Chapter Thirty - Cage of Flame
The characters and world of the Harry Potter books are the property of J.K. Rowling, and are used here without her knowledge or permission. This story is set immediately following the events in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," and is not connected with my previous HP fanfics. Some chapters will contain strong language and violence.
"I want to know what will happen to Jane," Harry demanded after declining yet again Lupin's offer to sit down and have a butterbeer or a cup of tea.
Lupin sighed wearily and pinched the bridge of his nose. He now looked as haggard as Harry had ever seen him, tired and unhappy. They were in his office, and through the window Harry could see the sun rising on a beautiful, blameless November day. But sunrise or no, his mood stayed dark.
"In all likelihood, Harry, I'm afraid she's going to Azkaban."
Harry's fists clenched. "It's my fault."
"You did not make Jane do those things."
"She wouldn't be arrested if I hadn't gone tearing up there to find her."
"And Draco Malfoy and Professor Snape would probably be dead," Lupin said gently. "Surely, Harry, you cannot think that would have been for the best."
"They don't even know why she did it!"
"She'll have a chance to explain at her trial. But I fear that in this case, nothing will make much of a difference. Snape heard her confess, and so did you. Even if you refused to testify, he would. And what reason could possibly be good enough to warrant murder?"
"She's not some crazed serial killer," Harry insisted.
"It doesn't matter. The law is the law. They are called Unforgivable Curses for a reason- the use of them, under any circumstances, is inexcusable."
"Aurors can use them."
"Harry, you can argue and search for loopholes all you like- and more power to you, because I know your heart is in the right place- but this once, you may have to accept that there's nothing you can do. She is guilty. You can't change that."
"But it isn't right," Harry said.
Lupin sighed again and said nothing.
"You agree with them, don't you?" Harry asked hotly. "You and Tonks. That she should go to Azkaban."
"I assure you, it turns my stomach to contemplate a teenage girl being sent to Azkaban," Lupin said. "But her crimes, Harry- you saw with your own eyes what she did, what she was capable of."
"There has to be something I can do."
"I wish there was," Lupin said with real sympathy. "I'm so sorry it had to turn out this way."
"Can I see her? Talk to her? Before they take her away?"
Upon leaving the top of the Astronomy tower, Tonks had taken charge of Jane and escorted her to Dumbledore's office. She would be held there until Dumbledore himself could return from the Ministry. Harry thought of her up there and wondered what Dilys Derwent had to say now, to this many-times-great-granddaughter of hers. Or what Phineas Nigellus had to say.
Owing to the dire nature of her crimes, Tonks had already broken Jane's wand. When she'd done it, so much of the life had gone out of Jane that it might as well have been her neck snapping, instead of that slim stick of wood.
Largely to prevent them from killing each other on the spot, Lupin had brought Harry to wait here with him and sent Snape off to contact Narcissa Malfoy with the news that her son was in the hospital wing with a concussion. Snape had gloatingly gone to do so, and Harry was sure that he had wasted no time telling the entire school all of the grim details.
"I don't think so, Harry," Lupin said. "It's best that you don't."
"She's my friend!"
"I know she is, and I commend your loyalty." Lupin poured a third cup of tea for himself, wordlessly offered again by tipping the teapot in Harry's direction, and sat down when Harry once more shook his head.
"Do you?" Harry asked. "Really? I mean... it's crazy, isn't it? She did it! She killed four people. Would have killed Malfoy and Snape, too, if I hadn't stopped her."
"Yes," Lupin said, making it almost a question.
"How can I still care about her? She's a murderer!"
"And yet you do care."
"I shouldn't. I know what she did. It's not like she accidentally killed someone, or did it in a fit of anger. She planned it. She'd been planning it for years. It was cold-blooded murder."
"I'm afraid there is no other way to look at it," Lupin said.
"She wouldn't have known who to target if not for that stupid interview, either!"
"Harry, you cannot blame yourself. What you did by granting Rita Skeeter that interview was a bold stroke, shining a light of truth that made many people open their eyes. And you cannot flatter yourself into thinking that only through you would that information have come out. Sooner or later, those Death Eaters would have revealed themselves for what they were."
"I guess," Harry said. "But, Professor, why did she have to do it? Was revenge that important?"
"Clearly, to Jane, it must have been. For the past several years, that has been her only goal. She was focused on it to the exclusion of all else."
"She must have known she'd be caught."
"I doubt she thought beyond attaining her revenge," Lupin said. "Or, given what she was up against, she might have expected to die in the commission of her crimes."
"But things were different!" Harry said. "It wasn't all she had any more. She didn't have to go through with it. There's more to her than being some sort of... vengeance machine for her dead mother!"
"Clearly, she must not have thought so. Or she may have been swept along by the momentum. Once she set her plan in motion, she must have been compelled to see it through to the very end, or at least so far as she could take it."
"And she used me," Harry said. "All that time."
"Do you believe that?"
"No," he said miserably.
"That, Harry," Lupin said, stirring his tea, "is why you're bothered by your inability to stop caring about Jane. Although I did not witness much of your friendship, it does seem to me that it was genuine."
"Then why didn't she tell me?"
"And what would you have done?"
"Talked her out of it. Made her stop!"
"There's your answer."
"So... she likes me... but she couldn't let that get in the way of her plan?"
"Essentially," Lupin said. "Or so I'd speculate."
"And I like her... even after everything she's done?"
"I shouldn't," Harry said. "She became the very thing she hates most in the whole world. That I hate most in the whole world. The only difference is, she wasn't doing it on Voldemort's say-so, or because she likes killing people. She did it because she thought that she had to!"
"What's more," Harry said heavily, "I think... Professor, I think I must have known all along. Or at least suspected. She did try to tell me, and whenever she started, I wouldn't let her. I knew... down deep... I knew. And I didn't say anything."
Lupin only looked at him, not accusing, not condemning.
"How can she be both at once?" Harry asked angrily. "How can she be a murderer, and still be a good person? How can I like her one way, and hate what she's done?"
Lupin kept looking at him steadily. "I have asked myself a similar question countless times over the years. How can I reconcile being a werewolf, and the terrible things that disease makes me do, with the fact that I consider myself to be a good man?"
"You didn't choose to be a werewolf," Harry said.
"I cannot say for certain, but I would suspect that Jane feels like she had no choice either. Whether that is true or not remains open for debate. We don't know what it was like for her, growing up the way she did."
"You mean, her mother might have put her up to it?"
"Not directly," Lupin said. "I can't see someone like Amaryllis Derwent deliberately setting out to do such a thing. But indirectly? I think it's very possible."
"I still like her," Harry said. "I still want to be her friend. I want to help her. I know that she did terrible things... I know I should never want to see her again... but I also know that it's... it's Jane. She didn't mean to hurt me."
Lupin rose and approached him. "That, Harry, is because, like everyone, your heart -" he tapped Harry's chest, "- only exists to feel, and your head -" he tapped Harry's temple, "- exists to rationalize, justify, and talk you out of those feelings when they do not agree with our accepted view of what is right."
"And she needs me. She needs a friend. I'm her only one, now. She doesn't have anyone else. The rest of the Slytherins won't have anything to do with her. The vicar isn't about to speak on her behalf. When he hears, he'll probably say that they should burn her at the stake, and won't be surprised at all."
"I'm sure it's scant comfort at best," Lupin said, "but at least she won't be turned over to the dementors. She'll be spared that."
Harry paced fretfully for an hour, as the morning strengthened. At last, Professor McGonagall came in. "He'll be here momentarily, Remus," she told Lupin. She gave Harry a look of mingled pity and concern, shook her head, and went out.
Snape had indeed spread the word; the entire school was gathered to await Dumbledore's arrival. As Harry emerged with Lupin into the bright sunshine, he blanched from the sight of them. Their somber yet avid expressions, their expectant hush. He saw McGonagall's look mirrored exactly on Hermione's face, and dumbfounded amazement on Ron's, and commiseration on Ginny's and Neville's. The Slytherins were thunderstruck with shock, hardly able to believe that it had been one of their own all along.
Draco Malfoy, just released from the hospital wing, had a large white bandage wrapped around his head- Harry had knocked him into the telescope stand hard enough to crack his skull, though it was less damage than he would have sustained had Harry gotten there even five seconds later- and a slightly confused fog to his eyes, as if he still could not quite understand everything that had happened.
He was at the outermost edge of the crowd with his mother, who had Apparated into Hogsmeade before dawn and been ushered to the school by Snape. Narcissa Malfoy stood very tall, very fair, and very cool, her high-necked gown of green-black silk draping her thin frame and setting off her aristocratic hauteur to good effect. Her ring-bedecked hands rested protectively on her son's shoulders.
Snape, beside her, looked like a hungry bird of prey in his black robes. His gaze challenged Harry to pull one more rabbit out of his proverbial hat, and his thin lips curved ever-so-slightly in a mocking smirk.
Madame Pomfrey, the school nurse, hovered nearby with a disapproving frown, and Harry guessed that Malfoy was out of the hospital wing against her medical advice.
Walking between the whispering, murmuring ranks of students was like being tried before the Wizengamot again. Harry felt them scrutinizing him, judging him. He wondered morbidly what they knew, or thought they did, of his ill-fated friendship with Jane.
"Over here, Harry," murmured Lupin, leading him not to the rest of the Gryffindors but over with the faculty.
Hagrid did his best to give Harry a cheery wave and a grin, but it fell flat. The others all shifted uncomfortably. It was the first time in fifty years that one of their students had been accused of murder, and this was a far more direct murder than the death of Myrtle had been. Only Firenze looked unaffected as usual.
Gwenna Golden, with Arcturus balanced on her hip, reached out to give Harry's hand a compassionate squeeze. The little boy, only sensing that his friend Harry was upset, cooed and patted his cheek.
The whirling disk of fire appeared in the sky over Hogwarts, spinning down on rippling heat-waves. The aureliphim honor guard spread out, spears glinting, their wings somehow every bit as majestic and fiery on a sunny day as they'd been on a cloudy one.
Dumbledore, in magnificent white and gold robes, stepped down from the disk. His face was very grave. Mad-Eye Moody clumped less gracefully down after him, his magical eye sweeping the crowd before pausing, piercingly, on Harry.
Harry was surprised to find that, even after the cross words, hurtful silences, distance and anger, he still felt an uplifting confidence burgeon in his chest at the sight of Dumbledore.
Dumbledore was here. Dumbledore would fix everything.
He pulled away from Lupin and Gwenna, and hurried forward. "Professor, she doesn't deserve to go to Azkaban. Please. You've got to do something."
The regretful look in those light-blue eyes behind their half-moon spectacles dashed hopes Harry hadn't even known he'd been holding onto.
"Her crimes are very serious, Harry, and the evidence against her most overwhelming."
"You mean you're taking her away? You're really going to take her away? You're the Minister of Magic now!"
"And bound by the responsibilities of my office."
"What does that mean?"
"It means that I am sorry to say that there is nothing I can do. Miss Kirkallen must be sent to Azkaban to await her trial."
"That's it, then?" Harry asked bitterly. "That's all? This is the justice of the Ministry of Magic?"
"Harry," Dumbledore said with mild reproach.
"Voldemort is out there -" Harry was far past caring how everyone in earshot flinched at the name, and given that his voice had risen to a near-shout, everyone in earshot was everyone. "- his Death Eaters walk free, dementors are on a rampage, Fudge is dead... but the wizarding world will sleep safely tonight because a fifteen-year-old girl is in prison?"
"Mind your tongue, laddie," Moody growled.
"She's a kid!" Harry yelled, unintimidated.
"Nits make lice," Moody said.
"How can you do this? How can you arrest her for doing something you yourself have done?"
Moody's eyes, both the beady one and the overlarge magical one, bored into Harry. "Don't sass me, Potter. If you can't see that there's a difference between a trained and authorized Auror going after villainous Death Eater scum, and an untutored amateur slip of a girl murdering innocent people- wipe that look off your face, too, or I'll knock it off; just because you didn't like them, or because their parents might've been Death Eaters doesn't mean that they'd done anything worth being killed for. You start thinking that way, and you're just as bad as a Death Eater yourself."
Harry, with an effort, forced himself into a stoic, wooden expression.
"As I was saying," Moody continued, "if you can't see there's a difference, then you've got a lot to learn. Now, kindly get out of the way."
Fuming, Harry retreated without another look at Dumbledore.
"Be steady, Harry," Lupin said. "Don't make matters worse."
"I'd like to know what you'd consider worse," Harry said.
"Dumbledore doesn't like this any better than you do. We'd all prefer to see it end some happier way... but the laws are clear."
The great front doors at the top of the stone steps opened again, and all heads turned as one. What few low conversations there had been now died totally away as Tonks came out into the daylight, leading Jane Kirkallen.
No longer in her school uniform, Jane wore a plain grey robe and slippers. Her hair was loose, framing her face in long dark waves. She was ashen, and her dark eyes were enormous, the eyes of an owl, as she looked out over the crowd.
The sight of so many stony, hostile stares made her hesitate. She had to visibly bolster her courage before she could follow Tonks down the steps and into the wide aisle that split the crowd. But she held her head high, and gave no outward sign of the fear and shame she must be feeling.
As she passed the Slytherins, most of them averted their eyes as if shunning her altogether. Some mouthed obscenities or made crude gestures. Draco Malfoy, his mother, and Snape looked at her with raw hate. Even Nadine Zellis, who had been something of a friend, sniffed coldly and looked away. Only Blaise Zabini gave Jane an encouraging half-grin, but either Jane failed to see it, or didn't respond.
Silent and condemning, her former classmates turned to mark her slow progress through their midst. No one spoke. A few of them shied away, not even wanting her slim shadow to pass over them as if it might carry some sort of evil taint.
It made Harry think again of witch-burnings, and penitents and old-fashioned punishments. All they needed were a few rotten vegetables to throw. Or stones.
All at once, he couldn't bear it. Not for another single second.
"Jane!" Harry called, and started forward.
Tonks blocked his way. "I don't think so, Harry. Sorry."
"It's all right, Tonks," Lupin said, gesturing her aside.
She shot him a look that was as eloquent as if she had spoken aloud - Are you insane, Remus? This girl is a murderer!
"If Jane had wanted to harm Harry, she had ample opportunity before this," Lupin said reasonably. "He's in no danger from her. No... physical danger, anyway."
Tonks reluctantly moved out of the way, though staying close with her wand trained on her captive. "You'd better be right, Remus."
Harry both heard and did not hear this. He stopped in front of Jane, not caring that the entire school was there. Let them gawk all they liked. All he could see was Jane, those soulful eyes tilting up to meet his.
For a moment, they only looked at one another.
Then he seized her in a fierce embrace, holding her to him, burying his face in the dark fall of her hair. She was so slight in his arms. He could feel her trembling as she leaned against him.
"There's nothing I can do!" he whispered, agonized, into her ear.
"I know, Harry. I know."
"It isn't fair."
"Yes, it is."
"You don't deserve this!"
"But I do." She took a shaky breath. "I do deserve it."
"I just wish ..."
"You saved me before I was born, and you saved me from the water, and from jumping... but... Harry... even you can't save me every time."
"I don't want to lose you."
Lupin cleared his throat. "Harry ..."
Slowly, reluctantly, Harry straightened up. He brushed a lock of hair from Jane's brow, trailing his fingers over her soft skin.
"Don't worry about me," she said bravely. A corner of her mouth lifted in a shaky version of her familiar wry smile. "Maybe... maybe it won't be so bad."
"I'll come see you," Harry said.
"I doubt I'll be allowed visitors. And even if I hadn't given back your mirror, they wouldn't let me bring it."
"I'll find a way," he said. He was thinking of what Lupin had told him, about his mother and how she had visited him during the full moon. "I promise."
She pressed something into his hand. He looked down and saw that it was the carved wooden snake, the band from her ponytail. Like someone lost in a dream, he put it into his pocket.
He couldn't speak.
Jane turned to Tonks. "I'm ready."
"Come on, then," Tonks said, sounding a bit less harsh than before.
Harry stayed where he was as Tonks led Jane toward the waiting aureliphim. He heard footsteps and the swish of robes as a few people came up around him, and knew without looking that he was surrounded by his friends. Ron and Neville, behind him, gripped his shoulders. Hermione and Ginny were at his sides and put comforting arms around his waist.
Rayyid signaled, and a smaller bright-blazing disk swirled off from the one that had carried Moody and Dumbledore. It hovered in front of Jane, the grass crisping to brown beneath it.
She stepped onto it, wincing as she did so, but the flames did not sear her feet through the thin slippers or ignite the hem of her robe.
The aureliphim raised their golden spears. Beams of fire shot skyward from the tip of each spear, meeting in a fireball high above Jane's head. From the fireball, a dozen fiery lines arched down in long curves, merging with the edges of the disk and sealing her within a cage of flame.
Harry broke from his friends and ran toward her. Moody glowered, but Dumbledore stayed him with a light cautioning touch.
"Jane!" He thrust his arm between the bars.
She, the prisoner, might have been immune to the cage's heat, but Harry was not. Still, he was heedless of the blistering heat and the way the fine hairs sizzled and burnt from his reddening skin.
He clasped her hand. "I do forgive you."
Jane smiled sadly. "Thank you, Harry."
The cage began to rise. Her fingers slipped through his, though he tried to hold on, until he finally had to let go.
The blazing wings of the four nearest aureliphim began to beat, stirring a scorching wind that made the nearest onlookers shield their faces.
Harry kept his arm upraised as the cage floated up and away, the four aureliphim flying in precise formation around it.
All too soon, the cage and its guardians had dwindled to a coin-sized firespark in the distance. Harry let his arm fall to his side and bowed his head.
He heard the swishing of robes through the grass again, but this time it was not Ron's hand, or Neville's, that fell upon his shoulder.
"Harry," Dumbledore said. "I understand what you must be feeling. If you'd like to talk -"
Without lifting his head, Harry said in a dull voice, "You've barely said a word to me for a year and a half, Minister. Now's not the time to start."
He wouldn't have been surprised if Moody suddenly clubbed him in the head for his impertinence. Or if Dumbledore got angry. Harry might actually have welcomed either of those reactions. But instead, Dumbledore only heaved a fatigued sigh.
"Very well," he said, and went to rejoin Moody and Rayyid. The three of them headed for the castle without a backward glance.
Harry felt a brief pang that Dumbledore hadn't tried even a little harder to talk to him. Not that there was much Dumbledore could have said or done to help. Still...
Now his friends did approach him again, though tentatively. The teachers were urging the rest of the students to disperse, and they were gradually doing so, though not without shooting more curious glances at Harry.
"Blimey," Ron said. "I don't know how you had the guts to do that."
"Oh, Ron, leave him alone," Hermione said, hugging Harry. "I thought it was very noble."
"Are you going to be all right?" Ginny asked.
"Eventually, maybe," Harry said. "But it doesn't matter. It's not about me."
They started back toward the school, straggling near the end of the line of students, with Lupin and Tonks bringing up the rear.
"That was so romantic," sighed Luna Lovegood mistily, twining her arm through Ron's. "Wasn't it, Ronald?"
"Um ..." Ron said, going pink.
"Quit treating him like he's your boyfriend," Hermione said.
Luna blinked her large, protuberant eyes. "But he is my boyfriend."
"Um ..." Ron said again.
Ginny gave her brother a disgusted grimace. "Ron, if Harry can do what he just did in front of the entire school, you should be able to handle this."
"It's hard enough to find someone to care about as it is," Harry agreed. "I'm sick of people letting little stupid fears and made-up excuses keep them from saying what they really feel." He glanced pointedly back over his shoulder at Tonks and Lupin, aiming his next words directly at them. "Quit rationalizing. Quit talking yourselves out of what could be something good, if you gave it a chance."
He saw Tonks and Lupin look at each other. Then, slowly, Lupin held out his hand. Tonks took it, and they both smiled, and continued toward Hogwarts together.
Ron, meanwhile, hemmed and hawed and hooked a finger into the collar of his robes. The girls were watching him expectantly, Hermione with hands on hips and foot tapping, Luna with a polite quizzical look, and Ginny motioning as if to tell him to get on with it, you fool.
Harry reached into his pocket for the carved wooden band, but found something else first. A small, hard, faceted something. The Maleficum. He drew it out and looked at it. Green again, though slightly faded, as if Malfoy's health and well-being were still not entirely up to snuff after his ordeal.
He went toward Malfoy, who was at the base of the front stone steps with his mother and Snape. Most of the other Slytherins were still milling about, looking like they weren't quite ready to believe that it was over.
"Here," Harry said, holding out the Maleficum.
Malfoy, whose look of confusion had finally gone, snatched it back from him with a sneer. "Thanks for nothing, Potter!"
"You got what you wanted, didn't you? I saved your neck."
"Took you bloody long enough, and you weren't exactly careful about it either!"
"You're welcome," Harry said.
Malfoy flushed and seemed to be struggling to hold his tongue.
Harry turned away.
He only got a few paces before Malfoy burst out, "Azkaban's too good for your stinking half-blood girlfriend! I hope she dies in there! I wish the dementors could still be there to suck out her soul like a cherry pip, then spit it straight into Hell!"
In a flash, Harry was on him.
He had the front of Malfoy's robes wadded up in his fist, yanking him away from his mother. The tip of his wand was a quarter-inch from Malfoy's startled left eye.
"Give me a reason, Malfoy," Harry said, his teeth clenched. "I'm this close already. I'll curse you where you stand and go to Azkaban with her."
Malfoy squealed and whimpered with terror.
Harry shook him, hard. "Well?"
"That's enough, Potter!" Snape ordered.
With a shove, Harry sent Malfoy stumbling backwards into his mother. Narcissa steadied him, her silvery-pale eyes cold on Harry.
"How dare you manhandle my son!" she said. "And how dare you defend that wretched whelp of a girl!"
"How dare I?" Harry shouted.
"Potter," Snape said warningly.
Harry's every muscle was quivering, and he wanted nothing more than to attack. There would be a certain beckoning peace in a berserk rage. But he forced himself to back down.
"I have never been more appalled at the way this school conducts its affairs," Narcissa Malfoy said loftily. "Over the years, we've grown to accept a degree of excessive tolerance and irresponsible short-sightedness from Dumbledore. But from you, Severus Snape?"
"I assure you, my sight is most keen when it comes to Potter and his ilk," Snape said.
"And yet you permit this to go on under your very nose? A student in your own House, no less... and for that matter, what are the standards of Slytherin House come to when such a lowly mongrel as that can be admitted?"
"We are all rather at the mercy of the Sorting Hat," Snape said.
"Then I would at least expect you to keep a closer watch on the less savory elements!"
"You don't know, do you?" asked Harry. He laughed without a trace of humor. "You really don't know."
"What are you blathering about, Potter?" Snape asked irritably.
"Jane. You don't know why she did it."
"Obviously," said Narcissa Malfoy with an air of great condescension, "it was a spiteful, jealous lashing-out at the students of better bloodline and pedigree."
"Her mother," Harry said deliberately, looking from Snape to Narcissa and back with intense scrutiny, "was Amaryllis Derwent."
He wanted to see if the name got a reaction from either of them.
Narcissa sucked in a sharp breath and clamped her fingers down on her son's shoulders so hard that he yelped.
Snape's eyes first widened, and then slitted. His head snapped around in the direction that the aureliphim had gone, as if trying to get a glimpse of Jane.
"That's... that's impossible," Narcissa said faintly.
"Maybe you should do the math, before you go insulting anyone's pedigree." Harry crossed his arms and eyed them coldly.
"What's he mean?" whined Malfoy, tugging on his mother's sleeve. "Who's Amaryllis Derwent?"
She looked down at him, her lips compressed. "That's none of your concern, Draco dear."
"Professor?" Malfoy turned to Snape.
Snape shook his head brusquely. He looked shaken, speechless.
"Nothing to say?" asked Harry. "Either of you? I imagine you could tell us some very enlightening things."
"She tried to kill me!" Malfoy said, now addressing his mother again. "I think I have a right to know why!"
"I said hush!" She pinched him by the ear.
Harry looked at Snape. "Nothing you'd care to add, Professor?"
"You've said all that needs be said," Snape replied icily.
"All right, then."
Harry turned his back on the three of them and walked back to his friends, as, in the distance, the tiny firespark that was the cage of flame finally vanished into the clear blue of the sky.
Author's Afterword - I cannot believe how long of a story this turned out to be, and still only got into November of the school year. Thank you for reading and bearing with me all this way. I hope that it was a satisfying journey and that you enjoyed it as much as I did. Please feel free to send me your remarks. Yours in fandom, C.M.
page copyright 2005 by Christine Morgan