Disclaimer – I solemnly swear that JKR owns everything Harry Potter. Whether or not I am up to no good with her characters is for you to decide.
The Fourth School
It was something like a protective guard that flanked the students of Diricawl Academy after their return to Potter Haven from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the horror that the Third Task of the TriWizard Tournament had turned into.
Sirius had parked the school's hovercraft as close to the front door of the manor as possible and then, before any of the children were allowed to disembark, the adults had filed out, taking up positions between the hovercraft and the manor's front door on both sides.
Harry, with Hermione's hand firmly grasped in his, couldn't help but quick-step his way past Sirius, Remus, Minerva, Augusta, Emma, Dan, Beth and Cyrus Greengrass who'd hitched a ride for the event. Glancing past the guard of adults, Harry could see Dobby and Jaxom standing facing outwards, adding their own level of protection.
"You know that this place is fully warded, don't you?" Harry asked after the entire complement of adults, students and elves had trooped into the formal sitting room at the front of the manor.
"Wards can be breached," Sirius stated flatly.
Harry opened his mouth to argue but Hermione squeezing his arm killed the protest before it began. The problem was that he knew how well not only the manor but the entire valley was warded. The goblins had done a good job of it and then Dobby had added his own house elf enchantments on top of it.
Their third house elf, Nerri, chose that moment to come trotting into the room, Slipshard hard on her heels.
"I came as soon as I heard," Slipshard stated.
"How well is Potter Haven protected?" Minerva asked without preamble.
"Well enough," Slipshard replied. "It'll withstand a concerted attack for quite some time, depending, of course, on the number of attackers and how powerful they are."
"Dobby added a layer of house elf enchantments when Dobby and Master Harry Sir first moved here," Dobby added in his squeaky voice. "Nasty wizards won't like Dobby's enchantments."
"Look, I know that what happened back at Hogwarts was bad, but surely we're all over-reacting a touch," Emma said.
"I'm not so sure about that," Beth said, taking a seat beside the other woman. "You don't know what it was like during the last war with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and his Death Eaters."
"War? You think that we're headed for another war?" Dan asked.
"Not headed for," Cyrus said seriously. "In. We're now in another war."
"That was a declaration of war if I've ever heard one," Augusta agreed. "And the Wizengamot will be in turmoil about now. With Fudge dead and You-Know-Who back, the government will be in disarray. If they haven't called an emergency session yet, they need to. I'd better head in to the Ministry. I don't expect that I'll be back any time soon."
Then, with a fond pat on her grandson's shoulder, Augusta strode from the room.
"Augusta's right," Cyrus stated, looking at Sirius. "We'd better get to the Wizengamot chambers as well."
Lord Black frowned at him. "I'll wait until the session's called. I'd feel more useful being here."
With a nod of understanding, Cyrus gave each of his daughters a brief hug before rushing from the room after the Regent Longbottom.
"Do you really think that we're in danger here?" Dan asked, returning to the previous conversation. "We're just a school."
"A school that was referred to in Voldemort's speech as something that shouldn't be allowed to operate," Remus replied. "You can bet that we're going to be targeted."
"And as strong as the wards here are, wards can always be broken," Slipshard stated.
"Can we make the wards any stronger?" Emma asked.
Minerva beat Slipshard to the punch.
"Certainly," she replied. "Wards can always be made stronger, but the question is: is that something that Diricawl needs to do? Especially when we have a ready-made alternative waiting for us."
"I take it you mean Potter Island?" Harry asked.
At Minerva's nod, Slipshard stroked his chin as he looked up in thought.
"I would say that the wards we've installed around the island are already comparatively stronger than the ones here. The lodestones were placed a number of months ago and have been charging from the nearby ley lines ever since. They should be at full strength within a month or two. In addition, we've layered the anti-portkey and anti-apparition wards so that there is only a single entry point. The anti-Dark Mark wards are also active. They'll bounce anyone with the Mark a hundred miles away."
"What about boats?" Dan asked. "Could someone just sail up to the island if they knew where it was?"
"In theory," Slipshard replied with a feral grin on his face, "but I wouldn't want to be them if they did. Apart from the muggle-repelling wards and the fact that the island's unplottable and therefore cannot even be seen by magicals unless they're within fifty feet of the shoreline, we've layered the only access point through the wards in a particular pattern that if you don't know would lead to some serious … repercussions."
"What about the buildings? Could we move into them right now if we had to?" Minerva asked.
"Sure," Sirius shrugged. "The dwarves haven't finished them all, but the main ones are ready: the student dorms, teacher accommodations and classrooms. The rest should be done within the next six weeks, I believe."
"Are you thinking of moving the school to the island as soon as possible?" Dan asked. "I thought that we were going to wait until the term was over."
"Yes, but the return of You-Know-Who changes everything," Minerva replied. "Magical Britain is at war again. We've probably got a small window of time before You-Know-Who and his followers restart their terror campaign and I want to make sure that the children are protected as fully as possible before that happens."
The mention of the Diricawl students seemed to make all of the adults in the room realize that they were having this serious conversation with said students still in the room with them.
"Right, you lot," Remus said, clapping his hands together. "We've all had a long day with as much excitement as we need to have. Off to bed with you all, I think."
Surprisingly, there wasn't as much grumbling as the adults would have expected.
Harry, though, broke off from the tight-knit clump of students heading out of the room, motioning for Slipshard to follow him.
"Yes, Harry?" Slipshard asked, looking up at the boy.
"How secure is the valley?" he asked.
"As I said, the wards are strong, but could be broken with a concentrated attack," Slipshard replied.
"How likely is that to happen?" Harry asked.
Slipshard paused before answering slowly.
"It is hard to tell. I heard Voldemort's speech on the Wizarding radio. The fact that not only the school, but also you yourself were named in it as enemies make it almost certain that he will, at some point, target you and yours."
Harry nodded. "That's what I thought. Can you add an extra layer of wards around the manor?" He held up his hand then, to stop the goblin answering before he could fully outline what he was thinking. "I don't mean the valley, but just the manor. Leave the valley's wards in place and put up a second set inside the valley's wards that just surround the manor itself."
Slipshard paused in thought. "It could be done. It may take a little time, but it could be done."
"Good," Harry replied. "Do it. And while you're at it, add extra wards on all of my properties – Hermione's Book Nook and Beth's apartment; the Peverell property; and all the rest of my businesses and properties. Whatever wards you think they'll need."
"It won't come cheap," Slipshard warned.
Harry waved that off. "Don't care. Whatever it takes. Actually, add one more place to that list: the Grangers' place in Crawley. Better move that one up the list a bit, too."
"Certainly," Slipshard said, taking out a piece of parchment and a quill and writing himself a note.
Movement on the main staircase that he could see from where he was standing caught Harry's eye and he looked up. Hermione was there, watching him, her bottom lip caught between her teeth. He couldn't help but smile at her.
If there was going to be a war – and all of the adults seemed to think that it wasn't just inevitable, but that the first shot had just been fired – then Harry was going to make sure that he did everything that he could to protect the ones that he loved.
For now, though, for now the coming war could wait. Neither side was ready, at least, he hoped that the other side was as prepared as the good guys were. Either way, there was nothing more that he could do about it. Now, this moment, was all that counted.
Giving Slipshard a nod, Harry strode away.
As he reached Hermione, he reached out, grabbed her hand and pulled her tight to his body. Holding her, with the feel of her arms around him and the smell of her lavender shampoo in his nose, he allowed himself to relax slightly.
The war would come, and with it, no doubt, the pain, sorrow and despair that he'd read always accompanied war. But that was for tomorrow. It could wait.
Gently, Harry released Hermione and turned her towards the stairs, then, hand in hand, they headed up, leaving the worries of the future behind them.
A/N – And that brings us to the conclusion of The Fourth School. Yes, a shorter chapter, but that's all that I felt that it needed. Get ready for the war to heat up in the next instalment of the Cupboard Series: United We Stand … (chapter one of which has already been posted).
To everyone who Reviewed, Favourited and Followed, a heartfelt thank you. Each of you have encouraged me to keep going and together have made this the most popular of my stories in The Cupboard Series so far.
I find it amazing to think that I've now finished four of Harry, Hermione and Co's years of magical education in over 400,000 words and in less than 2 years. I wonder how many other fanfic authors/series there are out there that have managed the same feat (or bettered it).
I hope to see you all over at Book 5: United We Stand … .