A/N: Chap 30 review responses are in my forums as always.
Chapter Thirty-One: A Pillar of Fire
On a Friday two weeks before the O.W.L. examinations, Hogwarts was invaded. Harry was in Charms with the other Fifth Year boys when two Hit Witches in black robes walked into the room with their wands held ready.
"Professor Flitwick," one of the witches said, "by order of the Ministry of Magic, all classes are hereby suspended. All students are to report to the Great Hall immediately."
"What is the meaning of this?" Flitwick demanded. "You have no right to interrupt my class."
"Professor, if you resist, we are authorized to use whatever force is required to put you down," another witch said.
Flitwick brandished his wand. "Try it, young lady. I've duelled far better than you!"
Albus Dumbledore chose that moment to make his appearance from behind the two witches. "Filius, stand down, old friend. I'm sure we'll get to the bottom of this soon enough. For now, it is better for everyone to cooperate."
Flitwick huffed in outrage, but finally threw his hands up. "Fine. Class dismissed, go with the bloody Hit Witches."
Harry gathered his things, sharing a concerned look with Neville and Ron. They were met half-way there by the Fifth Year girls. He gravitated toward Hermione and Justine by instinct. "Any idea what's going on?" he asked.
"Something big," Justine said. "There are Hit Witches everywhere! They stunned Professor Trelawney!"
Harry stared at her in fright, but then shook his head and concentrated on what was happening. The Fourth Years were already in the Great Hall. Harry looked for and finally saw Luna and Astoria standing together near the Gryffindor table. He and Hermione joined them, as did Jessica, Ron, Neville, Susan and Hannah. Justine left them to join the Hufflepuffs but sent significant worried glances their way.
What was truly alarming was that the Hit Witches had banished the staff table off the raised platform at the end of the Great Hall. Ministry Scrimgeour himself stood there, flanked by several individual witches that Hermione recognized from their studies on the covens, and a squad of Aurors whose red robes stood out starkly from the black ones. Harry noted Amelia Bones was not one of them, nor were any of her chosen people.
"That's the one that hurt me the most during my restoration," Luna whispered, pointing to one ancient witch of perhaps two hundred years, judging by the translucence of her skin.
Harry glared at the old witch and held Luna's hand, but said nothing.
The staff of the castle assembled in front of the students, with Dumbledore at their head. As soon as all the students were gathered, the Minister spoke. "I am Rufus Scrimgeour, Minister for Magic," he began pompously. "In the past year, this school has seen death, expulsions and disruptions in astonishing and disturbing numbers. Another student died just last night—a half-blood wizard named Ernie MacMillan. Given these tragedies, the Ministry contacted the Board of Governors to discuss ways we could ensure a quality education for students, while guaranteeing their safety."
Scrimgeour paced the stage, hands behind his back. "Almost immediately upon our examination, we discovered an organization of students in this school practicing proscribed combat drills, and calling itself an army."
"How could they know that?" Hermione hissed.
"Ernie," Harry said. "They didn't say how or why he died. They must have compelled it out of him, the bastards."
"But the oath was binding! His magic should have protected him!"
Scrimgeour was not finished. "The students involved in this organization will be taken into custody on charges of sedition!" Scrimgeour shouted. Behind him, Dame Delia smiled directly at Harry. He felt his stomach drop in horror at the thought. "Such activities," the Minister continued, "cannot be tolerated in society, and will not. We will not let another Dark Lord build yet another army to tear apart this land! Aurors, do your duty."
Before anyone could move, a massive bang rocked the whole room and brought all eyes to the raised wand of Albus Dumbledore. "Pray tell, Minister, how did Mr MacMillan perish? According to the school wards he was perfectly healthy until shortly before a detention with Professor Black."
"That is not of any importance…" Scrimgeour began.
"Quite the contrary, it is very important," Dumbledore said as he took a step toward the Minister. His magic flared so brightly it made the air around him shimmer. "It appears, Minister, that a staff member of this castle, appointed directly by you, may be responsible for the death of one of my students. That is of grave importance to me."
"You are facing Azkaban for your conduct, Dumbledore!" Dame Delia hissed. "This is entirely your fault."
Dumbledore smiled without humour. "But of course it is, madam. Do you think anything actually happens within this castle without my knowledge, or approval? Those students you so foolishly call seditionists were nothing of the sort; they were merely tools of mine. After all, how can I throw down a broken and corrupt system without soldiers? But they were ignorant of the group's primary purpose."
Scrimgeour stared in disbelief, while Dame Delia was actually beaming in delight. "You admit it!" She crowed. "You admit that you committed sedition against the Ministry!"
"'Sedition', my dear?" Dumbledore chuckled, and the gravelly sound reverberated throughout the castle. "No, not sedition. Merely a binning of the rubbish."
"Arrest him!" Scrimgeour said. Aurors and Hit Witches started rushing forward but stopped when a pillar of fire surrounded the headmaster. Harry remembered a similar pillar from his third year, and when he heard the phoenix song he knew for sure. Fawkes had come for his master.
The burst of flame threw Scrimgeour and the rest back onto their arses, while the nearest staff members screamed and ducked away in fright. Harry ducked down with the rest at the awesome display of magic, but then it all stopped. Harry blinked in shock at the frozen figures of all those around him.
"A little over the top, I'll admit," Dumbledore said, "but it certainly got their attention."
Harry spun around to see the old wizard standing behind him. "What…how…?"
"Just a projection, Mr Potter. An extension of Legilimency done at speeds only our internal thoughts can comprehend. Even so, I have little time. Make sure your entire army has the Veritaserum antidote, Harry. It will be the only way to save all of your lives. While Miss Granger's oath was a valiant effort, she is still a child, and there are no books in this castle to describe just how horribly a person's will and magic can be violated despite the best written oaths. I had hoped it would be enough, but alas we all failed to realize just how far our enemies would go. And most of all, remember; this was all my fault. I compelled you to start this organization, but never told you what it was for."
"But that's not true!"
"Harry, it doesn't matter," Dumbledore said kindly. "My time is rapidly coming to an end. In all my years, it seems I was able to accomplish so little. Let me do this much for you—let me help you make it to your destiny. Deny me; deny me as many times as you must, until the time is right. I will see you again, Harry. I promise."
With a rush of sound, Dumbledore was gone, as was the pillar of fire. Harry leaned over to Hermione and whispered urgently, "Do we have any more of Dumbledore's Veritaserum cure?"
She nodded. "The box never seems to run out."
"We need to get every order and army member dosed," he hissed.
Up front, an obviously flustered Scrimgeour said, "All teachers are to escort students back to their dorms. This castle is to be locked down until further notice!"
With his map and his cloak, Harry was able to avoid the Hit Witches who patrolled the castle. Whatever tracking charm Dumbledore placed on him was either gone, or was not traceable by anyone but the headmaster.
Fortunately, with their enchanted coins Harry was able to communicate what he was doing, and it was without surprise that every dorm had a secret entrance that was clearly marked on the maps. When he reached the secret Hufflepuff entrance and saw Justine, he couldn't help but give the tall girl a hug and a kiss. "You okay?" he asked.
Justine nodded. "Everyone's concerned, but holding together. The Army people know what's really happening, but they're with you."
"Tell everyone to keep their heads low and no meetings," he said as he handed over doses of Dumbledore's potion. "We're close enough to the test and got far enough along we should be fine to get everyone past their O.W.L.s."
He started to leave when she caught his arm. "Harry?"
"Are you sure about this?"
"Not really," he admitted. He slid his hand through her grip until their fingers interlaced, and then raised her fingers to his lips. "But this…this I'm sure of. We need you."
It was difficult to embarrass Justine or get a rise out of her, being perhaps the most even-tempered member of their group. Be he could see the way her cheeks reddened and lips curled up in a genuine smile. "Good to be needed, I suppose," she said softly, before the two leaned forward to kiss. "Keep safe, Harry."
"You too, Justine."
He did not get any kisses from the Ravenclaws, but Padma Patil looked relieved when he explained what the potions would do for the Firebird Army members.
It was Georgina who snuck the potions into the Gryffindor dorm on the pretext of visiting Ginny and Ron. The married quarters, fortunately, were not patrolled heavily under the assumption that Malfoy was watching them, which of course would be the case if his doorframe hadn't been warded to prevent him from actually seeing or hearing anything.
They were just in time, too—the interrogations began the next morning.
Harry fought down the urge to hex the Hit Witch who continually pushed him along the hall; his shoulder was actually becoming sore from her constant prods. They walked past the closed Headmaster's office to a conference room on the same hall. Inside the room, Harry couldn't help but stumble to a shocked halt.
Dolores Umbridge sat at the head of an oval oak table, hands clasped under her chin, a beatific smile on her broad, ugly face. "Good morning, Mr Potter," she said in a high-pitched tone. "Fancy seeing you here again."
"What are you doing in this school? You were arrested!"
The witch behind him kicked his left knee out from under him, grabbed his head and slammed his face onto flat surface of the table. He heard a rushing sound in his ears and saw white spots moments before the pain hit. "Show some respect, boy," the witch said.
"You will find, Mr Potter, that with your patron's open admission of sedition, things have changed," Umbridge said in oily tones. "The Dumbledore Coven has been disbanded, restoring the proper balance in the Sabbat and Wizengamot. I was released because I was wrongfully arrested to begin with. Now, have a seat, please."
The witch behind him kicked him in the back with a hard-tipped boot before levitating him into a chair.
"This is Veritaserum," Umbridge said, holding up a phial in her hands. "Three drops compels the truth, the whole dose will kill you. We're going to start with five drops, just to be thorough."
Before his two hour session as over, Harry had denied Dumbledore three separate times, going along with the headmaster's cover of being nothing but an unknowing dupe for a secret dark lord's agenda. He babbled to keep the pain of his repeated beatings at bay and because talking kept him from thinking about the fact that he was betraying the old wizard who, indirectly, had helped him for years.
He passed out before the session finished; when he next woke it was in his bed, in his quarters. He tried moving but groaned in pain at the effort. Without opening his eyes, he felt a familiar, cool magic through the hand holding his and knew Tori was keeping watch. "Harry?" she asked. "Are you okay?"
"No," he managed to say.
"He's awake!" Her loud, shrill voice made his bones shiver in agony. Seeing his expression, she said quickly, "Ohhh, I'm sorry. Oh Harry, I'm going to kill that cow. I'm going to get a knife and I'm going to cut out her eyes and shove them up her cunny so she can see what a cunt she is, that…"
"Language, Tori!" Hermione said from the door.
Harry forced his eyes opened and saw Hermione standing just inside the door. To his shock, she sported a huge black eye on one side of her face, and her hair had been roughly shorn off, revealing bruises in the shape of fingers on her neck.
"You okay?" he asked.
"Better than you," she said with a deep, shuddering breath. "I know you're hurting right now, Harry. We've been refused medical help, but they haven't expelled us yet. I think they're hoping we'll be too hurt to do well on our O.W.L.s. But don't worry, we have potion supplies and we're making some Skele-Gro for you and Tori."
Harry blinked and looked back at his youngest wife. "Why?"
"Umbridge had the Hit Witches break my arm and leg," Tori said. He only then saw her arm a conjured sling and her leg in a poorly conjured cast.
Hermione frowned. "Ribs and her hip," Hermione said. "Same for me. They were harder on you and Tori, but we're not the only ones. They didn't dare torture Neville or his girls because of his Gran, but a lot of the army was beat up by the Hit Witches."
"Do they know about the truth about the Army?"
"If they did, we'd all be dead or in Azkaban," Hermione said grimly.
Hermione bit her lower lip, which was never a good idea. "Oh Morgana, Harry, they did a number on you. I honestly didn't think you were going to survive." She walked gingerly over to Tori's side and sat with a grimace on the side of the bed. "Things are bad, Harry. They're really bad. We haven't been able to talk to anyone, but Neville sent a message through the coin that Dame Branwenna…she's dead, Harry. Someone stabbed her to death, and her husband too. The new Dame and Elder of the Lloyd Coven have stated that they are considering banishing you from the coven."
"It's alright, Hermione," Harry whispered, as he took her hand with his free one. Holding both Tori's and Hermione's hands in his, he felt their disparate magic funnelling through his own, and suddenly had a thought. "Hermione, do we have any more dittany?"
"Yes," she said.
"Get my bones fixed first," he said. "And then…and then rubs for all of you. I can fix us, Hermione, if I'm whole. Luna knows the bone-mending charm…"
Hermione's eyes widened, giving him a good view of the red, bloodied eye within the circle of bruise on her face. "You're right," she whispered. "But we'll have to use the Skele-Gro first. Luna's hurt so bad she's afraid she might mess the spell up."
Harry remembered Luna mentioning how hard the bone-mending charm was. "Okay."
Evidently the girls didn't have enough supplies to make much, and so instead they concentrated on what they could do—Skele-Gro and pain potion. When used on merely broken bone, the potion worked much like the bone-mending charm Luna was reluctant to use.
Though he was still weak and bruised, once his bones were healed, Harry had Hermione strip and lay on the bed, where he coated his hands in dittany and began rubbing her wounds with magic and potions. The bruise around her eye was the most difficult, so he took a long time and simply caressed the bruise much like Hermione and Luna did for him after he was hurt so badly by Umbridge the first time. Again, it was not he who was doing the healing, but rather his magic supercharged the creams and potions they had, making the most of a small supply.
After a few minutes, the bruising noticeably faded. Hermione stared at him, her lips parted in awe. Unable to help himself, he leaned over and kissed her, and into her ear whispered, "I love you."
He then worked on her broken ribs, and with his magic pushing the small dose of Skele-Gro through her skin directly to the broken bones, rather than her having to drink a larger dose to work. The combination jump-started her magic into healing the bone as fast as bone-mending charm, with less pain. Nor did he stop there, working his way over her whole body until every last one of the Umbridge-induced hurts were gone.
They floated Tori onto the bed next, and after vanishing the cast and sling, he worked his magic and their dwindling Skele-Gro into her broken limbs. Her left leg was actually broken in three places. Tori, though, was more challenging to heal than Hermione. Her small magical core could not heal her body as well as Hermione's did, so Harry had to push more and more of his own magic to make up for the lack. When he finished healing her, though, he saw a bright flush of red run down her flat chest almost to her navel, while her body tensed and shivered.
"Sorry," she whispered.
"That's alright," Harry said. "Are you okay?"
"Best I've felt all day," Tori said with a smile.
"Harry," Hermione said, staring at him, "do you mean to say you don't understand what that was?"
Harry blinked at Hermione, then at Luna. "Should I?"
"She had an orgasm, Harry," Luna said with feigned patience.
"You can do that without, well, you know…sex or the Mas Turbare charm?"
"Boys," Hermione whispered, flopping down on the bed.
Luna leaned over painfully, and whispered, "When you do me, I'll show you."
"Oh, okay." Harry flushed red.
On orders from the Minister for Magic himself, Hogwarts closed a week early. Fourth years and below, and Sixth Years left the castle on carriages for the Hogwarts Express, while Fifth and Seventh year students remained in the castle to take their O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. exams one week early.
Because of their marriage, Luna and Tori were allowed to stay in the castle with Harry under constant guard. They were not allowed to leave their rooms at all; elves brought food and did laundry for them, but otherwise they were trapped. For Hermione, it was a harsh reminder of the summer, feeling trapped and desperate.
They occupied their time by studying for their tests, using O.W.L. study guides most teachers provided. Hermione certainly did not object when Luna and Tori joined them. Tori had managed, just barely, to meet the minimum requirements for Muggle Studies and so would be allowed to sit her O.W.L.s next year. Unlike Luna, who through her own studies could probably sit her O.W.L.s with the rest, Tori was nowhere near ready for the O.W.L. examinations.
Their only contact with the outside world came in the form of brief messages on the enchanted coins of the Army, and those mainly from Angelina or Fred. They learned that every member was interrogated, sometimes harshly depending on their parentage. Those with parents or connections in the Wizengamot or Sabbat were not abused, while Muggleborns or Half-bloods were all but tortured. It didn't appear any were treated as badly as Harry and his family, for which the young wizard was grateful.
When the time came, their door reverberated with a knock, followed a moment later by Professor McGonagall.
If Harry ever had any doubt about how bad things were, a look at the witch's face would have convinced him. McGonagall's gleaming eyes were ringed with sleepless shadows and her hair did not seem as well kept as normal. In her chest, her magic flared and flickered in distress.
"Mr Potter, Miss Granger," McGonagall said. "The ICW testing authorities have arrived. The tests are to be administered in the Great Hall."
Luna stepped to Harry's other side opposite Hermione. "Professor, may I also elect to sit my O.W.L.s at this time?"
McGonagall stared, genuinely surprised. "You are only a Fourth Year, Mrs Potter."
"While this is true, Professor, I am fifteen. It is my understanding that any witch or wizard who is at least fifteen years of age can choose to sit the O.W.L.s. I understand if I fail I can retake them next year, but given what has happened this year, I do not know if I will be given the opportunity."
McGonagall stared intently at the three of them. "Do you honestly think you'll be able to pass?"
"I think she will," Hermione said. "She's been studying with us all year, Professor. She is a Ravenclaw, after all."
"I cannot imagine Dame Delia would be pleased," McGonagall muttered. "Which is a reason enough to allow it, but it does carry some risk, child."
"Professor," Harry said, "they dosed us with Veritaserum and tortured us. They broke Tori's arm and leg, broke Hermione's eye-socket and ribs, and did just as bad to Luna. We're at risk just being alive."
McGonagall's already pale, translucent skin seemed almost to flare as her magic reacted to her anger, but it faded quickly enough as she regained control over her emotions. "True enough," she said. "Very well, Miss Lovegood, as temporary Headmistress, I give you leave to take your tests with your family. A Hit Witch will be outside to take you to the tests."
"What about you?"
"I think I shall remain here and sit with Miss Greengrass." Unspoken was the offer to guard her in case the Hit Witches chose to attack in their absence.
"Thank you, Professor," Harry said earnestly.
The three stepped outside where a grim-faced Hit Witch led them to the Great Hall. Forty desks were laid out across the floor, though because of deaths and expulsions, not all were taken. The Hit Witch stopped at the door as another witch in light blue robes that appeared similar to an Auror's robes stopped them. She had a scroll and quill in hand.
"Names," she snapped.
The witch checked off the first two names but blinked at the last. "There is no Luna Potter on the list."
"I am a Fourth Year. However, I am fifteen and married to Mr Potter. Accordingly, I demand the right to test under ICW convention."
The witch stared at her before shrugging. "Not my problem." She wrote Luna's name in and the three were permitted to take their seats.
The Ordinary Wizarding Levels were unlike any test Harry ever took. Unlike the Muggle GSCE, these weren't a series of essays or smaller exams. The tests came in two parts—a large tome of questions, and the enchanted answer sheet that would absorb their written answer when done.
The Defence Against the Dark Arts test was first, and immediately he saw questions that were not covered at all in the 'official' texts. He thanked Magic for Remus Lupin's O.W.L.s guide and answered the question, moving onto the next, and then the next, and then the next while witches in blue robes walked among the desks, eyes sharp and attentive.
Every hour, a witch announced the time and new subject. It was not possible to answer every question in a subject—the test scores were based on how many you did answer, and how many of those were correct. You simply answered as many as you could until the hour was done. It was better to skip questions you were not sure of than to guess and risk a wrong answer.
After seven straight hours of mind-numbing tests, with only a few breaks for washrooms and a twenty minute break for food, they finished the last subject. "Practical exams!" the head ICW witch, Marchbanks, announced. Unlike the other blue robes, Marchbanks was a true ancient, well over two hundred years from the look of her translucent skin.
"Charms first!" she snapped. "All students perform the following charms…."
Harry fought to keep his eyes straight rather than look at Hermione or Luna as he performed the required charms, one after the other. The practical part of each test only took half an hour, and there were only practical portions in the wanded classes and potions, so there were fewer subjects to be tested.
They moved quickly onto Transfiguration, and from there Potions. They had forty minutes to prepare a boil cure cream. Given the nature of the potion, everyone finished nearly at the same time and bottled their potion in the provided phials for testing. Finally came Defence Against the Dark Arts.
"All students are to perform the following spells… Protego Charm, now!"
Harry and every member of the Firebird Army cast a successful Protego. He noticed with some alarm that the Slytherins did as well. Of course, why wouldn't they? He thought darkly, realizing that the Slytherin students received separate O.W.L. training. His initial thoughts of the Slytherins failing while his friends passed went flying quickly out the window.
On the other side, he could see surprise and frustration on Malfoy's face, and on Parkinson's and the other Slytherins that their classmates were able to perform the charms.
"Now for shield testing!" Marchbanks said. Harry blinked in surprise as the younger blue-robed witches began pelting minor jinxes at the shields. Most held. Though, he saw a few break under the assaults.
Next came offensive jinxes and curses, the disarming jinx, handling dark creatures…the whole gamut. Five years of study came to its fruition in that one thirty minute test. And then, suddenly, it was over.
"Wands away!" Marchbanks snapped. "I was told that this class was incompetent and unable to learn the most basic defensive spells. It appears your Ministry was mistaken. Scores will be waiting for you in your rooms. Well done, and dismissed."
Harry couldn't help it—he grabbed Luna and Hermione's hands, and they virtually ran from the Great Hall. Nor were they alone as others raced back to their rooms to see what they got. In this one area, neither the Ministry nor the Sabbat could stop them. By treaty, O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. exams were administered directly by the International Confederation of Wizards for the purpose of international standardization. All students age 15 and over had the right to sit O.W.L.s, even if proscribed by their respective Sabbats or covens.
Harry didn't even notice the Hit Witches still guarding their doors when they rushed into their room. The envelopes with their scores were already waiting for them. "I love magic," Harry said, though he suddenly felt a hesitation before looking
"The wonders of magic," Hermione said. "I read the scoring of the tests is like our points clock—it's done immediately as you go. Well, shall we?"
McGonagall and Tori emerged from her room, watching curiously as the three ripped into their parchments. "I got on an Exceeds in history?" Hermione wailed, distraught. "How could I only get an Exceeds?"
Harry turned and stared at her. "You're upset over an E?"
She blinked, and then without asking ripped his results from his hands. A moment later she jumped onto him, hugging him tightly. "Oh Harry, you did it!"
Jumping off, she turned and looked at Luna. "And you?"
"Sadly, I only received an A on potions as I did not have time to cover the potion we had to make in the exam, given that it is a Fifth Year topic," Luna admitted. "However, I received Os and Es for the other subjects. All passing grades."
Harry and Hermione both hugged her, until Tori jumped in and hugged all of them, bouncing as she did so. "Does that mean we can go home now?"
"Yes, Tori," Harry said with a happy laugh. "We can go home now."
McGonagall smiled, but it was a tenuous expression. "The Hogwarts Express leaves tomorrow morning. In the meantime, lock your door tonight—and I mean with magic. Make sure even I would have difficulty getting in. I can tell you that your results are not what the Sabbat expected or desired."
"Are you going to be okay, Professor?" Hermione asked.
McGonagall patted her shoulder. "Don't worry about me, Ms Granger. I'll be fine. Well done, all of you. Now, I bid you goodnight."
When she was done, Harry looked at the three girls who had come to dominate his life. "Pack tonight and sleep clothed, you reckon?"
"Absolutely," Luna agreed. "And keep our brooms by the window. Just in case."
Author's Note: Very special thanks as always to Teufel1987, JR and Miles for beta reading. If there are any major faux-pas, they are entirely of my own doing.