Chapter Sixteen: The Worst Memory
The next day was the first Hogsmeade weekend of term. Most of the sixth-years were going; Harry was particularly looking forward to the break. Hermione, however, had other ideas.
"I think it would be a really good opportunity for all the DA to get together," she said. Since Dumbledore's Army had become an official club, the membership had more than doubled and Harry had been forced to split it into two groups so every member could get individual attention. "Most of the newcomers don't know who else is in it; it would be useful for everyone to be familiar with who else is able to fight when the time comes. We should come up with an actual battle plan together, so if Voldemort decided to attack Hogwarts tomorrow we're already prepared."
Ron and Harry stared at her. "Think it's likely he'll attack tomorrow?"
"Well, no, but we should be prepared. He's bound to try and bring down Hogwarts eventually, and a solid, co-ordinated student army is bound to give us an advantage."
It was the last thing Harry wanted to think about on his weekend, but he agreed, and passed on the message to meet at the Three Broomsticks, after which a second message was passed out changing it to the Hog's Head as Hermione pointed out that it would be less busy, so there would be more room to cram sixty pupils in.
"I'm not sure about this battle plan now," Harry said to Hermione. "I mean, as much as we all need to be prepared, I don't want to scare off the first and second-years. They joined up in the hope of, at best, defending their families if they have to, at worst to meet a celebrity. We start talking about going into battle with Voldemort personally …"
"Bear in mind, Harry, you were eleven when you willingly faced him over the Philosopher's Stone," Hermione said. "Don't under-estimate eleven-year-olds."
"Yes, and I also faced him as a toddler. Would you encourage a one-year-old to face Voldemort?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Harry. I know, it's more personal for you than anyone. But lots of the younger ones have lost family members to him, and the ones that haven't are afraid they will. That's pretty powerful motivation. I agree we should be tactful about how we approach the subject, give anyone a chance to say if they don't want to be part of it, but I'm positive they'll surprise you."
"Well, maybe you could approach the subject?" Harry requested. "Since you've obviously thought more about it than I have."
Hermione sighed. "Fine, I will."
"Nice plan," Ron said. "But I think you're forgetting something."
"First and second-years aren't allowed in Hogsmeade, remember?"
There was a long pause. "Oh," said Hermione, going red. "Well, um, we'll just have to arrange this in Hogwarts then. It's not fair to leave them out."
"Couldn't we sneak them out?" Ron suggested. "Through one of the passages?"
"The rule was put in place for a good reason, and you know it. Even if I didn't disagree on principle, we would all be in huge trouble if we got caught."
"So it would be like the old days." Ron shrugged. "Come on, give them a bit of excitement, show them what it used to be like."
"Well then, what do we do? It'd be good if we could get together out of school for once. Harry, what do you think?"
Harry looked from one determined friend to another. "I don't know. I'm not sure it's a good idea, Ron."
"Well … maybe we could get special permission," Ron said. "Think you could ask Dumbledore, Harry?"
"Oh, for heaven's sake," Hermione muttered.
"What? If anybody can—"
"I'll ask," Harry spoke over him. "But if he says no and we sneak them in, he'll never speak to me again."
"All right, fine," Ron said. "We won't sneak them in."
Albus was busy at his desk as Harry entered. Fawkes trilled a greeting, flew over and settled on his shoulder as usual. Albus put down his quill and looked up. "What can I do for you, Harry?"
"Um, I was hoping to ask for a favour," Harry said hesitantly. Albus just continued to look at him, his eyes twinkling but quizzical. "It's about the DA."
"Not a problem, I hope?"
"Well, no, it's just—we thought it would be nice to all get together on the Hogsmeade weekend, get to know each other a bit better, especially as we're in groups now. Also I think Hermione wanted an opportunity to discuss strategy … things."
"Aren't some of your members below third year?" Albus said.
"Well … yes. That's … the issue. Would it be possible to allow them to come too?"
Albus sighed and leaned back in his chair. "I wish it was." Harry's heart sank. "But do you think there is time between now and the weekend for seventeen forms to be sent out, signed and sent back? Students in term time are the school's responsibility; I cannot let students without permission forms out of Hogwarts grounds except in emergencies, as you no doubt remember from your third year."
"Yeah, I remember."
"Say the word now and I can send them off for the next Hogsmeade weekend, but not this one—and of course, there is no guarantee all the parents will sign. Considering how young they are, I doubt any will. I'm sorry, Harry."
"Well, he's got a point," Hermione admitted later.
"Hours ago you were talking about discussing battle plans with eleven-year-olds," Ron reminded her.
"Well, the younger ones will obviously be less experienced, so we know to keep them as much out of the way as possible. Perhaps this is for the best: some of the more eager ones might want different."
"You mean, we should plan it without them?" Harry asked.
"Well, at least get the most of it worked out," Hermione said. "We can do that tomorrow. And we can organise a social get-together for every member later."
The day arrived. Harry woke to find Ron's bed empty, and a note to say he had woken early and would see him at the Hog's Head. After meeting Hermione in the common room, the two journeyed down to the village together.
The grubby pub was absolutely packed. Harry was relieved he had thought to hire the place for the day; there was no room for anyone else other than the barman, who was in the Order so should be trustworthy. All the same, he was happier that the guy seemed to disappear after putting out his entire stock of Butterbeers.
Harry was also pleased to see that Fred and George, accompanied by other DA members that had left the previous year, turned up as well. The more contact between the DA and the Order, the better.
"Does your mum know you're here?" Harry said with a grin.
"Nope," Fred replied.
"But we felt we should keep our channels of communication between the old crowd and the new crowd as wide as possible," said George.
"Yeah, so does Hermione. Or she wouldn't have sent the meeting info to our coins."
"I hope it's all right that we're here, Harry," Alicia Spinnet said. "Only, if Hogwarts is ever attacked, we want to be able to defend it even though we don't go here anymore."
"No, it's brilliant you're here," said Harry. "I just didn't realise you all would be. Thanks for coming."
"I'm getting a kind of déjà vu; aren't you, Ange?" Fred turned to Angelina.
Harry looked around the room, trying to make everyone out. "Has anyone seen Ron?"
"No," George replied. "Figured he'd be coming with you two."
As he spoke, the pub door opened again and Harry saw a flash of red hair. "Wow, it's busy here!"
"Where've you—" Harry began, but faltered as the people behind Ron started pushing their way in. "You have got to be joking."
"Look, I thought they should be here, alri—ow!" Hermione had appeared before the crowd of first- and second-years and gripped Ron by the ear.
"Dumbledore specifically said no, and you go and risk not only our necks, but Harry's friendship?" He yelled more as she shook him. "You are impossible, Ronald, and if we get caught we will make sure to say it was you and only you."
"O—K—Point—ow—taken," Ron gasped. "But—you know—since they're here now …"
Hermione grudgingly let him go and he scrambled as far away as possible. "We may as well have the meeting now we're all here," she said. "Harry?"
Silence fell in the pub, and Harry swallowed, suddenly almost as nervous as he had been at the first ever meeting. "Uh, thanks for coming," he said, addressing everyone together. "I think introductions first. This lot were in the DA last year—"
"Are you the Weasley twins?" one of the first-years interrupted in an awed voice.
Fred and George both grinned and mock-bowed. "We certainly are."
"Of Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes?" another first-year said.
"With the fireworks?"
"And the Skiving Snackboxes?"
"I'm not sure this is really the time—" Hermione began.
"I think it is," Harry said. "The point of this was to know each other a bit better, and Fred and George's inventions can come in handy for more than pranking your peers or skiving off classes."
"True," George said. "We've been working on a range of things to help in these dark times."
"Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder."
"What on earth are Wand Wings?" Ron asked.
"We're launching them next month. Limited sale, of course," Fred added. "We can't go letting Death Eaters get hold of them. They become invisible once you put them on as well, so they won't know what you're doing."
"You strap them round your wrist," George said. "And when you get disarmed, your wand flies back into your hand."
There was a general murmur of "Wow" from the younger crowd. Even Hermione looked impressed.
A cold shiver ran down Harry's back and he shook it off, putting it down to the still-open door, but a moment later a sickening feeling came to his stomach.
"Hermione," he hissed, not wanting to cause a panic. "Can you feel that?"
She looked puzzled for a moment, but as the chill intensified comprehension dawned. The pub quietened.
"Why's it so cold?" one of the first-years piped up.
Harry's stomach dropped further. Of all the days to sneak seventeen kids out of the castle! He would strangle Ron later. For the moment, he pulled out his wand. If there were Dementors here, there must be—
Crashing sounds could be heard next door, followed by screams.
The pub door blew off its hinges.
Harry grabbed the two nearest first-years by the scruff of the neck and pulled them to the ground as a spell whizzed past him. He felt Hermione stand and shoot a spell back, and judging by the flump of body on floor it met its target.
"All those who can do Patronuses, follow me!" Harry called to the crowd, and a bunch of last year's DA members followed as he pushed his way into the street.
There was only one other Death Eater that they could see; Harry Stunned him as he exited a pulped Madam Pudifoot's. There was only the one Dementor, which turned towards Harry as he raised his wand. It was the first time Harry had come face to face with a Dementor since Sirius' death, but there was not much time for the Dementor to get a hold on his emotions.
Summoning an image of Voldemort defeated, Harry cried "Expecto patronum!" and the others followed his lead. A menagerie of silvery creatures, lead not by a stag but by something else familiar, stormed the Dementor and sent it on its way.
Harry's Patronus was the last to disappear. The big dog barked at him before fading like the others. Suddenly Harry's legs felt wobbly, and they buckled. He did not remember hitting the floor as he was engulfed in horror he had never felt before in his life.
"Are you sure there was only one Dementor there, Mr Weasley?" Albus pressed.
"Yes, Professor," Ron replied for the third time. "We told you, we fought it off together and then Harry just collapsed. We couldn't revive him, it's never been this bad before, not even when there were hundreds of them."
Harry was still out cold; he was unconscious but shaking, his body like ice and doused in cold sweat. His breathing was irregular, interspersed with small moans. Hermione sat by him, clutching his frozen hand, while Ron paced anxiously trying to answer a hundred questions.
Before anyone else could speak, Fawkes appeared in a flash and settled on the bed next to Harry. Hermione reached out to stroke him with her free hand, but he shook her off and trilled soothingly. After a moment, Harry seemed to calm; he stopped shaking and moaning, and just lay there.
Madam Pomfrey returned with hot chocolate and a sleeping potion, which she tipped down Harry's throat one at a time before shooing the others away.
"Professor," Ron said as he and Hermione walked with Albus in the direction of Gryffindor Tower. "About the first and second-years …"
"That matter can be dealt with when Harry is recovered," Albus said.
Ron squirmed. "It doesn't have to be. He and Hermione didn't have anything to do with sneaking them out; it was my idea and I went behind their backs when they didn't agree to it. I'm sorry, Professor."
Albus didn't speak for a moment, and Ron could barely breathe.
"You do realise, Mr Weasley, that had any of them been hurt today that you would be the one responsible for it."
"One of them could have been killed—or worse."
"Professor McGonagall and I will discuss your punishment later," Albus said as they drew up to the Fat Lady. "For the time being, go to your dormitory and stay there until I come and collect you tomorrow morning."
Ron hung his head. "Yes, sir."
Harry was still asleep when they arrived the next morning. During the night he had warmed up, but his sleep didn't look restful.
"Where am I?" were the first words out of his mouth when he woke.
"You're in the Hospital Wing, mate." Ron forced a grin as Harry turned to look at him. "Gave us a bit of a scare there."
"I don't—understand—what happened? Where was I?"
"In Hogsmeade, remember?" Hermione said.
"You've only been there and here, Harry," Albus said from the end of the bed. "You collapsed in Hogsmeade and were brought straight here; you haven't been anywhere else."
Harry shook his head violently. "No, no. That's not—that can't be right."
"Why?" Albus asked. "Where do you think you were?"
Harry closed his eyes and shuddered. "Azkaban."