"So... wait a minute," said Harry, once he, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Neville had made it to within about 10 yards of the Whomping Willow, "how are we going to get the bloody tree to stop swinging at us?"
"Well... Peter always used to do it for the Marauders... do you think we could trust him to do it now?" asked Ron uncertainly.
"Of course not," said Hermione impatiently. "I'll charm a rock to fly over and hit the knot on the tree. That'll stop it for us."
"Good thinking," said Ron admiringly.
Hermione, in the dim light from the moon, seemed to be torn between being impatient at the fact that no one else had apparently thought of this, and being pleased at the compliment. At any rate, she carried out her plan, and seconds later, the group of students were making their way into the space between the roots of the now frozen tree.
"Incidentally, do you think he can hear us when he's in his rat form?" asked Ginny in a half-whisper.
"Yeah... If he couldn't hear things while he's a rat, then he wouldn't've known to be nervous during 3rd year when Sirius was chasing him," said Harry.
"Makes sense," conceded Ginny.
"Hey, er... You all could feel free to fill me in on who this guy is and everything, if you like," said Neville, who sounded a bit confused. So, rather than discuss any bits of strategy that they wouldn't want Wormtail to hear (as Ginny had apparently been planning to do), they instead filled Neville in quickly on the events of third year.
"Oh, wow. No wonder he was afraid you were going to kill him before he had a chance to speak," said Neville in a voice which almost seemed to convey that he himself may not have had so much control over himself. "By the way," he continued, in a hushed voice, "do you think that Bellatrix Lestrange might be one of the death-eaters that is guarding the hostages?"
Harry thought for a moment, then said, "Yeah, I reckon she might be. She's always been considered one of Voldemort's most faithful servants."
"Yeah," said Neville, in a hollow voice. It was not easy to read his expression, considering that the only light in the tunnel to the Shack was coming from the five lit wands of the teenagers, but as he continued, his voice was determined. "If she's there, I want to be the one who dual her."
Harry was on the verge of objecting. He thought that while Neville's sentiment was certainly understandable, it might not be tactically wise to put Neville, who was still not the strongest dueler on their side, against Bellatrix, who was obviously one of the best duelers the Death-Eaters had. She had, after all, gotten Sirius. But then, thinking of that, Harry realized that part of his objection to Neville's offer to take on Bellatrix might have had to do with the fact that Harry himself was thirsty for revenge against her as well. But to be fair, Neville definitely was improving in his dueling skills, and would probably fight harder against Bellatrix than against any other Death-Eater, as the extra reserve of emotion would put extra power behind his spells. So, in the end, Harry nodded grimly, and said "Yeah, Neville, if she's there, you take her." If worse came to worst, and Bellatrix still far outstripped Neville in dualing abilities, Harry could still hope that he would be able to hold her off for long enough that one of the others would finish their duel and come to his aid. "But Neville," continued Harry, "I think it'd be wisest to go for the capture instead of the kill, at least at first. You should probably use the spell that Tonks taught us at the beginning of the year, on the day that letter arrived." Harry was being purposefully cryptic, stating his message in a way that Neville would understand that Harry wanted him to use the Disabling Charm which would prevent Neville and Bellatrix from using any spells which would cause the other bodily harm. He didn't want Wormtail to be able to pick up on this though, because it seemed the Disabling Charm was one not immediately thought of by deatheaters (because they focused on spells that could hurt their opponents), and it was always good to have the extra time between the casting of the spell and the time when the deatheaters figured out what it was doing so that they would only cast ineffective spells.
Neville thought for a moment. He seemed to be battling with himself on a mental level as he responded, "Harry... If you're sure. But I'd rather..."
Harry said, "Yeah, I know. After the battle's over, once she's in custody, we'll be able to deal with her as a prisoner of war. And who knows, now that it's become apparent that Azkaban is not inescapable without dementors, maybe the Ministry will approve the death penalty for cases like this, to prevent prisoners from fighting again."
Harry realized that this was not much of a guarantee, and even if it were, it would not be nearly as satisfying as if Neville would get to avenge his parents personally, but Neville did not argue. As a matter of fact, the rest of the journey in the underground tunnel was carried out in silence. The five teens were each slightly nervous about the upcoming encounter, and each also realized that they could not discuss strategy.
But as they emerged from the floor of the Shack, Harry said, "Look guys, we're going to win this. We're probably the best group of student duelers Hogwarts has ever seen, and we've been practicing constantly. The most practice the Death Eater's probably get using spells on a regular basis is to torture wandless muggles. Their reaction times can't be as good as ours. And just... remember everything Tonks taught us. And think capture rather than kill."
Wormtail was in the process of transforming back as Harry said this line, having been placed onto the floor by a Harry who was having to exercise quite a bit of self-control to keep from stomping on the foul rodent. Harry was slightly wary of continuously stating the "capture rather than kill" bit of their strategy in such plain earshot of Wormtail, but did not figure that this tidbit would actually give Wormtail knowledge of their strategy. He probably would just assume that such a sentiment was quite natural for a group of wizards who the death-eaters probably considered too cowardly to use dark magic. Harry could not help but ponder how ironic it was for Wormtail to regard anyone else as cowardly.
In the moonlight coming in from one of the shack's broken windows, Harry could see his companions nodding as he finished his speech. He could even detect slight grins on Ron and Ginny's faces, and he knew that his pre-deatheater-dualing speech was probably rather reminiscent of his pre-quidditch-match speeches from earlier that year.
He returned the grin as Wormtail stood up and said gruffly, "Follow me."
The group of six people walked in silence until they reached a bit of woods surrounding Hogsmeade, about 50 yards behind the Shack (which was on the outskirts of town in the first place.) They travelled for a few yards into the forest, before coming to a clearing. There, they saw dark forms who were obviously the five death-eaters.
Harry quickly reached into his pocket to find his bit of magic parchment, and before he came into easy sight range of the death-eaters, scrawled a quick: "In forest behind Shrieking Shack" to Lupin, hoping this would be enough to allow him to find the place.
As they continued toward the dark forms, Harry became aware that there were more than five of them there. But then, he considered that two of the forms would be those of Lucy Smith and Doug Wilson. Still, as he got even closer, he noticed that there were at least a dozen figures in the clearing, and more seemed to be emerging from the forest.
Harry stopped walking, and his companions stayed with him, just at the edge of the clearing, watching the figures of the death-eaters. As they stood there, the voice of Lucius Malfoy cut through the silence. "Thinking of running away, are you?" he asked cooly. "We were afraid that you might. That's why we have the extra guards here. There are a fourteen of us here, in all, some are already behind you, blocking your exit. But don't worry. We will be true to our word. Only one of us will duel each of you at a time. And once we win, all of you but Harry shall be killed. Harry will be taken to our most powerful Lord. Although he did not find it prudent to venture so near to Hogsmeade at a time when the whole Wizarding World is now on the look-out for him, he still wants to be the one to finish Harry off. Oh, and in case you're thinking of apparating, if you've been learning illegally ahead of time as any self-respecting Slytherin sixth year would have done, you should know that we've put up anti-apparation charms up all around the forest, as far into the village as slightly beyond the Shack through which you traveled."
Harry was quickly calculating the situation, and was, of course, coming to the conclusion that things were not going quite the way he had planned. If any one of the students won their duel, that would no doubt be enough provocation to cause the other Death Eaters to jump into the fray. And with the anti-apparation charms up, it would take Lupin longer than it otherwise would have to find the clearing. Wormtail, by this point, had made his way into the center of the clearing, rejoining the other death-eaters, shaking slightly.
To Harry's great surprise, Wormtail actually spoke to Lucius Malfoy, "But, I thought the Great Lord had instructed us to have only five of our agents here."
"That's what he instructed you," said Malfoy coolly. "He had a hunch that Potter might have been cultivating skills in Legilimancy. And if he broke into your mind, it would not have done to have him previously informed that he was walking into a trap, would it?"
"Well, we've got no choice but to stand and fight," said Harry, quietly, so that only his friends could hear. "But let's arrange ourselves in a kind of circle so that we can guarantee that no one will sneak up from behind all of us."
It turned out that it had been quite foolish of Harry and Neville to assume that they would be able to pick their own dueling partners. Five death-eaters wearing hoods so that their identities were obscured formed a circle around Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Neville.
Harry, however, knew that it was Lucius whom he would be dualing, as he spoke once again before the dual began in earnest. "Of course, in a dual of this nature, no spells are restricted. You are limited only by your natural ability. Which is, of course, why the five of you stand no chance. I would count to three to signal when we are to begin our duel, but I'm afraid that you may jump the gun in your quite understandable panic. So I shall begin- expelliarmus!" Lucius said in the same breath.
However, at that, all the other death-eaters on the outside of the circle shouted expelliarmus as well, and the five students hit the ground as one solid mass, causing the spells to soar above their heads, one managing to cause a tree on the edge of the clearing to lose several branches, but causing no more damage than that.
As the Death Eaters were adjusting their aims for a second attempt, Harry propped himself up on one arm and shouted "Debilitatus!" while pointing his wand at the dark form that was barely discernible in the light of the half-moon.
Lucius, who had apparently not even remembered this spell from the last time Harry had used it on him, laughed a little bit before yelling "Cruciatus!" However, no beam of light broke from his wand to signify that the spell had been cast. Capitalizing on Malfoy's temporary confusion, Harry yelled, "Petrificus Totalus!" Malfoy, who had been busy muttering "Cruciatus," again, apparently under the impression that a mispronunciation had been to blame for his malfunctioning wand, was hit with the full force of the spell. His body seized up into paralysis.
In the meantime, his fellow-students had all yelled "Debilitatus" as well.
At this point, the death-eaters seemed to realize at least that they would be unable to use the Cruciatus Curse. This did not, however, stop the one who was battling Hermione from making a slashing motion with his wand, much like the one that had injured Hermione in the Ministry of Magic the previous year.
However, this time, it did nothing, and in the time it had taken him to utter the spell, Hermione countered with a "Petrificus Totalus!" of her own, ably subduing her own death-eater. Already, two death-eaters were down, and Harry felt a sort of empty satisfaction at the knowledge that if this had been a fair fight, there would be almost no doubt that they would have come out victorious. However, at that moment, one of the death-eaters who had not even originally been in the dual came forward to replace the man who had seized up because of Hermione's spell, just as Ron's opponent, apparently inspired by Harry's and Hermione's success with the spell, said, "Petrificus Totalus!"
Ron dodged the spell, but it instead hit Neville, who had just managed to disarm his opponent, who was now scrambling around looking for his wand in the dimly-lit clearning.
As Ron quickly muttered "Finite-Incantatem" while pointing his wand over his shoulder to bring Neville back to his full-faculties, Harry, who had managed to spot the death-eaters' wand before he recovered it, used the wand-breaking spell that Tonks had taught them, and caused it to erupt into a small fire. It was quite a different effect than had been produced when one of Fred and George's fake wands were hit with the incantation, and must have been caused by the release of the stored magical power within the wands. Still, it was just as satisfying as it would have been if the wand had been turned into a rubber chicken.
Harry mentally sized up the odds again as more death-eaters joined the fray to make up for their disabled comrades. There were three deatheaters incapacitated so far, out of an original 14, including some who might still be keeping guard elsewhere in the forest. So that meant there were only 11 more potential enemies, which was better odds than had existed in the beginning of the dual. However, it seemed that the Death Eaters had just decided to forgo any semblance of restraint, as it now seemed that all eleven of the death-eaters were now surrounding Harry, Ron, Hemione, Ginny, and Neville, their wands poised menancingly, but not yet striking.
Harry, who had been taking this opportunity yell "Debilitatus!" in all conceivable directions," was silenced by the calm voice of Bellatrix Lestrange, which said, "Stop that, boy, or we'll paralyze you all. We're going to have a nice little chat before we finish you off."
Although Harry did not at all like being told how things were going to be by the woman who had killed his godfather, he reckoned that he should shut up and listen while she stated her piece, considering that there was still the chance that Lupin could arrive with help at any moment. Even if he couldn't apparate into the forest because of the charms that Malfoy had apparently put up, he could apparate into another part of Hogsmeade and make the trip from there. Harry only wondered what was taking him so long.
"In fact, I think we'll paralyze you anyway," continued Bellatrix coolly. She pointed her wand at Harry, who yelled, "Run!"
The five of them all attempted to scatter, but were stopped by the nearly one dozen spells which had been fired from all over the clearing. Of course, in the cross-fire, a couple of the death-eaters were paralyzed as well, but it was a small price for them to pay considering that there was now no one to oppose them. In fact, Bellatrix allowed a total of five of her comrades to remain paralyzed as she continued to talk.
"Now, young Mr. Potter, you shall enjoy the privilege of watching each of your friends be tortured to insanity with the Cruciatus Curse before you are taken to the lair of our most powerful Dark Lord. Wormtail, kindly turn the Potter boy around so that he has a better view of his friends' demise."
Wormtail slinked forward from the spot in the circle where he had been held. But he seemed to be shaking with fear as he began turning Harry's body around so that his head would be facing into the circle of his friends. Harry could not understand why, until Wormtail muttered, "Kill me before letting them capture me," and then quickly muttered, "Finite Incatatem."
Harry at once sprang into action, reversing the incantation on Hermione and Ginny as well before Lestrange even seemed to be able to wrap her mind around what had just happened.
Now that Wormtail was now, to Harry's own particular confusion, fighting against the death-eaters as well, there were currently 7 able-bodied death-eaters (not counting one who was currently running around attempting to pry a wand out of the hands of one of his paralyzed comrades to replace his own broken wand) against 6 able-bodied (Hermione and Ginny having unparalyzed Ron and Neville) Gryffindors, present as well as past.
In sheer frustration and confusion, two of the death-eaters shouted "Avada Kedavra," into the circle. Luckily, these were two whose wands had previously been disabled. Wormtail, it turn, yelled "Avada Kedavra!' back at one of them. His wand worked properly, and one death-eater lie dead.
Lestrange did not seem to be too fond of her odds in an even match, and therefore turned to her left and quickly un-petrified Lucius Malfoy.
The wandless death-eater was able to recover the wand from the limp hand of his recently deceased comrade, and quickly yelled "Petrificus Totalus!" at Wormtail.
Ginny and Hermione were busy shouting Debilitatus at everyone they could see, petrified or not.
Harry managed to petrify Malfoy once again, although he was simultaneously petrified by Lestrange. The four remaining Gryffindors, now facing seven opponents, never really stood a chance.
Even as they attempted to disarm, disable, or petrify their opponents, each of them was petrified in turn by the more numerous death-eaters. Fortunately, it seemed that Hermione and Ginny had been wise in aiming to disable wands rather than people, considering that it now seemed that none of the Death-Eaters currently standing had the ability to actually curse them.
"Fine then," said Lestrange in a voice of brisk irritation. She was obvioulsy irritated because, although she seemed to have won the battle, she was robbed of the satisfaction of torturing and killing any of her opponents. "We shall simply have to take all of you in to our master. He will deal with each of you in turn. He will be especially delighted to torture the newly discovered traitor in our midst. I had always known Pettigrew to be a fool, but I had never dreamed he would be this much of one. At any rate, I shall prepare a portkey to our master's headquarters while anybody else standing should see to undoing these petrification spells. I'm sure all of us would like to be able to travel to headquarters to see these six fools dealt with."
However, it seemed that Lestrange would have been better occupied simply creating the portkey rather than going into a long monologue about it, because at that moment, a clatter of snapping twigs was enough to tell Harry that Lupin had just arrived with reinforcements.
This indeed turned out to be the case, and Lupin and Tonks made their way into the clearing.
Lestrange swore. The other death-eaters went about de-petrifying their comrades.
The five new arrivals quickly surveyed the scene. Lupin and Tonks quickly went about de-petrifying the students. When Lupin reached Wormtail, he hestitated for a moment. "What happened here?" he asked Harry.
"I'm not quite sure," said Harry truthfully. "He seems to be on our side though, he's already killed one of them. Where's Dumbledore?" asked Harry, remembering how he had been such a vital asset at the Ministry during the previous June.
"He's on his way. The anti-apparation charms slowed him down. For obvious reasons, he cannot run quite as fast as some of us, being well over 100 years old," said Lupin. Then, with a slightly doubtful face, he muttered "Finite Incantatem!" at Wormtail.
There were now 12 deatheaters against 8 opponents. Although the odds were less than even, it quite seemed that the eight of them would be quite able to remain standing until Dumbledore arrived. No battle-spells had yet been uttered, as each side had been busy unpetrifying its troops and, in the case of the two who had just run here, attempting to catch their breath and survey the situation.
Harry quickly explained, "The deatheaters' wands are all disabled, and four minutes ago, Wormtail unpetrified me when it looked like we'd had it."
Wormtail, who still seemed to be in rather a state of shock at his own actions, babbled, "They were about to kill off his friends, one by one. And I kept thinking about how that was what the Dark Lord did to me... Because you really had been my friends, before I sold Lily and James out. I was a coward. They were going to take Harry and let the Dark Lord kill him. And he had saved my life... I couldn't let them do it. Just promise you won't let them take me alive."
The death-eaters were once again in battle formation. They seemed to realize that they were at a tactical disadvantage as they were unable to use any unforgivable curses, so they didn't seem to be too anxious to start the battle once again.
However, Lucius Malfoy shouted, "Petrificus Totalus!" toward Lupin, and the battle had started again.
As a flurry of spells erupted all around, Lestrange, who was facing Wormtail, shouted, "Expelliarmus!" Wormtail was too slow to respond. Wherever his loyalties lie, he had never been a great duelist. His wand fell to the ground.
Lestrange shouted "Accio wand!" Wormtail's wand flew into her hand. She said, "Surely, under the circumstances, my Lord will forgive me if I deprive him of the pleasure of killing Potter personally. Avada Kedavra!"
Harry, who had been busy deflecting a petrifying curse sent at him by another death-eater, was unable to disable Wormtail's wand. A flash of green light erupted from the wand. Harry had a split second in which he thought he was going to die, before Wormtail defied logic for the second time that night, jumping in front of Harry.
As he crumpled to the ground, Harry shouted, "Debilitatus!"
At that moment, Dumbledore emerged, panting slightly, from the woods behind the clearing. Lestrange saw him, and hurriedly shouting, "Retreat!" turned to run.
Neville, however, took careful aim with his wand at her retreating form and shouted, "Petrificus Totalus!" Lestrange's running form fell to the ground, frozen in mid-stride.
They managed to round up no less than six more of the retreating death-eaters, although the others apparently made it far enough to be outside of the anti-apparation charms and disappeared.
In the aftermath of the battle, Harry stood with Lupin, surveying the motionless form of Peter Pettigrew.
Lupin looked at Harry, then said thoughtfully, "Are you sorry he's dead?"
Harry said, "I... I don't know. I was wondering whether I wouldn't kill him myself if I had the chance, but I never expected him to die saving me."
"Yes... that was quite unexpected," said Lupin.
Dumbledore, who was nearby, said, "I expected something like this might happen eventually. I said years ago that Voldemort would one day regret having a Wizard who owed his life to Harry Potter in his service. It seems tonight, his old loyalties took hold again. I often wondered what the Sorting Hat saw in young Peter Pettigrew's mind that made it put him in Gryffindor. I can't help but think that it must have saw potential for something like this in Peter. Of course, once he had gone back to his original loyalties, I must say, dying was the easy part for him. After admitting to such a grave error of ways, it would have been difficult indeed for him to live with himself under the best of conditions, not to mention what would have happened to him if Voldemort ever caught him. In fact, I think Lestrange did him quite a favor in finishing him off."
"Still, I'm quite surpsised that he re-evaluated his loyalties tonight," said Lupin. "He may have lived much of his life as a rat, but he died a man."
Doug Wilson and Lucy Smith were found on the edge of the clearing, in a spot removed from where the battle had been taking place. When Tonks shouted that she had found them, Harry was quite surprised until he remembered that that was the reason they had come here n the first place.
Doug and Lucy were released from the Petrification spell that had been holding them captive, and they accompanied the rest of them back to the Shrieking Shack.
When the battle took place, the school had already been in the midst of exams, and the last week of the term passed by in a bit of a haze for Harry. He was still in shock over the sudden turn of Wormtail's loyalties, and the fact that he now, in some way owed his life partially toward Wormtail.
When he voiced this concern to Ron, Hermione, Neville, and Ginny one morning in the Great Hall, Ginny actually scoffed, and said, "Yeah, but if it wasn't for him, you'd have your parents and your godfather alive, and wouldn't have been lured into that forest in the first place."
Harry reckoned this was quite true, but still couldn't help but think of Wormtail's death with mixed emotions. The entire concept of him sitting in school only hours after his life had almost ended in a wizarding battle also seemed rather surreal to him, making it hard for him to put his full effort into his remaining exams. He was quite glad that these particular exams were not as important as the N.E.W.T's or the O.W.L.'s and rather hoped that Ginny was making out better than he was.
The prisoners from that night in the forest, including Bellatrix Lestrange as well as Lucius Malfoy, were being kept under tight security awaiting a trial. Each of those who had went to the forest that night were informed that they would be called to attend the trial early that summer break, at which sentences would be determined. In the meantime, Harry would have to go back to his aunt and uncle's house, but he would be allowed to stay with the Weasleys once the trial was over.
As the Hogwarts' Express made its way back toward London, Harry reflected back on the past year between games of Exploding Snap. He was glad for the fact that he seemed to be getting much better at dueling, as well as Occlumency and Legilimancy (lessons for which Dumbledore promised would continue during the next term). He quite suspected that soon, he would be able to face Lord Voldemort and win. But he was also glad for the fact that that probably would not occur for at least a little while, and that in the mean-time he could look forward to his shortest stay yet at Privet Drive, followed by a summer with the Weasleys.
As he kissed Ginny good-bye at King's Cross, he promised to write regularly, and she assured him that she would see him soon. Harry was feeling very good about the idea of almost an entire summer spent without classes and in the company of the Weasleys. He was in such a good mood as he accompanied the Dursleys back to their car that he did not even care when Uncle Vernon muttered something about, "Those type of people," as he began to drive away.
A/N: Er... Right. So, kind of a long chapter. There was more stuff than I had realized that I wanted to put in before ending it, I guess. But, it's done now... 3 days before Book 6 comes out. So, I'm hoping that this story has helped keep at least a few people occupied over this seemingly endless wait for Half-Blood Prince, and I hope you liked how I ended it. Also, I might as well point out that there will be no sequel to this story, per se, but I will probably write a seventh year fic once whatever happens in the sixth book has time to sink into my head. And in order to make that story (as well as my writing style in general) better, I would appreciate any comments on this chapter or the story as a whole, in the form of reviews. Positive or negative reviews would be helpful, although I've got to say that if all I get are reviews complaining about how unrealistic it is for Pettigrew to turn good or something, I'll be slightly annoyed. Oh well, at any rate, thanks for reading!