Chapter 22 Seeds of War

The Hogwarts Hurricane

Chapter 22: Seeds of War

Albus felt a rush of foreboding deep in his stomach as a man appeared from behind the trees. This man did not look welcoming or amicable, but intimidating. He did not like the look of this man at all. The man was tall and stocky but the notable aspect of him was not his mean stature or his stocky build but his hair color. He had spiky hair mostly colored black but with blonde highlights embedded in it. In fact, it was difficult to see which was his natural hair color; black or blonde.

The man had with him four accomplices. All of these accomplices had two hair colors and neither left it easy to tell which hair color was the natural. However, only the leading man had his face shown. The others had hoods drawn up and masks over their faces. What was a notabe common feature about all of them; however, was their robes. Their robes were also split into two colors, but this had an effect. The top half of the robes was white. The whiteness acted as clouds descending into a twister in a sea of blackness.

It was the robes that told Albus, Scorpius, Mark, the twins, and the Mold siblings that these people were of a common ideology. The man gazed at them all and held their gazes as they took in their surroundings. The kids were clearly in danger, that much was clear to them. It took one statement from the man to prove that to any of them.

“You all, I believe, have something I want,” the man said in a clear voice a little less gruff than Phoenix’s.

That statement sent a shiver up Albus’ spine and he turned to tail to run. Scorpius was right behind him, also fleeing. Even the brave Gryffindors had a change of heart and chose to run. This was to no avail and as Albus silently expected and hoped desperately against, an invisible force pulled them back. Albus, Scorpius, Mark and the twins were forced back against the trees a little deeper into the forest. Branches sprouted to life from within the trunks and bound them there to ensure they kept still.

“Relax, and no one will get hurt,” the man warned them all.

Yet, Albus noticed silently that Walter and Samantha had gotten away. Soto, it seemed had noticed too and directed his index finger to the crowd dueling in the courtyard. The four men and women that accompanied him raised their wands and in a blinding flash of light, all fourteen duelers were cast down. Albus screamed in horror as the man laughed.

Albus also noticed that two new students had joined them in being bound. Two students that Albus knew should not have been there, because if they were, Incommodo would have a field day. Jimmy Kat and Adam Musa, it seemed, were pulled back from the chaos of the duel right before the giant stunner hit. Walter and Samantha were not among the bodies either, but James was and Albus was terrified. He screamed so loudly in horror, the school might have heard if the man had not widened his eyes and yelled, “Silence him!”

“Silencio!” a woman yelled on cue, and no more sound escaped Albus’ mouth.

“You promised no one would get hurt!” Mark yelled on Albus’ behalf. “You killed them!”

“Oh, be quiet, insubordinate child!” the man spat back. “Stunning does not constitute as hurt and I don’t kill.”

“Changes nothing!” Alex snarled. “Let us go.”

“Did you really think I’d listen to that request?” the man asked humorously. “Not until you’ve heard me out,” the man said, shaking his head. “I have now two exchange students. I believe, Albus Potter this is enough to keep you silent lest your father is demoted.”

Then, Scorpius widened his eyes in horror as it seemed what dawned on Albus dawned on him too. Scorpius stuttered, “Y-you’re Incommodo, aren’t you?”

The man widened his eyes and shook his head in denial, “No, I’m not that man. Incommodo would be tried by the Ministry if he pulled an operation like this off. Particularly during working hours. No, I am Soto. I agree with his aims but work independently to support them. Well me and a small, loyal group of followers.”

Eric grinned widely though and he too voiced what was on Albus’ mind. “Well, you’ll have to let us go, Soto. The game is up. Two of our number escaped and are now in the castle. They’ll get a teacher, and they’ll find us here in the forest. We’re not that far in. And this whole business will be exposed and you arrested. So, you’d better free us and save yourself.”

“Oh, you haven’t noticed that we’re moving?” Soto asked calmly.

To Albus’ horror, he realized then that the trees had uprooted themselves and were moving further into the forest using their roots as legs. Soto smiled widely, laughing gleefully as Eric was silenced. “Yes, the game is up,” he said happily and sarcastically. “The teachers will come, find us, put down our group, free you, and prosecute me resulting in life sentence in Azkaban and all the crap that comes with it. But… has it ever crossed your puny little minds that those two students just sent a couple of teachers to free exchange students and destroy any hope Harry Potter had of keeping them here? I’ve already succeeded! I won! Once the teachers come, it’ll be solidified and I’ll escape.”

“Wait till my father gets his hands on you!” Scorpius yelled.

Then the trees came to a stop. They were in a clearing. This clearing housed much more men and women who wore robes similar to Soto. They lived stoking campfires, tending to their tents or even eating and drinking. Some were just chatting. As for what Scorpius said, the accomplices were sniggering but Soto was holding in more laughter until he left with few words, “Give me a second.” He came back seconds later with one of his followers in the campsite. He brought one of them back and grinned in mock encouragement, “Go on, kid. Tell him what you told me.”

“My father will have your jobs!” Scorpius yelled back.

The whole campsite burst into tears of mirth and laughter. Some clapped each other’s hands and one of them cast a silencing charm at Scorpius too to silence him as much as Eric and Albus. Soto laughed along with them before responding, “Jobs. We don’t have jobs. We don’t have homes and our families are among us! Your father can’t do a thing against an underground group like us! And- and Incommodo is hardly aware of our existence so there are no owls to keep track of. He can’t cut us off. We do as we please!”

Albus, though silenced and therefore in lack of speech, could see Soto walking away and for a minute, he thought the man was done with them. Would they have the wait for the teachers to find them and rescue them? Then, Soto walked back, holding an article clipping of the Daily Prophet out. He commanded everyone’s attention. His followers, all of them with two hair colors and the same attire of robes, clamored around him to listen in, creating a gap in their circle so Albus and his friends, though tied could also listen.

“Rita’s latest!” Soto announced to a horde of clapping and whistles from the crowd. “Let’s see how she spins the Goblin hostage situation now, shall we? Now, last we saw her, she had successfully predicted a hostage situation with the Goblins and later offered to mediate a solution. Let us see how she plans to do so? The article starts:

“The Gringotts-Hogwarts Catastrophe- by Rita Skeeter
An Open-letter to the Goblins of Gringotts.

“The Gringotts catastrophe may not be as separate as one may think from something that is currently going on at Hogwarts. The Ministry attempted to cover up a large conspiracy recently brought to light over the holidays and at the same time, Miss Hermione Weasley blackmailed yours truly to shut up. This is in fact part of a larger plot against both the common order and the Head of Education who as we all know looks after the interest of our young Witches and Wizards.”

Soto stopped there to allow laughter as he grinned himself. “Well, nice mediating solution. Coming right out and accusing poor Mrs. Weasley of blackmailing her. Why on earth? Anyways:

“Otto Blackberry came under heavy fire over the holidays for reasons unknown to the population until it recently surfaced by none other than Head School Governor Karl Mold who’s son was attacked that a vampire or two currently resides within Hogwarts. Karl Mold claimed that his son was attacked by a vampire on a garlic frenzy until another of his children defended his brother and fought the vampire. He was quickly overshadowed by the presence of anther full vampire who also happens to be Hogwarts Potions Mistress Forma Era.”

Once again, Soto paused to allow his followers time to laugh in glee. Some clapped hands as if sharing a private joke and Soto shook his head, “How did she find out? How, indeed? Now, we know this whole vampire thing did not come to light till last night. So, how did she manage to figure out that there were two vampires, let alone that these two went on the attack last night? She must’ve been up all night writing this. Or… she wrote it all, and edited this part in last night. She continues:

“The vampire in the school is none other than son of the Head of International Magical Cooperation Otto Blackberry. His son Riley was revealed to be a half-vampire. Otto is expected to go under fire for hiding this fact and may be related to the exchange student controversy. I personally accuse Otto of getting exchange students in Hogwarts to confuse the Ministry and Hogwarts alike and take attention off his son.

“We have been blind enough and more blind than we think. While making a big deal out of the exchange student problem, Head of the Department of Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures Hermione G. Weasley threatened yours truly with blackmail if I did not cease writing.

“Well, I will not shut up but in fact warn you all that she is a woman of lies and slander. It is after all the one who points the fingers who is guilty. If she does in fact deliver and come up with some crackpot theory of what she calls spying-tactics, rest assured they will be exaggerated to a certain point.”

Soto stopped, eyes alight as if he just understood something. One or two of his followers gasped as Soto reread the paragraphs again. He looked up. “Ah, ha! So, Hermione Weasley does have something, or Skeeter would not launch such a preemptive strike. Of course, everyone is busy analyzing Incommodo and Phoenix to understand this. It is her who is exploiting events and keeping attention off herself.

“Hermione being within the Magical Creature Department also gives her leeway on the vampire issue. Her previous love-interest in Hogwarts Harry Potter is after all openly involved in the issue. She too is hiding the vampire controversy within Hogwarts.

Phoenix may not be completely knowledgeable of the vampires though. He did after all send Riley home early for the Easter holidays. We must remember that he is involved in the exchange student controversy though and therefore has a lot to do with this. How much, only letters will tell. That is why I must make a direct appeal to the Goblins and a peace-offering.”

Soto sighed, shaking his head as if genuinely annoyed, “So, she accuses like the rest of her articles, and then finally turns to the Goblins, expecting them to sympathize and lay off us and unite for a common purpose of exchange students they have no care over. Until of course she connected the two issues. Let us see her offer:

“For the sake of both races, peace, and protection and knowledge on vampires, let the Ministry in the vaults to affirm that nothing is taken. If Phoenix is innocent, he has nothing to fear nor would he have a problem with us checking. He may even be present if he wishes. If the Goblins would like a donation in return, that is negotiable as long as the freedom of the hostages and fate of the disappeared Ministry worker is revealed and we will of course free the captured the Goblin..

“Let us put aside our difference and make sure that vampires are not given immunity due to the carelessness of Headmaster Phoenix, the naivety of Harry Potter and the deception of Otto Blackberry.

“-Rita Skeeter”

The laughter was unmatched. It seemed really funny to them all. “The poor world,” Soto said aloud to laughter. “Being fooled by this mad woman. Ok, so it’s likely the hostage situation will die down and they’ll all be safe. After all, if the Goblins killed them, a war is certain. Phoenix will of course go under fire and the vampires expelled or sacked. It is also certain that thanks to us and our meddling ways, the exchange students will go home and the crisis resolved with a humiliating loss for Harry Potter, Otto Blackberry and Galadral Phoenix. I predict the sack for all three of them.”

Jimmy and Adam started protesting loudly, Adam cursing at them in a foreign language. Jimmy’s accent was inaudible over the Arabic and the laughter of the white-robed men. Soto silenced them both but kept the smile up. “We return to the entrance of the forest now. Lest the teacher never find you and we’re accused of kidnapping. Rufeus, Rookwood, Stella, Orgella, with me.”

Four people, two men and two women appeared at his side as he called them. The followers took positions beside or behind Soto with him leading the small pack. The trees the students were tied to once again uprooted themselves and they slowly made their way back to the entrance. Please, Albus prayed. Please, let this go wrong. Dad will be sacked over this. Phoenix… Phoenix will be proven right after that argument last summer. This can’t be happening.

“Of course,” a blonde woman beside Soto started. “If we await at the entrance, and Phoenix is involved, he may manage to save himself even if the students do end up leaving.”

“He might indeed, Orgella, he might indeed,” Soto said thoughtfully. “Then again, if Phoenix, Potter and Blackberry keep their positions at their respective posts, that may bode well for us; particularly with Harry Potter. We need him if I am to achieve my goal.”

Albus could see the light drawing closer. They were almost out. Soto and the woman called Orgella were still chatting. Stella, Rookwood and Rufeus were at the back, watching warily. Rookwood, Albus recalled. I know that name. He looked over at Mark and could see the kid too had wide eyes of fear. If they could all get out of this alive…

“We must do everything we can to ensure Potter remains at the top,” Soto concluded. “If he doesn’t, he will surely put Weasley in charge and continue through him. After time passes, Weasley has full right to hand his position to Potter once again. I’m sure Phoenix will survive. It’s Blackberry we should really be worried abo”-

Then, Soto was interrupted by a scream. It was a scream from a familiar voice but an unfamiliar tone. It was a scream that Albus had never heard in his life but would never forget.

“ROOKWOOD!”

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