Three: Search and Destroy
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
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
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
“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.
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
“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?”
“Sorry, Hermione.” Ron
grinned stubbornly. “But he is, and you
“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
“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
Ron spun, and Hermione made a desperate grab
for his arm and missed. Harry, she
noticed, succeeded in stomping on Ron’s foot.
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.
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.
“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
“What a prat,” 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.
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
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.
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.
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
“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
“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!”
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
“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?”
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
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
“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
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?”
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
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
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.
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—”
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
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
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!”
Sorry.” An elbow landed in his
mouth, making Harry grunt, but Fred rolled aside. Fred was okay.
“Hagrid, no!” A girl’s shrill 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.
Kedavra!” the Death Eater shouted.
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.
move, he thought stupidly, but could only lie flat on his back, staring
blankly. He was numb, and George was
scrambling to his feet—
thundered, appearing between two students as if out of nowhere.
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
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—”
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
Harry felt cold. “Trust
no one,” Snape had said. “Not even your friends.” What did he mean?