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Chapter 29 ~ The Great Cover-Up
When Harry entered the Great Hall for breakfast on Monday morning, he immediately noticed it was much noisier than usual. He was a bit late, and the hall was already packed with students. He hadn’t gotten very far into the hall before he was spotted. The noise-level increased dramatically, and almost every head turned towards him. Hundreds of pairs of eyes followed him, as he made his way self-consciously to the Gryffindor table. He sat down gratefully next to Ron, who had saved him a place. Ron grinned at Harry, oddly, his head slightly cocked to one side, as he pushed a copy of the Daily Prophet towards him. Quickly swallowing a mouthful of sausage, he clapped Harry on the shoulder. “Hey, mate, why didn’t you tell me about your run-in with those Death Eaters and the Dementors in Diagon Alley yesterday? Blimey, if I want to know what you’re up to these days, I have to read about it in the Daily Prophet ... you might want take a look. If even half of what it says here is true, you were bloody brilliant!” Although he was trying to hide it behind his rough manner, Harry could tell that Ron was hurt. He had been left out of things a lot, lately. “I’m sorry, mate, but by the time I got back last night, it was late, and I was exhausted ... I went straight to bed. It was a real struggle dragging myself out of bed this morning,” said Harry, piling a couple of pieces of toast, some sausages, and bacon onto his plate before looking at the paper. The headline was huge: Death Eater Attack on Diagon Alley Routed by Harry Potter and Mystery Ghost Most of the article was wildly inaccurate. Hardly surprising, thought Harry, considering who wrote it: Rita Skeeter. She had clearly changed her tack from last year, when she had questioned his sanity at every opportunity. Now she couldn’t pile the superlatives high enough as she placed him on a hero’s pedestal. Harry sighed, thinking, I think I liked it better when she was calling me a loony. Halfway down the page was an old picture of Harry taken at the wand-weighing ceremony for the Triwizard Tournament in his fourth year. The caption beneath it was vintage Rita: The Boy Who Lived Teams Up with The Ghost who Squibbed Harry groaned and pushed the paper away in disgust. “So, were you really in Diagon Alley yesterday?” asked Ron. “And did you really see off a hundred Dementors single-handedly?” “Come on, Ron, you know better by now than to believe anything written by Rita bloody Skeeter,” said Harry, looking around and noticing everyone within earshot hanging on his words. “I’ll tell you about it later – somewhere a bit more private. OK, mate?” he said softly in Ron’s ear.
~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~
After dinner that night, Harry, Hermione, and Rick were sitting together in a corner of the Gryffindor common room. Of late, their conversations seemed to revolve around a single topic: Dementors – and how to get rid of them. Rick’s success in disposing of eleven Dementors in Diagon Alley the previous day was very encouraging. If they could just get the Dementors to go through a Time Portal, they would be rid of them. But try as they might, they were still no closer to coming up with a strategy for funnelling hundreds of the evil creatures through a portal. Harry noticed Ron approaching them, and then turn away when he saw them deep in conversation. Harry felt a pang of guilt, at the way Ron was becoming estranged from him, Hermione, and Rick. It wasn’t anything deliberate. Mainly, it was because Dumbledore always insisted on keeping everything secret. Harry understood the Headmaster’s reasoning, but he hated the way it was affecting his friendship with Ron, who, he feared, was beginning to take it personally. “We’re really stumped on this one,” said Harry. “What do you two think about letting Ron in on what we’re trying to do – maybe he’ll have some ideas.” Hermione and Rick both understood Harry’s feelings about Ron. They felt the same way. “That’s a really good idea,” replied Hermione. “Ron’s really been left out a lot of late. We’ve always done things together ... it just doesn’t seem right without him. Plus he has a different way of seeing things, which can be very useful – sometimes.... Do you think we should ask Professor Dumbledore if it’s OK?” “We could ask Dumbledore first,” said Rick. “Or ... we could just do it. We seem to be going round-and-round in circles on this Dementor disposal plan. Ron’s a very strategic thinker. He might spot something we’ve missed or find some new angle....” “Yeah, why don’t we just do it....” said Harry, waving to Ron to come and join them. “Err ... hi,” said Ron awkwardly, sitting down next to Harry, across the table from Rick and Hermione. “So what exactly did happen in Diagon Alley yesterday?” he asked, turning to Harry. “You said at breakfast you’d tell me about it. How come you were in Diagon Alley, anyway? And how the hell did you get there?” Harry looked away from Ron and turned his gaze uncomfortably towards Rick, raising his eyebrows questioningly. “I took him there,” said Rick. “I can Apparate. I Apparated with Harry to Diagon Alley yesterday.” “But you’re underage,” objected Ron, with a suspicious expression on his face. “You can’t have an Apparition licence yet. And how come the Ministry haven’t picked you up for Apparating without a licence – and underage magic?” demanded Ron. “Err ... I’ve found a way to stop them from detecting me,” said Rick, with a nervous smile. He was glad that he’d already cast an Imperturbable Charm around their corner of the common room ... Ron only seemed to have two volumes: loud ... and louder. Ron looked back at Harry. “So, let me get this straight, your scar began hurting when the Death Eaters attacked Diagon Alley, and you Apparated there with Rick, right?” “Err ... yeah, pretty much,” said Harry, not wanting to mention the fact that he and Rick were flying in their Animagus forms at the time. He and Hermione had told Ron nothing about their Animagus training, and eventual success with the transformation. Since it was completely illegal, Dumbledore had insisted upon keeping it secret. Ron turned back towards Rick. “I don’t recall reading anything in the Prophet about you being there, Rick. It only mentioned Harry and the Ghost of Godric Gryffindor. So how is that?” “Err ... well, because I used an Invisibility Charm, to hide myself....” said Rick, attempting to avoid Ron’s suspicious gaze. Ron sat deep in thought for several minutes, occasionally looking at one or other of his companions, but mainly staring hard at Rick through narrowed eyes. Suddenly, he sat up straight in his seat and whacked himself on the forehead with his right hand, before pointing it accusingly across the table at Rick. “You’re the bleeding Ghost of Godric Gryffindor, aren’t you, Rick?” Thankful, once more for the Imperturbable Charm he’d cast, Rick confirmed Ron’s assertion with a silent nod ... and an embarrassed smile. He hated the way he had to hide things and deceive people – especially his friends. He felt particularly uncomfortable when he got caught out like this. He was unable to look Ron in the eye. “Bloody hell!” exclaimed Ron, pounding a fist on the table. “What a great flaming fool I’ve been! It’s so bloody obvious now – why didn’t I spot it sooner? You’ve never been there when the ghost was around. I remember the first time, when Malfoy’s slimy git of a father got Squibbed – you claimed you’d been asleep in your bed. And you were nowhere around that night in the Great Hall when Fudge turned up with that bloody traitor of a brother of mine Percy, and all his Aurors – when Umbridge got it....” “I’m sorry, Ron,” said Rick apologetically, “but Dumbledore told me to keep it secret. I wanted to tell you —” “No need to apologise, mate,” said Ron leaning over the table and slapping Rick energetically on the back. “Your ghost impersonation was fan-bloody-tastic. It’s the most brilliant magic I’ve ever seen! And that Squibbus Curse ... it’s bloody amazing! You have my eternal gratitude, mate, for the way you Squibbed Malfoy’s dad. Boy, if ever there was a slimy git crying out to be Squibbed, it was him. And that cow Umbridge – she desperately deserved it, too. Well done, mate ... I’m proud of you!” “Err, thanks, mate,” said Rick modestly, relieved that Ron was taking it so well. “And the way you gave that twit Trelawney a dressing down, too ... you really put one over on her ... it was bloody hilarious! What was the message the ghost had for her? Oh, yeah, I remember. ‘Do not disturb’ ... and ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you’. That was so funny, mate. Fred and George were rolling around the floor, when I told them about Trelawney’s séance. It was bloody brilliant!” “Yeah, I have to admit, I really enjoyed myself that night,” said Rick, laughing. “So that explains how the ghost always knows when there’s a Death Eater attack!” said Ron, thinking it through. “Harry’s scar starts hurting, and he sees the attack. Then, he tells you where it is, and you Apparate off as the ghost and Squib all the Death Eaters. You-Know-Who must be getting royally pissed off by now, with all the Death Eaters he’s lost.” “I sincerely hope so,” said Rick, grinning. “But what happened to you that day at Hogsmeade station when we were attacked? The ghost did show up eventually, and take care of the Death Eaters, but it wasn’t until five or ten minutes after the attack began. We really had a fight on our hands. We sure could have done with your help a lot sooner, mate. Where the hell did you get to? You were right there on the train with us, just before the attack.” “Err ... I’d really rather not go into that right now, Ron,” said Rick blushing. Ron noticed that Hermione was bushing even more than Rick. He looked at her enquiringly. “Err ... Ron,” stammered Hermione awkwardly, attempting to extricate Rick – and herself – from the uncomfortable direction the conversation was taking and getting it back on track. “We’ve got an urgent problem, which has us all stumped. We were wondering if you might be able to help solve it.” “Shoot,” said Ron, always ready to take on a perplexing puzzle or search for a solution to a difficult problem. He completely missed how adroitly Hermione had changed the subject on him by baiting him with a challenge. “Well, the problem is Dementors,” said Hermione. “They are going to attack Hogwarts ... hundreds of them, we think ... and soon.” “How can you know that?” asked Ron, shivering at the thought of a massive Dementor attack. “Oh, never mind, I should know better by now than asking questions that Dumbledore’s probably told you not to answer. Hmm ... so, how about using Patronuses to drive them off?” “That’s just a short-term solution,” replied Rick. “We could probably hold them off with Patronuses for a while; but Patronuses don’t weaken Dementors, they’ll keep coming back. There’s probably going to be hundreds of the evil creatures – and they can come at you from any direction they want. It just takes one to sneak up on you and get close enough to affect you, and you’re finished. You can’t cast your Patronus – you’re defenceless; dead – worse than dead....” “So what hope is there?” asked Ron glumly, biting his bottom lip and shaking his head from side-to-side with worry. Hermione told Ron about the Time Portal, and explained her idea of using it to maroon the Dementors permanently in the Timeless Dimension. “Wow!” said Ron. “Now there’s an interesting idea. But how do you know it will work?” “Because, I’ve already tried it – on some of the Dementors in Diagon Alley, yesterday,” replied Rick. He described how he’d placed the portal over the entrance to Knockturn Alley, and then used Patronuses to drive the Dementors through it. “And they just disappeared?” asked Ron, incredulously. “Yeah, exactly.” confirmed Harry. “I was watching from the other side of the portal. Not a single Dementor came through it into Diagon Alley. The problem, mate, is how to drive hundreds of them through a Time Portal. The ones Rick experimented on yesterday were trapped in Knockturn Alley. There were Patronuses behind them and above them as well. They had nowhere to go but down the alley and through the portal. But when they appear here, at Hogwarts, they’ll be able to go wherever they want. Dumbledore reckons that Patronuses won’t be able to herd them – not when there are hundreds of them and they can go off in any direction.” “Do you know how the Dementors are going to get into Hogwarts?” asked Ron. “How can they get past the wards?” “Voldemort’s planning on opening some kind of Spatial Portal for them to come through,” said Hermione. “By the way, it won’t just be Dementors, there will be other Dark Creatures attacking as well —” “Bloody hell! What kind of Dark Creatures?” asked Ron, nervously. “We don’t really know,” answered Hermione. “Probably whichever ones he has on his side, like Giants, Trolls, Acromantulas, Banshees, Manticores, Vampires... that sort of thing.” “Blimey! We’re stuffed!” said Ron, turning white, and letting out a dispirited sigh. “No, we’re not,” said Rick firmly. “Trust me – I can take care of the Dark Creatures – all of them ... except for the Dementors. They’re the real problem – the ones we need to focus on.” They fell into silence for a several minutes, as they wracked their brains for ideas. “I don’t suppose you know where You-Know-Who is going to put this portal thing, do you?” asked Ron half-heartedly. Hermione shook her head. “Presumably, it will be somewhere within the Hogwarts’ Ward line – but that covers such a vast area – it doesn’t really narrow it down very much at all.” “Pity,” said Ron. “If we knew exactly where it would be, we could put the Time Portal right in front of it. The Dementors – and all the other Dark Creatures – would simply vanish.” “We’re not going to know where Voldemort’s Spatial Portal is until his Dark Creatures start spewing out of it,” said Harry. “Yeah, that’s right,” added Rick. “And once we know where it is, we won’t have time to shape our Time Portal to the right dimensions and position it – especially if we’re under a Dementors attack,” he added with a shiver. “So can you make this Time Portal any shape you want?” asked Ron. “Yeah, I think so,” answered Rick. “It’s not something physical, although you can see it – just. It’s a spell which occupies a two-dimensional space. Once it’s created, I can use a Stretching Spell to make it whatever size and shape I want, and then use a Binding Spell to attach it.” “Could you make it a mile long and a mile wide?” asked Ron, half lost in thought. “I can’t see why not,” replied Rick. “I think I can make it as big as I want.” “What are you thinking, Ron?” asked Hermione eagerly. “Are you thinking of positioning a Time Portal over the Hogwarts castle and grounds, so the Dementors will have to pass through it when they come to attack? That might work, you know – although we’d have to make sure Voldemort’s Spatial Portal wasn’t within it – or it would defeat the whole purpose. That’s going to be difficult, since we don’t know where his portal will be. Plus it would be extremely dangerous ... anyone accidentally passing through it would disappear – forever!” “No, Hermione,” said Ron grinning. “Hogwarts isn’t where I was thinking of placing it at all – that would be the equivalent in chess of setting a trap within your own lines and waiting for the enemy to attack, and fall into it. It’s a good strategy, but it can be dangerous. If you miscalculate or make a mistake, you usually end up losing. My preferred strategy is to take the attack into the enemy’s territory. That’s what I was thinking we could do ... take the Time Portal to Azkaban and lower it right over the top of the island. Instead of trying to get the Dementors to move through the portal, we move the portal through them.” The other three were temporarily speechless as they absorbed Ron’s extraordinary idea. Rick was the first to recover. “That’s absolutely brilliant, mate – that really might work! Azkaban is basically a gigantic rock sticking up out of the sea. All the places where the Dementors could be hanging out are well above sea level. If we dropped the portal down onto Azkaban, with the Timeless Zone facing upwards and lower it down to sea level, it would pass through every place where there were Dementors. They would all effectively pass through it.” “That’s right!” said Hermione excitedly. “In theory, it should work.” “Won’t the prison and the whole island vanish along with the Dementors?” asked Harry. The boys all turned expectantly to Hermione. “No, I don’t think so,” she said. “As far as I know, only living things can travel through time. The Dementors will vanish, but inanimate objects like the prison buildings and the island itself shouldn’t be affected.” “Do we know how big it will need to be?” asked Harry. “If I remember the dimensions correctly from ‘The Wizarding World Atlas’, the island is about half-a-mile long and almost as wide ... but how are we going to get the portal to Azkaban, and how will we position it over the island?” asked Hermione. “Four of us will fly it out there on brooms,” answered Ron, with a grin. “Ron! I am not going to fly all the way out to Azkaban on a broom! I’m a terrible flyer and you know it! I’d fall off before I got even half-way there! You can just forget that idea right now,” said Hermione, narrowing her eyes and glaring at him. Ron laughed. “Hermione, I said ‘four of us’ not ‘us four’! I didn’t think for a moment that you would be one of the four. I know you don’t like flying. And, nothing personal, but we need four people with excellent broom skills. We’ll find someone else to fly with us to Azkaban.” “Yeah, like Ginny,” said Harry. “She’s a brilliant flyer – and we can trust Ginny to keep quiet about it.” “Yeah, mate,” said Ron, turning on Harry and giving him a penetrating look. Harry had inadvertently touched on something which was a very sore point with Ron – and he was instantly sidetracked from the serious matters under discussion. “Like the way she keeps quiet about where she’s always disappearing to in the evenings ... for example? She refuses, point-blank, to tell me. In fact she gets downright shirty with me whenever I ask her where she’s been. Funny thing is, Harry, I just noticed lately, that you seem to disappear, as well – at exactly the same time. So how, exactly, would you explain that?” demanded Ron, belligerently. “Err ... Ron, it’s —” began Harry, but he was cut off by an infuriated Hermione. “You should learn to mind your own business, Ron, and leave Ginny to mind hers! She’s old enough, and quite capable of looking after herself – without any help from an over-protective mother hen of a big brother like you! And anyway, you sneak off in the evenings just as much as Ginny ... I wonder if Padma just happens to be sneaking off at the same time?” demanded Hermione, sarcastically. “That’s ... that’s different,” mumbled Ron defensively, withering under three pairs of accusing eyes. “Because?” demanded Hermione. “Well ... because Padma’s not my little sister, for one thing,” said Ron defensively. “I’m glad to hear that, mate,” said Rick, laughing, attempting to ease the tension. “Err, Ron, can we try to stay focussed on the Dementors, please? Ginny’s honour, and your well-intended, if unsought, efforts at defending it, somehow pale into insignificance when one contemplates Hogwarts over-run by Dementors – wouldn’t you agree?” “Yeah, alright....” said Ron, giving Harry a final glare. “So, where were we, then?” “Flying off to Azkaban with Rick’s Time Portal,” said Hermione quickly, before Ron could get back to attacking Harry. “I can see two distinct dangers with your plan, Ron. Firstly, if anyone but Rick should accidentally pass through the portal in the active direction – which is from beneath – they’ll be lost forever in the Timeless Dimension, with no way of getting back, or any hope of rescue. The other problem will be Dementors. The front pair will have to over-fly the island, or at least pass right along its sides. That will be close enough for the Dementors to sense them – and come after them.” The four of them lapsed into a long silence, which was finally broken by Harry. “Sirius said that when he was in his Animagus dog form in Azkaban, he hardly felt the Dementors, and they didn’t sense him – that’s how he escaped. So, Rick, what if you and I....” “Yeah ... I know exactly what you’re thinking, mate – and you’re dead right.” said Rick. “When I rescued Hermione from Azkaban, the Dementors didn’t seem to sense me at all after I transformed.” “Of course!” said Hermione. “Hang on, hang on, the lot of you!” yelled Ron, holding up both hands. “What is all this about rescuing Hermione from Azkaban – and Animagus transformations?” he demanded, looking intensely at Rick. “Well, when Voldemort abducted Hermione at Christmas, she was being held at Azkaban,” explained Rick. “That’s where I went to rescue her. Err ... by the way, I’m an Animagus, Ron ... look, mate, Dumbledore made us promise not to talk about the rescue, so please don’t press me on it ... OK? The point is that Harry and I can fly in the lead in our Animagus forms.” “Bloody hell! Are you an Animagus too?!” demanded Ron, turning towards Harry in amazement. “Err ... yeah, mate,” replied Harry, turning away from Ron’s intense gaze, and feeling very uncomfortable at having hidden it from him. “A Golden Eagle – but Dumbledore insisted that I keep it secret – it’s completely illegal. I really wanted to tell you, but —” “Of course! It’s all so bleeding obvious now! I always thought that story about you using a Hover Charm to come down after your broom got yanked out from under you in the Quidditch match was a load of old cobblers! You bloody-well transformed into an eagle and flew off, didn’t you?” “Yeah, that’s right,” said Harry, grinning at Ron. “Actually, that was the very first time I ever succeeded with the transformation, although I’d been working on it for months.” “The first time?! You’re amazing mate!” replied Ron, shaking his head in disbelief. “They don’t call you The Boy Who Lived for nothing! I don’t know how many times you’ve defied death – just by the skin of your teeth – it’s too many to count. So that explains why you three were disappearing almost every evening after we came back from the Christmas holidays. Was McGonagall giving the three of you Animagus training?” “No,” replied Rick. “McGonagall told Dumbledore she thought Harry and Hermione might be able to master the Animagus transformation. But they are below the legal age – and anyway, there’s so much red tape that it simply isn’t possible to do it legally anymore. Dumbledore knew McGonagall would feel uncomfortable about getting involved in anything illegal – being such a prim and proper sort – so he ... err ... asked me to teach them. Err ... I was already an Animagus.” “So, have you mastered the transformation, too?” asked Ron turning to Hermione. “Well, of course I have,” replied Hermione, sounding piqued, as if Ron was insinuating that she wasn’t up to it. “I’m a fox.” “Congratulations – both of you, that’s bloody impressive.” said Ron. But his voice betrayed mixed emotions. He felt genuine happiness and admiration for his friends’ remarkable achievement; but it was tempered by a deep sense of envy, and a feeling of missing out – yet again – and not measuring up. It was a recurring theme in Ron’s life, being the youngest of six brothers, all of whom had excelled and succeeded in their chosen course in life ... even the twins, with their joke shop and their Weasley' Wizarding Wheezes. “So, err ... getting back to Azkaban,” said Rick, breaking the awkward silence that followed, as Ron looked from Harry to Hermione, with a forced grin. “If Harry and I are in front, in our bird Animagus forms, the Dementors won’t sense us – or affect us as we fly along the sides of the island. I can magically attach long ropes to each corner of the Time Portal. That will allow us to keep our distance from it, which should help to avoid any nasty accidents. The other benefit is that Ron and Ginny won’t need to cross Azkaban, or come too close to the island – and the Dementors.” “It’s still going to be risky, but it might just work,” said Hermione. “It’s the only plan we have with any chance of success, so I think we’re going to have to give it a try.” “I’ll ask Ginny if she wants to be in on it,” said Harry. “I’ll only tell her as much as she needs to know. Ginny will be OK with that ... she trusts me.” Ron glared at Harry again, but before he could make a comment, Rick rushed in. “I’ll go talk to Dumbledore and see what he thinks of the plan. Err ... Ron, I know there are lots of things bugging you right now, and you’ve been left out a lot lately; but there’s something you need to know.... Getting rid of the Dementors is absolutely critical to winning the war. If we can’t get rid of them, we’ll lose ... it’s as simple as that. This plan of yours – if it works – will be the difference between winning and losing. It will be remembered as the strategy that won the war. You can be very proud of yourself, mate.” “That’s absolutely, right, Ron,” said Hermione smiling at him encouragingly. “If we don’t get rid of the Dementors ... Hogwarts will be destroyed – everything will be lost.” “Yeah, mate,” said Harry. “We’ve been going round-and-round in circles on this one. We just couldn’t figure out a way to get rid of the Dementors – and neither could Dumbledore. Your plan is bloody brilliant.” Ron blushed beneath the praise of his friends and looked down at the table silently for a while. “Yeah,” he said finally, looking up. “Let’s just hope to hell it works!” “Yeah, mate” said Harry, smiling at him and holding up both hands with his fingers crossed. “Keep your fingers crossed and hope for the best!”
~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~
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