The Sugar Quill
Author: Robin (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Promises Defended  Chapter: Chapter 3: Search and Destroy
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Promises Remembered

Promises Defended

 

 

 

Chapter Three: Search and Destroy

December 21st.  The day of departure and seventy-two days after Sirius Black had disappeared, wounding the Magical World beyond reckoning.  The Daily Prophet portrayed him alternately as a traitor or as a fatally flawed hero, seemingly unable to decide which he was.  Many times they called him a coward—and worse names, as well.  Always they screamed for his return, though even those articles grew less confident with time.  But Rita Skeeter’s had been the most fitting:

ALL HOPE FADES TO BLACK.

The phrase kept running through his head.

Once, Remus would have wanted to disagree with her words, but now he could not.  Two and a half months ago, he would never have believed that such a thing could happen, that one wizard’s action—one simple choice—could bring the entire world so close to ruin.  But blackness had descended upon their world, blackness of Sirius Black’s doing.  Time and again, he had proven to be a hero.  He had become the one light in such deep darkness, the one ray of hope in a stormy sky.  Remus had seen him fighting at the end, known he would never fail…and others had believed, too.   One man had captured the imaginations of thousands, and they had hoped.

Broken, now.  Even disregarding Skeeter’s hypothesis that the missing hero had joined the Dark Lord, hopes were now shattered.  Action after action, day after day, Voldemort gained ground.  Step by step, he was taking over their world, and everyone, even the Aurors, seemed to have lost the heart to fight back.  The newfound alliance with France was not enough.  James Potter, beloved though he was by the public, was not enough.  They had been abandoned.

But that pain was nothing compared to what Sirius had done to his friends.

They rarely talked about it now.  None of the three could bear it—to have lost him once, to have thought him dead, and then to watch him run away—Remus caught himself before he attempted to thrust a fist through the wall.  Sirius’ betrayal always made him want to strike out, made him want to scream.  What had they done?  How could Sirius think they would not be there for him?

No.  Cold reality always intervened.  He always knew we were here.  He just chose not to accept our support.  Neither he, James, nor Peter had dared speak those words, but they all knew.  Sirius had left by his own accord, and he had not returned.  Why, they might not ever completely understand, but each had watched the world shatter in his absence.  Remus knew the statistics by heart.

One hundred and thirty-seven in Azkaban.  Rumor said that the prison was so close to overflowing that the Dark Lord allowed Dementors to kiss prisoners at random.  There were only one hundred and thirty cells, Remus knew.  Were some dead, or did they allow them to double up?  There was no way to know.

There was only darkness.

The Order had struggled to keep up with the onslaught, even creating a miniature Project Guardian for the Ministry, but Voldemort’s pace had been too fast, and his supporters too many.  The Aurors had struck back as best they could, closing ranks and protecting their own, but Alice Longbottom was not nearly charismatic enough to capture their world’s soul.  She and Frank worked hard, but that was not enough, either.  The fact that the Aurors had stayed on Avalon did not help matters.  Skeeter claimed they were hiding.

Remus groaned aloud, and forced himself to step away from the wall against which he had slumped.  Reminiscing would not help—no matter how much he hurt, it was time to move on.  He had no choice.  Seventy-two days was long enough to wait.

It was time.

--------------

“Harry, hurry up!” Hermione shouted over her shoulder.  “We’re going to miss the train!”

“Relax already, Hermione,” Ron retorted, helping Harry lug his trunk out of the horseless carriage.  “You can’t miss the Hogwarts Express—especially not this year.”

She scowled at him, but knew that Ron was right.  However unlikely that was to happen, but this time Ron was right.  This was the first year in all of Hogwarts long history (at least according to Hogwarts, A History, which, no matter how much the boys ridiculed her, was usually right) that all students had been required to go home for the winter holiday.  Usually, at least a handful stayed at the school during this time, but two weeks ago, the headmaster had decreed that everyone must leave.   And he had not listened to arguments, even from poor Meagan Jones, who had nowhere else to go.  Her older sister was her only family, and Hestia Jones was an Auror.

Fortunately, one of the other second-year Hufflepuffs had volunteered to take Meagan in for the holidays, so things weren’t as bad as they might have been.  Still, Hermione found it suspicious that everyone had to leave; rumor even said that the professors had to go home!  He’d never thought that the Headmaster was paranoid before, but now she was wondering.  Hogwarts was safe.  Wasn’t it?

Ron and Harry were sharing the same thoughts as they jogged to catch up with Hermione.  “D’you reckon he thinks Hogwarts is going to be attacked?” Ron asked eagerly.

“I don’t know.” Harry shrugged.  “Maybe…”

“Wouldn’t he have closed the school and not just sent everyone home if that were true?” Hermione countered, finding herself wedged between the boys.

“Not if he didn’t want to warn the Death Eaters off,” Ron replied knowledgably, making Hermione sigh.

“Honestly, Ron.  Do you really think that Professor Lupin would endanger any students because he wanted to catch the Death Eaters off guard?” she demanded. 

“Well, no,” he grumbled.

“Maybe it’s because of Professor Fletcher,” Harry put in suddenly, and the other two turned to look at him.  “I mean…every time we go to Defense Against the Dark Arts we think about him.  Maybe he just wanted us to get away from the memories.”

“It wouldn’t be so bad if Snape wasn’t teaching us,” Ron grumbled.  “Bad enough that we had to reorganize all our schedules because Snape took on extra classes—why do we have to learn from that slimy bastard?”

“Ron!”

“Sorry, Hermione.” Ron grinned stubbornly.  “But he is, and you know it.”

“You shouldn’t call a professor names,” she replied, wishing that he wouldn’t court the stupidest kinds of trouble.  Ron knew better, really—and he wasn’t stupid, despite what people often thought of him.  He just didn’t care, and that was the problem.

Ron grinned at Harry as they stopped at the end of the short boarding line.  “Notice that she doesn’t argue!”

“Neither do I!” Harry laughed.

“Ron, he’s around here somewhere!” Hermione tried again, elbowing him.  “What if—”

“Oh, let the greasy old bas—bat—hear.  What do I care?”

“Perhaps, Mr. Weasley, you do not care because no one has taught you to respect your betters,” the smooth voice said from behind them.

Ron spun, and Hermione made a desperate grab for his arm and missed.  Harry, she noticed, succeeded in stomping on Ron’s foot.  Hard.

Ow!”

Snape’s wand flickered irritably when all three children were facing him.  “That’s fifty points from Gryffindor for being disrespectful, Mr. Weasley,” he purred.  “And another twenty, Potter, for being clumsy.”

“But Professor, I—” Harry cut himself off, but Snape was having none of that.

“Yes?”

“Nothing.” Harry grimaced and corrected himself.  “Sir.”

“But—” Ron started, only to be silenced by a swift (but carefully light) kick from Hermione.  He got the message.

Snape sneered.  “A further ten points from Gryffindor, Ms. Granger, for not recognizing a lost cause when you see it.”

And then he swept away, leaving the three Misfits wishing desperately for a brace of Dung Bombs, and sorrowfully regretting the fact that they had left such a useful tool behind.  Then again, even seeing Fred or George would have brightened things considerably, but the twins had forged on ahead with Ginny in tow (Hermione would have felt sorry for the poor girl, but Ginny always seemed so happy that she could never stay mad at the Weasley twins).  This time, the pair had promised to make the train ride home entertaining, and even Hermione couldn’t wait to see what they had come up with while the other Misfits had been stuck in a horrendous Potions class.

“What a prat,” Ron muttered.

“Ron!”

--------------

The moment he had walked into the room, he knew—Remus had been wandering through the hallways, struggling to find answers.  It was time, far beyond time…and they were running out of days.

But how?

The question was a double-edged sword.  Remus had hoped that Sirius might be found, that Julia could succeed where best friends could not, but another month would pass soon, and there was no time.  The world needed more than Sirius was prepared to offer, and the Circle had to reform.  If they did not do so soon, there would be no second chance.  Every day Remus hesitated, the world slid further into darkness.

The other edge of the sword: the Country House had been destroyed.  With it had gone the table, the trappings of the Inner Circle, every tradition they had.  So, how?  How to reform when the soul of the Circle had been destroyed?  The answer, however, like so many others, lay in Hogwarts.

The Room of Requirement.

He found it by accident, wandering and searching his mind for answers.  Down to the Founder’s Door he had traveled, to stare at the dull grate that hid the Font for hours.  Nothing had changed in that time, though.  Remus had just stared, and had not even had visions to keep him company.  Just loneliness.  Loneliness and the weight of knowledge, of knowing that he had to act and not knowing how.  Until he made a wrong turn heading for the library—something he never did—and opened the wrong door.

The chairs were waiting.

All eight of them.

Perfect, just as he remembered.

The oak table was still oval, shining and just slightly darker than most wood of that kind.  It looked brand new yet impressively ancient at the same time; there was still an aged quality to the wood that Remus had always wondered if anyone else noticed.  And the same words, words he knew by heart, were engraved in the exact center of the table in rounded script:

Wisdom opposes Power.

Time precedes Discovery.

Secrecy counters Knowledge.

Temptation reveals Truth.

A shiver ran down Remus’ spine as he stood just inside the doorway, staring at those four lines.  He had never thought to see them again, had thought the table destroyed with the Country House, but here they were, in defiance of all Voldemort’s power and dark acts.  Could the table have survived?  Even in a world of magic, was that possible?  Or had the Room of Requirement, once again, simply done what was required?  Remus swallowed.  Some questions, perhaps, were best left unanswered.

His hands instinctively came down on the back of the closest chair; looking down, the Order’s head saw the elegant white tendrils carved into the wood, twisting together and reaching up until they displayed the word Wisdom on the chair’s back.  That word, which Remus had always linked with Dumbledore’s power, lay framed between his two hands, beautiful, white, and pure.  Stainless.  Wise.  The wood was strong, almost timeless—solid.  The chair would not break, Remus knew, even if he used all of his strength against it.

 The other chairs were the same, too; the exact same design that he remembered, detail for detail.  Knowledge, his old seat, in gold; Time in blue; red for Discovery.  Power was still black—was that significant, or was that just his heart wishing?—and Secrecy was bronze.  Silver for Temptation; Truth in gray.  No difference, save those who would someday occupy the seats.  Someday.

Soon.

Remus lifted his hands and took a deep breath.  “It is time,” he whispered incredulously.  He had hoped…hoped it was not.  “For better or for worse,” the Order’s head breathed in the silence.  “It is time.”

--------------

Ow! Hey, watch where you’re going!” Hermione yelped in surprise, suddenly shoved aside as someone walked right up on her heels and kept going.  Had Ron not stepped in the way, it might have ended there.

“Watch where I’m going?” Draco Malfoy spat back before Harry could completely turn around.  The blonde haired boy glared at Hermione.  “Do you think I’d touch you on purpose?  Do you think I want you to contaminate me?”

They had been just about to board the train when Malfoy and his friends had appeared, and the trio turned together to face their rivals.  Crabbe and Goyle flanked Malfoy like statues framing a portrait, leering down at Hermione, who suddenly seemed very small between Harry and Ron.

“Contaminate?” Ron snarled before the other two could reply.  “With what? Intelligence?”  He sneered. “And we can’t have that, can we?”

“Filthy little blood traitor,” Malfoy retorted. “You wouldn’t know intelligence if it bit you—but no wonder, since your family cannot afford proper books or school supplies.”

While it was true that Ron’s trunk and books were a bit careworn, they weren’t nearly as bad as the set Ron had owned when Harry had first met him—promotion to Deputy Minister of Magic had increased more than just Arthur Weasley’s public standing—and the battering that trunk had taken had all happened in the last year, mostly due to experiments by the Misfits and general mayhem in the second year Gryffindor boys’ dorm.  Still, Malfoy probably didn’t realize that the Weasleys had moved up in the world—and he wouldn’t have cared even if he did.

“At least my father hasn’t earned his way by licking up Voldemort’s leavings,” Ron retorted.

Draco flushed brilliant red.  “My father is a great man,” he replied loftily, clearly struggling for control.  “And he does not lower himself by consorting with Mudblood trash, fit only for—”

“Fit only for what?” Harry interrupted him, boiling with anger.  For too long the Misfits had used pranks for revenge, allowing the Slytherins to say what they wanted and act like it didn’t matter.  But it did matter, and people like Hermione didn’t deserve to hear this trash.  “Go ahead, Malfoy.  Say it.  What are you afraid of?”

“Afraid, Potter?” the other sneered.  “Why would I be afraid?”

“Maybe because you know you’re going to lose.”

“Lose?” Draco laughed.  “Haven’t you seen the headlines, Pothead?  How could we lose, when your army is full of traitors, half-breeds, and Mudbloods?”

“You keep saying that word as if it should hurt me,” Hermione finally spoke up, her voice hard and eyes sharp.  She laughed harshly.  “Do you think I’m made of glass, Malfoy, ready to break at your command?”

He flushed again, clearly furious that she dared laugh at him.  “You will break! You, your family, and all the other unworthy scum like you!  You’ll all break and die!”

Crack!

Before either Harry or Ron could react, Hermione swung and landed a slap straight across Malfoy’s face, immediately making his left cheek glow angrily.  He yelped and jumped back, crashing into a very confused Crabbe, then flinched as Hermione took a menacing step forward.

“Hermione, no!” Ron shouted, trying to grab her arm.  He missed, however, and Harry didn’t have time before Draco shrieked.

“How dare you?  I’m a Malfoy.  I’m—”

“I don’t care what you are!” Hermione shouted.  “And I don’t care what you say about me, but you leave my family alone!”

Malfoy stumbled back, sputtering incoherently.  Crabbe and Goyle obediently stepped in the way as Ron and Harry strode forward to stand on either side of Hermione again. 

“You’ll get yours, Mudblood!” the blond shouted, sheltering behind his bodyguards.

“Sure she will,” Ron retorted. 

Harry snorted, adding: “Right about when Grindelwald comes back to life sporting a pink tutu.”

--------------

Fawkes delivered the letters, eight of them, bearing no names.  Remus did not even begin to assume that he would receive one—for all he knew, the Final Circle might be a complete new beginning.  Perhaps there were others meant to fill those seats, others who would step forward and face the darkness.  A small corner of his soul hoped that was so, but Remus knew that was only the cowardly part.  The corner of Remus that, like so many others, yearned for peace at any price.

But that was not to be so.  Fawkes looked at Remus with infinite understanding, his eyes so much softer than they had been in months, and left one letter on the desk before disappearing in a flash of red and gold. 

Slowly, Remus nodded, and reached out to touch the sealed scroll.  The paper felt different than it had mere moments before when Remus had pushed his ring into the wax, felt more important.  He had not intended that, did not except it or know what to do with it, but somehow the feeling was fitting.  Fawkes would choose the last Circle with no interference, and Fawkes would choose well.  No matter what, this final gathering would truly belong to the Order of the Phoenix.

--------------

She’d been following this trail for two weeks—the second set of tracks she’d found, and much more promising than the first—and she was slowly realizing that this, too, was a false lead.  There was nothing else it could be.  A now cold trail led Julia through France, Germany, and Switzerland; she had hoped to find answers in that last country, but Sirius’ supposed presence turned out to be a mere rumor.  The Malfoy family had connections with witches and wizards across the world, but no one had heard a peep out of Sirius Black, a man who hated to hide and could not abide being quiet.  They knew who he was, of course—who didn’t?—but no one had seen him.

Even Julia’s experience failed her here.  She was an expert at finding hidden things, at picking apart mysteries…but Sirius had her beat.  He’d obviously taken care in choosing his hiding place, and had kept his head down.  The rumors, she finally decided, were simply wishful thinking.

Except for, perhaps, this.

Pendulum Games, 72 High Street, Oxford. A charming and old looking store, the shop was well known within the Wizarding World for selling the highest quality backgammon, Go, game boards, and especially, chess sets.  The proprietor, Mr. Bishop (all anyone knew of his first name was that his initial was D), kept mostly to himself, surrounding himself with the instruments of his hobby and with those who valued what he called the pendulum. Julia had no idea what that meant, but he had clearly named his shop for it.  Though universally thought of as slightly odd, he was a nice old man, and had been friendly with Dumbledore— Julia remembered being shocked to see the famous wizard who had defeated Grindelwald in a mere hobby shop when she had first visited Pendulum Games, but she had seen him there many times since.  Her former headmaster and Mr. Bishop had been good friends.

That, however, was not what brought her to the doorstep of Pendulum Games late on that Monday afternoon.  Although Julia would continue to adore chess (one of the few interests she and Lucius truly shared), she had not come to shop for herself.  Instead, she was tracking down the origin of a chance statement that she’d overheard while wandering aimlessly in Diagon Alley, carefully disguised and listening for clues.  While brushing past Leslie Stimpson during a holidays sale in Madam Malkin’s, Julia had overheard Stimpson claiming that she had seen Sirius entering the games shop only a few days before.  Julia had known Stimpson at Hogwarts, and knew that she wasn’t that scatterbrained. More importantly, Stimpson had briefly dated Sirius during fourth year, which meant she knew exactly who she was looking at.

Sale forgotten, Julia Apparated into Muggle Oxford and quickly found herself standing on the doorstep of Pendulum Games.  She had ducked around Oxford Blues—the Muggle menswear shop that hid Pendulum Games—and stood staring at the sign above the door for several moments.  Though the shop was carefully concealed from Muggle eyes (it looked like a run down back entrance to Oxford Blues), Julia could see several customers moving around through the glass door.  Most were children, shopping for their first chess set, as every Wizarding family of importance had to own a Bishop set, but a few were adults.

But no Sirius.  Even disguised, she would have known him anywhere, and Julia bit back the need to sigh.  Instead, she took a deep breath and pushed the door open, stepping inside.

Ring. Ring.

Pendulum Games was a beautiful shop, just as she remembered it, full of chess boards and examples of every type of magical game imaginable: expensive sets of gobstones; hundreds of card decks, including one glorious and gold version of Exploding Snap; books on sport dueling; chocolate frog cards; and more.  The chess sets, however, were what had made Bishop and Pendulum Games a legend.  They were everywhere, lined up on beautiful glass shelves and inside glass cases, never stored in a box—because where was the fun in that?  Bishop had asked her that with a smile when she was younger.  Did not the game exist to be played?

The shop existed in a perpetual state of neat clutter.  While the games (especially the chess sets) were immaculately clean and dust free, there were boxes stacked in corners and little slips of paper all over the place.  The wood floors were also clean where one could see them, but a stack of stuffed animals was heaped in one corner—on top of which was a penguin wearing a bright red beret.  Strange.

His head came up before the bell even finished ringing, and he smiled the same enigmatic smile that he always had. Silver-haired and depressingly ordinary-looking, Mr. Bishop transformed when he smiled; sometimes, he reminded Julia of an especially naughty urchin.  “Julia Malfoy!” he exclaimed. “What an unexpected pleasure!”

He bowed with an exaggerated and old-fashioned flourish, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.  Julia inclined her head solemnly in response, grinning despite herself.  Mr. D. Bishop always made her smile.

“Thank you for the kind welcome, Mr. Bishop,” she replied. “I didn’t expect you to remember me.”

“But of course I do.  Always here with your older brother, I recall, and always much more interested than he.” He cocked his head slightly. “I do hope you still play?”

“Of course.”

The proprietor stepped out from behind the counter, gesturing at the shelves to his right.  “I’ve acquired some truly remarkable sets since you were last in—including one which belonged to my great grandfather that I had thought lost to the ages.  Completely handcrafted.”

“Beautiful.”  And indeed it was.  ‘Handcrafted’ had a different meaning in the Wizarding world than in its Muggle counterpart; in this case, the word indicated that the intricate chess pieces had been hand carved, using no magic whatsoever until the set was enchanted in the last step of creating a Wizarding chess set.  The tiny figures looked almost alive; Julia was certain that they also moved with grace and realism as they floated across the board.  The white pieces were made of light-colored wood—was that holly?—and the red looked like rosewood.  The tiny knights and castles looked light they had stepped out of a painting, while the King and Queen were positively medieval. Even the pawns were perfectly detailed; the entire set must have taken decades to make.

Julia stared at the board for a long while, allowing herself to luxuriate in the illusion that she was only there to admire it.  The world was perfect.  Nothing was wrong.  Her dreams had come true, and life was just like it might have been.  With Sirius.

Sirius.  The thought of him made reality intervene again, and Julia straightened.  “Unfortunately,” she admitted, “I’m not here to look at chess sets.”

“I didn’t think you were,” Bishop’s smile had faded, making him look like a stoic—if a bit plain—old wizard again.

Julia shoved her hands into her pockets and turned to fully face him, wishing that the shop was empty but having no choice in her surroundings.  “I’m looking for a friend.  I have reason to believe he has been here.”

“And why are you looking for this friend?” Bishop asked, arching one silver brow.  “From the tone of your voice, it seems he does not want to be found.”

“It’s an emergency,” she replied stiffly.  The return smile was gentle.

“I might not know him, you realize.”

“I think you will.  Or at least you’ll recognize him,” she countered. 

His shrug spoke more than words could ever mean.  Silently, the old wizard watched her, waiting and…what?  “I have old eyes,” Bishop replied as those same eyes twinkled—or had they flashed?  It was hard to tell.  “I miss much.”

“Not that much,” Julia retorted. She knew he was lying.  How, she had no clue, but she knew he was lying.

Bishop chuckled.  “Tell me, who is your friend?”

“Sirius Black.”

Heads turned, then snapped back to mind their own business when Julia glared in return.  His name, of course, caught everyone’s attention—Sirius was the hero of the mob, adored for the next hour until the crowd came up with someone better.  Anger colored some of the patrons’ faces, but Julia could no longer blame them for that.  They needed Sirius.

“Sirius Black,” Bishop repeated thoughtfully, scratching lightly at his chin.  “I remember him as well.  Always here with his father and bored out of his mind.”

Julia resisted the urge to bristle.  “Have you seen him?  Do you know where he might have gone?”

“Alas, no.”  He chuckled.  “Though I am certain it would have been an…interesting experience.”

“Oh.”  Julia sighed.  She’d found this lead by accident, so it couldn’t have been a trail someone had set out for her to follow. No, this was real, which meant that Sirius was intentionally leading her astray—or that Bishop was lying.

She didn’t like that thought and concentrated on the former.  Sirius really didn’t want to be found…no matter how much they needed him.  No matter how much it hurt.

“Thank you,” she said hollowly, and walked out.

--------------

“Hermione, that was bloody brilliant!” Ron exclaimed as the trio jolted their way up the line, noticing as some bawling third year begged Hagrid to go back to the castle because she’d forgotten her signed and framed photo of Gilderoy Lockhart.  Hagrid looked completely lost when dealing with a blubbering girl, and Harry snickered despite himself.

“That was well done,” he added, grinning.  “It’s about time someone gave Malfoy back a bit of his own.”

Hermione blushed.  “I couldn’t help it.  I was so sick of—”

Oi! Hermione! Harry! Ron!” George burst through the crowd, rushing at them with a huge grin on his face.  Ron’s older brother skidded to a stop in front of the trio and grabbed Hermione’s hand, pumping it enthusiastically.  “You,” George grinned, “are bloody wonderful. Don’t ever let these two jokers tell you otherwise—anyone who puts that kind of mark on Delicate Little Draco’s face is my kind of girl!”  His voice lowered into a conspiratorial whisper.  “You can prank with me any time.”

She went even redder.  “Honestly, George, it was just—”

“Brilliant,” Ron repeated.  “Absolutely brilliant.”

“Not to mention that—  Harry started.

“Look out!” a female voice shouted.

Fred came flying out of nowhere and tackled Harry to the ground, flattening the smaller boy.  “Oomph!”

Green light flashed.  Children screamed.  He could hear Hagrid shouting over the commotion, but Harry could hardly see anything around Fred’s mass—was Fred all right?  Distantly, he became aware of the fact that Ron, Hermione, and George had thrown themselves to the ground around him and had their wands out.  Where was Ginny?

A strange voice started.  “Avada—”

A rainbow of light split the air and more students screamed.  Harry struggled to see around Fred, needing to know what was happening and why Fred had tackled him.  “Geoff me!”

“Oh.  Sorry.”  An elbow landed in his mouth, making Harry grunt, but Fred rolled aside.  Fred was okay.

“Hagrid, no!” A girl’s shrill voice.  Ginny’s voice.

Harry got his head up enough to see Ginny’s red head not far away, sticking up out of the sea of bodies on the ground.  Not far away, a tall figure in Death Eater’s robes reeled backwards, regained his balance, and pointed his wand straight at Harry.  Hagrid started to run.

“Avada Kedavra!” the Death Eater shouted.  Hagrid leapt.

Children shrieked. 

Green light flashed, and Hagrid crumbled to the ground without a sound.  Hermione screamed, but Harry’s eyes were on the masked Death Eater.  He was laughing.  Laughing.  He stepped over Hagrid with a contemptuous glance downwards at the half-giant’s still form, and Harry saw eyes crinkle up in distaste behind the mask.  But the Death Eater looked up, and again his wand lifted, aiming for Harry.

I should move, he thought stupidly, but could only lie flat on his back, staring blankly.  He was numb, and George was scrambling to his feet—

“Expelliarmus!” Snape thundered, appearing between two students as if out of nowhere. 

“St—”

The Death Eater never had the chance to finish the spell; his wand sailed out of his hand and he went flying backwards until he crashed into the platform amid crashing wood and flying splinters.  He slumped and lay still as the students’ screams died down, looking much like an abandoned pile of robes.  Snape caught the wand easily and swung to face the children.

“Everyone on the train!” he ordered.  “Now!”

A herd of Erumpent could not have stampeded faster, and Harry turned to move with the crowd until an iron hand snaked out to grasp his shoulder.  “Except for you, Potter.”

Harry jerked to a halt, scowling.  The other Misfits immediately stopped, too, but Snape’s silent glare found each in turn and pushed them along.  Harry tried to nod reassuringly for his friends’ benefit, but his mouth was suddenly dry.  For the first time, the facts were sinking in.  This wasn’t a random attack; the Death Eater had been trying to kill him.

And Hagrid was dead.  Hagrid had saved his life and Hagrid was dead.

Tears welled up in his eyes, and Harry forced them back.  No matter which side Snape was on, he would not let the loathsome Potions Master see him cry.  Snape would laugh, he was sure, and sneer at Harry’s weakness.  But Hagrid was dead, and it was hard to push emotion back.  Harry could remember every time the Misfits had visited the half-giant—his kindness, his bumbling attempts to help everyone.  Hagrid had caught the pranksters more often than any Filch or any of the professors, but he almost always let them off with a warning because it was only “harmless fun.” 

The crowd was dissipating quickly; no one even paused to hover over Hagrid’s still body.  They were too frightened, too shocked.  Hogwarts was supposed to be safe.  Hogsmeade was supposed to be empty.  The professors had said so.

Snape’s hand was still on his shoulder, and the Potions Master shook Harry like a ragdoll to get his attention.  Harry winced, but Snape spoke in a low and rapid voice.

“Listen to me Potter, for there isn’t much time.  The Dark Lord believes you may be his fated enemy, and he plans to eliminate you before you come of age.  Trust no one, even your closest friends.”  His dark eyes swept over the now-empty station.  “Leave Platform 9 ¾ with your parents or you will not live to do so.”

Harry gaped, trying to assimilate the information all at once.  “But—”

“Now go, boy!  You haven’t time to spare.”  Snape shoved him towards the train, and Harry’s legs seemed to obey on their own.  His mind was reeling, though, and his eyes fastened on Hagrid’s still body again.  The Gamekeeper lay peacefully, as if asleep—but Harry could not fool himself.  He could not even try.  Growing up as the son of an Auror had acquainted him with death, and no matter how peaceful Hagrid looked, he would never wake again.

His gaze found the unconscious Death Eater next, and Harry numbly wondered what Snape would do with him.  But there was no time to ask—strong hands propelled him through the entrance to the Hogwarts Express and the doors closed behind him.  The train rumbled forward immediately.

Harry felt cold.  “Trust no one,” Snape had said.  “Not even your friends.”  What did he mean?

 

 


---------------


 

 

The Other Author’s Note: I apologize for the delay: being sick and Real Life intervened with fast posting, even when the chapter was complete.  Thanks for sticking with  me, though, and stay tuned for Chapter Four: The Final Circle (And yes, this actually *is* that chapter).  Please let me know what you think, and do review!

//
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