School Craze - Part II
Chapter 23 - EM-E - School Craze - Part II
Ron and Draco were stationed at the school's entrance when the procession of aurors, Malfoy Sr., the Headmistress, Cormack McClaggen, and Snape with Harry and Hermione made their way through the entrance hall, en route to the Headmistress' office. Snape had a hand on Harry's shoulder and was also clearly escorting Hermione because she was walking close to his other side.
"Father?" Draco called in a low voice.
Ron struggled not to yell out to Hermione to demand to know what had happened. Something in the sombre mood of the group told him to hold himself together. Malfoy Sr. broke away from the others to come over, just as Hermione flashed Ron a haunted look, and Harry seemed to be in a fog as he walked by, not even aware of whom he was passing.
"We are counting on your discretion," Lucius said to both young wizards as he reached Draco, failing to mask his own disquiet. He jerked his head minutely to Ron to come closer. When the youngest Weasley had overcome his resistance to joining their small circle, Lucius continued, "Direct any Ministry representatives to the Headmistress' office. And when students begin to move about, direct them to their common rooms to wait to be told what will happen next."
"So classes are cancelled, then? Er… sir?" Ron asked awkwardly.
"Yes, for the rest of the morning," Lucius replied. "No decision has been made about the afternoon schedule, but I imagine it is likely to be cancelled as well."
"What happened, Father?" Draco asked.
"Seven upper years from Slytherin staged a simultaneous ambush on Harry and Severus," Lucius replied. He looked at Ronald. "A girl from your House was caught in the crossfire. She has died."
Ron's freckles appeared to darken as the blood drained from his face. "Who was it?"
"Paloma Tso," Lucius told him. He watched the way Ronald processed this, remembering having watched the youngest Weasley male face off with the girl and McClaggen earlier in the week. "The facts are not yet clear, but according to what Harry has relayed, Miss Tso didn't have time to react and was hit with a deflected slicing curse."
"Who deflects a slicing curse?" Ron asked in horror.
"Someone who is lacking in defensive training," Lucius said. He smoothed his hand down the back of Draco's head and squeezed his shoulder. "This is exactly what we've feared. You could have just as easily have been their target, son."
Ron was pressing his lips together, feeling like he was in an alternate universe at the moment.
"I must go give my statement," Lucius said after a beat. "I will come see you afterward, Draco." He nodded at Ron, "Ronald."
Hermione stood close to Harry and her potions professor while the Headmistress and the three aurors went into the Headmistress' office to begin taking statements. McGonagall was to go first so that she could handle school related matters shortly afterward. She turned a concerned eye towards Harry and Hermione, before glancing over at Cormack, who was standing on his own at the moment.
Tonks stood aside as the rest proceeded into the office. "I'll just wait here until it's your turn, Cormack," she said walking over to stand with the sixth year, who was still in a state of shock.
"I should maybe wait until my Da gets here, shouldn't I?" McClaggen's voice cracked as he spoke. "They're going to send me to Azkaban for trying to help!"
"You won't be going to Azkaban," Tonks said softly, she turned the boy away to walk him down the corridor a few paces and continued speaking to him reassuringly.
"How will Paloma's parents be notified?" Hermione asked in a whisper.
"Her body was likely transported to St. Mungo's and the staff there will contact them," Severus replied in a low voice. "This is only the preliminary stage of the investigation," he told both teens. "We will likely later be called to appear before the Wizengamot as all of this heads into the legal system to be resolved."
"Did they use that spell on you, too?" Harry asked Severus. "When they attacked you?"
Severus studied his ward more carefully. Harry was standing with his arms crossed over his chest, expression pinched with unreadable agitation. "They did," he answered the boy grimly. He was not expecting the anguish and worry that Harry suddenly directed at him.
"Are you alright?" Harry asked in a strained voice, and they both knew his concern was not about Severus' physical state.
Severus placed his hand on Harry's neck and squeezed. "I am," he said quietly. He looked over at Miss Granger and saw her confusion. The fact that Harry had not relayed anything to his best friend about Sectum sempra spoke volumes about his loyalty to Severus. "The slicing hex we were attacked with is of my own making, Miss Granger," he told the girl.
Hermione looked up at her professor in shock. She quickly processed the unspoken backstory between Harry and Snape on this subject, and understood why Harry was worried about his guardian. "That must have been harrowing to have thrown back at you," she said, sounding shrill in spite of her quiet voice. After a poignant beat, she said to Harry, "You cannot blame yourself for Paloma, Harry. Please tell me you know that."
"I could have done more, Hermione," Harry said. "I've not told you about some things I can do now."
"If you had done those things, you would have had to share that ability on official record at this time with the Ministry," Severus said. "As usual, your instincts were sound. You cannot control the impact of the larger evil at play."
Harry considered this reluctantly, but was not yet completely convinced. "How do you suppose the Slytherins learned that spell?" Harry asked.
Lucius was making his way over to them now. His expression was still stony, but he answered the question as he came to stand with them, "I believe it was only the first stage of a broader conspiracy. The question is, who is the leader?"
"My money's on Wormtail," Harry said, watching as McGonagall exited her office and motioned for McClaggen to go next.
"Well, Harry, Mr. McClaggen contends that your shields were ineffective," Auror in Command, or the AIC, as he was now being labeled, Kingsley Shacklebolt told Harry after Harry had briefly described the attack.
Harry's jaw dropped. "Are you bloody-" he stopped himself, flashing a look over at Severus, but quickly looking away without really registering what was in his guardian's expression. His stomach clenched painfully. "Check my wand. Or, I'll show my memories," he said angrily. The walls were closing in on him. He could only imagine what the Prophet would do with this story.
"Harry," Severus said with a touch of impatience, "relay the sequence of events for AIC Shacklebolt as they actually occurred, if you please. So that we may be finished here." Severus' own stress levels were soaring. He shared Harry's displeasure at this inquiry by the Ministry, but the aurors present were friends, so he was not understanding Harry's defensive tone.
But Harry feared he was becoming a target all over again, and since Kingsley represented the Ministry right now, not the Order of the Phoenix, he didn't trust that what he said would be heard without prejudice. He kept his mouth shut.
Kingsley gave Harry the assessing look that was calculated to be non-threatening and typically goaded the interviewee into being more forthcoming. "It is clear that you were under attack, and were outnumbered, and were simply acting in your own defense. I'm curious to know what you deployed to defend yourself, Harry," he said, his booming baritone voice somehow controlled enough to not sound overly loud.
"I don't want to say anything else without an attorney," Harry said, to the shock of all present.
"Harry, you are not under suspicion of any wrong-doing," Kingsley said in surprise. "I am seeking an explanation as to how Paloma Tso died. I would have assumed she was hit by one of the attacker's hexes, but have been told by Severus that you believe she was hit with deflected magic. McClaggen's version claims he saved your life at the cost of Paloma's. If it was accidental, we need to know who was responsible, for the official record." The dark haired teen's mouth had dropped open while he'd said this. Kingsley flashed a glance over at Severus and saw the other wizard was working his way up to a murderous rage on Harry's behalf. "I need you to tell me exactly which spells you used, Harry. I have to record your statement, so the more explicit you are, the better. Understand?"
Severus was finally clueing in on Harry's fears. "Perhaps a Priore incantatum would be a wise course, Shacklebolt?" he suggested curtly. "My ward has had more than his share of mistreatment from all sources, including the Ministry of Magic, so I believe, for his sake, there should be no question of his true actions on this official record."
Kingsley nodded. He had no argument with Severus, but was in a position that mandated he follow Ministry protocols. Priore incantatum could only be collected with a warrant from the Wizengamot, or when volunteered by the wand holder. Harry passed his wand to Kingsley without meeting his eyes. "I will accept your authority to make this request on Harry's behalf, Severus," he said, nodding at the quill and parchment that had been enchanted to record their conversation. He pointed his wand at Harry's. "Priore incantatum," he chanted. He pointed Harry's wand upward as the first of a series of apparitions came from its tip, illustrating Harry's recent casting in reverse order.
"A patronus," Tonks noted aloud. "Did you send for help, Harry?" she asked.
They next watched a view of Harry's hand holding two wands that disappeared at the wave of his own. "A banishing charm on two of the assailants' wands," Tonks recited. "Where did you send them, Harry?"
"Just there," Harry said, pointing to the surface of McGonagall's desk.
"Ah, directly to McGonagall's desk. We'd wondered whose those were," Tonks said. She winked at Harry, but he'd already ducked his head back down.
The next two spells showed each of the two Slytherins without their mouths, which induced appreciative snorts of amusement from all present except Harry. His stomach was churning, even though he knew he would not be in trouble now. Somehow, he still felt wary.
"Armis dicessum!" Tonks said. "Harry, you learned Sirius' disarming spell! Can you do the whistle?"
"Yeah," Harry said looking her way only briefly again. "I managed for the first time today, with those two."
"Contego's, all of them," Tonks continued the narration with overt approval as the next spells revealed themselves in a rapid series of ten shield charms that were shown to be protecting Harry from the Sectum sempras. "And expelliarmus! You used Mad-Eye's deflection trick! Well done, Harry."
"Harry," Kingsley said, using a tone of command so that the young wizard would look him in the eye. "You handled yourself with skill and honor. Why would you be reluctant to relay your side of the scenario?"
"I don't trust the Ministry," Harry said in a tight voice. "It wouldn't be the first time my actions got misconstrued into something criminal."
"That is not what's happening at this time," Kingsley replied with adamance. He held Harry's eyes for a long moment, but the boy let his drop to the floor, and nodded without conviction. "Once you'd disarmed the two who were still on their feet, what did you do next?"
Harry's chest tightened up with dread and remorse. He couldn't look at any of them, when he answered, "I didn't even know Paloma was there. When I turned around to have a look at McClaggen, she was dying on the floor. I sent the patronus for Madam Pomfrey, and then I sort of froze. I don't know any healing spells."
"That's alright, Harry, not many people do until they're out of school," Tonks said.
"How long until Lucius Malfoy arrived?" Kingsley asked calmly.
"It felt like hours," Harry whispered. "I guess it was maybe a full minute."
"I'd still like to go see Hedwig," Harry told Severus as they descended the spiral stairwell after exiting the Headmistress' office. "I never managed it earlier."
"I see no reason why you shouldn't do so. Minerva will likely not address the school until the lunch hour," Severus said. "I'll walk out with you. Perhaps Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley could accompany you."
"How are you faring, Lucius?" Severus asked.
They both were watching the four teens who had now covered the distance to the base of the tower of the owlery, and were beginning to hike the stairs. In an unprecedented moment of neutrality, Draco had been invited by Ron to join the three Gryffindors, and had done so with a shrug while Harry had flashed a grin at the two older Slytherins.
"I am fearful for Draco," Lucius admitted, turning to face his best friend. "I want to send him home. Narcissa will expect it when she hears of what's happened."
Severus considered this, and realized he quite agreed. His godson was in regular danger within Slytherin House alone, at least while the remaining sixth and seventh year Voldemort supporters were still in attendance. "I have no argument for you. While I am confident the wards on his dorm room would hold in the event of an attack from an older Slytherin, Draco shares his dorm with Gregory Goyle, with whom I have some concerns. Goyle's inclinations are uncertain, and he is in search of an alpha to follow, now that Draco has stepped out of that role."
Lucius tilted his head, considering Severus' words. "Then, if my son wishes to remain at Hogwarts while such a threat exists, he will need to reclaim his leadership instincts."
They heard a dog barking in the distance and saw Fang bolt out of Hagrid's hut and bound down the path towards the gates.
"Albus has been reinstated," Severus surmised.
"We're going to have an intensified defense clinic," Harry announced to Lucius and Severus as he led Ron, Hermione and Draco back over to the two adult wizards.
"I beg your pardon?" Severus asked. He could see that Harry had shifted into that flippant mindset that tended to set in after a harrowing event.
"Do you suppose we could have permission to use the ROR after lunch?" Harry asked. "We're going to practice casting nonverbally, then we're going to learn some standard healing spells. Later tonight, we'll have the DA practice more shielding and disarming."
Lucius' eyebrows were elevated to maximum altitude, while Severus' were narrowed over speculative eyes. "And how do you intend to accomplish so much magical mastery, young man?" Severus asked, allowing a taunt of disbelief to color his tone, aware that it would push Harry's buttons.
Harry smirked, unconcerned with his guardian's attempts to dismantle his agenda. He raised his chin to direct their attention to Remus, who was approaching to join them where they now stood at the base of the steps outside the school entrance. "I was going to ask Remus to come to the DA meeting again tonight. The rest we'll do on our own, if classes are cancelled."
"Now that is something that I would like to see," Lucius said, lips quirking towards the temptation of a smile.
"What would you like to see?" Remus asked as he joined them, briefly assessing their mood and not finding the grey cloud of gloom he'd anticipated.
"Our young protégés intend to master nonverbal casting in an afternoon," Lucius quipped.
"I would advise you to lower your expectations of yourselves," Severus drawled. He swept his eyes over the other three teens. They all had expressions of undaunted excitement. "None of you fear you are taking too much upon yourselves? Perhaps in overreaction to the day's events?"
"No, sir," Draco said smugly. Ron shrugged and Hermione smirked.
Severus shot a look at Lucius. "Any comments, Lucius?"
"I believe this calls for a wager," Lucius said in a mock tone of severity, as if betting the younger wizards would teach them a much needed lesson.
Harry glanced around at his friends. He waited for confident nods of agreement before turning a challenging look toward the older wizards. "What shall we bet?"
Severus maintained his austere countenance in spite of his amusement. "Set your terms," he said, enunciating slowly.
"If we win, the three of you will grow goatees," Harry declared.
Lucius barked a laugh, while Severus struggled not to give into his amusement and Remus smiled his easy smile.
"I'm not particularly fond of facial hair, Harry," Lucius said.
"For how long must we maintain them?" Severus asked casually.
"Until the end of term, or until we're completely finished with Voldemort," Harry said firmly, and with a broad smile.
"And what if you fail your endeavor, Harry?" Remus asked.
"Dunno," Harry said. "What do you think?"
"I believe breakfasting at a special table set out just for you four, and while under the influence of your Vox vocis - voila! spell for a solid week would be a fair compensation," Severus said, eyes narrowed.
"Oh, Merlin, we need to get to work."