“This is unbelievable. Now we’re going to be late for our Defense exam. I knew I shouldn’t have trusted you to find our way there!”
Teyla sighed. “Rodney, you cannot possibly have expected me to have known that Peeves had flooded the Grand Staircase.”
“Well, no, but the little terror floods corridors often enough that I’d have thought you knew more than one way to get from point A to point B!” Rodney shot back.
“Look, can we focus on getting there instead of arguing about whose fault it is that we’re lost?” Ronon suggested.
“We are not lost,” Rodney corrected quickly. “I am sure that once we get back to the main corridor, I will have no trouble reorienting myself to get us there.”
Teyla and Ronon just looked at each other, both sharing the same thought. Ravenclaws.
Rodney looked around for a moment. “Alright, we need to go…this way,” he declared, pointing to one end of the corridor and setting off at a brisk walk. When he realized that neither of his companions were following, he turned around and called, “Come on, let’s go! Chop-chop! We’re late enough as it is! Oh no, what if Professor Caldwell doesn’t let us take the exam because we’re late and we all get Ts?”
Teyla rolled her eyes. “I think the odds of that happening are extremely low, especially under the circumstances.”
Ronon nodded in agreement. “We’re probably not the only ones that got turned around.”
“Whatever, just…come on!” Rodney urged.
Ronon and Teyla shared a final glance between them before setting off to catch up with Rodney.
Rodney led them up two flights of stairs, across a corridor, then a left into another corridor, back down a flight of stairs, then a right and another left. When they rounded a final right into the Defense corridor, carnage greeted them.
Massive chunks of stone had been taken out of both walls, and bits of stone in varying sizes littered the floor, which also had a number of gouges in it. The ceiling, too, appeared to have been hit by spellfire. About halfway down the corridor, nearest the wall opposite the Defense classroom, Professor Caldwell lay flat on his back, staring up at the ceiling with unseeing eyes. At the far end of the corridor, just outside the classroom door, two students were similarly unresponsive: a girl lay on her side, curled into a fetal position, and a boy had fallen facedown behind her. Neither student was positioned such that any of the new arrivals could see their faces or House colors.
“Merlin’s beard…” Rodney muttered in disbelief.
Teyla unpinned her prefect badge from her uniform and placed the tip of her wand against its surface. “Emergency in the Defense corridor,” she spoke into it. “Professor Caldwell and two students have been attacked by forces unknown and require immediate medical assistance.”
A moment later, they heard Professor McGonagall’s Sonorus-amplified voice echoing through the halls. “All students, please proceed immediately to your common rooms and remain there until further notice. Prefects, please assist the lower years in finding their way.”
McGonagall’s voice came again, this time softer and emanating from Teyla’s prefect badge. “Miss Emmagan, please remain where you are. I will be there shortly to assist you in transporting Professor Caldwell and the injured students to the Hospital Wing.”
Amelia Bones was seated in her office at the Ministry going over case reports when a glowing silver tabby cat flew in her window. “Amelia,” it spoke with Professor McGonagall’s voice, “Professor Caldwell and two students have been attacked by an unknown assailant. We’ve yet to determine whether the attacker is still in the castle.”
It paused before continuing, “Despite Albus’ usual insistence on handling such matters in-house, I’m requesting Auror assistance. Anyone powerful enough to take down a former Gringotts curse-breaker poses a major threat to the students, and Albus, powerful as he is, can only be in one place at a time.”
When it finished speaking, the Patronus dissolved into nothingness.
Troubled, Bones rose from her chair and stepped out of her office into the Auror bullpen. After scanning the cubicles to see who was available, she set her jaw and made her way over to one of them.
“Senior Auror Hammond,” she said without preamble, “I’ve just received word from Hogwarts that two students and a professor have been attacked. Professor McGonagall suspects that their assailant may still be in the castle.”
Hammond stood from his desk and nodded. “I’ll check it out.”
“Take Auror Apprentice O’Neill with you,” Bones instructed. “It may be useful to have someone along who still knows the lay of the land there.”
Hammond nodded again. “Will do.”
Hammond and O’Neill apparated into Hogsmeade, landing just outside the Three Broomsticks, and began the trek up to the castle. When they arrived, they were met at the doors by a Gryffindor student wearing a badge that identified him as the Head Boy.
“Welcome to Hogwarts. I’m Cam Mitchell. Professor McGonagall and the headmaster are waiting for you in the Hospital Wing. If you’ll follow me.”
As the three of them approached the Hospital Wing, they heard loud voices coming from within.
“Minerva, I hardly think this was necessary—”
“Albus, whoever or whatever did this was a formidable enough opponent to kill a former Gringotts curse-breaker! You cannot be everywhere at once! Who knows where this threat might appear next?”
“The students will be safe in their dormitories—”
As Cam opened the door to the Hospital Wing to allow the two Aurors to enter, they saw Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Snape standing in Madam Pomfrey’s office arguing.
“As much as I’m loath to admit, she has a point,” Snape interrupted Dumbledore. “Clearly this mysterious attacker does not fear retribution if they made their attack in broad daylight.”
Hammond rapped on the doorjamb and cleared his throat loudly to get their attention. Once they stopped arguing, he said, “I’m Senior Auror George Hammond. I’ll be in charge of this investigation. This, as I’m sure you’ll recall, is Auror Apprentice Jack O’Neill, who will be assisting me. I expect all of you to show him the same courtesy you would me.”
“It’s good to see you again, Mister O’Neill,” McGonagall told him, “although I wish it were under better circumstances.”
“It’s nice to be back,” O’Neill agreed, “although I would appreciate being addressed by my proper title, Professor.”
Dumbledore regarded the two Aurors silently, his eyes lacking their usual twinkle. O’Neill glanced at Snape and gave his former Head of House a curt nod of greeting.
“What is the current status of the victims?” Hammond asked.
“Professor Caldwell is dead,” McGonagall reported. “Poppy is still working on the two students. We’ll know more when she finishes.”
“Any witnesses other than the vics?” O’Neill asked.
“None that saw the attack,” McGonagall replied.
O’Neill nodded. “Alright, who discovered them?”
“Three students: Rodney McKay, Ronon Dex, and Teyla Emmagan. It was Miss Emmagan who informed me of the situation via the Communication Charm on her prefect badge.”
As she said this, she pointed to where the three of them sat in the main part of the Hospital Wing watching Pomfrey attend to their friends.
Hammond looked at O’Neill.
“Take their statements, got it,” O’Neill said, anticipating Hammond’s request.
Once O’Neill departed, Hammond turned his attention back to the three professors. “What do we know about our two student victims?”
“John Sheppard and Elizabeth Weir, both sixth-years,” McGonagall told him. “Miss Weir is a Slytherin; Mister Sheppard is one of mine.”
“Both purebloods, both from Grey-aligned families,” Snape added.
At that moment, O’Neill reentered the room holding a small vial. “Professor Dumbledore, could I bother you to allow us the use of the Hogwarts Pensieve?”
Hammond turned to look at him. “You got a memory of how they found the scene?”
“I’ll be needing that Pensieve, Dumbledore,” Hammond informed him.
“I’m afraid I can’t allow that,” Dumbledore replied. “I have some very personal memories stored in that Pensieve—”
“Then find somewhere else to store them for the two minutes we need to use it!” O’Neill said in frustration.
Hammond raised one eyebrow at O’Neill reprovingly. “I would not have put it so bluntly, but yes. You know very well that that Pensieve is the property of Hogwarts, Dumbledore. It is not your Pensieve.”
Dumbledore sighed in resignation. “Very well, but as headmaster, and therefore the person responsible for ensuring the continued safety of the students and staff, I must insist on being allowed to view the memory with you.”
“Of course,” Hammond replied. He motioned at the professors with his hand. “All three of you are welcome to join us.”
Pomfrey was waiting for them at the Hospital Wing entrance when they returned from Dumbledore’s office after viewing the memory.
“How are they, Poppy?” Dumbledore asked.
“Not good,” Pomfrey replied. “Miss Weir was hit with a Conjunctivitis Curse, and she also has several broken ribs, probably from a Bone-Breaking Curse given how clean the breaks were. The real problem is that she’s suffering from severe magical exhaustion.”
O’Neill’s brow furrowed. “How severe?”
“Severe enough that I’m not even going to attempt treatment of the injuries until her body at least partially recovers from the magical exhaustion,” Pomfrey told them. “It’ll probably be at least a few days before she’s awake.”
“What about Mister Sheppard?” McGonagall asked.
“Also suffering from magical exhaustion, even worse than Miss Weir,” Pomfrey reported. “No other injuries that I could detect.”
“Do we have a cause of death for Professor Caldwell?” O’Neill asked.
Pomfrey frowned. “Now, I’m no expert in postmortem diagnoses, but the initial indication would appear to be cardiac arrest.”
The six of them stepped back into Pomfrey’s office. “Thoughts, Jack?” Hammond asked after closing the door behind them.
“Based on the positioning of the bodies, I would say Sheppard and Weir entered the corridor from the end opposite the door to the classroom, and the assailant snuck up on them from behind before they realized what was happening,” Jack theorized. “Caldwell was in the classroom, saw them go down, and went out into the corridor to investigate, where he engaged the assailant in a duel and was eventually defeated.”
Hammond nodded. “Based solely on what we saw in the memory, I would tend to agree, but according to Madam Pomfrey, Sheppard and Weir both show signs of magical exhaustion.”
“Which would be inconsistent with the theory that they were caught unawares and went down without a fight,” O’Neill finished. “Is there a spell whose effects would mimic magical exhaustion?”
“I suppose there’s an outside chance a large number of Weakening Hexes in rapid succession could potentially do the trick,” Hammond replied, “but given that Sheppard and Weir are both taking NEWT-level Defense, I think it’s highly unlikely that would be the case in this instance.”
O’Neill nodded. Addressing Dumbledore, he asked, “Are we absolutely certain it was Peeves who was responsible for flooding the Grand Staircase?”
“Peeves is taking credit for the flooding,” Dumbledore informed them. “I see no reason for him to lie about having done so.”
“In any case, it certainly would have provided the perfect distraction for the attacker to escape,” Hammond remarked. “We’ll need to check the ward logs to see if anyone left the grounds around that time.”
“That can certainly be arranged,” McGonagall said quickly before Dumbledore could object.
Hammond’s eyebrows pinched in thought. “Check their wands,” he ordered O’Neill. “On the off-chance this was a magical creature attack, their last spells could give us some indication what we might be up against.”
McGonagall produced three wands from inside her robes and held them out to O’Neill handle first. “Miss Weir, Mister Sheppard, and Professor Caldwell,” she told him, pointing to each wand as she named its owner.
O’Neill set the wands on Pomfrey’s desk before drawing his own. “We’ll start with Weir’s,” he told Hammond. Touching his wand tip to hers, he spoke in a clear voice, “Prior incantato!”
Shadows of the most recent spells Elizabeth’s wand had cast began to emerge from its tip. “Okay, most recent cast was a shield,” O’Neill announced, “before that, a Banishing Charm, and the one before that, a Knockback Jinx.”
“If the Banishing Charm missed, it could account for some of the damage to the corridor walls,” Hammond mused.
“Moving on to Sheppard’s wand,” O’Neill advised. He repeated the same process, but this time, his eyes grew large as the results began to come back. “Well, this is interesting. This is very interesting. The most recent spell cast from Sheppard’s wand was a Heart-Stopping Curse.”
Hammond looked at him in shock. “And the two before that?”
“A Blood-Boiling Curse…and a Coma-Inducing Spell,” O’Neill reported.
“You must be mistaken,” Dumbledore said, reaching for his own wand.
“Now, listen here, Dumbledore, I’ll not have you questioning the abilities of my Aurors,” Hammond told him sternly, his eyes warning of the consequences should Dumbledore attempt to interfere. Reluctantly, the headmaster’s hand withdrew from his robes empty. Turning back to O’Neill, Hammond instructed, “Check Caldwell’s wand.”
“Prior incantato!” O’Neill intoned. The whole room was now on edge as they awaited the results. “His final spell was a shield…before that, a Bone-Breaking Curse…and before that, a Conjunctivitis Curse!”
Hammond’s jaw went slack. His eyes narrowed, and he leaned in slightly as if to take a closer look at the wands. Then his gaze flitted over to meet O’Neill’s. “Your conclusion, Auror Apprentice?”
O’Neill looked down at the three wands lying on the desk, then back up at Hammond. When he spoke, his voice was a mixture of confusion, disbelief, and uncertainty. “They were fighting each other?”