Dumbledore's Army to the Rescue
"Harry, wait!" cried a voice from among the silhouettes of the wizards-a very familiar voice. But it couldn't be, Harry thought, lowering his wand nonetheless, he'd just seen...but still...
"Hermione?" he asked tentatively, his heart leaping in delight.
"Harry," she rushed forward and hugged him, "You're all right..."
"You're alive," he gasped, returning the hug with tears of joy, "I thought..."
"Well of course I'm alive, Harry, why are...?"
"Then I'm back," he jumped for joy, "I'm back!"
"And we're glad you're back, Harry," it was Neville coming forward now, and behind him, Harry could make out the rest of Dumbledore's Army, most of them looking relieved to see him as well. "We'd heard you'd managed to escape," Neville continued, "We'd made for the woods after everything went bad in the castle; we thought we heard you crying out in..."
"The castle..." Harry suddenly remembered what had happened before he'd made his wish that he'd never been born. His eyes shot over everyone's heads. The castle was still partially burning, as it had been before he'd ran into Dumbledore...however long ago it had been when he'd arrived from Grimmault Place. "Oh no, Derek and Emma..." he realized in horror. And then realized something else. "Ron...!?" he turned to Hermione, remembering Lucius giving the order to have the two of them killed.
"Here, Harry," to his supreme relief, Ron stepped forward out of the crowd. His head was hung low, and he looked horribly guilty. But Harry couldn't have cared any less at the moment. "Thank goodness," he gushed, giving his friend a strong hug as well, "I was worried you were...!"
Ron let out a loud sniff that made him pull back. "What, did I...?" he asked confusedly.
"They took her...she went out fighting, cursing Voldemort as they dragged her away...why was I so blind...!?" Ron lamented, "What an idiot I've been...!"
"Emma?" Harry inquired, "You saw...?"
"And heard. She was locked in the cell next to ours by Umbridge," Hermione informed him, "At first Ron was a bit arrogant, asking her how it felt to lose to Gryffindor," she shot him a rough glare, which made Ron bow his head in shame even more, "And she ripped into him, telling him she'd thought he was a reasonable person, but that she saw him as a prejudiced louse now for everything she'd heard he'd said about her about not being trustworthy. Fortunately, I think that brought Ron to his senses on the whole matter."
"Then Umbridge came in in the morning and all but ordered her to say for the Prophet that Harry had attacked her," Ron mumbled softly, "She refused even when Umbridge started using the Cruciatus Curse on her to make her agree, and she swore that everyone would know it was Malfoy who did it. Umbridge finally gave up, but warned her it would be Azkaban for her if she didn't come around eventually. To see that kind of loyalty, that kind of devotion to the truth...I saw that maybe...maybe I only saw Slytherin house in her...and she fought to the end when the Death Eaters came for her, calling Voldmort a devil...what have I done!? It should have been me...!"
He broke down crying now, guilt all over his face. "Ron, Ron, it's all right," Harry put an arm around him, "I'm just glad you're willing to admit you were wrong now. We'll make it right somehow...how did you two escape?" he looked between Ron and Hermione, "I'd've thought they'd've..."
"Fortunately, the guard Umbridge left to keep an eye on us got drunk. It was a simple matter of swiping his wand and saying the reverse of the locking spell to the cell door," Hermione confessed with a grin, "No sooner were we out, though, than the Death Eaters came down. We had to run like crazy-I'm sorry, Harry, but in the heat of the moment, we didn't think about trying to stop them from taking Emma and Derek; it all happened too fast," she confessed, looking a little guilty herself, "So we found the Room of Requirement and hid in there until the attack was over; more than a few of the Army," she gestured at their classmates all around them, "joined us in there; the rest had fled to the forest. So we rendezvoused out here and were wondered what we should do next when we heard you crying out over here. What...?"
"Nothing, just a terrible nightmare," Harry said quickly, "A terrible vision of what could have been that I'm glad isn't."
"As I hoped you would feel after seeing it, Harry," came Dumbledore's voice behind him again. The headmaster was grinning as he stepped out of the thickets. "So, sir, you could have brought me back all along?" Harry asked knowingly.
"I believe that is actually how the spell does work, that you can restore the person you cast it on to their actual surroundings any time you so wish. Of course, however, if I had told you that ahead of time, it's quite possible you would not have learned the lesson in full, as I suppose you have now, Harry?" Dumbledore smirked.
"I, I suppose not, Professor. And thank you," Harry smiled at him, "I really needed to see all that."
"Very good. And it is good that others have learned their lesson too, as I have heard?" Dumbledore turned his gaze to Ron, who shuffled about uncomfortably. "Um...yes, sir, like, I, uh, told Harry, I feel terrible for treating Emma like...I want to get out and get after them; we've got to get her and Derek back safely. I owe her that."
"Ah, humility; some say it makes us feel bad, but it is a in truth a virtue that can do us all well," Dumbledore remarked out loud, looking a little wistful, Harry thought, "You should be proud, Mr. Weasley, you're taking a good step forward in life. Well, I say why not try and let you redeem yourself in this matter by trying to thwart Lord Voldemort's plans? And I presume that all of you, being the caring people that you have often shown yourselves to be, wish to assist in this endeavor?" he asked the rest of the Army.
"If we can, Professor," Neville spoke up firmly, "After what happened here tonight, we all wish to pitch in any way we can, am I right?" he turned to the crowd of young witches and wizards behind him, who all nodded firmly.
"Indeed, Professor," Wood stepped forward, nodding, "Tell us what you wish us to do, and we shall."
"Well then, it will of course take some time to round up the rest of the Order of the Phoenix. I believe that all of you would serve well as an emergency force that could hold off Lord Voldemort's plans until we can get the rest of the Order to his current lair," Dumbledore smiled at his protégés, "All of you are quite talented and brave, so perhaps you can head to there..."
"Um, where, sir?" it was Ernie MacMillan raising his hand, looking a bit confused, "We don't know where they came from..."
Something clicked in Harry's mind. "Professor, I had a dream of the...Lucius Malfoy said they were going to the Isle of Drear..." he declared.
"Drear...oh, oh, I think I know what this is about!" Hermione snapped her fingers excitedly, "I'd like to check the library just to make sure, though-if we can get there..."
"Well, as the saying goes, Miss Granger, where there is a will, there is a way," Dumbledore drew something from within his robe-Harry's invisibility cloak. "I dare say this should come in handy. Good luck, everyone," he told the students with a parting smile, handing Harry the cloak, "I shall see you all on the Isle of Drear very soon once I help assemble the Order of the Phoenix. I know you'll all do quite well."
He started walking away into the forest. "What do you know, Hermione, what's Voldemort planning?" Harry asked her once the headmaster had disappeared from sight.
"You know how he's always obsessed with immortality, Harry? I think he's trying to make sure of it tonight," she explained breathlessly, "I'd just like to double-check, though, just to be sure."
"All right, you, Ron and I will go to the library and make sure," Harry nodded firmly, hefting the cloak over his head and gesturing her and Ron under it, "Oliver," he turned to Wood, "Take some of the Army to the broom shed; we'll probably need every broom there. Neville, take several more and go get the thestrals," he turned to him next, "Those of you left, keep watch; we don't want the Ministry or any straggling Death Eaters to stop us. We'll meet by the Quidditch pitch in twenty minutes to head to Drear, so don't be late."
Multiple heads nodded as Dumbledore's Army separated to take care of their respective jobs. Harry pulled the cloak completely over his head and bustled with his friends towards the castle. His mind shifted back towards the nightmarish alternate world, and the fact that Voldemort, as Dumbledore had noted, seemed to have become metaphysical. This seemed to jive with Hermione's belief the Dark Lord was after immortality. The question was, how...?
"So, while we still have some time, Harry, how did you get out?" Ron asked him softly, "We heard some rumors..."
Harry related the whole story of his escape from Azkaban. "I wanted to get your father out, but like you and Hermione just now, everything went downhill before we could," he admitted with a glum expression, "I wish I could have..."
"It's not your fault, Harry, not when Fudge jumped on him with no cause in the first place-and for taking Dumbledore's loved-based protection off the castle," Ron absolved him, "I can't wait to prove he's lied to the whole wizard world for..."
"Speaking of which..." Hermione elbowed him hard in the ribs and pointed. For Fudge was approaching the castle steps with several Aurors. Harry froze up for a second until the Minister of Magic stepped inside, then gestured for his friends to follow him. They trailed Fudge as he walked into the castle. Inside, the Death Eaters' damage was evident everywhere; holes were blasted in the walls, and debris was everywhere...and, most fearfully, medics were tending to injured students, and a couple of sheet-covered bodies. Harry mentally cursed Voldemort for daring to go this far...
"Dolores," Fudge called out in front of him. Umbridge was striding down the steps towards him. "Dolores, what happened here!?" the Minister of Magic demanded.
"I don't know; the attackers came in dressed like Death Eaters and left before we could do anything to stop them," Umbridge shrugged, looking unconcerned about the attack, to Harry's ire, "But it looks like they attacked mostly the Mudbloods and half breeds, so it's no concern to us. Well, actually, they took the Muggle and Dickinson's daughter, and..."
"Well, good riddance there; that's less of a hassle for us," Fudge breathed a sigh of relief, "Now we don't have to worry about taking care of the Muggle, and Dickinson's daughter brought it all on herself by hanging with the wrong crowd. We can absolve ourselves of whatever happens to them; it's entirely their faults they got caught up in this. We can have Amaralda set up a memorial fund for her...Narcissa...oh my word," he grimaced. For Malfoy's mother, sobbing hysterically, was stumbling alongside her son as medics levitated him towards the front door, still unconscious and ashen. Harry for once felt sorry for his nemesis; even Hermione suppressed a terrified gasp. "How did this happen, Cornelius!?" Narcissa tearfully demanded to the Minister, "How did my son get...!?"
"I'm afraid I don't know, Narcissa," Fudge consoled her, looking horrified at Malfoy's condition himself, "We don't quite know what happened here, but for these people to target your son with whatever curse they used is as low as it gets. But don't you worry; he'll have the best medical care at St. Mungo's; I'll see to it personally," he gave the medics a firm glare that made it clear they were to treat Malfoy like royalty, "We'll catch the animals behind this."
He patted her sympathetically on the shoulder, then bustled off with Umbridge to take care of some other business. With a heartbroken sob at the sight of her son being carried out of the school, Narcissa slumped to the floor. "What did you do, Lucius!?" she lamented out loud, "How could you let this happen...!?"
An idea struck Harry. Putting a finger to his lips at Ron and Hermione, he slid down to Malfoy's mother's level. "Why are you crying, dear Slytherin lady?" he asked her in the deepest voice he could muster. Narcissa jumped in shock. "Who's there!?" she cried out.
"It is I, the Bloody Baron, invisible to hide myself from the attackers who came in here," Harry told her, "I can tell you're a loyal and true Slytherin, and I can't bear to see any members of my house in misery. I wish your son well."
"Thank you, Baron, but I don't know how he can get better...I've never seen this kind of dark magic before...my only child...!" Narcissa sobbed hysterically. Harry couldn't help himself from putting an invisible hand on her shoulder. "If there is any way I can help..." he offered.
"Nothing can help now," she muttered softly, "I made Lucius swear that...that he wouldn't be in harm's way when they came in...!"
"They who? Do you know about what happened?"
Narcissa took a deep, nervous breath. "Do you swear you will not tell any of the living?" she pressed him, "My husband could go to Azkaban for life if what happened gets out in full..."
"You have my honor as a nobleman, my lady."
"Very well," she shuffled about uncomfortably, "My husband...was the leader of the group of Death Eaters that came in. They were looking for the Muggle and Amaralda Dickinson's daughter. He told me they were the key to making the Dark Lord invulnerable for all eternity."
"There was a prophecy," she told him, "Augustus Rookwood got it for the Dark Lord. It said, Lucius told me, that to give the Dark Lord his ultimate powers, a dual sacrifice needed to be made, a Muggle that had wizarding lineage and a representative of Slytherin's house that rejected him. And it had to be done tonight when the planets were perfectly aligned; if the Dark Lord fails in this ritual tonight, the next chance won't come for another thousand years, as best I heard my husband relate it."
Harry nodded firmly at his friends. "Where were they taking them?" he asked, looking confirmation of their theory.
"The Isle of Drear," Narcissa confirmed it for him, "The ritual should begin in about an hour. But after what happened to Draco tonight, I have to wonder, was it worth it...?"
She broke down again. "Thank you, kind Slytherin lady, you have done more good than you realize," Harry told her, "I'll see what I can do. Merry Christmas."
He quickly waved his friends to follow him towards the stairs up to the library. "OK, that puts everything in clearer focus," he whispered to them, frowning, "But...Derek has wizarding lineage...!?"
"Yes, that makes perfect sense, Harry," Hermione was grinning, "Now we just need to..."
But Harry came to a stop again at the base of the stairs. For now Amaralda Dickinson was rushing through the front door of the castle, and she looked terrified beyond words. "Cornelius," she called to Fudge at the other end of the hall, "I came as soon as I heard...is Emma...!?"
"I'm afraid they took her, Amaralda," Fudge shook his head softly, "There's nothing more we can do, unfortunately. She's probably already gone."
"Oh my God..." horrified, Mrs. Dickinson slumped against the wall, guilt-stricken, "What have I done...my baby...!"
"It's all right, Amaralda," Fudge offered her comfort, "We'll set up a memorial fund in her name..."
"What have I done...!?" she repeated, sobbing now, "All this time, I paid no attention to her, and now...Potter was right, I was a horrible mother, and now I...!"
"No, no, come now, Amaralda, Potter's a dangerous unhinged lunatic, you don't have to put stock in anything he says," Fudge told her, making Harry's blood boil, in addition to the rage he felt that Fudge had no intention of even trying to find Emma alive, "In fact, we have reason to suspect he and Sirius Black were behind this somehow, that maybe they were trying to resurrect a new group of Death Eaters. After all, You Know Who IS dead, as you saw we found out earlier today..."
"Cornelius," Umbridge was running up again, "Rufus is here, he wants a word."
"Certainly. I'm sorry, Amaralda," Fudge told her in closing, waving Scrimgeour up the hall towards himself. Mrs. Dickinson trudged to the steps and slumped down next to where Harry was standing. "What have I become!?" he lamented out loud tearfully, "I'm sorry, Tiberius," she glanced upwards, "You did really live in her, I don't know why I didn't see it...now maybe I lost you for good now as much as I lost her...our child...I'm sorry, Emma, Potter was right; you needed me, and I failed..."
She broke down again. Harry felt sorry for her too, but was also grateful that she had finally learned the important lesson...although hopefully not too late for Emma...
He leaned forward and listened to Scrimgeour's conversation with Fudge in the middle of the hall. "...just came through, the Dementors abandoned Azkaban en masse," the head Auror was relating, "Good thing Swims put through that request for more wizards there, or this could have been problematic."
"Oh well, no need to publicize it yet, Rufus," Fudge advised him, "For all we know, they could be back in the morning, so let's not panic unless it looks clear they're actually not coming back. Any word on the hunt for Potter?"
"Nothing yet; we've looked as hard as possible, but they must have found a safe house somewhere."
"We'll find them both eventually. Keep searching, Rufus," the Minister of Magic ordered him, "We can't rest until they and Dumbledore are safely locked up."
"And when you look this crime scene over, see if anything ties Potter to it," Umbridge ordered Scrimgeour, "If we can prove he ordered this attack, to try and break the Mudblood out, then we'll have..."
Furious, Harry raised his wand. "No, don't," Hermione whispered, pushing it down, "You'll give us away!"
Harry took a deep breath. "You're right," he conceded, his gaze falling back to Mrs. Dickinson crying next to him, "Let's get a move on, and make sure Mrs. Dickinson gets a chance to redeem herself."
"Yes, let's reunite them, then," Ron whispered firmly, "All families should be together on Christmas. Let's get to work..."
"Yes, just like I thought, this is it!" Hermione triumphantly exclaimed five minutes later, holding up an old, weathered book from the library's restricted section, "I should have seen it sooner, since this is a natural extension from Andric Vydzaal..."
"What is it, then?" Harry breathlessly joined her and Ron at the nearest table, after glancing around to make sure they were alone.
"OK," she opened the book and pointed to the section in question, "Drear gave it away for me, and here's the proof. Slytherin went there after leaving Hogwarts to learn the secrets of immortality, Harry. His mentor had lived there: Marvolo MacClivert the Malevolent," she pointed to a picture of the wizard in question, "Slytherin had apprenticed under MacClivert, who had used thirteen dark runes to amplify the magical capabilities of the basilisk he'd hatched..."
"The Runes stolen from the repository...and probably Vydzaal's spell book from the museum..." Harry remembered.
"Most likely," she nodded, "MacClivert's spells with the runes had given his basilisk the power, if MacClivert so directed it telepathically, to de-magic people with its bite. Any wizard who was attacked was reduced to a mere Muggle. Now, another of MacClivert's apprentices, Arcturus the Awful, relates his end," she flipped a few pages, "Apparently, Marvolo lost control of the basilisk at some point, and just as it was about to attack him, he triggered some terrible reaction from the runes in attempted self-preservation that destroyed both his and the snake's bodies, but secured their essences inside a secret chamber he'd created as a last stronghold in his hiding place in the caves of Drear..."
"The point being...!?" Ron pressed impatiently.
"The point being that Arcturus had been left notes behind by his master-which, I'm guessing Slytherin craved, since history tells us he later killed Arcturus and came into possession of them-telling him that the awful power of the combined essences of MacClivert and the basilisk could be unleashed when the stars and planets were in the exact proper alignment, and he who stood before the chamber when it was opened would gain the full power of both beings...including immortality, metaphysicality, and the ability to single-handedly de-magic anyone he chose. But a sacrifice needed to be made to trigger it...and Derek and Emma were just what were required..."
A cold shiver ran down Harry's spine at the thought of Voldemort having such terrible powers at his disposal. "And the Scone Crown...?" he inquired, remembering what else the Death Eaters had taken.
"Not sure about that, Harry; it doesn't list that in here," Hermione shook her head, "Voldemort must want it for some other purpose."
"Mmm," Harry mused, wondering what the purpose of the crown could be then. "So, anyway, Derek has wizarding lineage?" he went back to his earlier question, "But how...?"
"Wait...I see," Ron was nodding softly, "Look at the names, Harry," he told his friend, "Vydzaal...Whitesell..."
"Awfully similar," Harry realized, "You don't suppose...could Andric Vydzaal have been...Derek's ancestor?"
"Given all this, it makes perfect sense, Harry," Hermione agreed, "I'm guessing Vydzaal's and Slytherin's attempt at opening the chamber back then must have gone wrong somehow: instead of summoning the power of Marvolo MacClivert and the basilisk, it backfired in Vydzaal's face and turned him into a Muggle. So he left the island, or Slytherin drove him off in a rage now that he was useless to him, and Vydzaal's descendants have probably been Muggles ever since, all the way down to Derek after the name was Anglicized over the centuries. And unluckily for him," she glanced tentatively at the pages, "Tonight is the exact night that the stars and planets, for the first time since Vydzaal's and Slytherin's days, are in the exact perfect alignment."
Harry gulped out loud. "When's the next time they line up right?" he asked her.
"Not for another one thousand, eight hundred sixty-six years," she told him after a quick glance downward, "So if we can stop Voldemort tonight, he almost certainly won't have another chance."
"Then we'd better hurry," Harry gestured her and Ron to their feet, "He could be starting the ceremony any minute now; the quicker we get to..."
"Harry," barked a familiar voice from the door to the library. But not one Harry wanted to hear at the moment. "Percy," he turned to face Ron's brother, who was scowling, "So you're here with the Minister...?"
"I'm afraid I'm going to have to turn you in, Harry," Percy shook his head grimly.
"I didn't do any of this, Percy!" Harry shouted, gesturing at the damage on the library walls, "Come on, you know me, you know I'm not that kind of person, that...!"
"I'm sorry, Harry; I don't want to do this, believe me, but regulations are regulations," Percy did in fact briefly look somewhat conflicted as he approached Harry, but quickly buried that look under an expression of stern authoritarianism, "The fact is, you're a fugitive, and the evidence suggests Voldemort is in fact gone for good..."
"Curse you, Percy, come on!" Ron bellowed, jumping front of Harry, "Fudge put Dad in jail for no good reason, and without trial; you have to have at least heard the rumors of that! Now if you're going to be a stuck-up git who cares more about your big, cushy Ministry job than the well-being of...!"
"The law is the law, Ron, and Harry can have his day in court when the time comes. For now, I have to take him in-and much as I hate Dad being in Azkaban for Christmas, if he broke the law, that's the way it has to be, unfortunately. Now stand aside," Percy raised his wand.
"You'll have to curse me, Percy," Ron dared him furiously, "And I hope for Mum's sake you're not that career-driven..."
"Ronald Bilius Weasley, I am ordering you, stand aside and let me do the right thing!" Percy ordered.
"You'll have to curse me too, Percy," Hermione stepped into his path as well, frowning severely, "And if you think taking Harry in's the right thing..."
"I'm warning you both...!"
"Percy, we were friends," Harry pressed him, "Don't sacrifice it now..."
With a loud growl of frustration, Percy reared his wand back...but suddenly shuddered and went pale as he was locked into the Full Body Bind. He toppled forward, landing in a heap at Harry's feet. There was a small clatter as Ron dropped his wand to the floor in shock. "Percy..." he gasped, guilt-stricken, "What did I do...my own brother...!"
"He'll be fine, Ron. In fact, let's take him with us," Hermione seized Percy's arm and dragged him under the invisibility cloak, "When we release him on Drear, then he'll see for sure we're telling the truth."
"I just hope he didn't have anyone else from the Ministry with him now," Harry glanced nervously towards the door, but no one else was visible. He breathed a sigh of relief; Percy had apparently come alone. "All right, let's get to the pitch, then," he lifted up the cloak and waved Ron and Hermione under it, "It's just about time to take off. I hope everyone's ready."
"Wow, very nice," he exclaimed upon their arrival at the pitch. Dumbledore's Army was assembled and ready to go, some straddling broomsticks, some on top of thestrals. And in front of them all, Hagrid's sleigh was hitched up to the eight biggest thestrals. "We figured, Harry, why not?" Neville spoke up from the back of the sleigh, "After all, it's Christmas Eve, and Muggle kids are expecting Father Christmas to be in the sky tonight."
"Good thinking, Neville, now there's less of a problem if we do get seen by Muggles," Harry commended him, straining to lift Percy's stiff body from under the cloak. "He was here?" George inquired as he and Fred bustled over, "What...?"
"Had to petrify him, George, unfortunately," Ron still looked rather guilty, "He was going to spill to the Ministry. We figured bringing him with us would let him see the actual truth."
"Well don't you worry, George and I'll take care of him when we let the Bind off him on Drear," Fred grinned mischievously. "Move on over there, Longbottom, we're coming aboard for the ride too," he gently scooted Neville aside as he and George joined him on the rear of the sleigh. Harry sprang for the front seat and clutched the thestral's reins. Ron and Hermione joined him up front, nervous anticipation on their faces. "All right, everyone ready?" Harry stood up and asked the rest of Dumbledore's Army, "Anyone who wants to back out now can do so. So you know, this probably will be dangerous; we're going into Lord Voldemort's inner lair, and he's probably going to have all his dark forces standing guard until he completes his ritual to gain absolute power..."
"We're with you on this, Harry," came Seamus's voice to his right, firm and unwavering.
"Absolutely," Katie Bell spoke up to his left, "We're with you through the end on this, Harry."
Every head was nodding. Harry smiled. "All right, let's..." he started to declare.
"POTTER!" his heart sank as Umbridge's furious shout rang out not more than a hundred feet behind them. He spun to see her standing at the head of a dozen Aurors, their wands aimed at the students. "Off the sleigh, Potter, now!" she bellowed, "You're going back to Azkaban...!"
"All right, keep your shirt on, woman, we surrender," Fred rose up, his hands over his head, "But before we give up, I have to wonder: what are those strange markings on your neck?"
Umbridge fell for it and glanced down at her neck. Both twins fired blasts in her direction that missed her, but did hit several other Aurors and started inflating them like balloons. They then fired their wands at the snow on the ground behind the sled, blowing it upwards and creating an effective de facto smokescreen to cover the students' exit. "Go, go!" Harry shouted at the rest of the Army, who quickly alighted on their brooms and thestrals in the confusion. "Mush!" he shouted at the thestrals in front of the sleigh, cracking the reins hard. The thestrals immediately lunged forward, but stayed on the ground. "Come on, up, up!" he shouted impatiently at the magical creatures, "There could be Ministry reinforcements coming...!"
"No need to worry, Harry, look," George pointed behind them, where the Aurors were now under siege-it was Professor McGonagall, Harry saw with delight, leading the rest of the staff (although Snape appeared to be absent, to Harry's suspicious consternation) in a charge against the Ministry's wizards. McGonagall turned towards the departing sleigh and gave Harry a visible thumbs-up. Harry returned the gesture at her, grateful for the cover. "Here we go, off and away," he breathed a sigh of relief as the sleigh started leaving the ground at last...
...a sigh that got stuck in his throat as the sleigh shook hard. Someone had clearly grabbed onto the back of the sleigh, and Neville's horrified gasp made no secret of who it was. "All right, Potter!" an enraged Umbridge was hauling herself up onto the back of the sled, "That's felonious assault on Ministry officials on top of everything else! Either you land this sleigh right now, or I WILL use Avada Kedavra on...!"
"Aguamenti!" came Hermione's furious shout, and a blast of water into Umbridge's mouth silenced her. "Tarantallegra!" George shouted as well, making Umbridge's feet do a crazy dance on the edge of the sleigh. She lost her footing and fell, but just managed to grab hold of the back of the sleigh, now arcing even higher into the night air. Both twins leaned forward towards her. "You know, Fred, we could get in big trouble in we did anything else now," George shook his head softly.
"Yeah," Fred nodded in agreement, "Really big trouble if we did anything else..."
"We'll do it," they exclaimed together with mischievous grins. "Rictumsempra!" they shouted, blasting Umbridge, who immediately broke into laughter and thrashed as if being tickled. So hard, in fact, that she lost her grip on the sleigh and tumbled down two hundred feet through the air, landing with a tremendous splat in a large puddle of mud. "JACKPOT!" both twins shouted together, high fiving each other and then Harry.
"Good work, all of you," Harry commended them all. He turned his gaze forward. "Um, just so I know, anyone know exactly which way the Isle of Drear is? Because I certainly don't," he admitted to his companions on the sleigh.
"No problem, Harry, I'm pretty sure it's that way," Ron pointed to the northeast, "Pretty sure...I think..."
"All right, Vernon, let's go over it one more time," the well-dressed psychiatric doctor across the table from Uncle Vernon, now dressed in a hospital nightgown, said slowly.
"Yes, of course, I know the drill, Dr. Skitso: there was no giant intruder that night, I blasted the house apart myself by accident, and my nephew got scared and ran away. See, I'm not mental," Uncle Vernon said calmly and firmly, "I've told you I'm not mental at least a hundred times since I was brought in. Now can my wife and I please go home!?"
"I must say, Vernon, you've made great progress since you first came in," Dr. Skitso nodded encouragingly, "Indeed, I'm prepared to sign the release order once the..."
His beeper rang out. "Oh, excuse me a minute, Vernon," he rose up and walked out of the room. Uncle Vernon leaned back confidently in his chair. "Almost out of here," he mused out loud, "And soon I'll..."
Suddenly there came a loud thud, almost like something crashing into the wall by the window. Whatever it was, though, it apparently was soft enough not to attract the attention of any of the psychiatric hospital's staff. Uncle Vernon jumped up and rushed to the window. What appeared to be the treads of a sleigh were visible outside. And then a familiar voice shouted, "Ron, I told you we were going the wrong way...!"
"POTTER!" Uncle Vernon roared, leaping up to the window, "I'LL GET YOU FOR LANDING ME IN HERE...!"
"Oh, hello, Uncle Vernon," Harry said confidently, leaning down to his level, "Hope you're having a happy holiday. I'd love to stay and chat, but I've got something to take care of. Merry Christmas."
"I'LL GET YOU!" Uncle Vernon grabbed the bars and started rattling them like crazy as the sleigh pulled away, "WHEN I GET BACK TO PRIVET DRIVE, THERE'S GOING TO BE HELL TO PAY, POTTER! I SWEAR TO YOU THERE'S GOING TO BE...!"
"Vernon, Vernon, what are you doing!?" Dr. Skitso ran back in, concerned.
"Leave me alone, he's out there!" Uncle Vernon shouted at him. Dr. Skitso ran to the other window in the room. "Vernon, there's nothing out there," he said worriedly. When Uncle Vernon ignored him and continued to shake the bars hard while ranting at the top of his lungs, he called loudly into the hall, "Bernard, some tranquilizers for Mr. Dursley, please!"
A medic ran in with a hypodermic needle and quickly jammed it into Uncle Vernon's rear end. Uncle Vernon immediately stopped shouting, and a strangely serene smile crossed his lips as he toppled backwards to the floor. "Poor Vernon, he seemed to be doing so well. Oh well," Dr. Skitso shook his head. "Bernard, better arrange for Vernon to stay an extra month," he told the medic, who was now dragging Uncle Vernon back to his chair, "I think he still needs a bit more treatment. What could have set him off like that...?"