Hermione opened her eyes to find herself in a small storage room; the smell of whiskey was so strong that it nearly burned her nose. One look about the room and she had no reason to ask why. Large casks lined one wall of the room while racks upon racks of old bottles of whiskey lined the other.
"Where are we?" asked Harry, looking about the room as well.
"Gerald O'Connor's Pub." replied Sirius. "Well, at least one of his storage rooms." Sirius kicked an empty whiskey bottle with his boot. "It's a mixed pub; however we really don't need too many questions. This is supposed to be a secret, after all and it would look rather odd if we were all casual about it."
"A mixed pub?" repeated Harry, though Hermione was sure he was only seeking clarification.
"A pub that serves both Muggles and Wizards." replied Bill. "The main area serves both Muggles and Wizards alike while a smaller area in the back serves only the magical community."
"I presume that the pub owner knows that we're here." said Hermione, curious as to how many had been included in their plans.
"He's an old Gryffindor, Hermione, and an old school mate." said Sirius, spying her concerns. "All he knows is that we need clear passage into Ireland without issue from the Irish Ministry."
"Too bad we don't have time." said Fred.
"To sample some good ol' Irish whiskey." said George.
"Too bad, indeed." said Bill. "I doubt though, that we should keep interested parties waiting. They might leave before we get there. Besides, we have a bit of a walk ahead of us, so we best get going."
They all agreed and Hermione felt Harry take her hand as they followed Sirius out of the storage room and into the kitchen of the pub. Sirius then greeted the pub owner, thanking him for the courtesy, before instructing them to raise their hoods as they exited into the garden area behind the pub. Sirius continued through a rot iron gate that was covered in thick vines, into the street beyond. She and Harry followed, noting that the same vines covered the outer wall of the pub as well. They could hear the revelry inside the pub, pouring through the open door, as they headed across the street to an intersecting way called East End.
Hermione would have normally enjoyed seeing Ireland; taking time to investigate all the interesting places along the way, but tonight she had no desire to do anything except leave. They were walking willingly into danger and there was no way around that simple fact. Her only hope was that Bill's preparations and knowledge of the goblin caves would give them enough of an advantage to overcome whatever odds awaited them.
After walking for about fifteen minutes they came to a bend in the way that led to Cliff Road. They followed Cliff Road for another five minutes until they came to Doon Bay Road. They followed the road into a sub-divided housing called Smuggler's Cove. Hermione wondered how much further they must go to reach the caves. 'Surely they wouldn't be located here in the middle of a mixed populous.'
The road soon opened up; leaving the nestled houses behind. She could smell the salt on the air as they approached a vast cliff area; wind from the ocean whipping up over the clefts and howling fiercely as a storm approached. Harry's grip tightened, causing her to wince slightly. He immediately shot her an unspoken apology from beneath his hood. She wondered if the impending destination caused his reaction or was it something else.
"The entrance to the Goblin Caves lie just ahead." said Bill, turning to face them. "Follow me."
Bill took the lead as they continued to walk towards the ocean. Suddenly, Hermione realized that they had reached the cliff itself. Before she could say anything, Bill and Sirius stepped off the side of the cliff and vanished. Fred, George, Harry and Hermione stopped at the edge then looked at each other.
"All together?" asked Harry.
"All together." repeated Fred and George.
Hermione merely squeezed his hand as they stepped forward, not knowing what to expect. The next moment, they were standing on a plot of ground in front of a structure that resembled the doors of Gringotts; though they stood without walls or any visible backing. It was as though they were standing inside an invisible bubble; the wind and sounds of the ocean vanished the moment they stepped through the barrier. The six of them lowered their hoods as they took in the setting.
"That was bloody brilliant!" said Fred.
"Bloody excellent!" said George.
"Bloody brilliant and excellent!" proclaimed the twins in unison.
"Take back all the things you ever said about my work?" asked Bill of the twins.
"Not really. Working for goblins is so distasteful." sneered the voice of Lucius Malfoy, as he and about twenty other figures stepped through the barrier behind them.
Hermione, Harry, Sirius, Bill and the twins whipped out their wands in false protest.
"Put away your wands." sneered Lucius. "You're outnumbered, not to mention outclassed."
"What do you want, Malfoy?" spat Harry.
"Come now, Potter. We know you've come to retrieve a magical element." replied Lucius, his smirk growing broader every second. "Now be a good lad and fetch it for us while we all wait here."
"Can't, Malfoy." snarled Bill. "This door's a one way trip. You can only exit onto the beach at the far end of the cliffs when you leave."
"Very well, Weasley, we'll wait for you there." said Lucius casually.
"Nothing doing, Malfoy." spat Harry.
Hermione edged closer to Harry, playing into the role of shock as convincingly as possible.
"Don't be a fool, Potter." retorted Lucius. "You cannot win."
"Then tell us, Lucius," interjected Sirius "how do we know that you won't kill us once you have what you came for?"
"The Dark Lord wants that pleasure for himself." replied Lucius, grinning manically.
"Then why did Voldemort send you?" snarled Harry. "Why didn't he come himself?"
Lucius laughed, "Think you're brave, Potter? The graveyard was just a fluke. You will die when he is ready."
Sirius placed a hand on Harry's shoulder to steady him. The plan was to lure the Death Eaters inside; however Hermione knew that their plan wasn't going the way they wished.
"How touching." sneered Malfoy. "Let us compromise, Lord Black. You, the Weasley brats and I will wait by the exit while Potter, Granger and the eldest Weasley fetch what you came for. Just to make sure that there are no issues, three of us will accompany them."
Sirius glanced at her and Harry before nodding in agreement.
"Excellent choice." said Malfoy, clutching his cane harder. "Crabbe – Goyle – Boyd." Three Death Eaters stepped forward. "Escort Potter, Granger and Weasley inside. See that they do not get into any mischief along the way."
"This isn't over, Malfoy." spat Harry.
"I agree, Potter." said Lucius silkily. "Thoroughly."
"NOW!" shouted Sirius.
The twins whirled their cloaks about them, releasing clouds of black smoke; throwing Lucius and his band of Death Eaters into total darkness.
"In! Quickly!" shouted Bill.
Hermione turned to see Bill holding one of the doors open and motioning them in. They ran through the door and her mind went into overdrive. They had entered into a large golden room with a domed ceiling that reminded her of a Muggle museum. Swords, gems, statues and many other objects sat on pedestals lining the walls of the room and a golden fountain stood erect in the center of the room. This was nowhere near what she expected goblin 'caves' to look like.
There were multiple corridors leading away from the room, however Bill was sprinting towards a long scarlet curtain that stretched from the floor to the ceiling at the far end of the room. They followed him behind the curtain, but was startled beyond belief when the curtain disappeared.
"Don't worry, the curtain is still present." said Bill. "It's enchanted to hide entire rooms from sight, but allow clear view from within."
"Where are we?" asked Harry.
"The door was a portal." explained Bill. "We are now three hundred meters below the cliffs."
"Three hundred and twelve, to be precise." said a goblin, appearing in front of them.
"Hello Rignor." greeted Bill, bowing slightly. "Is everything ready?"
"Of course, Mr. Weasley." replied Rignor. "Those that pursue you have quite a nasty surprise awaiting them."
"Thank you, master goblin." said Bill, bowing once more.
"The pleasure is ours." said Rignor, grinning broadly and turning his gaze to Harry. "The object you are to take, Mr. Potter, resides in Runes Hall. Mr. Weasley can show you where the Hall is."
Harry was about to speak when the Death Eaters burst through the portal into the center of the room; looking as though they were ready for an immense battle to break out at any moment. After a long tense minute, most of the Death Eaters relaxed their stance; no raging goblins in sight.
"Show yourself, Potter!" shouted Lucius confidently.
"You heard the bastard, Bill." said Harry darkly. "Lead the way."
Bill nodded before charging out from behind the curtain, shooting curses at the band of Death Eaters. Sirius, Harry, Hermione and the twins all did the same. As several Death Eaters fell, the others lunged forward to stop them, firing more curses.
Suddenly, the water in the fountain rose up out of its banks all the way to the ceiling before showering down. As the beads of water fell, they transformed into what looked like metallic bees. The metal bees began to swarm the Death Eaters who cried out in pain. To Hermione's horror, it looked as though the swarm was trying to dig into their skin rather than just sting them like normal bees. Several Death Eaters, including Malfoy, fled for shelter behind statues and curtains while using shield charms as their counterparts were consumed; falling to the ground as a black substance oozed from their eyes, ears, and mouth.
"Bloody hell!" exclaimed the twins in unison.
"Egyptian protective curse." explained Bill. "Now, hurry! We're running out of time!"
Bill sprinted down a corridor to their right. They followed, knowing full well that the statement was meant for the recovering Malfoy. As they turned the corner, Hermione could hear Lucius cry, "After them!"
As Neville's wand light illuminated the stone floor, he saw something that chilled his heart; a large pool of blood shimmering in his wand light.
"Ginny?" muttered Arthur.
Neville looked hesitantly around to see where Arthur was. The following cry made his heart stop.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" screamed Arthur, his wand clattering to the floor as he dropped to his knees.
The slight figure of a red haired girl lying on her side in a pool of blood; metal cuffs and chains dangled from the ceiling above her. Angelina eased over to the body, rolling her over so that they could see her properly. Neville let out a small sigh when he saw that it wasn't Ginny; though the sight still sickened him to the point that stomach acid leapt into his throat. Carved into the girl's forehead was the word, 'Traitor'.
A sound of movement coming from a far corner caught their attention. Neville, Professor McGonagall and Seamus pointed their wands towards the source of the sound; illuminating the darkened corner. A man sitting on the floor in the corner held up a shaky hand to shield his eyes from the light; a woman laid silently in his lap.
"W-W-Who's there?" came a raspy voice, sounding as though it had not been used in a long time.
"Are you the Grangers?" asked Professor McGonagall.
"Y-Yes!" coughed the man. "Who are you?"
The man eased the woman up to a sitting position. The moment she saw them, she began to sob, "You found us!"
As Neville and Seamus started to approach them, Arthur Weasley's voice cut through the air.
"Do not take another step!"
Neville turned to see Arthur striding past Angelina and Professor McGonagall, towards the man and woman still sitting on the floor. The man attempted to stand up but failed; obviously too weak.
"If you are the Grangers, please tell me the name of your daughter's favorite book when she was young." demanded Arthur.
"Um..." stuttered the man.
"Dear, it was Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea." said the woman softly.
"Really? I was going to say, From The Earth To The Moon,"retorted the man while holding his head in his hands "but I'll take your word on it."
"Mr. and Mrs. Granger, my name is Arthur Weasley." said Arthur in a softer tone. "I don't know if you remember me, but we met –"
"In Diagon Alley." said Mr. Granger. "Yes, I remember."
Arthur motioned Neville and Seamus forward, as he helped Mr. and Mrs. Granger to their feet. They then supported Hermione's parents, who were too weak to stand on their own.
"Mr. and Mrs. Granger, do you know who this young girl was?" asked Professor McGonagall, pointing her wand to illuminate the body of the young red-head.
"They called her a Muggle, like us." said Mrs. Granger. "They tortured her and whipped her for days before she died."
"Did they say why?" asked Arthur, staring at the dead girl's body.
"They called it a lesson." replied Mr. Granger through gritted teeth.
"Let's go." said Professor McGonagall. "It's not safe here."
Arthur waved his wand, conjuring a blanket around the dead girl's body before levitating it. The scene reminded Neville of the day Cho Chang died. He would never forget that day as long as he lived.
They made their way up out of the basement and into the foyer where Luna and Lavender sat waiting for them; Lee standing guard. Only six Death Eaters had survived the attack on Malfoy Manor; three of them escaping and three captured in the sitting room.
"Help the Grangers to the edge of the garden, along with Luna and Lavender." instructed Professor McGonagall. "From there, Dobby can Apparate them to the safe house."
"W-Who's wrapped in the sheet?" asked Lavender.
"Some poor young girl." said Arthur. "We will make sure that her body is recovered by the Muggle authorities."
"Where is Hermione?" asked Mrs. Granger weakly.
"You'll see her soon." replied Professor McGonagall smiling.
Neville was helping Mr. Granger towards the door when a voice cut through the air. "Proud of yourself, boy? You look so much like the late Aurors, Alice and Frank Longbottom, you must be their son."
Lee moved forward to help Mr. Granger as Neville turned to face the witch.
"Brilliant." cackled Alecto. "You are their son."
"Ignore her, Neville." said Professor McGonagall, but Neville pressed past her outstretched arm.
"What are you on about?" asked Neville, his wand drawn at his side.
"She's baiting you, Neville." warned Professor McGonagall.
"Am I, Minerva?" cackled the witch. "You pukes thought yourself clever with that party tonight, but you didn't invite ev-ery-one." chided Alecto in a sing-song voice.
Neville's breathing became shallow as he felt his chest tighten. He stared at the witch; burning holes through her as he contemplated her words.
"What have you done?" demanded Professor McGonagall, now realizing what Alecto was referencing.
"You wanted to know where my brother was earlier." sneered the witch. "Well... now you know. I wouldn't let it get to you, Longbottom. You've probably already forgotten them anyways."
Neville felt as though his heart had stopped; his mind becoming numb as tears threatened to fall, burning the corners of his eyes.
"I'll pass along your final words to your brother when I find him." uttered Neville, just above a whisper; his hands shaking.
"If you or your bastard brother harmed even a hair on the Longbottoms –" warned Professor McGonagall, not hearing what Neville had said.
"Let me guess, Minerva. I'll rot in Azkaban for this?" cackled the witch.
"You'll never see Azkaban!" growled Professor McGonagall, startling Neville.
Before Neville could say anything he felt something slam him in the chest; propelling him through the air and into the foyer. Professor McGonagall exited the sitting room as a rumbling sound marked the collapse of the ceiling.
"Minerva!" shouted Arthur, rushing in from outside. "What in Merlin's name happened?"
"The ceiling in the sitting room gave way." said Professor McGonagall coolly. "I had to use a shield charm to push Neville out of the way of falling debris."
Neville stared at Professor McGonagall, who was looking towards the entrance, while Arthur investigated the rubble. He didn't see her do anything to cause the ceiling to collapse, yet he heard her clearly tell Alecto that she'd never see Azkaban. But why did he care? 'Alecto deserved far worse', thought Neville savagely.
"Well, so much for worrying about those three." said Arthur coldly, climbing over a fallen beam. "They won't be darkening another doorway again."
Arthur sighed as he wiped his head with his hand.
"We'll find her, Arthur." said Cassie, entering the manor from the front garden; placing a hand on his shoulder.
"I know." replied Arthur, sniffing.
"What happened in here?" asked Cassie, noticing the decimated sitting room.
"Ceiling collapsed." replied Arthur. "Which leaves us with no prisoners."
"Can't say I feel sorry." sighed Cassie.
"Well, everyone ready to leave this devil's den?" asked Arthur.
Neville nodded, fighting back a bitterness that threatened to overcome him. 'Could the bitch have been telling the truth? Could they have penetrated the depths of St Mungo's to reach his parents? If Professor McGonagall had just done what he thought, she believed the witch to be speaking the truth.' Neville knew the truth, yet he had to hold on to hope until he knew for certain.
"Cassie, is everyone else at the edge of the garden?" asked Professor McGonagall, only glancing at Neville.
"Dobby is waiting to transport them to the safe house." replied Cassie.
"Very good." sighed Professor McGonagall. "There's been no word of any attacks on Longbottom Manor –"
Just as Professor McGonagall was about to give instructions as where to go next, the fake galleons within their pockets began to burn. All four ripped their galleons from their pockets in unison.
"Hogwarts is under attack." said Professor McGonagall, staring at her galleon.
Neville felt the pit of his stomach lurch with fear and rage.
"Neville," said Professor McGonagall, gaining his attention "send a message that help is on its way. Cassie and I will head to Hogwarts while the rest of you head for the safe house until you receive the signal from Harry."
"Yes Professor." replied Neville, grasping his fake galleon between his index finger and thumb as he concentrated on the message.
"I'll go with you as well." said Arthur.
"No Arthur." retorted Professor McGonagall. "Cassie and I, along with the teachers of Hogwarts can defend the castle and the students. Harry will need you."
Arthur did not answer, but rather nodded in agreement.
"All right, let's go." said Professor McGonagall, glancing at Neville before sprinting out the front door and across the garden; Neville hot on her heels.
Ron and Terry were walking down the fourth floor of the west wing; chatting about Quidditch while patrolling the school. Ron was worried about Luna and hoped she was okay. They were just about to head down to the third floor when a sneering voice halted them in their tracks.
"Looking for me, Weasley?"
Ron and Terry spun on the spot; wands drawn as they prepared for the attack.
"Thought you were off mating with other ferrets, Malfoy." spat Ron; sizing up the situation.
Malfoy, Zabini, and Nott stood three wide, blocking the corridor; wands drawn and prepared to duel.
"Your wit bores me, Weasley." sighed Malfoy. "However, if I do well tonight, maybe the Dark Lord will reward me and I'll find out if your sister is boring too. Or maybe I should ask you first and save me the time."
The blood thundered through Ron's brain as he let loose a fury of curses and hexes; forcing the three Slytherins to use shield charms to protect themselves.
"LUMOS SOLEM!" shouted Terry, sending a jet of light at the trio.
The jet of light struck their shield illuminating the corridor; blinding everyone in it. Luckily for Ron, he had been in the same charms class and realized what Terry was doing. At the exact same moment, Ron shouted, "ENTOMORHIS!", as Terry cried, "CORVUS CORAX!"
Ron's spell struck Nott, transfiguring him into a fat beetle. Terry's spell struck Zabini, transfiguring him into a black raven. Malfoy dove to the floor to avoid the flying spells; his wand clattering as it rolled under a suit of armour. Before anyone could react, the black raven pounced on the fat little beetle, scooping it up into its beak, and then flying off down the corridor and out a window.
Ron and Terry looked on in shock at the unexpected turn of events while Malfoy staggered to his feet; staring in horror at the far window. Ron came to his senses first, hitting Malfoy with a full body-bind curse. Malfoy's limbs snapped together; hitting the floor again with a thud. Terry conjured ropes, binding Malfoy from head to toe.
"Ron, if Malfoy, Zabini and Nott are... were... you know what I mean." fumbled Terry. "If they're here –"
"They might not be alone." finished Ron. "Parvati and Padma are patrolling the first floor. Let's get down there and check on 'um, then we'll check in with Dean and Susan."
Terry nodded as they raced down the grand staircase towards the first floor. They reached the first floor, finding Parvati and Padma just outside the Trophy Room; startling them by their abrupt arrival.
"What's wrong?" whispered Parvati apprehensively, so not to be overheard.
"We just ran into Malfoy, Zabini and Nott on the third floor." replied Terry.
"Where are they now?" asked Padma.
"They've been dealt with." whispered Ron flatly. "Our concern is that they're not alone."
"What are you four up to!" growled Filch, wheezing as he shuffled up behind them.
"Nothing." snapped Ron. "Just looking at the bleeding trophies."
"Watch your tone with me, Weasley." said Filch, frowning hard. "Where is Potter?"
"Probably in the Gryffindor common room." lied Ron.
"What about those brothers of yours, Weasley? Where are they?" pressed Filch.
"How should I know?" retorted Ron.
"If it wasn't for you and your brothers, Weasley, the best thing to ever happen to school wouldn't be –"
Filch was cut short by several screams as a group of third year Ravenclaws came running down the Grand staircase. Jets of red, purple and green light sailed overhead, forcing Ron and Terry to shove the twins down to avoid the curses; Filch fleeing into the Trophy room. Ron looked up to see Dean, Susan and Professor Flitwick battling at least half a dozen Death Eaters on the Grand staircase.
"Parvati!" shouted Ron. "Send a message to the others! We're under attack!"
Parvati nodded frantically as she fumbled for her fake galleon. Ron then turned his eyes upward towards the fighting as he steadied his nerves. 'Time for the blood traitors to shed some blood!', he thought savagely.
The floor shook as a mighty boom came from above. Ron watched as a Death Eater flew through the air; crashing to the floor in front of them. More screams from students filled the air.
"Come on, Alliance!" shouted Ron, racing up the stairs to join the fray; Terry, Padma and Parvati hot on his heels.
Harry sprinted down the long corridor behind Bill and Sirius; Hermione at his side and the twins covering the rear. Bill suddenly turned down an adjoining corridor then another and another until Harry felt like they were inside a giant maze. Bill reached back and yanked Harry forward as they slowed to a jog.
"Harry, when we reach the Runes room up ahead," said Bill "there's a Rune Tablet enchanted to glow blue when you come close to it. Only grab the one that glows blue. The other Rune Tablets will glow green and carry powerful protection curses. DO NOT TOUCH THEM! Understand?"
"Got it." replied Harry, understanding full well that this had to look real to Malfoy and any other Death Eaters that might be following.
When they reached the end of the corridor, Bill opened a door and he motioned them through into a circular chamber. Once the door closed behind them, Harry saw that four doors lined the chamber; perfectly spaced and encompassing the room. Lines on the floor running between the doors formed an X. The closer Harry looked, the more he realized that they were standing on a giant compass; each door marking the points with runes emblazoned upon each door.
"Amazing." breathed Hermione.
"No time for the tour, Hermione." said Bill, as he, Sirius and the twins pointed their wands at the door they had just entered through. "Company is coming."
Harry saw Bill seal the door in preparation of the Death Eaters' arrival.
"Where's the Rune Tablets?" asked Harry.
"Through the door marked North." replied Bill.
"That one, Harry." said Hermione, pointing to a door to his left before he could ask.
Harry grabbed Hermione's hand and darted for the door, wrenching it open and hurtling them inside. Torches sprung to life, burning through the darkness to reveal rows upon rows of stone tablets the size of textbooks, sitting neatly on wooden stands and covering at least a dozen tables.
"How" muttered Harry.
Hermione reached out her hand, waving it over a nearby tablet that glowed green.
"What color did Bill say the tablet would glow?" asked Hermione.
"Blue." replied Harry.
Harry immediately began walking between the tables, holding his hand over top the tablets as he went. Green glows illuminated the room as he walked and Harry wondered why the goblins had made this so difficult. He understood making it look believable, but this was ridiculous. He was half way down table six when he saw a blue glow. Harry grabbed the glowing tablet, tucked it under his arm and ran for the door.
Just as Harry made to open the door, he heard booms from the other side and shouting. He and Hermione withdrew their wands, took a deep breath and was about to rip open the door when the fake galleons inside their pockets burned.
"Hogwarts is under attack!" hissed Harry, holding the fake galleon.
"The others will respond." said Hermione, reassuringly. "We must stick to the plan until we have no other choice. The risk is too great."
Harry knew she was right. He had to focus and have faith in his mates. With only a nod to Hermione, he ripped open the door, then ducked as a jet of purple light soared over his head. Harry returned fire, striking a masked figure in the face with a burning hex. The Death Eater immediately discarded the now burning mask.
Hermione jerked Harry backwards, just as he was about to enter the fight in the chamber beyond.
"It's time!" she hissed into his ear, holding up her fake galleon.
No other words were necessary. Harry gripped the Rune Tablet in his hand tighter as a renewed fire burned within; set ablaze by the hope in Hermione's eyes. He smirked before thrusting himself through the door into the chamber; aiming curses at any unknown figures. Harry was about to shout when Bill shouted in pain; clutching his right arm.
Harry now realized that roughly seven Death Eaters, including Malfoy, were in the chamber with them.
"GIVE ME THE ARTIFACT POTTER!" growled Malfoy, as a jet of green light missed Sirius by inches.
"NOT TODAY, MALFOY!" shouted Harry. "LUMOS MAXIMA!"
The chamber momentarily radiated with light; blinding everyone in it but him. Harry grasped Hermione by the arm and jerked her towards the kneeling Bill. Sirius and the twins did the same. 'Time to see if Fawkes could do it twice', thought Harry.
Harry thrust his wand hand into the air and shouted, "GRAB HOLD! TO THE MINISTRY!"
Sirius, Bill and the twins immediately gripped Harry's cloak as the red flames that marked the arrival of Fawkes, engulfed them. Harry felt the weight of the phoenix upon his arm as the chamber spun from view. As it did, Harry saw the look of shock upon Malfoy's face as he cried out in anger.
Ron cast another shield charm as jets of red light flew through the air in the direction of several first years that were fleeing for their lives. It was clear that the Death Eaters were attempting to divert the attention of the teachers and the Alliance to the protection of the students rather than fighting.
"Protect your fellow students, Mr Weasley." commanded Professor Flitwick. "I will deal with these cowards."
Professor Flitwick flicked his wand like a whip, sending a jet of purple light into the floor. The stone floor rose like a giant hand and attempted to smash the Death Eaters. One unfortunate Death Eater screamed as he was crushed beneath the weight of the stone hand.
"Professor, you cannot hold them alone!" shouted Dean.
"He doesn't have to!" shouted Professor Sprout, darting past Ron as she shot three spells at the Death Eaters while throwing down her cloak.
Screams came from the fourth floor and Ron sprinted up the stairs towards the source; barely dodging a well aimed curse. When he reached the fourth floor, he found three Death Eaters torturing two younger Hufflepuffs.
"Confringo!" shouted Ron, striking one of the Death Eaters in the side.
The Death Eater howled in pain; rolling on the ground while holding their side. Dean joined Ron, hitting another Death Eater in the face with a stinging hex and sending him tumbling down the staircase. The two Hufflepuff second years ran down the corridor as fast as they could.
"Bloody little bastards!" shouted the third Death Eater.
Suddenly, Dean screamed in pain and hit the floor in front of Ron; writhing and rolling. Ron spun round to see Professor Sinistra pointing a wand at Dean.
"Going to duel me, Weasley?" purred Sinistra.
Ron screamed in pain as he was flung backwards; striking the wall behind him.
"Come now, Weasley." taunted Sinistra. "You must do better. You see, I was holding back with Potter and your little friends so that they would think that the 'masked intruder' was a Slytherin student." Sinistra sighed. "You disappoint me, Weasley. At least the Chang girl put up a fight before falling out the window."
The third Death Eater laughed, "Finish the Blood-traitor and the Mudblood, my dear!"
Ron clutched his side, gritted his teeth and pushed himself back to his feet. Dean was rolling on the floor, still trying to get back to his feet, when the boot of the third Death Eater connected with his shoulder; making a sickening cracking noise as Dean yelled in pain.
"Incendio!" whispered Ron, pointing his wand at the third Death Eater.
The Death Eater immediately howled in pain as flames struck the skin on his outstretched arm.
Pain tore through Ron, forcing him to the floor once more; his knees buckling in agony. He fought the urge to cry out; determined not to give in. As he pushed against the pain, he felt his fake galleon burn against his thigh; he knew help was on the way.
"No whispering, Weasley." simpered Sinistra. "That's cheating."
"Bloody bitch!" growled Ron in pain, trying not to collapse.
"Manners, Weasley." retorted Sinistra. "You shouldn't take your eyes off your opponent. Unfortunately, this will be your last lesson in this school."
Ron was uncertain how much more he could take as the pain kept coming in waves, but he would not give in. He had to hold out until the others came to his rescue.
There was a shout of surprise from the other Death Eater and the pain instantly stopped. Ron forced his head up to see just as the Death Eater, who was laughing only moments earlier, slam into the wall then collapse to the floor. Professor Sinistra was now on the defensive, casting shield charms and summoning suits of armour to block jets of red and purple spells from making their mark.
Ron rolled over in amazement to see that Professor McGonagall had arrived and was on the offensive, attacking Professor Sinistra with cold hatred etched into her face. As his vision cleared, he saw more Death Eaters coming down the staircase from the floor above. Ron made for his wand, but before he could recover it a golden plate from the Trophy room slammed into the lead Death Eater's head; causing him to tumble down the stairs and land at Ron's feet.
"Weeeeeeeeeee!" cried Peeves, as he hurled another golden plate at the oncoming adversaries.
The Death Eaters instinctively deflected more of the incoming awards before being struck from behind by the Curse Breakers, Maxwell and Hughes. Ron turned back and felt as though his life went into slow motion. Thousands of shiny objects flew through the air towards Sinistra who waved her wand, causing a wall of fire to appear; the fire consuming the objects. Suddenly, the wall of fire transformed into a fiery whip. Sinistra whirled it above her head and lashing out at Professor McGonagall; the tip of the whip catching Ron's face from his cheekbone to his jaw as hot blood ran down his neck.
Professor McGonagall struck Sinistra with a blast of water; extinguishing her magical whip and striking her in the face. McGonagall wasted no time, firing off a series of hexes and curses that Sinistra was barely able to deflect with her shield charm before collapsing under the fury. In desperation, Sinistra shot a blasting hex towards the ceiling, causing debris to rain down upon them; large chunks of stone striking the floor. Professor McGonagall cast a shield charm to protect Ron, Dean and herself from the falling rubble. Sinistra seized the opportunity to flee down the staircase.
"Are you okay, Mr Weasley?" asked Professor McGonagall, leaning down to inspect the side of his face.
Before Ron could answer, a stinging burning sensation covered the wounded portion of his face. Immediately, he felt the wound close.
"That will have to do until Madam Pomphrey has a chance to mend you properly." said Professor McGonagall.
"You let her escape!" exclaimed Ron.
"Mr Weasley, the safety –"
Professor McGonagall was cut off by the sound of the banister behind them being shattered by a curse. Ron whirled around to see Professor Sinistra retreating back towards the Grand staircase; battling with Professor McGonagall's niece. He kicked the fallen Death Eater aside that laid in front of him, found his wand and shot a tripping hex, which found its mark, toppling Sinistra down the flight of stairs to the third floor below.
Ron rose to his feet to look, but was propelled backwards into Professor McGonagall by the blast from a curse striking the floor where he was just moments before. McGonagall stumbled; however she did not fall under his weight as several Death Eaters ran past on their way down the steps.
"TIME TO LEAVE!" shouted one of the Death Eaters. "WE'VE DONE WHAT WE'VE COME FOR!"
Ron cursed as he saw the recovered Sinistra leading a band of Death Eaters towards the castle doors; all the while Peeves pelting them with anything he could find. Suddenly, the castle doors burst open and the massive form of Hagrid stepped through; his face a fire with wrath.
"WHAT BE GOIN' ON HERE!" roared Hagrid.
Hagrid was carrying a large staff, which he raised high above his head before jamming the tip into the floor. The affect was like thunder; sending the Death Eaters flying backwards. One of the Death Eaters that recovered first shot a curse into the ceiling above, causing large chunks of debris to rain down from above. Hagrid lunged forward to cover a group of cowering students from the falling stone.
Ron watched as the McGonagalls raced past him, down the staircase and into battle. He turned to see what had become of his fellow Gryffindor. Dean was slumped against the wall while holding his left shoulder. When their eyes met, Dean nodded and mouthed, "Go". Ron nodded in return before pelting down the stairs as fast as he could; unsure what he would see next.
Ron, upon reaching the first floor, swore loudly as he fell back onto the stairs to avoid a large fireball. Two more fireballs struck the banister above him, turning the stone to ash. For a moment he could have sworn that Hagrid had brought a dragon with him; however he quickly realized that it was Sinistra casting dragon fire in all directions as she and the other Death Eaters battled the McGonagalls.
"STAY LOW RON!" shouted Hagrid, as he shielded more students from the raging battle.
But Ron would not stay down. The Alliance had sworn all in to the brink, and that was what he would do. Pushing himself forward, he targeted the nearest Death Eater and cried, "Bombarda!"
Ron's blasting curse struck the Death Eater in the shoulder; sending him tumbling to the floor.
"Excellent aim, Mr Weasley." said Hughes, as he and Maxwell joined Ron at the foot of the steps; firing a host of spells into the group.
Quickly, the numbers shifted to their favor and the remaining Death Eaters began to fall in earnest. Cassie blasted a hole in the wall next to the entrance to the Great Hall, causing showers of water to fall upon the Death Eaters from a busted pipe. Professor McGonagall swiped the air, turning the water to showers of ice. One of the Death Eaters cast a shield charm over top his fellows to protect them and causing the ice form a dome around them. Hughes struck the newly formed ice dome with a blasting hex; shattering the dome and sending shards of ice down upon the Death Eaters.
Sinistra lashed out with another series of dragon fire, in an attempt to clear a path for their escape. Professor McGonagall produced a powerful shield charm while Maxwell shot a spell at the far wall, striking a vine and causing it to grow; twisting and turning as it rose into the air like a green monster before engulfing the remaining Death Eaters as it fell to the floor; their screams of pain and possibly worse rising to the rafters. Sinistra and one other masked Death Eater just managed to escape being crushed by the monolithic vine, only to be slammed into the doors of the Great Hall by Hagrid's walking staff. Professor McGonagall shot ropes from the end of her wand that bound Sinistra and the masked Death Eater from head to toe. Cassie walked over then knelt down to collect Sinistra's wand.
"This one must love to be tied up." mused Cassie. "But I don't think she's going to enjoy her next kiss."
Before the dazed Sinistra could respond, Cassie clubbed her across the face with her fist. Ron saw Hughes' eyebrows fly up into his hairline at this.
"Wonder who's wand." said Cassie, examining the wand closely.
"That would be mine." said Maxwell. "They disarmed me before throwing Ben and myself off of the tower."
"Lucky for us," interjected Hughes "I always carry a spare."
Someone running caught their attention and Ron turned to see Terry jogging down the stairs.
"Professor Flitwick said to check the grounds." breathed Terry, catching his wind and eying Hagrid. "They're combing the upper floors for more intruders, but Malfoy got away."
"WHAT!" roared Ron, feeling his face redden.
"Yeah. Either he has more friends or someone helped him out of fear." shrugged Terry.
"Bloody Hell!" growled Ron.
"Language, Mr Weasley." touted Professor Sprout, making her way down the grand staircase. "Vinea Maxima. Wonderful work, Vernon."
"Who's Vernon?" asked Terry.
"That would be me." said Maxwell, clearing his throat. "I prefer to go by Maxwell though."
"As for you," continued Professor Sprout, ignoring Maxwell and staring up at Hagrid "where have you been? We've been worried mad!"
"Well, uh, you see, uh..." started Hagrid, stumbling over his words.
"Never-mind Hagrid." snapped Professor McGonagall. "We will discuss your absence and that walking staff of yours later."
"Good heavens, Minerva." gasped Professor Sprout, as though remembering something important. "Where in Merlin is Harry Potter?"
For a moment, Harry felt lighter than air; Hermione, Sirius, Bill, and the twins clinging to his cloak and arm while surrounded by an amazing ball of fire. Then, their feet slammed onto hard floor as the fire dissipated; Harry becoming aware again of the weight of Fawkes perched on his outstretched arm. They had made it to the Atrium of the Ministry of Magic.
"Harry, you should not have come here tonight."
The voice of Albus Dumbledore rang out in the Atrium and Harry realized that they had landed near the fountain; Dumbledore standing between them and the lifts with Lupin, Moody and Shacklebolt.
"Is this really the way to greet allies, Dumbledore?" asked Sirius smirking. "Or are we still allies in your eyes?"
"You have come to retrieve the prophecy; however I cannot allow that to happen." retorted Dumbledore, indifference filling his voice. "Order members are posted all throughout the Ministry. You will not leave with what you have come for."
Harry looked to see that everyone still had their wands drawn, including Bill. Harry's muscles tensed as he waited for some sign that Lord Voldemort and his followers had arrived. He had little interest in what Dumbledore had to say.
Harry spun round to see Arthur Weasley, Neville, Angelina, Lee, Seamus and Dobby standing before him. Neville looked extremely troubled; however a simple nod from Mr Weasley let Harry know that all were well.
"Dobby, please go." said Harry firmly.
"As you wish, Master Harry." replied Dobby, bowing low.
With another loud CRACK, the tiny elf Disapparated.
"So, Dobby has finally received his wish." mused Dumbledore.
At that moment, a black cloud of smoke filled the Atrium as twenty masked Death Eaters entered through the large fireplaces; surrounding the fountain. The Alliance fell back to join the Order members; Harry glancing rapidly about for signs of Voldemort. Harry saw masks of determination covering the faces of the Alliance and the Order. Only Dumbledore looked calm, as though this was a formal gathering.
"How many more must die tonight, Potter?" asked a large Death Eater.
Fear struck Harry at these words as he remembered the look on Neville's face. He glanced at Hermione who glanced up at him and he could see the concern in her face. He felt his mind drift to the morning that Cho died and the anguish Hermione suffered.
"That is clearly up to you I'm afraid, Avery." replied Dumbledore.
"I'LL BE DAMNED IF I LET HIM OR HIS MASTER DECIDE!" roared Harry, feeling his magic explode at Dumbledore's words. "CONFRINGO!"
A jet of orange light exploded from the tip of Harry's wand; striking Avery directly in the stomach. Two Death Eaters retaliated; countering with jets of purple light. Hermione cast a shield charm to deflect the Death Eater's retaliation before everything broke down into chaos.
The Death Eaters quickly spread out, as did the mixture of Alliance and Order, firing curses and counter-curses. Harry kept Hermione close as he continued to lash out; forcing several Death Eaters to retreat back behind the fountain. Every time one Death Eater retreated, another would step up to intercept Harry; making it clear that he was the intended target. Hermione continued to cast counter-curses at the Death Eaters while Harry assaulted them with a series of hexes and curses.
Harry could see Seamus and Neville battling with two large Death Eaters while Dumbledore battled three Death Eaters into retreat to his left. In the far of the Atrium, he saw grates glowing green again as more of Voldemort's forces joined the onslaught; including Lucius Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange.
"Don't let them flank!" shouted Sirius, spying the newcomers while battling a long-haired Death Eater.
"ALASTOR!" shouted Dumbledore. "DO NOT ALLOW THEM TO ACCESS THE LIFTS!"
Dumbledore, Lupin and Mad-Eye fell back to protect the lifts, as it became clear where the second wave was headed, forming a combative stand against any Death Eater that approached. Everyone was battling; however the separation was clear as the Alliance battled with intent, using lethal force, while the Order only battled to contain. Harry mentally cursed Dumbledore as he watched him continue to use non-lethal spells against those that were continually trying to kill him. He could have taken down at least half a dozen by now, yet they continued to retreat, regroup and re-enter the fight.
"BOMBARDA!" shouted Hermione, destroying a large table that was flying their direction.
Immediately following the table was a large statue of a wizard; hurtling through the air in their direction. Harry held up his hand and focused upon the statue, causing the stone wizard to halt in mid-air before hurtling back from where it came. He heard a woman scream then begin to laugh devilishly.
"Little Potter and his Mudblood pet are gett-ing bet-ter." sang the manic voice of Bellatrix as she danced into view.
"I'll give you something to sing about, bitch!" growled Neville, running into view. "CRUCIO!"
The spell missed a diving Bellatrix who laughed even louder in surprise. Harry was startled by Neville's sudden aggression.
"Ickle Longbottom!" shouted Bellatrix above the chaos. "Saw your mummy today! She sends her love!"
As though a well of understanding had overflowed inside his mind, Harry suddenly understood what Bellatrix was on about and rage flooded his soul.
"CONFRINGO!" shouted Harry, pointing his wand at rafters above Bellatrix.
As the rubble fell from the ceiling, Hermione shouted, "Ardebita!" while Neville once again shouted, "CRUCIO!"
Bellatrix was too focused on the falling rubble to block Hermione's burning curse or Neville's Cruciatus curse. She dodged the falling rubble but screamed in pain as the combined curses found their mark. Two Death Eaters rushed to Bellatrix's aide; however Harry, joined by Seamus, began duelling her two masked accomplices.
The sound of a lift rising to the Atrium nearly cost Harry as he glanced to see what was happening. The Death Eater in which he was duelling missed Harry by inches with a jet of purple light. Harry returned his attention to the task at hand, finally besting his opponent with a blasting hex to his right leg; sending the Death Eater falling to the floor in pain. Seamus seemed to be edging closer to his opponent with every dodge, duck and dive; and Harry knew why. His Death Eater was too skilled at duelling for Seamus, so Seamus was going to show his own skills if he could. As soon as he was close enough, Seamus swept the wizard's leg before knocking his wand away then clubbing the fallen Death Eater under the chin with his fist.
"GET BACK TO YOUR POST AT ONCE!" shouted Dumbledore, somewhere behind Harry.
Harry spun to see Mrs Weasley standing behind Dumbledore. She had been the one in the lift that had just rattled to a halt. He watched as Dumbledore scolded her for coming up then returned his focus to the fight and defending the lifts. The next moment, Harry felt as though his mind was spinning in circles; for what he saw deafened all noise about him. He watched as Mrs Weasley mouthed unheard above the chaos, "Forgive me", as she plunged a silver knife into the side of Albus Dumbledore.
Dumbledore buckled at once, falling to his knees in pain; his wand clattering to the floor. Harry sprinted across the Atrium to where Dumbledore knelt; Hermione running right behind him. Mad-Eye instinctively blasted Mrs Weasley off her feet and into one of the lifts. Harry could hear Mr Weasley shout as he ran to the scene. Was it his imagination, or had the fighting suddenly ceased.
Harry looked around to see that all the Death Eaters had fallen back; casting shield charms but nothing more. Only Bellatrix remained behind, still lying at Neville's feet.
"Harry." said Dumbledore, as he sighed painfully.
"I HAD NO CHOICE ALASTOR!" sobbed Mrs Weasley, Mad-Eye's wand pointed into her chest. "PLEASE FORGIVE ME ARTHUR!"
Harry saw Mr Weasley shove Moody backwards from Mrs Weasley, before pointing his own wand at her.
"Harry, listen to me." said Dumbledore weakly. "I need you to –"
"He's coming, Dumbledore!" interrupted Harry, staring into the old wizard's face and feeling the anxiety in his chest reaching breaking points.
It had just set in as to why the Death Eater's would fall back.
"No Harry," replied Dumbledore softly "he's here."
Harry spun around to face the middle of the Atrium as a dark cloud formed; surrounding the fountain. Suddenly, the floor shook as Lord Voldemort appeared; perched upon the ledge of the fountain.
"Hello, Harry Potter." said the high cold voice from his nightmares.
Harry pushed himself to his feet as the Alliance, including Neville, regrouped beside him to face the darkest wizard of all-time; Hermione's breathing sharp as she steadied herself beside Harry. Bellatrix slowly pushed herself to her feet before stumbling backwards to stand behind the fountain where her master now sat perched like some dark beast preparing to strike. Only the one called Avery remained; lying dead at the foot of the fountain where Harry had struck him down.
Dumbledore groaned behind Harry, unable to stand, and he clearly heard Lupin whisper, "Poisoned tip."
"Hello, Riddle." said Harry, sounding braver than he felt. "We meet again so soon."
Harry glanced to see every wand tip around him pointed at Voldemort, yet Lord Voldemort hadn't even withdrawn his wand.
"Do you believe the few that have fallen to your – Alliance – tonight will have any effect upon my plans?" asked Voldemort mockingly. "Do you believe that rescuing the Mudblood's parents will change anything? Has Albus Dumbledore convinced you that you can actually defeat me? As you have witnessed, my followers are everywhere and can reach anyone."
Mrs Weasley wailed in sorrow from the lift, causing Bill and the twins to visibly flinch.
"You cannot win, Voldemort." retorted Harry. "I have heard the prophecy and the graveyard was no fluke. You and all that follow you will fall!"
"We shall see." muttered Voldemort; something resembling a smile curling his face.
Shouts and screams echoed through the Hogwarts hospital wing as Umbridge lay strapped to the bed nearest the window, yelling her head off. She pulled and tugged at her restraints; however it was no use. Without her wand she could not break free.
'They will all pay for this!' thought Umbridge savagely. 'My children need me!'
Two people talking rapidly caught Umbridge's attention and she stopped struggling so that she could listen.
"Severus, I do not believe that this is –" began Madam Pomphrey.
"Madam, this potion can help her and I intend to do so." snapped Professor Snape.
"What is the potion?" asked Madam Pomphrey.
"I really do not have the time or patience to explain." retorted Professor Snape.
"I am the matron of this school, Professor, and I will not have you giving my patients just any old potion." snapped Madam Pomphrey.
"I am the Potions Master, Madam." hissed Snape. "I know what I am doing!"
"And I am the matron of this hospital wing, Professor Snape!" retorted Madam Pomphrey. "Hand me the vile and –"
Red light illuminated the curtained dividing wall, as Madam Pomphrey hit the floor to the right of Umbridge's bed.
"Sorry Madam, but I just don't have the time to argue." sighed Snape as he stepped around the dividing wall and past the fallen matron.
Snape strode around to the side of Umbridge's bed; his eyes locked upon her face from between the curtains of greasy black hair.
"W-What do you want?" asked Umbridge shakily, glancing down at the unconscious form of Madam Pomphrey upon the floor.
"It's not what I want, Professor Umbridge." said Snape silkily. "It's what the Dark Lord wants."
Snape raised his wand and pointed it at Umbridge, who closed her eyes and prepared for the worse. She immediately felt a burning sensation across her chest, wrists and ankles. She opened her eyes to see that all her restraints were gone. Slowly, she sat up and stared at Professor Snape, unsure what to make of him or what he had said.
"What now?" asked Umbridge, rubbing her wrists.
"Now?" repeated Snape, smirking. "Now, Professor Umbridge, it's time to play."