A/N: Yay! I finally fixed the font! (I hope. If not, yell at me, and I'll try it again.) Anyhoozle, that's it, really. Buh bye!
The Insanity of Hogwarts
Chapter One: Harry's--er--Problems
A great scarlet steam engine stood beside a crowded platform, chugging idly and occasionally belching a great puff from one of its many smokestacks. People swarmed to and fro on the platform, either waiting to board the train or waiting to see it off; witches, wizards, and innumerable children in their Hogwarts black, calling excitedly to one another and creating a fearful babble.
Harry Potter pushed his heavy cart through this mess, his eyes scanning anxiously for some sign of his friends Ron and Hermione. His owl Hedwig was snoring slightly in her cage, which was wedged rather stiffly between his trunk and an overstuffed suitcase.
"Hey! Harry! Over here!"
Harry turned in time to see the carrot-haired, freckle-faced visage of Ronald Weasley, waving frantically at him from his perch atop a stack of crates, as a hand grasped his collar and pulled him down into the crowd again. Snorting with laughter, Harry (with some difficulty) jammed the brakes on his cart and waited. Sure enough, he soon spotted the entire Weasley clan shoving their way through the madhouse, Ron's elder brother Percy clearly giving him what for, unaware that Fred and George were hopping along behind him in an uncanny impersonation of his puffed-up indignation.
"Harry, old bean!" said Fred, shoving Percy and Ron out of the way and clapping Harry on the back hard enough to knock his glasses askew. "How's this grand old world been treating you?"
Harry made a face. "Awful. That porking Dudley got his hands on my Firebolt and nearly smashed it to bits, trying to beat my Uncle Vernon with it."
"Why would he do a thing like that?" asked George, popping up beside Fred. "Hitting someone with a Firebolt! It's a downright sacrilege!"
"He's Dudley," replied Harry, somewhat wearily. "Uncle Vernon wouldn't let him take the company car out for a drive, and he pitched a fit."
Harry's summer with the Dursleys had likely been the worst yet. Uncle Vernon, upon learning that escaped psychopath Sirius Black was none other than Harry's godfather, had refused to let him even stay in the house any longer, and had moved all his things to the unused greenhouse. Part of the roof was smashed where Dudley had thrown his tortoise through it several years before, and it was infested with all sorts of creepy-crawlies that would have made even Snape shudder. He'd managed to drive most of them out, but he had spent the last three months conscientiously sleeping with his mouth shut.
"Well, don't worry about it any longer, dear; you've an entire Dursley-free year ahead of you."
Mrs. Weasley had appeared behind her sons, a broad smile on her face. "Now, Percy, I thought I told you to leave Ron alone. He's quite old enough to look out for himself by now."
Ron grinned triumphantly, while Percy looked ready to explode. He had been ranting steadily at Ron for the last five minutes, but right as Mrs. Weasley stepped in he spotted his girlfriend Penelope through the crowd, and hurried off to meet her with a muttered, "'scuse me."
Ron rolled his eyes. "I haven't been able to get him off my back all summer," he moaned. "Honestly, Harry, I'd rather live with your cousin Dudley."
"I'll swap you any time," said Harry. "What time is it, anyway?"
"Time you boys were on the train," said Mrs. Weasley. "Fred, George, help Ginny with her trunk, and make sure the latch doesn't break open again."
"Honestly, Mum, I can handle it," squeaked Ginny. She was the only Weasley girl; a skinny third-year with an enormous crush on Harry. Anxious to prove that she was as macho as any of her brothers, she hauled the heavy black trunk off the cart and promptly dropped it on her toes. Her lips went very white, but to her credit, she made no sound until Percy wandered back over and sat down on it with a sigh. THEN she let out a shriek of pain that made everyone within earshot wince, and launched an attack on the startled Percy that drove him back into the anonymous Beyond.
Ron sighed. "WHY couldn't I have been an only child?" he asked, grabbing one end of Ginny's forgotten trunk.
Fred seized the other. "Because you're a Weasley," he responded. "Misery loves company."
Mrs. Weasley glared at him something furious, but they managed to get everyone's trunks stowed without further incident. Hermione showed up while they were loading Harry's, her enormous orange furball of a cat perched on her shoulder.
"Well, that's everything, dears. DO try and behave yourselves this year, could you?" said Mrs. Weasley, looking particularly at Fred and George, who had in five years at Hogwarts managed to get into more trouble than almost all the other students put together.
"We can't promise to try, but we'll TRY to try," said George with a grin.
A short while later, armed with a load of Chocolate Frogs and Cauldron Cakes from the food cart, Harry, Ron, and Hermione had made themselves at home in what was now customarily their car, empty except for luggage and a few disgruntled owls. Ron's own owl, a tiny menace of a fluffball, zipped around over their heads and occasionally buzz-bombed Hermione's great orange Crookshanks, who simply purred and gazed at it from half-closed yellow eyes.
"Fourth years," sighed Hermione, munching on a Frog. "I can't believe it. Our time at Hogwarts is half over......what'll we do once we're out of school?" She looked as though the very thought were abhorrent to her.
"Hermione, I have no doubt that Dumbledore'll just BEG you to be a teacher when you graduate," said Ron, his mouth rather full.
"You really think so?" said Hermione, who had clearly already thought of this. "But what would I teach? The only one that's ever open is Defense Against the Dark Arts, and I certainly don't want THAT."
Hogwarts had gone through three Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers in as many years; the first, Quirrel, had sold his soul to the Dark Lord Voldemort and wound up the year by trying to kill Harry; the second, a famous, rather brainless git named Gilderoy Lockhart, who had written many books on his escapades in fighting the Dark, had turned out to be a complete fraud and accidentally erased his memory with Ron's broken wand. Their most recent (and by far best) teacher, Remus Lupin, had turned out to be a werewolf. No one had any idea what they would be getting next, though their friend Seamus Finnigan was taking bets it would be a vampire.
"Well, Professor Sprout's getting pretty old," said Harry. "Maybe you could take over Herbology."
"Yeah, or maybe they'll finally sack Snape and you'll get Potions," said Ron, looking rather elated at the thought of Snape getting canned.
"What're you gonna do, Harry?" asked Hermione. "When you get out of school, I mean."
Harry thought for a moment. Truthfully, he had no idea what would come after Hogwarts, but he knew Hermione wouldn't accept that, so he said, "Probably play Quidditch, if anyone'll take me."
"Oh, I don't think you need to worry about that," said Ron, who had eaten all his Cauldron Cakes and was now gnawing the end of a Frog, which had smeared chocolate all over the end of his nose.
"Honestly, Ron, when did you last eat?" demanded Hermione, looking thoroughly shocked at his table manners (or lack of them.)
"This morning. Mum says I'm going through another growth spurt."
Harry and Hermione exchanged glances. Ron was a good head taller than most of their class already, and if he grew any more they'd be using him as a telephone pole. For a moment they both sat and stared at Ron, watching in admiration as he gulped down three oranges in rapid succession, when a knock sounded on the door of their compartment.
"Yes?" said Hermione, rather startled that anyone on this train would bother to knock.
The door slid open and a woman stepped in. "Anybody mind if I join you? There's nowhere else to sit."
"Sure, come on it," said Ron, moving a suitcase so she could sit, and the woman sat. She was short and rather scrawny, and looked to be perhaps twenty-seven, with a head of shaggy, flyaway black hair and bright, oddly slanted green eyes. Her sunbeaten face was rather pointy, with a narrow, sharp nose and pointed chin, and a fine tracery of smile-lines near her eyes.
"Phew," she said, flicking a wisp of rather frizzed-out hair from her forehead. "Can you BELIEVE some of the people on this train? Some pale little runt out there tried to steal all my Frogs, right off the seat next to me!"
Harry and Ron exchanged glances. "Pale little runt?" they both asked.
"Yeah....little bugger couldn't've been any taller than me, an' he had two big numbskulls following him around like bodyguards. Don't think he'll be troubling me any more, though," she added with a laugh. "I hit him hard enough with a Farting Charm to keep him busy for a month."
Ron, Harry, and Hermione stared at her for a moment, their jaws hanging open. "You....you hit MALFOY with a FARTING CHARM?" croaked Ron, unable to comprehend this of a fully-grown witch.
"Is that his name?" asked the woman, glancing up to see them all goggling at her. "Oh, sheesh, I haven't even introduced myself. Lorna Doors," she said, offering a hand to Harry, who took it and winced under the pressure of her grip. "New Herbology professor."
"Pleased to meet you," he gasped as she released his hand. He had to flex his fingers to make sure none of them were broken. "Harry Potter."
Hermione gaped. "You--you're a TEACHER?" she said, and both Harry and Ron got the distinct impression that wasn't what she'd meant to say at all. They glanced sharply at Professor Doors, waiting to see how she'd respond to this.
The professor smiled merrily. "Nobody ever believes me," she said. "But honestly, just because I'm an adult doesn't mean I don't enjoy a joke as much as the next person. Your sense of humor doesn't die just because you're made a teacher."
"Oh, Fred and George are going to love you," said Ron, who was gazing at this scrawny oddment of a professor as though Christmas had just come early.
"You mean those two red-haired gentlemen who loosed a manic bullfrog in car three?" asked Professor Doors. "Yes, I've already made their acquaintance. Most interesting fellows.....your brothers, I take it?" she said, with a glance at Ron's flaming hair. Ron nodded.
"Professor," said Hermione, who seemed nearly ready to burst. "Forgive my--my asking, but did you say you teach Herbology?"
"Oh, good. I was a bit worried, you see, because Defense Against the Dark Arts is open, too, and I was afraid they'd stuck you with that. It's supposed to be jinxed."
Professor Doors grinned at Hermione. "Is it really? Pity I didn't sign up for that; there's nothing more fun than an interesting position, and nothing more interesting than a cursed one." She glanced at her watch, a round yellow smiley face that hung on a chain round her neck. "Oh, dear, you'll have to excuse me; I've got to go free the rats." And with that, Hogwarts' newest Herbology teacher stood and hurried from the compartment, shutting the door creakily behind her.
"Well, I dare say Herbology'll be a gas this year," said Ron, who was still looking as though he'd been shoved into the seventh layer of heaven. "Have you ever heard of anything equal to her?"
"I just hope she's a decent teacher," said Hermione, but it was quite clear that she too had taken an instant liking to Professor Doors.
"I just hope she can handle that Venemous Tentacula better than Professor Sprout," said Harry, reaching for his suitcase as the train slowed. "That stupid thing nearly bit my ear off last term."
The Exfydales Beans
Harry, after piling his luggage in a haphazard heap with everyone else's, hurried along with the crowds to the great front doors of Hogwarts. As usual Hagrid, the gigantic school gamekeeper, knocked on the doors, and Professor McGonagall answered. The panicky-looking first years were separated and led into the small, off-the-hall chamber to wait for the Sorting Hat. Harry grinned sheepishly, remembering his own terror as a first year.
He ran into Ron again as the rest of the students filed into the Great Hall, whose bewitched ceiling was tonight black and frosty. They found Hermione already at the Gryffindor table with Ginny Weasley, who was chattering happily about her own meeting with Professor Doors, all the while chewing ferociously on a wad of gum the professor had given her. Fred and George sat looking bemused, but cracked up laughing every time they looked at each other.
Harry and Ron flopped onto chairs as the Sorting Hat began its customary song, their eyes up the staff table. There sat Dumbledore, his long silver hair shining in the light of the suspended candles and his half-moon glasses flashing. Next to him was tiny little Professor Flitwick, perched atop a pile of books, and creepy Professor Trelawney, who was gazing intently at the third years and seemed to be trying to decide who deserved a death omen. Professor Doors was watching the Sorting Ceremony with interest and levitating a spoon over the head of the unsuspecting Hagrid, who was drinking deeply from a goblet the size of a crock pot. Snape was glaring at what must be their new Dark Arts teacher; a shifty-eyed little man who bore a strong resemblance to one of the little grey aliens from a bad sci-fi movie. Everything seemed as it should be, and yet Harry could not escape the feeling that something was vaguely amiss. He turned to Fred and George, who were also watching the staff table, and shaking with silent laughter.
Harry poked Fred. "What gives?" he demanded, and Fred, with a deprecating glance at George, dropped a handful of very bizarre-looking purple beans on the table in front of Harry.
"They're Exfydales Beans," he whispered. "Professor Doors gave them to us on the train. She says they're used in the army, to weed out traitors."
"Uh-oh," said Harry. "Do I want to know what you've done with them?"
"You'll see in a minute," said George, who hadn't taken his eyes off the staff table. Hagrid now had quite a collection of silverware floating over his head, Professor Trelawney seemed to have chosen her victim for the year, and Snape was now glaring poisonously at the little pop-eyed man at the end of the table--
A flagon of wine not far from Snape had exploded, spraying everyone within twenty feet. Everyone looked over, startled, and a few people screamed in surprise. Fred and George sat fairly choking with suppressed laughter; at the staff table, Professor Doors' slanted green eyes had widened, and she dropped the silverware all over Hagrid's head with a crash.
Another explosion went off, this one blasting a roast to smithereens. Professor Flitwick let out a squeak and dove under the table, while Hagrid still sat puzzling over the silverware that lay scattered around him.
An enormous, three-tiered cake was the next to go, raining everyone with splatters of sugar frosting. Professor Doors was having a hard time keeping a straight face as hundreds of students fled for the exits.
Ron nudged Harry. "Look at McGonagall," he whispered.
Professor McGonagall, who had been liberally plastered with frosting from the exploding cake, stood absolutely rigid in the center of the Hall, the Sorting Hat clenched in her bloodless fist. Her face had gone white with fury, and she finally bellowed so loud the entire castle rang with it.
Instant silence fell. Fred and George looked at each other, unable to believe their good fortune--of all the people who were likely to be blamed for such a catastrophe, Peeves the Poltergeist was by far the best, as he'd take credit for it whether he'd done it or not. Harry and Ron looked at one another and tried not to laugh as Peeves came zipping into the Hall, a sack of doorknobs over his shoulder that had no doubt been removed from classrooms all over the castle.
"Yessir, Professor?" he cackled, swinging his sack of doorknobs.
"Peeves," said Professor McGonagall, her voice icy and a muscle twitching in her cheek as she spoke. "Did you plant explosives in the food at the staff table?"
A grin split Peeves' wicked face. "OOOO--"
"They're not explosives, Minerva."
Professor Doors stood on her chair, swishing something around in her callused brown palm. "They're beans. Exfydales Beans, to be precise. They have that--er--effect when placed around someone thinking, shall we say, less than charitable thoughts."
"Well, how did they get in there?" demanded McGonagall, her eyes still on Peeves.
"That's a good question. They're quite rare and hard to grow.....unless Professor Sprout had some lying around from last term, they're almost certainly contraband."
"Contraband, eh? Peeves," said Professor McGonagall, her cheek still twitching. "Did you take these beans from Professor Sprout last year?"
Peeves' grin broadened. Of course he hadn't, he'd never heard of them before in his chaos-causing life, but no one was going to stop him getting all the glory for this one. He blew a loud, wet raspberry in answer, dropping his sack of doorknobs onto the ruins of the cake and flipping upside down.
"Peeves, under the power vested in me as Deputy Headmistress of this school, I hereby banish you from the castle of Hogwarts. You are to leave at once and never return." McGonagall's cheek was ticking worse than ever.
For a moment everyone stared at her, their mouths hanging open. Peeves gave McGonagall one wide-eyed, horrified stare before bursting into very noisy tears and zooming from the hall, taking his doorknobs with him.
Harry and Ron looked at one another, and then at Fred and George, who were looking at Professor Doors, who had smacked herself on the forehead.
The entire school had filed from the Hall in shock, sent to complete the feast in their houses. Peeves, their ever-present annoying anarchist, gone, just like that. No one was sure what had made McGonagall crack--Peeves had done far worse in the past--but none had ever really believed he'd actually get kicked.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione had taken to a corner of the Gryffindor common room, not knowing what to say.
"Well, you can't say it hasn't been interesting," said Ron. "You don't really think Peeves is out forever, do you? I mean, sure he's irritating and all that, but it just won't be Hogwarts without him buzz-bombing everyone."
"I don't know," said Hermione, sounding as though she did. "McGonagall seemed pretty angry. She might cool off after a while, but then, she might not."
"Of course she will," said George, popping up behind Harry's chair. "Did you see Professor Doors? She feels rotten about this. We passed her in the hallway and she said 'I've been here less than an hour and I already managed to get the school poltergeist thrown out."
"But it's not her fault!" cried Harry. "She didn't plant those beans."
"I know," Fred said gloomily, materializing beside George. "We did. Which means it's our job to get Peeves back in."
"Good luck," snorted Ron. "I've never seen McGonagall that angry, not even when Harry and I crashed Dad's car into the Whomping Willow."
"Wonder what made her crack like that?" mused George. "I mean, that was NOTHING for Peeves."
"I'M just surprised he wasn't booted years ago," said Hermione, who was looking very sleepy.
"Unless they kept him here for a good reason," said Harry. "Who knows?"
"Not me," said Ron, yawning. "I'm going to bed."
They all left for the dormitories, the evening's events still ringing in their minds (and ears.)
Once the initial shock of Peeves' departure had worn off, school settled into its usual paces, with a few minor differences: Malfoy was nicer, Snape nastier, Defense Against the Dark Arts was just plain bizarre, and in no time at all Herbology was everyone's favorite class. Professor Doors, their tiny scrap of a teacher, soon won the confidence and affection of nearly everyone in the school. Even Malfoy liked her, as she had taught him the Farting Charm she'd used on him on the train ride to school.
Harry was finding his classes more than satisfactory; Professor McGonagall had started them transfiguring furniture, Flitwick had them levitating small buildings, Professor Erral, their Defense teacher, was always good for a conversation on aliens, and Hagrid had somehow procured a leprechaun for Care of Magical Creatures. Hermione especially found this last interesting, and spent much of her free time working with him. Only Potions was a living nightmare, but as Potions had always been a special hell for Harry, he didn't mind it too much.
No, all in all things were as they should be. The only wonderings Harry had were about Ron, who seemed rather distracted, and Malfoy, who seemed, well, rather PLEASANT. He didn't even taunt Ron about the legendary leprechaun pot of gold, something just short of miraculous. The whole thing remained a mystery to Harry, until one day when he showed up early for Herbology.
He was walking along outside the greenhouses with Ron, the two having just come from a visit with Hagrid, when he heard Malfoy's voice and stopped.
"Call me Lorna," came Doors' cheery voice.
"All right, Professor Lorna, I've got a--er--problem, of sorts." Harry would have killed to see Malfoy's face at that moment; he would bet it was beet-red.
"Well, spill your guts, Draco," said Professor Doors, but her voice was kind.
"Y'see, there's this....um, well, I've got this friend--"
There was a soft clunk as Professor Doors set down whatever she had been working with. "Ah," she said softly. "It would seem to me, Draco, that you're discovering girls."
There was a rather abashed silence.
"Who is she?" asked the professor.
"Well--that's just the thing--I used to hate her, and I know she hates me-"
"Who is it, Draco?"
There was an audible gulp, and then, "Hermione Granger."
Harry and Ron looked at one another; Ron nearly dropped his spellbooks in shock. MALFOY like HERMIONE? It was too, well, WRONG for them to comprehend; Malfoy hated Hermione because her parents were Muggles, and Hermione hated Malfoy because he was a jackass. For Malfoy to develop a sudden affection for Hermione either meant he'd lost his mind or this was someone's idea of a joke--
"Oh, no," whispered Ron, fighting hard not to laugh. "Fred....and George...Professor Doors must've taught them....oh, WHAT'RE WE GONNA TELL HERMIONE?"
Harry, who was choking so hard he could barely see straight, managed to gasp "Nothing--what she doesn't know--won't hurt--us." And with that the two collapsed behind a shrub, snorting with suppressed laughter.
It was a good thing they were behind the bush, for Malfoy left the greenhouse a moment later, his ears very red. No sooner was he out of sight than Professor Doors was hauling Harry and Ron from the bush by their ears, her lip quivering as she strove to keep a straight face.
"You two--did you--Malfoy...." She was unable to finish, for she burst into a guffaw of ringing laughter.
"It wasn't us, Professor!" said Ron. "We'd never wish something that awful on poor Hermione!"
Professor Doors stopped laughing and led them into the greenhouse. "Well, for heaven's sake don't say anything about it," she said, still chortling. "It'll wear off in a while, and it's best if we keep this whole thing to ourselves, for Hermione's sake."
Harry and Ron agreed, though they had to fight for straight faces every time Malfoy walked past, looking moonier every day. Fred and George persistently denied any involvement in his behavior, but their ears went pink every time someone brought it up, a sure sign of Weasley guilt.
"If whatever Malfoy's got doesn't wear off soon, I'm gonna break all my ribs," moaned Ron after one particularly disastrous Potions lesson, in which Malfoy tipped over two jars of slugs and nearly blew up half the dungeon. Snape, who normally acted as though Malfoy could do no wrong, had actually given him a detention and taken twenty points from Slytherin.
Malfoy poured out his woes to Professor Doors in the greenhouses, where she was tending some rather picky Candelibren Mushrooms.
"I just don't know what to do," he sighed pathetically, as Doors carefully fed the mushrooms lamp oil. "I mean, how does a frog tell a swan he loves her?"
"Draco, honey," said Doors, her voice having its usual glee-inducing effect on both Malfoy and the mushrooms, "If a frog is telling a swan he loves her, I'd say both the frog and the swan've got some problems."
"That's not what I meant," said Malfoy, his own voice using the sickly-sweet tone it had adopted over the last few weeks.
"I know it's not, honey, but you've picked the one area I've got zero experience in. Now either tell the lady how you feel or forget about her." And that was the end of Malfoy's pinings, though he still became mysteriously clumsy whenever Hermione was near.
"Wonder what it's like to have a normal life," said Ron one Potions lesson, when Malfoy somehow managed to set the sleeve of Crabbe's robes afire.
"I don't know, but I'll bet it's terribly dull," said Harry, as Malfoy's cauldron clunked to the floor and rolled past his feet.
"MALFOY!" roared Snape, striding over as Malfoy's bag of bumblebee fuzz somehow managed to spontaneously combust. Malfoy had fallen greatly out of favor with Snape of late, to Harry and Ron's delight. Granted, Snape was being nastier than ever to everyone, but it was well worth it to see Malfoy in so much trouble.
"How can you have wrecked this potion?" Snape hissed, his face very close to Malfoy's. "Even Longbottom got it right, it was so simple." Neville turned bright pink. "And yet you, who was once so clever at this work, you have managed to destroy not only the potion but half my classroom as well. What have you to say for yourself, boy?" Snape's black eyes were flashing dangerously, and all Malfoy could do was gulp. The entire class sat, enraptured, waiting for his reply.
"Honestly, Professor, he's only a child."
Everyone turned, startled, to see Professor Doors standing in the doorway, her flyaway hair pinned even more haphazardly than usual; her robes covered in earth and a large smear of dirt across the bridge of her nose. "He can't help it if he's a klutz."
Snape glared at her, as though offended that another teacher should dare enter the confines of his classroom. "Be that as it may, Malfoy is my student and in my House, and I will therefore deal with him accordingly," he said icily.
. Doors raised her eyebrows. "I was merely stating an opinion, Professor Snape," she said mildly. "There's no need to get all defensive." Though her voice remained calm and polite, it was a mark of her distaste for Snape that she used his last name; she called everyone by their first name, even Filch.
Snape had apparently caught this, for he said, "If you don't mind my asking, Lorna, what brings you to my classroom?"
Doors pulled a bag from one of the many pockets in her robes. "I've brought the powdered feverfew you asked for, and the lobelia root. However, after such reception as I've received here, I think I'll let you come and get your herbs on your own sweet time." She dropped the parcel on a table and spun around on one bare heel (she hadn't worn shoes since her arrival at Hogwarts) and stormed out of the dungeon. However, she winked at Harry as she passed, so he knew she wasn't really angry. He also knew he'd better tread carefully in Potions the next few days, as she'd surely booby-trap the entire room.
Snape stared after her, a murderous sneer twisting his thin face that startled Harry; it was a look of pure venom such as not even Harry could get from Snape. He looked at Ron, who looked at Hermione, who looked at Snape, who looked ready to explode. The three shook their heads and returned to their potion, and were immensely relieved when the bell rang a moment later.
"You guys, I'm a little worried about Professor Doors," said Hermione as they headed off to lunch. "I mean, Snape seems to hate her even worse than Harry...what if he does something to her?"
Ron snorted. "Oh, please. What can he possibly do? I mean, we're talking about the woman who managed to get PEEVES thrown out. Snape wouldn't stand a chance."
Peskipiksies and Other Tortures
True to her unspoken word, Doors so jury-rigged the Potions room that class was canceled for several days so all the traps could be set off. Snape was furious over this, but as he had no means of proving it was Lorna, he could do nothing but fume. The feud between them was now quite open, and it was unclear who loathed the other more.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione used their free time every day to visit Hagrid and help Doors care for the Spineade Spudici; small, fuzzy, and incredibly emotional plants that required much attention and affection to grow properly. Harry was enjoying it while he could, because all too soon his life would be taken over by Quidditch once more.
The weather took a turn for the worse, with heavy autumn rains driving everyone indoors. It was then that many people began to truly miss Peeves, to no one's small surprise. After all, there was nothing more annoying than being buzz-bombed by a deranged poltergeist, but now that he was gone they all realized how much they liked him. He had been spotted by several people lurking sadly near the Forbidden Forest, but no one was willing to risk the wrath of McGonagall and sneak him back in. But if they thought they missed Peeves then, it was nothing compared to how much they'd lament his loss when they found out just how much use he'd really served.
Harry stumbled down to the Great Hall one cold, gray morning, yawning and stretching his arms, which were still sore from the previous night's Quidditch practice. However, no sooner had he entered the main corridor than he noticed something was very, VERY wrong.
The hallway looked as though someone had loosed a band of rabid super-squirrels on it; the paintings were strewn about in heaps, the hangings had been ripped to shreds, and several suits of armor had been picked to bits, leaving an odd foot hopping here and there. Water had dripped from the ceiling where a pipe had burst, making the carpet squelch whenever the armor moved.
Harry stared blankly, his glasses dangling from one ear, unable to comprehend just WHAT could have done this--
Suddenly, something small and electric-blue shot past his ear, knocking his glasses off and zipping away with a shrill cry. Hastily retrieving his spectacles, Harry put them on in such a hurry that they perched upside-down on the bridge of his nose.
"Oh, NO," he moaned, diving for cover.
Cornish pixies, hundreds of them, were pouring through the broken windowpanes. Harry remembered all too well the time, two years previous, when a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher had loosed these buzzing menaces on an unsuspecting classroom. Harry had often wondered just where all those pixies went, and it seemed at he at last knew the answer--Peeves had driven them off, but as soon as they figured out he was gone (which took them a while) they returned, and left a path of destruction everywhere they went.
At this unpropitious moment Ron entered the corridor, and fell flat on his face as one of the pixies swiped at him with a bent crowbar.
"Don't ask," said Harry, pulling Ron into the Great Hall, where a number of other confused-looking students were already gathered.
"Okay, what gives?" demanded Dean, who had been hit in the head with a tureen of porridge and was already getting a lump on his forehead.
"Pixies," muttered Hermione, pulling bits of straw from her hair. "We've been invaded by a horde of Cornish pixies."
"Well, DUH," said Seamus. "But what're we gonna DO about it?" He was peeling bits of fried egg from his face.
"Ask Dumbledore," said Ron, pointing.
Dumbledore had just entered through the far doors, wiping oatmeal from his robes. "Goodness, what an obstacle course," he said, adjusting his glasses. "Morning, all. I trust everyone slept well?"
"Yeah, sleep was great," grumbled Ron. "It was the waking up part that was terrible."
Professor McGonagall, her black hair distinctly disheveled, burst into the Hall in a high bad temper. She swept past Harry, Ron, and Hermione, muttering things like 'ridiculous' and 'never would have BELIEVED I'd see this day.' She marched right up to Dumbledore and stood, arms crossed, as though waiting for him to blast all the pixies away.
"Yes, Minerva?" queried Dumbledore, who was looking highly amused.
Professor McGonagall held up the shredded remains of what had clearly once been a rather beautiful tapestry. "My grandmother's, Albus," she said, her voice shaking with fury. "Handed down through five generations, and those--those--PIXIES destroyed it."
"Now, Minerva, I'm certain it can be repaired," said Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling. "In the meanwhile, I think it's high time we got our dear old Peeves back, wouldn't you say?"
"ANYTHING to get rid of those foul little pests," hissed McGonagall, her square glasses slipping off the end of her nose.
By now nearly the entire school stood assembled in the Great Hall; some picking bacon from their robes, others wiping orange juice from their faces. Snape had been liberally doused with water when a pipe burst right over his head, Flitwick had strawberry jam smeared in his hair, and Doors was covered in a heavy dusting of flour. The entire Hall looked like participants in some great, violent food fight.
"Did I hear someone say Peeves is returning?" squeaked Professor Flitwick, wiping futily at his hair with a napkin.
"Yes indeed you did," said Dumbledore. "However, he cannot pass the doors of this school until those responsible for his departure have gone and told him he may." There was a faint trace of laughter in his voice. Fred and George, who were both plastered in marmalade, looked at one another and gulped.
"Where is he now?" Snape demanded, wringing the water from his greasy black hair.
"Peeves was last spotted in the Forbidden Forest," said Dumbledore, with a meaningful look at the Weasleys. "Whether he will stay there for long is another story. I therefore advise anyone who wishes to speak with him to do so soon, lest he leave for good and stick us with these infernal pixies." He absently flicked one away from his ear, sending it sprawling head over tiny feet.
Fred and George gulped again......twice.
"I don't know," said Doors, who had a pixie perched contentedly on her shoulder. "I kind of like the little buggers."
"Oh, yes, you would," snarled Snape, bitingly sarcastic as usual.
Professor Doors turned and fixed him with her bizarrely penetrating stare. "And what is that supposed to mean?"
"Uh-oh, this could get ugly," muttered Ron. He, Harry, and Hermione all prepared to run for it, should any beans decide to make their presence known.
"Of course you'd like them; they're annoying, meddlesome little pests," snapped Snape, returning her gaze unflinchingly.
"Well, they're not entirely useless," said Doors, her eyes wide and a look of innocence pasted on her face. "They managed to get you to wash your hair, for once." She tapped Snape on the forehead, leaving a large floury fingerprint, and turning on her heel marched from the Hall. Everyone except Snape stood shaking with laughter, and the Weasley twins both snorted into the remains of their cereal.
Harry looked at Ron, whose face had gone redder than his hair. "How did we ever manage without her?" he asked, before dissolving into a fit of chuckles as Snape too stormed from the Hall, the flour spot on his head looking like a mark for a sniper. Even Dumbledore could not suppress a smile.
Once the laughter had died away, however, there was still the matter of the pixies to deal with. Dumbledore announced that classes would be suspended until the return of Peeves, and that students were to stay in their common rooms until such time as the rest of the school was fit to roam. "Which I trust will be soon enough," he said, glancing at Fred and George, who both choked audibly.
Back in the Gryffindor common room, Harry sat by the window and watched the pixies buzz back and forth outside, occasionally carrying bits of statue or stone, and once a small sheep. Hermione was using the spare time to do a mountain of extra credit, and Ron was playing a rather violent game of Gobstones with Seamus Finnigan and Dean Thomas. Ginny Weasley was perched on the back of an armchair, a tablet and pencil in her hand, attempting a portrait of Percy, who was looking immensely self-important in his Head Boy badge.
Fred and George, on the other hand, looked terrible. Normally they'd have jumped on an opportunity to enter the Forbidden Forest, but the prospect of having to scour the whole thing for a moody, troublesome poltergeist was rather daunting. No one but Hagrid had ever been very far inside it, and the place was immense.
"What're we gonna do?" said Fred hopelessly. "There's no way we'll be able to find Peeves in that forest; he'll probably dodge us on purpose."
"Half a moment," said Hermione, who had her nose buried in a thick leather volume. "Here!"
"What?" asked Harry, peering over her shoulder.
"Poltergeists are created by adolescent minds, which is why Peeves stayed at Hogwarts," Hermione said excitedly. "However, when he was thrown out, he lost whatever it is our minds give him, so he stayed as close as he could without McGonagall going ballistic. He won't have gone far because he CAN'T, don't you see? He has to stay near his supply of young minds or he'll disappear!"
"Yeah, but he's still got that whole stretch of forest to hide in," protested George. "There's still no way we'll be able to catch him."
"He hasn't got the WHOLE stretch," said Hermione. "You can bet he's somewhere near the Quidditch field, since it's a place students go that's not too near the school. You should start there, and I bet you'll find him."
"Supposing we do find him," said Fred. "What then? He'll be so mad at us for getting him tossed he probably won't listen."
"Of course he will; he's not going to stay away when he's got the prospect of tormenting a load of Cornish pixies. And besides, he's probably been wanting back in for ages, but no one would let him."
George and Fred looked at one another. "All right," they said. "But how are we supposed to get out of the school, with all those pixies hanging around?"
"Hang on," said Harry, disappearing through the door to the boys' dormitory. He reappeared a moment later, his precious Firebolt in his hands. "You have to PROMISE me you'll take good care of it and not let Peeves do anything to it, or I'll murder you both." With something of a grimace he handed the broom to George, who took it with a look of mock awe.
"My dear old bean," he said faintly. "I am your slave forevermore." And without further ado, he and Fred hopped onto the Firebolt and zoomed out the window, which had fortunately been opened by Hermione.
"Good God," said Harry, watching as they buzzed a gang of pixies and zipped off, howling. "I'm gonna regret this, aren't I?"
Ron clapped him on the back. "Of course you are, old bean."
He spent the next few hours nervously pacing the common room, unable to settle as it grew later and darker and still no sign of the Weasleys and his Firebolt. Ron and Hermione watched him over a game of wizard chess, which had gone rather sour since Hermione's knight had stabbed Ron in the finger with his tiny lance.
"Relax, Harry; they practically worship that thing, there's no way they'd let anything happen to it," said Ron, flicking the offending knight off the board with a look of smug satisfaction.
"I know they wouldn't, but what about the--" He didn't get a chance to finish his sentence; at that moment there was a tremendous shatter of glass that made all of them shriek, and Fred, George, Peeves, and the Firebolt tumbled to the floor. A high wind howled through the broken window, whipping the curtains and fanning the fire into leaping light.
Harry sprang up and once and pulled Fred to his feet. "What's going on?" he cried.
Fred stared at Harry, a look of pure terror on his white face. "Oh, God, Harry, oh, my God.....there's something out there, Harry, we saw it--"
"--some kind of bird, it nearly killed us," put in George.
Ron was on his feet, trying to get a coherent story out of a gibbering Peeves. "WHAT'S out there, Fred? What're you talking about?"
"I don't know," said Fred. "It was some kind of bird, I think, but it was huge, and it--oh, Ron, it was worse than the dementors, it was--"
"--it was emptiness," said George shakily. "Dead, empty nothingness, put into something we could see--it's been tormenting Peeves for months, we couldn't get a straight word out of him--"
There was a sudden quiet as the wind stopped; Hermione had restored the window and was now comforting Peeves. "One of you'll have to take him with you tonight; he's not going anywhere on his own," she said.
Silence followed this, an awkward, spooky silence in which they all jumped at the dancing shadows. For some reason, the mere mention of this bird-creature was enough to terrify them all. Barely glancing at one another, they hurried off to bed, Fred and George taking Peeves. The fright suffered by the three was a rather large price to pay, simply to be rid of some pixies.
They spent the next few days in Gryffindor Tower, while Peeves (who had recovered admirably once he realized he was safe in the castle) drove the pixies out, and Filch set to cleaning up the wreckage. All those who received detention had to go and help him, and it was remarkable how behavior improved in such a short time.
Fred and George were still jumpy, but they too seemed to feel they were safe inside Hogwarts. What they would do when Quidditch practice resumed, Harry didn't know, but they'd worry about that later.
Since the teachers were occupied helping Filch, the students rarely saw one save at mealtimes. Professors McGonagall, Flitwick, and Doors would trudge up to Gryffindor Tower, looking particularly tired and bedraggled, their wand-arms aching. Doors, being unable to tend her Spineade Spudici, had moved the fuzzy little plants to the Gryffindor common room, to the delight of many. There was a permanent gathering by the fire, all holding one of the little things, who had never had it so good.
Harry now sat at a table with Ron and Hermione, each accompanied by their adopted plant. Hermione's was quite content to sit in her lap while she read, but Ron's required a bit more attention, so he asked its advice while he played wizard chess with Harry, who was losing spectacularly. His plant was currently asleep, snoring gently in the warmth of the fire.
Harry groaned as his bishop was kicked off the board. "Between you and that plant, I don't stand a chance," he grumbled. The plant beamed, puffing up its fuzzy flowers in pride.
At that moment the portrait hole opened, and in came their three resident teachers and Seamus Finnigan, who had gotten a detention for conjuring up a flying squirrel that carried Mrs. Norris to the roof and left her there.
"Urgh," said Seamus, falling into an armchair and massaging his arm. "What a nightmare. I had to restore six paintings, a tapestry, and a suit of armor that tried to hack my head off." He waved at his plant, which had been looking rather sulky.
"At least you got to get out of the tower," said Ron, packing up his chess set. "See the interesting sights of a wrecked Hogwarts."
"Oh, I saw some VERY interesting sights," said Seamus, lowering his voice.
Harry, Ron, Hermione, and their plants leaned nearer. "Yeah?" said Harry.
"Snape," whispered Seamus. "He seemed, well, HAPPY. It was the scariest thing I've ever seen in my life; he was smiling and laughing and, and, NICE."
"Any idea why?" asked Hermione, who looked horrified.
Seamus shook his head, looking rather ill.
"Fishy," said Ron.
"Very fishy," said Harry.
"Practically a herring."
All four of them jumped; Fred and George had snuck up behind Seamus while they were lost in conversation. "But I'll bet you ten Galleons I know why."
They all looked at George. "The bird," he whispered. "That demon-thing, he probably knows what it is."
"Oh, come on," said Hermione. "He might be nasty, but he's not EVIL. Why would the arrival of some homicidal bird make him happy?"
"Well, what else could it be?" asked Fred. "I mean, he's not THAT fond of Peeves. Don't you think it's a little odd that some giant murderous bird shows up and Snape suddenly gets happy?"
No one could argue with that. "Well, what about it?" said Ron. "It's not like we've got any proof; no one but us and Dean and Peeves knows about the thing. All Snape has to do is say we're woolly and he's got no idea what we're talking about."
"Well, Dumbledore's bound to have noticed the--er--change as well, and he's probably wondering, too," put in Seamus.
"Knowing Dumbledore, he probably already knows. He'll do something if he feels he should," said Hermione.
"And what do we do in the meantime?" asked Harry.
"I'd say YOU, for one, should watch your back," said Seamus. The flowers nodded vigorously in agreement.
"Great," said Harry gloomily.
A while later, when everyone had eaten dinner and were sprawled around the common room in a contented, sleepy torpor, Harry lay, half asleep, in a chair and stared out the window. The sky was black and starry, with a few gray, misty clouds hurrying across it, and no moon. Harry thought absently of Professor Lupin, and wondered what he would be doing now, and of his godfather, Sirius Black. He thought of all the people he had known, and oddly, it was Professor Doors who stuck out most in his mind. She reminded him very strongly of someone, but try as he might he couldn't think who. It was almost as though he'd known her before, like she was one of the people who used to bow to him on the street, but she was so bizarre-looking he would have remembered her.
Harry sat up, his glasses sliding from his nose. He'd fallen asleep without realizing it. "What?"
"Ha-arry...." came the voice again. It was a girl's voice, and it was coming from outside the portrait-hole. Pushing his glasses back up on his nose, Harry half-fell out of his chair and stumbled to the portrait. "Who's there?" he called.
"No, I'm HERE," he muttered. "Did you forget the password?" he called louder.
"Harry......come with me, Harry. Follow me."
"Goody," mumbled Harry. He started to open the portrait, then realized just what he was doing.
"Urgh." He hurried into the boys' dormitories and as quietly as he could pilled his Invisibility Cloak from his trunk. Ron snorted in his sleep. Draping it over his head, Harry crept back to the portrait hole, wondering what on earth he was doing.
"All right," he whispered, closing the portrait behind him. "Who are you?"
A soft laugh answered him, but it seemed to come from thin air.
"Are you a ghost?" he asked.
"Maybe. It doesn't matter what I am, Harry Potter. I'm here to help you."
Harry was struck with a sudden sense of deja vu; he'd heard that voice before, he knew it, but--
"Come on, Harry. We haven't got all night......"
And Harry, with a resigned sigh, followed the voice through the corridors. Filch and the teachers had been busy; many of the paintings had been restored, and the tapestries were repaired or replaced. Still, it was very dark, and Harry didn't dare light his wand for fear of being spotted.
"Where are we going?" he asked irritably, as he stubbed his toe on the base of a statue.
"You'll see," said the voice.
They seemed to walk for ages, until they were in a part of the castle Harry had never seen, way up high on the twelfth floor. He stumbled along until something pulled on the back of his robes and stopped him..
They (or, rather, Harry, since the voice didn't seem to have legs) were standing beside a peculiar-looking tapestry of a mountain ringed with trees. The tapestry fluttered aside of its own accord, and one of the great stone blocks depressed itself. There was a faint grinding sound, and Harry found himself confronted with a gaping doorway that opened onto the strangest room he had ever seen.
It was large and circular, as though inside a tower, with a balcony opposite him and a high, vaulted ceiling painted with stars that kept rearranging themselves, and lit the room with a faint, silvery glow. The walls were nearly covered with an assortment of papers, lopsidedly pinned, and overgrown with some flowery creeper. A large, crooked wardrobe stood on one side, covered with illegible, glow-in-the-dark scrawls like 'water ficus' and 'feed the shrooms'. A crude table built of bark sat against one wall, littered with books and papers and half-used ink bottles. Beside it was piled a stack of boxes, mostly from Zonko's Joke Shop, and in a huge, overstuffed armchair, a book open on her stomach and a pair of glasses dangling from one ear, sat Professor Doors. She was sound asleep, her long, frizzy hair loose and sticking in several different directions. She was a very strange-looking woman; she didn't quite look human, with her thin, pointed, weathered face and slanted eyes and fine, fried hair. More than ever did she remind Harry of someone, but he still couldn't think who.
"Why have you brought me here?" he whispered to the voice.
"Because here lie the answers to all your questions," it said. "Well, most of them, anyway. Take a look around."
Harry, feeling uncomfortably as though he were committing a gross privacy violation, began creeping around the room. By the time he'd gotten two feet, he was convinced of two things: Professor Doors was by far the coolest person he'd ever met, and the most bizarre. She had a number of strange things he'd never heard of, that seemed to serve no purpose save to take up space; whirling silver thingamajigs, rainbow-flashing prisms, a crystal ball filled with glowing, multicolored smoke, and a good many more that Harry had no names for. The entire place was crowded with plants as well, that seemed to grow where they pleased.
He approached her desk. Amid the clutter of drawings and half-graded papers he spotted something that made his eyes widen.
It looked like a diary entry, dated for today. He barely scanned most of it, though he did note something about teaching Peeves to pick locks, but halfway down he saw, in bold letters, three words that made his stomach lurch:
Kill the Bird.
Harry was in no doubt as to what that referred to. He was just about to ask the voice what it meant when he heard the faint grinding of the door again, and whirled around, his heart in his mouth, expecting to see some ghoul or demon. What he did see made him nearly choke; not a demon, but someone nearly as unwelcome.
Snape paused in the doorway, as though listening, and Harry tried mightily not to breathe loudly. Still, when Snape's eyes swept past him he had to fight to keep from running for it; he had to remind himself not even Snape could see through an Invisibility Cloak. He was wondering mightily just what in hell the Potions teacher was doing in his archenemy's room, and had to jump out of the way as Snape strode over to the desk, muttering under his breath. Harry, shocked, watched the creeper on the walls silently snatch the diary entry and deposit it neatly behind the pile of joke boxes.
Snape rummaged futily for a moment, and then, frustrated, reached into a pocket of his robes and extracted a small bottle. Harry looked on in horror as he emptied its contents into a jug of pumpkin juice that stood atop a pile of books, shaking every last drop from the bottle before recorking it and sticking it back in his pocket. Then, with a horrible twisted smile he turned to Doors, who was still sound asleep, and walked over to her armchair. Harry watched, tense with fear, as Snape flexed his fingers, as though just itching to strangle Doors and get it over with. However, at that moment she muttered something about shrooms in her sleep, startling both of them.
"Poor Lorna," he murmured. "Poor, clueless Lorna, but what she doesn't know won't hurt me." His fingers twitched again, but he turned and left the way he had come, his black robes swishing behind him.
Harry waited, not daring to move and hardly daring to breathe, until he was certain Snape was gone. He had no idea WHAT had just happened here, but he did know he had to get rid of that pumpkin juice. As quietly as he could he eased the jug from the desk and tucked it under his cloak, praying he wouldn't drop it. He slid the door open again and crept from the room, closing the wall behind him. He also had no idea how he was going to find his way back to Gryffindor Tower, but fortunately the voice seemed to have already thought of this; it had left glowing arrows to point his way.
He stumbled through the portrait-hole and through the common room, up the stairs to the dormitories, and stuffing the Invisibility Cloak back in his trunk, crawled into bed without bothering to undress. The pumpkin juice he hid under his bed, to deal with in the morning. It had certainly given him a lot to think about, that voice that he couldn't quite place, that seemed like a memory from a dream........
A dream. Harry sat bolt upright, his eyes wide. Sun was pouring through the dormitory window; he must have slept for hours without knowing it, but he knew now whose voice it had been that had lured him to Professor Doors' room in the dead of night.
He had heard his mother.
"Ron, Hermione, follow me," Harry said in an undertone after breakfast. "You're not going to BELIEVE this..."
Ron and Hermione accordingly followed Harry into the deserted boys' dormitory (Hermione looking a trifle uneasy), wondering what on earth was up now.
"What is it, Harry?" asked Ron.
Harry heaved the jug of pumpkin juice onto his bed. "Well, it's a very long story," he said, as the two eyed him in bewilderment. "Last night, after everyone else was asleep, I heard a voice outside the portrait-hole, calling my name. I followed it through the castle--"
"Harry!" said Hermione, shocked. "What if it had been something....bad?"
"Well, it wasn't," he said impatiently. "Anyway, it led me to Professor Doors' room." He paused. "She knows about the bird, and she wants to kill it."
"She knows about the bird?" asked Ron, stunned. "But, how? Only us and Peeves even know it was here."
"That's not all," said Harry. "While I was there, Snape snuck in and poured something in this juice, and I'll bet you all the gold in Gringotts he's trying to poison her."
"Okay, um, could you repeat that?" said Ron, who was looking faintly green.
Harry sighed. "All right, I followed a voice to Doors' room on the twelfth floor, in some kind of tower, I think. It let me in and told me to look around, and I found one of her diary entries that said, in big bold letters, 'kill the bird'. Now, how many psychotic birds can there be, even around Hogwarts? She knows what it is, and she knows it was here."
"And what about Snape?" asked Hermione.
"Snape came in while I was reading her diary. This plant thing on the walls hid it, which was lucky, since he was looking for something and that was probably it. He dug around on her desk for a minute, then pulled a little bottle out of his pocket and poured it into this jug." He patted the container, which gurgled ominously.
"Where was Doors in all this?" asked Hermione, her eyes round.
"Fast asleep in an armchair. Snape put something in this juice and then smiled this horrid, twisted smile and went over to her, and for a minute I thought he was going to strangle her, but he just said 'Poor, clueless Lorna, but what she doesn't know won't hurt me' or something and left."
"But why would Snape want to poison Doors?" said Hermione.
"Oh, come on," said Ron. "It's pretty obvious, isn't it? They hate each other worse than Harry and Malfoy." He turned to Harry. "Harry, this is bad. I mean, jokes are one thing, but trying to poison someone is just plain evil. We should go to McGonagall or something."
"We don't know Snape was trying to poison her," argued Hermione. "It might've just been--"
"What?" asked Ron. "Hermione, why would he bother sneaking around at night if it wasn't poison? Honestly."
"Well, still, what good will it do going to McGonagall? She'll want to know how Harry got hold of this, and I think his story would hack her off more than anything. Besides, we've still got no real PROOF. If only we knew what exactly was in this stuff," said Hermione, poking at the jug.
"Yeah, but Hermione, if Snape's trying to kill Doors then she's not safe anywhere in the castle; we've got to tell SOMEONE or she'll be joining Nearly Headless Nick. Harry should just tell McGonagall the whole story, for Professor Doors' sake."
"Why don't we just tell Doors?" asked Harry. "She'll deal with it however she wants, and she'll understand about my following the voice in the first place. If she wants to tell McGonagall, she'll tell McGonagall, or else confront Snape about it."
"Yeah, or dig his liver out with a spoon," muttered Hermione.
Getting out of Gryffindor Tower to see Professor Doors was a tricky business. Percy seemed to feel it his duty to guard the portrait-hole, to keep the students from annoying the hardworking teachers, and it seemed ages before someone came along and told him to get to work.
"Phew," said Harry, closing the portrait behind him. He, Ron, and Hermione were all squashed under his Invisibility Cloak, clutching the jug of pumpkin juice and taking shuffling steps through the corridors. People had been busy even since last night; a great many more paintings had been restored, and the food was mostly mopped from the walls.
"All right, Harry, your lead," whispered Ron. The three moved on down the corridors, taking great care to avoid the crowds of people hurrying to and fro. There was a particularly awkward moment when they accidentally walked through the Fat Friar, who was having an animated discussion with a painting of a dog. The good friar noticed nothing, however, and they hurried off with a sigh of relief.
Ron elbowed Harry in the ribs. "Look at Snape," he whispered.
Snape was looking particularly murderous today, and was being given a wide berth by just about everybody. He scowled fixedly at the floor while restoring a pile of paintings, and Harry, Ron, and Hermione were quite thankful they were invisible, especially when he gave George Weasley a detention for sneezing.
"What a cranky old git," murmured Hermione.
"Yeah, well, I think we know why," said Ron, patting the jug as they continued on their way.
Harry had no idea how he was going to find his way to Professor Doors' room again, but fortunately the way wasn't half so confusing in daylight. The thought that she probably wouldn't be in her room didn't occur to any of them, but luckily she was, working with some stubborn bits of statuary that refused to be stuck back on. Her door was open, and a sound of singing was issuing from it.
"Er--Professor?" said Harry, a trifle nervously.
Doors looked up from her current statue, which was running around the room yipping in fear, and sent a very seeing glance in his direction. "Harry, honey, take that blasted thing off; it only fools fools."
It was then that Harry realize they were still wearing the Invisibility Cloak; with a shocked glance at Ron and Hermione, he pulled the cloak off of them and stared at Doors.
"You--you could see us," he said, awed. "How? I mean, I knew Dumbledore could, but Dumbledore's--well--"
"Odd?" suggested Doors, grinning. "Yes, well, you have to be odd, to see through to the things hidden from ordinary people." Absently sticking out a foot she tripped up the panicking statue, which lay motionless and silent on the floor. "Now, is there a purpose to your call, or are you just out for a walk? And what on earth are you doing with my juice? I've been looking for that jug all morning!"
Harry, Ron, and Hermione all glanced at one another. "Er--well, yeah, that's actually kind of why we're here." Harry glanced at the open door. "Can--can we shut that, maybe?"
Professor Doors, looking rather bemused, shut the door and turned on the three, her eyebrows raised. "You snuck out of Gryffindor Tower to see me about a jug of pumpkin juice?" she asked. "This ought to be interesting."
"Oh, it's interesting, all right," muttered Harry. "It's kind of a long story--"
"That's all right; I like stories. Here, sit," she said, motioning to her deluxe, oversized hammock. The three sat, the Invisibility Cloak over their laps, making their legs disappear. The other two looked at Harry, who gulped.
"Well, last night, after everyone else went to bed, I heard this voice outside the portrait-hole--"
He relayed his journey through the darkened Hogwarts, following the voice into her room and finding her diary entry.
"And I know I shouldn't have been snooping around, but it's kind of hard not to listen to a weird voice, and........and......how do you know about the bird?" Harry finished in a rush.
Professor Doors sat silent for a long moment, her eyes far away. "So you've met the Phantoms. Oh, how do I even BEGIN to explain about them?" she sighed.
"All right. The bird isn't really a bird, though I dare say you've already figured that out. There is a....substance, I guess you'd call it, it's certainly not ALIVE, but it is only found in the cold, empty void of space, in the pits of dead stars. It is evil; pure, undiluted evil, that would make Voldemort look like a piker. Its sole quest is to destroy all magic; a quest so stupidly narrow-minded it sounds like a bad cliche, but once you've faced the Phantoms, you'll never laugh at them again. It has taken many forms over the centuries; the bird is only the latest, and it will take many more in the years to come. For as long as there have been witches and wizards, it has been the task of a few of us, my people, to fight it in whatever shape it assumes." Professor Doors suddenly looked old, and very, very tired, the fine lines near her eyes standing out in the sunlight shining through her balcony doors.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione sat staring at her, not knowing what to say. Finally, Hermione managed to croak, "What do you mean, your kind?"
"Ah, well, I'm afraid I can't tell you any more about that, for your safety as well as mine. Say only that there are certain of us magical folk who know more than we'd like to, and have had the burden of dealing with this menace thrust upon us."
"And why--why do you call them 'it'?" asked Ron, his eyes goggling as he gawked at the Professor.
"Well, we're not entirely certain on this, but we believe all the Phantoms to be part of one entity, which controls them remotely to do its bidding. Where the 'brain' of this thing is, we don't know, though God knows we've looked for it long enough." She said this last bitterly. The four of them sat silent for a long, long while; even the statuary was still and quiet.
"So, what's all this have to do with my juice?" asked Doors, her strange voice producing its usual happiness-inducing ring once more.
Harry looked at Ron, who looked at Hermione, who looked at the jug. Both Ron and Hermione prodded Harry in the ribs. "Well, um, there was a little more to my visit last night," he said awkwardly. "While I was in here, Professor Snape came in and went looking around on your desk, but that plant stuff on the walls hid your diary entry. When he didn't find what he was looking for, he took out a little bottle and poured it into his juice." Harry patted the jug. "I wasn't sure what it was, so I took--"
Professor Doors looked outraged, or as outraged as her cheerful countenance would let her look. "That rat bastard," she hissed, her slanted green eyes flashing. "That son of a fruitcaking scumbag, I'm gonna choke him till his eyes pop out. That he would even THINK of--" She broke off, and rising from her chair paced the room, her black robes swishing. Harry, Ron, and Hermione sat startled, uncertain just what they should do, while their teacher paced and cursed in ways they had never thought possible. It was rather funny, really, but none of them felt much like laughing at the moment.
"Er--Professor Doors?" Hermione asked timidly. "Wh-why would Professor Snape try to poison you? I mean, I know you two.....don't exactly get along very well, but that's no reason to poison a person."
Door sat down on her armchair, her forehead rested on one spidery brown hand and a bemused grin on her face. "It all goes back to the Phantoms, in a way." She sighed. "You wouldn't think it to look at us, but Professor Snape and I are about the same age. We were at Hogwarts together; I was a year ahead of him, and we--well, we were less than friendly."
"Sheesh," muttered Harry. "Is there anyone he DID get along with?"
"Hmm?" asked Doors. "Not to my knowledge; no one outside of Slytherin, at least. I trust you all remember Professor Lupin?"
The three nodded, surprised she too should know of him.
"Well, Remus and Sirius and your father and I were all rather good friends at the time, and we used to all sneak out under that Invisibility Cloak of his, as I'm certain you three do quite often. We'd go down to the kitchens or hunt around the North Tower; it was a storage room in those days, and filled with old robes and broken wands and odd bits of furniture with no homes. And it was while we were up there that we built all sorts of little oddments; toys, really, though we did come up with some fairly useful contraptions. We slapped the Mirror of Erised together over one Christmas break, while trying to invent a self-beautifying looking glass."
She broke off and laughed softly. "Really, that's how most of our inventions worked; they never did what was intended, but what they did do was usually ten times worse or ten times better. And that was how we came, purely by accident, to create the Doors of Visions, out of the steam from a botched potion."
"The Doors of Visions?" said Hermione. "That sounds familiar......you mean YOU invented it?"
"Yes," said Doors slowly. "We did, though at first we had no idea what it was we had made. James and Sirius were stirring a potion we were brewing, which was supposed to work like a liquid Exfydales Bean. The potion itself was worthless, but the smoke, the steam it gave off..........I was the first to notice its.......difference; at first I thought my head was going cracked, but there were shapes, images moving in the mist over the cauldron. I called over Remus and the four of us stood around it, just staring--Peter was keeping watch outside, having no desire to get blown up if our potion failed. It showed us a greenbelt, a long, wild greenbelt, with doors standing in two long rows. We--we found that if we willed one of them open, it would lead us to other worlds, places no one had ever been before. It was the most fascinating thing we'd ever seen.
"So we went back, nearly every night after that, and explored what lay behind the Doors of Visions. They seemed to go on forever, in both directions, and we were keen to seem them all, if we could. So anxious were we to return each night that we got careless, and made a good deal more noise than was wise.
"It must have been that which got us caught; Snape heard us one night and decided to follow. I'm not sure how long he watched us use the misty Doors before he brought his gang up for a visit, but it had to be long enough for him to have seen us find out about the Phantoms or this wouldn't be happening now. He and his little gang decided to join us one night, and the result was a truly terrific midnight duel atop the North Tower. I don't think so many people have ever all tried to disarm one another at once, but the smoke didn't properly clear for days. Most of us lost our wands, and in the scramble to retrieve them we set to fist fighting, and made such a racket we woke half the castle.
"I tried to sneak the cauldron out without anyone noticing, but that cursed Snape saw me and tried to yank it out of my hands. We fought back and forth over it and eventually overturned it out the window, splashing some poor sap far below who never was the same afterward. However, in his zeal to save at least some of it, Professor Snape pushed me out the window as well.
"So there we were; me hanging out a window, and a dozen half-crazed, half-trained Hit Wizards battling it out in far too small a room. Well, of course it wasn't long before a whole swarm of teachers came running, dragging everyone out by their ears and trying to get some idea just what was going on. I was still hanging onto the window ledge for dear life, but once I got inside I had enough sense to blast nearly everyone with a Memory Charm, so we wouldn't all get expelled. I THOUGHT I'd hit everyone but us, but apparently I was wrong--Snape remembers, and he's out to stop me from doing it again." Doors sat back, a small, crooked smile on her face. "Oh, we're in for some interesting times, I'd say."
Harry, Ron, and Hermione stared, slack-jawed, at Professor Doors, their powers of speech mysteriously absent. Fully five minutes elapsed in silence, until Harry finally managed to croak, "You knew my father? And--and Professor Lupin and Sirius and them? But, how come you weren't there when--when they pulled that joke on Snape? None of them ever mentioned you."
"Ah, well, you see, I was a year ahead of all of them, and I had graduated about a month before that unfortunate incident, or else I'd've given all of them a good beating. Morons," Doors muttered.
The three on the bed exchanged glances. "And--and Snape's trying to poison you because....?" said Hermione faintly.
"Because he remembers that night, and if he knows I know about the bird he'll go to just about any lengths to try and stop me from going after it. The Doors can lead me to it, you see, wherever it hides, and he doesn't want it to have any way into the school. Imbecile; he doesn't know what I am, so he can't know it's my JOB." She sighed and rubbed her eyes, a faint smile on her face. "But then, God forbid my task should ever be EASY."
"But.......are these Phantoms so awful, that it's worth killing to keep them out?" asked Ron in a small voice.
"People have done worse," Doors replied lightly. "You've never seen the Phantoms face-to-face, and until you do you'll not understand. I imagine Fred and George and Peeves would gladly kill, to avoid another meeting with that creature. Snape has never encountered it, but he's seen it in the Visions, and he's got (barely) enough brains to know it's not something you want loose in a school."
"Wait a minute," said Hermione. "How is it you can fight this thing, if all the other teachers at this school can't? That is what you're saying, isn't it?'
"You know, I don't rightly know," said Doors. "No one knows what chooses a witch or wizard to fight the Phantoms, if indeed there is any real choice at all. Really, it might all just be some monstrous joke played on us by the Phantoms themselves......Urgh, that's an unpleasant thought, isn't it? What say you we have some cocoa and forget about it for a while?" Without waiting for an answer, Professor Doors waved her wand and a tray bearing four mugs of steaming chocolate and a saucer of fluffy marshmallows appeared on an end table. "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die," she said, and with this cheerful epithet they set to.
As Harry sipped his chocolate, he couldn't help but stare curiously at Doors. Doors must have noticed this, for she asked, "What? Have I got something hanging out of my nose?"
Harry shook himself. "No......no, it's just that, well, you're so--" He stopped, not wanting to call her weird to her face. "You don't fear death, do you?"
Professor Doors laughed merrily. "No, I guess I don't," she said, her voice making all of them chortle as well. "I've never had a reason to. After all, death is perhaps the greatest adventure there is."
Harry started; that was almost exactly what Dumbledore had said, after his fight with Quirrel so long ago. "I-I never thought of it that way," he said.
"Of course you have," Doors stated matter-of-factly. "You're a child, and children do not fear death until they are taught to. Every infant knows there is nothing to fear from Death, who comes not as a Dementor-like shade, but an angel to bear one home. I guess it holds no terror for me because I've never forgotten what I knew when I was young." She choked slightly on a marshmallow, and spit it with mock-resentment across the room. "That'll teach ya," she muttered.
"Well, you three had better get back to Gryffindor Tower before somebody misses you."
Harry, Ron, and Hermione stood to leave, waving at the plants and struggling with the Invisibility Cloak.
"You know, you remind me very much of someone," said Harry, feeling somehow it was all right to tell her this. "But I just can't think who."
"Ah, do I now?" asked Doors, a faint note of amusement in her voice. "Well, if ever you do figure it out, you will let me know, won't you?" she said, and smiled faintly as she returned to her statuary-chasing.
Potions and Other Problems
"Wow," said Fred, fairly gawking. "So Doors is part of some weird secret society that fights that--that thing?"
"Apparently," said Harry.
They were all sitting round the boys' dormitory; Harry, Ron, Hermione, Fred, George, Seamus, and for some reason Lee Jordan, who had followed the Weasleys. The meeting with Professor Doors was currently being hashed out, and they were wondering what in snot they were going to do now.
"Well, you can be sure she'll be changing her locks," said George. "The nerve of that little weasel--trying to poison someone just to save his own skin--"
"Don't worry, she'll get him back for it," said Seamus, unable to stifle a snort of laughter. "I think I'll avoid the Potions room for a while, until the smoke clears."
"I'm afraid that's not going to be possible," grumbled Dean, who had just come in. "The castle's all fixed; classes start again tomorrow."
Groans from all assembled. "Well, this oughta be interesting," muttered Fred. "Two of our teachers are trying to kill each other, there's some demonic bird hovering somewhere outside the castle, and--" he spat something into his hand "--and I've just lost a tooth for the first time in six years."
Classes did indeed resume the next day. The mood throughout most was good, as the students were quite glad to be out of their common rooms, for a change, but Potions was an unqualified disaster. Fred and George emerged at lunch, looking pale and shaken. Harry, who had just come from Defense Against the Dark Arts (they were studying extraterrestrials, complete with live specimens) thought they looked worse off than after their encounter with the Phantoms.
"Was it really that bad?" he asked as he poured syrup over his pancakes. The kitchens were slightly off today, and had served them hamburgers for breakfast and now pancakes for lunch. Ron was betting it would be sandwiches for dinner.
"Worse," said George. "Lee got a month's detention for being the first one in the door, and Sary Anderson's hidden in the bathroom because Snape threw her potion in her face and it dyed her hair green. He threatened to expel Angelina Johnson for dropping a vulture's egg, and Will Haverson's got to scrape desks till he graduates. Then, about halfway through class, Snape tripped some kind of trap that turned his desk into a bathtub full of eels."
Ron snorted. "I would've liked to see that one," he said.
"No, you wouldn't," put in Fred. "They were electric eels. Snape mad all of us get rid of them, without magic." He held up his hands, which were blistering.
"Eeesh," said Hermione. "That's just cruel. You ought to go to Dumbledore, honestly."
"Or we could," said Harry gloomily. "We've got Potions next."
Half an hour later, Harry, Ron, and Hermione were rather nervously approaching the Potions dungeon. Even the Slytherins looked apprehensive, and after hearing what happened to Lee, no one wanted to be the first one in the door. The whole class stood, fidgeting, until finally the door burst open and out stepped--
"Professor Lupin!" cried Hermione. "What are you doing here?"
Lupin smiled at them. "Well, I happened to be in the neighborhood, and Dumbledore asked if I would be kind enough to fill in for Professor Snape, who is apparently dealing with some--er--unresolved issues."
The class looked at one another, unable to believe their good fortune. Even the Slytherins were glad to see Lupin, which was nothing short of remarkable. They filed in and set up their cauldrons.
"Er--Professor?" asked Ron.
"Yes?" said Lupin, heading over to their table as they peeled willow roots.
"Dumbledore warned you about the, uh, booby traps that might be all over, didn't he?"
"Ah, yes, I heard about the unfortunate incident with the eels. Really, I thought Lorna would have moved on from her bathtub fixation by now."
"You know Professor Doors?" asked Malfoy, unable to stop himself.
"Lorna? Goodness, yes. We were at Hogwarts together, don't you know? She's a year older than I, and as long as I knew her she was one for the jokes. She had this odd obsession with bathtubs, and made a garden out of one and hung it from the ceiling of the Gryffindor common room. It was there until she left, and then one night a group of rather over-happy Quidditch players tried swinging from it. Pulled it down and smashed it to bits."
"I heard about that!" said Ron, stirring dead spiders into his potion with a slight shiver. "My brother Charlie was one of them. Said McGonagall yelled at them all something fierce, for desecrating a student's monument, or something."
Lupin chuckled. "Really, some things never change."
"How long are you planning on staying, Professor?" asked Hermione. The entire class waited with bated breath, devoutly hoping they wouldn't have to deal with Snape for a while.
"Well, I figured on hanging around until Professor Snape works out his problems, and is able to refrain from hurling potions in people's faces," said Lupin, with a rather deprecating glance at the green stain on Neville's desk from the last class. "I don't imagine he'll be too happy about that, and really, I'm no Potions master, but it's Dumbledore's decision."
"Woohoo!" cried Neville, unable to help himself. He blushed scarlet and dropped a jar of pickled slugs, making the entire class laugh.
"Yes, well, admirable sentiments, Neville," said Lupin. "Now hurry up, these are supposed to stew for half an hour."
Harry soon found that Lupin was quite right, saying he was no Potions master; after all the cauldrons had simmered for a while, half of them had overflowed, and Neville's was slowly swelling into a great, greenish-blue bubble that showed no sign of popping any time soon. A good many Gryffindors were gathered around it, gawking, when Malfoy's cauldron suddenly erupted in a spout of brilliant, flame-colored smoke. Several people shrieked and leaped backwards as a great scarlet bubble rose from it and popped, spraying half the class with glowing splatters.
Ron laughed incredulously at the stuff on his hands; it glowed like fire, but it didn't burn, and soon the whole class was dipping their fingers in Malfoy's potion and smearing it over their faces like war paint. Lupin, quite as fascinated by the concoction as the rest of the class, directed a quill to copy down exactly what Malfoy had put in his cauldron, and they all set to trying to reproduce it.
"I believe we very well may have discovered something new," he said, as his own potion began to simmer a glowing, fiery crimson. The class ducked in the nick of time, for it exploded shortly thereafter and showered the room. "The legacy lives on."
No one bothered to ask what this meant, though a few of them knew quite well. Harry grinned at the thought of the five old friends, whispering and hitting one another over strange experiments in the high, cold North Tower that now housed Professor Trelawney's creepshow. Old friends.......a sudden thought struck Harry, and he stayed behind after the lesson finished.
"Something the matter, Harry?" asked Lupin, looking up from a stack of papers.
"Er--well, I was just wondering if you'd--if you'd seen any sign of Sirius," said Harry, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot. "I mean, seeing as how you were friends, and he'd go to you if he went to anybody--"
"Harry," said Lupin. "Say no more. Yes, I have been in contact with Sirius. He's in hiding, though he wouldn't tell me where, but he's safe. Buckbeak has apparently discovered the joy of Muggle beer, however, and Sirius has had a bit of a trial keeping the creature off the stuff."
Harry grinned, relieved. It was nice to hear some word of his godfather, even if he couldn't talk to him himself.
"Hey, what're you going to do when the full moon comes? I mean, I wouldn't exactly trust Snape to make your Wolfsbane Potion; not after the stuff that's been going on here."
"Oh, I'll manage," said Lupin. "Perhaps I can get Professor McGonagall to make it up for me, or Lorna........though I wouldn't exactly trust Lorna, either; she'd probably add some strange ingredient to turn my fur blue." He picked up his tatty briefcase. "Come on now, it's nearly dinner."
He and Harry left for the Great Hall, where the fourth-years had already spread the tale of what had to be the best Potions lesson in years. True to Ron's prediction, the plates at the center of the tables were heaped with sandwiches, and pitchers of lemonade stood up and down the rows.
There was an explosion of cheering from the Gryffindor table as Lupin entered; Fred and George stomped and catcalled, and even a good many of the Slytherins joined in. Fred spat out another tooth and hurled it absentmindedly over his shoulder, where it landed in Hannah of Hufflepuff's turkey sandwich. Hannah shrieked and threw the sandwich with all her strength, so that it splatted on the wall and slid down, leaving a smear of mayonnaise.
"Now, now," said Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling. "I think we've had enough food-hurling with the pixies to last at least a month."
"Th-there was a tooth in it!" cried Hannah tearfully. "A big bloody molar!"
"Sorry," lisped Fred, grinning a gap-toothed grin and wiggling his ears. Hannah rolled her eyes back in her head and fainted dead away, to the uproarious laughter of the Hall. Even Lupin chuckled, though he tried valiantly to hide it.
Both Lupin and Harry turned to see Doors, grinning as she hurried over to them. "Long time, no see. I heard you were filling in for bug-bug."
"Bug-bug?" inquired Lupin. "That brings the nickname total up to forty-seven, I believe."
"You've kept count? Good Lord, and I thought I had too much time on my hands." Doors turned to Harry. "So, is the Potions dungeon still there, or did Remus blow it up?"
"It's there," said Harry, glancing from one to the other. "It's covered in glowing goo splatters, but it's there."
Doors laughed. "Remus always was hopeless at Potions," she said. "Though not quite as bad as me. What's this I'm hearing about you lot inventing something new?"
Harry glanced at Lupin. "You tell her about it; I'm starved."
Lupin and Doors ambled on to the staff table, while Harry wedged between Ron and George, absently snatching at food as it passed. George and Fred had cornered Hermione between them, and kept slipping pickles into her peanut butter and jelly sandwich, until she grew so fed up that she turned George into a newt. It was only a threat from Fred to feed him to Mrs. Norris that made her turn him back again; after all, she didn't want anyone to get killed just for ruining her dinner.
Harry ate mechanically, his mind on Sirius. If Lupin had talked to him, he must be all right, but Harry had an uneasy feeling he wouldn't be for long. IF he'd encountered the Phantoms through the Doors of Visions and the Phantoms were now loose on earth again, then they would certainly be able to track him down again......Harry choked on his BLT, a sudden realization hitting him. Why would Lupin be just randomly passing Hogwarts? There was no work to be found here unless as a teacher, and he'd already been forced to resign the year before. The only reason he'd have to come near the school would be if Dumbledore called him.....Dumbledore must know about the Phantoms, and that they were after all those who'd dealt with them before, which meant Sirius was in danger as well.
He nudged Ron in the ribs, making him spit milk all over the table. "Meet me in the library after dinner. You and Hermione. We've got a problem."
"What else is new?" grumbled Ron.
Harry met Ron and Hermione in the library about half an hour later, at an empty table in the very back.
"All right, what now?" asked Ron. "I've got homework to do."
Harry explained to them about Lupin and his theories on the Phantoms, and why this meant Sirius was most certainly in danger, too.
"Oh, no," said Hermione. "But Harry, what are you going to do? Sirius can't come to Hogwarts; everyone but us and Lupin and Dumbledore thinks he's a murderer."
"I can send him an owl and tell him to watch his back, until I can find a way to clear his name," returned Harry, who was suddenly feeling more tired than he ever had before. "And try and keep Doors from opening a way for the Phantoms into the school, and keep Snape from poisoning her, and keep Lupin from finding out about the whole thing, and find a way to get him his Wolfsbane Potion so he doesn't eat someone." He sighed. "Wonder what it's like to have a quiet life."
"Probably be as dull as having a normal one," said Ron. "Don't worry, Harry, we'll help you."
"Help you what?" sneered a voice, making all of them jump.
Malfoy stood leaning against a bookcase, his old twisted smile on his face. "Really, Potter, are you that stupid, that you need your sidekick's help for everything?"
Hermione stuck her head around a pile of books. "Shove off, Malfoy," she said angrily. "It's none of your business."
The effect this had on Malfoy was drastic; he immediately straightened up and made an attempt to slick back his hair. "Hermione!" he said, his voice suddenly cracking. "I--I didn't see you there."
"No kidding," Hermione responded dryly. "Now, would you mind leaving us alone?"
"Not at all," squeaked Malfoy, and attempting a clumsy bow he retreated from the library.
Hermione stared after him in amazement. "I didn't expect that to actually work! What's with him?"
Harry and Ron sniggered into their sleeves, their faces bright red.
"What?" asked Hermione, thoroughly bewildered.
"Nothing," gasped Ron. "It's just that Fred and George seem to have bitten off more than they can chew this time."
Hermione hadn't the faintest idea what they meant, and it was with a slightly miffed expression that she went to gather a stack of books on potions, so she could attempt to figure out the Wolfsbane Potion in time for the full moon. Ron went off to find Peeves, hoping he could convince him to tail Snape and make sure he didn't get up to any funny business. Since Peeves, like nearly all the rest of Hogwarts, was exceedingly fond of Doors, Ron had no doubt he'd have little trouble convincing him. (Peeves still had no idea it was Doors' Exfydales Beans that had gotten him thrown out in the first place.) And Harry decided to visit Lupin, who would know, if anyone did, where to start on proving Sirius' innocence.
The problem with that was it would be nearly impossible to prove Sirius wasn't a murderer without Pettigrew, the real murderer whom everyone thought was dead. Pettigrew was probably with Voldemort right now, plotting some horrible mischief, but Harry had enough on his mind right now without worrying about that as well.
All in all, Harry was in a right bad mood as he wandered through the corridors to Lupin's office, past the whispering portraits and snoring suits of armor. He cheered up a bit as he heard Snape's voice echo through the pipes, screaming at Peeves to leave him alone or he'd get thrown out again. Peeves wasn't buying any of it; only Dumbledore and McGonagall had the power to throw him out, and he knew it.
Harry shook his head and knocked on Lupin's door.
"Come in," called Lupin.
Harry opened the door to find Lupin reading an enormous leatherbound book, titled 'Valuable Potions of the Twentieth Century'.
"I don't think you need to worry about that," he said. "Hermoine's working on it as we speak."
Lupin closed the book with a sigh of relief. "Thank God; I was afraid I'd have to go to Minerva, who would kill me; she hates potions." He smiled. "So what brings you here, Harry?"
Harry sat in an armchair across from Lupin's desk. "Dumbledore called you here, didn't he?" he asked.
"Ah, I knew you'd figure that out soon enough," said Lupin, sitting back in his chair. "How much has Lorna told you about--our school years?"
"About the Phantoms, and the fight in the North Tower, and the bird and all," said Harry. "And I know Dumbledore; nothing gets past him, he'd call you to Hogwarts because it's the only place you'd be safe. And I know that if you're in trouble, so is Sirius, because he was there when you found them, too."
Lupin raised his eyebrows. "Really, people don't give children enough credit," he said. "You're right; Sirius is in as much danger as any of us, and that's quite a considerable amount. However, given his current social status among most of our people, there's no way Dumbledore could risk trying to hide him in Hogwarts."
"Yeah, I figured that," said Harry. "Which is why I'm here. I need your help to clear his name."
Lupin laughed bitterly. "Harry, you're asking me to do the impossible. Without Pettigrew, we've got no proof but the word of three fourteen-year-old wizards and a werewolf. Not exactly compelling evidence, in any case."
"I know, but there's got to be a way around it. If we used the Doors, maybe--"
"No!" said Lupin harshly. Harry stared. "No, we cannot use the Doors. That would be opening a way into the castle for the Phantoms, no matter what Door we opened. And as soon as those--those things get in here, we're all dead. If we're going to prove Sirius innocent, we have to find another way."
"All right. But that still doesn't answer how."
"I think," said Lupin slowly, "that our best chance is to lure Pettigrew back to Hogwarts and trap him. There's sure to be a way to get him here without bringing Voldemort along for the ride. The trick will be capturing him without killing him or being killed in the process."
"And how are we supposed to get him here?" asked Harry.
"Well, we're going to need bait," said Lupin, looking sideways at him.
Harry gulped. "I was afraid of that."
"All right," said Lupin, smoothing out the Marauder's Map on the table before him. "Is everyone clear on this?"
Harry, Ron, and Hermione stood shoulder to shoulder, staring at the map. Lupin's plan seemed impossible; nearly every element involved could (and most likely would) go wrong, and just one mistake could ruin the whole thing.
"Er--Professor?" piped up Hermione.
"Yes?" asked Lupin, as casually as though he were proposing nothing more than squashing a hinkypunk.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?"
"Of course not. If I was, it would be doomed from the start." Lupin smiled at their gawking faces. "Now go on, the longer this takes, the longer Sirius stays in danger."
The three children left. "Whatever you say, Professor," muttered Ron, his finger circling his temple. "Cuckoo."
When they were out in the hallway, Hermione said, "Does anyone else get the impression there's something not right in this castle?"
"All the time," said Ron. "Meanwhile, let's get going on this plan of Lupin's. Honestly, we must be out of our minds."
Professor Lupin had called them all into his office, and explained his rather absurd plot to lure Pettigrew into Hogwarts and trap him. He wanted to let an owl to Sirius be intercepted, saying that Harry had found something in the Forbidden Forest that could exonerate him and wanted to meet him there, get Pettigrew to follow Harry inside the castle, tracking his movements with the Marauder's Map, and then disarm him and turn him over to the Ministry. Lupin had an idea that Pettigrew would be anxious to prove himself to his master, to remove all doubt of his loyalty and such like. Meanwhile, Sirius would be on his way to Hogwarts already, having received a real owl explaining everything in code.
Harry did not at all like the idea of waiting for a servant of Lord Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest like some kind of sacrificial goat, but if it could help save Sirius, he was willing to give it a shot. He and Hermione were to go (Hermione being easily the best of the three at dueling) while Ron watched the Marauder's Map and manned a hair-trigger network of egg-bombs surrounding his friends, ready to let them off at the first sign of trouble. Egg bombs were yet another schooldays invention of Professor Doors, which Lupin had (fortunately or unfortunately) remembered how to make, and Harry, Ron, and Hermione were now going to construct in the privacy of Moaning Myrtle's bathroom.
"Well, when it's your time to go, it's your time to go," muttered Ron, as they stirred moth wings into the egg grease. Two dozen empty eggshells stood in a rack nearby, waiting to be filled with the highly explosive concoction.
"How did Doors ever make this stuff?" asked Harry, sweat dripping from his forehead as he tried to control the stream of Karo syrup pouring into the cauldron.
"It's ingenious, really," said Hermione, grunting as she tried to stir the rapidly thickening mixture. "The trick is getting it into the eggshells without cracking them."
"What'll happen if the shell cracks?" asked Ron.
"The stuff'll leak and we'll all die," said Hermione casually.
Harry nearly dropped his Karo syrup in alarm. "What?" he cried.
"If the eggs leak this gooey junk, it'll get in our skin and poison us," said Hermione, with the air of one explaining to a slow-witted child.
"Then won't it poison everything around it when they blow up?" demanded Ron.
"No; once it blows up, the poison's gone."
Harry and Ron looked at one another behind Hermione's head. They both gulped.
"Uh, so, anyway," said Harry nervously. "What about Professor Doors?"
"What about her?" asked Ron.
"Well, she's gonna think Sirius is guilty," he said. "That could be a problem."
"Harry, we've got enough problems already. Let's just work on this." Ron bit his lip as he tried to pull his spoon from the mixture.
"I still wish I could figure out why she seems familiar," said Harry, finally managing to get his own spoon out.
Hermione dropped her ladle and sighed in exasperation. "Oh, honestly, Harry, look in a mirror!" she snapped.
Harry stared. "What do you mean?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Of course she looks familiar, Harry; she looks exactly like you! Black hair, green eyes, she--she's even built like you! If she was your age you'd be twins."
"Uh, Ron?" said Harry, turning to Ron. "What's she talking about?"
Ron shifted uncomfortably, his ears red. "Well.......I didn't want to bring it up, but yeah, you do look sort of........identical."
"You know, that could explain something," said Hermione thoughtfully, as she carefully filled an egg.
"Do I want to know?" asked Harry, backing away from her and the goo.
"Why Snape hates you so much--I mean, besides the fact that he hated your father. If you look like two of his old nemeses, you wouldn't stand a chance."
"Wonderful," said Harry. "Let's just get these things out of here before they kill us all."
"Why do I feel like some kind of human sacrifice?" Harry asked witheringly.
He and Hermione were shivering in a moonlit clearing. Hermione was hidden behind a tree, with Harry's Invisibility Cloak and her wand. Harry, however, had to sit on a stump in the chill darkness, feeling lost and forlorn and very scared as he wondered when Pettigrew would find him.
It had taken the better part of a week to get everything set, what with the eggs and owls and all. Pettigrew had sent a reply as Sirius, sounding so eager to join them it made the four conspirators howl with laughter. But now that it had actually come down to it, Harry was scared spitless. There was no guarantee Pettigrew would come alone; no guarantee of ANYTHING in this plan.
The real Sirius was already hiding inside Hogwarts, in Lupin's rooms with Ron and the Marauder's Map. Lupin was confident enough in his plan to bring him here, though the same could not be said for Harry, Ron, and Hermione.
A twig cracked in the dark forest, directly in front of Harry. He started, drawing a sharp breath. His eyes huge, he watched the shadows with no idea what he was looking for.
"Sirius?" he called, still trying to hold to Lupin's plan.
A laugh answered him; a nervous, half-crazed, high-pitched cackle, and a moment later Peter Pettigrew emerged from the shadows.
For a moment Harry could only stare in horror. Pettigrew looked awful. He walked hunched and cowering, as though constantly afraid of a blow, and one of his small, bloodshot eyes kept ticking grotesquely. His hands were like claws, and kept twitching spasmodically.
"Not Sirius, boy," he whispered, his voice cracking. "It's your father's old friend Peter. Sirius sent me to see you."
Harry gulped. Pettigrew was insane, it didn't take a genius to see that, but it made him no less dangerous, and Harry didn't know how many other people he might have brought with him.
"What's the matter, boy?" asked Pettigrew. "Don't you trust me?"
Harry thought fast. He had to get Pettigrew into the clearing, to give Hermione a clear shot at him, and he had no idea how to do it.
"Er--well, not really," he said. "I mean, you haven't exactly given me a reason to. What are you doing here?"
There was a hungry look in Pettigrew's small eyes. "As I said, Sirius sent me to......see what there is to see." He shuffled forward, his clawlike hands clenched before him, and Harry winced.
"Don't be afraid, Harry. I'll do you no harm." There was a malicious tone in his voice, and his face was twisted in a horrible smile.
"Hermione," muttered Harry, backing away. "Help me out here."
Hermione, who had been momentarily paralyzed by Pettigrew's horrible countenance, unfroze herself and leaped from behind the tree, her wand pointed at Pettigrew.
Pettigrew turned to her. "What have we here?" he cackled. "It's that sweet, clever girl from the Shrieking Shack. How would you like to come with us as well?"
Hermione stared, wide-eyed, for a moment, and then she shrieked at the top of her voice, "EXPELLILIMBUS!"
Pettigrew stopped, and a most peculiar expression crossed his face. He looked down at his twitching hands--and found them gone. Hermione had disarmed him, all right, but not exactly the way she had intended to. For a moment Pettigrew stood horrified, and then he rounded on Hermione. "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?" he cried, spit dripping down his chin. "MY ARMS! MY ARMS! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME? I'LL KILL YOU, YOU LITTLE--!"
"Hermione, DUCK!" cried Harry. Both of them hit the dirt as a chain of egg bombs exploded around the clearing with a sound like machine-gun fire, sending the maddened Pettigrew into a frenzy. He cowered on the ground, shrieking and howling, his sleeves hanging limp and useless. Clouds of dirt and twigs filled the air, and for one awful moment Harry couldn't tell up from down as the ground shook beneath his feet. He dimly heard someone shout "Expelliarmus!", and then cracked his head mightily on a stump and lay dazed for a few moments.
When he finally sat up, the dust had more or less cleared, and Pettigrew was lying motionless on the ground. Hermione was crawling shakily from behind a boulder, her face white and scared and twigs stuck in her hair.
"Nice work, Herm," said Harry, stumbling over to Pettigrew. "He's out cold."
Hermione stared down at Pettigrew for a moment. "Oh, good Lord, Harry, I can't believe I did that. He--he was glaring at me with those crazy eyes and I just--froze. I didn't know what to do."
"Well, it's not gonna make much difference if he's not all in one piece, so long as his voice still works." Harry conjured up a stretcher with some difficulty (his first attempt produced nothing but several white mice and a cabbage.) Shaken but rather proud of themselves, they walked back up to the school on either side of the stretcher.
As they neared the great front doors, one suddenly jerked open and out stormed Professor McGonagall, a look of utmost fury on her face and her eyes snapping. "Potter! Granger! GET IN HERE, THIS INSTANT!!!!"
Harry looked at Hermione and gulped. How were they going to explain an unconscious, limbless Pettigrew? They had little time to think, for Professor McGonagall was looking daggers at them.
"Wandering around the school grounds at night--if Professor Snape hadn't seen you leave--really, I expected better of fourth--" She stopped. "What on earth have you got there?" she asked, as the stretcher floated nearer her. Her face went white as chalk, and she put a hand to her mouth.
"My God," she whispered. "It can't be. How--how......?"
Harry and Hermione looked at one another. "I think you'd better come to Professor Lupin's room with us," said Hermione. "There's a very long explanation for this."
Professor McGonagall nodded faintly and followed them through the corridors, looking incredibly dazed. They stopped at Lupin's door, but before Harry could knock it was open. "Harry!" cried Lupin, clapping him on the back. "Well done, well done! Hermione, I knew you'd pull through! Ah, Minerva, perhaps you'd like an explanation?"
McGonagall was standing in the doorway, looking very white and stunned. Lupin pulled her into the room, which was already rather crowded. Ron sat at a desk with the Marauder's Map spread before him, Sirius was sitting on Lupin's bed, and Doors was perched cross-legged on the back of a sofa. Harry and Hermione sat next to her, after first floating the stretcher into the middle of the room. Lupin sat McGonagall in an armchair, and spent the next quarter of an hour on the tale of Pettigrew's betrayal.
"And so you see, Minerva, it was really the only way we could prove Sirius here innocent. We just need to get this sack of potatoes to the Ministry and all this can be cleared up."
Professor McGonagall had been staring fixedly at Lupin since the beginning of his tale. As he said this, she rose slowly from her chair and went to the door. "I--I believe I need to go and lay down for a bit. I'm not feeling very well." She fumbled with the doorknob for nearly a minute before stumbling out the door and through the hallway.
There was a moment's silence, in which Harry had to stifle a laugh. Never had he seen McGonagall's composure so shattered, and it was rather funny.
"Well, Harry, we still haven't heard your part of this little opus," said Lupin. "How went it with Pettigrew, and why does he have no arms?"
"Er--that was kind of my fault," said Hermione.
"Indeed it was," smiled Doors. "'Expelillimbus'. HONESTLY."
"How--how did you--" choked Hermione.
"I got wind of this little plot--it's no wonder, you people took as much care as a bull in a china shop--and I figured you might need a little assistance. Judging from our dear friend Peter here, I was right." Doors' eyes danced as she grinned at Hermione.
"So it was YOU who knocked out Pettigrew," said Harry.
"Yes. And it was I who set off the egg bombs--Remus, I'm surprised you remembered how to make those. And you said you were no good at Potions."
"And Sirius," she said, turning to Black, who had been silent througout. "I'm sorry I ever doubted you. You will forgive me, right?"
Sirius smiled, and all the lines of care vanished from his worn face. "Lorna, I don't have a choice," he said. "You'll give me no peace until I do." He turned to Harry, who grinned himself.
"It appears smiling really is contagious," said Sirius. "Come here, Harry, let me see you. Yes--you're more like James than ever. Almost exactly, except for the eyes." Hermione and Ron looked meaningfully at each other, and then at Doors.
"Sirius," said Harry, not quite wanting to ask for fear it wouldn't be true. "Since--since you're proven innocent, does......that mean I can go live with you?"
Sirius looked long and levelly at Harry, and for a moment his stomach fell. "I'm not certain," he said, and Harry felt his hopes dash miserably. "Your aunt might want a say in that."
For a moment Harry stood, bewildered, before this sunk in on him. "Aunt? Petunia won't care! She'll be glad to get rid of me!"
"Not Petunia, Harry! Lorna, do you mean to tell me this boy doesn't know?" Sirius called merrily to Doors.
"T-told me what?" asked Harry, now thoroughly lost.
Doors glared at Sirius, and if looks could kill, he would have shriveled into a cinder on the spot. "He does now," she said through clenched teeth. "Thank you ever so much for bringing it up, Sirius."
"Bringing WHAT up?" demanded Harry impatiently.
Doors turned to Harry, and her expression softened. "Harry, there is a reason I seem familiar to you. My name's not Doors, it's Potter, but due to certain--er--abnormalities, I've never been called that. I'm your aunt, Harry; your father's older sister."
Harry stared. "But.......that's impossible," he said faintly. "I have no other family, that's why I had to go with the Dursleys, that's......." He trailed off.
Doors sighed. "Harry, how I wished I could have taken you, when your parents died. But living with me is not safe, no matter how you look at it--I'd likely have let one of the plants eat you by mistake. That's why I took the job here, when I heard it opened up--I had to see you, Harry; I had to watch you grow up here even if I couldn't raise you myself. You are very like James; really, it's quite easy to forget I'm a teacher, and we're not all back here making havoc."
"Well, Lorna," said Sirius. "In a way we are; you, me, Remus, Peter, and James's son. Who says--"
What anyone said was never discovered, for at that moment Pettigrew groaned and sat up. He tried to rub his head, but his lack of arms made this rather difficult. His small eyes blinked owlishly, and then focused on his surroundings. He let out a terrified squeak and toppled from the stretcher, but found getting to his feet nearly impossible.
Doors snorted with laughter, and one well-aimed kick at Pettigrew's behind sent him sprawling onto the carpet.
"Master!" he cheeped. "Master, help me!" He rolled over and glared fiercely at Sirius, whom he supposed was responsible for the kick. "I shall smite you all! All shall fall before the terror of Lord Voldemort!"
Now it was Sirius's turn to snort. "Oh, DEAR," he said.
"You are indeed brave, sir Pettigrew, but the fight is ours," said Doors, grinning from her perch on the sofa.
"I am invincible!" cried Pettigrew, his eyes rolling derangedly. "All shall fall before the wrath of my master!"
Lupin rolled his eyes. "You're a looney," he muttered.
"I'll get you!" Pettigrew shrieked at Harry. "If it's the last thing I do, I'll get you and roast you on a rack for my master's feast! He'll eat the bones of the famous Harry Potter, and all the strength you stole shall be returned tenfold!"
Harry looked down at Pettigrew, feeling an urge to laugh despite his pitiful state. "Meaning it hasn't yet? What are you going to do, Pettigrew, bleed on me?"
Pettigrew lunged at Harry, but Doors stuck out her foot almost languidly and tripped him up again. "Look, you stupid bastard, you've got no arms left!" she said.
"I have so!" said Pettigrew, his voice muffled by the carpet.
"Oh, HONESTLY," said Sirius. "Remus, can't you stick him in a closet or something?"
"We'd better get Dumbledore," said Lupin decidedly. "He'll know what to do with this--this--"
"Sack of road apples?" volunteered Hermione.
They frog-marched Pettigrew down the darkened corridors, through many twists and turns, until they stopped outside the door to Dumbledore's office. Lupin rapped smartly on it.
The group entered to find McGonagall already there, gibbering madly and waving her arms. She caught sight of Pettigrew, shrieked, and keeled over.
Dumbledore looked at her, and then at them. "Well, well, well," he said, his eyes twinkling. "You've given Minerva quite a shock, I'd say." His eyes flicked over them. "And Peter," he said. "So nice to see you again." Pettigrew had given up his snarling, and cowered before the rain of blows Doors had used to drive him down the hallway.
"I trust you know the story behind this," she said, kicking Pettigrew into a corner.
"Of course I do," said Dumbledore, still smiling. "Why don't you tie Mr. Pettigrew there to a chair and lock him in my closet? He has no means of escape, even if he transforms into a rat."
"Gladly," said Doors, tying Pettigrew's sleeves behind him and magically roping him to a chair. "That'll teach ya," she said, shoving the chair into the closet and barricading the door with several tricky spells.
"He'll be safe there until I can notify the Ministry," said Dumbledore, unrolling a roll of parchment. "I'll send an owl off right now, and they can deal with him from here on out. And Sirius--" he looked up at Black, who was hovering behind the others "--welcome home."
Sirius smiled, but said nothing; Dumbledore knew what he meant.
Hermione yawned. "Well, I say we hit the sack; we're going to have an interesting time of it tomorrow," said Doors, with a mischievous glance at Lupin.
"Oh, no you don't," put in Dumbledore. "Just because you're all back here doesn't mean you can pick up where you left off; we've got a school to run here."
"Aw, raspberries," said Doors, as the six of them made their way out. "Oh, well, good night."
They all bid one another the same, and Harry headed off to Gryffindor Tower, a strange new feeling in his heart; he had a relative, a real live relative who wasn't a Dursley, who had known his father as a child. He didn't know who he'd live with, Doors or Sirius, and at the moment he didn't care; he felt there was no way he could have to go back to the Dursleys, and that was more than good enough for him. He grinned contentedly, feeling as though there were no luckier boy in all the world, and eagerly anticipated the stupefied look on Malfoy's face the next morning, when famed murderer Sirius Black showed up at the Gryffindor table for breakfast.
Little did he know his peace was not to last, and that all their lives would be forever changed that very night, in the twilight of the world when reality and imagination are one. The time when the Phantoms walk.
El Fin Se Acerca (The End is Coming)
Harry sat up with a start. It seemed he'd only just fallen asleep a moment ago, but moonlight spilled across the floor of the dormitory; it must be nearly one in the morning.
"What?" he whispered, his eyes wide.
"Harry, wake up." It was the voice that had led him to Doors's room, calling unseen from somewhere near the window.
Harry rubbed his eyes. "Mum?" he said. "Mum, is that you?"
"Oh, Harry, I can't explain right now; you must hurry and get to the North Tower or all will be lost. Tides have been set in motion that must be stopped, or they'll drown us all. Hurry."
Harry scrambled from his bed and into his robes, snatching his wand from the nightstand and hurrying as quietly as he could down the stairs. In his haste he left the Invisibility Cloak, but no one was likely to be out and about that late at night, and there was no time to go back for it.
The common room was dark; the fire had burned low and the lamps were out. Harry felt his way across it until he reached the portrait-hole, where he collided head-on with Hermione.
"Ow!" she said, rubbing her forehead. "North Tower?"
The two of them shoved open the portrait and crawled through, ignoring the Fat Lady's complaints. Neither dared light their wands, so they stumbled through the darkened corridors. Moonlight streamed through the windows, casting blocks of silver on the floor.
"Harry.........you know that voice, the one you said led you to Doors's room?" whispered Hermione, hurrying beside him.
"Yeah," he said, somewhat uncomfortable.
"There's something you didn't tell us about it, isn't there? You knew whose voice it was."
"W-What makes you say that?" asked Harry, cursing as he stubbed his toe on a step. He felt around carefully and began climbing the stairs.
"Because I heard it, too. That's what woke me up tonight. Your mother is leading us, isn't she?" It was a statement, not a question.
"Yes. I don't know why, but I think she's trying to help us fight the Phantoms. She said something about tides being in motion that must be stopped, or else they'll drown us." They had reached the top of the stairs, into a pitch-black, windowless hallway. The sounds of nocturnal Hogwarts were greatly magnified in the dark, so that the snoring of a suit of armor sounded like the breath of an unseen pursuer, and a sleepwalking statue nearly gave them both a heart attack.
Hermione stopped dead, her hand clenching Harry's. "Harry, there's someone behind us."
"It's just the armor," he said shakily, wishing he believed it himself. They shuffled forward at a snail's pace, feeling around like blind men in an unfamiliar alley, until Hermione gave a sigh of exasperation and raised her wand.
"I can't stand this, Harry; at this rate it'll be morning before we reach the Tower." She held her wand high over her head. "Lumos."
In an instant the corridor was flooded with light, and they both felt incredibly foolish; it was hard to be afraid in the warm cheery glow of Hermione's wand. Harry gave a laugh of relief, and they moved along at a much faster pace. But they had scarcely gone a yard when each felt a hand clamp on their arm, nearly scaring both out of their wits.
"Well, well, well. Going for a little nighttime stroll, are we?"
Harry and Hermione turned to face Snape, who was looking down at them with an expression Harry didn't like at all; it was the same hungry look he had seen in Pettigrew's eyes in the clearing. "This castle's not safe after dark, you know. Never know what you might meet in the hallways." He smiled a twisted smile. "Why don't I just escort you to Dumbledore's office? I imagine he'll be most interested in hearing your explanation for this one; I know I am."
Harry and Hermione glanced at one another, and in perfect unison, as though they'd been planning it all along, each delivered a hard kick to Snape's shins and fairly ran for their lives.
"Oh, this is just great," panted Harry, scrambling around a corner. "How far away are we?"
"Far enough," said Hermione, tipping a statue in hopes it would slow Snape down. "We've still got another flight of stairs before we're in the hallway."
Harry groaned, for just as Hermione said this he rounded another corner, and found himself faced with what had to be the tallest staircase in all of Hogwarts. "Why me?" he asked, as he hurried upward.
"Because we were chosen," gasped Hermione, tripping over the hem of her robes.
"Then choose somebody else!" Harry could hear Snape's curses gaining behind them; any moment now he'd round the corner and see them on the stairs, and Harry had a notion Snape could climb them far quicker than he and Hermione. Abandoning what little dignity he had, Harry bent and scrambled on all fours up the steps, vaulting onto the landing and rolling to the cover of a wall. Hermione followed suit, extinguishing her wand and leaving them in darkness.
She was not a moment too soon; they heard Snape round the corner down below, where he paused. He was muttering to himself, and seemed to be trying to decide if they went up the stairs or continued on straight. Harry held his breath, but Snape continued on down the lower corridor, leaving them to sigh with relief.
"What's he doing, running around the school at night?" asked Hermione, trying to catch her breath.
"Probably something rotten," said Harry, nursing a stitch in his side. "Tonight's the full moon; all the crazies are out in force."
As if to confirm this, a light appeared down the hallway, and Draco Malfoy came wandering by, also muttering to himself. It was somewhat strange to see him without Crabbe and Goyle, but it became rather evident what he was doing when he passed them, and they heard what he was saying.
"Find the door......stupid Gryffindors, it's gotta be around here somewhere......she's bound to like you, when she sees the lengths you'll go to to find her......"
In spite of himself, Harry had to stifle a snort of laughter. Hermione, who hadn't the faintest clue what Malfoy was talking about, thought he'd gone mad. She nudged Harry in the ribs.
"What's so funny?" she asked. "He's lost his marbles; that's not something to laugh about!"
Harry was still chuckling. "I'll tell you later, Herm. Now come on, let's get going."
The two hurried on, in darkness again, but with the light of the moon shining in through the windows. They knew they were close when they passed Sir Cadogan's portrait, where the little knight lay sound asleep with a stuffed teddy bear and his thumb in his mouth.
"Almost there," whispered Harry, half wishing they weren't. He didn't know what was up there, or what would happen when he opened the trapdoor, but he somehow knew he had to.
The ladder to Professor Trelawney's room was already down, and a thick, sweet smoke was eddying onto the landing.
"Ladies first," said Harry, looking at Hermione. Hermione shook her head.
Harry gulped. "Didn't think so." He crept cautiously up the ladder, wincing as it creaked, and very slowly poked his head through the floor-hole.
The smoke was so thick he could at first see nothing, and had to fight to keep from choking. He strained his eyes to see through the blur, and started as he heard a voice quite close to him.
"Sirius, you moron, that's way too much syrup."
It was Doors. Harry, squinting, could make out three blurry forms, huddled round a glow which must be the fireplace.
"Lorna, will you stop badgering me?" said Sirius, reaching behind him for something. "I know what I'm doing."
"No, you don't," snorted Doors. "Don't lie."
"All right, so I don't," conceded Black. He had apparently added something to the concoction over the fire, for a smell like a bean-fart filled the room, and a cloud of acid green smoke puffed into the air.
Harry put his hand over his nose, but a gag escaped him before he could stop it. The figures turned.
"Why, hello, Harry," said Doors. "I was wondering when you'd join us. Come on up, and bring Hermione with you."
Harry stared for a moment before vaulting through the hole, followed by Hermione.
"How--how did you know it was us?" he asked.
Lupin pointed at the darker blob that was Professor Trelawney's desk. "A certain map," he said, a note of amusement in his voice.
"I should have known," said Harry. Lupin looked up at him, and Harry stopped and stared, open-mouthed.
Hermione must have botched his potion somehow, for Lupin's eyes glowed a weird and brilliant yellow, and two long, needle-thin fangs had replaced his eye teeth.
Lupin noticed his staring. "Ah, the fangs," he said. "Well, the Wolfsbane Potion didn't quite do what was intended. I suspect some of the ingredients were substandard. At any rate, I'm no danger to anyone, so long as I don't get angry, or hungry."
"Did you eat yet?" asked Hermione, eying him warily. Lupin nodded.
"Well, all right then," said she, joining the three by the cauldron, first unlatching the window. Harry did as well.
"Phew," said Hermione, wrinkling her nose. "What's in this stuff?"
"You're probably better not knowing," said Doors. Her hair was down, and hung nearly to her knees in a frizzy, flyaway black mess of a braid. "Remus, hand me that frog brain, would you?" Lupin did so, with a slight shudder.
Hermione was rifling through the stock of ingredients on the table, her glowing wand held in her teeth. "Wasp stingers, dragon scales, powdered butterfly wings......FAIRIE'S VOMIT? What kind of a potion is this, and where on earth did you get all the ingredients so fast?"
"Well, the fairie's vomit was easy," said Doors. "I've got a squad of Cornish Pixies hiding out in Greenhouse Four." Even as she spoke, one came buzzing in the open window, carrying a load of some dry, sagey-smelling herb.
Harry laughed, but sobered quickly. "So, what are you gonna....do with this stuff?" he asked.
"Don't worry, Harry; we're not opening any Doors inside Hogwarts," said Doors. "We're trying to make a sort of piecemeal network, so the bird will follow it and get spit back out in a galaxy far, far away."
"So......you're not letting them in here, to try and fight them?"
Doors snorted. "God, no! Harry, even I'M not that foolhardy. We opened a Door to Hogwarts, that'd be it for all of us. Curtain drawn, fat lady sung, that's all, folks."
Harry breathed a sigh of relief. "Then you're not completely crazy."
"Oh, I beg to differ."
The five at the cauldron whirled around. Doors sighed in exasperation. "Hullo, Snape," she said. "What an unsurprising surprise."
Severus Snape stood by the ladder-hole, his black eyes glittering in the light of the fire. "I thought I might find you here," he said, his eyes sweeping the little crowd. "Really, you are quite predictable."
Doors looked at Sirius, who looked at Lupin, who looked back at Doors. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" asked Sirius. The other two nodded. Lupin pointed his wand at the trapdoor, and it slammed with a bang, making Harry jump.
Snape seemed rather startled as well, and not happy that his only means of escape had been cut off. Doors and Lupin advanced on him, their wands raised.
"Now, Severus, why must you be so incredibly nosy?" asked Lupin, as though he were posing a question to a class.
"Yeah, really, Snape, it'll get you in a world of trouble one of these days," said Doors, her slanted green eyes glowing weirdly.
"One of these days? I'd say it already has," put in Lupin.
Snape was backing slowly away from them, his eyes shifting from one to the other. "What do you mean?" he asked, sneering but looking rather worried.
"Well, you see, Snape," said Doors, as Snape ran out of room and backed into a wall, "You've discovered our little secret, something we'd like to keep secret. It's very important to us, and indeed to all magic, and well--" Doors raised her wand high, smiling "--now we have to kill you."
Snape's eyes widened. "You--you're not serious?" he said, and Harry felt a vindictive glee at the look of fear on his face; he knew Doors would never actually kill anyone, and that she and Lupin were enjoying this as much as Harry was.
Doors looked at Lupin. "I'm afraid so," she said. "But we can't deal with you now; you'll have to stay there until we've finished our little project." She and Lupin turned and strode back toward the cauldron, relieving Snape of his wand and leaving him where he was. "Sirius, I think you can add that alien spleen now--"
Sirius nor anyone else had a chance to do anything, for Snape lunged at Doors, making a grab at his hijacked wand. He caught the ends of both his and Doors', and all heard a dangerous crack as one of them threatened to break.
"Hey, what's the big idea?" cried Doors. The two were locked in a tug-of-war, neither willing to take a hand off the wands and punch the other. Doors delivered a well-aimed kick at Snape's knee, making him hop with pain, but he refused to let go of the wands.
Sirius snatched his own wand from the table, and pointing it at them cried, "Expelliarmus!" Unfortunately, Snape ducked, and the spell hit Lupin instead, throwing him against the wall and nearly knocking him out.
"Bloody hell," muttered Harry, pulling his own wand from his pocket. He raise it high over his head, intending to blast the both of them with a Tickling Charm, but never got the chance--a faint hissing filled the room, and a moment later the potion exploded with the force of a small bomb, blasting them all off their feet and sending clouds of acrid smoke everywhere.
For a moment all was confusion; Harry scrambled frantically along the floor in search of his glasses, Hermione sat mourning over the two broken pieces of her wand, Lupin moaned from his corner, and a furious scuffle could be heard at the other end of the room, where Doors and Snape were apparently still fighting.
Hermione, still having some slight presence of mind, used the larger end of her wand to conjur a fan and blow some of the smoke from the room. The scrabbling by the window stopped, and Harry, his glasses dangling upside-down from the end of his nose, could see it was not Snape and Doors, but Snape and Sirius who fought over the wands. One look at their faces told him they were as confused as he was.
"Wait a minute," said Snape, eying Sirius. "If you're here, then--"
"--where's Lorna?" finished Sirius.
The open window chose that moment to bang loudly in the breeze, and both Snape and Sirius turned to stare at it. "Oh, no," muttered Sirius. "No, no, no....."
Harry scrambled over to the window, straightening his glasses. He leaned out over the sill and peered into the darkness below, and what he saw nearly made him collapse himself.
Professor Doors, his aunt Lorna, his one and only decent relative in all the world, was lying white-faced and motionless some ninety feet below them, a stunned look on her face. Her slanted eyes were open wide, and stared in unseeing shock at the sky above her, and Harry could see, even from that height, that a rivulet of dark blood had trickled from the corner of her mouth.
Harry stood paralyzed for a moment, feeling the bottom drop out of his stomach, before dashing down the ladder and through the corridors, thinking not of the Phantoms or the school or the potion, but only of his dear, mischievous, slightly crazy aunt, who had the gift of happiness in her voice, and who now lay on the hard flagstones of the courtyard below. He could hear the sounds of pursuit behind him, but he didn't care--he had to get to Doors, had to see her, had to know if she was alive or--or not.
He slammed the great front doors open, panting, and flew down the steps. The base of the North Tower was halfway around the castle, and his lungs felt as if they would burst long before he got there. He slowed down, clutching his side, but still hurried as fast as his legs would carry him.
Footsteps rang out on the stone behind him, footsteps that were traveling much faster than he was. Harry heard them, but he didn't care; he wouldn't be able to think of anything until he knew the fate of his aunt.
A light shone in the gloom behind him, and a hand caught his shoulder. "Harry--wait."
Harry turned, and found himself face to face with Snape.
"Why should I?" he demanded angrily. "She's the only person I've got in this whole world, and if she's dead it's your fault." He tore out of Snape's grasp and darted off into the darkness, his breathing harsh and ragged in his chest. It was just up ahead, not far, soon he'd know--
Harry rounded the corner, and stopped short. Doors was gone.
For a moment he thought he was at the wrong tower, but there were faint traces of blood smeared across the flagstones. Harry saw these, and a fresh hope surged inside him, and with it a fresh fear--if Doors could crawl, she was still alive, but there was no telling how long she would remain so. He reached for his wand to light his path, and with a curse realized he'd left it in the North Tower. Bending nearly double, he touched a smear of blood with his fingertip, and slowly followed the trail of splatters into the gloom.
A glow behind him caught his eye--Snape had reached the base of the Tower, and seemed as puzzled as Harry as to the whereabouts of Lorna Doors. However, he too noticed the blood, and was following the trail much faster than Harry.
"Potter," he said, when he caught up with him. "You listen to me. I'm sworn to look after your safety for as long as you attend Hogwarts, and I will not have you running off in the middle of the night, not with things such as they are--"
"You don't care what happens to me!" cried Harry. "You're just looking after me so you don't feel guilty hating my father; you don't care what happens to me or Doors or anyone, just so long as your conscience leaves you alone. Well, go to hell, Professor Snape; if anyone deserves to, it's you." He spun around and plunged off into the blackness.
"You insolent little brat," snarled Snape, striding after him. "I've saved your skin more times than I'd like to count, and this is how you thank me? Your father was a--"
Whatever Harry's father was, he never found out, for the two of them came over a low rise, and were confronted with one of the most terrible sights they'd ever seen.
"Dear God......" Snape murmured faintly, his face gone very white. Harry thought he was going to be sick.
Lorna Doors hung limp from the frozen boughs of the Whomping Willow, her hands and feet nailed to the trunk. Her face was even whiter than Snape's, shining ghoulishly in the moonlight, and trickled with blood from a great thorny crown that ringed her head. Her eyes were closed, but she seemed to be breathing faintly.
"Aunt Lorna?" She made no response. Harry ran to the tree, struggling to reach her hands and pull out the nails. "Aunt Lorna, don't worry, you're gonna be all right," he said urgently, as if saying it would make it so. Try as he might he couldn't reach her hands, and was scrambling up the side of the Willow when Snape made his way over, paler than ever.
"Potter, you get her feet," he said, and reaching up extracted the nails from her hands. A fresh wave of blood oozed from them, and Doors slumped forward, her head lolling drunkenly.
Harry and Snape caught her, and Harry pulled the crown of thorns from her hair. "The crucifixion......" Snape murmured, and his eyes scanned the darkened grounds with fear. "Potter, we have to get back to the castle," he said, his voice tight. "Lorna was right all along; the Doors went unopened, and the Phantoms came anyway."
Harry felt a sudden surge of fear hit him, and the rustlings of the night took on a menacing quality they had never held before. "W-what do you mean?" he asked.
"The Phantoms, Potter; they put Lorna there, it's their idea of a joke; reenacting the crucifixion of Christ. Lorna was to be our savior, and we've killed her, and unless we gain the castle, we'll have killed ourselves as well." With some difficulty he and Harry lifted Doors into an two-man awkward carry, and the pair of them hightailed it back to the main castle as fast as they could.
Harry glanced up at the sky, and nearly fainted. An oily, swirling blackness was slowly creeping across it, blotting out the stars, and it was coming from the North Tower. He tugged at Snapes' robes.
"Uh, Professor?" he said. "We might want to hurry a little faster."
Snape too looked skyward, and stopped dead in his tracks. Harry, with a start, saw that he had exactly the same look of frozen terror on his face that Fred and George had had after their rescue of Peeves. "Potter," he said, not taking his eyes off that swirling, marbled darkness that was spreading like ink across the sky. "Run."
Harry didn't need to be told twice. Soon he and Snape were tearing for the front doors, which still stood open. They were scrambling up the steps, nearly there, when something struck Harry hard on the back of the head, and darkness fell.
"--what gives now--"
"--was the scariest thing I'd ever seen in my life, it nearly knocked us off the broom--"
"--where is it now?"
Harry groaned and opened his eyes. He was laying in the Great Hall, on a makeshift bed on the Gryffindor table. His glasses were dangling off one ear; he quickly righted them, and rubbing his head he sat up and had a look around.
The entire school seemed to be gathered in the Hall, all in pajamas and slippers and bathrobes, some clutching stuffed animals or other items they had managed to snatch from their dormitories before the teachers rushed them downstairs. Candles flickered above them, and several lit wands were stuck in the chinks of the stone.
Harry turned to see Ron, looking very pale under his freckles. He and Hermione hurried over to him, both looking immensely relieved.
"Harry, what happened?" demanded Hermione. "Snape came in hauling you and Doors, but we couldn't get a straight answer out of him, and then they brought everyone down here, and--is Doors all right?" Her voice shook a little as she said this last.
"I don't know," said Harry. "She was alive when we brought her here, so she probably still is, but--" he lowered his voice, and gave a hasty account of the Phantoms' 'joke', and all that Snape had said.
Ron and Hermione stared at him. "That would explain why they've barricaded all the doors," said Hermione. "Oh, Harry, what are we going to do? If these things are as bad as Fred and George are telling everyone they are, we're all going to die."
"Or worse," muttered Ron.
Fred came hurrying over. "Harry, Doors wants to see you," he said. He looked nearly as scared as he had the night he had first met the Phantoms, which didn't ease Harry's mind in the least. With a glance at Ron and Hermione, he hopped from the table and followed Fred through the crowd.
"How--how is she?" he asked Fred, weaving through the melee.
"Not good. Her back's broken. If it weren't for that, she wouldn't be too bad off, but Madam Pomfrey's afraid she won't ever be able to walk again." He was quiet for a moment, as though debating whether or not to voice his next thought. "I'm afraid none of us'll live long enough to find out. Harry, what did you see out there?"
Harry pointed at the ceiling, which was swirling black like the sky outside. "That," he said.
Fred choked. "What--what the--?" he started, though he knew all too well.
"Where'd Snape go?" asked Harry, thinking it wise to distract Fred before he panicked.
"Dunno," said Fred, tearing his eyes from the ceiling. "He disappeared with Dumbledore just after you got here, and no one's seen him since. He looked pretty bad, though; he kept trying to wipe his hands on his robes, and the first thing he said was to get him some water."
"Talk about Lady Macbeth," muttered Harry. He and Fred were drawing near a curtained-off corner of the Hall, where a huddle of nervous-looking students was standing.
"Clear off," said Fred. "Doors wants to see Harry."
Harry sat down, and gazed with pity on his battered, war-wounded little sprite of an aunt. Her forehead was cut and bloody, her hands bandaged and her hair tangled. Her face was still unnaturally pale, but she did look better than she had outside.
"Good God, Harry; don't look at me like I'm gonna keel if you go cross-eyed."
Lorna opened her eyes and grinned at him, wincing slightly. "Nobody's dead, there's no need to look like you're going to a funeral. We're not beat yet, and I need your help to make sure we never are."
Relief and assurance flooded Harry at the sound of his aunt's bizarre voice, and he felt it was not a question of if, but how they were to win. And it was exactly that which he now asked.
"No idea," Doors said cheerfully. "But we'll managed. What I need you to do is distract everyone long enough for me to think of something. I swear, if Madame Pomfrey comes in here one more time I'm gonna eat her liver. With some fava beans, and a nice Chiante," she added with a chuckle.
Harry smiled, though he was rather worried. "All right, Hannibal," he said. "I'll try. Just don't nick any sweetbreads, okay?"
"I'm not making any promises. Now go on and leave me some peace."
Harry shut the curtain behind him, wondering how on earth he was going to keep Madame Pomfrey at bay. Fortunately, he didn't have to--Neville Longbottom had dropped his wand and accidentally turned Seamus Finnigan into a mouse. In the furor over restoring the unfortunate Seamus Doors was left as much privacy as she could want, and Harry wandered back over to Ron and Hermione.
"How is she?" asked Hermione, passing him a mug of cocoa.
Harry took a sip and started to respond, but never got the chance--a shriek sounded from somewhere in the Hall, and everybody turned to see Hannah Abbot pointing, white-faced, at the far doors. They swung open in the wind, and on the parapet beyond, facing the great, silent, hovering menace of the Bird of the Phantoms, stood Lorna Doors.
"That was quick," muttered Harry.
For a moment the Hall stood as though frozen, and then nearly everyone made a mad dash to pull their teacher to safety. Fred Weasley, however, clapped a hand to his mouth and doubled over in pain, and a good many others collapsed in mid-leap, overcome by some unseen malevolence held by the Phantoms. All were subdued before reaching the doors, and were forced to watch in paralyzed horror as Doors stared down the bird.
Harry had made it farther than anyone, and so was closest to Doors. He could see she was not standing at all, but clutching the wall with one hand, the blood dripping down the stone like candle wax. It was not his aunt Lorna who stood there, gazing with fierce defiance at the soul-rending apparition before her; she had called on powers beyond all of them, and they stood with her now, ready to do as her will commanded. Her slanted green eyes flashed as she murmured something Harry couldn't hear, not with anger or fear or triumph, but with a savage joy that seemed to infuriate the thing before her. It dove forward, talons slashing, and it was then that Lorna struck.
For a moment Harry thought the world had exploded; there was a blinding flash of blue lightning that shook the very bones of Hogwarts, and Doors was standing, her arms raised, crying in a high, lilting language he couldn't understand, and quite obviously enjoying herself hugely. The bird was shrieking, writhing in the air, and the blackness in the sky was boiling angrily. Still Doors cried, the blood dripping from her outstretched hands and running in ghastly tears down her face.
The bird screamed, flapping madly as it was surrounded by a web of silver light. Its empty, soulless eyes met Doors' for a moment, and then Doors lowered her hands.
A tearing crack split the air, and a terrific jolt as the bird was blasted to smithereens by whatever forces Lorna had called, sending the blackness to flight. Doors stood for a moment, her eyes shining with a wild light, and then she collapsed on the stone parapet.
Harry struggled forward, weighted by an exhaustion such as he had never felt, and took his aunt's bloody hand.
"That really was quick," he murmured, before all conscious thought fled him, and left he and Doors utterly at peace.
The End of the Beginning and the Beginning of Our Story's End
Harry awoke in the hospital wing, to the sound of someone snoring very loudly. He rolled over, ready to give the snorer what for, and found himself facing a blissfully unconscious Fred Weasley.
"Awake at last, are you?"
Madame Pomfrey bustled over to him, feeling his forehead and checking his pulse.
Harry was bursting with questions, but the only one he could manage to give voice to was, "What's wrong with Fred?"
"Low-level radiation poisoning. Your aunt says he got it from the Phantoms, but he'll be all right." Madame Pomfrey tapped his arm with her wand and read his blood pressure.
"How is Doors?" Harry asked, not bothering to wonder how the school nurse knew she was his aunt.
"A sight better than you," said Madame Pomfrey. "She's not paralyzed, thank heavens, but she'll probably have to walk with a cane for the rest of her life. Her back was broken so badly even I couldn't mend it fully."
"When can I see her?" asked Harry eagerly, waving aside the nurse's hands.
"There's a feast tonight, you can see her then. For now you're staying right here, and no visi--"
Her words were cut off by Ron and Hermione, who bounded through the door at that moment and began pelting Harry with questions. Madame Pomfrey gave a resigned sigh and went to check on Seamus, who still had whiskers.
Harry had a number of questions of his own, and by the time all had been explained Fred was awake, and George had joined them, and they were starting what promised to be a grand little party when Madame Pomfrey bustled back in, telling them (in a rather sour voice, for she had had words with Dumbledore over the matter) that Fred and Harry needed to get ready for the feast, and that the rest of them should consider doing so as well.
"See you at the feast, Harry," called George. "Wait'll you see the crater outside the front doors--Hagrid wants to fill it with water and make a swimming pool."
Harry grinned, but then sighed as Madame Pomfrey pulled him to his feet and began 'getting him ready' in her own fashion, which included several nasty-tasting medicines and being hauled into freshly-ironed robes. By the time he escaped, his face had been scrubbed pink, his glasses polished to brilliance, and his hair plastered with so much goo it felt like a helmet.
As soon as he was safely in the hallway, a wave of his wand banished the hair gel, and he winced as he rubbed his raw face. "It's a good thing she doesn't have kids," he muttered, hurrying to the main hallway. "They'd be hating life."
Harry turned to see Hermione, also in fresh robes, her hair done in a simple but pretty style. Ron appeared beside her, his own hair carefully plastered to his head. "Looks like Madame Pomfrey gave you the once-over, too," he laughed.
"What do you mean, 'too'?" asked Harry, as the three made their way through the crowded hallway.
"We ran into Fred a ways back," said Hermione, unable to suppress a giggle. "He was trying to undo the damage."
"I wish him luck," said Harry, as they shoved through the Hall doors. "He's gonna need--" He stopped short, and he, Ron, and Hermione simply stared.
They had seen the Great Hall decorated many different ways for many different reasons, but never had any of them seen it so lovely as this. Tiny creeping plants, their flowers iridescent and shimmering in the candlelight, grew across the walls, and birds could be heard chirping amongst them. Someone had managed to get a miniature waterfall in between the tables, and a little stream wound its way through a temporary channel in the floor. Little glowing lights darted here and there; closer inspection proved them to be fairies (though not of the Cornish variety), and there were so many candles the room shimmered in an opalescent glow. Harry felt a strange power fill his heart at the sight of this Hall; it reminded him of something, though he couldn't think what, but with the starry ceiling overhead, it was as though they were outside in a garden, instead of in the Great Hall of Hogwarts.
"This HAS to be Doors' doing," said Ron, awed.
The three turned to face Sirius and Lupin, both as best-dressed as they, who were gazing at the vision of the Hall. "She always did love the plants. However, if you look over there, I believe you will see one of her nagging traits she has never quite been able to stomp out."
Lupin pointed to the far end of the Hall, where there hung at least two dozen freshly planted--
"Bathtubs," said Hermione, smiling. "Always with the bathtubs."
"Well, do you have a better idea?"
Doors made her way over to them, with the help of a highly polished, gnarled wooden cane, grinning from ear to pointy ear. She had left her hair down, and was for the first time they'd seen her not wearing a large quantity of dirt on her black robes. Sirius seized her hand and inspected it closely, and then reeled back, his eyes wide.
"My God," he said, staring at her. "Even her fingernails are clean."
Doors hit at him with her cane, but missed. "Oh, shut up. There's a first time for everything, you know."
"Apparently." The little group set off for the Gryffindor table, where most of them would be sitting. Harry was still anticipating a good reaction from Malfoy, when he saw the famed Sirius Black sitting beside him, but he was too fascinated by his surroundings to expect too much from it.
He glanced sideways at Doors. She was as odd-looking as ever; more like an elf than a human, with her silver-threaded black hair that fell in a frizzy mess to her knees, and her strange pointed features that always seemed happy. He wished he could stay with her always, and then it occurred to him that he just might be able to; he had she and Sirius to choose from, and he never had to go back to the Dursleys again.
He started to ask about it, as they sat down on the long bench, but Dumbledore stood at the staff table, raising his hands for quiet.
"Every one of you knows why this feast was called, so I won't waste time with platitudes. We are here to celebrate the downfall of something very evil, and those who made such an effort possible. So before we set to, I would like to call a few of you up here, so that you may be recognized for the sacrifice you've made. Remus Lupin, please come forward."
Lupin, blushing to the roots of his hair, rose and made his way forward. "Remus, it was you who captured a long-lost murderer, and who risked your life to create that lovely potion that so ruined Professor Trelawney's classroom." A sniff sounded at the end of the staff table; said Professor Trelawney was crying into her sequined handkerchief. "Remus, I present you with this Award for Special Services to Hogwarts, and the promise of reinstatement in the Defense Against the Dark Arts position."
The crowd burst into thunderous applause. Lupin, however, looked slightly puzzled. As the noise died down, he said, "But I thought that position was already filled."
Dumbledore looked a bit uncomfortable. "Ah, well, Professor Erral was forced to return to the Mother Ship at the end of term, his studies of magical humans being completed."
"Whoa, whoa!" cried Dean, unable to help himself. "Professor Erral was an alien?" Dumbledore nodded. "Okay, fork it over," said Dean, holding out his hand as a score of Gryffindors grudgingly surrendered their Sickles.
"Moving right along," said Dumbledore briskly. "Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ronald, Fred, and George Weasley, please come forward."
The fives stumbled up to the table, wondering what was in store for them. "First, to Fred and George Weasley I present these medals and free therapy sessions, in hopes that their nightmares may soon abate." Fred and George both blushed, and looked as though they'd like to sink through the floor. "And I excuse them both from any classwork having anything to do with the Phantoms." He hung the medals round their necks, and they scrambled back to the Gryffindor table as though the devil were behind them.
"To Ronald Weasley, I give this plaque, and a promise that he will never have deal with Cornish pixies ever again." Ron took the plaque, his face as red as his hair, and joined his brothers.
"To Harry Potter and Hermione Granger--" tumultuous applause "--I award these Special Services, and exempt they and Mr. Weasley from Potions for the rest of their lives; those egg bombs proved them quite superior to most here."
Harry and Hermione grinned at one another, unable to believe their luck. No Potions for the rest of their lives? It was heaven. The two took their plaques and joined the Weasleys at the Gryffindor table, chattering excitedly.
Dumbledore raised his hands once more. "We're almost finished; I won't keep you from that food for too much longer. I now call forward Sirius Black."
Dead silence fell. Sirius, looking rather uncomfortable, walked to the staff table, and the school watched dumbstruck.
"Sirius here is part of the reason for Professor Lupin's award," said Dumbledore, who looked as though he were enjoying himself immensely. "You see, the murderer he caught was none other than Peter Pettigrew, whom Sirius supposedly killed fourteen years ago. His name has been cleared with the Ministry of Magic, and he will now be instated as teacher of a new course, for all who wish to become Animagi."
Exuberant applause, particularly from the Gryffindor table. Sirius, as red as any who had yet gone up there, accepted his teacher's certificate from Dumbledore and returned to the table, where Doors and Lupin both pounded him on the back.
"And last," said Dumbledore, quelling the applause. "Last, but most certainly not least, I call Lorna Doors."
Ringing silence, as Doors rose with some difficulty and limped forward, leaning on her cane. Her slanted green eyes shone in the light, and Harry could tell she was trying hard to suppress a grin.
"I think we all know what I've called Professor Doors forward for," said Dumbledore. "Lorna, I award you the Book of Days, the highest award Hogwarts has to offer, and a place among the legendary sorcerers who have attended here. And a fairly hefty pay raise."
It seemed as though a small bomb had been let off, so loud was the applause. The dishes on the tables shook, and the doors rattled in their hinges. Professor Doors, more red-faced than anyone had yet been, finally let go and grinned, making the applause even more wild.
When it finally died down (some fifteen minutes later), Doors stood as tall as her scant height allowed. "This is just too much," she said. "Thank all of you who've made this year so interesting, and all of you who helped me in my battle with those damned Phantoms. And if anybody wants to volunteer to help me deal with that mess of plants next term, feel free. Now, if nobody has any more objections, I'm starved. Let's eat!"
The Hall didn't need to be told twice; they set to immediately, while Doors returned to the Gryffindor table. "Now, Harry, don't look so damn shocked," she laughed. "You didn't honestly expect me to leave just because I'm half paralyzed, did you?"
That reminded Harry of his still unasked question. "So, which of you am I going to live with?" he asked, looking from Doors to Sirius, who had a bit of noodle hanging out of his mouth.
Doors and Sirius glanced at one another. "Well, we decided we're going to do a trade-off," she said. "You'll go with Sirius at first, until I've found somewhere I actually want to stay, and they we can just do it by years. You'll have a home with either of us, as long as you want one, and if I ever get my hands on those Muggles you used to live with, I'll turn them into newts."
Harry laughed, but so great was his happiness he couldn't concentrate on his food. At last he had family, real family, and friends, and a real home; everything he'd wanted at the Dursleys and never gotten. He felt a vindictive glee at the thought of Doors turning them into newts; it would be even better if she kept Dudley as a human and sent him to fat camp. He was so lost in his thoughts that he didn't notice Snape, keeping to the shadows, but watching he and Doors and Sirius very closely. Nor did he, through the hour of stuffing himself silly, until everyone was full to bursting, and some genius decided they needed to work it off by dancing.
"All right, everybody!" called said genius, a seventh-year Ravenclaw Harry had never met. "Get on out here and form a line; we're gonna play the biggest game of Crack the Whip Hogwarts has ever seen!"
Nearly everyone hopped up, either eager to shake off their sluggishness or to send someone else flying. The tables were shoved to the far walls, leaving the floor clear, and almost all of Hogwarts joined hands in an immense line.
"All right, GO!" cried the Ravenclaw, who, Harry noticed, had not joined the line himself. They got on remarkably well at first, weaving and slithering like some immense human snake.
Doors poked Harry in the back with her cane. Harry had opted out, being far too full of pumpkin pie to want to be thrown in all directions and have his limbs torn off. He turned to see an all-too-familiar grin on her face. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" she asked, her eyes twinkling.
"Probably." He glanced at a rather large, rather fat turkey that still sat more or less whole on a platter. He looked at Doors, who looked back at him and picked up the bird. She felt its weight, took sights on its dimensions, and dropping her cane assumed a bowler's stance and barreled that thing as hard as she could into the forest of feet.
The effect this had on the line was nothing short of disastrous; one by one people tripped like dominoes, knocking down those in front of them until all was a melee of black Hogwarts hats.
Doors and Harry howled, cackling like loons as the affronted Hogwartians struggled to their feet, searching for the cause of their collapse. Doors had seized a fair-sized hamhock, and was preparing to throw it into the crowd when Snape appeared beside her and Harry, startling them both out of their wits.
"Good gravy, Snape, you almost made me drop this thing," said Doors, heaving the hamhock with some difficulty into the air, where it sailed in a graceful arc and landed splat on Malfoy, pinning him to the floor.
"Oh, God forbid," Snape said dryly. "Lorna, can I speak with you for a minute?"
Doors looked at him. "You actually sound serious," she said. "What now, did you poison my soup and forget to tell me?"
Snape was looking highly uncomfortable. "Lorna, I just wanted to say I'm sorry, for, you know......."
Doors smiled. "Pushing me out a window?" she volunteered.
"Er--yes. I never meant to actually hurt anyone, and I certainly didn't mean for you to wind up permanently handicapped."
"Snape, you're a very strange person," said Doors. "You'd poison me, but you didn't want me to get hurt? I don't know what planet you come from, but the two tend to be synonymous."
Snape looked puzzled. "Poison? I never tried to poison you."
Harry piped in. "Yes you did, don't lie. You put something in her drink while she was asleep, and then you were all angry the next day when she wasn't dead."
Snape's eyes widened. "That? That wasn't poison! It was just a mushroom extract, to render her temporarily insane."
"Oh, only," muttered Doors.
"Then.......you WEREN'T trying to kill her?" asked Harry, taken rather aback.
"No! Not this time, at any rate." Snape turned to Doors. "I might detest you and wish someone ELSE would kill you, but I certainly wouldn't do it myself."
"Snape, if this is your idea of an apology, you can shut up now," said Doors.
"No! That's not what I meant. What I'm trying to say is...........truce?" Snape looked at her, as though not quite daring to hope she'd actually say yes.
Doors smiled. "Truce," she concurred. "Now make yourself useful and throw something; I'll be damned if this feast is gonna get off without a food fight."
Snape grinned, the first real smile Harry had ever seen on him, and picked up an oversized orange. "Ten Galleons says I can hit Minerva."
Doors snorted. "You're on," she said. The orange went hurtling through the air, headed directly for Professor McGonagall's head, when Hagrid stood up. He rubbed his forehead, puzzled, before retrieving the orange and sending it flying aimlessly.
The orange had hit Malfoy, still pinned under his hamhock. He was flailing wildly, somehow without Crabbe and Goyle to help him (they were off eating turkey), and it was with some amusement that Harry watched Hermione heave the thing off him and kick him off the dance floor. Meanwhile, Fred and George had caught on to the general idea, and were now manning Gryffindor table, where they were hurling anything and everything they could reach into the fracas.
"Now, really, Lorna; are food fights necessary at every feast you attend?"
Doors turned to face Dumbledore, a handful of frosting poised for throwing. "He started it," she said, jerking her head at Snape.
"Did not!" Snape cried indignantly. "You hit Malfoy with a hamhock."
"Well, you were the one who bet me you could hit Minerva with an orange."
"Uh-oh," muttered Doors, sidling away as an infuriated McGonagall stormed over, her hair plastered with schnapps from Hagrid's goblet. "You're on your own, Snape." She and Harry scrambled away, leaving Snape to his fate.
"Hey, is that Peeves?" asked Harry, squinting into the candlelight above.
"Maybe," said Doors, likewise squinting. "I wonder what he's up to?"
"I think we just found out," said Harry, hitting the ground and covering his head. A rather large stuffed goose had just exploded, showering the room. "You didn't happen to have any spare Exfydales Beans lying around, did you?" he asked.
Doors snorted. "Well, if I did you can bet I don't now. That little fink, I wonder how many he planted?"
She didn't have long to wonder--after the first blast, virtually all the food up and down the tables began exploding, effectively reducing all of it to chutney. The cooks stormed from the kitchens, swinging their ladles and swearing in French, and one of the biggest food fights in the history of all Hogwarts commenced. Peeves could be seen buzzing mirthfully over all of it, this time able to take credit for the chaos. And so the school year ended as it had begun, with a joyful anarchy that made everyone happy, right down to Snape and Filch.
"Good Lord, what has she started? James, you don't actually mean to trust her with Harry, do you?"
"Lily, she might be a nut, but she loves the boy, which is more than can be said for your sister's family. They'll be all right, so long as they've got us to make sure they don't burn the house down."
"So much for resting in peace."