Chapter 39

Harry and his friends decided to take advantage of the unusually mild spring weather one Saturday, and lugged their revision out to the lake. They weren't alone in this, as many of their classmates were also enjoying the sun, even if it wasn't a Hogsmeade weekend.

The only noticeable absence was the Slytherins. Evidently some of them had gotten together and decided to test Professor Slughorn's resolve in Potions class. Most of yesterday's sabotage attempts failed, but it was still enough to set the older wizard's walrus-like moustache to quivering. Nearly half of the third-year students in their class received detentions, and Ginny reported much the same happened in second year Potions. It was enough to provoke the Head of Slytherin to announce during the feast that night that the entire house would be attending a compulsory house meeting all day on Saturday.

Even Ron was impressed.

While Harry was sorry they were giving Slughorn grief over his enforced détente with the other houses, it also meant he and his friends didn't need to watch their backs as much when they were away from the castle. Harry supposed it was a legacy of the Malfoy influence on the house, and wondered if there was any way to defuse it before things got worse. He hoped that if he and the others only responded when attacked, the others might get the hint, but he wasn't going to hold his breath.

OoOoO

Sean led his men carefully through the heavy woods. According to their informant, the entrance to the British Army research facility was disguised by what looked like a bunch of medieval enthusiasts, the crazy buggers that liked to get together on a weekend and pretend they still lived in the Middle Ages. Their little pretend village let the government move people and supplies in and out of the base without raising anyone's curiosity.

As they skirted the edge of a clearing, Sean paused and checked the target area with his field glasses. The recreationist's village, Hogsmeade, was still hidden in the valley, but the 'abandoned' castle that loomed behind it was visible in the morning sun. He peered at it for a long moment. The drafty-looking ruins gave him a chill, and not just because of what he knew lay beneath it. But he swallowed his fear. If what they'd been told was correct, exposing the technology the British had developed would draw world-wide attention. If their way truly was the will of the people, then what need would they have for mind-control technology? International sympathy for their struggle could force concessions impossible a year ago… Now they just had to go in there and take the prize.

With a sigh, he stowed the field glasses and re-settled his rucksack. The path they'd been instructed to take was steep and winding, but he'd been warned that he had to stick to it exactly or risk disaster. He obeyed, despite his aching legs, having no desire to run into British commandos on manoeuvres.

And so Sean led his men around the edges of the Acromantula range as they worked their way toward Hogsmeade, unaware of just how gruesome a death he'd avoided by sticking to the plan.

OoOoO

It wasn't hard to find a sunny spot for the Gryffindor Six to spread out their books and sprawl on the warm grass. It was uncommonly warm down by the lake, feeling more like end of term than start of spring.

Harry had some difficulty keeping his eyes open as he read through his transfiguration book. Sure, he knew the general principles, but he still had to refresh himself on the details if he wanted to avoid Professor McGonagall's ire. It was worse that he'd worked so hard to establish a reputation for studying hard – she wouldn't accept anything less than his best work. So here he was, trying to re-memorize the nineteen special cases for the Laws of Similarity. If anything, having an easier time understanding them made it paradoxically harder to stay awake and not let his mind wander.

After he nearly stuck his nose in the binding, Ginny noticed his 'difficulties'. In response, she shifted around a little so the toe of her shoe lay near his calf. The next time his eyes drooped, she gave him a little nudge. He looked up, a little startled, but her eyes were firmly focused on her Potions textbook. Hermione gave Harry a questioning look, but he just waved it off.

After that, it became a bit of a game. Ginny never once looked directly at him, yet whenever his attention began to waver, she gave him a subtle nudge. After a while, trying to catch her looking was far more engrossing than his transfiguration revision. But even if it was a distraction, it kept him awake and safe from the Wrath of Granger.

OoOoO

The trail ended as the map promised, right on the verge of the little village. Sean cracked a grin as his team skirted around the lake, heading for the ruined iron gates. He glanced over at his mates, and saw faces as drawn with tension as his own. They'd been together a long time, so no words were needed. It was time.

OoOoO

Madam Rosmerta sighed as she swept out the entryway to her pub. She normally liked her job. Running The Three Broomsticks was her passion, but lately the shine had gone off of it. The cordon of Dementors those fools in the Ministry stationed around Hogwarts and Hogsmeade were not what she considered good neighbours. The soul-sucking monsters could bleed the cheer out of the brightest spring day, much like this one. While her sales of hot chocolate were up, everything else was down.

Worse, the Hogsmeade weekends were running light. Many Hogwarts students didn't want to step foot outside the wards and risk running afoul of the damn wraiths. Not that she blamed the poor dears after what the nasty things had done at the Quidditch match. But that meant her normally busiest weekends of the year were instead rather anaemic. It was much the same for her fellow business folk, with only Honeyduke's doing better than usual – and that only because everyone was eating chocolate to ward off the lingering effects of the Dementors. And poor Ambrosius wasn't seeing any profit from it – not after offering a steep discount on chocolate to his neighbours just so they could stay in business.

Fudge hadn't set foot in Hogsmeade this year, which was a good thing for him. If Rosmerta laid eyes on him, he'd find his Minister's discount rescinded and her wand in his face. Wouldn't surprise her if the whole town wanted to lynch the silly bugger by this point. Especially with Harry Potter, of all people, asking why Sirius Black never got a trial. Fishy, that whole business.

Sighing at the foolishness of it all, she stopped suddenly as she saw a strangely-dressed group of men slip behind the train station along the lake shore. They almost looked like... Muggles? But what would they be doing here?

Then she felt the air around her chill. Rosmerta's hand went to her mouth. The Dementors had sensed them and slipped free of their handlers again. Those poor men didn't stand a chance.

She dropped her worn out old broom and pulled out her wand. Her Patronus wasn't very strong, but she and others had been practising steadily since the Ministry went stupid. It was one thing if The Boy Who Lived made a Patronus bigger than the Knight Bus, but they'd also heard that Hogwarts was teaching second year students how to make a corporeal Patronus. That left no excuses for the rest of them.

As she took off down the path that led past the train station to the gates, her breath frosted in front of her as masses of Dementors moved toward the gates. Behind them, she could see the puffing forms of their Ministry 'handlers', shooting silver sparks from their wands and trying to get their charges under control again.

Useless, the lot of them.

She wasn't as young as she used to be, but she still kept up a good pace all the way around the lake. Those Muggles must have been particularly fit, as they were already to the gates as she caught sight of them again. The poor dears were definitely feeling the Dementors, even if they couldn't see them. The stragglers of their group were sinking to the ground, holding themselves and shivering, the others looking around wildly. One of them saw the Ministry wizards and pulled out an odd sort of wand. It let out a series of bangs, but the man's hands were shaking so badly that he dropped it shortly before crumpling to the ground.

The wizards he'd been pointing toward slowed down and began casting shielding charms. No one had noticed her yet, but Rosmerta wondered if she should do the same. The Muggles appeared to be dangerous.

At this point, the lead Muggle spun around wildly, watching his mates collapse to the ground. Rosmerta's stomach turned. She knew there was no way she could get there before at least some of them were Kissed by the approaching mob. Maybe it was a kindness that Muggles couldn't see them.

Then the Muggle took a cloth-covered parcel off of his back. He pulled something out of it, perhaps a string, and then hurled it at the Hogwarts Gates as he dove to the ground...

OoOoO

Sean growled as the last of his men fell to the invisible, odourless gas. A coward's weapon if there ever was one. He'd been warned of the possibility if they were detected, but they had made it close enough to the ruined-looking gate. If he could take it out before it dispensed more of the nerve agent, the gas might dissipate in time for his men to recover before they were captured.

Following the road had seemed like madness, but braving a minefield was worse.

His hands shook with palsy as he armed the home-made satchel charge. Bloody nerve agents. Nasty business. But he managed to pull the cord for the impact fuse, and his arm was still strong enough to sling the messenger bag directly at one of the winged boars. He dove to the ground and covered his head.

Then everything went white, and he knew no more.

OoOoO

Madam Rosmerta picked herself up off the ground, her ears ringing. There had been a loud noise and something like a giant's hand had pushed her to the ground. Once she got her bearings, she looked toward the gate.

It was shattered - twisted fragments of metal and shards of stone littered the ground where it had been. Most of the pieces seemed to have been blown inward, onto the Hogwarts grounds. But while the Muggles sprawled on the ground had only minor wounds, the ones she could see the faces of were staring glassily upward with vacant eyes.

Her stomach clenched as she realized they'd all been Kissed by the hungry Dementors.

At that point, the fading chill impinged on her awareness. The Dementors were gone, leaving only the horrific soulless refuse of their feeding. And since she was still alive, she knew which way they had gone.

One of the Ministry wizards asked if she was all right. She rounded on him. "Of course I'm not all right. Those things have gone into Hogwarts!"

OoOoO

It was a lesson that Harry hadn't thought he'd forgotten – just how quickly things could go to utter hell. But the time he'd spent in the past had, despite all his expectations, taken the edge off of his dread.

He even ignored the echoing bang, knowing the Twins were likely mucking about with their fireworks again.

So it was that he also dismissed the first chill that ran down his spine as he studied Transfiguration, thinking it was just Mother Nature reminding them they were in Scotland after all. But the second chill, accompanied by just the faintest whisper of his mum's screams, snapped his head up so quickly a muscle in his neck spasmed.

Harry shot to his feet, his book tumbling across Ron's back and raising a muffled oath. He ignored his friend as his eyes widened behind his glasses.

Coming around the lake, roughly following the path from the gates, was a bloody horde of Dementors. Too many to count. Harry swore he felt the sun dim on his back as he watched one of his worst nightmares come to life. He could already feel their hunger as they glided along the grass, withering it as they passed and riming the lake shore with ice.

OoOoO

Many generations will have defining moments, instants of time that mark everyone that experienced them. Later in their lives, those that survive will speak of what they were doing when a beloved monarch passed on, when a war was declared, or other such watershed moments in the passage of history.

Some few would speak of what they were doing when the Dementors overran Hogwarts, and Harry Potter shouted.

OoOoO

"Sonorus," Harry whispered, his heart pounding in his chest. The tip of his wand was uncomfortably warm as it tapped his Adam's apple, but it barely registered on his awareness. "Get to the castle, NOW!" he shouted with every breath in his body. He ignored the stabbing pain in his chest as well.

Later, the inhabitants of Hogsmeade, which was in roughly the direction Harry was facing, would find their North-facing windows, the ones with a view of the castle, crazed with tiny cracks.

Harry released the spell immediately. Stunned students were moving now, some running, others stumbling, but all of them moving toward the castle, possessions forgotten in the mad rush for survival.

But it wasn't nearly fast enough.

The terror of their sudden appearance seemed to galvanize the hellish creatures, sharpening their appetites as the air chilled further and the day seemed to turn overcast in moments. Harry didn't even want to contemplate the amount of power needed to do that as more than a hundred starving psychovores bore down on a crowd of schoolchildren.

And they were accelerating.

Harry gritted his teeth as his mum's pleas blended into Ginny's voice, screaming in pain as it became incoherent. The wet bleating of the torn and mangled body he found after the massacre. For an instant, he pictured Draco and Voldemort's noseless face and his horror turned to rage. His magic responded eagerly and the pains in his chest returned. But his wand was almost vibrating in his hand. He looked for his happy thought.

That will never happen. EVER!

Harry Potter raised his wand.

And he thought of what happened in the Chamber of Secrets.

They forgave me, for everything I ever did. I love them and I will never let you have them!

"Expecto Patronum!" As he leveled his wand the giant silver stag charged out of thin air. It was a good bit bigger than he remembered from the Quidditch match, and seemed to glow all the brighter for the rapidly-dimming sun. Harry almost lost his focus on the spell when he felt the thud of its hooves on the ground transmitted to his own feet. But neither his rage nor his joy were having any of that, overly corporeal Patronus or not.

Harry almost cursed aloud as a few students slowed to watch the silver stag pass them, bearing down on the Dementors like the wrath of an entire pantheon. It smashed square into the middle of the horde, tossing them with its antlers like ragdolls, kicking and stomping like a force of nature.

But there were so many... and as Harry's Patronus tore at the middle, the Dementors to either side edged around the melee, still intent on their fleeing prey. Harry had slowed them, nothing more, and his Patronus was starting to slow down as it vented its wrath on the swarm. It wouldn't last forever.

But other silver forms were racing forward to stall the flankers. He recognized the solid forms of his friends' Patronuses, along with those of some of the older students in the duelling club.

Harry let out a shaky breath as the titanic stag faded, leaving several Dementors twitching and heaving on the ground. It had broken their charge, but now they needed to contain the fiends while the students escaped. The castle had its own protections, and at the least solid walls to keep them at a distance. He recast his Patronus, and glanced quickly at his friends.

They looked scared, but determined. He almost asked them to head back to the castle, but he knew that was a lost cause before he even started. More likely they'd hex him in the back for suggesting it. "We need to spread out," he panted instead, "keep them from getting around us. Ron, Hermione, go left fifty paces. Neville, Luna, go right. Fall back before you get too tired or I'll have Rita make up lies about your love-life."

He tried to sound confident, but the tightness in his chest made it hard. Ginny eyed him as he turned back, but didn't say anything.

The six of them fell into an easy rhythm as they spread apart, giving proof that all those training exercises were worth something. Everyone would cast on Harry's mark, giving the Dementors no easy way around, and together they would push the foul things back a few paces. This gave heart to the students with less robust constitutions, and they began to make their way back to the castle with better speed.

But each wave of silver Patronuses took a noticeable amount of energy from the casters, and struck the horde of Dementors with a little less fervour. Soon, the retreat had turned back into an advance, albeit a slow one. Still, Harry was proud of his friends. Most of the Duelling Association members that knew the charm couldn't repeat it more than twice.

And every moment bought more time for the students to escape.

During a quick glance backward, Harry saw some adults fighting forward through the press in the courtyard, but the chaos must have been incredible. If things didn't change quickly... this wasn't a sustainable situation.

Something had to give, and it finally did.

Off to Harry's left, a trio of first year Hufflepuff girls were frozen in fear. He couldn't honestly blame them for being scared out of their minds. But blamelessness wouldn't save their souls from consumption if they were caught.

Instead, someone who was often considered an odd duck in the 'House of the Brave' was proving otherwise. Hermione's otter Patronus seemed to be everywhere at once, trying to keep the Dementors away from the terrified girls. She ignored Ron when he tried to get her to pull back with the others, despite how her wand arm was shaking. When the girls were the only students in front of them, and the Dementors not far off, they both abandoned the Patronus charm and instead summoned the weeping girls.

Hermione snagged two, and with a nice bit of wand-work, banished them both back towards the relative safety of the castle without either girl slowing down. Ron opted instead to catch his in his arms and they knocked heads for a moment. He got her back on her feet and running toward the castle, but it was too late.

The bushy-haired witch had overextended herself, magically and otherwise. When she turned back toward the Dementors, they were too close and she was too tired to cast another Patronus. Her hand trembled as she slowly sank to her knees.

Harry snarled as he watched this disaster unfold, and immediately re-cast his Patronus, ignoring the spots that swam in front of his eyes for a moment. The slightly diminished stag loped toward his friends, but it wasn't moving nearly as fast... and the Dementors were right on top of them.

Most of the Dementors moving to encircle Ron and Hermione shied away from the silver stag, but the lead wraith was too close to be denied. A bony hand reached out and grabbed Hermione's hair, forcing her head back and her face up as its hooded head descended.

With a cry of despair, Ron dropped his wand and barrelled into the pair, knocking the dazed Hermione aside as he grappled with the Dementor.

Harry almost lost control of his own Patronus.

A wave of silver forms was emerging from the school now, giving Neville and Luna a breather. A silver phoenix circled around Ron and Hermione's position, helping Harry's tired stag force the others back. But their leader was still struggling with Ron. Neither seemed likely to give up, until the Dementor got both hands around Ron's throat and slowly began to force his head back. Harry hesitated. They were too close together. Any spell he could think of was more likely to hit Ron, and summoning him could easily break his neck in the Dementor's grip.

Then there was a burst of flame, and a real phoenix joined its silver clone. Phoenix song soared over the battlefield, giving heart to the students fleeing toward the castle.

And still the Dementor moved to kiss Ron and consume his soul.

Horrified, Harry raged at how his friend's loyalty was to be repaid. Fawkes made a dive at the Dementor, but didn't claw at the monster – it already had something in its talons. Something it left behind as it climbed again, trilling its song.

Ragged fabric?

Even as his stag faded, Harry used the Sonorus charm again. "Ron! Reach into the hat!" He ignored the taste of blood in the back of his mouth as his voice started to go hoarse at the end.

Ron flailed at the fabric covering his face and temporarily blocking the Dementor's attempts to kiss him. As it slipped away and the hood descended the final time, he got his right hand inside and it emerged with something heavy.

Something silver.

Something glittering with rubies the size of eggs.

The Dementor let out a horrific screech as Ronald Weasley thrust the Sword of Gryffindor into its chest. It let go of his throat, throwing him back, but Ron held onto the sword and it ripped loose of the Dementor's cloak with a burst of sickly green light. The sword flashed, shining far brighter than it should in the diminished sunlight. The Dementor fell back, writhing as silver light spilled from the rent in its cloak. It let out a deafening shriek as the light grew brighter. Ron staggered back, but managed to keep his feet and avoided tripping on Hermione. She in turn gripped her wand as she struggled to her feet.

The shrieking reached a fever pitch as the Dementors on the left flank fell back in disarray. Then it cut off abruptly as the empty robes collapsed to the ground.

Ron looked down at the glittering sword. He looked up at the Dementors.

Then he took a step forward.

"Come and have a go, if you think you're hard enough," he yelled, "you soul-sucking bastards!"

The Dementors of Azkaban withdrew before the righteous fury of a thirteen-year-old with a sword, an ancient artefact that had tasted their mortality and found it good.

Harry looked over at Ginny, who seemed to be equally speechless.

OoOoO

The Battle of Hogwarts: Dementors Run Amok!

Ministry Disavows Any Knowledge of Dementor Betrayal!

Heir of Gryffindor Attending Hogwarts?

Harry grimaced at the aftertaste from the thick and clingy potion he'd just choked down. Madame Pomfrey was quite adamant that he take the full series if he wanted to avoid permanent damage to his voice. Given the large numbers of students needing chocolate and/or calming draughts, it was decided to treat each house within its own common room.

That left Harry as the only person stuck in the hospital wing. For strained vocal cords, no less. He felt so ridiculous, all things considered, that he might have snuck out while Madam Pomfrey was visiting the houses, if she hadn't done something so ruthless, so diabolical, that he was still shocked.

She'd put Ginny in charge of him. And given her his wand.

With a few choice words about permanent scarring to his vocal cords, his friend proved more than willing to hold him at wand-point. She even offered to stun him between dosage times if he didn't think he could remain quiet.

There was simply no justice. At all.

So he was reduced to sitting quietly, reading the special edition of the Daily Prophet, and trying to ignore the foul aftertaste of medicinal potions. At least Rita appeared to be having fun.

...Ministry sources claimed that their handlers from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement had been temporarily incapacitated by mild potion introduced into their lunch-time tea. However, this reporter is left wondering how a handful of wizards was expected to control dozens of heretofore unkillable wraiths that would view them as a food source. As with many decisions made by the Fudge Administration, common sense seems to have little to do with it!

At least someone appeared to be having a worse day than he was. It was a wonder the special edition hadn't spontaneously combusted from an excess of righteous indignation...

OoOoO

It was after Saturday dinner that Harry was finally released from Madame Pomfrey's clutches. He wasn't sure who reported him straining his voice, and at that point he was too tired to care. He didn't think he'd win that argument anyway.

It wasn't that he'd tried to hurt himself... his magic was just a bit too... enthusiastic. Understandable, given the panic he'd felt when he realized their situation. But still worrisome.

When he and Ginny moved through the Fat Lady's portrait, they were engulfed in a wall of sound. It seemed like everyone in their house was in the common room, speaking at once. As they picked their way through the crowd, they realized that the focus of the room was on the couch where Ron, Hermione, Neville, and Luna were under siege. From the way Ron was gripping the sword in his lap, "under siege" might not have been just a metaphor. His eyes were a bit wild, and Harry didn't doubt that Hermione's hand on his elbow was one of the few things keeping him from making a break for it.

Harry let out a quiet sigh and pushed through the crowd. When he finally emerged into the cleared space around the couch, he flopped into one of the squashy chairs next to it with deliberate nonchalance. "McGonagall's going to have my guts for garters if I fall behind in Transfiguration. I don't suppose anyone picked up our books, did they?"

Everyone stared at him. Except Ginny, who was smiling slightly as she sat down in the other chair. From the way Hermione's mouth dropped open, he knew that, for once, he'd caught her not worrying about their school work. Harry felt like jumping up and performing a quick victory dance.

Ron let out a snort.

"Madam Pince," Hermione began, giving Ron a very small nudge, "charmed all the books left lying on the ground and then gathered them up in the Great Hall before the sun set that day. That was very thoughtful of her, and I was able to recover everyone's possessions."

Colin Creevey let out a laugh. "Like you'd have to study again after all that!" he said.

Harry turned to look at the second-year boy with a raised eyebrow, even as Hermione's glare shut him up. "What is that supposed to mean?" he asked.

"Oh, honestly," Hermione answered with a huff. "He thinks the professors won't dare give Ron failing marks because he's the Heir of Gryffindor!"

Harry was willing to bet that his eyes bugged out as he digested that tid-bit of information. "Mister Weasley," he said after a moment, in a fair imitation of McGonagall's clipped classroom voice, "in light of your... heritage... I will accept nothing less than your best work in my class. Is that understood?"

That got a few laughs, and a rueful blush from Ron, but with the clearing of a single throat the laughter died away with unnatural speed. Harry felt a chill go down the back of neck. He slumped and put his face in his hands. "She walked up right behind me as I said that, didn't she?"

Ginny nodded, her hair looking even brighter than normal in contrast to her now-pale face.

"Your grasp of the obvious is as keen as your gift for imitations, Mister Potter," his head of house said, her voice coming from behind his chair. He flinched in spite of himself. "You and your friends are to accompany me to the Headmaster's office."

No one needed to ask which 'friends' she meant.

OoOoO

The long march from Gryffindor Tower was as silent as it was uncomfortable. Finally, Harry, ignoring the counsel of his common sense, had to break the silence. "Er, you know, it wasn't meant as an insult, professor. I mean, I don't think you'd ever stop expecting any of us to work hard. In you class. No matter what else we've done. You know..."

His voice trailed off as he peered up at the stern witch's face. Something he'd seen out of the corner of his eye made him speed up a little until he could see her face better.

There was no doubt. She was actually smiling a little. Finally she spoke. "I never said that I considered your words insulting Mister Potter. Only that you had a fine grasp of the obvious." Her tone was a brisk as ever, but now he could hear an undertone of amusement as well.

"I should have stayed in the hospital wing," he muttered under his breath.

Harry's disgruntlement persisted only as long as it took to ascend the stairs behind the gargoyle. The door to the Headmaster's office opened onto a scene of utter chaos. Harry could see Mrs. Weasley's hair, and a flash of Mr. Lovegood's thinning pate, but the crowd of adults was just as muddled as the wave of sound that washed over them.

"What is the meaning of this bedlam?" Professor McGonagall demanded, her voice cutting right through the babble.

Harry couldn't help but note that most of the people in the office immediately snapped to attention. It didn't take long for the Headmaster to conjure chairs for all of the adults, including, he was surprised to see, Mr. and Mrs. Granger. In fact, the parents of all the Gryffindor Six were in attendance, along with Madam Bones and Kingsley Shacklebolt.

It still took a little while to get everyone settled down. Mrs. Weasley, er, Molly, had to reassure herself that all three of her children really were all right. It still gave Harry a lump in his throat at how she automatically included him in her count. Hermione's parents were a bit more restrained, but a question he'd always had regarding Hermione's habits was answered when Mrs. Granger squeezed her daughter hard enough to force a squeak out of his bushy-haired friend.

With everyone sitting, including their head of house, Professor Dumbledore cleared his throat. "My apologies for the delay, but I did not wish to hold this meeting until all of the parents of the students involved were present. I was also threatened with dire consequences by Madam Pomfrey if I allowed Mr. Potter to make use of his voice before she had cleared him to speak."

Harry ignored any reddening of his face (that was probably purely coincidental) as some of the adults chuckled.

As the parents of the students 'closest to the action', they were being debriefed first. Harry suspected the Headmaster and Madam Bones were also seeking to gauge their reactions as indicators of how the other parents would take the news.

"As best we can tell," Madam Bones began, "the Hogwarts wards were disrupted by a powerful Muggle explosive device being detonated in close proximity to one of the anchors. Designed to repel any known forms of magical attack when the castle was built, someone figured out that a sufficiently powerful non-magical explosion could shift the anchor out of alignment."

"The Muggle weapons of the era when Hogwarts was constructed could never have accomplished such a feat," Professor Flitwick added. "During the repairs we made alterations to all the ward foci to ensure such a tactic never works again." He still looked aggrieved that he hadn't anticipated the flaw that let the Dementors onto the grounds.

"That's all very good," Mr. Granger spoke up after a moment. "But who wanted to bomb a school full of children?" Harry was quite sure he didn't imagine the undercurrent of anger he heard in the man's voice.

"The bodies and the surviving attackers... well, what's left of them, anyway, were identified by our colleagues at Scotland Yard," Madam Bones replied. "What we're having problems understanding is the motivation."

"The men involved in the attack were members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army," Shacklebolt added.

"What the bloody hell were they doing over here?" Mr. Granger demanded.

"We have no idea," Madam Bones admitted. "But the repercussions of this..."

"I fear these men were beguiled to their deaths," Dumbledore said quietly. "I won't ask that you mourn the men who put your children at risk, but I believe they were manipulated into doing this for a reason. Arthur?"

"The Muggle Protection Act," Mr. Weasley answered in an aggrieved tone. "Once it becomes public knowledge that Muggles attacked Hogwarts, it'll be repealed before the sun sets."

Dumbledore nodded. "A likely goal," he agreed, stroking his beard, "and one I think we can all agree should be thwarted."

"Thwarted how?" Mr. Lovegood asked.

"Well, fortunately, due to the quick actions of your children, a tragedy was averted," Dumbledore said, directing a beneficent smile toward the assembled students. "If any students had been kissed, I doubt there would be any way to prevent a full inquiry and disclosure – which was likely the aim of whoever set this into motion. Instead, we have a bit of excitement over the weekend, and the revelation of some surprising aspects of young Mr. Weasley's heritage."

"So you want me to bury the story, do you?" Mr. Lovegood asked, his normally unfocused expression going hard for a moment. "You know that Rita Skeeter is practically burning Fudge in effigy over at the Prophet."

"It has come to my attention that our Mr. Potter has some small influence on the woman," Dumbledore replied smoothly. "Perhaps he can prevail upon her to... focus on other aspects of current events?"

Harry didn't even bother to glance at McGonagall. He expected her to share her concerns about his press manipulations when they were on the outs. "I'm not sure what I can offer her to get her to give up such a juicy story," he said dryly.

"Perhaps an introduction to the newly discovered Heir of Gryffindor?" the old man suggested with a grin.

Now Molly and Arthur both began to look alarmed. Harry carefully moved his ankle out of Ron's kicking range.

"So there's to be no official investigation of how these men came to be here, and why they bloody near killed my little girl?" Mr. Granger asked tightly. Mrs. Granger was silent, but looked just as outraged.

Madam Bones sighed and sagged, just a little, in her chair. "I'm afraid it's not that simple. I would like nothing better than to get to the bottom of how this occurred, but the High Mugwump is correct. There are... political factions... in the Wizengamot that would use what happened as leverage to pass more laws restricting Muggle-born wizards and limiting our access to the Muggle world. I also agree that such a political backlash is precisely why they were used and discarded in such a despicable fashion."

Augusta Longbottom spoke up for the first time. "Madam Bones' assessment of the political climate is accurate. If anyone can think of a way her office can get justice for those men without rolling back the last three decades of political progress, then they should speak up immediately."

There was a long silence.

"At least," Dumbledore ventured after a long, uncomfortable pause, "whoever set this in motion will no doubt be disappointed that their long term plans have failed."

"And I will be stationing a team of Aurors in Hogsmeade to make sure nothing else like this is attempted," Madam Bones added. "No one will protest the removal of the Dementors after what happened."

And with that, the die was cast. Harry was a little surprised, at least at first, that he and his friends had been included. Later he discovered that Arthur, and to a lesser degree Molly, were responsible for that. The Weasley patriarch had reminded the headmaster that Harry should be part of the decision-making process... otherwise he was likely to follow his own path if he disagreed with their conclusions. Harry privately admitted that was probably true. He just wasn't sure if they were being considerate, or he was becoming too predictable.

OoOoO

The following day, the drama began far too early for Harry's tastes;specifically, when Ron refused to leave the dormitory for breakfast. Harry was half a mo' from getting Madam Pomfrey when he realized his friend wasn't sick.

This was no doubt a good thing. Any infirmity capable of putting Ron Weasley off his feed was undoubtedly life-threatening. He was reassured, but puzzled when Ron asked if he'd mind bringing him back something from the Great Hall.

"If you want to eat," Harry asked, "then why don't you come down with us? You're not sore from the other day, are you?"

"Er, no," Ron mumbled, looking down at his feet. "Just don't want to see everyone staring at me. Bad enough when it's just Gryffindor, but the whole school? Blimey..."

Harry blinked. This was unexpected. "What happened to wanting to stand out from your brothers?" he asked. "I don't think a Weasley has ever done all that, yeah?"

Ron scowled. "I may have felt like that when I first came to Hogwarts," he muttered, "but I'm not eleven years old anymore."

Harry swallowed, trying to ignore a stab of guilt. "I'm not saying it's a bad thing, you know, just looking for a silver lining and all that."

"Besides," Ron continued like he hadn't heard a word, "I feel like a huge fraud."

"What?" Harry demanded.

"If you hadn't insisted we all learn the Patronus, they'd have overrun us from the start," Ron continued doggedly. "And that bloody great stag of yours did the lion's share of the work. But all anyone cares about is me stabbing one. One!"

Harry shook his head. "We all worked together to hold them back, Ron. But what you did... protecting Hermione... killing that thing. Killing it, Ron! No one's ever done that before. I've never even heard of someone wounding one before." He paused, looking Ron straight in the eye to emphasize the next word. "Ever."

Ron's eyebrows slowly went up. "Not... ever?"

"No. As in, 'what the bloody hell is he doing?' and 'oh my lord!'"

"But you said... you told me to..."

"I was guessing at that point – I, uh, remembered something I'd heard once, like a legend." Harry explained, mindful of his dorm mates stirring. "But you're the one who put yourself in that position in the first place." Harry let that sink in. "Do you want to know something else I heard?"

Ron shook his head.

"The sword of Gryffindor can only be wielded by a true Gryffindor, someone the sword itself considers worthy. The enchantments that let it kill a Dementor wouldn't have worked for a fraud."

"Really?" Ron asked in a small voice.

Harry sighed. "You can ask Dumbledore if you don't believe me," he added with a frown.

Ron shook his head quickly. "No, no I believe you Harry. It's just... a lot to take in."

Harry smiled. "You'd be a prat if it wasn't. Now let's get out of here before we make Neville and the others sick with all this sentiment."

"Too late," Seamus groused as he stuck his head out from under the covers.

OoOoO

Unfortunately, any hopes Harry nurtured for easing his friend back into normality – or what passed for it at Hogwarts anyway – were dashed by the heap of Owl Post that was dumped next to Ron's plate.

His friend definitely began to look a bit green. Not a good complexion to have under that ginger thatch either. As he stared at the growing mound of envelopes, Hermione finally had enough.

"This is ridiculous," she huffed. "Soon you won't be able to see your plate." With a flick of her wand the mailings were neatly stacked and organized. She waved her wand over them a bit more carefully and nodded. "None of them appear to be charmed," she observed, "though I'd be surprised if anything like that could get through the wards. I read in Hogwart's: A History that the school has special owl wards to prevent charmed packages from being delivered – at least not if they charms are on the outside wrappings. Not that they are one hundred percent effective. There are special potions and elixirs you can soak wrapping paper in that prevent the detection of dangerous charms placed on the contents, but the charms still have to be fairly subtle for that to work..." She paused, catching her breath. She blushed faintly as she realized that everyone was looking at her with varying expressions. "Well, anyway, it should be safe to handle, at least." Her blush grew more pronounced when she saw Ron's extremely grateful expression.

"Er, would you mind helping me sort these out then?" Ron asked in a small voice. "I have no idea how to respond, but Mum would have my ears if she thought I was being rude and didn't respond like I should."

"Ron, are you sure?" Hermione asked in a small voice. "I don't know as much as I should about Wizarding culture. I could miss something, or give bad advice. I could-"

Ron shook his head. "Just make sure I sound polite," he said. "My family doesn't put a lot of stock in the really swotty bits. I just don't want to sound like a complete git."

"Er, I can give you a run down of the basics," Neville offered. "Gran can be a bit, er, formal, at times. She made me learn all the old forms. A lot of it seems a bit daft, but most people don't go that far."

Hermione seemed to relax a bit when she realized she'd at least have someone to ask questions of. "I'd be happy to help, Ron," she said, her blush returning.

OoOoO

Peter continued to thrash for a moment after the Cruciatus curse was lifted. It wasn't fair, he raged silently as he panted on the ground. His master's sources within the Ministry had identified the best Muggles to use. Peter didn't think the plan was a bad one. He'd heard Lily, years ago, lecturing James on the conflicts in the Muggle world. Tricking them into attacking Hogwarts would ignite a firestorm of rage in the Wizarding World.

Under his master's orders, a few discreet Imperios allowed him to locate a leader among the Irish Muggles fighting the British government. With the man's active assistance, they'd formulated a story that would get Sean and his other fighters to attack Hogwarts and damage the wards keeping the Dementors off of the grounds.

But that was when the whole thing fell apart. Instead of pictures of students who'd been Kissed, the papers were full of stories about the students driving them from the grounds. Even more, there were claims that an heir of Gryffindor had emerged during the battle. The youngest Weasley boy. That last detail drove his master into a rage that left Peter Pettigrew twitching on the fine carpet, desperately trying to maintain control of his bodily functions.

He'd done his part right. This wasn't his fault!

Peter wondered if he might be safer serving another...

Author's Notes:

A little short, but with a bit of excitement to cap off Year Three. As you can tell, this chapter fought harder than most, and I had some other issues limiting my productivity. Kudos to both Runsamok and Kokopelli for putting up with me and my irregular spelling!

Before anyone asks – no, this story is not abandoned. If had abandoned it, I would at the very least post my outline and all the snippets I've already worked out. (They currently reside at the bottom of my working file for easy reference.)

Also, there are no real-world political statements being made in the chapter. I have both English and Irish ancestors. Peter and his master are merely taking advantage of the situation, and those were the closest Muggles that met their criterion. If you don't think someone under the Imperius Curse would actively work to help formulate a cover story to fool their mates, I would only point out how that same curse was used on Pius Thicknesse in canon to subvert the Ministry of Magic – he was actively participating in the new regime as well. In the long run, I think that Unforgiveable has the scariest implications if used intelligently.

Any questions you might have will probably get the quickest answers on the Viridian Dreams forums.