.”
“Welcome to the day bus, the most convenient means of travel for witches and wizards in Lon – Harry? Ello mate, ain’t sin you in ages – Whoa!” Stan Shunpike had been in the middle of his monologue when Harry had suddenly yanked him off the triple decker purple bus that had stopped just outside of visitor’s entrance to the Ministry of Magic.
Harry, Albus and Scorpius jumped onboard and rushed to the driver’s seat. There, Ernie, looking frail and ancient but strangely alert sat.
“Auror department, we are commandeering this bus, everyone off, now!” Harry yelled before turning to Ernie. “Whatever my son tells you to do, you do it! I mean it Ernie!”
A few startled passengers shuffled off the bus quickly. Unfortunately, Stan pushed his way back on.
“Old’ on! This bus doesn’t go anywhere without me!” he declared.
“Fine, stay,” Albus growled.
“Go, Albus! Do whatever you have to!” Harry begged before jumping off.
“Ernie, Whetstone now! Follow the train tracks!” Albus ordered.
Ernie nodded and put his foot down. The bus took off at an absurd speed, weaving in and out of traffic like an acme cartoon. Albus, Scorpius and Stan grabbed hold of the bars to steady themselves as the bus passed through the busy streets. Buildings and landmarks shot past in a blur.
“What’s in Whetstone that’s so important?!” Stan demanded while wobbling all over the place.
Albus check the phone. 11: 27
“Shit! It’ll be in Hadley by now. Head for Hadley!” he yelled to Ernie.
“What will be?!”
“The Hogwarts Express!” Scorpius growled.
“Err, the Hogwarts Express in sorta in motion right now!” Stan reminded them.
“Really, I had no idea!” Albus scathed sarcastically.
“Once, we catch up with it, how do we board it?” Scorpius asked.
“Board it?!” Stan gulped.
“The top floor of this bus in nineteen feet high. The roof of the Express is twelve feet. As long as we’re right along side it, we’ll have the elevation to jump on,” Albus explained quickly.
“Why not? We’ve jumped off it before,” Albus said.
“Not one of our finer moments!” Scorpius hissed.
The bus veered right suddenly to dodge an eighteen-wheeler. When it passed, they were on the motorway, gaining speed and not weaving quite as violently. The shops and businesses were getting smaller as they pulled away from central London and into the outer boroughs. Unfortunately, the traffic was becoming heavier. Not more condensed, but rather larger in general. Out here was where the heavy lorry’s and construction vehicles moved around to avoid the narrow streets and busy areas of the city.
Ahead of them, two large dump trucks were moving forward, side-by-side and a slow pace. Ernie didn’t slow down. He straight towards the back of one of the trucks and a second before impacting with it, he pulled a lever next to him which caused the wheels to suddenly grow stilts. The bus jumped about twenty feet into the air before landing back on the road right in front of the dump trucks.
Albus checked the phone again. 11:31
The city was beginning to die away around them and they were entering more rural areas. Instead of concrete and glass, there were trees and fields blurring into the slipstream.
“Err, red light!” Scorpius yelled.
He, Albus and Stan looked forward to see that cars had slowed or stopped in front of a cross-section. Traffic was now flowing from left to right and there was a lot of it. Ernie wasn’t slowing down again.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Scorpius cried as they headed for a direct collision with about a dozen cars.
Ernie suddenly yanked the wheel left and pulled the hand break. The triple decker span around as if they had just driven onto a frozen lake. Amazingly, he had timed it just right. The spinning meant the cars on each side passed them by with only a fraction of space but never actually hit them.
Once through, Ernie jerked the wheel again, steading the bus and causing it to travel forwards again.
A few miles up he pulled off the road causing a few startled muggles to look curiously at the pair of invisible tire tracks that had just torn through the grass. Ernie sent the Day Bus shooting straight through a wooden fence, smashing it to pieces, before darting alone a gravel embankment. They were right next to the train tracks and up ahead, bellowing white steam was the Hogwarts Express.
It was carrying on towards its destination with absolutely no knowledge of what was happening.
“Ernie, get right along side it and hold it steady,” Albus yelled before he and Scorp started climbing the spiral staircase up to the third level of the bus.
Once up there, Scorpius pulled his wand and blasted the windows in front of them. Instead of exploding, they just sort of melted away like transparent butter. The wind came gushing in along with the incredibly loud noise of the trains pistons.
The bus caught up to the back of the Express and began pulling along side it. They passed the last two carriages and continued moving towards the locomotive. In the windows of the train, shocked and excited students pressed their faces to the windows while pointing and shouting.
They probably thought it was some kind of trick.
“Use a sticking charm! Jump when I say,” Albus yelled to Scorpius who nodded.
“You’re a bloody lunatic, Potter!” Stan yelled from below.
“You’d be surprised how often I hear that,” he yelled back. “JUMP!”
He and Scorpius dived out of the window and through the air. They impacted with the trains roof with a hard thump but instead of bouncing or rolling off the side, they remained glued on the spot. Scorp, still clutching his wand for dear life, gave it a little flick and the sticking charm was lifted.
He and Albus began to slowly move down the roof of the carriage until they got to the intersection. They jumped down, landing just above the huge metal clamps that locked the carts together. Albus opened the sliding door slipped inside with Scorp.
They were immediately met by the shocked stares of all the children inside. Most of them looked about twelve or thirteen.
“That was wicked!” one of the blurted.
“Thank you,” Scorpius breathed as Albus pulled out the phone.
11:36 – In twenty-six minutes, all these children would be dead unless they could save them.
They both saw his sister, Lily and his cousin Hugo pushing their way through the students looking completely befuddled. Well, Lily did, Hugo looked like he wanted their autographs.
“I didn’t really expect you to come to the station this morning, because, you know, I haven’t even seen you in three weeks but this is ridiculous!” she snapped. “You jump off the train, you jump on the train, can’t you just board like a normal person?!”
“Lily!” Albus barked, ignoring her rant. “I need you to get all the prefects and the head boy and girl here now.”
“Nemesis has targeted this train!” he hissed into her ear.
Her face went white with terror. Lily was one of the few people that didn’t seem to believe him about Alex being possessed but seemed to have no doubt that the thing that attacked Hogwarts would one day return. Today was that day.
“Hugo, lets go, now!” Lily said, grabbing him by the arm and tanking him away.
Albus and Scorpius began scanning the carriage but only found stunned looking students around.
“This is crazy! We don’t even know what we’re looking for!” Scorpius growled under his breath.
“A bomb,” Albus mouthed.
“The way she was talking made it sound like something is going to go boom,” he sighed.
“We can’t evacuate the kids, we can’t stop the train…disarming it is the only chance we’ve got right?” Scorp ventured.
“Yeah…but I guarantee that she’ll have made that next to impossible.”
“If it was easy, it wouldn’t be any fun for her,” he scathed.
“Twenty-one minutes left,” Scorpius said, checking his watch.
Twenty-one minutes… A thought occurred that made Albus jump back into his mind vault. He performed the same study that he did before, using his own memories to track the journey and see where the train would be at a specific time. He fast-forwarded to noon.
There was a bridge in Bookmans Park that carried the train over a gorge. A ninety-foot deep gorge! And the train would be right over it at exactly twelve o’clock.
“She’s gonna derail the train while it’s going over the Bookmans bridge! No one will survive.”
“Merlin…” Scorpius breathed.
Lily and Hugo returned a few moments later with a group of prefects and the head boy and girl. This year it was a Hufflepuff boy and a Ravenclaw girl. Seeing the eagle emblem on her robes made Albus truly thankful that Dominique and Melissa weren’t onboard. Like Rose and Scorpius, they had taken their NEWT exams at the ministry while the school had been closed for reconstruction.
They shuffled away for the other passengers so they wouldn’t be overheard.
“Did you seriously jump onboard from the Day Bus?!” the Hufflepuff head asked.
“Yes. Listen and stay calm…there is a bomb onboard the train,” Albus said in a very low tone.
Their reactions were exactly as he’d expected. Utter shock and or disbelief.
“We need to find it,” he continued, “and we now have…nineteen minutes to do it.”
“We have to –“ Ravenclaw head started but Albus interrupted, knowing what she was going to say.
“The train is being watched! If we try to stop it of get the students off, the bomb goes off early,” he said quickly. “Has anybody seen anything unusual? Something out of place that wasn’t there the last time you used the train?”
They shook their heads.
“A trunk,” Hugo blurted.
“It’s gotta be inside one of the trunks!” he stated.
“The last two carriages hold all the baggage,” The Hufflepuff boy said.
They moved to the back of the train as fast as they could, dodging or pushing their way through the other students. To their credit, the prefects didn’t give anything away but they were all looking pretty terrified.
They crossed the connecters of the carriages and ended up at the very back of the train.
“Ahh, shit, there’s hundreds of em’,” Scorpius moaned.
And there were. The trunks had been jammed into every possible space except for the main walkway in the centre. Some of them were even stuck to the ceiling.
“Thirteen minutes,” Scorp answered.
If they had fifty people it would still take them an hour to search all of the trunks and some of them where locked with pretty powerful enchantments. The sixth and seventh years usually practiced locking charms on their own trunks after they learned them in class.
It was one of those rare times that muggle security like X-ray machines would have come in handy.
“Albus,” Lily spoke up, confusion in her voice. “Why is your trunk onboard?”
They all turned to see a dark brown case with the initials A.S.P. on the front of it. That was indeed his school trunk.
“How the hell did she get your trunk?!” Scorpius gasped.
“I don’t know, I haven’t been home in three weeks!”
He approached it slowly, checking the locks and hinges for anything out of the ordinary. He felt around the sides for any kind of unusual lump and listen closely for some kind of noise coming from it, but there was nothing. He took a deep breath and then very slowly, unlocked the case.
The prefects cringed and clamped their eyes shut as he opened the case.
Strange, multicoloured lights immediately crept out. He opened the trunk wide and there was a collective gasp.
The case was empty except for a large, white, spiked object floating in the middle of it. The lights were coming for some kind of spiral wave that as circling the objects like bees flying around a hive.
“That’s an Erumpent horn!” Lily squeaked.
Just like the one that had destroyed Xeno Lovegoods house when Harry, Ron and Hermione had been there while on the run from Voldemort. Nemesis loved to take little jabs at his father’s legend.
“What are those lights?” Hugo asked.
“I have no idea, I’ve never seen those before,” Scorpius said.
“Can you disarm it?” Lily asked her brother.
“I shouldn’t even touch it,” Albus sighed. “I guarantee this thing is booby-trapped.”
“Can we get the trunk off the train?” Scorp suggested.
That would be too easy. But it was worth a try so Albus reached out and tried to push the case a little to the left. It didn’t move.
The trunk was stuck in place.
“Bugger!” Hugo huffed.
“Okay, so what do we do?” one of the prefects asked.
Albus thought for a second and an idea quickly formed in his mind. It was crazy, but it was also the only chance they had.
“Scorp, go with them. You’re gonna move all the students into the front two carriages. Jam them in there like cattle if you have to! Then I want you to put as many protective charms around them as possible. Shields, extra plating, fill them with jelly, I don’t care. Anything you can think off! I’m gonna stay here –“
“What? You know how to stop it?”
“I’m not gonna stop it. I’m gonna set it off.”
“What?!” several voices shrieked.
“At twelve o’clock this train is over the Bookman bridge but before that it’s level ground on both sides. If I derail it before it hits the bridge, we might have a chance. You need to put sticking charms on the connectors as you move forward. I’ve got to flip it!”
“When the last carriage blows, the shockwave will travel though the connectors until it hits the locomotive at which point, the entire train will jump the tracks and flip,” he said frantically.
“Flip…we’re gonna flip the train…” Scorpius repeated, sounding slightly dazed.
“If it slams into the ground on its side, it’ll slow down a lot faster!” he said. “I’ll set if off ninety seconds before it hits the bridge, that gives you…seven minutes to get the kids into the forward carriages and put up the spells. Go, now!”
“How you gonna set it off?” Scorp asked as he started moving towards the door.
“Erumpent horns a basically like nitro-glycerine. If it gets too hot, it’ll explode so do me a favour and set fire to a curtain on your way out,” Albus said.
As the group moved out of the baggage carts, Scorpius waved his wand at one of the curtains causing it to ignite. Albus yanked it off the wall and held it at arm’s length by the end that wasn’t on fire. As they moved up though the train, Albus heard them all yelling at the students to get up and move to the front of the train.
He could only hope seven minutes would be enough time.
He pulled out the phone and checked the time again. This must have been what Einstein meant when he postulated relativity. In one moment, the time seemed to be moving twice as fast and in a another, the seconds seemed to stretch for longer and longer. Of course, time wasn’t actually changing. It was just his perception of it.
He had experienced real time-travel before and despite the chaos that he’d caused by doing it, in that moment he actually found himself longing for a time-turning.
The burning curtain was becoming harder to hold. The fire was slowly engulfing the whole thing and was starting to sting his skin.
Albus looked forward through the windows. He couldn’t see any students in the first few carriages after the baggage cart. Scorpius and the others had managed to evacuate that part of the train at least.
He checked his phone again. 11:57
Albus didn’t know the exact amount of time an Erumpent horn needed under intense heat to become unstable so he took an educated guess and said ten seconds. That would give him ten seconds to put as much distance between himself and that carriage as possible.
He threw the burning curtain underneath the horn and took off as fast as he could. He shot through the carriages, running past the empty compartments and open toilets. He reached the third carriage away from the baggage cart as slammed straight into the sweets car that the trolley witch rolled around with.
The bitter irony.
The trolley moved but not much and Albus ended up tumbling straight over it and hitting the floor face first. His head swam for a second before the adrenaline brought him back to his senses. He managed to heave himself up and start running again just as an explosion rocked the entire train.
Screeching metal and groaning steel filled the air. A second later, Albus slammed into the wall of the carriage before hitting the roof.
The Hogwarts Express had jumped the tracks and barrel rolls in mid-air!
He flew into the opposite wall, smashing the side of his head against the racking and the world went black.
Scorpius voice was distance and frantic. Like he was shouting from far away. Blurred lights began to fill Albus’s eyes and Scorpius voice got closer and stronger.
His eyes eventually flickered open.
Albus was lying on his back in the dirt, the destroyed Hogwarts Express lying just a few feet away. Scorp had obviously dragged his unconscious body out of the wreckage and was now standing over him, trying to wake him up. He looked around as his eyes came back into focus, trying to get his bearings.
The train was lying on its side, having carved huge gashes through the dirt as it skidded to a halt. At the front, the scarlet locomotive looked like a dying soldier. It was mangled and covered in dirt, bellowing smoke from its chimney stack. A few sparks were shooting from its wheels and Albus could see that it had managed to stop about six feet from the drop-off where the gorge began.
Loud pops were sounding all over the place as ministry officials disapparated in to provide aid. They were helping other students pull themselves from the wreckage of the forward carriages. All of whom seemed to be covered in some kind of strange rubbery substance.
“Are you alright?!” Scorpius demanded.
Albus clutched the side of his head where the pain was starting to eek in from. It felt wet to the touch and when he looked at his hand, it was covered in blood.
“Is that bubble-gum?” Albus managed to ask.
“Oh…yeah…it just kind of popped into my head so I filled all the carriages with it,” he said.
“Good thinking,” Albus groaned and sat up.
He saw his father pull Lily and Hugo out of the wreckage and hug them as hard as he could. Hermione and Ron weren’t far behind. Thankfully they looked shaken and busted up, but okay.
They saw Albus and immediately began rushing over to him. Harry hit him almost as hard as the train had, hugging him for dear life.
“Still think I need therapy?” Albus mumbled.
Harry couldn’t help but choke out a laugh. “More than ever!”
He was about to speak again but something grabbed his and Albus’s attention. A rapid rattling sound was coming from the carriage in front of them. Harry and Scorp raised their wands but Albus just watched as they saw the twisted metal of the carriage begin to change.
On the side of the carriage, where the Hogwarts emblem was painted, something was happening. The paint was morphing and changing. The four animals that represented the houses of Hogwarts were moulding into one large black shape. The rattling stopped and what was left was a picture of a raven.
That was the clue Nemesis had promised.
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