Outside, Harry dodged throngs of people that were headed towards the field although most had arrived some time ago, due to needing to be checked in and wanting to find good seats. He had almost made it to Gryffindor’s game tower when Kard Starven, the annoyingly outgoing recruiter, spotted him around some of the reporters he had been talking to and waved at him with a large gap-toothed grin.
Harry thrust out his jaw in aggravation, trying to find a way to slip past him in the crowd, but it was too late.
“Harry my boy!” Starven yelled from a short distance away.
Harry stopped mid-stride and closed his eyes briefly before turning around to give the recruiter a false smile.
Starven approached him leaving three reporters with confused looks on their faces. He hadn’t seemed to answer even one of their questions.
Starven slapped Harry on the back amiably and grinned again. “Feeling confident today, Potter?”
“Yeah, I feel great,” Harry smiled patiently at him. “I’d better get up there though, I’m being hailed.”
Starven glanced up to where Harry looked to see a tall red-haired boy in the tower gesturing with his thumb for Harry to get up there. He pointed to a small plank in his hand and gave Harry the slit-throat gesture.
“Guess your coach is a little antsy,” Starven turned back to Harry, “I assume the plank stands for Oliver Wood.”
Harry half-smiled at him. “Yeah… he’s gonna kill me if I don’t get up there.”
“Well, I sure envy you,” Starven threw a buddy-like arm around Harry’s shoulders.
Harry gazed at him blankly. He wasn’t getting the hint.
Starven continued obliviously. “When I was in Hogwarts, I was one of the best players on the team. I’ll never forget the announcer roaring out my name. ‘Kardinal Starven… Chaser!”
“I spent the best years of my life in Slytherin,” said Starven wistfully, pulling Harry along with him. But just as quickly he dropped his arm from the boy’s shoulders and turned to face him, with a decidedly more business-like tone.
“Well, good luck Potter. We’re anxious to see what kind of seeker you are.”
Harry took this as his chance for escape and took a step back towards the tower. “Thank you Mr. Starven… We’ll see you after the game.” He then turned on his heels and hopped on his broom, gliding up to the tower where his fellow teammates anxiously reached out to pull him in.
Starven watched him for a moment more before joining his fellow wizards and smiled humorlessly. “Maybe.”
Ron and Hermione elbowed their way past the crowd and finally found Mr. and Mrs. Weasley with Hagrid on one side and Ginny on the other waving down at them from a particularly high tier.
Hermione smiled at the familiar flaming red hair as she and Ron sat beside his parents.
Mrs. Weasley, a short, plump witch, reached over and gave Hermione a motherly hug and kiss on the cheek with a smile.
“So sorry your parents couldn’t be here today dear.”
“Oh, that’s all right,” Hermione smiled, “They’ve needed a vacation for a while. It just so happens that it fell during the match.”
“Well all the same it’s a shame,” she smiled. Mrs. Weasley then turned her attention to her son and gave him a tight hug.
Ron wheezed out a greeting. “Nice to see you mum… dad.”
“You too son,” said Arthur Weasley, a slight but tall wizard with thinning hair, smiling in a relaxed way. “It sure is great to get away from the Ministry for a while… Fudge has had us working our fingers to the bone about this warning from V… (ahem) Uh…well, about some important issues that have come up.”
The indiscretion covered, Arthur blushed a little at his slip of the tongue… but those sitting there had caught the gist of it.
Immediately, Hermione blanched. Ron noticed and gave her arm a reassuring squeeze.
“Remember,” he whispered, “the grounds are safe… Harry’s safe.”
Hermione nodded, staring ahead. Hagrid patted her small hand with his gigantic one and gave her a soothing wink and a grin.
“Don’ you worry none, Hermione. Harry’ll be jus’ fine, you’ll see… This’ll be one of the mos’ excitin’ games yet!”
Hermione let out the breath she wasn’t aware she had been holding and tried to relax. Hagrid always made her feel better. She began to get excited for Harry’s prospects as she looked down towards the front row where the three recruiters sat; sharp eyes surveying the field and surrounding areas.
Hermione watched for a glimpse of Harry in between catching snatches of conversation between the Weasleys.
Molly Weasley once again reprimanded Ron for his schoolwork.
“…and don’t let me hear you say that everyone in Potions has a C, because let me tell you, I know better!”
“Molly… have off him a little,” began Arthur, “the O.W.L.s are only a couple of weeks away, maybe he’ll pull up his grades then…”
Mrs. Weasley turned and gave her husband such a look that he immediately began to find the field he had seen several times before completely interesting anew.
“Well I certainly hope your Father’s right, Ronald… lord knows the Ministry won’t have you with poor grades, and your father’s saving a starting position just for you after graduation, should you want it!… Oh, and Ginny,” said Molly in the same breath, her manner completely changing as she leaned up to address her daughter. “I’m so proud of you… an A in Herbology! (sigh) I’m sure we’ll have a head girl in the family come your sixth or seventh year.”
“Thanks mum,” Ginny beamed.
“Now why can’t you apply yourself!?” Molly turned a scowl on Ron so quickly that startled him, “You’re such a smart boy!”
“Mum, Snape HATES the Gryffindors… He’s hardly fair!”
“I think he rather hates you, Hermione and Harry,” said Ginny quietly, but with a wicked grin. Ron shot her a deadly scowl.
“What was that?” asked Molly.
“N..Nothing mum,” replied Ron quickly, yanking his mother’s attention back to him, “Anyway… I have a B in Herbology!”
“Now don’t change the subject!”
“Mum!” Ron whined.
Hermione grinned comfortably.
A bell clanged loudly in the field and the attention of the throng was quickly diverted to the announcers box, which also happened to include all of Hogwarts teachers. They had finished checking everyone in for the game, and nothing amiss had occurred; everyone having been invited that showed up, and no one carrying a wand, as they had all been confiscated at the portkeys and the floo networks until after the game. The teachers seemed satisfied, at least as much as they could be.
The game announcer pointed his wand to his throat. “Sonorus!” Immediately his voice began to project as if on a stadium loud speaker.
“Good afternoon witches and wizards! Welcome to the final Quidditch match of the year… Gryffindor versus Slytherin!”
Cheers and whistling erupted from the crowd of around four hundred.
Gryffindor’s side waved red and gold banners, which matched the sea of deep red and gold cloaks and scarves the students wore, intermingled with friends and family.
Slytherin’s side were equally as colorful, but with the colors of dark green and silver.
The announcer continued. “Today’s game is particularly exciting as we have with us Mr. Benjamin Versval, Mr. Kardinal Starven, and Mr. Angus Cornbluth of the ‘Knights’ to watch our Hogwarts players in action! After the game today they will be exploring their options as they decide which if any of our sixth and seventh year students may be talented enough to try out for our famous major league team!”
Cornbluth, Starven and Versval stood and waved politely to the crowd before seating themselves again.
“Now, without further delay,” the announcer continued, “Let’s begin the game!”
The crowd roared in expectation.
“On the left side of the field, with a game status this year of two victories, let’s hear it for Slytherin!”
One by one the Slytherin players shot out of their tower like cannons, a blur of green and silver on broomsticks as they circled the field in a straight line and came to a halt beside the three tall poles topped with circles that served as their goals.
Through his binoculars, Ron saw Malfoy sitting atop his Nimbus 2005 with a face full of snotty pompousness, although his jaw sported a rather nasty greenish-purple bruise. He turned his binoculars toward Lucius Malfoy, Draco’s father on Slytherin’s side and saw the same expression playing on his haughty features.
“Amazing how alike they are,” yelled Ron to Hermione over the roar of the crowd.
Hermione turned her binoculars toward the elder Malfoy and nodded in agreement.
“And on the right side of the field,” the announcer continued, “with a game status this year of two victories yet again, let’s hear it for Gryffindor!”
Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, and Molly, along with Arthur and Ginny joined the Gryffindor side in a roar as the red and gold players shot out of their tower and circled the field in a V formation, coming to rest beside their goals.
Hermione fixed her binoculars on Harry and saw him straddling his Firebolt confidently. The wind from above blew his unruly hair into his eyes, and he swiped at it absently.
Hermione blushed as she noticed her pendant begin to glow a bit and quickly clamped a hand around it.
Ron grabbed a handful of her monogrammed scarf and yanked gently on it.
“Are you cold, or are you blushing?” he grinned wickedly, “Relax…I already know about the necklace.”
“What?” Hermione asked surprised. “How…”
Ron shook his head and rolled his eyes. “Harry can’t keep anything from me. You know that…”
At the moment, Hermione rather wished that she didn’t.
Oliver Wood sauntered out to the middle of the field where the Quidditch chest had already been placed and kicked it open with a loud pop. The bludgers struggled against their restraints.
“Players to your positions!”
One of the Slytherin chasers, Jarius Hemdarin, rode into the middle of the field to be met by Peter Gallor, a Gryffindor chaser. Both shook hands reluctantly and flew back from each other a bit.
“Let’s have a clean game,” said Oliver, reminiscent of Madame Hootch, as he squinted up at them. He reached down, being careful to keep his head out of the way, and flipped up the straps to both bludgers, letting them soar wildly up into the air. They immediately began flying haphazardly around the field. Then he picked up the snitch, its golden wings unfurling. It lit off of his hand and darted away. Then hesitating, he grabbed the quaffle, and after a few moments tossed it high into the air.
“And the game begins!” yelled the announcer.
Gallor sped past Hemdarin to snatch the quaffle and began speeding towards the Gryffindor goal. Hemdarin caught up and began smashing into him as he grabbed for the ball.
Just in time, Gallor ducked as a bludger flew into Hemdarin and smashed him off course. He threw the quaffle as hard as he could as the Slytherin keeper, Beller, performed a riding roll to try to smash it away, but failed. A bell sounded.
“Goal Gryffindor!” screamed the announcer. Ten points were added with the flick of a wand. The right side of the field roared with excitement.
A Slytherin chaser grabbed the quaffle and zoomed quickly towards the goal, zigzagging as George Weasley, a beater, and Marcus Wallaby, another chaser, flew in on either side.
“George!” Weasley heard his name and saw his brother, Fred, knock a bludger towards him. He ducked, but so did the target, leaving Wallaby to take the brunt of the hit. The bludger glanced Wallaby’s arm, leaving him howling and bloody, but not grievously injured.
The Slytherin threw the quaffle towards his goal only to have it smashed back past him by Michelle Keys, the Gryffindor keeper. She smiled annoyingly at him, but another Slytherin had recovered the ball and managed to get it past her and through the middle circle.
“Goal Slytherin!” yelled the announcer. Another swish and flick, and ten points were added for Slytherin. “A tie as the two teams struggle to best each other!”
McGonnagol, above the announcer, bit her nails in excitement, but after catching Professor Dumbledore’s amused expression, dropped her hand embarrassed, and turned away.
Harry, higher than them all, circled the field, his eyes keenly searching for the snitch. He passed Malfoy, flying at the same level and searching just as keenly. Malfoy sneered at him.
“Still on your game, Potter?”
“Jaw hurt, Malfoy?” Harry retorted.
Malfoy glared angrily as Harry glanced at the puffy discolored welt on the left side of Draco’s jaw. Malfoy had indeed had a cracked mandible, which had been quickly mended by Madame Pomfrey, in-between her clucking and mumbling about hot-tempered boys. It hadn’t been one of Malfoy’s finer moments.
Harry rolled his eyes in disgust. “Just play.”
The game went on as similarly as the first half; each side managing to score around the same number of points.
Both Harry and Malfoy soon began to realize that the snitch was really going to be the game winner. It usually was, but in the odd chance that the rival team was more than a hundred and fifty points ahead, catching the snitch would still not be the game winner… only the game ender.
Both had sighted it several times during the game, but somehow it kept getting lost in the blur of bodies zooming in and out of their line of vision.
Finally, both sighted a glint of gold flitting about the lower edges of the field, and took off at the same time.
“It looks like the snitch has been spotted!” the announcer yelled excitedly, “Both seekers seem to be headed in the same direction…”
As if it sensed it had been detected, the snitch began flitting away at enormous speed.
Harry and Draco, both with an arm outstretched towards the tiny golden ball, rammed into one another ferociously, the prize just out of their reach. Draco threw a fierce punch at Harry, which he dodged with some difficulty and threw back just as quickly.
Ron had his binoculars pressed so hard against his eyes that he feared having red rings around them afterwards. “Hermione, are you catching this!?” he grinned wildly, elbowing her.
He quickly realized that he was elbowing air. Lowering his binoculars, he looked over to Hagrid.
“Went with Ginny to get summat fer me from concessions,” said Hagrid, rubbing his stomach absently, for his focus was really on the game. “I’ve only had rock cakes fer breakfast. I’m starvin’!”
Ron calmed himself and placed the glasses back up to his eyes again. “Oh well… she’s with Ginny. That’s ok then…”
He continued to watch the game just as Harry and Malfoy both cast themselves off of their brooms, reaching for the same goal. Since they had both been traveling through the air at almost record speed, they both skidded onto the ground, rolling and flying through the air as if weightless. When they finally both came skidding to a halt, neither was able to move yet. The crowd collectively gasped and jumped to their feet in expectation.
“Wait… wait,” the announcer crooned anxiously, “We don’t yet know who has it or if it’s been caught.”
Malfoy shook himself back to reality first, his pale skin and blonde hair mangled with sweat and grime. Feeling one of his hands around the snitch, he gritted his teeth into a greedy smile of triumph.
“Yes!” he breathed out to himself. He waited for Potter to pick himself up. He wanted everyone to see his face when the snitch was held up.
Harry raised himself shakily to his elbows and knees, spitting a mouthful of dirt onto the ground; his hands and arms covered with small nicks and cuts. He twisted himself around and sat up, shaking the sweat and grime from his hair; his face also covered with perspiration and dirt.
Finally he glanced at Malfoy, who was grinning cheshire-like across from him and then looked up to the sky. Both teams were hovering above them in anticipation.
“What’re you on about?” Harry asked gruffly as he stood to his feet. Malfoy followed.
“I caught it,” he said simply, smiling haughtily back.
The crowd murmured amongst themselves eagerly.
“You caught it,” Harry repeated. “Let me see.”
Malfoy held out a fist and opened it. The crowd gasped, and then rocked back with disappointment. Harry stared at Malfoy, and flicked a gaze from Malfoy’s hand to his face.
Malfoy was holding a rock. A smooth and very round one, but a rock nonetheless. He stared in horror.
“It’s more yellow,” said Harry, holding out his hand, “Sort of like this.”
The snitch lit off of his hand and hovering in front of his face, took off once again. Harry watched it fly away, beaming.
The crowd gasped and Gryffindor’s side began cheering wildly. The sound was deafening.
Gryffindor’s team screamed in delight and began a victory lap around the field. Somewhere up in the stands, Wood jumped up and down, screaming for joy.
“Game over!” screamed the announcer, “With Slytherin at ninety points, and Gryffindor at two hundred and twenty points… Gryffindor wins the house cup!”
McGonnagol, grinning from ear to ear, jumped up in excitement and grabbed Snape’s shoulders, laughing and shaking him to within an inch of his life, gushing.
“Isn’t it wonderful!?” Then McGonnagol realized she was gripping the head of Slytherin house. “Oh… I’m s… better luck next year, Severus.”
It took all the self control Snape had not to thrash her senseless. Beside him, Dumbledore chuckled.
Ron watched as Harry began being beaten almost to death by the rest of his team as they screamed happily and threw him up into the air. Wood rushed onto the field and knocked Harry to the ground in congratulations.
Ron grinned and turned to celebrate with Hermione, but she still hadn’t returned.
“I can’t believe she missed this!” Ron yelled to Hagrid.
Hagrid, munching on his hotdog and Bertie Botts every flavor beans turned to Ron, swallowing a mouthful.
“Ginny said she stayed down at the sidelines to watch… Said she was talkin’ to someone; didn’t mention who… I’m sure she didn’t miss it. Probably down there right now waitin’ ta meet Harry off the field.”
But Ron clutched his sweater to his chest. Something felt wrong. You couldn’t really see much from the ground in Quidditch. Surely she would’ve come back up in the stands to watch Harry, or at least to invite Ron to come back with her to watch from where she was.
“Um… I’ll see you Hagrid,” said Ron making his way nervously past him.
“Where’re you goin’ so quick?”
“Just want to find Hermione…” said Ron nodding to his mother, father, and Ginny as he shoved past them.
“Wait!…Well what the…,” began Arthur Weasley, “Where is that boy off to now?”
Ron, trying to free himself from the crowded steps leading down to the ground, opted to jump instead. He vaulted over the banister, landing somewhat awkwardly and began scanning the crowd for her familiar long brown hair. Once he thought he caught sight of her.
“Hermione, where did you go?” he said catching her arm and turning her.
A fifth year Ravenclaw stared up at him in confusion.
“Oh…sorry… I’m sorry.” Ron dropped her arm and felt himself start to panic.
No…No calm down… She’s on school grounds… she’s safe…
But the longer he waded through the crowd, the more his stomach began to churn. He saw Harry, walking out of the field dragging his Firebolt behind him, and surrounded by his fellow teammates, grinning brilliantly. Through the crowd, he caught sight of Ron and his eyes lit up.
“Oy, Ron!” he waved to him, a grin splitting his face.
Ron felt nauseated. He turned from Harry’s gaze to scan the crowd once more for Hermione. Surely she would’ve been at the field to congratulate him.
Harry turned to speak to his teammates and ducked quickly as a mixed throng of reporters and one or two recruiters surrounded them, hovering microphones and cameras blocking their escape.
Deftly, he squeezed between a reporter and her cameraman and trotted over to Ron.
“Did you see that!?” He grinned, almost sounding like a young boy again, “Malfoy had a rock…” But his voice trailed off as he caught the sick look on his friends face. Ron opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out.
“Ron…” said Harry in confusion. He scanned the crowd around him and peered up into the stands. He saw Molly, Arthur, Hagrid and Ginny making their way happily down the stairs. They caught his eye and waved at him, grinning proudly.
“Ron…” Harry began to feel a wave of sickness sweep over him in a rush that made him weak. “Where is she…”
He saw Ron’s eyes fill with tears, and it terrified him. Harry had never seen his friend tear up about anything. He gripped Ron’s shoulders so hard that it hurt.
“I don’t know.”
The words were simple and devastating at the same time. Harry’s hands fell and he stumbled backward dropping his broom. His breathing became shallow.
“What…you were…with her. Where did she go?”
“She went with Ginny to concession to get Hagrid some food,” Ron began quietly, “Ginny came back alone.”
Harry felt his eyes begin to sting. This couldn’t be happening…it’s not happening…
“Ginny said she left her talking to someone.”
I’m dreaming…I’ve got to wake up. She’s here somewhere. It doesn’t mean he took her…he couldn’t have…It doesn’t mean…
“She said she’d be back up in a few minutes…”
The grounds are covered…she didn’t leave…she’s safe here…she’s safe…
I’ll find her…she’s here somewhere…probably waiting for me somewhere. I just can’t see her. Why can’t I see her!?
“Harry!” Ron yelled.
Harry realized he was surrounded by a few reporters, Ron’s family, and Hagrid, all staring at him with concern. Ron clenched and unclenched his jaw.
“No one watches from the ground. You can’t see anything.”
Harry and Ron stared at each other for what seemed like only a millisecond before they both took off; Harry on his broom, and Ron running.
“Somethin’s wrong,” said Hagrid to the Weasleys, “I don’t think they can fin’ Hermione.”
Harry mounted his broom and pushed off as if he were on the outside of his body looking in. The thing was so hard for him to accept that he felt like he would awaken at any moment. As his eyes searched the ground below, he clutched at his chest. He’d never really known what it felt like to have his heart broken, as he had never really known his parents when they were taken from him; but the more he scanned the grounds, the more desolate he became. As they emptied, it became more and more clear that Hermione was not there.
His throat constricted and his chest began to ache. He began to understand the sensation of heart break.
He realized that he had flown farther past the field than Hermione would have willingly gone and landed his broom. He found that he was near Hagrid’s hut and began to traipse the short distance to it.
An unlikely, but hopeful thought hit him that maybe, for some reason, he might find Hermione there. Harry knew there was no explanation for it, but felt himself nonetheless drawn closer to the dilapidated hut and therefore closer to the edges of the Forbidden Forest.
As he approached it, he realized that Hagrid’s door had been blown off of its hinges.
Quickly, Harry stepped to the side of the open doorway and drew his wand, listening with bated breath for any movement inside. Finally, hearing nothing, he slowly stepped around the scorched door on the ground and stepped up into Hagrid’s home.
The place had been torn apart, and worse, it looked as if a battle had taken place. The table and chairs were thrown over, books were scattered haphazardly, the fireplace looked as if it had just been in recent use and not cleaned, and there were scorch marks marring the walls and floor as if someone had blown the place apart with his wand.
Nausea once again threatened Harry as he scanned the hut, looking for some clue as to what must have gone on. He’d been to Hagrid’s hut so often that he could picture how everything was supposed to be.
The chairs and table had been there against the wall, the old Hogwarts schoolbooks and books about different magical animals had been on that part of the bookshelf; the other part had been lined with clay pots and jars…
As he stood, mentally piecing things together, the soft crackling of footsteps on glass startled him around. He whirled quickly, his wand outstretched.
“Careful Harry,” came the soft scratchy voice of Dumbledore, “It’s all right now… lower that.”
Harry dropped his wand slowly and forced his blurred eyes to focus on his Headmaster. When he spoke, his voice was barely a whisper.
“Professor…Hermione’s missing.” His throat closed up so tight that it almost hurt to speak and he dropped his head.
“I know.” Dumbledore closed his eyes for a moment and nodded, and then held out something for the young man to see. “We’ve already looked for her…Harry, I don’t think you’ll find her here.”
Harry looked up quickly to see that Dumbledore was holding out his hand, gripping something colored red and gold that looked suspiciously like a Gryffindor scarf.
He crossed the room in three steps and grabbed it greedily from the Headmaster.
It looked as if it had been dragged through the dirt, and was scorched with a long streak of ash. Harry looked towards the end of the material and saw what he dreaded…the initials H.G.
Dropping the scarf as if it burned him, he stumbled past Dumbledore and around Hagrid’s house to find a bush to vomit behind. He’d never felt so sick in his life.
As he sat up, coughing and trying to slow his heart, he heard Hagrid’s heavy footfalls moving towards his house.
“Perfessor Dumbledore, what are you…”
Harry heard Hagrid pause and gasp as he caught sight of his ruined home. Quickly the giant stepped inside, his large jaw dropping at the destruction.
“What happened here…” He was too stunned to move.
“Harry just happened upon it,” explained Dumbledore, reaching down to pick up the discarded scarf once more.
At that moment Ron ran up, skidding to a halt and trying hard to catch his breath. His face was red and sweaty from running. He also looked sick.
“Hagrid, Professor Dumbledore…wh…what happened!? Where’s Harry? I thought I saw him land over here…”
Harry made his way back around the house, pale and shaken with a heavy sense of guilt that had begun to form in the pit of his stomach.
He looked Ron over for a moment before speaking.
“I’m right here, Ron.”
Ron whirled and saw his friend approaching him, looking pale and over-wrought.
Harry walked to Dumbledore and held his hand out. The headmaster in turn handed him something, which he held out to Ron.
As Ron took the scarf and fingered the H.G. lettering, his already pale face turned a more ashen shade of white.
“What’re we gonna do…” he said to no one in particular, “We don’t even know who has her… or where, or why…”
Once again, the calm scratchy voice of reason spoke into the chaos. “What we will not do is panic,” said Dumbledore, “As soon as we saw that Miss Granger was missing, we stopped all people from leaving. We will question each one in turn to see who last saw her at the game… where they saw her and who with…”
“She was with me,” said Ron, clutching his chest, “I was supposed to look out for her, I…”
Harry, leaning against the smudged door jamb, turned red-rimmed eyes towards Ron.
“Harry, I’m so sorry…” Ron choked out, “I thought she’d be safe on the grounds…she just went to concession with Ginny…I…”
Harry closed his eyes, too emotional to speak but held his hand up. He didn’t blame Ron. If anything, he blamed himself. Voldemort had never been after Hermione; he was after Harry, and using her to get to him. It was as clear as crystal to him in that moment. His “date”, so to speak, with destiny had finally come and, Harry thought angrily, he would have to be up for the challenge.
Previous conversations that he had just recently had began to haunt his mind.
…and if we stay on Hogwarts grounds we’re safe…
…that’s all it is, just a rumor…
A wave of nausea swept over Harry again and he forced it back down. He’d never hated himself so much in all his life.
McGonnagol’s reasoning voice also plagued him.
…Let them be with you Harry…you can’t control them…you can’t even try…
And then Hermione’s voice.
…even if we did go back to being just friends, nothing would change…I’m not gonna leave you…I’m gonna be right by you through everything…You’re worth every minute to me…
Guilt and dread enveloped Harry at that moment in a slow, heavy suffocation. This happened because of him. It was his fault. He felt himself staggering under the weight and sat to the ground quickly, his head in his hands. All the brashness and confidence of the Harry that he had known less than two hours ago was gone, to be replaced with confusion and ultimately, desolation.
He felt a strong, wizened hand grip his shoulder and looked up to see Dumbledore standing above him.
At that moment, Harry lost it. He began to cry like he had never done before in his life. Great wracking sobs shook his body and he felt all the strength leave him as he sunk lower and lower.
Hagrid and Ron, with tears in their eyes, stepped back from the scene in confusion. Ron, for his part, had never seen Harry Potter cry. He realized that seeing his usually brave friend lose it completely terrified him, as well as making the situation dangerously more real.
Dumbledore grunted as he sat beside Harry on the ground and continued to grip the boy’s shoulder until he had cried himself into exhaustion.
When there were no more tears, Harry lifted his head and leaned it back against Hagrid’s house in despair.
“I’m so sorry,” he began in a husky voice, “Ron, Professor, Hagrid… this is all because of me…”
Dumbledore’s grip tightened on Harry and he turned calmly to Hagrid and Ron. “If you wouldn’t mind, I think there is still a lot of confusion going on down at the field… Hagrid, would you please go help Professor McGonnagol and the rest of the teachers round up our guests for questioning, and then help escort them to the portkeys or the floo network? And Mr. Weasley, please go round up the prefects, and tell them to take the students back to their common rooms immediately.”
Hagrid and Ron nodded and mumbling their assent, went quickly to do what the Headmaster asked.
Dumbledore turned his attention back to Harry.
“Now Harry… is there anyone you’ve noticed lately that you might suspect of this?”
Harry turned a surprised, red-rimmed gaze to him. “From the school?”
Dumbledore nodded patiently. “The professors and I performed the safety charm on the grounds last night, which would have kept out any intruders. But it wouldn’t have helped if the person were already on school grounds.”
Harry shook his head slowly but then remembered his scar. “My scar did start burning yesterday morning though…but I just thought it was another confirmation that the rumor was true… I never suspected anyone at the school…”
Again Harry vehemently chided himself for his own foolishness. What if the person had been in the school the whole time?… Even near the common room…
Harry realized that he was gripping Hermione’s scarf so hard that his fingernails had dug into the flesh of his hand, causing him to bleed.
Dumbledore dropped the hand from Harry’s shoulders and spoke to him in that quiet understanding way that Harry found hard to ignore.
“Harry… I want you to understand something,” the Headmaster looked tired and worn himself, “Voldemort must’ve had a servant on the grounds at least a day before the game. This is going to make it very difficult to find the culprit… what with the hundred or more witches and wizards that were here today. But we will not stop searching for the intruder. He will be found.”
At that moment, Dumbledore’s eyes flashed something much different than the trademark warm twinkle, and Harry found it easy to understand why the Headmaster was feared by Voldemort.
“I also want you to understand something else,” continued Dumbledore, “I fear that this battle is going to be between you and the dark lord alone… I know that you realize that he took your friend to lure you to him… and that you also realize that off of school grounds and away from the Dursley’s you are no longer under any protection.”
“I know,” said Harry determinedly, “But that won’t stop me.”
Dumbledore sighed and nodded, helping Harry to his feet.
“First we must find out why Hagrid’s home was destroyed. It may help us understand what has happened to Miss Granger… Can you think of a spell to help us?”
Harry nodded wearily. Dumbledore probably knew a hundred spells to help at this moment, but he was ever the teacher.
Harry took out his wand and extended his arm toward Hagrid’s ruined home.
Magically, things that were broken began to mend. Large shards shot to their counterparts and sealed immediately, and when a jar or vase was through repairing, it placed itself back in its prearranged position. Books closed themselves and sailed back to their positions; chairs began righting themselves and scooted back under the roughly hewn table top. Hagrid’s cauldron, toppled on its side, sailed through the air and hung itself back over the hearth. Long streaks of ash, and gashes in the wood of the walls began to disappear and the large oak door sailed back to its opening and re-latched itself, the wood healing on its own.
The last thing to repair itself was the window by the door. The large and small jagged pieces of glass flew up to the window and began fitting together as panes. When the window had finally completed itself, the cracks began to seal quickly until the glass was one whole pane again.
“Good,” said Dumbledore, satisfied. “Now we will see if Hagrid can find if anything is missing.”
As if on cue, Hagrid , having completed his task in helping secure the school grounds, ambled up behind Dumbledore and Harry.
Harry turned quickly to him, a flicker of hope in his eyes.
“Hagrid… any news?”
The giant sighed greatly, swiping a tear from his eye. “No Harry, I’m sorry. Ain’ no one seen her… not even yer classmates… An’ all the guests checked out clean… is’ like she disappeared.”
Harry put a hand to his forehead and willed himself to stay calm.
Dumbledore turned to the giant, remembering the task at hand. “Hagrid, will you please search your home and see if anything is missing? It may help us find Miss Granger.”
“‘Course.” Hagrid felt a little sheepish at not having thought of that himself.
There was very little searching to be done; it wasn’t very hard to figure out if anything was gone since Hagrid had so little.
On the shelf of his bookcase, where even the dust had replaced itself, he found three jars, and beside those, a clean ring of wood surrounded by dust where one jar should have been. He turned back to the Headmaster and Harry.
“Only one thing missin’ here… though I was supposed ter have delivered it ta Madame Pomfrey a couple a days ago,” Hagrid blushed at his mistake, ” ‘S jus’ a jar of Flame Drock ashes.”
Dumbledore and Harry walked quickly back to the school after having said goodnight to Hagrid.
Harry had managed to pull himself out of despondence enough to get dangerously angry, and he was letting Dumbledore know it, and of his impatience as well.
“I need to find out where she is,” he spoke huskily, “I shouldn’t even be going back to the school…”
“You need direction first Harry,” said Dumbledore firmly, “Better to know where you’re headed than to waste time wandering…”
“I’m wasting time now!” Harry yelled. “I don’t understand why there’s no note or anything to help me find her! How am I supposed to come to Voldemort when I don’t know where he is!?”
They reached the huge double doors to the school and stepped into the quiet, deserted halls.
“Perhaps you will have your answer soon,” said Dumbledore, grabbing Harry’s shoulder. “The teachers and I, along with the recruiters, will be having another meeting tonight, to discuss what will happen now, and what we can do in the meantime.”
Once again, the Headmaster looked at Harry with compassion.
“Search out your answer as you, Ronald, and Hermione always have. Let the memory of your past adventures guide you.”
At the mention of Hermione’s name, Harry once again felt his heart rip in two and shuddered out a sigh. She was usually the one that found the answers, while he and Ron took action. They needed her to find her. Despondence began to lay its icy hands on his shoulders once more.
Dumbledore spoke to him again. “One last thing Harry. Grief… is a great adversary, but can also be used to help you…Despair on the other hand… will rob you of any help or hope you have left.”
Once again he clapped a tight hand on the young man’s shoulders.
“Don’t let it take hold of you…not here…and especially not when facing Voldemort, if it comes to that. It can destroy you, just as surely as dark magic can.”
Harry nodded at the wise old wizard and grabbed his arm in appreciation, but one thing more plagued him.
“Professor, about the flame drock ash… I don’t understand why the intruder would take it, unless…unless he was wounded somehow… or unless Hermione was.” Harry blinked hard at the thought.
“The ash is used to heal many wounds and ailments Harry; you’re right. Perhaps you can start there.”
With a last squeeze to the shoulder, Dumbledore left him to head toward the meeting. Along with discussing the new situation, they would also be discussing how and when the recruiters might get along with their business as well. Even barring the student kidnapping, he knew protocol still had to be recognized. The game had still been played, and it still had to be decided where and when it would be appropriate to let the recruiters tag their candidates.
He was just thankful that McGonnagol had managed to get rid of all of the reporters.
As Dumbledore headed in one direction, Harry took off in the other, headed towards the Gryffindor common room as fast as his legs would carry him.