“Any other time, and this would be beautiful,” said Hermione. The two of us sat on a blanket, our shoulders touching as we looked out. I could hear the snores of those sleeping behind us, the whispered conversations of the others who were awake, and the weight from the eyes which looked in my direction, expecting me to do the impossible.
There were thirty-five of us, the entirety of our class, and we’d spread out in a tight glade surrounded by tall, snow covered trees. We’d surrounded ourselves with cobbled together protective enchantments, a shimmering membrane that kept back the chill and melted snow the moment it passed through. Beyond the trees were tall mountain peaks, curling around us on all sides.
“Yeah,” I said with a sigh. I looked to the side. People were in sleeping-bags, huddled in cliques of friend groups and houses. Ron was closest to us and beside him was Lavender, they weren’t in one sleeping bag, but they were so close it was clear they were a couple.
A night had passed and still we were here, without explanation.
My stomach grumbled and Hermione pulled a bit away, giving me a look.
“I get it,” she said. “I’m hungry too.”
“We’re going to have to do something about that,” I said. “Get food.”
“If only it was as simple as just conjuring something,” Hermione muttered. “Then having magic would be useful.”
“Can’t we just use the Summoning Charm?” I asked.
“I mean, if there’s food around, then maybe we’ll be able to summon it,” said Hermione. “But it feels like we’re aren’t anywhere near civilisation. And the Summoning Charm doesn’t work on living things.”
“Then hunting,” I said.
“Do you have the first idea how?” she asked.
I shook my head. “But someone might,” I said.
I looked back. There were people with puffy eyes and others who looked at the brink of tears. Everyone thought this was Voldemort and I couldn’t blame them. This was how things were, nowadays, people just disappeared, being found dead sometimes, while just disappearing most of the time.
“They need a leader,” Hermione whispered. A strong wind whistled through the trees and in the distance, I heard the caw of a bird. I shoved my hands in my pocket, found that didn’t help and pulled them out again, letting them dangle.
“I’m no leader,” I said.
“You’re the only one we have right now,” she said. “You’re the one who’s used to dealing with stuff like this.”
“And I’ve always had you and Ron,” I said. “If anything I wouldn’t have been able to do it without you.”
Hermione gave me a look. “We’ve had this conversation before, you know,” she said. “Before starting Dumbledore’s Army. I won.”
I gave her a small smile. I sighed and pulled away, standing and brushing away the more persistent snow off my clothes. Everyone who was awake looked at me and I saw the hope in their eyes. My eyes passed over each, lingering on Malfoy and his retinue because I still didn’t trust that this wasn’t him and then moving past. Those who were awake started waking those still asleep. It was a ripple, slow moving, stilted because some people needed a few seconds to get their bearings. I waited.
“Okay,” I said. I swallowed, feeling nervous beside myself. “We survived the night. Nothing happened. Voldemort didn’t attack.”
The word, the name, sent a ripple of fear through everyone. They were awake now, paying attention.
“Everything I know about Voldemort says he would have attacked when we first got here if it was him,” I continued. “If it wasn’t him directly, then it would be through his Death Eaters.”
“Then what is this?” Susan Bones asked.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Why did it happen?” Terry Boot asked.
I shook my head. “I don’t know.”
“Is this because of you?” Terry continued. “Because he wants to kill you? Are we going to die like Cedric Diggory?”
The words were a punch to the gut. It had been my fault he’d died, hadn’t it? Voldemort had been trying to get to me and Cedric had been caught in the middle of all of it. Was it the same thing here?
“Lay off it,” Ron said, getting to his feet. He was taller than me, gangly and not at all imposing with his pale face and pink cheeks. “This isn’t Harry. If it’s You-Know-Who, then it’s him and not Harry you should be blaming.”
“What do we do now?” Susan asked.
“First, is get food,” I said. “We haven’t eaten since afternoon last night. We can conjure water, but Hermione tells me we can’t make food with magic. I was thinking we make a hunting party or something, or we go out looking for berries?”
Neville raised his hand.
“You really don’t have to raise your hand,” I said.
“Just…” said Neville. “Just that maybe we shouldn’t split up. Even if we aren’t as powerful adult wizards, we’ll still fight them better if we’re a group, y’know?”
“That’s if the Slytherins don’t curse us in the back,” Kevin Entwhistle muttered.
“Don’ need to curse you in the back when I can just sock you,” Crabbe returned.
I reached into my pocket for my wand, a frown on my face as I watched him, watched all of them. Malfoy was working on something for Voldemort, I still didn’t know what but it was worth worrying about. He’d been keeping quiet since all of this happened, not as smug as I thought he’d be from successfully pulling off his plan. But I still felt like he’d try something.
“Let’s not fight,” said Daphne Greengrass. “Please. If we hurt each other. Then…none of us are healers and we’ll be stuck like that.”
“She makes a good point,” said Hermione, her voice just as shaky as Daphne’s. I turned and with the corner of my caught that wands were already out, expressions a mix of scared and angry. My and Hermione’s eyes met and here expression was almost pleading.
I swallowed and pushed everything down. This didn’t feel like Voldemort, but I might be wrong and if I was wrong, then the person who’d know was Malfoy. But if this wasn’t Voldemort and I burned bridges…
“Wands away,” I said, resentment layering my tone. “We shouldn’t fight. This is affecting all of us and if we fight amongst ourselves, we won’t be able to figure out whatever this is.”
People were still scared, still angry, but at least they listened.
“Does anyone have any ideas how we’ll get food?” I asked. “How we’ll hunt and if there are any spells we might use?”
“I have paper,” said Hermione. When this had happened, she’d been walking to the library, ready to do her homework and her rucksack and a few books had been brought with her. “We can make a list, sort out our ideas.”
The process was slow, with a lot of people deciding to take the backseat. First, we started with detailing the spells we were proficient in, spells that might be able to help, then it was figuring out a general path we’d take things.
“Hunting is the smarter option,” said Zacharias Smith. “Looking for edible plants, especially in this weather, will be hard. But if we aren’t splitting up, then even hunting will be harder.”
“We can use Quieting Charms to make sure animals can’t hear us,” said Padma Patil.
“But they’ll still be able to see and smell us,” said Zacharias. “Unless you guys know spells that’ll stop that?”
“There’s the Disillusionment Charm,” said Hermione. “But I’ve only skimmed the theory on how to enchant something that’ll be moving. I’ve never practised. I have nothing on smell, though.”
“The smart thing to do would be to split up into smaller parties,” said Zacharias. “Maybe groups of three or four people? Spread out to cover the most ground.”
“Don’t know about the rest of you,” said Ron. “But I’m with Neville on this one and I think splitting up is a bad idea.”
“And it’ll mean we can watch them,” said Kevin, his head titling to the Slytherins. “Right now, they’re hostages much as—”
Hermione shot me a look.
“Cut it,” I said to Kevin. “Can we split up? But spread out so that we can quickly regroup? Maybe a line or something?”
“It’s better than all of us walking in a big group,” said Zacharias. “And there’s a better chance of us specifically bumping into something.”
“I also think we should look for a river,” said Su Li. When we looked at her, she shrugged. “We won’t have to go looking for fish. We’ll know that they’re always in the river.”
“That is smart,” said Zacharias.
“Okay,” I said, raising my voice so the others are periphery could hear. “We have something of a plan.”
We split apart into eleven groups, with nine having three people while the remaining three had four people. The breaks had been amongst friend groups, which meant the Slytherins had bunched together, with Malfoy pairing with Crabbe and Goyle, but there wasn’t anything I could say without seeming unfair and it was better to let it go.
The people that could enchanted clothes with Warming Charms to keep back the cold, Impervious Charm to make sure we wouldn’t get wet and the snow wouldn’t stick, and Quieting Charms so our padding through the snow was silent.
We stretched out in a long line, with each group able to see the groups at either side of it. The walk was slow, daunting because of the wind that still whipped past us, the snow that tried to stick only to slip off and the unceasing hiss of the wind as it passed between trees.
Hermione and Ron were at either of my sides but I couldn’t talk to them because of the Quieting Charm. I could only watch their expressions, Hermione’s eyes darting worriedly around, and Ron trying to put on a brave face even though he was terrified.
We walked for over thirty minutes before sound broke.
“Stop!” I heard and I took up the call for the others to stop. “Break!” came another and I passed it along.
“Finally,” Ron muttered, dispelling the charm around him. “Didn’t know how annoying a Quieting Charm was until now.”
“Yes,” Hermione said, seeming grateful for the chance to speak.
“How are you guys doing?” I asked.
“Still confused,” said Ron. “Are you sure this isn’t You-Know-Who?”
I shook my head. “With everything Dumbledore’s been teaching me about Voldemort, I feel like know him. This isn’t his style.”
“Not to mention that if this was him, then it would mean he bypassed the protective enchantments around Hogwarts,” said Hermione. “Which I find terrifying.”
“But what is this?” said Ron. “And why’d it happen to us?”
“Everything always happens to us,” I said. “It shouldn’t surprise you at this point.”
“You got it in one there, mate,” said Ron. He looked around. “Might as well take a toilet break while I’m at it. Keep an eye on me, would you?”
“Sure,” I said, while Hermione only blushed.
The break lasted a while longer before we set off again. Walking slow, our eyes peeled and keeping a watch both on the ground and in the air. The trees got thicker, making us lose sight of each other for a few seconds, but everyone kept in line. We walked in silence until the tree line cleared in the distance, opening into a large clearing covered in snow. The wind was more frenzied as it moved through the clearing, kicking up snow in a veritable snowstorm.
In the distance I spotted something, two somethings. One was humanoid, while the other was a quadruped. Both were big even with the distance and they were steadily getting bigger.
“Finite Incantatem,” I muttered with an errant wave, before I said, “Stop!” The call was taken up by the others. “Meet!” I added and after the repeat, those closest to us got closer.
“What is it?” said Hermione. “Do you see something?”
“Those blots in the distance,” I said.
“Don’t see anything, mate,” said Ron. I looked and they’d disappeared, an errant bit of snow hiding them.
“I saw something. A person and an animal. They’re big.”
“What’s going on?” said Neville as his group arrived. There others were coming back, but it was taking a while with the distance we’d put between us.
“Wait for the others,” I said, still looking towards the clearing. The wind eased and the figures became clear again. “There!” I said, almost excited.
“People,” said Seamus.
Now that I was looking, I saw more. There were the big figures, but around them were smaller figures, harder to see with the snow in the air.
“Giant?” I said.
“That’s a small giant if it is,” said Ron. “Even with the distance it should be bigger.”
“How do you know what giants look like?” said Sally-Anne Perks.
Ron went red. “It’s…complicated,” he said.
More people arrived.
“I need a count,” I said absently. “Is everyone here? Shout out names of the missing.”
No one was shouted and when I looked back, I noticed that Malfoy and his cronies were still there. They hung back their expressions worried. I looked forward again, looking at the figures. The largest figure had shifted, getting atop the large animal and they were moving faster in our direction.
“Okay!” I said, having to shout to push past the sound of the wind. “I’ve spotted people. One of them I think is a small giant. We don’t know yet if they’re friends or enemies, but they’re moving quickly in our direction.”
“Do we run!” I heard.
“No,” I cut off, as murmurs started and people pulled back. My eyes flickered to Malfoy and he seemed as scared as everyone else. “We put up protective enchantments—”
“But we can’t be sure that they’ll work,” a voice said in the crowd. “Any wizard will be able to push—”
“Stop!” I said. “Protective enchantments, now. If we have to fight, we’ll have to deal with that later, but right now we hide. Disillusionment Charms, Quieting Charms like before. Everyone that can set up a Shielding Charm and make it persist, join in. We’ll spread it out so that we can move in case we have to fight. Get moving now.”
There was none of the organisation from when we’d been protecting the glade. Everyone ran out as far as they were comfortable and started waving their wands while muttering spells under their breath. I joined in too, I was good with the Shielding Charm and I started putting that around, going further than the others. I could see the mess when I focused, the bits of shimmering air, the places were snow stuck as it was kept at bay by the Shielding Charms. I had to break those Shielding Charms and apply my own, ones that let the snow pass through without trouble.
The figure was closer by the time we finished, not headed directly for us but for the tree line. So much closer and I could see more detail. The mount was an elephant but larger, it had matted fur, covered over by snow and tusks as long as I was. The rider looked close to human. They were hairy, the same matted quality to their fur and a muscular look that made it hard to tell their gender. They had a heavy brow, large teeth, square teeth and peculiar blue eyes. It wasn’t shaped like Grawp, instead it had short legs and long, muscular arms, one of which carried a large log.
The elephant, a woolly mammoth my mind supplied, had the same peculiar blue eyes.
“That’s not a giant,” said Hermione. “It’s big, but it’s not a giant.”
“Then what is it?” I muttered. It was unneeded with the spells we had around, but my heart was beating fast and I felt hot even with my Warming Charm starting to fail.
The pair were a distance away, close to entering the tree line.
Hermione only shrugged. “Maybe an unknown magical creature?’
The mammoth and the giant didn’t slow as the reached the tree line, they ploughed through, strong enough that they levelled the trees in their way. There were more than a few squeaks and screams from the people in our ground. The giant and mammoth started to turn, awkward with the trees and their bulk, but still they did and they started heading for us.
Shielding Charms, when they were cast by someone with enough skill, could be passed through on one side, while still protecting from the other. I’d read about duels between experts in Charms, people who’d been able to call up a shield and fire off enchantments through their shield.
We weren’t as lucky. As much as I’d taught those in the DA how to cast Shielding Charms, it had been basic at best because I’d known the basic interpretation. Here, it meant that our shields were as much protection as they were a prison.
People screamed and scrambled back, doing their best to get away from the stampeding mammoth, but there was only so for they could go. People pushed past me, scrambling to move forward while also checking behind them. People tripped and I caught Morag MacDougal stepped over Trevor Boot to get as far away as possible.
“Impedimenta!” I said and the spell hit Anthony before he could do the same, giving Trevor enough time to get up and scramble back.
The sound of splitting wood reverberated, combining with the wind and the snow which fell in droves. In seconds since the pair had started bearing down on us, I’d taken the head of the group, the one who was the calmest as a beast larger than a train barrelled towards me.
“Protego!” I said and I called up another shield. I stepped back, moving towards the others. “Protego! Protego! Protego!”
I heard footsteps, then Ron’s voice, quickly followed by Hermione and Neville, then Susan Bones. Our shields were shoddy, making ripples through the air as they met and overlapped.
“Protego! Protego! Protego!”
The ground shook, the sound of wood louder and mounds of snow fell on our shields. A massive tree was levelled, falling against the first network of shields. There was a round of screams as fierce, red webs stretched out across, veins that got thicker as the tree settled.
The mammoth and its rider hit the first wave of shields and easily snapped through them. Its momentum slightly slowed as it crashed through the second set of shields then the third, the fourth until it had stopped at the fifth. The giant stood and leapt off, crashing through the last of our shields and landing in our midst.
It swung its club— “Wingardium Leviosa!”—and the club swung above our heads, the giant losing its grasp as Ron directed the club to swing up.
“Stupefy! Stupefy! Stupefy!” I added, stepping back and getting my distance. I wasn’t the only one, spells flew above my head, hitting the giant without damage, and to make things worse the mammoth was bearing down on us.
“Scatter!” I said, but things had already fallen apart. The Shielding Charms at our rear had been undone and people were running. There were people helping, attacking the giant and the mammoth, but there weren’t enough. There certainly weren’t thirty-five.
Shields flickered into and out of existence as the mammoth thrashed, swinging long tusks as it tried to gouge anyone it could. Dean, closest to the mammoth, fell and scrambled to get away.
“Confringo!” I heard and the spell, a bright orange, flew over heads and hit the mammoth in the face. The spell exploded and the mammoth was immediately engulfed by an expanding fire.
Seamus got close, pulling Dean to his feet while they were covered by shields.
The giant lunged forward, moving through a layer of shields. It swung an arm at me— “Protego!”—that was blocked by the shield. Ron dropped the giant’s club over its head and the thing stumbled forward, forcing me to jump to the side to get out of the way of its squat legs.
“Harry!” I heard.
There were ten of us fighting, with the rest having gotten their distance, firing when they could. The mammoth was still alive, thrashing at no one in particular; the fire had spread over its entire body and as it flailed, crashing into trees, the fire spread.
The giant had succeeded in grabbing its club out of the air and it swung it towards Ron.
He pulled up his wand, started a spell, but it didn’t conjure fast enough. The club met Ron’s side, sweeping him off his feet and sending him spiralling through the air.
I heard a scream and then screamed words.
“Bombarda! Bombarda! Bombarda!”
Three spells. The first hit the giant in its chest and it caved; another at the shoulder, taking out a chunk of dried flesh; and the last hit the side of the giant’s face, taking out part of its eye and exposing its brain. Even so, the giant didn’t care, it swung its club again, but the thing exploded before it could hit me, showering me in splinters.
“Incendio,” I heard and a stream of fire flew, hitting the giant in the chest. It stumbled back as the fire caught, quickly spreading up its torso and to its face, down its legs.
With its face gone, the giant flailed, no longer attacking with purpose.
I scrambled to my feet, backing away and taking the long way around, running in the direction Ron had been thrown. The mammoth had fallen, its body still burning.
I spotted Hermione and Lavender, kneeling on the ground and I ran close, my legs giving out as I neared. Ron was still alive but barely, his breathing short and laboured, his eyes wide and red. His right side had been caved in, his body twisted in how he’d landed.
Hermione was in tears, her wand moving and the words Episky being said over and over. I could hear the fixes, the ribs that snapped back into place but Ron wasn’t breathing any better. Lavender only cried, muttering no under her breath while she brushed Ron’s hair.
I scrambled up and followed Hermione’s lead.
“Episky,” I said over and over, but I wasn’t sure if the spell was working and Ron wasn’t looking any better.
“’Moine,” Ron muttered before his breathing stopped.
The world stopped.
Sound and colour died from the world.
My heart twisted as a hand clenched around my heart.
My mind stopped, tried to run and tripped, started again only to stop. Nothing made sense because this couldn’t be real and Ron couldn’t be dead in front of me.
My mind sputtered and then started, settling.
I stood, scanned and spotted them. Everyone was closer but they spread as I started forward. Malfoy must have spotted something because his wand came up at the same moment as my own.
The shield flickered into existence as my Disarming Charm flew true. The spell hit and rebounded, hitting Crabbe hard enough that he was flung off his feet.
“Harry!” I heard Neville say.
Goyle pulled up his wand, but my spell had already left my wand. A stunner flew and hit him in the chest, sending him tumbling back.
“Potter are you crazy!” Malfoy said, as three stunners hit his shield. He was forced to jump to the side, crashing into Pansy who’d gotten too close. “Potter calm down.”
“You did this!” I said. “Did you think I didn’t notice! You skulking around! Trying to get Voldemort into Hogwarts. What you did to Katy!”
“I have no—Protego!”
My Disarming Jinx was absorbed by his shield.
“Don’t lie to me!” I said.
Malfoy stopped, looking around. Crabbe didn’t have his wand and Goyle was unconscious. The other Slytherin weren’t helping, keeping their distance. The others were either watching or had their wands out and mean expressions.
“You almost killed Katy!” I said. “You’ve been trying to kill Dumbledore!”
Malfoy’s expression flickered.
“Tell me the truth! Or I’ll curse it out of you.”
Malfoy went pale, his eyes red. He looked around and he clamped up, sneered.
“Crucio.” The spell landed and Malfoy dropped, his body seizing before it writhed. A short scream escaped him.
“Expelliarmus!” I stumbled forward and my wand was wrenched from my hand. I turned around, my expression twisted in a snarl and I found Neville bearing down on me, his expression defiant.
I swallowed, looked around, looked at the shocked expressions and I walked away, going back to Ron. I knelt beside Hermione who still muttered under her breath, ineffectually. I took her hand and stopped her.
She shook her head and then broke into tears.
“We’re going to have to bury him,” I said, the words a whisper.
Hermione’s eyes were puffy. Leanne Moon was on the other side of Ron’s body, hugging Lavender who was still sobbing.
Hermione shook her head. “They were Inferi,” she said, her voice without inflection. “It’s the reason they weren’t reacting to the spells.”
“You think this is Voldemort?” I said.
“I don’t know what this is,” she said. “But…I’m scared that if we bury Ron, they’ll turn him into that. I’m going to transfigure him, keep him close. But I don’t think I’ll have the skill to undo it properly.”
She looked at me, almost for permission.
“Do it,” I said.
“Do what?” said Lavender, a sob in her voice. “Defile his body?”
“Lavender,” Leanne said.
“I’ll be keeping his body safe so he isn’t turned into that, you bimbo,” Hermione said.
“Bimbo?” Lavender said. “You always were jealous of our love. You wanted him—”
Hermione raised her wand hand and I pulled it down before she could do anything she’d regret.
“We’ve known Ron the longest,” I said. “We’re his best-friends. We know what he’d like.” Lavender swallowed, still shocked by the outburst. “Do it, Hermione.”
“Harry,” said Neville. I looked up. He handed me my wand and he was flanked at either side by Seamus and Dean. He handed it over. “We’re going to have to move soon. The people are getting closer. Su did a count and she lost her place at seventy, there might be more than that.”
I nodded, taking my wand.
“Malfoy?” I said.
“He’s with the Slytherins,” said Seamus. “We took his wand. Crabbe and Goyle too, just to be safe.”
I nodded again, feeling weightless. Things still didn’t make sense. It felt so eerily similar to Sirius and how he’d been pushed through the archway. How it felt that he was just on the other side waiting to jump up. But as I looked at Ron’s body, watching as it shrunk, reality seemed to settle.
The fire had been put out before it could spread. The giant and the mammoth were all but husks now.
“We’ll wait for Hermione to get done before we leave,” said Neville. “Maybe keep your distance from the Slytherins?”
Hermione turned Ron into a necklace that she put around her neck. She gave me Ron’s wand which I put it in my pocket. As a group we started walking, parallel the tree line. We kept glancing back as we watched the people disappearing into the distance.
We’d started moving in the early morning and we were still walking by afternoon, stomach grumbling and the only water we had, the water we could conjure. We rested for an hour and started moving again without any real direction until we came by a thin stream.
I watched listlessly as the others spoke, got a plan together and started conjuring nets. They broke some of the ice and lined the net along the stream. Others started putting up protective enchantments, taking more care than the hobbled mess that had gotten Ron killed.
It was an hour before the first few fish were caught, but thankfully, the stream and the warmth attracted a few animals. Pansy Parkinson managed to stun a deer and they made a messy job of skinning it before it was cooked.
We ate strips of meat, dry from the fire and dull from not having salt, but none of us complained.
“…we’re going to have to switch watch,” I heard the others speaking. “If those things find us, then we’ll need warning.”
“I know the Caterwauling Charm,” said Megan Jones. “But it’s finicky. A bird or an animal might set it off.”
“Better we just have people watch,” said Susan Bones. “That way they don’t know that we know.”
“And the charm might draw them close,” said Neville. They shared nods. “What are we going to do about Draco Malfoy?”
“What can we do?” said Susan Bones. They paused, no doubt looking at me and Hermione, huddled beside the stream on separate sleeping bags. “Do you think Harry’s right?”
“Don’t know,” said Neville. “Harry’s dealt with a lot. He’s…he’s used to stuff like this, but you can’t be used to people dying.”
Hermione broke into a sob and they stopped talking.
I took her hand, closing it tight against mine. She squeezed back.
I couldn’t sleep, my dreams blended together in a mess that saw me trying and failing to save Ron, Sirius and Cedric. The giant was front and centre, but it turned into Voldemort who looked down with glowing red eyes, bearing down on me.
“Harry Potter,” Voldemort hissed and my scar flared.
I shot awake, the sound of trickling water filling the air. I looked around; someone must have conjured balls of light at some point because they bobbed in the air. I looked around, spotting three groups of two keeping watch at various spots around the perimeter.
I looked for someone I knew personally, but there were none. I chose to stay back, finding a tree away from everyone else before getting back. There were remnants of fire in the middle and a cauldron was struck by a series of sticks over the fire.
Magic could be temperamental at the best of times. Very likely they’d thought it better to not enchant and already conjured object.
One of the people from the groups stood after talking to their friends, then they walked over to me.
“Hey, Harry,” said Michael Corner, giving me a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. I only nodded. “Sorry about what happened to Weasley. I know he was your best-mate—”
“What time is it, do you know?”
“Um…” He shrugged. “We’re the third watch,” he said. “Parvati transfigured an hourglass with two-hour sand and we started watch around sundown, so…around midnight?”
“Did anything happen while I was asleep?”
He shook his head. “Neville and the others kept things good. There was a fight between Kevin and Theodore, but that ended quickly. Both of them don’t have their wands until they learn how to behave.”
I nodded again. I really didn’t know why I’d wanted to know. Maybe I’d wanted anything to do, but the information didn’t really help.
“What’s the plan?” I asked. “What did you guys decide on?”
“That we’ll move along the creek,” he said. “We’re bound to run into anyone, right? Hopefully it’s the good guys instead of whoever set those Inferi after us.”
“Yeah,” I said and sighed. The image of Ron ran through my mind, the club swinging through the air, catching him at the side and throwing him up. “Thanks.”
I turned back to where I’d been and found Hermione sobbing again, her hand closed tightly against Ron. I sat beside her and she sniffled, trying to regain composure.
Time passed and people shifted, guards switching. I felt the eyes on me and didn’t look back, only keeping an eye on the stream, watching the net that had been put up as it wriggled with caught fish.
“Hey! Hey guys!”
My heart jumped to my throat, beating heavily. My wand found my hand before I found my feet. Hermione scrambled to get up, her own wand out and held shakily in hand.
Others were getting up, looking in the direction of the should.
It was Millicent Bulstrode with Pansy Parkinson at her side, both standing back from the edge of the enchantments.
Beyond stood a being: Twice at tall as the tallest amongst us, yet no so large as the giant; they were gaunt, sharp cheeks that would have been beautiful had they not been so other. The being had skin as pale as snow and hair that was paler still; they wore mirror like armour which bled into the surroundings, akin to a Bedazzling Jinx. In their right hand, they lazily held a sword twice the length of their arm.
But the eyes were what sent shivers up my spine.
They were as blue as those of the giant and the mammoth, but these had intellect behind them. The blue eyes, shining like fire in the darkness, moved past us, stopping to take us in.
“I thought we were Disillusioned,” someone muttered.
“We are,” was the return, but the being still found way to look through the charm to take us in individually.
Slowly, they brought up their sword, running it through the air over the shield. We watched as the shield strained, the sword, made of solid ice, was so sharp that it left a vivid mark against the shield. With each second the mark grew, becoming spidery webs that slowly spread across the surface of our enchantments.
“Give me my wand, Neville!” I heard Kevin say. “Give it to me now!”
Neville moved quickly, pulling out wands and throwing them. To Kevin, to Theodore Nott, and to Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle. People moved back, a tide that took them close to the stream, further away from the border of the enchantments.
“Do you know what that is?” I asked Hermione. People moved closer to us as a result and sometimes it was hard to see the being.
Hermione shook her head. “It’s not a being I’ve ever seen,” she said, her voice reedy. “It looks close to a Veela, but it reminds me a lot of mythological faeries.”
“It’s got the same eyes as…” My voice broke.
“Yes,” said Hermione.
“Depulso!” I said with a flick. The Ice Faerie’s sword was ripped out of its grasp, sent spinning head over heel into the trees beyond. The Ice Faerie looked at their hand, then back at us before it turned and tromped away, the sound of ice cracking, filling the air.
“Okay!” said Neville. “We’ve gotta decide now. Do we stand and fight whatever that was, or do we run?”
“We’re not even sure if it’s alone,” a voice said. “It could have brought the others.”
“And how could it see us through the Disillusionment Charms?” another said.
“We’ve gotta run,” I heard. “Before it comes back. We don’t know what that is. We don’t know the magic it has.”
“But where will we run?”
Quickly things descended into chaos, all while the spidery web continued to grow across our shields, getting thicker where the damage pooled, the red of the webs getting brighter.
A lot of you ran when you could have fought, the thought flickered through my mind. It was seductive, the thought of watching them dealing with all of this on their own, just watching them get hurt like Ron had gotten hurt.
“The weather’s getting worse,” Hermione said.
I looked up and beyond the shield more wind was blowing in, pushing in a thick tide of snow that melted before it could pass into our sanctuary. Our shield kept the wind at bay, but I could see as the spidery red lines got worse, spreading out faster.
“Shields won’t hold,” I muttered and Hermione nodded.
“Guys!” a voice said. “The shields!”
That stopped the chatter. Everyone looked up.
“We have to burn the forest,” I heard Seamus say. “These are Inferi, right? They burn quickly. So we have to burn the forest to keep them cover our back, then we run.”
A section of shield sputtered out and with it our defence against the cold. Wind and snow flooded in, spreading through our sanctuary and lowering visibility. I caught sight of a dark form moving at a run, its blue eyes piercing the darkness.
“Trouble!” I said, even though a dark part of me wanted to stay quiet, for them to deal with it instead of having the option to run.
The others took up the call and shields were raised. Others moved to the back, slipping as they crossed the stream. I caught sight of Anthony Goldstein waving his wand and undoing the rear of our shield. Wind found another point of entry and it became harder still to see.
I heard heavy foot falls, the sound of metal against metal then a spurt of light before fire bloomed. The Inferius thrashed, its arms flailing all while getting closer to us. A spell knocked the thing off its feet and it struggled to get up.
More beacons of blue eyes appeared, but they hadn’t had the luck of the first Inferius. Our shield burst with life as they hit, exacerbating the spidery cracks.
I took Hermione’s hand and turned with the runners, pulling her so we could cross the stream. Get away.
I was supposed to be brave, to be a Gryffindor. But I’d already lost so many people that the thought of losing Hermione wasn’t something I wanted to even consider.
Hermione kept me from bashing into the slippering rocks as I suddenly pitched forward. We continued, looking back when flashes of light sparked. The others were shouting, spells cutting through the air, eliciting bangs or cracks as they met their marks.
Hermione and I reached the rear where the shield had been undone and we stepped through, running into a thick snowstorm.
Everyone became dark forms. Some were friends, the light of their wands giving them off, while others were foe, with their blue eyes giving them away.
The tree ahead of us burst into flames, the detonation coming with a flash of light and a wave of snow. Hermione disentangled her hand from me and said a spell, making the fire bigger, hotter and brighter. Gobs of the fire fell from the tree like water, quickly melting snow and setting the ground below alight.
Some of the gobs caught three Inferi that had been running towards us, rusted swords drawn.
We changed direction, running away from the fire and making sure that we weren’t headed back to the others. A form appeared, crashing into me so hard we both fell. I had my wand ready, but I spotted a shot of blonde hair, then the form quickly getting to their feet and bolting.
“Hermione!” I said. In the darkness she’d missed my fall and continued running.
I turned in the direction, spotted blooms of fire and writhing forms.
“Incendio,” I said and an Inferius, tall and broad, almost entirely bone, and carrying a large sword, bared down on Hermione. The spell hit and the Inferius burst into flame, losing all composure.
“Seamus! Seamus!” I heard Dean’s voice. “Seamus where are you! Sea—”
I caught up with Hermione, her hair a mess and tears at her eyes.
“Harry,” she said, relief palpable.
“We have to run,” I said. “Get away.”
She nodded and we took off, moving slower than before, keeping an eye out. More fires appeared, beacons against the snowstorms. I caught flashes of light at times, but they weren’t as clustered. We’d been spread out, taken apart by enemies and what was worse I didn’t know how many we’d lost.
Hermione, though, was still close. I could see the darkness of her form, feel the warmth that ran off her from her Warming Charm and I could hear her heavy footsteps.
Another form appeared, darker and with no blue eyes. Even so our wands were pointed, preparing for the worse. Blaise Zabini resolved, his clothing ripped, his eye bruised and a limp visible in how he moved. He was breathing hard, the whites of his eyes visible even in the low light.
“Potter,” he said, incensed. “You ran.” There was accusation in the words and my mouth twisted. “You’re supposed to be brave but you ran.”
“I’m not losing more friends tonight,” I muttered.
“But you’ve lost people. Longbottom was hurt the last time I saw him. Thomas was cut in half—”
“And did you help them!” I asked. “Or did you expect me to do it? To save all of you? To put myself in danger while the rest of you cower?”
“I fought,” said Zabini.
“And I did too,” I muttered. “But I’m not putting my friends lives on the line for people that think about running first.”
“Harry,” Hermione said, taking my arm. There was no emotion in her voice. “Ron…He…he died helping people. He wouldn’t want us to run, not when our friends are hurting.”
I took a breath and then quickly let it out, almost slumping.
“Fine,” I muttered. “But stay close, okay?”
I looked around, the darkness was oppressive and the chill was starting to reach through our personal Warming Charms. I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me, couldn’t see where the others were. There was only darkness and the ever-expanding plumes of fire.
A spell flashed and I started to move. Hermione followed and I heard Zabini doing the same not a short while after.
On running back, there were more Inferi, carrying swords or wearing armour, but even with the protection they died quickly to fire. We quickly reached the combatant. Susan Bones stood over Ernie MacMillan and Sally-Anne Perks. The latter was still breathing, but the former was pale.
I caught the flicker, the eyes opening and revealing blue eyes. Ernie was behind Susan, who was looking at us, scouting instead of focusing on those behind her. She missed as he got up.
“Susan!” said Hermione, but I was already acting
“Petrificus Totalus!” I said as Ernie threw himself at Susan. The spell caught and the lunge was impeded, throwing him forward. He crashed into Susan, pitching both forward. Susan let out a short, desperate scream as she scrambled to push Ernie away.
“How?” said Zabini. “No spell was cast to wake him. Who’s doing this?”
“Hermione,” said Susan, desperate. “Do you know any healing spells? Sally was hit by a sword. I staunched the bleeding but she’s too pale.”
Hermione’s hand went to Ron, clutching the necklace. Her eyes watered as she shook her head.
“I’m sorry, I— We never had to learn them for classes and I didn’t think—”
“It’s not your fault, Hermione,” I said. I looked around. We were closer to the burning sections of trees now, but we were also closer to the thick of it. Every few seconds there would appear an Inferius, most of them were older, but a few times I spotted kids running through the darkness, younger and shorter than even us.
“Does any of you know how to enchant fire to move?” said Zabini. “Maybe in the form of an animal?” He was looking at Hermione as she said. “That way we wouldn’t have to fire the spells at them.”
Hermione shook her head, looking the worse for it.
I glared at Zabini and he cottoned on, stepping back.
Ernie was still on the ground, caught by my spell and Sally steadily got seconds closer to same fate.
“Petrificus Totalus,” I said and Sally seized.
“That the fuck, Harry?” said Susan. “You could have hurt her.”
“We can’t help her,” I whispered. She was unconscious but there was the chance she could still hear us, that I’d waked her up with the spell. “She’s going to die and she’ll be the same as Ernie.”
An explosion detonated in the distance, a gout of fire spearing up into the sky in a long column.
“Um…I want to try something,” Hermione said. “This storm, if it’s a spell or magic, then.” She took a breath and pointed up. “Finite Incantatem!”
Nothing happened. She visibly slumped.
“I thought it would work,” she said.
“That spell that Sirius cast,” I said. “The one to move people. Do you remember it?”
“Yes!” said Hermione and she caught on to what I meant. She pointed at Ernie and Sally, muttered and both rose into the air. “I won’t be able to use my wand while I’ve got the spell running. I could enchantment to follow behind us, but that’ll take a few minutes.”
“Confringo!” said Zabini. The spell hit a blue-eyed form, tearing chunks of armour and the fire catching their skin. They were immediately engulfed.
“More wands are better,” I said. “You do the enchantment and we’ll keep an eye out, hopefully whoever’s fighting is able to hold on.”
Hermione nodded and started working.
“The storm’s starting to clear up,” said Kevin. We were further back; hours had passed and we’d been forced backed by the spreading fires.
We’d only succeeded in finding Daphne Greengrass and Kevin Entwhistle and counting a few more dead bodies in our number. Hermione had tried to transfigure them into smaller shapes, but the magic that had turned them into Inferi resisted transfiguration. Sally had died and her eyes had turned blue, but thankfully the Fully-Body Bind held.
“The fires have gotten worse, too,” said Kevin. “Feels like the entire forest is burning.”
“So many dead,” Daphne whispered.
We’d counted seven people dead for sure, with the rest unknown: Michael Corner, Lisa Turpin, Mandy Brocklehurst, Pansy Parkinson Zacharias Smith, and Vincent Crabbe. Then there were stories, the glimpses that everyone had seen. Zabini mentioning Dean, Daphne had mentioned seeing Neville with a bloody face, and Lavender had been dragging Leanne Moon behind her.
“If there was anyone still here, they’ll have moved back,” Susan said. “We should go back to the stream, keep to the plan of finding people, a town or something.”
They weren’t talking to me directly, but they were talking at me, waiting for me to respond.
I couldn’t, my head felt like it wasn’t connected to my shoulders, giving everything a heady feel. A large part of me couldn’t shake the feeling that this might be a dream. So much had happened that didn’t make sense and it felt right to think that this all might be a dream.
But seeing Hermione’s broken expression grounded me a little.
If nothing else, then make sure that she survives.
“Yeah,” I said.
With that, we started moving. A slow trudge that had to go wide because the fires were still spreading, dark smoke rising, mixing with the snow and falling back down again as soot. Thankfully, the wind had started to die down and that meant no smoke moved in our direction.
We found the stream and it was wider, running faster. We moved slowly at its bank; wands held high to light our way forward.
At some point, the sun started to rise and that felt easier, like the threat could be kept at bay. But there were still the bodies, bound and floating behind us, and those were a sign of the reality of our situation.
“Break,” said Kevin and we stopped.
I transfigured a rock into a net, lined it along the river and we waited. We caught a few fish, messily gutted them, the skewered them over a fire.
“Let’s rest for a few hours,” said Susan. “Take turns keeping watch.”
“I’ll put up protective enchantments,” said Hermione.
“I’ll take first watch,” I said.