Another chapter a long time coming. I'm sorry; I've been obsessed with Diablo 3 and school in the meantime. After this chapter and the next, I'm going to be spending some time seriously revising the story. I'll leave the story up until the revisions are done, and that will take some time. Just so people are aware, this was an exercise to see if I had enough creative juices to finish a long story, and the experiment has been somewhat of a success, at least in my mind. Beyond grammar and spelling issues, this story has been completely unedited. I'm hoping one of you readers wants to help me make this story better, so PM me if you're interested.
"Harry, I still don't think it's a good idea for you to encourage Hagrid. I understand that it's important for the egg to hatch here and not in transit to some reservation, but wouldn't it be better for us to let the Ministry know that there is a dragon that needs to be moved? And wouldn't it be better if we had some real dragon experts come in and take care of the dragon. Ron's brother works at a dragon sanctuary and could possibly help us…Harry are you listening to me?" Hermione huffed and stomped her foot when Harry didn't even look at her. She opened her mouth to say more, but Harry interrupted her before she could continue.
"Hermione, Hagrid is the first person I ever spoke to from the magical world," Harry said, speaking as the group of Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Neville walked down to the gamekeeper's hut. He continued, not looking at Hermione. "He came to me, rescued me from a life with the Dursleys," Hermione winced at this, "and was the first person to wish me a happy birthday for as long as I can remember. He was the first person to have a kind word for me, he bought me Hedwig, and he was my first friend in the magical world. I have convinced him to give away his pet, something that has broken his heart. I hated doing that, Hermione. I won't take this from him too."
Hermione was quiet for a moment, then spoke again. Her voice was not as confident as she said, "Alright, we won't call the Ministry. Besides, I think it's too late anyway. We'll call them tomorrow, get them here and we'll help Hagrid deal with giving it up."
The day could not have been nicer. With exams coming up, the students needed to study, and because it was a Saturday, they were taking advantage of the beautiful weather to study outside under the sun. There were clusters of students all over the grounds with books in their laps and sheets of parchment scattered about. Harry could see other members of their year, but didn't want to attract attention.
Harry and the group walked quietly the rest of the way down to Hagrid's hut, making sure to see if anyone was paying attention to them. They didn't want a repeat of the Malfoy incident. Harry still had nightmares from turning into a bully like the Dursleys days afterward. His friends wanted to help, but other than Hermione no one knew what life was like living with his muggle relatives, and they were at a loss on how to help.
They reached Hagrid's hut without incident, and Hagrid ushered them inside, worry battling excitement on his face. He urged them into the hut and the group all gathered around Hagrid's giant sized table. The egg rested on the tabletop, making the occasional clicking sound and moving very faintly. Now out of the fire, Harry and his friends could see the egg was mottled with a mixture of green and brown, like a camouflage scheme, with tones of ochre underneath. The whole egg was the shape of an American football, only slightly larger.
Hagrid was near bursting with excitement. "It's almos' time! Come on 'n' an' gather roun'. I see a crack." Indeed, the egg was spider-webbed cracked in a few places and at the nexus of the cracks something was pulsing. Hagrid reached for the egg a few times, but had to stop himself each time. "Got ter let the young git itself out. It'll be too weak ifin I do…" He said to himself a few times. Harry could see this was very hard for his friend. He was all set to love whatever came out of the egg, but would have to give it up in a day or two.
The egg pulsed again, and everyone in the hut held their breath. They could hear the egg clicking on the table, and a faint crashing sound from the woods. Their attention was utterly fixed on the egg.
With one last great big push, the egg popped open, and the top of the shell fell off. It revealed an ugly gangly dragon covered in egg yolk. Its wings were overly large for the rest of its body, and the creature seemed to have more neck than it needed. It had the same coloring as the egg, mottled green and brown. On the back of the young dragon, Harry could see a small row of spikes.
"Oh, look at 'im, isn't he cute? Tha's a Norwegian Ridgeback it is, 'e's rare. Oh look 'e already knows 'is mummy!" Hagrid said as he reached for the creature. The dragon reared back and snapped at Hagrid's hand forcing him to move his hand back or risk getting bitten. Once clear, the dragon relaxed. It made a sneezing noise and blew fire, scorching the tabletop. Harry and his friends moved back towards the walls of the hut. The crashing sound they heard was made again, this time much closer and louder. Neville looked around, confused and curious, but focused on the newborn dragon again. Hermione took this moment to speak up.
"Hagrid, I don't mean to be a pain," elbowing Ron as he opened his mouth to say something snarky, "but have you talked to anyone about this yet? You are going to have to give him up." Hagrid didn't say anything, absorbed in the creature before him. He tried to touch it again, and was snapped at for his efforts.
Harry stepped in. "Hagrid we talked about this. You can't keep him. I gave you a list of reasons why. You have to give him up soon. If you don't things are going to go really bad for you-"
Before Harry could finish speaking, the crashing sound became louder and more apparent. It sounded like there was a tree being uprooted and thrown. A roar was heard, and there were screams from the children outside. All in hut went out to see what was going on. They soon wished they hadn't.
Hagrid's hut was right next to the Forbidden Forest, which allowed them an unparalleled view of what was happening. The peacefulness of the sunny spring day had been shattered by the arrival of a tribe of Mountain trolls. There were twenty of the misshapen ugly things, all of them bigger than the one that Harry, Hermione and Ron had fought on Halloween. One particularly large one grabbed a fallen tree from the ground and threw it with its deceptively skinny arms at the retreating children. One girl with blonde hair was running from the troll and was clipped by the tree. She fell, and no one stopped to help her. Other students tripped and fell, but most were cut off by the running trolls. The trolls raged at them, but didn't attack further. Harry was confused about what was happening, but then he saw something that made him understand. Acromantulas poured out of the forest by the dozens, spitting webs and trapping the unlucky crowd of students unable to get inside. Quickly, there were over sixty squirming piles of silk on the ground. Beside him, Ron blanched. He was deathly afraid of spiders, and this was something out of a nightmare for him.
Hermione voiced what everyone was thinking when she said, "Hostages. They're taking the study body hostage. But who is directing them?" She turned to Hagrid, who was holding his boarhound Fang and his new dragon in his hands. "What do we do?"
Hagrid drew himself up. Taking off the huge greatcoat he always wore, he stood in front of the children clad in a dirty undershirt and heavy woolen britches. "We go free them, that's what we do! 'arry, 'ermione, Ron, I heard ye've been gettin' special trainin' from Dumbledore. Kin ye raise him? 'E's our only shot at stopping them trolls!"
Hermione stood up straight. "Harry can fly to the headmaster's window, if he's still there, but what about the rest of us? What can we do?"
"I'm gonna try an' free somma students. Kin you keep the spiders offa me? I can stop one or two at a time, but not tha whole swarm!"
She nodded fiercely, and was copied by the rest of Harry's friends. Harry himself was a little angry. He could help! But all he was good for it seemed was to go get the teachers. He knew better than to argue though. They needed more bodies out on the field, and he was the only one who could get past the wall of trolls. He looked at Hermione, begging her to stay safe without saying anything. Somehow she understood, for she nodded before running off towards the closest group of mummified students.
Harry called his memories of his times by the Black Lake to him. He could feel the cool rush of blue magic surging through him, almost lifting him off the ground without him even directing it. He mentally pushed his magic into a pair of wings, and he rocketed off the ground high into the air. He took another look at could now be called a battlefield and could see another group of students running from a small group of acromantulas. He moved to help them, but stopped when he realized it was taking him further away from the castle and potential help. Frustrated, he grit his teeth and flew towards the headmaster's tower.
The headmaster's tower overlooked the area in front of the castle, towards the village of Hogsmeade. Therefore, it was on the opposite side of the castle from the fighting. Fortunately, the faculty was having their monthly staff meeting in the headmaster's office. With every teacher in attendance and on the other side of the castle, this was looking more and more like a planned attack rather than a random raid by dark creatures.
Harry flew as hard and as fast as he could to reach the window overlooking the path into town. Finally reaching it, he pounded on the panes of glass to get their attention (Not that a floating student levitating without a broom screaming at the top of his lungs needs much help). Dumbledore turned from the assembled teachers and waved his wand at the glass, causing it to disappear. Without the glass, Harry fell to the floor of the office in a heap. As quickly as possible, Harry raised himself to his feet, supported by the quickly-moving Professor McGonagall. In a tone that carried as much gravity as it could, Dumbledore asked Harry, "What's happened, Harry?"
Gasping for breath, Harry could only respond, "Troll attack. Acromantulas everywhere. Students taken hostage." The adrenaline rushing through him, he ran up and grabbed the robes of the ancient headmaster. He growled, "We have to go now!"
Pushing Harry aside Dumbledore addressed the room. "Sybil, get the Aurors, tell them we need every hit wizard they have. Argus, I need you to open every passage that a child could fit through on the double. The rest of you come with me. Our students are out there and we need to get them to safety. Let's move!" With that the room exploded into action. Dumbledore ran from the room with the speed of a much younger man. Harry went to move out the window to help the other students, but McGonagall stopped him.
"Harry this is something for the adults to handle. You did very well alerting us, but we need to keep you safe." Harry bristled.
"Excuse me professor, but there are twenty trolls and a horde of acromantulas down there. You need every hand you can get. Besides, my friends are out there trying to free the students with Hagrid. I'm not leaving them to hide in the castle." And before McGonagall could respond, he leapt from the tower and plummeted out of her sight. When she reached the window, she could see a black dot in the distance flying towards the fighting on the other side of the castle. Wasting no more time, she turned on her heel and followed the group of teachers still flowing out of the office.
Down on the field, Harry's friends had problems to go around. The spider silk wrapped around the students let them breathe, but there were some that had their heads covered and were panicking. If they weren't let out soon, they might hyperventilate and pass out. Once they were freed, they needed to have their wits about them to run away from the dark creatures attacking them. Hermione dragged the group over to help one of ones with their head covered first. Hagrid bent down, took the silk in hand and pulled it apart. It tore, but it was made of strong stuff, and the process was slow. It was also loud, and it drew the attention of the students wrapped nearby and the pair of spiders doing the wrapping.
From a distance, the spiders were unnerving, for they were the size of large dogs and came up to the waists of the students they attacked. Up close, the spiders were even more terrifying. The bristles of hair hanging off their bodies were the same size and consistency of those one brooms. Their legs made a rapid thump-thump-thump sound as they skittered across the castle lawn. They moved forward, and Hermione could see their eyes glittering in the sunlight, and she could see the green venom dripping from pincers the size of her forearm.
Quickly she grabbed the attention of Ron and Neville, hissing that they needed to get their most powerful spells ready to push them back. She needn't have worried. Neville was already twice his normal height and was helping Hagrid to tear open the cocoons. Ron was facing the object of his nightmares with hands engulfed in flame. He waved his hands at the encroaching spiders, a group that had grown from the first pair to almost half a dozen. Ron knew that they were afraid of fire, but didn't know for how much longer that would hold true.
Neville slapped a hand on Hagrid's shoulders, and the giant man glowed green for a moment before he grew like Neville did. Hagrid was now tall enough to go toe-to toe with a troll, but stayed by the students where he was most needed. He moved to the next set of students incased in spider webbing, tearing them open with ease. However, this was the last of the cluster, and more spiders were between him and the next group of students. He swore to himself after this was over he would kill Aragog personally. He had promised never to come near the school again or let his children do the same! Hagrid had made a lot of mistakes in his life, but he never thought protecting Aragog was one of them. The spider he had saved during his third year and gotten him expelled should have known there would be consequences for breaking that promise. Worse still, Aragog was forcing Hagrid to choose between defending an animal and defending a child, something he had been working to avoid since he became gamekeeper.
Hagrid shook his head. There were more important things going on. He looked at the group behind him, and could see the dozen or so students he had rescued were huddling against each other for protection. Fang was with them, but he was whimpering and not doing a very good job guarding them. One of the students was holding Norbert, who seemed to realize biting the hand holding him would be a bad idea. Ron was still waving his fiery hands at the spiders, keeping them away, but they were getting closer with every pass. They needed somewhere to send the kids that were free. Hagrid could see other acromantulas leaving the bound students and making their way over to his group. Off in the distance he could see the Quidditch pitch. That would have to do. The locker rooms would force the spiders to come at the students from only one direction. Once they were all freed, Hagrid and the teachers would be able to get the kids into one of the entrances to the castle from there.
One spider came away from Ron and got a little too close to the students. Angered, Hagrid stormed over and stomped the dog sized spider flat with his new-found strength. The kids began screaming, terrified and now covered in arachnid guts. Hagrid grabbed one of the older students and shook her to get her attention. "Tonks! Ye gotta get tha students to the Quidditch changin' rooms! You'll be safe there. I know yer pretty good at Defense. Grab anyone ye know is good like you and have'm help. Blasting curses and cutting curses only, they're too tough for Stunners! We'll send more students as we free 'em. Now run, and don' let'm catch ye again! Go!" With that he thrust the girl into the group of students and turned to face the spiders. He could hear the young girl grabbing other older students to protect the younger ones on their run across the lawn. Despite being scared, she could be heard volunteering to be the rear guard. He smiled, proud of the woman and men he knew they would be after this day. They would be stronger for fear they experienced this day, but only if they survived it. He looked over to where the trolls were still terrorizing the students who hadn't been caught by the spiders. As he watched, a troll took a swing at one of the children with its club, clipping him on the arm. The shattered limb was obvious even from a distance, and Hagrid could take no more of it.
"Neville! Keep freein' tha others! I'm gonna go wrestle me some trolls! Send tha students to tha Quidditch pitch- they'll be safe there! Don't argue with me," Hagrid said, seeing Neville about to argue with him, "Ye may be bigger than ye were before, but ye aren't big enough to tangle with tha likes o' them! Git movin'!" With that, Hagrid bounded away from where the students were huddled, stomping on a few spiders on the way out. That was the second time he had killed a child of Aragog's and Hagrid found that he wasn't too bothered by it. Hagrid supposed that he felt more for the humans than the creatures after all.
In a few seconds, Hagrid was able to reach the closest troll. Now, Hagrid normally was an imposing man, standing at an astounding ten feet, all of which was muscle due to the physical nature of the job he did. Now, with Neville's improvements, Hagrid stood an unheard of eighteen feet, standing a head above even the tallest troll. He also outweighed them by a considerable margin, a fact the first troll found out when Hagrid simply tackled the foul thing to the ground without breaking stride. A dull wet crack was heard as the troll's head hit a boulder, and it ceased to move. The closest three trolls saw this and roared out a challenge, eager to avenge their fallen brother. Hagrid, not to be outdone, roared back, scaring the students with the volume and ferocity. Even the trolls seemed to be taken aback, but they ignored what could have possibly been the smartest idea in their lives and moved to attack the half-giant.
The first troll was unarmed, and it was smaller than the other combatants, standing only ten feet tall. Nevertheless, it showed no fear as it roared at Hagrid, its fetid breath washing over him. Hagrid was beginning to think they were all bark and no bite when the creature used its tree trunk-like legs to move faster than he thought was possible. The troll slammed into Hagrid's side, knocking him off balance and into a nearby tree. The tree groaned under his weight, but it stayed up. Hagrid was able to use the leverage to kick off from the tree and throw a haymaker right into the oversized nose of his opponent. There was a crunch, and the ugly thing was shattered, greyish blood dripping from it as the troll's head rocked back. It brought its big hands up to its face, stunned. While it was distracted, Hagrid gave it another jab, this time to the throat. Choking, the creature fell to its scaly knees, then on to its side as it left the fight. That was two down, only eighteen more to go.
The next one was a little bigger, had a club, and looked to be slightly smarter. This one slammed his club down on the ground repeatedly in front of Hagrid, trying to keep the half giant from coming too close while the dumb brute figured out his next move. Hagrid dove for the club when it next hit the ground. The club, a tree trunk to anyone else, was rough with battle scars and it ripped into Hagrid's hands. Gritting his teeth, Hagrid held on, and ripped the club away from his opponent. The troll looked down at his hand stupidly until he finally figured out that Hagrid had stolen his club. While he was figuring that out, the other troll stepped in. Snorting like a bull, the third troll rushed Hagrid and slammed him against the tree, finally breaking it. Hagrid was unable to hit the troll bull-rushing him, and could only hit the troll's back and the backs of his knees with the long trunk.
Hagrid was crushed up against a rock wall, but refused to give the troll another inch. He jabbed the creature in the stomach causing it to double over. Not wasting a second, he grabbed the round head of the troll and pulled down, bringing his knee up at the same time. His knee impacted the troll in the solar plexus, knocking the wind out of him. Hagrid finished it off with a pair of elbow strikes to the back of the head, forcing the creature into the ground.
Hagrid turned back to the troll from which he had stolen the club. He was stomping his way over to it where it lay in the grass. However, Hagrid was faster and closer. He scooped up the tree trunk and brandished it at the oncoming troll. His opponent gave no indication of slowing or showing fear. Hagrid then took a two handing grip on the club and swung it as hard as he could. The troll just barely ducked in time, and tackled Hagrid low to his waist. Hagrid fell flat on his back, and he could see stars as he hit his head. The troll began viciously pounding him with his fists, not even bothering to draw his hands back for proper punches. At seeing his brothers' fall, he was in a berserker rage. Hagrid defended his face as best he could, keeping his arms up like a boxer. When the troll lifted both of his arms up to bring another series of blows to the half-giant's face, Hagrid bucked with all his might and knocked the troll off of him, reversing their positions. Hagrid wasted no time punching the troll directly in the face, but this one was made of tougher stuff. Spotting a rock that had fallen off of the wall, Hagrid grabbed it and smashed the ugly brute's face in with it. Bruised and tired, Hagrid sighed and stood up.
Hagrid chanced another look at the students beset by trolls. The one who was clipped by the thrown tree was still on the ground, unmoving, and the one who got hit by the club was trying to stand up on his own power. Unfortunately, this caught the attention of the largest troll. In a move that would be repeated in Hagrid's nightmares for years to come, the giant troll picked up the injured student in his large hand and squeezed the life out of him. Hagrid paled and was almost overcome with nausea at the sound of bone cracking into pulp. Laughing, the troll hurled his broken body at the other students. The pulpy ragdoll, as it could no longer be called a body, landed at the feet of a first year girl. She took one look at the face of the thing that landed on her and fainted.
Hagrid himself looked away from the scene. Fighting his rising gorge, he turned back to the trolls closest to him. He would make them pay for hurting the innocent children, one by one.
Hermione, Ron and Neville were not without troubles of their own. The spiders were getting closer to Ron, and he was beginning to get unnerved. Several times they had spit venom at him, and he had had no choice but to dodge it or risk whatever the poison would do to him. Neville was getting tired, and was slowing down with his ripping free students. Hermione tried to help Ron by blowing away the spiders with conjured winds, but they kept coming back. She finally came up with the idea of freezing the air around the spiders, but that was draining and she could only do it three times before getting light headed. All of them were choking on the clouds of dirt being ripped up by the claws of the spiders. The girl Tonks had gotten the first group of students to the Quidditch changing rooms almost unmolested, but the kids had been unable to find a gap in which to make a break. The crowd of spiders had grown from the half dozen when Hagrid was still with them to almost two dozen. They had begun to climb over each other in their haste to get at the annoying students, and Ron wasn't going to be able to hold them off for much longer.
Hermione looked up. Despite all the progress they had made, the spiders had pushed them towards a copse of trees. She could see webs glittering in the branches, and could tell that if they were forced there the children would be surrounded. Hermione desperately screamed at Neville, "The trees Neville! You're good with plants, can't you make them do something?!"
Neville nodded, and concentrated on the feeling he had whenever he worked in the greenhouses. He had always liked dealing with plants, and he just seemed to have a natural affinity for it. It calmed and excited him at the same time. He did his best to project that feeling, the same feeling which allowed him to grow three feet in height, towards the group of trees. He tried for a few seconds, and then stopped, suddenly feeling weak. He examined the trees as he was pushed closer and closer. They seemed no different from before. He turned to Hermione, and just said, "I'm sorry." Hermione nodded and looked up to the sky, searching for Harry. Maybe with him there they could possibly push the spiders back…
An explosion of sound drew her attention back to the trees. A screeching noise was heard as spiders started falling from the branches. The reason became apparent as the branches started to move! Not only that, but the roots tore themselves free from the ground. Large branches started swatting the spiders on the ground, and the roots started wrapping themselves around the ones that escaped. A whole tree trunk was turning around, and Hermione could see a face form in the knots of the bark. She could see no actual orbs, but she could tell it was looking at her. Then the bark started to move, and it formed a wide toothy grin. She nearly cried in relief. They just might make it through this.
Hermione steeled herself and called out to the other students. "All right, this is the break we've been waiting for! Run to the Quidditch changing rooms! You'll be safe there! Go!" The students didn't need to be told twice. They hurried their way across the lawn, blasting spells at any spiders fool enough to chase.
But that did leave the three of them alone…
Ron waved his flame-wreathed hands at the crowd of spiders. For facing literally something out of his nightmares, he was doing quite well. But he was getting tired. The sweat from maintaining this kind of concentrated effort was getting in his eyes. He went to wipe his forehead, but the heat from his hands reminded him of what a bad idea that was. He shook his head like a dog, spraying drops everywhere. The mass in front of him took advantage of his momentary distraction. The spiders were getting closer, and they seemed to be able to tell that he was more frightened of them than they were of the fire. One got close enough for Ron to touch. Ron, in a panic, grabbed the leg of the spider and set the hairs on it on fire. It shrieked, a sound like rusted metal grinding against each other, and fell back into the crowd. The magical fire jumped to another spider, but a third was able to spray a glob of venom on it, putting out the fire. The whole experience had shaken Ron though, and he fell back until he was back to back with the giant Neville. The fire in his hands was reflected off the hundreds of black eyes, and he closed his own, shuddering.
An acromantula finally pushed its way past Ron and tackled Hermione, pinning her to the ground. It wrapped itself around her body, crushing her arms to her sides. A line of agony raced up her arm, and she could see that the venom-coated pincer had scratched her. Its mouth parts moved sideways, fluttering, and her heart jumped to her throat as she could hear it speak. It whispered to her, "You have interfered with our attack for long enough. You now have a choice: Call off your rescue of the other students, or…"
She never found out what the second option was. A bolt of pure energy hit the spider in between the many sets of eyes. Its head began to be eaten away by something corrosive, and Hermione pushed the creature off of her with all haste. As it fell, Hermione could see the insides of the creature turning into goo and collapsing in on itself. Hermione backed up on her elbows and watched at the spider dissolved into nothingness.
Where had that come from?
She didn't have time to wonder, as a boy hurtled towards the ground as fast as he could. Harry landed at such a speed that he stumbled and almost fell. Neville, however, was there and caught him before he could fall and be swarmed by the mass of spiders. Ron, sweating heavily, looked heartened to see his friend back and able to help. He turned back to the crowd with new zeal in his eyes. That one was a fluke, and wouldn't happen again. He would burn every last one of these creepy things to ashes.
So long as Harry went first.
Harry had no qualms about taking the fight to the eight-legged horrors all by himself. Before landing, he had taken a look at the battlefield. He saw Hagrid's fight with the trolls, and he hoped Hagrid was tough enough to handle fighting those trolls until the teachers arrived. He had seen a few of the children webbed up by the spiders, and he could hear their muffled screams. Worse were the ones that were completely silent. He had no idea whether those students were alive or not, and it made him angrier.
He started his one-wizard rampage by pointing a finger at one of the nearest enemies. A bolt of electricity hit the spider and arced into the next, then the next, and another before finally grounding out. The smell of burnt hair was atrocious, and caused the children to gag and their eyes to water. Harry wiped his eyes and held his breath. They had to get out of this crush. He pointed again, and another bolt hit the same spider, causing it to explode with such force some of the spiders were knocked back. Hermione, entering the fray, summoned a wall of ice a foot thick and a few yards square and sent it hurtling into the mass of arachnids. It caught a pair of them and pushed them into the copse of animated trees. They were snagged by the roots, and were dragged under the trees and mulched. Harry seeing this measure of success tried the same. It knocked a few out of the way, but the spiders crawled over the wall before they reached the trees. Harry grew frustrated at this, and blew out an explosive breath. He brought his thoughts of the Black Lake and calmed down. He then had another idea. He froze the air above a spider, and a huge block of ice fell and squashed the creature in a shower of gore. The spiders were backing off, but they still weren't going away. He would have to get more proactive.
Harry thought hard about his time up in the mountains. He remembered how the Crimson Hellkite made a caldera out of the mountain top, and he remembered the heat he felt even from a distance. He concentrated on that feeling, pushing it to the forefront of his mind. A halo of energy surrounded him, and the hairs on the backs of the children's necks stood on end. Harry brought his hands out in front him and splayed out his fingers. Two streams of lava burst out from his hands towards the mass of spiders. Shrieking, they finally left the children alone, but they moved their way over to where Hagrid was fighting the trolls. Harry, fighting off a wave of exhaustion from the huge expenditure of magic, frowned. Magic from mana had always come easier than this. Why had it started to become more difficult now? He knew he would be fighting for a long time to save his large friend. He couldn't afford to run out of power now. He turned to his other friends. They were tired, but with the exception of Hermione unharmed. Hermione was shaking from the encounter with the spider, from both the psychological effects and the physical reaction to the poison. Harry took her arm in his hands, and channeled what he knew to be healing magic into her. She stiffened and then relaxed as the long scratch up her arm pressed itself together and disappeared. Harry felt another drain on his energy, but this one was much smaller and went away faster. Something was wrong with the way Harry drew mana, but white magic didn't seem as affected.
Harry stepped away from Hermione and looked towards where Hagrid was fighting. He was engaging two at once, still using the club he had gotten from one of the first few. There were still ten left, and there were close to three dozen spiders converging on him. The students had either all gotten away, or were out of danger for now. Looking around, Harry could see that Neville had gotten most of the children who were captured by the spiders. Harry and his friends were needed elsewhere. They needed to help Hagrid.
Hagrid was in a bad way. Despite being smarter, bigger and faster than the trolls he fought, he still took quite a few hits and they were taking their toll. Hagrid's left eye was swollen shut and a couple of his ribs hurt like they were broken. His head was ringing after one of the troll got close and banged his huge fists against the sides of his head. One of the trolls had bitten his right hand, and it throbbed with a pain that told him some of the bones in his hand were crushed. All of this barely registered as Hagrid had one overwhelming pair of thoughts.
Why was this happening? And where were the other adults?
At least the students were safe. With the exception of two or three, the students managed to get away from the trolls unharmed. The majority of the children were captured by the spiders, but have since managed to escape. Mostly, Hagrid knew, it was because of Harry's friends freeing the imprisoned children before anything worse could happen to them. Hagrid felt a wave of pride flow through him when he thought of the kids. He hoped nothing would happen to them, but he knew they would be unable to keep out of the conflict. They were good kids, and while he was upset that they had to deal with something like this so early in their lives, he was proud of the way they had handled it. Movements in the corner of his eye made him return his attention to the attacking trolls. A particularly ugly troll, with teeth protruding from its mouth in so many random directions it was a wonder how it was able to eat, hooted at Hagrid and moved forward. Hagrid grunted and moved to a fighting stance. Again he asked himself, 'Where were the teachers?'
A few minutes before…
Minerva McGonagall moved faster through the corridors of her workplace and home than she ever had in her entire life. Her hat had long since fallen off her head as she rushed away from the headmaster's office. Having stayed back to try and talk to Harry she was in the back of the group that made its way down to the great hall. From there most of the entrances could be accessed, and a plan could be formed as soon as they were outside. Minerva found herself even with the charms master as they passed a set of windows, and they could see spiders crawling all over the front lawn of the school. They could also see a giant-sized Hagrid fighting almost a dozen trolls, with a few of them on the ground in bloody lumps. As she watched, she saw Hagrid take the club in both of his hands like a cricket bat. With a mighty wind up, Hagrid swung with all his strength and slammed the club into the face of an attacking troll. The troll looked merely stunned, but the force was so great the club snapped in half, leaving a jagged stump in the half-giant's hands. Not missing a beat, Hagrid regained his balance from the swing and shoved the stick into the neck of the dazed troll all the way through. The troll gurgled in pain and tried to take the over-sized splinter out of its neck. It succeeded, but the rush of grey-red blood signaled its doom. With a final groan, it fell flat on its face.
Minerva held her hand to her mouth, disgusted at the display and horrified that a place for learning and children had become a battleground of such violence. Towards the middle of the huddle of teachers, Madam Pomfrey gave a horrified gasp. She pointed towards a spot on the ground, and the teachers could see the broken remains of one of their students. At the end of the line of teachers, Dumbledore cleared his throat. "Hagrid needs our help. He is all that keeps the rest of the students from suffering the same fate. He cannot stand against those foes for long, and we need to get the children inside the castle and to safety as soon as possible. Let us make haste to the Great Hall, and we will be able to save the rest of the students." With that he turned and ran down the hallway, and the rest of the teachers followed.
The Great Hall was found close to most of the entrances to the castle. It was designed to allow students with a poor sense of direction to easily find their way to a familiar place, so that they may get help getting to where they needed to go. The hall itself was a couple dozen yards and a dozen yards wide, ringed by many stained glass windows and high ceilings. It had a large opening at the end that led into a smaller hallway where the front entrance to the castle could be found. Currently the afternoon light left quite a few shadows by the door.
Upon reaching the Great Hall, they were slightly, but not very, surprised to find it mostly empty. There were a few cowering first years being comforted by a smattering of older children. It was likely that all the other students were caught outside when the attack came. But those children were not all they found in the Great Hall.
"Well, that took you long enough," echoed a familiar voice, but most of the professors were confused. It was familiar, but there was something about it that was alien at the same time. A figure stepped out from the shadows by the doors of the Great Hall. Quirrel, his turban firmly in place, walked forward. He was pale and sweating, but there was something different about him. This was not the mincing, stuttering Defense professor that they all snickered about at some time during the year. This Quirrel walked forwards with confidence, with purpose. No sign of his nervous twitches and ticks could be found, and this oddly familiar stranger scanned all of those assembled with such scrutiny it was like meeting for the first time.
"Quirinus, stand aside. We must reach the children on the outside. If you will not help us, then get out of our way." Dumbledore intoned. He strode forward, intent on reaching the doors when a crimson barrier jumped up between him and the Defense professor. Around the hall, the children stopped what they were doing to watch with blank eyes. Minerva reached for her wand, focusing on the growing confrontation between the Headmaster and the man she thought she knew.
The man by the doors smiled a disturbingly snake-like smile at the group of teachers. He looked back at Dumbledore, and said to him, "What if I don't want to do either? That seems like more fun…" He moved a hand towards his belt, and the assembled professors went for their own wands. But he didn't pull up a wand; instead he pulled out a flask of liquid the color and consistency of mucus. He uncorked the container, and Minerva could see the cork was eaten away where it touched the liquid. Quirrel took a sniff of the drink and winced at the smell. "Bottoms up!" he toasted to the other faculty. He downed most of the flask in one gulp, almost retched, and then finished it. He threw the flask off to the side, where it shattered and began to eat away at the walls.
The headmaster spoke to his trusted potions master. "Severus, do you know what that was?" Snape shook his head. Snape usually was able to tell what potions were simply by their look or smell, but this liquid was so full of unusual ingredients he was having a hard time telling what the potion was used for.
"Don't worry, Professor Dumbledore. That was only a solution to strengthen me. I don't want to miss any of the fun." Indeed, he looked more vibrant having downed the potion, and looked less like he was about to keel over. Color had returned to his cheeks, and he looked more ready for a confrontation. "You know, it took me years to get over what this place had done to me. You might not remember this, but I was a nervous child. I was picked on, bullied for my stature, my mannerisms, even my blood status. I wanted to hate those who made life difficult for me. But I knew I couldn't. They were not evil children. They were merely children with power, and I wanted to be like them." He spread his hands wide, and he looked like he was back in his classroom, teaching a bunch of school kids. "The headmaster has been lying to you all for years. He has been trying to tell you that there are good people, and there are evil people. He is wrong. There two types of people in this world: Those with power, and those who are too weak to seek it." He laughed at himself. "I admit I bought into the fallacy for a while. I wanted to be lauded as someone good. But I always wanted power. I always wanted to make sure I was never laughed at again. I went to Albania, where I knew there was a malevolent spirit haunting the Black Forest. There I learned the truth of things. I became apprenticed to the greatest wizard who ever lived, Lord Voldemort!" Gasps of fear were heard from the teachers. Even now they still feared the name.
The students never reacted.
Quirrel continued. "He taught me things, and in exchange I worked to help restore him to his former glory. And now we have succeeded! Oh don't fret," Quirrel said off-handedly as Dumbledore gave a start, "Your precious stone is safe. We didn't need it. It seems we have found a new ally. One who has no limits to his power. Lord Voldemort and he struck a deal: My lord would be returned to life, and in return he would kill Harry Potter!"
At this, the professors tightened the grip on their wands. Quirrel was obviously insane if he thought they would let him harm a student, much less Harry Potter. And talking about the Dark Lord as if he were still alive? It was amazing the man kept it together this long.
Dumbledore treated the situation with as much gravity as he could bring. "Who is your new ally Quirinus? And where is Voldemort?"
But Quirrel didn't even seem to notice the questions. He looked at the group of professors, and Minerva could see that whatever was left of his sanity was being thrown away by the raging insanity in him. She began whispering to herself what she might do to restrain him. The other professors prepared themselves, but fire came from an unexpected corner.
A vividly purple spell zoomed from the wand of one of the students in the hall at the teachers. The bolt hit the right shoulder of the Arithmancy Professor, Professor Vector. She could only gape in shock as the skin of her arm began to turn a grayish color. She then started screaming in agony as the putrefied flesh began to slough off her arm. She fell backwards in shock and was caught by the school nurse. Pomfrey immediately began to cast counter-curses, but the professor soon lapsed into unconsciousness. By then, however, there was much more to do. Tracking the spell back to a small blonde Ravenclaw who couldn't be more than second year, the teachers were shocked to see the tell-tale signs of the Imperius curse in her eyes. Minerva moved quickly and incased her in ropes, but she too had to fall back.
Spells shot forth from the other children, dark spells that none of them had the background or ability to cast on their own. The teachers quickly mounted a defense, bewildered at this turn of events. There were fifteen students in the room, all of whom now moved to stop the teachers from following after the retreating Defense professor. All of them exhibited the same signs as the young girl. They began to move with the grace and speed of veteran Aurors, forcing the teachers to go on the defensive lest they harm a student. Multi-colored spells impacted on shields of varying strength. The teachers were forced into the middle of the Great Hall into the kill box set up by the children. Hagrid was going to have to hold out just a little longer.
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