Disclaimer: Harry Potter and Hogwarts et alia belong to JK Rowling and Warner. Not me. Me make no money here. Me promise.
Summary: Voldemort is on the rise and Hogwarts has been sealed off against him. When's a better time to get a new pet?
Rated M for future gore and bad for books 1 – 4. Probably a few for book 5 even though it's AU from the end of 4th year, but you can consider this a definite AU 6th year for Harry.
WARNING! This fiction is pure whimsy and written as escape from my original stuff (which tends to go badly at times). While there is a Beginning, a Middle, and an End, the Middle is going to be quite waffly. If you don't like waffle (and especially if you don't like horses!) then Stop Reading Now!
Harry Potter ducked as another branch tried to behead him. There were Death Eaters chasing him. He was on a runaway horse. Draco Malfoy was flying alongside on a broom, shouting advice and encouragement. Only one of these was normal, and that was the bit where Harry was being chased by Death Eaters.
"Grab the reins, you idiot! And keep your heels down!" Harry supposed that was encouragement. Coming from a Malfoy it probably was. Grimly, he focussed on the strap of leather half-way up the galloping horse's neck. Now if only he could let go of the saddle for half a second to pick up the reins, maybe he could regain some control here…
"Wall!" shouted Malfoy.
Shit. It was a wall. A high one built out of shale, too. Harry tightened his grip on the saddle and prayed the stupid horse would find enough sense to stop.
Of course not.
The utterly, utterly, bloody animal did shorten its strides on the approach, managing to come down from the flat-out gallop to a more controlled canter, but when the black ears that had been back listening for their pursuers pricked forward Harry knew he was in trouble.
The head lowered as the back arched slightly, the horse bunching up and getting its feet well underneath it, then the powerful hindquarters launched horse and rider into the air.
At the top of the arc Harry caught his breath and looked down. In a magical silence the wall flew beneath them, and for a moment they were level with Malfoy on his broom, who grinned encouragement. And in that split second Harry thought: Merlin, I'm doing this! I'm really going to –
Then they came down.
The horse pecked so badly on landing it nearly tripped on its own nose, and for a moment Harry wondered if some Death Eater had managed to slice its head off with a well-aimed hex. Then it didn't matter, because he had lost his grip on the pommel and was sliding down the satiny black shoulder, down to the ground where hooves shod with silver sliced the turf and –
The last thing Harry saw was a galaxy of stars exploding out from behind his eyes.
Chapter 1: Blockade
The Forbidden Forest rocked with explosions. From Gryffindor Tower it sounded like Muggles blasting with dynamite, but the three students watching from the window could see the trees thrashing as if a gale were blowing over them. Lights the wrong colours for lightning could be intermittently seen through the weaving black shadows, speeding through the night and bursting on their targets. Occasionally, warped hexes howled out of the shadowy forest, wailing like the damned before crashing into the wards of Hogwarts, sending up sheets of flame like the Northern Lights that danced and limned the trembling stone towers of the castle.
"They'll be okay," Hermione said as a particularly nasty shade of green flickered for a moment. The three turned away from the view and settled on the floor with their backs to the window. "They're all very experienced in fighting the Dark Arts."
"Yeah," Ron added. "And having Mad-Eye Moody and a dozen Aurors can't hurt their cause."
Harry nodded. He would say they were okay when he saw everyone come back safely. Already little Professor Flitwick the Charms teacher had been brought back on a stretcher. Trelawney had limped in under her own steam (probably trying to divine the stars she saw spinning around her head), and McGonagall had been glimpsed in her cat Animagus form streaking back and forth from the castle to deliver messages and retrieve more supplies for the fighters. Or so Harry, Hermione, and Ron guessed – on Hermione's suggestion they'd tried to enchant a scroll to give them some sort of idea of what was going on out in the Forest. It was a spell Hermione had come across briefly in Muggles – Fact or Fiction? and was inspired by the Muggle phenomenon of TV reporting in war zones.
"Seyennennos!" But it hadn't worked very well. Maybe her wand-work was off, Hermione had wondered, or maybe the parchment was the wrong sort. The scroll had given them a vague idea of what a few of the people out there were doing, but it was also telling them the overnight low temperature in Hogsmeade and how the price of Manticore skin had fallen now that the market had gone Minotaurish.
"Shares in Gringotts are at a high," Ron read out. "Typical. Dad always says that when people go to war the price of gold goes up."
Hermione looked out the window again. "Are we at war?"
"If not that then it's something pretty close," Harry said. It was the first time he'd spoken in nearly an hour. He knew it was stupid to wish for it, but he wanted to be out there with the defenders of Hogwarts, not locked up in Gryffindor Tower with the other students.
He stood up to look out the window again. Out there were all the people he loved (apart from Ron and Hermione, and he realised he should be thankful for that small mercy). Even Hagrid was fighting, but it had taken a great deal of persuasion to convince him that his beloved Blast-ended Skrewts were just as useful in combating Death Eaters as for teaching children. It was full moon, and somewhere in the bubbling mayhem a werewolf, bloodlust under control thanks to the Wolfsbane Potion, would be fighting side-by side with a big black dog. Sirius Black the escaped convict couldn't be seen even now, but Snuffles was free to hunt down Death Eaters. Harry wished he was, too.
"Oh – it's working again!" Hermione squeaked. "Let's see… Dumbledore is doing well… He's just defeated a Manticore – that'll help Snape stock up on his stores even if it's too expensive to buy… Hey – Aragog is helping! Well, sort of," she amended. "Some Death Eaters fell into a web and now they're… ugh."
"Cool," Ron breathed. "Midnight snack for Aragog! Never thought I'd be cheering for a giant spider."
"How are Sirius and Remus doing?" Harry asked, still looking out the window. He'd seen the flash of blue accompanied by the brilliant diving flare that could only be Fawkes the phoenix when Dumbledore killed the Manticore. Remus and Sirius wouldn't be using wands: they would be relying on teeth, stealth and ferocity.
"Um…" There was a tapping noise that sounded like Hermione hitting the parchment with her wand. "Let's see… Land speculation in Hogsmeade rife with – nope … Minister of Magic on fact-finding tour – oh, for Heaven's sake… as if he could find a fact if it was right under his nose… that's a big, fat nope, then… Ah-ha! They're both doing fine. Still together and keeping an eye on each other as well as on Dumbledore and… oh, McGonagall's back in the fray. And – hang on, we're back with Aragog… eeyew. What's it say? Oh! Looks like Snape was the one who lured them into that web."
"Might've known he'd be best buddies with giant spiders," Ron grumbled, but he was studying the enchanted parchment just as eagerly as Hermione. "Uh-oh," he added cheerfully, "he's in a fire-fight with Avery. Looks like he's got Avery dealt with, though – oh…"
Ron's voice had got very serious and Harry half-turned from the window. "What?"
"Lucius Malfoy at six o'clock," Ron said. "Snape'll have seen him, though."
Harry thought it likely. He also wondered on the likelihood of his not being the only one who wanted to be out there. Down in the Dungeons Draco Malfoy must be holding court with his sycophantic little followers, complaining how Snape had locked them all in and not let them out to help like the good little Death Eater spawn they were.
Had Draco had any idea whose side Snape was really on before tonight? If he had, odds were Snape would have been poisoned by now. Malfoy would have found some way of slipping something into one of Snape's drinks. Head of House or no, Draco was a Malfoy and that carried certain responsibilities. Like maiming and killing, Harry thought, looking out over the trees as a particularly ugly pus-yellow spell could be seen briefly bursting and then sucking inwards in a way that implied that it had just found its target.
"Oh, Merlin," breathed Hermione.
"What?" When neither of his friends answered, Harry crouched back down next to them again and peered at the parchment. It had gone on to read that the weather in Istanbul at this time of the year was remarkably fine and showed promise for the first Middle Eastern Quidditch match of the season. "Well? Is it Sirius?"
Hermione shook her head, her bushy brown hair flying out around her face. Something gleamed on her cheek.
"It must be wrong," Ron said. He was very white under the freckles. "That can't be right!"
"It's Snape," Hermione sniffed. "He didn't see Lucius Malfoy. He got him with… I didn't quite see what the spell was." She hit the parchment with her wand and demanded, "Show us the names of the active combatants!"
Possibly the parchment had been enchanted with a sense of self-preservation, because for once it obeyed instantly.
Harry scanned it rapidly, finding the names of all the defenders of Hogwarts on it save one: Severus Snape. Lucius Malfoy was still there, fighting one of Aragog's granddaughters.
"Maybe he Disapparated," Ron said softly. "It won't show us the name of anyone who's inside Hogwarts."
"You can't Apparate inside Hogwarts," Harry muttered, but he got out his Marauders Map just in case. It showed Trelawney, Pince, Pomfrey and Flitwick, but not Snape.
"We just have to wait and see when it's over," Hermione said practically, if in a quiet voice and more for her own comfort, Harry suspected. For Hermione a teacher was second only to God and possibly just as omnipotent.
They waited until it was over.
None of the students had been able to sleep anyway, so they were herded along to the Great Hall by the prefects for an early breakfast.
The teachers filed in from a side door. Dumbledore, looking as old as his years, helped little Professor Flitwick up to the High Table. McGonagall's robes were slightly scorched and her hat had lost its point, but her back was ramrod-straight and her sharp eyes as watchful as ever as they swept over the student body, checking for absences.
There was only one absence that dawn.
Professor Severus Snape's chair stood empty.
Harry looked to see how the Slytherins were taking it. Crabbe and Goyle appeared smug, as did Susan Avery.
Draco Malfoy sat between his thuggish bookends with his face a carefully schooled blank. With that determined lack of expression he looked a great deal like his father.
There were cheers as the teachers announced that Voldemort's latest attack had been successfully deflected, although Hogwarts was still blockaded from the rest of the world. There was a strange misty wall partially formed in the Forest and surrounding the larger Hogwarts area, and students were strictly forbidden from going anywhere near it until the staff had better ascertained its nature. Although owls were able to get in and out (and students were urged to write to their parents to let them know they were safe – more cheers, especially from the younger ones who were running out of sweets) the floo system was down. Somehow Voldemort had taken control of the floo system and no-one knew just how. There were no cheers when it was announced that Professor Snape was still missing, although if some of the prefects hadn't been quick with those younger students in their Houses there might have been.
As for Harry, he didn't know what to feel.
Lessons had come and gone as normal. Well, almost as normal. Remus Lupin (pale after the full moon) had taken over the Potions classroom in lieu of Snape. Harry had expected something of an outburst from the Slytherins at the indignity of having their Head of House replaced by a werewolf, but not a whisper.
Even Draco hadn't bothered invoking his father's name. In fact he had been remarkably silent throughout the day. This, in Harry's experience, meant that the blond Slytherin was brewing up trouble. Harry kept a watchful eye on his rival. But the only time Draco showed any trace of emotion was at dinner when the Malfoy eagle owl arrived with a letter for him. Harry could only presume it contained good news from his father.
Maybe not. Draco went even paler than usual before he carefully folded the letter back up and slipped it into an inside pocket of his robes.
Maybe Lucius hadn't got off so lightly in his fight with Snape. Harry could only hope so. Every time he closed his eyes he saw a sickly pus-yellow light in the darkness. He glared at Malfoy, who either didn't notice or didn't care.
Hermione noticed. "What is it today?" she whispered over her plate of vegetables (Hermione was vegetarian this year).
"Malfoy," Harry muttered back, stabbing a chicken leg viciously with his fork. "You'd think he'd be a bit unhappy that the only teacher in Hogwarts who ever liked him is gone."
Hermione shrugged. "Maybe he is. You're not going to know unless you ask him. Even then… well. Truth's not exactly high on his list of priorities. It's doubtful he knows what it is, let alone values it." She sighed and pushed her plate away.
"No," she replied. "You?"
Harry shook his head.
"Maybe he's still alive. Snape's a survivor." Hermione spoke quietly, as if afraid that showing concern for Snape was something to be ashamed of. Maybe in Gryffindor it was. Further down the table some of the first and second years could be heard whispering their hopes that Potions classes would be cancelled if Snape was dead.
Neville Longbottom, of all people, glared them into silence.
"Yeah. But if he is, then why's no-one looking for him?" said Harry.
Hermione had no answer to that. Soon she announced to no-one in particular that she had some study to do and left for Gryffindor Tower.
Harry went to the library instead, where if he appeared to be busy over his books he could be sure of no-one disturbing him. He didn't leave until Madam Pince shooed him out at closing time.
The castle felt odd for no reason Harry could describe. Unsettled. And by more than the threat of the Death Eaters who had stopped anyone coming in or out of Hogwarts grounds or the mysterious pearly grey barrier solidifying just beyond the gates which raised the hair on the back of the neck of anyone who went near it. It was as if the stones of the castle knew that one of their inhabitants had vanished. He went back to his dorm and took his Invisibility Cloak out of his trunk and, after telling Ron that he was going to go for a wander, mooched back out into the castle again.
He was just considering going back up to his bed when he heard soft footsteps. They were heading along a corridor that led to a side-door out of the castle.
Already suspicious, Harry became even more so when he recognised the sleek blond head. Draco Malfoy. Off to open up the wards for his father, was he?
Too angry to think about going and getting help, Harry followed Malfoy out into the night.