Chapter 28 ~ Birds of a Feather
Professor Dumbledore sent a message to Hermione, Harry, and Rick requesting that they come to his office after dinner, a few days after the Gryffindor-Ravenclaw Quidditch match.
The Headmaster congratulated Harry on his success with the Animagus transformation, and in particular, his brilliant timing in pulling it off just when he needed it most. But he cautioned Harry not to fly alone for the time being, and suggested that Rick accompany him whenever he ‘took to the wing’. Dumbledore was well aware that it would be pointless forbidding Harry to fly altogether. He was clearly enraptured with it, and nothing would hold him back.
Hermione presented her idea for dealing with the Dementors; by ‘parking’ them permanently in the Timeless Dimension.
Dumbledore sat enthralled, sucking on a lemon drop, as he listened to Hermione. When she finished speaking, he was silent for a minute or two as he stroked his beard, looking off into space with unfocussed eyes. Hermione sat nervously awaiting the headmaster’s opinion. Finally he spoke. “Brilliant, Miss Granger, simply brilliant. It is fascinating, is it not, that the source of your ingenious idea is your own counterpart in the Nightmare Reality, visited by Mr. Godfry?”
“Yes, Professor,” agreed Hermione. “It would never have occurred to me that Rick was transiting a Timeless Dimension, or indeed, that such a thing could even exist. But then the other Hermione did have the advantage of studying Physics at university, and obviously she’d read heaps on Quantum Mechanics and the like.”
Rick had to suppress a laugh. Hermione was attempting to explain why the other Hermione had thought of something which she, herself, had missed. It was almost as if she was in competition with herself. She had found another competitor, besides Rick, who had an unfair advantage over her. Rick could tell from the twinkle in the Headmaster’s eyes, that he, too, was entertaining the same amusing thought.
“Hermione,” said Rick, smiling at her. “When I was talking to you – I mean her – the other Hermione, in the Nightmare Reality, she was explaining how I was always supposed to have gone back twice to that Halloween Night. When I told her I could have done without the month between, in the Nightmare Reality, she said: But you never know, something might happen – or you might learn something – in this terrible reality which will be very useful to you when you get back to your own reality.”
“How right she was,” observed Dumbledore, nodding his head and marvelling at the complexity and seeming Intelligence of the universe. They all sat silently for a few moments, attempting to wrap their minds around the idea that events which occurred in the now, non-existent, Nightmare Reality, could profoundly affect events in this one.
“I believe your adaptation of Voldemort’s spell to create a Time Portal that leads to the Timeless Dimension, rather than the past or future, should work, Miss Granger. The problem is going to be getting the Dementors to pass through the portal. Patronuses can be effective in repulsing the vile creatures. However, from my experience, they would have great difficulty herding them in a particular direction – particularly if there were hundreds of them attacking together. We need to give further consideration to the matter.”
~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~
Harry and Rick spent many happy hours during the following weekends flying together. Harry’s appetite for it was insatiable. With the approach of spring, the days were becoming slowly longer. Despite this, it was still getting dark soon after the end of classes, so they were forced to confine their flying to the weekends. They would take the secret passages up to the West Tower and transform into their respective Animagus forms, before flying off for hours of sheer joy. With the imminent attack on Hogwarts coming inexorably closer, these shared outings provided a welcome respite from the growing tension they were feeling.
The flying expeditions also strengthened the bond between them. In their Animagus forms they quickly forged a means of communicating, through movement and gesture, and also language. The range of noises they could each make was far more subtle and nuanced to their avian ears than it would seem to a human listener.
The freedom they experienced was indescribable. Sometimes they flew over the Forbidden Forest, other times they would fly over farmlands, lakes, and mountains. In the afternoons they could usually find a strong updraft over the mountains to lift them high, thousands of feet above the earth.
One Sunday afternoon, late in March, found them riding a thermal high above an unknown mountain in the Scottish Highlands. They were circling together, rising higher and higher. The mountain-top and the upper slopes were still white with snow, but is quickly gave way to vast expanses of green forests and then fields which cloaked the earth far beneath in a patchwork quilt of browns, yellows and greens.
Suddenly, without warning, the eagle began tumbling downwards. Sometimes, when one of them spotted prey, far below, they would dive for it, although they never attempted making a kill. It was just a game. However, they were far too high at the moment to spot anything so far below. If Harry was diving for the sheer joy of it, as they sometimes did, or to quench his thirst at a stream, he would have first communicated his intention. Rick knew instinctively that something was wrong.
In a controlled dive, Harry was like a broad arrow, with wings held close to the body and beak pointed downwards. He was poetry in motion. But now, he was tumbling ungraciously earthwards.
What can I do? he asked himself anxiously, as he followed Harry down. I could change into a dragon and try to catch him with my claws. No! That won’t work! I don’t have the speed and manoeuvrability as a dragon; he’d get away from me. Rick noticed that Harry had managed to pull his wings in, and was now pretty much in a classic dive, although it wasn’t as graceful as usual. A Peregrine Falcon can dive faster than a Golden Eagle, so Rick decided to get back to earth as quickly as possible and transform. He should be able to catch Harry the way he did in the Quidditch match against Slytherin ... he hoped.
After transforming, Rick looked up and spotted the eagle, still plummeting downwards. He was about to cast a charm to catch it, when it slowly spread its wings, pulling out of its dive. It managed an untidy, but satisfactory, landing before transforming. Harry was lying on the ground grasping his forehead and screaming with pain. Instantly, Rick understood what had happened. Voldemort or his minions were attacking somewhere. Even as an eagle Animagus, Harry’s connection to Voldemort caused him pain.
“Where?” asked Rick, kneeling down beside his friend.
“Diagon Alley ... at least a hundred ... using Cruciatus ...” blurted Harry, finding it difficult to speak coherently through the pain.
“I’ll go and sort them out,” said Rick. “You stay here —”
“No, Rick, I’m coming with you....” said Harry resolutely, taking deep breaths to steady himself. “This is a huge attack, you might need some help.”
Harry had, of late, become increasingly powerful. He certainly could look after himself. It’s time to stop keeping him wrapped up in cotton wool, thought Rick. The Death Eaters would probably have spread out by now, up the side alleys and in the shops. It would be hard to find them all. But, Harry would draw them out like a magnet. “I’m going to make myself invisible before we Apparate,” said Rick. “I’m going in as the Ghost of Godric Gryffindor. But you’ll be visible. I’ll cast a Reflecting Shield around you, so you can save your energy for offence. Once the Death Eaters know that you’re in Diagon Alley, they’ll come to you like bees to honey – and I’ll be able to Squib the lot of them. But if things don’t go our way, and you’re in danger, we Apparate straight out of there. Agreed?”
“Yeah, OK,” agreed Harry, rising shakily to his feet. He took out his wand, and, with a look of utmost determination, held out his hand to Rick. “Let’s go,” he said.
~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~
Rick and Harry Apparated into Diagon Alley, just in front of Madam Malkin’s. The scene that greeted their eyes was horrific. Witches, wizards, and even children, were lying stunned all over the narrow alley. The last few to resist the swarm of black-robed, masked Death Eaters, were being easily overpowered. Harry noticed several Death Eaters using the Cruciatus Curse. They were laughing malevolently as their victims writhed in agony.
“Stupefy! Stupefy!” cried Harry stunning one, then another of the Death Eaters who were using the Cruciatus Curse. It didn’t take long for them to notice him. Soon, he was surrounded by an ugly mob of Death Eaters. He was pleased to note that, in turning their attention to him, they had stopped torturing their victims. At least a dozen Death Eaters immediately attempted to hex Harry, but were struck down by their own curses, courtesy of Rick’s Reflecting Shield. Several had used the Killing Curse. They now lay dead on the ground, their eyes frozen open in terror.
“Death Eaters, stop cursing Potter!” cried out the magically amplified voice of Peter Pettigrew. “He’s protected by a Reflecting Shield; your curses are rebounding on you!” It appeared that Pettigrew was in charge of this attack. He increased the intensity of his Sonorous Charm and ordered all the Death Eaters to return from wherever they were to the centre of Diagon Alley. “Surround Potter, and start hitting him with non-lethal curses. Try to protect yourselves with a shield if you can. He won’t be able to hold that Reflecting Shield for much longer; we’ll soon wear him down.”
Pettigrew ended the Sonorous Charm and stepped closer to Harry, regarding him hungrily. “Well, well, Harry, it looks like today is going to be my lucky day. After I stun you and deliver you to my Master, his gratitude to me will be boundless. I will be his undisputed favourite, the envy of my fellow Death Eaters,” he said with a greedy grin.
“He must be running low on Death Eaters if he has to resort to vermin like you to lead an attack,” spat Harry defiantly. “The Ghost of Godric Gryffindor must have wiped out every competent Death Eater, if all he could scrape from the bottom of the barrel was a scummy little rat like you. Stupefy!” yelled Harry pointing his wand at Pettigrew.
Pettigrew glared at Harry. His prosthetic silver hand, momentarily glowed, leaving a silvery curtain around him. Harry’s curse was harmlessly deflected away. “I have more power than you imagine, Potter,” he sneered. “You’re just like your father, and Black, and the rest of them. They always underestimated me! I used to spy on them at school in my Animagus form. Do you know what they used to say behind my back? ‘Poor, weak little Peter’. Well they were wrong! The law of the jungle is survival of the fittest – and I’ve survived them all.”
“You betrayed them all, you filthy little coward!” screamed Harry, enraged. “You’re the reason they’re dead! You betrayed your friends to save your own miserable skin! You think you’ve gotten away with your treachery, don’t you? Well, you’re wrong! I’ll settle the debt for my parents ... and Sirius.”
“You?” laughed Pettigrew. “You had the chance to get rid of me three years ago in the Shrieking Shack – but you didn’t have the guts – you couldn’t do it. You’re just like your parents and Black – too soft to survive in this hard cruel world. They all thought I was the weak one – but surprise, surprise, I was the only one who turned out to be tough enough to make it,” gloated Pettigrew.
“No, Harry,” he sneered triumphantly, “you won’t survive either – nor will you be settling any debts – because your luck just ran out on you. Oh, and in case you’re expecting the Ghost of Godric Gryffindor to come to your rescue, you can forget it. My Master knows there’s no Ghost of Godric Gryffindor. He realised some time ago that it was really Dumbledore, making himself invisible and pretending to be the ghost. Unfortunately for you, Dumbledore’s attending a meeting at the Ministry of Magic this afternoon. Even more unfortunately, before we attacked Diagon Alley, a group of Death Eaters surrounded the Ministry. They are currently warding it, so that no one can leave. Dumbledore’s trapped inside. He can’t Apparate, floo, or even Portkey out. Clever, isn’t it?” said Pettigrew smirking at Harry.
“Squibbus!” the ethereal voice of the Ghost of Godric Gryffindor boomed out. “No, Pettigrew, not so clever at all.... Your evil, demented master got it wrong again, it seems. Dumbledore may indeed be at the Ministry of Magic, but the Ghost of Godric Gryffindor is certainly here, in Diagon Alley ... and, at your service. Oh yes ... and I just Squibbed you along with the other ... now let me see ... it must be one hundred and twenty-seven Death Eaters. Does that sound right to you? There were thirty-five in various shops and alleyways whom I Squibbed while you were exchanging pleasantries with Harry. And there are ninety-three here, including yourself, whom I’ve just blessed with my favourite curse. I hope I’ve accounted for them all – I’d really hate to miss anyone.”
As the ghost was speaking, Pettigrew and his fellow Death Eaters were attempting to Apparate away, but to no avail. Then they frantically tried various spells, none of which worked, of course. It became painfully clear to them that they had, indeed, been transformed into detestable Squibs. They stood stunned, looking stupidly at each other, wondering what to do.
Suddenly, Pettigrew began to wail. “D-Dementors! Help, p-please! P-Please protect us from the D-Dementors, they’ll s-suck out our s-souls. H-Help, help....” he wailed woefully.
“Dementors? What are you talking about, Pettigrew?” demanded the ghost.
“D-Dementors are coming,” howled Pettigrew, shaking with fear, his mousy little eyes darting hither and thither. “After we had s-stunned everyone, the D-Dementors were going to come and s-suck out their s-souls. Our M-Master w-wanted to reward them for their l-loyalty. W-We were s-supposed to Apparate away first ... but now we can’t! They’ll s-suck out our s-souls as well,” cried Pettigrew fearfully.
The sky grew suddenly darker and a bitter chill engulfed them. Around fifty Dementors descended upon the alley. They immediately started for the Squibbed Death Eaters. Harry was surprised when they didn’t go for the unfortunate people lying stunned on the ground. They would have been easier prey. But what Dementors crave are feelings and emotions. Those who were still conscious – the Squibs – were reeking of fear, and immediately attracted the despicable Dementors. The stunned ones would keep for later. The Dementors lowered their hoods, eager to begin their feeding frenzy.
“Expecto Patronum,” yelled Harry, focussing on the joyful feeling of flying as an Animagus eagle. His stag Patronus burst from his wand, and, lowering its antlers, began charging the Dementors.
Harry spun around as he heard the words Expecto Patronum repeated from behind him. Harry was stunned at the menagerie of Patronuses that erupted from Rick’s invisible wand. The Dementors fled before them.
“Wow,” said Harry in awe. “And I though my Patronus was impressive....”
“I think most of the Dementors have gone,” whispered Rick. “But, I saw about half a dozen fleeing up Knockturn Alley. There’s no one up there for them to kiss, so I want to leave them there for now, and try a little experiment. I’m going to try to create a single-sided Time Portal across the entrance to Knockturn Alley. Then I’ll Apparate in, behind the Dementors, and cast some Patronuses to drive them down Knockturn Alley towards Diagon Alley and through the portal.”
“OK,” replied Harry softly, speaking out of the side of his mouth – he didn’t want people to notice him talking to himself – If Rita Skeeter got wind of it, she’d have a field day. He could already see the headlines: ‘Harry Potter – The Boy Who Lost It’. “I’ll check out the people stunned by the Death Eaters and make sure they’re alright,” said Harry softly.
Rick concentrated hard on creating the Time Portal. “Tempus iunctus nunc ad nihilum vaccus,” he intoned, waving his wand at the junction where Knockturn Alley joined onto Diagon Alley. A shimmering fabric came from his wand. It was transparent, with a faint blue tinge. Initially, it was only about a metre square, but Rick found it could easily be stretched to the required size and shape. He had just attached the last corner when the terrible waves of coldness, fear, and misery hit him.
Rick had been facing up Knockturn Alley, keeping an eye out for the Dementors, in case they came before he was ready for them. But what he didn’t know was that there were another five Dementors, still in Diagon Alley. They had been driven up the Leaky Cauldron end, and had been hidden around the corner. The fact that Rick was invisible was immaterial to the Dementors. It was feelings and emotions that guided them to their prey. It was fortunate for those lying stunned in the alley, that Rick’s emotional energy was much greater than theirs, in their unconscious state. The Dementors bypassed them, and glided straight towards Rick, coming up behind him.
As Rick struggled to keep his feet, the stench of rotting flesh assailed him. The hideous rattling behind him grew louder and louder. The cold was unbearable, Rick tried to turn to face the horrible creatures, but he stumbled and fell to the ground. He saw the evil Dementors looming above him, throwing back their hoods, eager to begin their obscene feast. Rick knew his only hope now was to transform – but he didn’t have enough energy left, even for that.
“Expecto Patronum,” he heard Harry bellowing, from what seemed a long way away. But it didn’t take long for Harry’s stag Patronus to reach him. It charged at the Dementors and they fled up Knockturn Alley. Rick began to feel better as the terrible cold and misery left him. He managed to struggle to his feet. Harry was running towards him. “Rick?” said Harry softly, gasping to catch his breath. “Are you here? Are you OK?”
“Yeah, I’m OK, now,” replied Rick. “There must have been more Dementors down the end of Diagon Alley, they came up behind me and caught me unawares. They completely overpowered me. If it hadn’t been for your Patronus, they’d have had my soul. Thanks mate, you just save my life.”
“Glad to return the favour,” said Harry. “But I think I’ve got a long way to go to catch up with you.”
“Don’t worry about it, mate,” replied Rick. “Now that’s interesting. When your Patronus attacked those Dementors, they went right through the Time Portal – but the wrong way. Nothing happened to them at all, it’s as if it wasn’t there. They just kept on going up Knockturn Alley, towards the other Dementors.”
“Umm, what did you expect to happen?” asked Harry.
“I don’t know,” replied Rick. “I’ll have to ask Hermione about it. I’m sure she’ll be able to explain it. Now, let me just check that there are no other Dementors around here, apart from those ones up Knockturn Alley – I don’t want any more surprises like that!” Rick closed his eyes for a moment, projecting a map, before he spoke again. “Yep, that’s it, there are just the eleven of them. They’re out the front of Borgin and Burkes. I’m going to Apparate to the other side of them and let some Patronuses loose on them. Maybe you should position yourself a bit further away from here – maybe outside Gambol and Japes – just in case the Time Portal doesn’t work. That will give you plenty of time to hit them with a Patronus.”
“OK. But, be careful, mate,” said Harry, before heading off up Diagon Alley.
Rick’s plan worked perfectly. He Apparated behind the Dementors and cast his Patronuses before they had a chance to detect him. Rick directed some of the Patronuses to stay above the Dementors, to prevent them escaping upwards into the air. He followed close behind as the Dementors fled down Knockturn Alley and right through his Time Portal – where they completely disappeared. Rick decided to follow them through, to see if Hermione was right. As usual, she was, of course. It was exactly like when he twisted his wand to travel through time. He was in the Timeless Dimension – and he was there completely alone. There were no Dementors. There was just his mind, and nothing else.
Rick returned to the present time and destroyed the Time Portal – he didn’t want anyone walking through it. He found Harry outside Gambol and Japes and told him what happened.
“That’s great, Rick,” said Harry. “I was looking at the end of Knockturn Alley the whole time, and no Dementors came out, you must have done it. Hermione’s going to be really happy when she hears.... But we have other problems. While you were constructing the portal, I was Ennervating some of the stunned people. The ones I revived began helping out. I told them all to Apparated away – just in case any more Dementors show up. But there are some people that couldn’t be revived. Maybe you ought to take a look at them, Rick.”
Rick and Harry found two wizards, three witches, and four young children who couldn’t be revived. “It’s the Cruciatus Curse,” said Rick. “They look just the same as Hermione’s parents did after they were attacked by Death Eaters, that night. Thank goodness they haven’t been kissed by Dementors,” he said, sounding relieved.
“You mean you can do something for them?” asked Harry hopefully.
“No,” said Rick, shaking his head. “I can’t. I don’t know how to reverse this – but Hermione does. She’s developed amazing healing powers —”
“So, that’s why her parents didn’t end up like Neville’s,” said Harry. “Hermione healed them, didn’t she?”
“Yeah, that’s right,” replied Rick. “We need to get these people back to Hogwarts, so Hermione can work her healing magic on them. Can you get them all laid out side by side, with their hands touching? I’m going to pay a quick visit to the Ministry of Magic. I’ll Squib the Death Eaters who are maintaining the wards there and trapping everyone inside. It shouldn’t take too long.”
Rick was only gone a few minutes. Harry gave a start when Rick’s voice suddenly began whispering, “that’s twelve more Squibs to add to today’s tally. I Apparated inside the Ministry of Magic, and had a quick word with Dumbledore. He said not to take these people to the hospital wing. He doesn’t want word to get out that Hermione is able to heal people in this condition. If the Death Eaters find out, they’ll realise that she’s healed her parents and go after them again. Also, if they know people can recover from the prolonged use of the Cruciatus Curse, they’ll start killing them outright with the Killing Curse.”
“Yeah, makes sense,” replied Harry. “And Voldemort would try even harder to kill Hermione. So what are we going to do with them?”
“Dumbledore’s already Apparated to the Shrieking Shack. He said he’ll have the lounge looking like a hospital ward in no time. So we’re going to Apparate them straight there,” said Rick, taking hold of Harry’s hand. Harry was already holding on to the hand of one of their patients.
~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~
Rick left Harry to help Professor Dumbledore get the patients into the waiting beds at the Shrieking Shack. He made himself invisible, and Apparated to the corridor outside the Gryffindor common room. Projecting his magical map, he was happy to find Hermione inside. After checking he was alone, he made himself visible and entered. Hermione was packing away her books and about to head down for dinner.
“Rick! Where have you been all afternoon? And where’s Harry? Was he with you?” she asked in a rush.
“You’ve got to come with me immediately, Hermione. I’ll answer all your questions later, OK?” whispered Rick, in her ear.
“Rick, is Harry alright?” she asked imploringly.
“Harry’s fine, now come on, we’ve got to go.”
“Later,” said Rick, pulling Hermione to her feet and giving her a quick kiss. He knew how much she hated not knowing what was going on, but there wasn’t time now. He took her hand and led her out of the common room and down to the Entrance Hall.
“Rick!” she snapped impatiently, “What is going on? And where are you taking me?”
“We’re going to the Shrieking Shack,” replied Rick, once they were out of the castle and heading across the grounds towards the Whomping Willow. “There was a Death Eater attack in Diagon Alley this afternoon. Nine people including four little children were held under the Cruciatus Curse for too long. Harry and Dumbledore are with them now, in the Shrieking Shack. They look just like your parents did – do you think you can heal them?”
“Umm ... I should be able to ... I think. I wouldn’t be able to establish an Empathetic Magic link the way I could with my parents, but I shouldn’t need to; now that I know what the problem is – and how to fix it. But why weren’t they brought to the hospital wing — Oh, I suppose Dumbledore doesn’t want Madam Pomfrey or anyone else to know that I can heal people who have been held under the Cruciatus Curse like that. It would endanger my parents, and Death Eaters would start killing people instead.”
“That’s what I love about you Hermione,” said Rick affectionately, as he stopped the Whomping Willow from threshing about by flicking his finger towards the knot at its base. “I never have to explain things to you, because you figure them out before I get the chance. Have I told you lately that you are one very smart witch?” said Rick, putting an arm around Hermione and kissing her.
“How ... very ... touching,” came a snide voice from right behind them, as they were about to enter the tunnel beneath the Whomping Willow. They spun around to find themselves face-to-face with Professor Snape. And it was a very smug and self-satisfied face.
“I always find Sunday evenings such a profitable time to patrol the Hogwarts grounds,” he said in a casual tone, his lips curled in a malevolent smile. “It always seems to encourage an abnormal amount of inappropriate behaviour —”
“But Professor,” protested Hermione. “We weren’t doing anything inappropriate – we weren’t even snogging. And it’s well before curfew. We are perfectly entitled to be outside at this time of day.”
“But you are not entitled to leave the Hogwarts grounds. I do not know how you disabled the Whomping Willow,” he said, glaring suspiciously at Rick. “But it is obvious that you were about to enter the tunnel, which you have known about since your third year, Miss Granger. It doesn’t require a great deal of imagination to guess that you were on your way to the Shrieking Shack for a lovers’ tryst – Do you deny it, Miss Granger?”
“Yes, I do deny it!” yelled Hermione, glaring defiantly at Snape.
“Don’t raise your voice to me – and don’t lie to me either,” said Snape in a slow, menacing voice. “Your lie will cost Gryffindor an additional twenty points ... on top of the fifty points I am deducting for each of you, for attempting to leave the Hogwarts grounds without permission.”
“But we do have permission, sir,” said Rick.
“Oh really, Mr Godfry?” said Snape sarcastically. “Kindly produce your note then ... if you have one.”
“I don’t have a note, sir, but Professor Dumbledore asked me to bring Hermione to the Shrieking Shack. He’s waiting for her now. And it’s urgent. I don’t think he’ll be very happy to hear that you prevented us from following his instructions.”
“What utter tripe!” snarled Snape. “I’ve had more than enough of your impertinence, Godfry. You are both to return to the castle immediately. In addition to the one hundred and twenty house points I have deducted from Gryffindor – you just lost another twenty for your insolence – you will both be serving a four-hour detention in my dungeon – starting now! I am sure I can find some suitably unsavoury tasks to occupy you both.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but we have to obey the Headmaster’s orders,” said Rick determinedly. “I’m sure he will be happy to verify that I am telling the truth, if you ask him.”
“Alright, Godfry,” said Snape, calling Ricks bluff. “After you,” he said, gesturing to the entrance of the tunnel, his lips twisting into an ugly smirk.
“Err ... I wasn’t meaning that you should ask him, now,” stammered Rick. “I meant —”
“I don’t care what you were meaning Black – err, Godfry. Right now will be perfect. Unless, of course, you think Professor Dumbledore is no longer at the Shrieking Shack?” he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
It was clear to Rick, from Snape’s slip of the tongue, in calling him Black, that he was reliving his old enmity with Sirius Black. This was, in fact, the very spot where Snape had almost died, as a result of the trick Sirius had played upon him. Snape was, once again, projecting his hatred of Sirius onto him.
“Err ... I don’t think Professor Dumbledore wants you to come to the Shrieking Shack right now, sir,” said Rick nervously.
“And why not, Mr. Godfry?” snarled Snape, furiously.
Rick realised that there was no way he could convince Snape to let him and Hermione go on alone. “Hermione,” said Rick quickly, “duck into the tunnel and get going, I think I can to sort this out by myself.”
But before she could move, Snape whipped out his wand. “Don’t either of you move, or I’ll —”
“Expelliarmus!” said Rick, without drawing his wand, or even moving. Snape flew several feet through the air, landing unceremoniously on his backside. He looked up at Rick with an expression of stunned fury on his face.
“Go, Hermione, now!” shouted Rick. “Get in the tunnel and out of sight!”
Hermione didn’t need to be told a second time, she already knew what Rick had in mind. She dived into the tunnel entrance.
While Snape was struggling angrily to his feet, Rick positioned himself in the mouth of the tunnel. “Here’s your wand sir,” he said throwing it back to Snape. But just as Snape wrapped his fingers around it, Rick made himself invisible and said, “Obliviate”. He reached out an invisible hand and pressed the knot to re-activate the Whomping Willow.
Snape’s expression of anger changed to one of bewilderment, as he stood disoriented, clutching his wand. Unfortunately, he was standing a little too close to the Whomping Willow. Before he had time to realise this, consider the likely consequences and take evasive action, he received a massive whack from one of the tree’s wild branches, which sent him sailing through the air, to land in a heap some distance away.
“Rick, you’re terrible,” whispered Hermione, as Snape struggled to his feet and began limping groggily back towards the castle. “I hope he’s not badly hurt.”
“Yeah, me too,” said Rick. “I honestly didn’t intend to get him beaten up by the Whomping Willow. It didn’t occur to me. I had to reactivate it before he recovered from the Memory Charm.”
“Honestly, Rick,” said Hermione, as she followed him along the tunnel, “you really have to stop memory-charming Snape like that. If he ever discovers what you’ve done, there’ll be hell to pay.”
“Yeah, I know,” sighed Rick. “But he’s so damn suspicious – and he’s such a difficult git! It’s really the only way to deal with him sometimes. Did you notice him calling me Black back there? He did it at the Yule Ball too. I took a peek at what he was thinking at the time —”
“Rick!” scolded Hermione. Then after a moment, her curiosity got the better of her. “Well, go on,” she said. “What was he thinking?”
“For some reason, I remind him of Sirius Black. Snape hated Sirius, and James Potter, when he was at school with them. It was partly because of the tricks they played on him, but mainly because he was jealous of them. The witches used to swoon over the pair of them, but they never wanted to have anything to do with Snape. It got him really twisted up inside, and probably contributed to his becoming a Death Eater. And now he’s reliving his hatred of Sirius Black through me....” said Rick sighing.
“Hmm, yes, I can see it now,” said Hermione. “The witches certainly do swoon over you, my Prince Charming,” she said smiling fondly at Rick. “And, of course, the entrance to this tunnel is where Snape was almost torn apart by a savage werewolf, because of Sirius Black. I guess it must bring back very unpleasant memories for him.”
“Yeah ... and makes him very unpleasant to me,” said Rick. “Well, here we are ... after you,” he said, as they reached the end of the tunnel.
Hermione climbed out of the hole in the floor and looked around in surprise. The last time she had been in this room – three years ago – it had been disorderly and dusty, with paper peeling off the walls and stains all over the floor. The furniture had all been smashed. But the sight that met her eyes today was very different. In fact, it looked suspiciously like one of the wards in the Hogwarts hospital wing. There were nine beds arranged in neat rows, and everything was clean and tidy. The room had obviously been magically enlarged. The only clue that they were in the Shrieking Shack was the windows, which remained boarded up.
“Ah, Miss Granger, very nice to see you,” said the Headmaster warmly. “I believe we have found an urgent use for your newly-acquired Healing talents,” he said, gesturing towards the unconscious patients.
As Rick came out of the hole in the floor, Harry grinned at him. “What took you so long, Rick? You said you’d be back here with Hermione in ten minutes ... did you get ... distracted along the way?”
Rick blushed as he noticed Professor Dumbledore raise his eyebrows and the corners of his mouth turn up, as he tried to hide a smile, which was betrayed by the amused twinkling of his eyes. They must both think we’ve been off snogging again – just like that time at Hogsmeade station, thought Rick, as he noticed Hermione blushing as well.
“Err ... yeah,” answered Rick. “Well, not so much distracted as detained – by Snape ... err, Professor Snape, I mean. He caught us just as we were about to enter the tunnel beneath the Whomping Willow. He thought we were sneaking off for a ... err ... some ‘inappropriate behaviour’ were the words he used, I think.”
“How very awkward,” said Dumbledore, looking most amused. “I shall have to have a little chat with Professor Snape, and request him not to deduct house points from Gryffindor or have you serving detentions. I’m sure I’ll be able to straighten out any misunderstanding.”
“No ... err ... please don’t,” said Rick quickly. “I – I mean, there’s no need for you to talk with Professor Snape ... err, about it, I mean. We, err ... we ... sorted it out already. I don’t think he’ll be deducting house points or anything like that, sir.”
“I hope you didn’t divulge your true purpose in leaving the school grounds to him,” said Dumbledore, feigning concern.
“No, sir,” replied Rick nervously. “He has no idea what we were really up to.”
“It is most fortunate that he allowed you to proceed and leave the school grounds, under the circumstances. You must be very persuasive, Mr. Godfry,” added the Headmaster with an inscrutable smile. “But now, I believe we have serious work to do. Miss Granger, may I suggest that you start with the youngest ones.”
Hermione seated herself beside a little boy, who looked to be no more than three years old. A tear ran down her cheek as she looked at the small unconscious body. “What kind of monsters could do this to such a young child?” she asked in a shaking voice.
“Sadly, Miss Granger, this is the nature of evil,” said Dumbledore, his face darkening. “It has no heart, no compassion, nor any feeling for the suffering of others. On the contrary, Voldemort and his followers view such emotions as a manifestation of weakness. This is what we are fighting against. Make no mistake about it, if Voldemort should win, our world would very soon be transformed into a nightmare world, just like the one Mr. Godfry witnessed, firsthand. The stakes in the battle between Good and Evil are enormous,” he said, in a calm, but sober voice.
Rick stood next to Hermione, and placed an arm around her shoulder, giving her a comforting hug.
“Right,” she said, determinedly, “let’s get on with it.” She placed her hands on either side of the little boy’s head and concentrated hard. After several minutes the little boy’s eyes suddenly opened – they were wide with fear. “Obliviate,” said Rick quickly, before stunning him.
“What did you just do to him Rick?” asked Harry curiously, as Hermione moved on to the next child.
“Hermione discovered that what causes people to go into a coma like this is fear,” explained Rick. “It’s not actually the pain of the Cruciatus Curse, but the fear it creates – fear that the pain will never end. The mind tries to protect itself from the fear, by switching itself off – it hibernates. Hermione has learned how to force the mind out of its hibernation, before the brain cells begin to die off.”
“Yeah, but why did you memory-charm and stun the little boy?” asked Harry.
“We figured that when they regain consciousness, they’ll immediately remember the terrible pain of the Cruciatus Curse – it will seem like it was happening just moments ago. They’ll be so full of fear and terror that their minds might hibernate again. Even if they don’t, they’ll be traumatised. Take a look at their eyes when they first wake up. I Obliviate them immediately, to make them forget about being under the Cruciatus Curse. I’m just stunning them so they don’t see what we’re doing. They’re probably related, and it would be very upsetting to see their parents or other members of their family in a coma. When we’ve done them all, we’ll Ennervate them together.”
Rick had been watching the little girl Hermione was working on while he was talking to Harry. Her eyes had just opened, in terror. Rick quickly memory-charmed and stunned her. Hermione had already turned her attention to the third child. It took about half-an-hour for her to heal all nine.
“Please do not Ennervate them just yet,” said Professor Dumbledore. “I think it would be best if the three of you were to return to school first. I do not wish anyone to connect their recovery with Miss Granger – or any of you, for that matter. I will Ennervate them, and explain that they were injured in the Death Eater attack at Diagon Alley, and brought here to Hogsmeade to receive medical attention. I will not, of course, mention the nature of the curse they suffered. As a result of Mr. Godfry’s excellent Memory Charms, they will not recall it, either. I will accompany them to the Three Broomsticks, from where they will be able to floo to their homes.”
“You have a great gift, Miss Granger,” said Dumbledore, looking at Hermione with admiration. “When this war is finally over, and it is no longer necessary to be so secretive, you will, I believe, be honoured as one of the greatest Healers in magical history. But for now, you will have to be content with my deepest gratitude.”
“Thank you, Professor,” said Hermione bashfully. For once in her life, she was at a loss for words.
“And thank you, Mr. Godfry, for your assistance,” he said, turning to Rick. “Memory Charms are notoriously difficult to get right. They can be highly dangerous, if not applied correctly. You are, indeed, a master of the art. I do hope, however, that you will always be judicious in their use, and only employ them in appropriate situations,” he added, his blue eyes twinkling mischievously.
~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~
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Coming up: Chapter 29 ~ The Great Cover-Up
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