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Chapter 3: Sacrifice
"I'm afraid," McGonagall announced in the staff common room, "we may have to shut down again and send the students home." Her voice was shaking.
"You can't," Harry said without thinking.
There was a roar of comment. The headmistress raised her voice. "If our current security measures are inadequate to the task of protecting students from these curses, or even finding out who's casting them --"
"But that's exactly why --"
"Potter's right," Malfoy said suddenly. Harry's mouth dropped open. "Kitty, if this is a new threat, we need trained wizards. And if the Death Eaters are recruiting -- well, don't look so shocked, you know you were all thinking it -- if they're recruiting, we need to be doing the same."
"Lark Brown," Wood said pointedly, and McGonagall said, "Precisely. To expose children to these sorts of risks ..."
Malfoy smacked a stone-filled window with the palm of his hand -- a disgustingly theatrical gesture, Harry thought, though he had to admit that it captured everyone's attention.
"I thought Gryffindors understood sacrifice," he said, turning back to face the roomful of silent teachers. "Hogwarts or no Hogwarts, wizard children are going to learn something from someone. Right now they're out there untrained, unchanneled, with no positive influence. Children are going to be risked regardless. But if we're open, we can make the risk good for something."
McGonagall looked as though her throat hurt. After a moment, she said, "You make a good point, Draco. I believe I need to consult with Albus on this -- Friar, could you fetch him? We'll discuss it further tonight. Perhaps Miss Rolfe will regain consciousness by then and have more to tell us."
In the roar of discussion that followed, it was almost impossible to make out any conversation. Phoenix Skye was trying to get Summs and Malfoy to join her in a meditation for positive vibrations. Charlie and Sofia were whispering very quickly, finishing each other's sentences. A head in the fireplace -- no one Harry recognized -- was bellowing potion ingredients to Madeleine Aerie.
Only Hermione was silent in her armchair. Harry sat on a nearby footstool and looked at her, but she kept on staring blindly at the wall for several minutes. Then she looked right past Harry.
"Draco," she called, "who was the last person to sit in the Crabbe chair?"
"Crabbe himself, I should think," he said, leaving Phoenix behind with a sigh of relief. "All those little geese believe it was cursed. The older ones whispered it down to the newcomers at the Sorting feast."
He perched on the arm of Hermione's chair, and she looked up at him. "But he didn't really curse it, surely?"
"Do you know any way to put a seizure curse on a chair?" He looked from Hermione to Harry, and then to Remus, who had come up to stand beside Harry's footstool. When they were all silent, he nodded. "Thought not. And if you don't know, then you can be sure Vincent didn't know. He could scarcely spell his own name without help."
"You've always known how to choose your friends, Malfoy," Harry said tightly, ignoring Hermione's noise of protest. "What are Crabbe and Goyle doing now? Standing outside the walls casting curses on unsuspecting children?"
"Oh, I don't imagine Vincent would have that sort of courage," Malfoy said carelessly. "He'll be hiding in some safe place with what's left of the Death Eaters, I suppose, unless he's dead." He shifted back against the back of the chair and crossed one knee over the other. "As for Gregory," he added blandly, "I killed him."
Harry went cold with shock and anger. Was Malfoy not just annoying but dangerous? Could he be casting curses on students?
Beside him Remus made an impatient gesture. "Draco, that isn't funny," he said. "Harry's been gone a long time, and he hasn't had a chance to catch up yet."
Malfoy shrugged. "He ought to be able to handle unpleasant truths like a good Gryffindor."
"I already know all the unpleasant truths I care to know about you, thanks," Harry said through gritted teeth.
The Animaserum quieted Charlotte Rolfe enough that Sofia was able to release her from the Consopium, but as the afternoon wore on, her seizures started again, and Sofia once again spelled her into unconsciousness.
The staff huddled in the common room, talking in hushed voices. McGonagall and Dumbledore's ghost sat murmuring in a secluded corner, heads so close together that their foreheads appeared to intersect. Remus and Michelle Verte went off to take a turn watching over the students, and Penelope and Oliver came back staggering under the weight of several dozen library books with unsettling titles.
Harry wished there were windows to look out of while he was thinking. Lacking that, he stood for a long time gazing into a painting, watching a ship toss on a stormy sea, trying to imagine who had cast that curse, and how, and what could be done to stop someone from doing it again. He could feel the old feeling bearing down on him, the one he'd shed with so much difficulty in America -- because he didn't know what to do and they were all counting on him, their lives depended on him, and he was going to fail them all again, let them all down, let them all die, just like --
He felt movement beside him and started violently, but it was only Hermione. "Stop brooding, Harry," she said impatiently. "Here," she added, tugging him toward one of the sideboards, "they've brought up some cold chicken for supper. Eat, and then come and tell me what you know about casting a curse through a solid stone wall."
"Did you ever think," Harry said, as quietly as he could manage, "of the other possibilities? Honestly, Hermione, why are you looking outside the walls when there was a Dark wizard right there in the room?"
She sighed impatiently. "Harry, look over there." She nodded over at where Malfoy stood, talking very seriously with a group of teachers. Charlie was standing beside him, and McGonagall and Dumbledore's ghost were both listening and nodding as Malfoy waved one long-fingered hand toward the closed-up windows, the spell-guarded doors. "Would Minerva trust someone who was dangerous? Would Dumbledore?"
Harry looked from Malfoy back to Hermione. She had never been gullible, but ... "He's a Death Eater, Hermione," he said.
"He was a Death Eater," she said. "And then he was a spy, and then he was in the Wizard Protection Program, and now he's -- "
"-- very probably a traitor, and definitely a sneaky, lying, superior --"
Hermione looked at him sternly. "We don't have time for this, Harry," she said, sounding frighteningly like McGonagall. "Something is threatening the students, and us, too. And it is not Draco Malfoy. I know him, Harry. I was here."
Oh, that stung. It must have shown on his face, because to his shock, she leaned forward and took both his hands. "Oh, Harry." Her fingers were very warm. "We'll tell you everything, I promise -- as soon as there's time we'll tell you the whole story. But in the meantime -- well, I understand if you can't trust Draco just yet, but you're going to have to trust the rest of us."
Four-thirty in the morning, and Harry was wishing he'd just nodded off in the common room like Cypherus Summs, who'd been snoring away in a wing chair when Harry'd gone off to bed.
After so many nights in the converted motel that housed the Coven, he was finding it hard to breathe in a room with no windows. It was so dark that he could hardly tell the walls from the furniture, and so quiet, with Hedwig out for the night, that he could hear his own breathing echoing back off the half-closed bedcurtains.
He turned over, punching his pillow and wishing that he'd gone to Sofia for that sleep draught after all. If there were a window, he'd be facing it, and perhaps he could see the moon, or at least a bit of the grounds. Or a robed, masked Death Eater, wand in hand, prowling around, looking for a gap big enough to cast a curse through --
He turned over again, so quickly that he shook the bed. Breathed in, breathed out, closed his eyes and tried to picture ocean waves, the way Kat had taught him. Breathe in, breathe out, let it go, Har, let it go.
Wave. Wave. Wave. Breathe in. Breathe out.
The air was filled with an icy fog, though, not like Florida where it was warm even in winter, but cold as a Dementor's breath. And that roar wasn't the ocean at all but his own panting breath.
Or perhaps it was the fire, because Dumbledore had set Voldemort's body on fire, and the flames threw warmth on his face. Ron and Sirius were warm, too, where they held him up, and Snape's Animaserum was warm inside him, and Dumbledore's hand on his arm ought to have been warm too but it wasn't, somehow, and he was saying urgently, "You must go now, my boy. You have done your part and the task that remains is not for you," but how could they know Voldemort was dead, how could they be sure, it was absolutely vital for them to be sure ...
Harry sat up with a start, his own whimper waking him from the dream. He ran clammy hands over his face. "Lumos." His voice was shaky.
When his heart stopped racing, he got out of bed and lit every lamp and candle in the room.
When Harry returned to the common room, Summs was gone and McGonagall was sitting on a couch surrounded by books and empty teacups. If she hadn't had on a different robe, Harry would have been sure she'd spent the night there. "Morning," she said indistinctly as she rubbed her face.
"The girl --"
Breakfast was already laid out on the sideboards -- coffee as well as tea, Harry was relieved to note. As he was buttering a scone, the common room door opened and Hermione and Malfoy came in.
Hermione was already talking rapidly. "No, but it's odd, isn't it, that they'd choose a Slytherin? If it really is Death Eaters, you'd think --"
Malfoy was wearing dark green today, but Hermione was still in yesterday's robe. Harry didn't care for the implications of that; now was not the time for dalliances, even if it had been someone other than Malfoy. "What, they'd spare the old fellow's house out of some sort of old school loyalty?" he was saying to Hermione. "Or perhaps -- oh, raspberries." He descended upon the fruit, looking almost human.
Harry pushed aside some books to sit next to McGonagall. Hermione sat in a nearby armchair and stared at both of them. "Neither of you got a wink of sleep last night, did you?" She herself was looking rather weary.
"Maddie and I combed over every inch of the Great Hall," McGonagall said. "And then Albus and the ghosts combed it again. There is no gap in the walls or ceiling large enough to admit the slightest breath of air." She rubbed her eyes again.
Hermione was frowning, deep in thought. "How does a curse travel?"
"In a direct line, like a beam of light," Harry answered promptly. It was almost word-for-word from the sixth-year Defense Against the Dark Arts text. "It can bounce like light, or reflect like light --"
" -- but it can't disappear one place and appear another, and it can't cross a large body of water, and it can't curve," Hermione finished the quote. "And it can't pass through a solid stone wall," she added as Malfoy arrived with a plate piled high with raspberries. "I'm surprised you didn't just bring the serving bowl, Draco."
"House elves fastened it to the table somehow," he said, mouth full, and once again perched on the arm of her chair.
"They're wise to you." She held out her hand and he dropped three berries into it. Harry looked at McGonagall to see if she found the display as sickening as he did, but she was already turning the pages of a book again, rubbing her temple with her fingers.
Hermione spat raspberry seeds delicately into a napkin. "I still say we should at least consider the possibility that there might be an element of truth in the superstition about the Crabbe chair. That there might be something unusual about the chair itself."
"We did examine it very closely," McGonagall said.
"But not until after," Hermione said.
"Fine," Malfoy said. "I'll say it again, 'Mione -- do you know of any way to put a curse on a chair?" When she was silent, Malfoy looked around her. "Potter? Did your Yank mongrel magicians have some method for doing that?"
"Shut up, Malfoy," Harry said.
"Harry!" Hermione glared at him.
"Well, the answer is no," Harry said. "I could turn a chair into something else, or turn something else into a chair. Or ... make it fall apart when someone sat in it ..."
"Put one of those blasted Weasley cushions on it to make a rude noise when someone sat down ..." Malfoy said.
"Make there appear to be a chair where there really wasn't one ..." Hermione mused.
Harry blinked suddenly. "Well, I don't know how to do this myself, but there's a Dark method for putting something of yourself into an object." He swallowed. "Like Tom Riddle's diary."
There was a moment of silence. "We don't really believe that ... that Voldemort did this, do we?" Hermione said hesitantly.
"Voldemort is dead," Harry said flatly. "Believe me, I have it on very good authority that he's gone for good." He stopped himself from touching his scar. "Though I'm not convinced that he doesn't still have active supporters," he added.
Hermione ignored that. "This would have to be like enchanting an object to set off a spell when it was touched." She seemed to be thinking out loud. "Like a land mine."
"A land what?" McGonagall said, but Harry saw what Hermione was getting at and interrupted her.
"Headmistress -- tell me what happened to Lark Brown. Tell me exactly."
"I was waiting on the shore when Hagrid brought in the boat with the first-years," McGonagall said. "And she hardly even waited until the boat arrived on shore -- I remember thinking we'd all have our work cut out for us, keeping up with this one --" She blinked rapidly. "And before I could offer her a hand, she'd boosted herself over the edge of the boat and put her foot on the ground ..." She trailed off. "She put her foot on the ground and screamed --"
"As if the curse came from the ground itself," Hermione said.
Harry straightened up suddenly. "Remus told me that Sirius wasn't killed until he touched the entry doors with his cane."
"Yes," McGonagall murmured, almost to herself. "And Irma Pince was hit with a Lockjoint Curse at the moment when she first touched the door to the library."
"Professor Aerie couldn't stop vomiting for two days after she first tried to get into the old Potions classroom," Hermione pointed out.
"She isn't the only one," McGonagall said. "No one has been able to set foot in that wing since we re-took the castle. It seemed as though everyone was cursed, everyone who ventured down there after -- after Severus --" Her eyes flicked to Malfoy.
"After Professor Snape and my father killed one another there," Malfoy said flatly, and McGonagall's face tightened, but she nodded.
"Sofia has already knitted four broken bones," Hermione said after a moment.
Malfoy finished her thought: "-- which probably occurred the first time a student opened a dormitory door, didn't they." McGonagall nodded.
They all looked at each other.
"Someone has mined Hogwarts," Hermione said slowly. "That's why we can't keep the curses out -- because they're not coming from outside. Someone could have done this months ago, and the curses would just sit there quietly, waiting for someone to touch the wrong thing ..."
McGonagall cast a nervous glance around the common room. Harry could see her point. All the furniture, the doors, the floor, suddenly looked threatening.
But Malfoy sounded relieved. "Then it really is over," he said very softly. Harry looked up quickly and saw him looking, not at the furniture, but at the filled-in windows.
"All but the cleanup." Hermione was looking thoughtful. "Neville says they've had a rash of strange occurrences at the Ministry, too." She sat up. "And if that's mined ..." She didn't even have to finish her thought. "We've got to do something."
"Well, by all means, if you know a way to lift a curse when you don't know either the curse or the victim ..."
"Wait," Harry said. "I used to know a gris-gris against hidden enchantments." At their confused looks, he clarified: "A spell, a potion. I'll send a goose to Dr. Bokor and get the details."
"Better get 'Mione to do a Transauditum for you," Malfoy said. "It may be the middle of the night out in the wild colonies, but we haven't any time to waste."
"Rosemary," Harry said. He had roused the headmaster from a sound sleep to ask for the recipe for the gris-gris while McGonagall went to explain the situation to the other teachers. Then Harry, Hermione, and Malfoy had headed for the new Potions classroom, a former storeroom hastily fitted with sinks and cutting tables and the rather inadequate supplies that the staff had been able to buy to replace Snape's inaccessible store.
"Got it," said Hermione, handing the branch to Harry. He added it to the cauldron of boiling water.
"Phew -- really? Well, all right."
"Now what?" Malfoy said.
"Now we let it cool," Harry said, looking at his notes, "and then we wash our hands and feet in it and let them lead us to the secret enchantments."
"Oh?" Malfoy inquired with exaggerated interest. "And when do we say bibbiti-bobbiti-boo?"
"Shut up, Malfoy." Harry clenched his teeth.
To make matters worse, Hermione was giggling. "Harry," she said. "Now, admit it. If someone like Ron had said something like that, you would have laughed."
"Yes, well, I like Ron," Harry muttered.
"The question is," Hermione said, "when we find these enchantments, what do we do about them? I'm almost sure Stheno's De Rerum has a way of identifying an unknown curse -- or maybe it was Opinicus ..." She dug through her shoulder bag and began flipping through books. "Wait -- here it is. 'When thy Wande upon ye source of Enchantement be well trained, then do thou pronounce Patefaco abstrusi, and verily, by thine own eyen shalt thou enlightened be.' "
"Well," Harry said after a moment, "it's worth a try." And he kicked off his shoes.
"What have you got there?" Malfoy was staring at his ankle.
"Oh." Harry touched the braided leather thong. "My ... Sunday made it for me. It's a speedwell. Sort of a folk charm."
"How fascinatingly primitive," Malfoy drawled. Harry glared at him, but he was still looking at Harry's ankle.
"Be quiet, Draco," said Hermione. "What interesting knots," she went on to Harry. "They look rather like some of the simple calligromancy sigils. I wonder if ..."
"Not really magic," Harry said hastily to head her off from another digression. "Just a pretty superstition, Sunday said. And this stuff is probably cool now."
"Phew," Malfoy said when they'd all bathed their hands and feet. "We smell like Weasley's kitchen. Now what?"
"If our theory is correct, it would make sense to go somewhere that's been deserted since Before," Hermione said.
Malfoy took a step, then stepped back, frowning. "I feel --"
Harry was walking toward the back corner, still piled high with items that had been stored in the room. "An impulse," he said, and reached for the handle of a cabinet.
"Wait!" Hermione stopped him, pointed her wand at the cabinet, and said, "Patefaco abstrusi."
There was a light so bright Harry shut his eyes. After a moment he opened them, still squinting. The cabinet was lit with a tracery of what looked like yellow neon. A squiggle of it hung from the latch.
"Wow," Harry said.
"That's some very advanced calligromancy," Malfoy said.
"You're sure you're not just thinking that because of Harry's speedwell?" Hermione said.
Malfoy glared at her. "My father had a special interest in the subject."
Hermione had a notebook. "All right, then, I can start with Bodoni's Calligromancy," she said happily. "And we need a way to disarm them without hurting anyone. And then we need a way to expand the spell so it works without having to find the enchantment first, and ..." She looked up. "Go get Minerva and the rest. Meet me in the library after dinner."
On to Chapter 4
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