"Why do we have to go back?" Blaise groaned, lying back on the grass. The four friends had spent the entire summer at Malfoy Manor, trying to keep informed of the Dark Lord's plans. Contrary to what Draco had assumed, the four friends were pretty up-to-date on the current happenings within the meetings, though they weren't personally allowed to attend. However, tonight, for the first night ever, they were expected to be present the meeting. Presumably, this was to talk about the Dark Lord's expectations for the four of them returning to Hogwarts and reporting on Dumbledore, Potter and Professor Snape's activities.
"We have four more years at Hogwarts, Blaise," Hermione commented, "You might as well get used to it."
"Just think of it as spying on Potter and Dumbledore, with some schoolwork on the side." Pansy suggested.
"Besides, we'll be allowed to go to Hogsmeade this year," Hermione added in, "and we get to start our new classes."
"We've agreed that we're going to take the classes Potter is taking, right?" Draco said, "so we can keep a better eye on him."
"Yes, so let's just hope that he doesn't take anything too boring." Blaise replied, "I would hate to be stuck in something like Divination."
"Hermione, let's head up to the Manor. I want to change before the meeting." Pansy said, standing up. Hermione immediately got to her feet and followed her friend inside.
Blaise, Hermione and Pansy all had guest rooms in Malfoy Manor, due to the amount of time the friends had spent there over the summer. Hermione followed Pansy to her room, stopping a house elf on the way.
"Get me the Daily Prophet from today, will you? I'll be in Pansy's room."
The elf nodded and disappeared.
"You've been reading the newspaper an awful lot this summer," Pansy commented, as she opened her door.
"Yes, well, after seeing the article about the Weasley's and their trip to Egypt, you could say I'm curious." Hermione replied, plopping down onto Pansy's bed, "Just want to see if there's anything going on in the world, Pans."
Pansy went into the adjoining bathroom to change, just as the house elf appeared with the newspaper. When Hermione saw the front-page story, she gasped.
"What's wrong?" Pansy called.
"Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban."
The four Slytherins followed their parents into the Malfoy's dining room ten minutes before the meeting began, though the room was already almost full. The Dark Lord was not yet present, and everyone was talking about Sirius Black's escape. Hermione knew the only the facts when it came to Sirius Black; he was friends with the Potters and as far as the public knew, was their Secret Keeper and betrayed them to the Dark Lord and killed Peter Pettigrew, another friend of the Potters who had confronted Sirius after the incident in Godric's Hollow. However, Hermione, as well as everyone else in the room, knew that Sirius Black had never betrayed the Potters—it had been Peter Pettigrew all along. The confrontation between Black and Pettigrew had obviously been Black's revenge on Pettigrew for betraying their friends. It was too bad, really, that Pettigrew had died in the altercation. He could have been a useful spy.
Everything went silent as the Dark Lord suddenly walked into the room. Hermione watched him as he walked smoothly toward his chair at the head of the table, without saying a word.
"Hello, my followers," he said, once he had taken his seat.
"My Lord," everyone murmured.
"We have much to discuss tonight, especially with this occurrence at Azkaban. Does anyone know how Black managed to escape?"
"As you know, my Lord, I have… obtained a contact with a warden of Azkaban. They have not yet figured out how he managed to escape—though it seems he had no outside help." Lucius said.
"No outside help," the Dark Lord repeated, "That is intriguing. I wonder why Black has decided only now to attempt escape."
"The public thinks that he is going to go after Potter," Macnair added in, "I've heard that they are sending Dementors to Hogwarts to guard the castle."
"Interesting," the Dark Lord said, "While the movements of Sirius Black mean very little to me, keep an eye on the situation, Macnair. I very much doubt he is headed toward Hogwarts, but he must have had an important reason to escape Azkaban when he did.
"On the topic of Hogwarts," the Dark Lord paused to look at the young Slytherins at the other end of the table, "I know the four of you are aware that you will need to keep a close eye on the activities of Potter and Dumbledore. Have you given any thought to how you plan on doing this?"
They all looked at each other, but Hermione spoke, "All we have determined as of now, my Lord, is that we are waiting to choose our extra classes until we find out what classes Potter is taking. If we take the same classes as him, we will have very similar schedules, which will help us watch him without suspicion."
The Dark Lord nodded, "That is a good start. However, that is not my only task for you. As you all know," he looked around the room at everyone, "Severus is not with us at the current time. It saddens me that we do not know of his loyalty, but he has been around Dumbledore for many years. If we determine that he is still loyal, you will need to pass along a message to him. Until then, watch him as well and see if you can determine where his loyalties lie."
"Yes, my Lord," the four friends said, in unison.
"Next order of business. Dorian," the Dark Lord gestured at Hermione's father, "I heard you have been able to acquire a guest for the evening."
Hermione's father nodded, "Shall I retrieve him from the dungeons, my Lord?"
"Yes, now seems as good a time as any to have a conversation with an old friend."
Hermione glanced over at her father as he exited the room, and then looked over at Draco. No one at the table spoke, obviously already knowing who the 'guest' was. Who could it be, Hermione wondered. Hermione looked at her mother, who gave her a reassuring smile. It can't really be an old friend, she reasoned, or they wouldn't be in the dungeons. Perhaps it was someone who betrayed the Dark Lord. The door opened and Hermione's father walked in, dragging a man behind him.
"Igor Karkaroff," Draco whispered to her. Suddenly it all made sense. Hermione's dad had told her about Igor—how he was captured and gave up the names of several Death Eaters in order to get out of Azkaban.
"He's going to kill him," Hermione whispered.
Igor went white when he saw the Dark Lord.
"My Lord," Karkaroff said, dropping to his knees, though Hermione's father still had his arm in a tight grip, "I cannot believe it."
"Igor," the Dark Lord said smoothly, "There is no need for a false show of loyalty, when we all know you do not possess a shred of it."
If it was possible, Karkaroff's face got whiter.
"I do not want to hear your excuses, Igor. I want to hear about what you have done with your life after betraying your friends."
"My Lord, I only—"
"Tell me about your life," the Dark Lord said, sharply, "I will not ask again."
"I am Headmaster of Durmstrang, my Lord."
"Did you ever marry, Igor? Have children?"
"No, my Lord."
"That is a pity. You really should have taken advantage of your freedom. Found a pretty witch, had some kids. It seems your only real accomplishment is being Headmaster."
Karkaroff did not speak.
"I wonder what Crouch would have done with his freedom—or Rookwood." The Dark Lord asked, pensively, dropping in the names of the two wizards Karkaroff had betrayed, "Pity," the Dark Lord repeated, "Durmstrang will have to find a new Headmaster. Avada Kedavra."
Hermione's father let go of Karkaoff's arm and he fell face down to the floor.
"That concludes our meeting for tonight, my friends." With that, the Dark Lord swept out of the room.