A/N: Well, I made it. Just about. The first part was a struggle, but the actual main event... that flowed nicely.
Now, in case you're wondering after reading the first paragraph; no, I'm not a fan of the whole Halloween holiday thing. Or rather, what it has become.
This chapter, planned since very early on, is also a direct response to a major event early on in Cloneserpents 'Not So Gentle' story. That event really disturbed me, made me want to change it. And now I can (grins). I mention his story because it was one of the stories (along with KissingHollie's 'Begining to Question') that really got me into the Harry/Hermione/Susan/Daphne foursome thing, so a shout out to both of them. 'Gentle' is a very dark story, and not been updated in years sadly, but 'Question' was updated within the last week, so things are moving there...
Now, lets get on with it.
[EDIT]: Opps! I got the author of 'Gentle' wrong! My apologies to Cloneserpents.
Halloween. In times long past, All Hallows Eve had been a day of remembrance of the dead. It had been believed that on that day, the barriers between the worlds of the living and the dead thinned, allowing those on either side to cross over and visit the other. For a little while. But, as the years and decades and centuries past, the meaning of the day changed. Remembering became Honouring, usually done with a feast or banquet. More time past, and Honouring became Celebrating, recounting the great achievements of forefathers. By the end of the 20th century, Halloween was no longer about the dead to most people. There were no long lists of great ancestors, no tales of past heroics. Instead, Halloween had become nothing more than a convenient excuse for partying. Most prolific within the young adults in college or university, Halloween had become something of a joke, an event used as a means for wild parties of excess.
Even in the wizarding world, the old meaning of Halloween had been all but lost, despite the fact that much of the celebrations and 'decorations' used in such were Hollywood spawned parodies of things that were very much a part of their world. Even when the dead literally walked in front of them, the average witch or wizard did not recall the old ways.
For the British magical society, Halloween gained a new meaning in 1981. It marked the end of the worst civil strife in their history… and the apparent downfall of the most evil and feared Dark Lord that ever stalked the land. For fourteen year the British magicals celebrated Halloween with extra gusto, with many toasts to 'The-Boy-Who-Lived'.
This year, however, those same people were uneasy, finding the old spirit fleeting. The dreaded Dark Lord had not been vanquished, only banished. And now, despite what the previous administration had claimed, he was back, his forces on the march once more. The shadow of Voldemort covered the green lands of Britain.
Within the halls of Hogwarts, the students looked forward to the feast that was always laid out on Halloween. Dumbledore had started the custom during Voldemort's last reign of terror, to try and get the children's minds off of what was going on outside the walls of his school. The feasts in the years after his downfall were particularly grand affairs. Much of the decorations and customs he'd brought from America, based on what he'd seen during a vacation across the Atlantic. Now, the children were still eager for the feast, laughing and enjoying life, the spectre of Voldemort's return still not fully settled over them yet.
In their exuberance, many had forgotten that not everyone felt the same way about that day. And they, along with so many others, had not consciously thought about what else had happened that fateful night, back in '81.
The Fourth Years had that fact thrust into their faces when they stepped into the Muggle Studies classroom.
Lily Potter had gained quite a following, and despite the efforts of several older students – mainly Syltherins, truth be told – her class was becoming quite popular. She brought life and excitement and colour to the halls of Hogwarts. Many of the younger witches were in awe of her, seeing how she taught the classes with a deft touch, drawing her students into discussions and debates, prompting them to seek answers out and reason for themselves. She was only really able to do this with the younger years though: Her words to the Seventh years had been that she did not have the time to teach them even a fraction of what they should know. She focused on what they needed to know, mainly how to find out information themselves. It was a hard lesson for many of the students.
On that day however things were very different. Normally the Muggle Studies classroom was riot of colour, as Lily brought in muggle posters, appliances and all manner of other things, all to help the students understand the advances the non-magicals had made. Many of the mid-year witches were anticipating a shopping trip in the muggle world, as what she had displayed put the magical fashion trade to shame. The boys were also interested in the muggle fashions… though not for the same reasons.
One thing that she had come down hard on were those who tried to disrupt and belittle the class. Now no-one mocked her class or her roots. At least, not where she could hear them.
From the middle of the group Astoria Greengrass inhaled sharply when she saw Lily. The older witch was normally dressed in smart, semi-casual muggle clothing, in warm colours and light fabrics. More often than not her robes were folded over the back of a chair while she sat on the edge of her desk, one stocking clad leg swaying slowly as she talked to them. Today however, Lily was stood still by her desk, dressed in black. It was not provocative, or even flattering. In fact, she looked like a woman who was about to go to a funeral. Likewise the classroom was bare of all the colours that normally graced its walls.
"Afternoon, class." She greeted them once everyone had arrived. "We're diverting from the planned lesson today. Now, I know that some of you…" Astoria was sure her eyes flickered briefly towards the bulk of the Slytherins as she said that. "…wonder why we have this class, either openly like the upper years, or privately." It was true, away from class many of the older, pure-blood students – not just Slytherins, but also a number of Ravenclaws and a handful from the other two houses – were often heard bemoaning the extra Muggle Studies classes they had to take, wondering aloud why they had to.
Lily looked over the class, her expression sombre. "Now, who can tell me why we hide our existence from the Non-Magical world?"
One Hufflepuff raised his hand. "The statue of Secrecy?"
Lily nodded. "True. Partially right, but still true. One point to Hufflepuff. Can anyone expand on that? Perhaps explain why we have the Statue in the first place?"
Silence held sway for several moments, before one Ravenclaw spoke up. "The witch-hunts in the sixteenth century?" She asked quietly.
"Almost there. Two points to Ravenclaw. The Witch-Hunts were the most obvious sign of the larger issue. While they were not effective – most of those burnt at the stake were not actually witches at all, really – it did have an effect. And highlighted something that the Magical World had tried to ignore, but now had to take notice of." Lily paused to allow her next statement to have its full meaning.
"The Non-Magicals were no-longer at the mercy of Magicals. In fact, it was the other way around. The Magical World would not, could not, stand up to open conflict with the non-magical, even then. Now… it would be suicide. Survival depended on not being found."
There were several suppressed snorts from the rear of the classroom. Lily's expression darkened a little. "Is there something you'd like to share with the rest of the class?"
Several long seconds passed. Then, a Ravenclaw stood. "Professor, with all respect… No muggle could stand up to a Wizard. They don't have magic."
Lily stared at the young man for a long moment. "True, they don't have magic… Ackerley, was it? But consider what they do have. Guns, missiles, tanks, planes… centuries of fighting to draw on. Weapons that can strike further than any spell. Or cause destruction on a scale not even Merlin himself would be able to achieve." That drew a gasp from several throats. Muggles out-doing Merlin? That was considered as close to sacrilege as things got in the Wizarding world.
"Consider this: How many magicals has Voldemort killed?" A shudder ran through the class. Even Astoria felt a chill run down her spine. Despite living with the Potters for the bulk of the summer and seeing his name in the papers, hearing it spoken still affected her.
After several guesses, some really outlandish, Lily spoke once more. "Officially, it's just over a hundred. He's powerful, I'm not denying that, but compared to what can be done with Non-magical technology…
"How about the population of London? Anyone? The official count was a little over seven million non-magicals, last year. That's just the Greater London area, the central bit. No spell can possibly affect that many people, not all at once. But, with the right items, a single non-magical can kill all of them… in less time than it takes to say it."
Lily's gaze travelled across the class. "Try to picture it. The entire city of London, gone, wiped off the face of the Earth, in a few seconds. Most of South-East England would be reduced to a wasteland. All at the hands of one, non-magical person."
"Impossible!" Came the incredulous reply from the rear.
"Really?" Lily raised an eyebrow. "Try telling that to those who were living in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in spring, 1945." When it was clear that no one wanted to reply to her statement, Lily continued. "Both cities were destroyed at the end of the Second World War. Both… by only one device each. The death toll is still unknown. As to how…"
She waved her wand, and a projector lowered from the ceiling. She'd already used it often to show the classes footage from all across the twentieth century. Astoria could still picture the footage of the moon landings.
Once the windows were covered the projector started up. An image of clouds over a blue expanse, seen from above, appeared behind Lily. The colours were vibrant, but a little blurred at the edges. A hard, metal edge could be seen on the left side.
"This is public released archive footage from tests done by the United States during the fifties and sixties."
Ackerley fell into the verbal trap. "Tests of what?"
As if in answer, a huge mushroom cloud boiled up on the screen, the clouds around pushed away by the rapidly rising formation. An angry red glow came from within the ominous cloud.
Lily waited till the cloud had slowed to a halt before answering. "Nuclear weapons, mister Ackerley. Weapons harnessing the very nature of matter itself. Destruction on a scale that was unimagined the century before. One of the scientists who worked on the first generation famously quoted 'I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.' when he saw just what he had helped create."
After that, Lily had been relentless. She had brought out the true horrors of war in the twentieth century. The famous and infamous photos and footage from both the First and Second World Wars. The final footage was that of a field of white crosses, as far as the eye could see. The view panned, showing more, and more…
"The fields of Flanders, were over a quarter of a million men died over the course of a few months." She said softly. "Many are buried without a name to their marker, only that they were 'A Soldier of the Great War.'. And all for so very little, so very petty reasons, looking back now. And yet, it is said that as long as there is oppression and hatred and tyranny in the world, they will not rest easy where they lay. They died, so others could live free."
As the chime that signalled the end of class rung, Lily looked over the class once more. Astoria was shocked to see that she had a tear in her eye. "I hope you all will think about, and remember, those brave men, and those who came after them, giving up their lives so you and your families could live free. And that you all now understand, that considering the Non-Magicals as beneath us, is foolhardy in the extreme."
The class slowly began to get up, most having been stunned by what they saw. Astoria made no move to leave however: she wanted to walk with Lily, who had become something between a second mum and a big sister to her.
"Professor? Can I ask… why the black?"
Nearly every eye snapped to the young witch that had spoken. 'Gryffindor. Of course.' Astoria couldn't help but think at the sight of the red and gold trimmed robes.
Lily looked at the young witch piercingly. "Why do you ask, Miss Vane?"
Squirming, Romilda spoke up. "I mean… it's a bit of a stereotype for Halloween, isn't it? And wouldn't being all black be out of place at the feast?"
Astoria dropped her face into her palm.
Emerald green eyes narrowed almost to slits. "You… you think this is a day to celebrate?" She almost hissed.
Romilda Vane was clearly shifting nervously on her feet. "Well, it is, isn't? The day He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was defeated by The-Boy-Who-Lived…" Her infatuation with the legend was clear from her tone and the breathy way she said Harry's hated title.
Lily's face creased with pain. "Miss Vane… you do not know what you are talking about. This will never be a day to celebrate. Not for me, and neither for my son." Her gaze drifted to a photo that was stood on her desk. Seeming to come to a decision, she picked it up and turned it around to show the young delusional witch. "See this man? Do you know who this is?"
Romilda looked at the photo… and Astoria could almost see the hearts that appeared over the crazy girls head. "Oh, he's cute! How'd you get Harry to look so grown up?"
Lily sighed, tears clearly running down her cheeks. "That's not Harry. That's his father. My husband. Who died on this day, that night."
Miss Vane paled so rapidly that some wondered if her blood had been banished from her veins.
"No, the Magical world seems to have forgotten about James… and me, till now. You all got so fixated on Harry and Voldmort, you forgot about the cost my son suffered…" Lily had turned the photo back to herself, her free hand raised to brush the surface. She wasn't speaking to Miss Vane anymore, not directly. "It may have been fifteen years for everyone else, but for me… not even four months." Her eyes snapped back to Romilda. "Twenty point from Gryffindor, for your tasteless comments and total lack of tact. Now go! Before I add detention as well!"
The other students parted for the fleeing Miss Vane like the Red Sea, before following her out the classroom rapidly.
Not one of them felt any cheer towards Halloween now.
Within, Astoria stepped over to the now openly crying Mrs Potter. Gently putting an arm around the older woman, she looked at the photo of the rakishly handsome young man, who looked so much like an older Harry.
That day, Astoria made a vow to herself to never forget those who fell in the fight against evil, be they magical or muggle.
Harry sighed as he stepped through the doorway between the Gryffindor common room and the Potter Apartment. In the previous years, Hogwarts had seemed like home to him. True, any place would have seemed like home when compared to Privett Drive. But Hogwarts had almost drawn him in, with the warm and comfort of simply belonging. He'd been eager to return each year before, even with all the issues that came with just being who he was. Yes, the last couple of years had shown the cracks, stained the view, but he'd still been happier within the old castles hallowed halls.
Now though… after a summer with a real family, his family, staying on the lands of his ancestors… Hogwarts was no longer home. He no long felt comfortable within the Gryffindor Common Room, even though he was not currently an object of contempt like he had in some previous years. No, after living at Potter Manor, soaking in his families past, Hogwarts was just a place. He was not denying that it had been a major factor in his life, but the warmth was gone.
'Fortunately…' he thought to himself as he looked about the living space of the Potter Quarters '…I've found much better. Family.'
Harry may be young, but he had learned well the truth that 'Home was where the Heart was.'
At the large table across the space, young Astoria was sat, head bent over a roll of parchment, quill dancing as she worked on an essay. The table had become the defacto place for homework to be done, with several communal resource books scattered along its length. Hermione preferred spot was clear by the large, neat stack of books; right next to the bookshelf. The younger Greengrass had become another younger sister to Harry, and he knew she had him wrapped around her finger. And he didn't care. That impish grin she displayed sometimes was just too cute and sweet to pass up.
The only other occupant of the chamber was Fleur, sat back in one of the couches by the fire. As Harry watched his oldest betrothed, she played with a wisp of fire with one hand, the flame dancing between her fingers while she focused on a novel in her lap. It was something she'd been practicing for a while, learning to control her fire based magical power. Now she did it often without noticing. As he moved over towards her, Harry thought back and compared the beauty before him with how she'd appeared two years ago when they had first meet. The haughty arrogance and disdain she'd put up had long gone, allowing her inner beauty and playfulness to show. She also was more relaxed in herself, no longer holding herself back or rigid. She was still incredibly beautiful, but now she was a far more approachable figure. Harry had heard that she'd starting tutoring some of the younger witches within the school, helping in their family wide crusade to break down the barriers that existed between the houses.
He sighed once more as the thought crossed his mind. The newly reformed and re-organised DA was going well, the younger students picking the new spells up quickly, while the older ones were coming up to par for their level. On the other front though… they were struggling a little. Too many were still reliant on shielding, often falling into formal duelling mind-sets. Mind-sets that when facing Death Eaters would get them killed. The Family were planning a demonstration match just before the Christmas break, pitching the whole DA again them. Harry didn't like to admit, but so far, it looked like the Family would win with ease.
"Penny for them, 'arry?" He refocused his attention to see that Fleur had looked up at him, the small flame in her hand winking out. There was a small smile on her face… a smile that Harry didn't even fight to resist returning.
"Just thinking about the DA really." He replied, setting his book bag down on one of the chairs. He looked about the room again. "Where's everyone?" He asked.
"Trace's doing some extra credit studying in the infirmary." Astoria answered, laying her quill down. That grin formed on her lips. "Neville and Hannah are 'inspecting' one of the greenhouses."
Both Harry and Fleur chuckled, a light blush touching his cheeks as he did. They both knew – quite well – the kind of 'Inspection' that the couple were engaging in, most likely.
"Everyone else went down to see Hagrid." Astoria continued as she stood up. "Well, Luna and Mrs Potter did. The trio went with them, I think to give your mum some comfort." Astoria, having walked over, now wrapped her arms around Harry's midsection in a gentle hug. Harry was a little surprised at her action, but after the summer no longer tensed up when one of the family initiated physical contact. It had taken a while, but he was almost over most of what the Dursleys had inflicted on him. Deep in his mind, he knew that it would be years before he fully recovered from their abuse, but he knew that he was on the right track.
"Why would mum need comfort?" He asked softly as he wrapped an arm around the younger girl as well. "Did someone say something?"
Astoria audibly sighed. "I'm sorry Harry, but one of your housemates really put her foot in it, and re-opened an old wound. Well… not that old for Mrs Potter."
"Ah…" Harry's answer carried a whole range of meaning and understanding. "I see." His eyes dimmed a little as his mood dropped. Fleur, seeing this, moved to hug him from the other side.
"We're sorry 'arry." She said softly. "So many of us forget what else happened that night…"
"I don't blame you Fleur." Harry replied. "You were what, three at the time? How could you have understood?" The three sat in a sofa, Astoria practically in his lap while Fleur continued to cuddle into his side. "Halloween, for me, is just not a good day."
"Oui. I remember your face when you entered that room after me, Viktor and… and Cedric." Fleur's voice hitched at the mention of the fourth, and deceased, champion. She'd not had much contact with him, mainly due to his then girlfriend Cho Chang, but what she had seen of him had impressed her. "You looked so… shocked."
"Oh yes, I was. Stunned really. I just… I just couldn't believe it. I knew I hadn't entered my name, so how had it come out of that cursed goblet?" Harry leaned back against the sofa. "Halloween seems cursed for me, really."
"What do you mean Harry?" Astoria sat up a bit so she could look at his face, her own filled with concern.
Harry sighed deeply. "Every year since I came here, something has always happened on Halloween. Something that starts our yearly adventure and brush with death." He lifted the hand he'd wrapped around her. "First year, we have the charms class where Ron insults Hermione enough that it becomes too much for her and she spends the rest of the day in the girls loo crying… only for a mountain troll to come visiting in the evening. If I had forgotten about her…" He trailed off, a shudder passing through his frame.
Fleur tightened her grip on him. "But you didn't Harry. You remembered her, and saved her. And ever since she's been at your side." Her lips twisted into a playful smirk. "Except when she's under you. Or riding you…"
"That's enough of that." Harry admonished lightly as Astoria giggled. The three shared a smile before Harry's fell. "The next year, we had the first attack of the Basilisk."
"Daphne told me about those…" Astoria said softly. "She spent most of Christmas break trying to work out what was going on."
Harry nodded in reply, unsurprised at that little fact. "Third year, we had the attack on the Fat Ladies portrait. Fourth… well, the Goblet. Need I say more? And last year… we had the Azkaban break out."
Fleur nodded slowly. "When you put it like that… it does seem to have meaning." She then tightened her hold on him. "…But only if you let it 'arry."
"I know Fleur. I know." Harry sighed. "I'm just… all day I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop. I just have this feeling that something's going to happen."
Fleur stilled at that for a moment. One of the things she had learned from Hermione during their time together, was that you paid attention to what Harry's instincts were saying. The younger witch had freely admitted that her strength lay in theory and research. Harry's instincts and intuition were far beyond her own.
"Whatever happens, Harry, we're all here for you." Astoria reassured him, looking into his eyes. "You're not alone anymore."
"I know." He said simply. Silence fell for a few long seconds before he looked back at her, a spark of mischief in his eye. "Don't you have homework to finish, young lady?"
Fleur laughed lightly as the younger blonde stuck out her tongue at Harry, before with mock haughtiness stood from his lap primly. As she walked back to the table, Harry turned to regard Fleur. "I'll be fine Fleur. Just want this day over with."
Smiling, she trailed her fingers over the knot of his tie. "You know… there is a way to pass ze time…"
Harry blushed before he smiled and kissed her softly. "Normally, I'd like nothing better." His expression fell. "But… not now Fleur. I'm sorry. I just…"
Fleur just smiled herself, lifting her finger to still his lips. "I understand. You want to be ready for whatever happens, whenever it happens."
Harry nodded. "Yeah. I do." A distant look can over his eyes for a moment, before he returned his gaze to her. "I think I'll try meditating for a bit, see if I can make any progress."
Fleur smiled before they both stood. Sharing a lingering kiss, she watched him step over to the yoga mats that Susan had brought in for them. She watched with love-filled eyes as the young man who held her heart settled down on one, his eyes drifting closed as he tried, once more, to contact the beast that lurked within. Settling down where she had sat before, she picked up the novel she'd been reading before pausing. Her gaze travelled to her free hand. Splaying the fingers, she focused.
The perfectly formed nails extended, the edges sharpening, forming deadly looking claws. From each fingertip, a small flame appeared, before each travelled down to her palm and merged with the others, forming a brilliantly burning ball of fire in her hand.
"You will never be alone anymore, 'arry…" She whispered to herself.
Lily smiled as she watched the antics of Gobber on Hagrid's table. The tiny dragon showed no fear of the half-giant, scampering all over him sometimes, to Hagrid's great amusement. Her eyes roamed the interior of his home. Not much had changed since she'd last sat here, back in 1979 as a Seventh Year herself. Hagrid, like Hogwarts itself, seemed timeless.
"Ah, bless ta little devil!" Hagrid chortled as Gobber scampered down one of his arms to run along the table, coming to a halt before Luna. The young woman beamed as she lifted her own arm, allowing the little dragon to climb along it before settling into her lap, curling up and purring like a cat. "E know's who his mummy is!"
Luna's smile lit up the room as she hugged the Terror to herself, her eyes dancing as she looked back at Lily and him. Gobber, for his part, was almost boneless, eye's half lidded and the tip of his tongue poking out. He was still purring. It was a heart-warming image, one that would have melted even the hardest of hearts. To Hermione, Susan and Daphne, who'd seen the state Luna had been before the little dragon had entered her life, it was endearing, and affirmed the decision to bring the grief-stricken younger woman into the family. Smiles like that proved that even in the dark times they were in, there was still light and hope and joy in the world.
"I should think he does, after all the doting Luna's done on him." Lily commented teasingly, before glancing out the window. Night was falling, the sky outside almost black. "We'd best get back. Curfew can't be long now."
"Aye." Hagrid nodded before standing. "Ya don't wanna be out and about after dark, not this time a year." He then grinned, though the look has half hidden by his beard. "Feel free to drop by any time, now!"
Hermione rolled her eyes playfully. "You just want to play with Gobber again…"
Hagrid chuckled and blushed a little, but before he could respond Susan tapped Hermione on the shoulder. "So do we all!"
Lily chuckled at the interplay. "Okay, say goodbye now."
"Goodbye Hagrid!" Luna called out cheerfully as she stood, Gobber held within her arms. With two fingers, she waved one of the small dragons forelimbs, prompting a round of laughter.
Lily was about to step out when Hagrid coughed. "Uh, Lily? Could I…?" He trailed as she looked over her shoulder at him for a moment.
"Wait outside for a moment." She said to the others, who all nodded even as she turned to face him, closing the door behind her. "Yes Hagrid?" Lily asked softly, seeing the discomfort that the much larger man was in. In fact he looked downright nervous.
"Lily, I… well, I'm sorry." Hagrid half mumbled. Tears formed in the corner of his eyes as he looked away from her, towards his toes. "If I hadna taken Harry, followed Dumbledore's orders, he'd… well, then he'd never…"
Lily stepped forward to lay one delicate hand on his chest, cutting the half-giants self-recriminations. "Hagrid, you were not at fault. It was all Dumbledore's plan. If not you, then he'd have done it another way. Likely had Sirius declared unfit to look after him or something like that, and then whisk my son off to… them, himself. He was determined to ensure that his plan came about." She said softly. "You hold no blame for what happened."
"True, that." Hagrid sniffed. "But… well, 'fter I got him back 'ere from Godric's 'ollow, I kinda, well… 'ad a few drinks in the Hog's Head." He now looked up at her, regret brimming in his eyes. "I fear, I may 'ave… blurted out what 'appened…"
Lily sighed softly. It had been one of the things the family had wondered; how had the story of what happened to them that night spread so fast? It was not Dumbledore's style to spread information. Quite the opposite in fact. No, someone else had been the leak. Hagrid's confession also cleared up the time delay between the events of Halloween night, and the following one. And, as Harry had discovered in his first year, poor Hagrid was useless at keeping secrets. The gentle half-giant did not have a devious or deceitful bone in his whole body.
And yet, despite all the issues it created, Lily did not bear him any ill will – or even annoyance – at all. She had been close to Hagrid during her own time as a student, and during their later years James, Sirius and Remus had all grown close too. Hagrid was one of those rare honest, loveable men with a heart of gold. It was totally understandable that he'd have been distraught over their deaths. She only had to look at Sirius and Remus's reactions to see the same thing. One had snapped, hunting the guilty party down. The other had turned to drink.
No, it was not just the Potter's lives that had been destroyed that night. The actions of Petigrew and Voldemort had touched many.
"Hagrid…" Lily begun, but was cut off by a well-known – but much unwanted – voice from outside.
"Well what do we have here? Two Blood Traitors, a Mudblood, a Loony and an overgrown lizard."
Outside the girls turned as one to regard Malfoy, hand's moving to grip wands even as they did. Gobber also reacted, tensing up and hissing threateningly. Malfoy, flanked as ever by his gorillas Crabbe and Goyle, was stood a few feet away, his face drawn into a look of pure disgust. Just beyond the trio, Nott was stood with arms folded, while Pansy was hanging off Malfoy's arm.
"Malfoy. Don't you have some hole to crawl into and die?" Susan snapped.
"Watch your tone Huffleslut. I'd have thought you'd have learned to respect your betters after the Dark Lord's visit." While Susan's face reddened with anger, Draco's eyes tracked to one of the witches holding the young redhead back. "How the pure have fallen, Greengrass. Slumming with the like of Potter and mudbloods. At least you're not whoring yourself out to Weasley. Yet. Then again, you have just been with the half-witted beastman, so it wouldn't be much different now, would it?"
"Do you have a point, Malfoy?" Daphne asked, full ice-witch persona in force as she glared at him. "Or are you going to continue to pollute the very air with your very existence?"
"Yes... I'd like to hear one myself." Lily's voice preceded her emergence from within Hagrid's hut, the half-giant right behind, his face like thunder. Their entrance seemed to knock most of the wind out of Malfoy's sails.
"Professor. I was just getting some air before curfew."
Emerald eyes narrowed. "Corrupting it, more like. I thought the Headmasters warnings at the Welcoming Feast were clear…"
Malfoy scowled. "He'll never enforce such threats. He's too soft, too weak to actually act."
"I think you'll find that this year things have chan…" Lily started, but then froze as she saw movement just behind the Slytherins. Her eyes widened even as she whipped her wand out.
But it was too late. A set of black fangs snapped out of the gloom and sank in Nott's neck, while long hairy legs wrapped around him. The large Slytherin boy grunted as he stumbled first forward, before being dragged back, into the darkness. Now that they were looking outwards, all the others could see more shapes moving, motes of light dancing off shiny eyes…
"What the…" Malfoy yelped as he stumbled back, only to be nearly bowled over as Crabbe and Goyle proved that while they were not that bright, their survival instincts were fully developed as the pair of them broke into sprints for the castle. Their flight triggered movement in the shadows, as the half-seen forms surged forwards, showing hundreds of eyes and legs. Malfoy yelped and turned, pushing Pansy away from himself as he pelted after the other two. Staggering, Pansy followed, her voice escaping her in a long scream of panic.
"Get back, you lot!" Hagrid bellowed, stepping between Lily and the now clearly giant spiders that were advancing. Hold his arms up, he bellowed once more, pure force in his tone. "I said back!" Several smaller spiders jumped at him, grappling with their legs at him. Hagrid threw them off with great sweeps of his arms. "Now stop this at once!"
"You do not Command us, FOOD!" A distorted, inhuman voice answered him, before a much larger spider, one even larger than Hagrid, stormed forth from the darkness. "Tonight, we feed!" The huge spider 'yelled' before jumping directly at Hagrid. With a grunt Hagrid was borne to the ground, meaty hands holding the huge spider up, the pincers snapping bare inches from his skin.
"Hagrid!" Hermione screamed, only to jump back as another spider ran in. It drew itself back to leap… only for a jet of flame to strike it between the eyes. A high pitch scream came forth as the spider flailed about, the fire rapidly spreading across its body, the hairs covering it proving to be highly flammable.
"Flame spells everyone!" Lily cried even as she snapped her wand up. "Incendio Flagellum!" A long flame shot out of her wand tip, before acting like a whip as she flicked and waved her wand about. The others, now out of their shock, also began casting. The huge spiders drew back from the flames that the younger witches were projecting from their wands, while Gobber, all sleep banished from his eyes, was circling above, hissing and snapping in anger and fear, puffing up and throwing out his own jets of fire.
But even as they held back the first lot, the light of the flames they were conjuring revealed the sea of giant spiders that was pouring out of the forest, towards both then and the castle behind them…
Being closer to the balcony, it was Astoria who first reached it when the screams and yells reached them in the Potter Quarters. She was quickly joined by both Fleur and Harry, all three looking down towards the lawn. Not much light spilled from the castle, but the flames emenating from near Hagrid's hut were clear… as were the attackers, caught in the light from those flames.
"SIS!" Astoria shrieked when she saw one spider fall back, flames rapidly engulfing its form. Even as it tumbled back, legs flailing, the light from its own death fire illuminated the horde that was advancing on the school.
"Mum…" Harry half whispered, eyes wide as he gazed down at the clear battle.
Fleur scowled, before half turning to face Tracy, who'd only returned from the hospital wing a few minutes before. "Warn the Professors!" She snapped before vaulting up onto and over the parapet. Even as her legs came up, the sound of tearing silk could be clearly heard, and Astoria shifted her gaze to follow the older blond as great white wings erupted from her back. One hand flicked, and a ball of fire shot out towards the oncoming horde.
Fleur's blood was up, a mixture of anger and fear coursing through her veins as she willed the transformation out. Anger at both how these creatures dared attack a school, and how they had chosen this night, of all nights, to do so. The fear was not for herself, but for those who were her family. Lily, Hermione, Susan, Daphne… they were all dear to her now. Luna was like a kid sister to Fleur, one who had already suffered enough. She would not die tonight, not as long as Fleur Delacour drew breath! As for the others… if any one of them was even scratched, then she'd hunt down every last giant spider on the planet. Harry would never fully recover if any one of them died or was seriously hurt. She owed it to him, loved him so much, that she would not let it happen.
Spotting movement close to the castle steps, she steepened her dive, before levelling off when she recognised the pair of ogre-like thugs that Malfoy had trailing after him all the time. Further back, two blonde haired streaks were also running, one slightly ahead of the other. And behind them… Hissing in fury, Fleur threw a series of fireballs out, arcing over the heads of Malfoy and the other, to crash down into the small group of spiders that were closing in on them. Most of her shots missed, but two found their mark, setting the hairy beasts aflame. Most of the others scattered, but a couple pressed on and leapt. Fleur shrieked in outrage as she dodged one, slamming a fireball into its abdomen for its audacity, but then a scream drew her attention.
Turning her gaze downward, she froze for a second seeing that the other student, Pansy, was on the ground, one spider on top of her, jaws darting up and down as it bit her again and again. Some of the others were closing in, jaws clicking in anticipation. Screaming herself in fury, Fleur dove feet first, fire trailing from both hands. Her feet slammed into the Spiders head, driving it down and away from the stricken girl, before her hands slammed down onto its back, both engulfed in fire. As the flames roared eagerly across the hairy body, Fleur stood up and crossed her forearms before snapping them both outwards, hurling more fireballs from each hand towards the oncoming spiders. Heedless of the fact that her dress was now burning as well – in her avian harpy form, fire was nothing more than a tickle – Fleur hopped back before crouching next to Pansy.
The Slytherin girl was in a bad way. Her skin was already waxy and clammy, her body shaking in spasms. Blood flowed slowly from the bite wounds in her body, the worst at her collarbone. Snarling, Fleur used her transformed feet to grip the girls shoulders, before taking off, flying backwards towards the school. A few of the spiders followed, but a rain of fireballs – plus a volley of spells from the castle doors – forced them back. Looking over her shoulder, Fleur made out a number of the staff had stepped outside the main entrance.
"Miss Delacour?" McGonagall asked, then gasped as she realised that the transformed witch was not alone. "Good heavens!"
Surprisingly to Fleur, it was Snape who shot forwards to assist her in landing the wounded girl. Perhaps it was simply because she was of his house, but even so, it did run counter to what Fleur knew of the man. Plus the expression on his face was like nothing any student had ever seen. Still, she did not have time to think it over. "Quickly, get her to a healer! She's been bitten several times already!" She snapped, before turning and hurling another fireball at a plucky spider that had tried to rush in while they were all focusing on the wounded girl.
Snape turned to the two boys who were shaking and cowering just inside the doorways, faces white with fear. "Crabbe! Goyle! Get Parkinson to Pomfey! Now!" He barked harshly. Jerking upright, the two goons each took hold of her before running deeper into the school. Snape turned back just in time to hear McGonagall question Fleur. "Who else is out there?"
"My family! Harry's family!" Fleur snarled as she launched herself into the air once more, this time towards the small knot of resistance that could still be seen.
"Lily…" Snape whispered, before stepping forwards, a hard, grim look in his eyes. After a moment to recover, McGonagall closes her eyes and focused. While she didn't have full control of the castle like the Headmaster did, she still had the authority to lock down the school in situations like this. All across the castle, doors and windows slammed shut, shutters clapping together as every route in and out was sealed… apart from the entrance they were stood in. Still she knew, deep within herself, that those defences would not keep the Acromantula out for long. Hopefully, it would be long enough for help to arrive…
Sudden oaths and spell casting snapped her out of her trace, to see that the other professors had not even reached the bottom of the steps before they had to fight off a wave of the giant spiders. Snape was snapping his wand left and right, curses leaving the tip without him breaking the dark scowl he wore. From the effects of his spells, those were full powered blasting curses he was hurling. A set of vines shot up from underground, wrapping round a couple of the spiders before rapidly tightening, crushing the creatures in their bonds. Sprout's work no doubt. Flitwick was casting as well, keeping one flank clear by himself.
However, a few had slipped past Sinistra, and were coming in from the right. Feeling the anger of her ancestors rise within her, McGonagall stepped forward, snagging a loose stone from the ground with a levitation spell before banishing it towards the spiders. Mid-flight her transfiguration spell did its work, and the stone exploded into a net that instantly started burning with white fire. It wrapped around a pair of the creatures, the white hot flames burning deep even as their own bodies ignited. The third was thrown into the air, were a well-aimed blasting curse tore it apart.
But as she turned to assist the others, she could that there were many, many more spiders on the lawn, and even more pouring out of the Forbidden Forest. 'Damn it Albus! This is all your fault for not doing something about these creatures years ago!'
High above the now furiously battling professors, Harry and Astoria continued to watch the horror unfold. The lashing of the flame whip by Hagrid's hut was getting more desperate now, the other jets of fire almost constant. Astoria had both hands clamped over her mouth, desperate to not let the screams of terror out. They had witnessed Fleur's rescue, and her attempts to reach the others, but again and again she has forced to back away, as the Acromantula were more than willing to jump up after her. The professors own rescue attempt had clearly been thwarted before it had even begun, as they had not advanced another step, having to hold the entrance to the school against the rabid spiders.
Beside her Harry was looking on with horror in his eyes. "No… I can't loss them… not now…" He half-whispered to himself, not even really conscious of what he was saying. Fear unlike any he had every really felt before flowed through him. Only once had he ever felt anything close to this before: when Hermione had fallen in the Department of Mysteries, compounded later on by Sirius' fall through the veil. He felt so powerless. There was just no way for him to get there and help. Even if he'd been on his Firebolt, he'd suffer the same trouble that Fleur was currently having, unable to get close. And even then, though he had not consciously realised it yet, was how could he help even if he reached his family. One extra wand would not make much difference…
Slowly however, a new feeling rose from within him. It was… strange. Powerful. A blend of Fury and Strength. Turning his gaze inward, Harry was stunned for a moment when he felt the source. His inner Animal form was the source. He knew, that It knew what was happening, and wanted to act. In a fraction of a second, Harry reached a decision, and on that meta-physical plane within his own psyche, reached out and touched the form.
In response, one large eye snapped open, ablaze with emerald fire around a vertical, cat-like pupil.
Back in the real world, Astoria was shaking in fear, when suddenly her primal senses started screaming that there was something else with her. Something dangerous. Turning her head, she saw that Harry's eyes were closed. "Harry?" She asked nervously, her voice quavering.
He didn't seem to hear her. She was about to speak again, when his head snapped back to face the sky, eyes jumping open. He crouched… and then as he leapt straight up, he seemed to explode. Astoria gasped in shock as his clothes burst apart from within, as a great blackness expanded rapidly. A powerful downdraft caused her to stagger as the dark form that had been Harry vanished into the night sky too fast for her to make out what it was, leaving a pile of shredded clothing behind. And one very confused, very frightened young witch.
The primal being that had been Harry Potter shot upwards, towards the comforting embrace of the low hanging clouds. This is where it belonged, in the sky, high above all others. Levelling off for a moment, it drank in the feel of the air flowing over and around it, taking in the strange and new scents and sights. It was warmer than it was used to, without the sting of salt. But the air was its home, the night sky embracing it like a long lost lover.
That thought triggered a memory, and the beasts head swung down, looking towards the ground. Eyes' perfectly adapted to seeing at night swept the tapestry below, seeing all and missing nothing. The land below was as clear to him as it would have been during the day, the tide of spiders clear as they poured out of the trees towards the human structure. And there, next to the small hut, were those near and dear to the beasts 'other sides' heart. 'Mother', 'Sibling' and 'Ally' were all concepts the being understood, but what really stood out was 'Mates'.
The spiders threatened to kill his Mates.
That would not stand.
Emerald eyes narrowed, and the great wings closed as the being dived, beginning its counter-attack.
Hagrid knew he was in trouble. He had managed to keep the massive Acromantula from biting him, but it was matching him in strength, meaning he was unable to get it off him. And while its fangs hadn't pierced him yet, some of the poison had dripped from them onto his skin, deadening it. Plus while he was busy with this one, other, smaller ones had darted in and inflicted bites of their own. Each on their own would not have worried him, but as more and more bit him, he could feel the poison in his system, weakening him. If they didn't get help soon, even his half-giant constitution would be overwhelmed. From the sounds around him, Lily and the girls were still okay, but for how much longer, he could not tell.
"Why are ya doing this! Aragog would never…"
"Aragog is dead!" The Spider yelled in reply. "Now we take the food we need to live!"
"Ya can't!" Hagrid cried. "They're just kids!"
"Food is Food, two Legger! We will feast, and spread! Even on you!" With a sharp lunge the spider pushed forward enough to sink the tips of its large fangs into Hagrids' shoulder. A pained grunt escaped him as he felt more poison enter him.
"No, ya can't…" Hagrid forced the Arcomantula back, but already the poison was sapping his strength, the tremors already starting.
Fleur unleashed a string of curses in her native tongue as once more she had to jink back to avoid getting entangled in the spiders. She had quickly realised that her only advantage in this was her aerial manoeuvrability. If they got her down, then… it did not bear thinking about. Darting upwards once more, she was about to throw another fireball when she heard it. It was unlike anything she had ever heard before, a high pitched, whistling shrieking that sent shivers down her harpy forms spine. The animal part of her form just knew that whatever was causing that sound was not something to mess with, and that the best thing to do was run and hide.
Both McGonagall and Snape paused when they heard the sound, turning to look at each other in bewilderment, though she also felt her Feline form cower within her.
Around them, the Arcomantula's slowed, the sound unnerving them.
His vision was starting to go, Hagrid thought idly even as he continued to resist the Acromantula on top of him, as a bright blue dot appeared in the night sky above them, since he was now seeing things… 'Wait a moment… that's getting bigger awfully fast… Oh shit!'
Hagrid's eyes widened in shock as he realised that he was not seeing things as the blue-white bolt of fire slammed down onto the back of the spider he was wrestling with. It didn't even have time to scream as the concentrated ball of superhot fire destroyed it's body, the waves of flame splashing out to wash over a couple of other spiders that were pressing in. Both shrieked as their skins blistered under the heat, their eyes melting even as the hair on their limbs started burning. Hagrid, under the large Arcomantula, was shielded from the effects. The blast of blue flame coincided with the noise reaching a crescendo, before changing pitch and tone. Hundreds of eyes turned upwards, but seeing nothing as the sound faded away.
Then it came again, rising in pitch and volume. Another blue bolt crashed down too fast to track, smashing into another large Acromantula that was pressing on Susan's flank. She threw her arm to shield herself from the blast, but the effects went away from her, washing over some other spiders instead.
"What in the name of Merlin is going on?" Daphne asked incredulously.
"I have no clue…" Hermione said slowly, her eyes on the night sky once more.
Looping back around, the former Harry Potter watched with narrowed eyes. Those first two strikes had made the beasts pause, but that would not last long. They were still threatening his Mates, and that he would not abide.
He dived once more, the fire forming within him even as the air howled around him. With but an impulse the fire was launched, the blue comet streaking out and down to slam in the midst of a cluster of the smaller spiders, setting the whole group ablaze while blasted off legs spun through the air.
Changing tack, instead of climbing once more, he banked around the towering human dwelling, arcing around to come in again across the front of the spiders advance. One, two, three more blasts of fire rained down, each bolt blasting the targeted hairy spiders apart, send ripples of unease through the whole swarm. Passing over his grounded Mates, he climbed and turned to face them once more, unleashing his fire again against another of the larger beasts, the cluster of eyes each had acting as beacons for his sight and aim. The remains of the Acromantula's body tumbled backwards, crushing a couple of its smaller breathen under its bulk.
Down on the ground, Daphne gasped sharply. For only a moment, she'd seen a glimpse of their rescuer, backlight by the blue bolt of fire he unleashed. Eyes of blazing emerald, skin black as night, with great wings to each side already starting a down stroke. Then the beast vanished into the sky, perfectly blending in.
A loop turned into another dive, and twice more he fired, unleashing his fury. A long sweep out, before banking back in. They were edging back now, the constant attacks from the night sky clearly unsettling the horde of spiders. Eye's narrowed in anger, he roared in challenge, before raining hellfire down.
Fleur hung in the air, her wings beating enough to keep her airborne, eyes wide as she watched bolt after bolt crash down into the Acromantula swarm. Each blast thudded into the ground, the blue blasts engulfing half-a-dozen at a time. Those hit dead on simply either disintegrated or broke apart, their flaming remains striking their kin around them. Her own fireballs seemed pitiful in comparison to those great bolts that seemed to rain down from the sky itself. She could tell that there was something else flying around, but not even her eyes could track it.
McGongall had considered assuming her animagus form, but one look within disabused her of that notion. While her cat form would have been able to see what was happening clearly, the poor thing was clearly terrified of what was out there in the sky, raining fire and death down onto the Acromantula. She doubted she'd be able to override the instinct to flee and hide in some deep, dark hole till the sun rose.
Nevertheless, having a feline animagus form had blessed her with better night vision than her peers, and so she was able to determine that whatever it was, it was fast and agile. It was little more than a black blur against the dark sky, but she had made out the great wings and the long tail with a fan at the tip. And every now and again the eyes. 'Emerald eyes…' She mused as once again the shrieking sound came, preceding another volley of blue bolts crashing down into the milling, clearly confused and scared Acromantula. 'A flying being with emerald eyes…'
It was then she noticed something else. Not one shot from this being had missed. Every single bolt was perfectly targeted to cause maximum harm and chaos.
The swarm was starting to break apart, some elements running back towards the forest, others milling, jostling away from the burning forms of their already slain kin. Beast Harry hovered for a moment, eyes darting back and forth as he watched them, though his gaze snapped back again and again to the shapes of his Mates, now without the spiders pressing on all sides. All still stood, wooden weapons at the ready. Mother still had chained fire trailing from hers, ready to lash out at a moment's notice. He saw the little one circling his sibling, swearing at the lingering spiders…
A crash snapped his attention, to see the largest spider yet emerge from within the forest. The crash had been it knocking a tree over as it emerged. "You cowardly spawn-runts!" The thing spat, each footfall thudding into the dirt as it advanced towards his Mates. Bellowing his annoyance, Harry dived once more.
Susan shook as the massive spider advanced on them. Around the titan, the other Acromantula rallied, drawing strength from their bigger cousin's presence. Gobber was hissing and snarling, but the sounds of the massive spiders footfalls drowned out all but the thumping of her own heart. Groping blindly, her hand found Hermione's, and she clutched her tightly.
"Huh huh, I'll have these ones to myself." The Acromantula chuckled, audible even at the entrance to the castle. "Nice, ripe flesh…"
A roar from the sky cut it off, before a bolt streaked down at the titan. A flinch bought the massive Acromantula its life, at the expense of a couple of forelegs and an eye. As the flames from its burning form rose into the air, those watching finally got a good look at their rescuer as he swooped low over Hagrids hut before back-winging to scream his defiance into the giants face. Bat like wings fanned the flames as the long tail lashed forward and back, the fins on the end spread. The head was broad and flat, with what appeared to be two great ears out the back. Then the head snapped forward, and a blue blast shot out to crash into the massive spider at the joint between body and abdomen. The dragon, for it was now clear that it was some kind of dragon, shot back into the sky, rolling as it did, a motion that for a moment revealed the four legs that were tucked close to the body.
The five witches followed the beast that just saved them with wide eyes, before losing it into the dark sky. Heavy thrashing sound drew their gaze back to the dying giant acromantula, which was now little more than a moving bonfire. Many of the smaller ones were trampled under its legs as it flailed about in its death throes. As the whistling sound came again, they broke, fleeing for the forest. Even as they did more blue bolts stabbed down, crashing into clusters of spiders as they tried to clamber to safety within the trees, some of the blasts actually slipping under the boughs of the outer trees to detonate in amongst them.
Hurried footsteps reached their ears, and they turned to see McGonagall and Sinistra rush up. "Is everyone okay?" McGongall asked worriedly.
"Hagrid!" Lily gasped, before whirling to reach the fallen half-giant. Hagrid was trying to pull himself out from the copses of the dead Acromentula, but it was clear that his right arm was not working right. Gathering round, the witches helped ease him out from under the remains, before helping him sit up against the wall of his hut. "Hagrid! How bad is it?" Lily asked, already using her wand to form a light to shine into his eye.
"Ah… It's noth'en." Hagrid slurred. "Few scratches. Really."
"Really?" The disbelief was clear in Daphne's tone. "Then what's those holes in your shoulder?"
Feeling a hand brush down her spine, Hermione turned to see Fleur had arrived, most of her transformation fading away. "Iz any one 'urt?" She gasped out as her wings folded inwards.
"We're okay." She reassured the older witch. "Hagrid's been bitten though. What about… yourself?" At Fleur's raised eyebrow, Hermione gestured towards her body. Fleur glanced down, before blushing slightly. Her dress was a scorched mess, more ash than silk now. Only a few burnt shreds preserved her modesty.
"Oh… I am unhurt. Ze fire does not harm me. Zt iz only cloth…" Her voice failed however when the sound of beating wings reached all their ears. As one, every head turned to see a dark form land close by.
Each one stared at the form that was barely lit by the fires as it stalked to the top of a small hillock. The great bat-like wings had folded in, held high over the four stout legs. The body was held level with the ground, the head low and panning back and forth. The tail lashed about, the fins on the top opening and closing slowly. As the head swung back their way, the pearly white teeth showed though the snarl the dragon was wearing, while just above a single, emerald green, cat like eye looked out towards the Forest, as if watching for any sign that the Acromantula were coming back.
It was Luna, naturally, who was the first to move. Cocking her head to one side, she stepped forward, towards the beast that stood tensely on the ridge, low growls emerging from its throat. Due to the way the land rose, she had to approach from the right rear. The others had reached for her, to stop her getting too close, but Luna was already ahead of them. A twig snapped, and the head swung round rapidly. Luna froze, finding herself pinned by the stare of both eyes locked onto her. Eyes that were such a familiar shade of green…
The dragon then stopped growling. Its mouth closed as the eyes opened fuller, the eyebrows slanting outwards in a more relaxed way. Both 'ear's rose up, and his head tipped to one side as the body shifted. Hermione was struck at how this dragon was acting more like a cat than a reptile at that moment.
Luna held out a hand, and the dragon twisted on itself to approach her. It butted its blunt nose into her palm, a crooning purr emanating from its form. Luna's face lit up with a wide smile as her fingers slide over the snout.
"You did it Harry. You've woken your form."
"Luna?" Susan asked, shocked. "What did you say?"
Luna turned her head to regard the others, the dragon's head raising up to look at them all over her shoulder. "Can't you all guess who it is? Look into his eyes, and you'll see…"
Each one of them did, tentatively, uneasily. Each found that penetrating stare unnerving, but behind that stoic look…
"Oh, my, god." Lily breathed, as she saw what Luna had seen.
As one they all moved up to cluster around the great head, running their hands over the smooth, warm scales that was his skins. "You don't do things by half, do you Potter?" Daphne teased, getting a lick for her words. "Harry!"
McGonagall, still stood by Hagrid, smiled and shook her head. 'Only Harry…´ was the thought running through her head.
"I don't… it… I thought they were a legend…" The faint words spoken from her left prompted her to turn to regard Aurora Sinistra, who was staring at Harry – the dragon – in disbelief.
"What is it Professor?"
Slowly Aurora turned to look back at her. McGonagall was a little shocked to see the pure awe and wonder – and fear – in the younger woman's face.
All she said were two words.
A/N: Yeah, I don't think that many of you are that surprised this time...
Can't say when I'll update again. Still trying to shake off this writers block that's affecting me. I might get something done for Christmas, but I'm not going to commit to it...