Chapter 31 ~ Assault of the Dark Creatures
High above Hogwarts, two birds circled in the early-morning light. The Golden Eagle began a graceful descent, alighting on the parapet of the West Tower, which was bathed in morning sunshine. Jumping down from the parapet, Harry transformed. Ron, who had been staring out towards the Forbidden Forest, and the Peregrine Falcon which was flying along its edge, turned and looked enquiringly at his friend.
“Nothing yet,” said Harry. It was the first day of the final school term. Just as Dumbledore had predicted, the children of suspected Death Eaters had not returned from the Easter break. Draco Malfoy was one of the few Slytherins on the Hogwarts Express when it arrived in Hogsmeade the previous evening. Evidently, his mother had taken heed of the warning given by the ‘Ghost of Godric Gryffindor’, and cut all ties with her Squibbed husband’s former associates and her other acquaintances on the Dark Side. It appeared that, in consequence, she had not been warned of the impending attack.
Harry and Rick had been flying reconnaissance missions above the Hogwarts grounds since first light. Dumbledore expected the attack of Voldemort’s Dark Creatures to come in the first few days of the new term – very possibly today; and they did not want to be caught unawares. If and when the attack came, Ron would notify the Headmaster immediately. Dumbledore had Professors McGonagall, Snape, Flitwick, plus a number of others on stand-by – ready to join him in defending Hogwarts. The remaining staff would gather all the students together and barricade them in the deepest dungeons until the attack was over. Each of the professors involved in the school’s defence had been assigned a tower or some other strategic location – but none were assigned to the West Tower, where Rick and Harry were stationed. Dumbledore hoped to keep Harry’s Animagus ability and Rick’s powers secret.
“Have Hermione and Ginny shown up with breakfast yet?” asked Harry, hopefully.
“No, not yet, mate,” replied Ron, grumpily. “I’ve been awake for at least two hours now, and I haven’t eaten a thing. I’m starving to death up here, while the whole school’s down in the Great Hall eating breakfast,” he complained.
“Don’t worry, mate, it’ll be here soon ... just remember to leave some for me ... or I might have to catch my own,” joked Harry, before transforming back into an eagle and flying off towards the lake.
Five minutes later, the falcon came in to land and transformed into Rick. “Still no sign of any attackers,” he said to Ron.
“And there’s nothing to eat yet, either,” grumbled Ron, “I’m getting bloody hungry up here, I could eat a —”
“What’s that?” exclaimed Rick, holding his hand up to silence Ron, and staring off into space. It was Hermione summoning him through their Empathetic Magic link. “Hermione’s in trouble!” cried Rick, closing his eyes for a moment and projecting a magical map of the castle. From her summons, he already knew where she was, but he wanted to find out who was with her. “Draco Malfoy!” he spat. “He must have jumped Hermione and Ginny on their way up here with the food.”
“Come on!” said Ron, rushing to the stairway. “Let’s go teach that slimy git a lesson he’ll never —”
“Calm down, mate,” said Rick, raising both hands and stepping in front of Ron. “I’ll take care of Malfoy – don’t worry. You need to stay here. If Harry spots attackers, he’ll fly straight back here to tell you. One of you come and get me, I won’t be far away. Just go down these stairs, and then carry on straight along the corridor about a hundred feet – turn right at the end. I’ll be just around the corner – OK?”
“OK! But hurry!” yelled Ron. “If that sneaky little ferret so much as —” But he stopped abruptly when he found himself talking to thin air. Rick had made himself invisible and Apparated to Hermione and Ginny.
~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~
“Well, well, well,” sneered Draco malevolently. “Now what shall I do with filthy little Miss Mudblood ... and Potty’s beloved Muggle-loving Weaslet?” Draco had ambushed them on their way to the West Tower with breakfast for the boys. The food lay scattered at their feet, along with their wands. They were pinned, spreadeagled, to the wall, with their arms and legs clamped in heavy manacles. It was the same spell Draco had used on Hermione in the dungeon many months before.
Hermione was glaring at Draco defiantly, but Ginny let out a gasp when he mentioned Harry.
“Oh, yes, Weasley ... I know all about you and your darling Scarface!” said Draco smugly. “If there’s one thing Pansy’s good at, it’s knowing whose doing what – and with whom. Pansy has her uses ... she keeps her ear close to the ground.”
“Hardly surprising ... since she lives in the gutter – with rabid little ferrets like you!” spat Hermione furiously.
“That will cost you Mudblood!” snarled Draco, pointing his wand at her. “We have some unfinished business from that night in the dungeon ... remember?” he said, threateningly, his face filled with hatred. “If I’m quick, I might just have time for some fun – before my Master’s Dark Creatures arrive ... to kill you ... along with the rest of the school,” he gloated, his hard grey eyes gleaming maliciously.
“But, it’s business before pleasure. I’m going to give you exactly one chance before I demonstrate the effectiveness of the Cruciatus Curse. Where are Potter and his stupid friends? When I saw you two leaving the Great Hall with that food, I checked the Gryffindor table – Potter, Weasley, and Godfry weren’t there. You were taking that food to them. Now, where are they?!”
Hermione said nothing, raising her chin defiantly. Ginny turned her head, looking desperately down the corridor, praying that someone would come.
“Hoping someone will come to rescue you, little Weaslet?” jeered Draco. “Well, you better forget it. You see, that food,” he said, pointing a finger at the food scattered on the ground, “is laced with a powerful drug. I used a special form of the Imperius Curse that works on house elves. I forced one of them to put a sleeping draft in the breakfast. Everyone but the three of us – plus Potter and his scummy little sidekicks – will have fallen into a deep sleep by now – a sleep from which they will never awaken....” he gloated evilly. “It’s just a little precaution my Master decided upon, to ensure there would be no resistance when his Dark Creatures come to destroy the school ... and kill everyone.”
Draco took a step closer to Hermione, pointing his wand at her chest. Then, turning to Ginny, with an evil grin on his face, he said, “I’m going to put your little Mudblood friend under the Cruciatus Curse, Weasley. And, I’m going to keep her under it until it destroys her precious little mind and turns her into a vegetable ... just like her dear Muggle mummy and daddy – unless you tell me where Potty and the other two are....”
“I can tell you where one of them is ... I’m right behind you,” said Rick, materialising out of thin air. Draco spun around to face Rick.
“Cruc —” began Draco, but stopped when he realised that his wand hand was empty.
“Lose something, Malfoy?” asked Rick, holding Draco’s wand in his left hand, before pocketing it. Draco’s surprise turned to shock when Rick pointed a finger in the direction of Hermione and Ginny, making their manacles disappear. He tried to turn and run, but Rick flicked his eyes towards Draco’s feet and they were suddenly stuck fast to the floor of the corridor. Desperately, he dug his hand into his robes. But before he could reach the object of his frantic search, Rick pointed a finger at him, and flicked it upwards. There was a tearing sound, and a shiny golden object was ripped from Draco’s robes and flew up in the air, hovering high above his head – well out of reach.
“A Portkey – so that’s how you were planning to escape ... before the slaughter begins,” said Rick, glancing at the golden ring and making it explode.
“No!” gasped Draco. “I-I’ve got to get out of here – they’ll be here any minute!” He said looking about wildly. Then turning fearfully to Rick – as if he was seeing him for the first time – he asked, “W-who are you? W-what are you? How come you can do all of this magic – without a wand?”
“I am your evil master’s nemesis ... and, I’m also the one who gave you a chance, once, to mend your ways ... but, unfortunately, you didn’t take it.”
“W-what are you talking about?” stammered Draco, frightened and confused.
“Have you forgotten the warning I gave you, the night I Squibbed your father?” asked Rick. “I told you that if you had any further dealings with Voldemort or his Death Eaters, I’d Squib you, too.”
The blood drained from Draco’s face as the penny dropped. “I-It’s you ... you’re the G-Ghost of Godric Gryffindor,” said Draco trembling with fear. “I-I’ll, change sides – p-please, let me join you, anything....” begged Draco pathetically.
“You’ve got a yellow streak a mile-wide,” spat Rick. “It’s too late now to switch sides. Anyway, it’s just a trick – I can read your evil, twisted little mind, Malfoy. You’ll never change your spots.”
“P-Please, p-please don’t Squib me – I’ll do anything you ask, I promise – p-please ... I’ll give you gold ... as much as you want ... just don’t Squib me ... please....” beseeched Draco pitifully.
“You’re wasting your time Draco – and mine,” said Rick. “I can read your mind – and believe me, it’s not a good read. I know you can’t be trusted ... you’ll be back at your evil master’s side the first chance you get. Sorry, but I can’t allow that. Squibbus!”
“No!” gasped Draco, collapsing to the ground. Since the soles of his feet were still stuck to the floor he was forced to sit. He pulled his knees up and wrapped his arms around them, whimpering pitifully.
“You’ll have to memory-charm him,” said Hermione, softly, moving away from Draco, as she pocketed her wand. “He knows too much.” Ginny was staring at Rick in shock, jaw hanging down. She had been amazed at the remarkable powers Rick had revealed during the Azkaban operation, but she’d never suspected for a moment that he was the mysterious ghost.
“I was planning on it,” said Rick. “I’ll make myself invisible, memory-charm him, then Apparate back to the West Tower. Tell him the Ghost of Godric Gryffindor came to rescue you ... and Squibbed him. Leave him stuck to the floor for now – that’ll keep him out of our way. The whole school will remain unconscious indefinitely, according to what I could glean from his fetid little mind. They’ve been given the Draught of the Living Death. Maybe you two should go down to the Great Hall and check that everyone’s alright. I’ll try to keep the attackers away from there, OK?”
“Ginny, will you go to the Great Hall?” asked Hermione, urgently. “I’m going straight to the library ... I’m sure I’ve read about an antidote to the Draught of the Living Death – Yes! I remember, now ... Wiggenweld potion! I need to find out how to make it! We’ll have to break into Snape’s stores to get the ingredients....”
“Good idea,” said Rick. “If you do succeed in brewing the antidote, you should probably revive Snape first. You’ll need his help to brew up enough of the antidote for the whole school ... and that way you can use him as a guinea pig,” said Rick with grin.
Hermione smiled nervously at Rick, then quickly threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. “Thanks for rescuing me ... again ... and good luck.” Rick smiled at her before vanishing, although Hermione could still feel him in her arms. She let him go and heard him say, “Obliviate.”
Malfoy suddenly lifted his head and stared about in confusion. “What happened?” he demanded, glaring at Ginny. “You and the Mudblood were chained to that wall ... how did you get free? And what have you done to my feet? I can’t move them. Where’s my wand?” he demanded, as he rose, with difficulty, to his feet and searched his pockets frantically.
“You won’t be needing a wand, Malfoy ... ever again,” said Hermione harshly, approaching him.
“What do you mean?” snarled Draco, becoming frustrated and angry.
“Don’t you remember?” asked Hermione, cocking an eyebrow for dramatic effect. “The Ghost of Godric Gryffindor came to rescue us ... and Squibbed you. He said he’d warned you, that if you associated with Voldemort and his lackeys again, he’d Squib you ... and he did.”
“Squibbed me?” wailed Draco. “No! Not that! Not a loathsome Squib ... like my disgusting father. No! It’s too horrible – I’d rather be dead!”
“It’s too late, Malfoy,” said Hermione, unsympathetically. “But look on the bright side ... you may just get your death-wish granted – when your evil master’s Dark Creatures get here.”
“The Dark Creatures,” screamed Draco, in horror. “They’ll be here any minute!” He began ransacking his robes, frantically searching for the ring.
“Looking for your Portkey ring?” asked Ginny.
“Where is it?” begged Draco, staring anxiously at her. “I’ll give you a thousand galleons for it ... ten thousand ... please ... give it to me.”
“Too late, Malfoy,” said Ginny harshly. “The ghost destroyed it. You’re stuck here with the rest of us. In fact, you’re stuck right there – to the floor,” she said laughing.
“Come on Ginny,” said Hermione, “let’s not waste any more time with this pathetic excuse for a Squib, we’ve got work to do!”
~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~
“Are Hermione and Ginny OK?” asked Ron anxiously, when Rick reappeared on the West Tower.
“Yeah, fine,” said Rick. “Has Harry spotted any attackers yet?”
“No, he was just back a couple of minutes ago – I told him where you’d gone. He told me not to worry ... that you’d take care of Malfoy. So what did you do to the slimy git?”
“Squibbed him,” said Rick.
Ron’s face lit up with an enormous grin. “I can’t think of a more deserving git than Malfoy ... that curse was made for him.”
Rick proceeded to tell Ron how everyone in the school, but the five Gryffindors and Draco, were in a drugged sleep.
“First time in my life I’m glad I missed a meal,” said Ron grimly. “Hey – here comes Harry and it looks like he’s in a hurry....”
Harry approached the tower fast, stalling at the last moment to drop on the parapet, before jumping to the ground and transforming. “Giants ... about fifty of them,” said Harry hurriedly. “They’re in the Forbidden Forest uprooting trees. It looks like they’re planning to use them as clubs or battering rams to smash their way into the castle.”
“Yeah, makes sense,” said Ron. “They’ll have been sent in first, to breach the castle’s defences, so the other Dark Creatures can get inside. Harry, everyone but us three, Ginny, and Hermione have been drugged ... by Malfoy. They’re all asleep down in the Great Hall – Hermione and Ginny are trying to revive them. Dumbledore got Filch to lock and barricade all the castle’s entrances last night, but Malfoy might have reopened some of them. You should fly around the school and check that everything’s secured.”
“What about Malfoy, where’s he?” asked Harry.
“Squibbed, with his feet stuck to the floor,” said Rick grinning. “Harry, after you’ve checked everything’s locked up, start flying reconnaissance again, and let Ron know if you spot anything – I’ll come back here, when I get the chance, for news from you, OK?
“Right,” said Harry.
Look, here come the Giants ... it’s time for action....” said Rick making himself invisible and Apparating to the edge of the Forbidden Forest, from where the Giants were beginning to emerge. Harry transformed into an eagle and flew off, leaving Ron alone, to watch the fearsome scene taking place at the edge of the forest.
The Giants were at least twenty feet tall, a truly awesome sight, as they came out from the forest, their enormous footsteps shaking the earth. Ron could feel the tremors in the tower. They were wildly brandishing their enormous tree-clubs, and bellowing blood-curdling cries, as they stomped ponderously towards the castle. Bloody hell! thought Ron. I sure hope Rick can stop them. If that lot make it to the castle, they’ll do more than break in – they’ll smash it to bits. Despite the gravity of the situation, he couldn’t help but laugh at how utterly brainless the Giants were. Several of them had managed to clout their comrades with their wildly swinging clubs. Three of them were struggling, half-dazed to their feet, having been felled by their fellows. Upon rising unsteadily to his feet, one of them began staggering in a stupor towards the lake, instead of carrying on towards the castle.
As Ron looked anxiously towards the approaching mob, he noticed that, one by one, they were disappearing into thin air. But, upon closer inspection, he discovered that they were not, in fact, disappearing, but being transformed into tiny Pixies, no more than a few inches tall. The Pixies were alarmed to find themselves among the diminishing pack of Giants who, rather than puzzling over their dwindling numbers, began swinging their enormous clubs at the tiny pixies. Fortunately, Pixies are fast and nimble – and easily managed to pick their way through the Giants’ enormous legs and dash off for the cover afforded by the Forbidden Forest.
Ron was really enjoying the show now. Soon all the Giants had been transformed to Pixies ... well – all but one. The dazed Giant who had stumbled off to the lake, had just fallen in, making an enormous splash. But suddenly he was gone ... and there was a large dolphin swimming about in the lake, apparently having a lot of fun, as he leaped clear of the water before diving back in. Nice one, Rick! thought Ron. The Giant Squid will probably appreciate the company.
After the last of the Pixies had disappeared into the forest, there was an eerie silence. Ron noticed that Rick had once again resumed his falcon form and was flying along the edge of the Forbidden Forest. He flew back and forth for several minutes, before suddenly diving to the ground, and vanishing.
Ron stared nervously towards the edge of the forest. Whatever was about to emerge from its cover was not going to be pleasant ... of that he was sure. He didn’t have long to wait. Voldemort, assuming the castle’s defences were now breached, was sending in his terrifying creatures in waves, with a small gap between each wave to prevent them attacking each other, rather than their intended victims.
First to emerge from the trees were five fearsome Nundu. The gigantic leopard-like creatures are among the most dangerous beasts in existence. Ron shivered as the huge Nundu padded lithely, like giant cats, towards the castle. They were enormous; each one must have been at least fifteen feet long. Ron would have been even more terrified had he known they didn’t even need to touch their prey to kill them – their breath alone caused fatal diseases and death. But they never got close enough to the castle to breathe on anyone. Suddenly they were gone, and in their place were five frolicking Kneazles.
Looking back towards the forest, Ron saw thirty Mountain Trolls, lumbering vaguely in the direction of the castle. Their progress was slowed by their enthusiasm for trying out their new clubs – on each other. Ron briefly turned his mind back to his first-year, when he and Harry had rescued Hermione from a Mountain Troll. This lot looked very similar: About twelve feet tall, with grey skin, ugly lumpy bodies, and flat horny feet. And depressingly stupid, recalled Ron. Rick won’t need to worry too much about those morons ... most of them will have been brained by their mates before they get anywhere near the castle.
The next attackers to emerge from the forest were Manticores. There were seven of them ... and they were far more dangerous than the stupid pack of trolls. Ron gasped when he saw them. They had a head like a human, a body like a lion, and the tail of a scorpion. Ron remembered from Hagrid’s lessons that their tail was venomous, and its sting instantly fatal. He also remembered that their skin repels magical charms, just like a dragon’s. Rick’s going to have his work cut out transforming that lot, though Ron nervously. They probably have a weak spot somewhere, but it’ll take him a while to find it ... and it could be difficult to get at.
Rick suddenly became visible, standing between the Mountain Trolls and the castle. “Oi! Over here you idiots!” he yelled to attract their attention. As they began chasing him with their awkward lumbering gait, Rick wheeled around in a wide arc, back towards the Forbidden Forest ... and the Manticores. When the approaching groups were about fifty feet apart, Rick disappeared.
Manticores are bad-tempered beasts at the best of times, and finding their direct path to the castle blocked by a bunch of imbecilic trolls, heading in the wrong direction, they began shouting at them with their very humanlike voices. Mountain Trolls may be stupid, but not so stupid that they don’t know when they are being insulted. They set upon the Manticores with gusto, always up for a fight.
Ron had a great view of the battle. It looked like Rick was staying out of it and letting them finish each other off. The Mountain Trolls outnumbered the Manticores four-to-one, but the Manticores were much more dangerous, and far more intelligent than their huge foes. When the dust had finally settled, the trolls were all dead. They’d put up a ferocious struggle. Due to stupidity, rather than valour, it never occurred to them to turn tail and run as the Manticores began killing them all off with their fatal stings.
The Manticores, however, had not got off unscathed. They had taken quite a battering from the troll’s enormous clubs. Three of them were dead, their vulnerable skulls smashed in, and the other four were stumbling about in a daze, bleeding from head-wounds. Rick took the opportunity to make his move. He discovered their magical protection was weakest around the eyes – and was especially weak in their injured state. Since they were badly wounded, Rick decided to try transforming them into some kind of lizard – as lizards posses the ability to recover quickly from injuries. It took quite a bit of effort, but he eventually succeeded in transforming the four remaining Manticores into Mokes, a harmless shrinking lizard.
While Rick had been occupied with the Manticores, he had not been keeping an eye out for fresh attackers – but luckily, Harry had. He swooped down on Rick to get his attention, and then immediately headed off towards the castle. Rick looked up to see what appeared to be a black river, flowing towards the castle; but upon closer inspection, he realised it was not a river at all – but hundreds of Acromantulas, marching steadily towards the castle. In fact, the head of their orderly column had already reached it, and they were beginning to scale the outer walls. The enormous spiders were heading straight for the West Tower ... and Ron. They were on the march for food, it seemed – and Ron was the only food around.
Rick Apparated directly to the West Tower, where he found five Acromantulas fighting over Ron, who was lying, unconscious, on the ground. Rick immediately transformed the gigantic spiders into lovely red and black Ladybugs, who immediately took flight. He quickly leaned over the side of the tower and similarly transformed the Acromantulas who were scaling the castle walls. The others would keep a while ... he had to focus on Ron. While he was checking him over, Harry came in to land.
“How is he?” asked Harry with a worried voice. “Did they get him?”
“Yeah,” nodded Rick sadly. “He’s alive, but he’s been bitten in at least three places. I don’t have time to heal him now, while we’re under attack – anyway, Hermione’s much better than me.” He closed his eyes for a moment, and then opening them he looked at Ron and said: “Hibernatus. That should stop the poison progressing any further. Hermione’s down in Snape’s dungeon. Get him down to her as fast as you can – don’t forget to use a locking charm on the tower door ... and come straight back, mate, I need your help.”
~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~
Down in the Potions dungeon, Hermione and Ginny were working over five large cauldrons, while Snape was gathering additional ingredients. “You certainly made a mess of my stores, Miss Granger,” he said acidly, “when you pillaged it for ingredients. How an incompetent student, such as yourself, managed to get the Wiggenweld potion correct the very first time, is quite beyond me ... it is notoriously difficult to brew correctly, and the slightest mistake renders it lethal.”
“Yes sir, I read that in the Potions Encyclopaedia in the library,” said Hermione, keeping her eyes fixed on the caldron she was stirring. “Err, that’s why we didn’t give it to anyone else, until we were sure ... err, that it —”
“Wasn’t lethal?” queried Snape, cocking an eyebrow at Hermione. “How touching that you should choose me as your guinea pig,” said Snape sarcastically.
“Oh, it seemed rather appropriate,” replied Hermione, with a touch of sarcasm. “As our Potions Master, you deserve much of the credit for our success – or otherwise – in brewing the potion. It seemed only fair that you should be the first to benefit from the fruits of labours, Professor.”
Snape snorted ... since the potion had worked, he could hardly criticise the blasted Know-It-All. “Weasley,” he said, “there is enough of your original brew for several more doses. Since I am still alive, we may safely conclude that it is not lethal. Go to the Great Hall and administer it to the Headmaster. You can also revive Madam Pomfrey and Professor Sprout – I can use their assistance in brewing more of the potion. Lean their heads back, and give them exactly thirteen drops each – is that understood?”
“Yes sir,” said Ginny, carefully grasping the small vial of turquoise-coloured Wiggenweld potion as she left the dungeon.
Snape moved along the line of cauldrons on which Hermione was working, and, finding no fault, nodded his head approvingly. “I must congratulate you, Miss Granger,” he said grudgingly. “It appears that you may have spent enough time in my classes actually paying attention to what I was saying, to learn something,” he said caustically.
Hermione was taken aback by Snape’s backhanded compliment. In fact, she was stunned. In almost six years, he had never once made a positive comment – either to her, or about her.
But it was too good to last. Snape, immediately regretting his words added mockingly, “And I always thought you spent my entire class trying to think up clever things to say – to show off your book-knowledge.”
Hermione fought to contain her anger – she was sorely tempted to tell Snape exactly what she thought of him – with no holds barred. But she kept her silence, concentrating on the job at hand, until she was distracted by a noise from the corridor. Suddenly, a stretcher, magically suspended by the Mobilicorpus spell, floated in through the open doorway. Ron was lying unconscious on the stretcher. Harry followed behind, guiding it into the dungeon. Hermione gasped.
“Potter! What is the meaning of this? Why are you and Mr. Weasley not down in the Great Hall with the rest of the school? In fact,” he added, turning towards Hermione, “how is it that both you and Miss Weasley also managed to avoid getting drugged with the rest of the school?”
“I’ll explain it all in a minute, sir,” said Harry, turning to Hermione and ignoring Snape. “He’s been bitten by Acromantulas, Hermione. Rick put a Hibernatus spell on him to temporarily stop the poison spreading. Can you heal him?” he asked, in a worried voice.
Hermione manoeuvred Ron onto Snape’s desk, brushing aside several scrolls and a book, which fell to the floor. “Finite Incantatum,” she said. Ron immediately began to groan and gasp for air, although his eyes remained closed. There were large, bleeding puncture marks on an arm and leg where the giant spiders had bitten him.
“What on earth do you think you are playing at, Miss —”
“She’s a Healer,” said Harry simply, stepping in front of Snape to prevent him interfering. “Hermione healed Ron a week ago in the hospital wing when everyone – including you – was sure he was going to die.”
“Indeed?” said Snape, in stunned disbelief. He was still completely mystified as to how Weasley had recovered from what were undoubtedly fatal injuries on that occasion. There was such a look of absolute certainty and conviction in Potter’s eyes, that, completely against his instincts, Snape decided to give them the benefit of the doubt – for now. Weasley’s situation was dire. From what he had read on the subject of Acromantula venom, there was absolutely no hope of recovery anyway, so there was nothing lost in humouring them – apart from his dignity – and a great many house points – but that could wait until later.
“This all sounds very far-fetched,” said Snape, with undisguised incredulity. “But if you really believe you are able to heal him, Miss Granger, I suggest you start with the kidneys, liver, pancreas and brain. Those are the first organs to be destroyed by Acromantula venom. I will prepare a potion that will neutralise what venom remains in his blood ... although I doubt he will live long enough to benefit from it.”
Hermione began moving her hands in circles above the organs Snape had mentioned. A soft white light seemed to glow from her hands, flowing from the palms into Ron’s body. When Snape returned several minutes later with the anti-venom potion, he was utterly stunned at the sight of Hermione, her hands glowing as she moved them around Ron’s head. The strange light from her hands seemed to flow into him. Ron’s eyes slowly opened as he regained consciousness. “Bloody hell! Bloody great spiders!” he wailed, his face contorted in terror.
But before he could say anything further, Snape pointed his wand at Ron, bringing him up to a half-sitting position and lifted a vial of bright purple liquid to his lips. “Drink this, Weasley,” he ordered. “All of it. It contains a mild tranquillizer which should help to ease the horror of the attack.” Hermione, meanwhile, had waved her hands across the three vicious puncture marks where Ron had been bitten on his arm and leg, instantly healing them.
Snape regarded her with a look which was an incongruous mixture of disbelief, suspicion, awe ... and apprehension. “Lie still, Mr. Weasley,” he said, magically lowering Ron to a reclining position. He proceeded to examine Ron carefully for several minutes. Snape then turned towards Hermione, gazing intently at her with an inscrutable expression on his face, which gave nothing away. Then turning back to Ron he said, “You appear to be completely healed, Mr. Weasley, I can find nothing wrong with you at all. Kindly remove yourself from my desk!”
When Ron had awkwardly up from his desk, Snape pointed his wand at it saying, “Scourgify!” in a distasteful tone, as if its sanctity had somehow been violated. He waved his wand at the scrolls and other items which Hermione had knocked to the floor in her haste to make room for Ron. They floated back onto the desk, and with final flick of his wand, Snape restored the contents of his desk to their correct place.
Turning on Ron and Hermione, he glared at them with piercing eyes. “Now, Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley, perhaps one of you would care tell me what on earth is going on? Potter has sneaked away on me, I see. I believe he mentioned Mr. Godfry’s name, also. That makes five Gryffindors, who, alone, out of the whole school, managed to avoid being drugged with the Draught of the Living Death. It is very hard not to conclude that the five of you were responsible.”
“It was Draco Malfoy,” said Hermione. “Not us.”
“Oh ... really ...” said Snape in patent disbelief. “This will, of course, mean immediate expulsion from Hogwarts, for all five of you ... regardless of what mysterious powers you – and Mr. Godfry – may possess, Miss Granger.”
“But it wasn’t us!” yelled Ron angrily. “You slim —”
“Ron, no!” interrupted Hermione, before he could tell Snape exactly what he thought of him. “Err ... shouldn’t we be working on the Wiggenweld potion, Professor?” asked Hermione, moving back to one of the cauldrons. “I’m sure this can all be sorted out later. If we don’t stir these cauldrons the potion will be ruined.”
Snape glared at her through narrowed eyes. “I am quite capable of managing to brew Wiggenweld potion without your instructions, you insufferable know-it-all,” spat Snape derisively. However, he quickly began checking the cauldrons and stirring them vigorously. When he was satisfied with them he looked up, to discover that Ron had snuck away from the dungeon while his back was turned. “Where has Mr. Weasley gone?” demanded Snape angrily.
Hermione knew perfectly well that he’d gone back to the West Tower to help Rick and Harry, but she just shrugged her shoulders silently.
“Until the Headmaster formally expels you, you are still a student at this school, Miss Granger,” Snape said in his haughtiest voice. “You are required to obey me. Now, where are Godfry, Potter – and Weasley, and what are they up to?”
At that very moment, the Headmaster walked into the dungeon, smiling serenely.
“Ah, Severus, do forgive me ... I’ve been sleeping on the job again ... I fear,” he said with a playful smile. “But, the excellent potion brewed by Misses Granger and Weasley has revived me wonderfully. Am I correct in believing that Wiggenweld potion is extremely difficult to brew? I consider their success a testament to the outstanding teaching abilities of their Potions Master,” he added, smiling warmly at Snape.
“Thank you, Headmaster,” said Snape emotionlessly. “Indeed, it is an exceptionally difficult potion to brew. It is also highly dangerous – the slightest mistake and it is absolutely lethal. Miss Granger and Miss Weasley took the precaution of testing it on me first, before administering it further.”
Dumbledore snorted as he suppressed a laugh, but his blue eyes were twinkling merrily. “Now, now, Severus, Miss Granger has, I believe, been top of your Potions class – and all her other classes, for that matter – for the past five years. I am sure you were in no danger. How many house points should we award to Gryffindor for their excellent potion?”
“Award?” hissed Snape incredulously, almost choking on the words. “But Headmaster ... Miss Granger and Miss Weasley – along with Mr. Potter, Mr. Godfry, and Mr. Weasley – are the only ones in the whole school who were not drugged. Surely it is obvious that it must have been they who perpetrated this extremely dangerous and foolhardy prank. I would have expected you to deduct house points – not award them ... and to expel all five of them immediately....”
“Ah, but it was not they who put the sleeping draft in the breakfast, Severus. It was Draco Malfoy. He was acting under orders from Voldemort, whose Dark Creatures are, at this very moment, attacking the school.”
Snape looked completely horrified. “But Headmaster ... what is being done to repel the attackers and protect the school?”
Dumbledore smiled at Snape. “Now, Severus, you know very well I have my reasons for keeping secrets from you. You will just have to trust me when I say that our defenders have more than the measure of Voldemort’s foul creatures ... you may rely upon it.”
“Godfry, Potter, and Weasley?” asked Snape in disbelief.
Dumbledore just smiled, silently.
“Heaven help us,” muttered Snape under his breath.
“I see you and Miss Granger are brewing up a large batch of the Wiggenweld potion, Severus. Could you use any further assistance?”
“Yes, Headmaster, but only from Madam Pomfrey and Professor Sprout,” replied Snape. “I certainly wouldn’t trust any students with such a difficult – and potentially deadly – potion.”
“Except for Miss Granger, perhaps?” asked the Headmaster innocently.
Snape glared at Hermione. “In view of the seriousness of the situation, Miss Granger may continue to render her assistance,” muttered Snape ungraciously.
~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~
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Coming up: Chapter 32 ~ Lady Firebird and Muldorion
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