Note to Reader's, The Full Title is:
When It's Time to Change, You've Got to Re-Arrange, Who You Are and What You're Gonna Be
(The title also end's with a lot of Sha na na's, and if you understand this, you've must be as old as I am. LOL)
A/N: Well, after 2 years of being selfish and only *reading* stories at fanfiction.net, I thought it was about time I actually made some kind of contribution. I'd like to dedicate this initial step into authorhood to Fyre (Fyrie on fanfiction.net), who's great advice and awesome stories gave me the courage to try my own hand at writing. To all readers, I hope you enjoy my first chapter, and take a moment to review it. Feel free to criticize, but please let it be the constructive kind, as flames will be tossed into the bog of eternal stench. Now, on with the show.
Of Visions and Portals
Blood starts it, and until the blood stops flowing, it'll never stop.
"Dawnie, I have to."
High up on an unstable platform, a young blonde woman stood gazing at the teenager standing before her. Near the edge of the platform, a large, bright cloud crackled furiously, intermittently shooting erratic bolts of energy in various directions. In between the crashing of lightening bolts, the cloud would occasionally disgorge a species of unknown origin, never before seen in this world, but undeniably evil, as their first actions were to add their contributions to the destruction and mayhem caused by the malevolent cloud.
Giving her surroundings a brief glance, the young woman turned back to the teenager before her. In hushed tones, she quickly spoke to her, the look on the teenagers face changing further and deeper into one of pain, loss, and despair. The teenager shook her head no, but the young woman continued speaking to her, until a look of understanding entered the young teen's eyes, though her expression was still pained.
The young woman brushed the teenager's long dark hair back from her face, and gave the adolescent a loving kiss high on her cheek before she turned and ran, jumping off the end of the platform into the violent cloud. As the young woman's body entered the brightly flashing portal, the clocks in Sunnydale, California began to chime Midnight.
In an undisclosed location of northern Scotland, a massive structure sat upon a hill, overlooking a large lake. To the common person, if they ever chanced to stumble across it, the large tract of land would appear to be a decrepit stone structure, carrying an air of abandonment. The remains of the construct, though, would still give them the impression that, at one time, it had been a glorious palace, reminiscent of days long past.
But to a small select community, who could see past the magical concealment, the structure stood as it always had for many centuries, a magnificent castle that drew one to it with its aura of ancient lore pulsating from every stone, enticing one to step across its threshold and embrace the knowledge it held.
To the wizards and witches that made up the small select community, this magnificent castle has always been, and always would be, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. A place of magical learning where they once attended, as would their descendents, and where now, high in one of its many towers, three young teenagers, of the current generation of students, sat in friendly companionship.
"Come on, Harry. It's been your move for the last 30 minutes." Ron groaned, glancing at the clock above the fireplace mantle, which read 7:45am. "At this rate, we won't finish until breakfast…a week from now!"
Harry gave him a sheepish smile. "Sorry Ron. I guess I just don't have my mind on the game right now."
"S'all right mate. After last night's disaster, I'm not really into the game either."
Sitting in front of the fire in the Gryffindor common room, Harry and Ron were playing a game of chess in an attempt to forget about the previous night's catastrophe, otherwise known as the "Yule Ball". They weren't having much success.
"Yeah, disaster on the grandest scale." Harry sighed. "I thought professors were supposed to try and keep students apart, not get them together? I mean, that's why they scour the Astronomy Tower almost every night, isn't it?"
Ron scowled. "If I didn't know better, I'd think the 'you have to have a date' requirement was Professor Snape's evil idea. I mean the greasy git is all for torture, but he would more likely ban anything remotely fun than put together a ball that required dates."
"Or make it a Slaughter Ball, where everyone is forced to attend, chained to their worst enemy." Harry snorted. "Snape would enjoy the mayhem and bloodshed, then knock off 100 points from anyone that survived."
Ron laughed. Even Hermione giggled from her seat near the two boys, where she was reading her transfiguration book. Though she was still a little miffed with Ron, Hermione had put aside her irritation with the redhead, in order to make the winter holidays more enjoyable for all of them.
"Yeah, then he'd make all the survivors serve detention with Filch…the old-fashioned way. In the dungeons, hanging by…" Ron broke off his remark when his friend gasped and clapped his hand over his scar.
"Harry?!" Ron jumped up from his seat and rushed around the chess-board to where his friend sat, Hermione close behind him.
Harry was breathing heavily, right hand pressed firmly against the lighting-bolt shaped scar on his forehead, just above his right eye, his left hand clenching the armrest.
"Harry! Is it another vision from you-know-who? Should I get Professor Dumbledore?" Hermione began to panic when Harry didn't respond right away.
"No…not Voldemort." Harry gasped out. "Different. Doesn't hurt. Just pressure."
Harry began hyperventilating, his eyes darting madly, as if he was watching a frantic tennis match.
Hermione gave a little scream as Harry flung himself back in his seat, his hand moving from his forehead to grip the other arm of the chair. His scar was glowing.
Harry began to mutter, "Blood starts it. Until the blood stops flowing, it'll never stop."
"Ohgodohgodohgod…" Ron began to panic has he watched his best friend caught up in the throws of some kind of vision, different from the others he witnessed before, he knew, as Harry's scar had never glowed a bright white before. "What should we do Herms?! I've never seen his scar like that before!"
Hermione herself, with all her knowledge, didn't know what to do either. But, if Harry's first comments were any indication, he wasn't experiencing any pain.
"I think we should let him ride it out," she said, quickly trying to calm herself, at least enough to help Harry if needed.
"He said he wasn't in pain, Ron. And this might be important. The best thing we can do right now is listen to anything he might say, so we can help piece it all together for Professor Dumbledore. Harry might not remember everything he says."
"Ron! Shut up!" Hermione bit out, as Harry began muttering again. She quickly grabbed parchment, ink, and quill from her supplies near her chair, and rushed back to Harry's side.
In the silence that followed, Harry's muttering became clearer.
"Light. Girl. Great…Hall. Pain."
Pushing aside the chessboard in front of Harry, Hermione quickly set down her supplies and began to scratch out the words coming from Harry's mouth, not spending any time trying to figure out the meaning of the words. There would be time for that later. She didn't want to miss anything Harry might say, as it might be relevant.
Harry's muttering slowed and became more coherent. "Doorway…must be closed. It's always blood. Save her."
Ron gasped as Hermione continued to frantically write everything down.
"Save who?" Ron whispered.
"Shhh." Hermione shushed him.
His eyes still darting around, Harry's vision kept bombarding him with pictures. He knew, somehow, that he was able to somewhat communicate the vision to his friends, though it took great effort to do so. As the images continued, so did Harry's words, his body shaking and his hands clenching and unclenching the armrests.
"Great Hall…empty. No one must know. Only…Dumbledore, McGonagall, Snape, us. Light bigger. Lightening. Pain. Bloodflow slowing. Dying. Save her. Save us."
With each word, Ron's eyes widened. "Crikey," he whispered to himself.
Harry's eyes closed as he rasped out, "Blood starts it. Until the blood stops flowing, it'll never stop."
Hand shaking from the fear she felt at those words, Hermione hoped she was getting everything down correctly.
"Two bodies. One real. One…not." Harry's body stiffened, eyes popping open, as he yelled out, "Infusio corpus!"
With his last words, Harry's scar flashed brighter, then faded to a dull glow, pulsating along with his heartbeat, but not entirely fading away.
Jumping out of his chair, Harry startled Ron into taking a step back and accidentally kicking Hermione in the process. Having just finished writing Harry's last words, Hermione's head popped up, and she caught her breath at the frenzied look on Harry's face.
"Harry?" Ron tentatively spoke, reaching one hand out to his friend.
Eyes still not quite focused, Harry grabbed Ron's extended arm and clenched it tightly. "She's dying, Ron. We have to help her. Save her to save us."
Ron became frightened at the look on Harry's face. He had never seen his friend this panicked, and it was scaring him.
"Who…who is she?" Ron stuttered.
Harry released his grip so quickly that Ron stumbled.
Pivoting away from his friends, Harry swiftly made his way towards the entrance of the Gryffindor tower, mumbling, "No one must know. Only Dumbledore, McGonagall, Snape, us."
Ron and Hermione quickly scrambled after him, after grabbing their cloaks. Hermione had the foresight to also grab Harry's cloak, along with the parchment. She had a feeling that Harry's thoughts were focused only on finding one, or all, of the professors whose names he was mumbling over and over again.
As soon as Harry exited the tower, he broke into a run, heading in the direction of Professor Dumbledore's offices. Ron and Hermione did their best to keep up with him, but gradually fell behind, as Harry's panicked state lent him more energy.
With each moment, and each step, Harry became more panic-stricken. He had to find the professors, it, whatever it was, was going to happen soon…within minutes. They had to save her!
As Harry veered into the corridor which led to Dumbledore's section of the castle, he crashed into a dark-clad figure coming from the opposite direction. The figure grabbed Harry's arms and used his grip to push the young boy away from him.
"Really, Mr. Potter, running in the corridors is not allowed. That will be 50 points…"
Recognizing the voice of their snide potions teacher, Harry grasped the front of the man's robes in desperation.
Harry pleaded in a choked voice, "You have to save her! She's dying!"
"Really Mr. Potter. If you think your dramatics will…" Professor Snape broke off whatever he was going to say, as he noticed that Potter's scar was glowing with an unnatural light. "What…?"
"Please." Harry whispered, finally letting go of the tears that had built up in his eyes during his run to find Dumbledore. His grip slackened on the professor robe, and he slumped down in exhaustion, only to be caught around the shoulders by the surprised potions master.
At this point, Ron and Hermione had finally caught up with them. Surrounded by the two 4th year Gryffindors, who were alternately catching their breath and shouting out barely comprehensible words, the dark-haired professor could only make out "vision", "girl", and "dying". And the young Ms. Granger was waiving a rolled parchment in his face.
"SILENCE!" Professor Snape roared, as he still gripped the young Potter boy, who couldn't seem to stand on his own two feet.
Ron and Hermione quickly shut their mouths as the professor glared at them.
"Ms. Granger, would you care to tell me what you both are yammering about, why Mr. Potter's scar is glowing, and why he seems to have forgotten how stand?"
Both Ron and Hermione opened their mouths to begin their shouting match again, but Professor Snape shot Ron a withering look, and Ron quickly snapped his mouth shut again.
"Harry had a vision, sir, but it wasn't one from you-know-who. He said it was different, that there wasn't any pain this time, just some kind of pressure. We've never seen his scar glow white, and his visions usually only come out during dreams when he's sleeping. This is the first time Harry has ever had an actual vision where he was awake for the entire process, and was able to communicate while the vision was happening. He wasn't very coherent during the beginning, but I wrote down everything I could hear, and I think I got most of it."
With that, Hermione extended the rolled parchment to Professor Snape.
"Mr. Weasley, if you would care to take over Mr. Potter's incessant need to cling to someone?" Snape looked coldly at Ron, as he nudged Harry in his direction.
Ron quickly slung Harry's arm over his shoulder and wrapped his arm around his friend's waist. Though Harry was beginning to get his own footing beneath him, he was still thankful for someone to lean on.
As Snape took the parchment from Hermione, she whispered fearfully, "I think whatever is going to happen will be very soon, maybe within minutes. Harry seemed to become more frantic every second, before we found you."
Snape quickly unrolled the parchment and scanned the contents. His eyes grew wide, and he paled a little, though it wasn't very noticeable against his normally colorless skin.
"I believe you're right, Ms. Granger," he said calmly, as he re-rolled the parchment and handed it back to her.
"Professor?" Hermione nervously queried, as she accepted the roll back.
"Dumbledore and McGonagall are already in the Great Hall, Ms. Granger. I would advise you to give that parchment to Professor Dumbledore, and *quietly* inform him that a portal will shortly be opening within the Great Hall. All students should be sent back to their towers immediately, and all professors, except himself and Professor McGonagall should also vacate the premises. Go, now. Mr. Weasley, Mr. Potter and I will be along shortly."
Handing Harry's cloak to Ron, Hermione turned towards the direction of the Great Hall, and began to swiftly walk away, but glanced back as Professor Snape called out to her again.
"And Ms. Granger…run."
Her eyes flashed in fear, and she darted away as quickly as her legs could carry her.
Turning back to the two young boys left in his presence, Snape frostily inquired, "So, Mr. Potter, will you be forcing one of us to carry you the entire way to the Great Hall, or can you remember how to place one foot in front of the other?"
Harry quickly straightened up, removing his arm from Ron's shoulders. "I'm OK now, sir. As soon as I found you, the panic started to go away. I can run if I have to."
"Very well. Let us go quickly. If my understanding is correct, we need to reach the Great Hall within the next four minutes. That will give me just enough time to consult with Professor's Dumbledore and McGonagall regarding your vision, and prepare ourselves for the portal."
Having said that, Professor Snape swiftly broke into a ground-eating trot towards the Great Hall, the two young boys scrambling behind him. Ron handed Harry his cloak, who shot him a thankful glance as he threw it around his shoulders. The vision had kept him so preoccupied, that he hadn't noticed how cold the corridors were.
Neither Ron nor Harry bothered to ask Snape any questions, as they knew the potions master would only growl something about not wanting to repeat himself twice. So they kept their questions to themselves, knowing they would be answered as soon as they joined Dumbledore.
As the professor and two boys drew closer to their destination, they began passing students and teachers who were rapidly heading back to their rooms, grumbling about having to leave during their breakfast. Many students were shooting curious glances at the three, who were heading in the direction they just came from, as it was an odd sight to see the sneering potions master being accompanied by two of his most hated students.
Upon reaching the doors of the Great Hall, Ron and Harry saw the last of the students and teachers rapidly exiting, with Madam Pomfrey standing by the doorway, ensuring that no one lingered.
As Snape and the two young boys began to enter, Madam Pomfrey held out her hand to keep Ron and Harry from crossing the threshold.
"Professor Snape, Dumbledore requested that all students…"
"These two are to remain, as is Ms. Granger, Madam Pomfrey," Snape briskly interrupted, as he entered the hall.
"It's all right, Poppy," Albus Dumbledore called out. "Please allow Mr. Weasley and Mr. Potter to enter. If everyone has departed, could you please close the doors behind you, and inform Mr. Filch to stand guard and bar access to all other students and teachers until further notice. No exceptions."
"Thank you, Poppy. And please prepare a private room in the hospital wing. It seems we may have a patient for you soon, but I would ask that you speak of it to no one."
"Of course, sir," Madam Pomfrey responded, shutting the doors firmly behind her as she left.
Upon her exit, there was a flurry of motion as those present made their way to the head table, knowing that time was of an essence. Dumbledore waived his wand and muttered a locking spell on the main doors, and a silencing spell on the entire room, then motioned the potions master closer.
"Severus, if you would be so kind as to inform us of what is happening, I would be grateful," the Headmaster quietly spoke.
"To make a long story short, Headmaster, Mr. Potter had a waking vision of unknown origin. The words Ms. Granger had the foresight to write down lead me to believe that a portal will be opening up here, in the Great Hall, within the next…" Snape pulled out a magical watch from his vest pocket, and gave it a quick glance, "…six minutes."
"How do you know it's a portal, and how can it pass through the protective barriers around Hogwarts?" Dumbledore inquired, the customary twinkle in his eyes replaced by serious concern.
Returning the watch to its pocket, Snape ran a hand through his hair in frustration, "Unfortunately, not much is known about portals in the wizarding world, as they were deemed uncontrollable, and all research was abandoned. What *is* known is that portals are created by the bloodletting of an innocent, generally performed around midnight, using blood magic from the Ancient Dark Arts that were lost to us a long time ago.
Mr. Potter's comment of 'Blood starting it' confirms this, along with the words 'light', 'lightening', and 'doorway'. As to how it will get around the barriers, my guess would be that portals don't *travel* to its destination, it is created, for lack of a better term, in the specific location it chooses, thus circumventing the need to actually pass through the barrier." Snape sighed. "There just isn't much information about portals to do anything more than guess."
"Thank you, Severus. Since it seems that there is no keeping it from appearing here, I believe we should concentrate on what it will take to 'close the doorway', as Mr. Potter's comment suggests we do. From Harry's and your description of the girl, I would assume that she is not a dark wizard?"
"No, Headmaster, I do not believe she is." Snape firmly said.
Dumbledore nodded as he gave the potions master a questioning look. He softly said, "Am I correct in thinking that, in order to close this portal, the blood must stop flowing, which means…"
"She must die." Snape responded just as softly.
"NO!" Harry shouted, beginning to panic again. "You have to save her! You have to!"
Dumbledore placed a calming hand on Harry's shoulder, "Quietly, Harry."
"But Professor, if she dies, we die. They said so." Harry gave him a pleading look.
"They?" the Headmaster pinned him with his glance. "Did someone speak to you in this vision?"
"No...yes." Harry looked at the Headmaster in confusion. "I…I don't know how to explain it. Something…someone was there(?). It…they…didn't actually speak with words. I just felt it. I just…knew(?)."
Dumbledore nodded in understanding as he asked, "Did they, or it, feel evil?"
Harry calmed down as he firmly shook his head in the negative, "No. I don't know how I know it, but, no, they are not evil. And neither is she."
"Professor, we have less than four minutes." McGonagall, having quietly listened until now, softly interrupted.
Shaking himself out of the silence he had fallen into, Dumbledore glanced at all those present and asked, "Suggestions?"
"What about the two bodies that Harry mentioned at the end? And that spell…what was it…something corpus?" Ron, having kept silent since Snape's glare, spoke up, scratching his head in puzzlement.
"Two bodies. One real. One not." Hermione's whispered, eyes widening as she made the connection at the same time as Professor Snape.
"Transfiguration!" they both blurted out.
"That's why Harry saw Professor McGonagall here! She's the best at transfiguration." Hermione said excitedly. "If we transfigure something into a duplicate of the girl's body…"
"…then use the 'infusio corpus' spell to transfer some of her blood into the duplicate…" Snape quickly picked up her train of thought.
"…just enough to have it pump blood a few times…"
"…then replace the girl with the duplicate…"
"…the blood will stop flowing in the duplicate…"
"…thereby closing the portal…"
"…leaving the real girl alive. Bloody brilliant!"
"Language, Ms. Granger."
"Oh, stuff it!" Hermione, in her excitement, forgot who she was speaking to.
"Ms. Granger!" Professor Snape snapped out, a look of amusement on his face at hearing the miss-goody-two-shoes telling him to stuff it.
Hermione's eyes widened, her mouth forming into a big O as she realized her gaff. "Oh, I'm sorry Professor! I…I guess I just got too excited."
"Forgiven…this time, Ms. Granger."
"What should we use for the transfiguration process? And how will we get the blood to start flowing in the duplicate?" Hermione nervously asked, thankful that she hadn't lost any points for her house.
"I believe the enervate spell will be just the trick to get the blood pumping. As for the object to transfigure…"
As Hermione and the (usually) snarky potions master debated over the pros and cons of various items, the others, having watched the rapid exchange of the two, had varying expressions on their faces. The professors, amusement. The two boys, horror.
"That was scary," Ron whispered to Harry, eyes wide, face pale.
"You're telling me?! I pictured a female version of Snape when Hermione started spouting…" Harry broke of with a loud gasp, hand clapping to his forehead.
"Professors!" Ron yelled out as he watched his best-friend clutching his forehead again. Ron maneuvered Harry to the nearest bench, making him sit before he fell down.
Four heads shot up at Ron's yell, and they hurried over to where the two boys were.
"It's coming," Harry gasped out. His scar was once again beginning to glow brightly underneath his hand.
"But what shall we use…" Hermione began speaking.
"Oh, for heaven's sake, just grab the nearest bench. The mass to mass equation doesn't need to be perfect." McGonagall snapped out in exasperation.
As Hermione and Professor Snape hurried to grab a bench, Dumbledore cleared the tables from the center of the Great Hall with a flick of his wand.
"How should we coordinate this, Severus?" Dumbledore asked, as the two returned to the center of the room with the bench.
"As soon as the portal opens and the girl is visible, McGonagall will need to transfigure the object into the duplicate as soon as possible. I will need to get as near to the girl as I can, in order to perform the infusion spell, and in preparation of pulling her out. While I am preparing to do that, McGonagall will levitate the duplicate as close to the girl's location, without actually having it enter into the portal. Once I perform the infusion, be ready with the 'enervate' spell, and cast it when I call your name, Dumbledore. When I yell 'Now', McGonagall will throw the duplicate into the portal, and I will attempt to pull the girl out at the same time."
"Couldn't you use magic to switch the bodies? With the energy created by the portal, I'm sure it wouldn't be healthy to physically place your arm into it, Severus." McGonagall stated with worry.
"The energy is the problem, Minerva. I believe the portal will be creating too much for it to be a stable environment for magic to be cast inside it, and I have a sinking feeling we only have one chance at this." Snape responded, running another hand through his hair.
"Uh, Professor Snape?" Hermione tentatively interrupted. "What should we do?"
"Be prepared with a cushioning spell, Ms. Granger." Snape smirked. "I have a sneaky suspicion that this portal will not be opening in a convenient location, and I would like to avoid breaking the bones of either myself or the girl, should we have to fall a great distance. I don't believe I will be in any condition to cast spells after sticking my arm into a portal full of unstable energy."
"Yes, sir. We'll be ready." Hermione nodded her head firmly.
Dumbledore had just called for everyone to take their place when Harry shouted out, "It's here!"
With a loud "ping", a bright light appeared high above them, rapidly expanding into a malevolent looking pool of light.
As the portal quickly spread out to cover the entire enchanted ceiling, McGonagall yelled out, "I see her! Transfiguring, now!"
Professor Snape quickly cast a levitation spell on himself, and flew closer to where the girl's body writhed in pain inside the violent maelstrom of energy. Stopping within arms reach of her, he saw the duplicate being maneuvered to a position a couple feet to the left of where he floated. Quickly casting the infusion spell, he yelled out Dumbledore's name.
Upon hearing the enervating spell, Snape thrust his right arm into the portal and grabbed the girl's wrist. Clenching his teeth against the excruciation pain of the energy coursing through his body, Snape yelled out "Now!" as he yanked the girl's arm towards him with all his strength. As the girl's body fell heavily against his chest, unconscious, he glimpsed the duplicate flying into the portal.
Wrapping his arms around the girl, Snape felt his levitation spell break, but was too exhausted from the pain from the portal's energy to re-cast it. As he and the girl plummeted quickly towards the ground, he heard voices yelling out cushioning spells, and was thankful to land on the soft surface.
Snape lay where he landed, his arms still clenching the unconscious girl to his chest, the rest of her body sprawled over him. He watched the portal above him in trepidation, wondering if their efforts were in vain.
All of them grimly stared at the bright energy covering ceiling, searching for any indication that the switch worked. With a loud crack of lightening, the edges of the portal began drawing back into the center.
"It's working!" Ron exuberantly yelled.
Ignoring the outburst, Snape continued observing the portal, which was contracting within itself almost as quickly as it had originally expanded, body tensing as he subconsciously felt the energy building up in the portal's diminishing center. His quick reflexes, and paranoia of expecting the unexpected (which Dumbledore constantly teased him about), was the only thing that saved him and the girl from being burnt to a crisp, as the portal shot out one last lightening bolt in the exact location where he and the girl had been lying before Snape rolled them away.
The portal then winked out, as the echoes of the last lightening bolt rumbled around the large hall before gradually fading away.
"Severus? Severus?" the quiet voice of the Headmaster spoke out, trying to get the attention of the potions master. "Are you alright?"
Snape opened his eyes, and blinked up at Dumbledore. Without answering, he looked down at the unconscious girl that his body had automatically moved to cover from any potential harm. Quickly removing his weight from the girl, he sat up – pulling her up with him, as he still had his right arm wrapped around her shoulders. Using his left hand, he reached for the nearest place on her neck which would give him any indication if she still had a pulse.
"She's alive. Her pulse is very weak, but she's alive," he whispered. "We have to get her to Poppy." He tried to stand, and lift her at the same time, but fell back to the ground in exhaustion, still holding the girl firmly to him.
"Easy, Severus. You're in no condition to be moving around so soon, much less carrying someone else's weight." Dumbledore placed a firm hand on his shoulder to keep him from attempting to get up again. "If you release the girl, McGonagall and I will see to moving her to the infirmary. And you should go there as well, to make sure there is no lasting damage from the portal's energy."
Snape, his vision slightly spinning, reluctantly loosened his arms from the girl, and lay her down on the ground next to him. Hearing a soft "mobile corpus" from the direction of the Deputy Headmistress, the unconscious girl floated away from his side.
Taking a deep breath, the aching potions master once again attempted to maneuver himself to his feet. Silently, Hermione and Ron moved to either side of him, grasping his arms and letting him use their strength to stand up. They quickly let go when they saw he was able to stay upright on his own power. Wearily nodding his thanks (shocking the two into further silence), he slowly moved to stand next to the unconscious girl.
Briefly glancing down at her, he did a double take, as he realized this was not a girl, as he first supposed, but a young woman. Her diminutive stature misled him into thinking she was the same age as the 4th year Gryffindors that stood nearby. Though he did take in the blonde hair and striking features of the young woman, he was more concerned with the fact that her breathing was very shallow and labored.
Giving Professor McGonagall a concerned look, he said, "Take her up to the infirmary, quickly! She was exposed to the energy of the portal for a long time, and it may have caused excessive damage to her internal organs. Have Madam Pomfrey give her an energy boosting potion, followed with a pain reduction potion no sooner than 10 minutes afterwards. Whatever else she deems necessary should wait for another 15 minutes, in order to let the two potions do their work. I will follow shortly."
McGonagall nodded, and motioned the unconscious woman's body to move forward towards the main doors of the Hall.
"Wait!" Harry cried out, removing his cloak as he jogged towards them. Wrapping his cloak around the floating woman, he pulled the hood down as far as he could without blocking the flow of air to her mouth.
Looking up and locking his eyes with Professor Snape, he quietly said, "No one must know."
Giving a sharp nod of agreement to Harry, he turned to Dumbledore. "If you know of a route to the infirmary that will help you avoid anyone, I would suggest taking it. Mr. Potter is correct in cautioning that no one else should know about our mysterious guest yet. We don't know anything about her, and if she is as important as Mr. Potter's vision indicates, she may have enemies among us. If our own adversaries discover her existence, and how she arrived here, they may become overly curious, and that would be dangerous for her in her current condition."
Dumbledore nodded in agreement and motioned Professor McGonagall to take the young woman through his private entrance behind the main table.
"We best hurry, Minerva. Every moment may count in this young lady's fight for survival."
As Professor McGonagall swiftly moved to comply, Dumbledore turned to address the potions master, "Severus, you and the children should wait here for at least 10 minutes, then exit through the main doors. I believe Mr. Filch is having some difficulty keeping one of the teachers away, regardless of the direct orders I gave them. I give you leave to deal with the situation as you see fit.
Harry, Ron, Hermione, once you leave this room, go directly to my office, and speak to no one. The password is 'everlasting gobbstoppers'. I will join you as soon as Professor McGonagall and I have discharged our guest into Madam Pomfrey's care."
After the three Gryffindors nodded silently, Dumbledore quickly made his way to the private door, and exited.
The three students stood closely together, giving the exhausted potions master uncertain looks.
"Uh…well, since we're so conveniently here, who's hungry?" Ron blurted out nervously.
Snape wearily rubbed his eyes as he sighed, wondering how in the world he ended up getting stuck in a room with the three students who rubbed him the wrong way the most. Granted, it was a big room, but he was still stuck with them.
Waving his wand and muttering a spell, Snape returned the tables and benches to their original positions, minus one bench from the Ravenclaw's table.
Glaring sharply at the hovering students, Snape growled, "I would suggest that you not converse about what happened in here until you have spoken to the Headmaster. Actually, I would rather you not converse at all, but that would be like asking a Hufflepuff to grow a spine."
Snape spun around and stalked towards the main table, taking his usual seat on the far left.
Harry, Ron and Hermione quickly sat where they usually did at their table – Ron even going so far as to walk around the long way of the table, just so he didn't have to go anywhere *near* the main table and its lone grouchy occupant. They quickly filled their plates and began to eat.
It was a first in the Great Hall, the silence. Normally filled with the hubble and bubble of chattering voices, the Gryffindor trio sat quietly eating, each of them too preoccupied with their thoughts at the moment, to attempt any kind of conversation.
As the silence stretched across the room, Harry shifted uneasily in his seat. Giving a quick glance at his friends, he noticed them doing the same to him and each other.
Breaking the hush, Harry softly asked them, "Do you feel it too?"
"If you mean the lingering energy from the portal, then yes, I feel it too." Hermione whispered, and Ron nodding that he too felt it.
"If it stays like this, everyone is going to know that something powerful happened here." Harry responded, giving a quick look up at the lone occupant of the main table, who was currently scowling at his plate, as though it somehow offended him. "Do you think we should…"
Hermione nodded, and Ron whimpered. Harry sighed as he stood up, knowing that, in the end, he would still be the one to have to approach the short-tempered potions master, so he didn't argue against the inevitable.
Cautiously approaching the main table, Harry nervously looked at the knife in Snape's hand, sure that at any moment the professor would look up, and, seeing his most hated student approach, throw the knife at Harry with a deadly accuracy.
'Hey, that's a good one.' Harry thought. 'Maybe I should use that for my next Divination essay.'
Shaking his thoughts clear, Harry stopped a few feet short of where the potions master sat. Close enough to talk, yet far enough to not be in stabbing distance.
"What is it Mr. Potter? Can't eat without the background noise of babbling students?"
"Uh, no sir. Ron, Hermione and I noticed that there seems to be a lot of energy left behind by the portal. We were wondering if we should be concerned about it?"
As Harry stood awkwardly in front of the glaring man, Snape slowly removed his wand from his robes. Harry gasped as, for a brief moment, the wand was pointed at him.
Smirking, Snape pointed it up in the general direction of the ceiling and spoke a quick dispersing spell, before returning the wand to his robes.
"Will that be all, Mr. Potter?"
Harry cocked his head as he tried to feel for the lingering energy, and couldn't find any. "Yes, sir. Thank you."
Harry quickly moved to return to his friends. As he took his seat, Ron looked at him with awe.
"Crikey, Harry. You've got ba…*cough*…guts. You've got guts." Ron had quickly changed his wording at a glare from Hermione.
"Yeah, and I've also got some new predictions of my death for our next few Divination essays." Harry grinned.
Ron perked up. "Really? What are they?"
"Death by a knife thrown with deadly accuracy into my heart, death by vicious stabbing, and death by a curse cast from three feet away. And if I spread them out far enough, the same person could commit them all."
"Wicked! Who are you going to have commit them?" Ron was literally bouncing in his seat with glee.
"Professor Snape, of course. But since we can't use names, I'll just have to come up with some vivid descriptions for him. Something like…a dark sinister man, or a tall shadowy figure who swoops in." Harry laughed as his eyes danced with merriment.
"Honestly, Harry, you should have given up that class a long time ago. It's nothing but a waste of your time." Hermione admonished him.
"Yeah, but it's funny, Herms. I mean, the more times I predict my death, and the more violent it is, the higher grade I get."
Ron laughed, and even Hermione couldn't resist a giggle over the ridiculousness of their conversation.
Unbeknownst to the three students, their entire conversation could be clearly heard at the main table, as there were no other voices to drown them out.
Professor Snape was amused by the "new predictions" Harry had apparently come up with as he stood at the main table a short while ago. He rolled his eyes and gave a soft snort of laughter at the "vivid descriptions" of himself, and definitely agreed with Ms. Granger on the uselessness of the class. But he almost gave himself away as he barked out a short laugh, quickly covering it with a cough, when Harry gave his logic for higher marks.
Shaking his head in disbelief, he blocked their chattering voices out, and returned his attention to the meal before him.
Down in the castle kitchens, the usual flurry of work was briefly interrupted as, almost as one, each round-eyed and big-eared house elf paused in their varying labors, looking above them and a little south, gazing at something that wasn't visible to anyone but them.
Dobby, the acknowledged leader of the house elves, as he was much more out-spoken of them all, and *knew* Harry Potter, excitedly whispered, "She is here!!"
At Dobby's statement, animated chatter broke out among the house elves, as they once more resumed their work, but with greater energy than before.