Keep Your Friends Close
It was the day after their fateful kiss and Ron was on Cloud Nine. Try as he might, he could not keep the enormous grin from creasing his face as his mind took him back again and again to the moment where he finally got up the courage to give Hermione the kiss he had wanted to give her for so long. Not even the emergency assembly that Dumbledore had called could spoil his elation.
‘I’m proud of you mate,’ said Harry with a smile as they made their way down to the Great Hall.
‘Cheers,’ grinned Ron. Hermione had been in the library and so was closer to the Great Hall when the assembly had been called, meaning she was already seated when Harry and Ron arrived. They sat down on either side of her and she and Ron exchanged a quick, knowing smile. As a murmur of conversation rippled through the students, Professor Dumbledore stood and held up his hand for silence.
‘As I’m sure some of you already know, an agent of The Dark Lord was spotted on Hogwarts grounds yesterday, and with his appearance at the Halloween Ball we have to face the fact that The Dark Lord has found a way to enter Hogwarts grounds at will.’ Another wave of muffled conversation coursed its way through the assembly, as those who had not heard fretted over what they had just heard.
‘This is of course alarming news,’ the Headmaster continued. ‘But it is imperative that we do not panic. Now more than ever we must band together and remain calm, losing control could well mean disaster.’ Dumbledore paused for a second as he surveyed the students under his care. ‘Another thing we must keep control of is information, I fear the more people that know about our current situation the worse said situation could become. This is why I will not be informing your parents of what has transpired here lately, and neither will you.’ More urgent chatter made its way through the Great Hall but Dumbledore raised his hand again and silence once again resumed.
‘I know this is somewhat unorthodox, but the less the outside world knows the better, that way The Dark Lord has less places to go to find things out. Also, I know it is common practise to send students home when Hogwarts is in danger but that is not going to happen. ‘Because,’ he said, stemming the tide of another wave of conversation. ‘If you are all present at Hogwarts then the staff can keep a closer eye on you than if you were scattered across the nation. Something could happen to one of you and we may not find out for days.’ This time the conversation that was welling up could not be contained and Dumbledore stood in silence for a moment or two and allowed it to run its course. When the bulk of it seemed to be over he continued addressing the students.
‘Make no mistake, The Dark Lord can and probably will bring the battle to Hogwarts, but we will be ready for him. Defence Against The Dark Arts classes will be increased and intensified, the magical securities implemented at Hogwarts are constantly under revision and I want each and every one of you to be at your most vigilant at all times. Try to avoid going anywhere alone, report anything suspicious and above all believe in the power of good over evil.’ He smiled as he looked out at the scores of faces looking back at him. ‘I have the utmost faith in all of you, we will overcome.’ Almost total silence followed Dumbledore as he left the Great Hall, as the students tried to digest what he had just said. Professor Weatherwax caught up with him in the corridor.
‘You always had a way with words, Albus.’
‘I fear we have skirted the issues for too long, now was not the time for flowery speeches. The students needed to be warned.’
‘Quite right,’ nodded Professor Weatherwax. ‘So what happens now?’
‘Now,’ said Dumbledore, his eyes flashing in the dancing candlelight of the corridor. ‘We prepare for the fight of our lives.’
* * *
Standing in the presence of his master, fully aware of what happened to his recently deceased colleague, a loyal Death Eater awaited instructions from Lord Voldemort.
‘They will be expecting me, no doubt,’ rasped the voice of The Dark Lord, his thin fingers placed together as he stared deep into the fireplace. ‘That old fool Dumbledore will be upping their securities, training the little whelps harder than ever, and all for not. What a pity.’ A cruel and spiteful chuckle filled the darkened chamber but the Death Eater stood motionless, his head bowed in respect.
‘So to them I will go,’ he said, standing up. ‘But not like this.’ He gestured to himself, and the Death Eater watched in silence as his lord and master transfigured before his eyes. ‘Like this.’ The disguise was complete; faultless down to every last conceivable detail, even when he spoke the voice was not that of Lord Voldemort.
‘How do I look?’ he asked.
‘Perfect, my lord,’ replied the Death Eater.
‘Excellent, and now for you.’ It was odd to see this unassuming figure perform such magic but when he stood back he looked satisfied with his work. ‘Upon my word, it’s like looking into a mirror.’ Another chuckle escaped the new lips of Lord Voldemort, as cold and callous as the previous one and the Death Eater looked at his new hands, bony and thin but to him full of malevolent grace.
‘Once we have him we shall wait a few hours until they are really worried, and then you shall take me out to meet them, and when the time is right I shall run for the castle, fearful for my life from the evil Lord Voldemort.’ The smile that appeared on the young face was not one normally seen and the effect was somewhat unnerving.
‘They will kill you Lucius, you do know that?’
* * *
Sleep was hard to come by for Harry that night, thoughts of his previous dreams and Dumbledore’s speech earlier that day kept him awake, staring at the ceiling in the hopes that he would eventually tire himself out from worrying. Time didn’t seem to exist for him, the minutes stretched out before him like endless oceans of time and every time he tried to close his eyes his overactive mind just would not ease up enough to allow him to get some rest.
After what seemed like a lifetime of tossing and turning, Harry sat up and drew back the curtains of his bed, and the sight that met his eyes made him jump so much he nearly ripped one of the curtains off its rail.
Harry had accepted Dumbledore’s theory of Sirius visiting him in his dreams in order to help in some small way in the fight against Dumbledore but there seemed no way that what Harry was seeing could be at all helpful.
Sirius, his eyes wide and mad, his hair all over the place like it was on his old wanted posters, was holding Ron in what looked like a highly painful grip and at his best friend’s throat was held a knife.
‘Sirius, no!’ shouted Harry, as he tried to move forward to help his stricken friend, but his feet were somehow rooted to the spot. No matter what Harry tried he could not move, instead he was forced to sit on the side of his bed and watch his godfather hold the lengthy blade against the pale throat of his best friend.
‘Sirius, what are you doing?’ screamed Harry as blood erupted from Ron’s throat, spraying out in front of him and down his pyjamas, Ron’s mouth agape in a silent scream of agony.
‘NO!’ yelled Harry, as he woke suddenly, arms and legs flailing. His eyes swivelled in their sockets for a few seconds while he reassured himself that he was only dreaming. But the thought of Sirius murdering his best friend had planted itself sickeningly into his mind.
‘You alright, Harry?’ It was Ron; he was alive. The curtains of Harry’s bed were drawn back to reveal Ron, Neville, Dean and Seamus, looking both concerned and annoyed.
‘No offence Harry,’ said Dean. ‘But if I wanted an alarm clock I’d buy one.’ Without saying another word Harry left the room and headed straight for Dumbledore’s study. Knocking loudly as soon as he reached the top of the staircase, Harry called for the Headmaster.
‘Professor Dumbledore? Professor Dumbledore, I need to talk to you.’ After a moment or two the door was opened and before the Headmaster could say a word Harry was inside the room and pacing.
‘I saw him again, Professor. I saw Sirius.’ In dressing gown and nightcap, Dumbledore stood in silence as Harry continued. ‘He killed Ron, Professor. He killed Ron!’ Tears were forming in Harry’s eyes and he was pulling at his pyjamas as if they were suffocated him.
‘I know,’ said Dumbledore.
‘You do? How?’ said Harry, choking back the tears.
‘I was not asleep when you called on me, Harry. I confess I had cast the Legimens spell on you and was seeing how easily I could enter your mind while asleep. I am pleased to say it was not as easy as I thought but I did see Sirius and I did see him slay young Ron in a most gruesome fashion.’
‘But Sirius would never do that!’ protested Harry.
‘I know, I am as puzzled as you.’ Dumbledore looked at Harry, tearful and shaking and rested a hand on his trembling shoulder. ‘Come and sit down Harry, you could use a mug of hot chocolate and I just happen to have some of the best.’ Dumbledore led Harry into his private quarters and sat him down in a comfortable armchair while he busied himself making two large mugs of what did in fact turn out to be the best hot chocolate Harry had ever tasted.
‘I told you it was good,’ smiled Dumbledore. ‘Dear Nanny Ogg sent it along with Professor Weatherwax.’ The hot chocolate did make Harry feel a little better, but the nightmare he had just had was still fresh and raw in his memory.
‘I don’t understand it, Professor,’ said Harry, as he stared down into the rich, warming liquid. ‘I thought Sirius was coming to me in my dreams to help me.’
‘Well I still think that to be true,’ said Dumbledore seriously.
‘What? He killed Ron. He slit his throat from ear to ear. I know it was just a dream but what could he possibly be trying to tell me?’
‘Like I said Harry, I am as puzzled as you are, but if his intentions were for harm I think I would know.’
‘Well I certainly did not expect to meet Sirius tonight, but when I was able to finally penetrate your mind I somehow found myself in your dreams and there was Sirius, as real to me as you are now, but he did not disappear when you awoke.’
‘No, in the second or two before the dream vanished he turned to face me and I knew he could see me.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘It means he knew I was there and he still went ahead with his grisly task.’
‘I still don’t understand,’ said Harry, not even allowing the thought to enter his head that his godfather could have been a murderer all along.
‘Neither do I, fully,’ said Dumbledore with a sigh. ‘But I still believe that Sirius is appearing to you with messages and reasons.’
‘But what message could killing Ron be part of?’
‘Alas, I do not know, but I think young Mister Weasley could certainly benefit from the close eye of a friend.’ Dumbledore laid a reassuring hand on Harry’s shoulder once again, his blue eyes radiating genuine concern.
‘Thank you, Professor,’ said Harry, smiling weakly.
‘You should try and get some sleep Harry, let us hope you are done with the prophetic dreams for one night.’ Harry smiled again, finished his hot chocolate and returned to his room, but he could not bring himself to tell Ron what he had dreamt. Fortunately, sleep came easily this time and Harry did not dream again that night.
* * *
Harry tried his best to keep a watchful eye on Ron over the next few days but he still did not want to tell his best friend that he had seen him get his throat cut at the hands of Sirius, even if it was in a dream. Ron was so elated to have finally admitted his feelings for Hermione and have them reciprocated that Harry didn’t want to do anything to spoil it, Ron deserved to be happy.
One afternoon in between classes Ron realised he had left the book he needed for his next lesson in his trunk, so he told Harry he would meet him there and went off to fetch it. Upon arriving in his room he found an envelope lying on his pillow, the word Ron written elegantly across the front. Smiling to himself, wondering who Hermione had strong-armed into letting her up to the boys dormitory, Ron picked up and opened the envelope, letting the stunning spell out with it. He instantly froze, the envelope still in his hands, as a hooded figure emerged from the shadows, grabbed the broomstick that was leaning against Ron’s bed and hoisted the immobile form of Ron up before flying out of the window and into the Forbidden Forest.
It didn’t take long for people to notice that Ron was missing; Harry came up to the dormitory to see where he was and found nothing. Both Ron and his broomstick were gone and the window had been left wide open, soon the news was all over the school.
‘Have you heard? Ron Weasley’s missing!’
‘Flew right out his bedroom window, I heard.’
‘I bet You-Know-Who’s behind it.’
The conversation continued as such at dinner, but was muted down somewhat when Hermione arrived, dark rings around her eyes indicating that she had been crying. Harry gave her what he hoped was a reassuring look but he knew it was no consolation. Ron was missing and the general consensus was that Lord Voldemort had taken him.
‘Where do you think he went, Harry?’ asked Hermione at one point during dinner, her voice strained and hoarse.
‘I don’t know,’ replied Harry. ‘I just don’t know.’ Dinner continued with subdued conversations happening here and there, but everyone was preoccupied with Ron’s disappearance. Even Professor Snape looked worried. When everyone had finished eating and the plates and cutlery had disappeared down to the kitchens, Professor Dumbledore stood, a sombre expression on his face, but before he could utter a word a voice cut through the silence like a gunshot.
‘HEADMASTER!’ It was Hagrid, who had not been at dinner, instead volunteering to patrol the grounds in case Ron showed up. His massive voice carried through the Great Hall and bounced off the walls as if he were the hall itself. Dumbledore stood immediately and made his way towards to main entrance, flanked by Professors Weatherwax, Snape and McGonagall, with Harry and Hermione trailing behind.
Out on the darkened lawn in front of Hogwarts Castle, Hagrid stood, lantern raised and his free hand clenched into a fist. Harry had only ever heard Hagrid shout once before, and that was when Uncle Vernon had disrespected his late parents. It was like an earthquake, it did not happen very often, but you didn’t soon forget it when it did. Approaching the enormous groundskeeper was Lord Voldemort, Ron struggling in his cold grip.
‘Ron!’ gasped Hermione, who almost shot forward but was stopped by Harry who caught her by the wrist and motioned her to stop.
‘Let him go, Tom,’ said Dumbledore severely, his bright eyes flashing menacingly in Hagrid’s lantern light.
‘Make me, old man,’ sneered Voldemort, his grip on Ron tightening.
‘If you hurt him I’ll…’ began Hermione before she could stop herself.
‘You’ll what, you filthy little Mudblood?’
‘Why you…’ growled Hagrid as he strode forward, his black eyes gleaming with rage.
‘Ah ah,’ cooed Voldemort as an almost lazy hand gesture stopped Hagrid in his tracks. The momentarily lapse in concentration allowed Ron to break free of Voldemort’s grip and as soon as he was able he ran for the castle, with Hermione in hot pursuit.
‘Now!’ shouted Dumbledore, and before Voldemort knew what was happening he was hit in the chest with three separate spells; a stunning spell at the hands of Professor Snape, a disarming spell from Professor Weatherwax and the deadly Avada Kedavra curse came from the wand of Dumbledore.
The silence that followed was deafening, nobody spoke and the intense quiet was only broken when Professor Snape took the stunning spell off of Hagrid.
‘Well done Headmaster,’ said Hagrid as he got to his feet. ‘Always knew you could beat ‘im.’
‘Yes,’ said Dumbledore distantly. ‘Severus, transport the body to the Hospital Wing. We will meet you there.’
‘Yes, Professor,’ said Snape.
* * *
Dumbledore was silent on their way to the Hospital Wing, and he only spoke in clipped tones as they laid out the body of Voldemort, giving short orders to those around him. Harry could sense unease around him.
‘What is it, Professor?’ he asked tentatively.
‘I think I have fathomed the reasoning behind your dream.’
‘What? What do you mean?’
‘This isn’t Voldemort.’
‘What?’ spluttered Harry, almost laughing at the absurdity of what Dumbledore had just said, but the Headmaster’s face was grim and mirthless.
‘Look,’ he said, as he waved his hand. The prone body of The Dark Lord changed before their eyes to that of Lucius Malfoy. Harry’s jaw dropped and the air in the room changed, the atmosphere going from cautious optimism to cold dread.
‘Well I’ll be buggered,’ said Professor Weatherwax.
‘Lucius,’ said Professor Snape.
‘Professor, what’s going on?’ asked Harry, who thoroughly felt as if the rug had been pulled from under his feet.
‘Voldemort’s still alive and in he’s in this castle.’
‘He’s Ron Weasley.’
- June 2005