The Falling

Dumbledore Dismissed

Music could be heard coming from the library; a symphony of some kind. He was meditating on something and had given explicit instructions not to be disturbed. Disobeying such an order was near suicidal, however Lucius knew that the Dark Lord must be informed. Biting his lower lip, he mustered his courage and knocked on the library door.

"Enter." hissed Voldemort's cold, high voice.

Lucius pushed the door open and nervously stepped inside. The fireplace to his right crackled as the flames danced in its grate, casting long shadows in the room, for it was the only source of light. The drapes were pulled against the morning light, giving the illusion of night. An old phonograph sat directly across from where Lucius stood; the source of the music. To his left was an ornate desk, magnificently preserved from time. Behind that desk, he could see the back of a high-back black chair; it's occupant hidden from view.

"The fourth symphony of Schumann." said the high, cold voice. "He was a pureblood who nearly gave up everything for a muggle. When he came to his senses, he faked his own death and returned to the magical world he had forsaken, only to be rejected by all."

Lucius swallowed hard but did not respond, for he had no idea how to.

"I gave an explicit instruction not to be disturbed." said Voldemort coldly, his pale face glowing in the fire light as he turned the chair to face Lucius. "Why then, have you chosen to disobey me?"

"My Lord," stammered Lucius "I have news from Hogwarts."

"Did the mudblood receive the message?" asked Voldemort.

"In a way – yes." replied Lucius. "A student was killed during the confrontation. They are having a memorial at the school today."

"It's true then," hissed Voldemort. "If the mudblood attacked our messenger, the information she gave Draco was an attempt to lure us into a trap."

"My Lord," said Lucius quickly "why would she take such a risk, knowing that her parent's lives hung in the balance?"

"Maybe the mudblood doesn't believe you, Lucius." hissed Voldemort, folding his long fingers together in front of his snake-like face.

"My Lord, Draco showed her the mirror." said Lucius, fear entering his voice. "Is there a possibility that Potter has simply stumbled onto information that he does not understand?"

"There are many things that Potter does not understand," hissed Voldemort savagely. "However, this lead to the disappearance of two of my Death Eaters! It reeks of Dumbledore!"

"Yes my Lord." stammered Lucius, staring at the floor.

"You said a student was killed during the scuffle?" asked Voldemort softly.

"Yes my Lord. A pureblood Ravenclaw named Cho Chang." said Lucius, still looking at the floor. "She tried to interfere."

Voldemort waved his hand and the music ceased, which made Lucius start to panic. Having Voldemort's full attention wasn't a good thing, and though many foolish followers sought it, Lucius knew that his wrath was always boiling close to the surface.

"Lucius?" beckoned Voldemort.

"My Lord?" replied Lucius looking up.

"You cannot lie to Lord Voldemort, Lucius." hissed Voldemort. "He always knows. Our messenger failed to deliver the message that I sent – however, this turn of events may suit us better. Fortune finds Lord Voldemort, as always. Now leave this room, Lucius, while you still can."

The hissing tone of Voldemort's voice lingered in the air as Lucius tore from the room, fleeing for his life. As the door shut behind him, the music started to play once more.

Earlier that morning Hermione, with Harry by her side, had given her account of what lead to Cho's death to Professors Dumbledore, McGonagall, Flitwick, and Minister Fudge in the Headmaster's office. Fudge had given Hermione a grandfatherly pat on the back, handing her a clean handkerchief before turning to glare at Dumbledore.

"Dumbledore, this is completely unacceptable." said Fudge harshly. "I mean, two deaths in less than four months! Now this poor girl must spend the rest of her days with the memory of what she witnessed."

" Minister, might we continue this discussion without Ms Granger and Mr Potter?" asked Dumbledore firmly.

"Yes, of course." said Fudge calmly, twirling his bowler hat in his hands.

"Professor McGonagall, please escort Mr Potter and Ms Granger back to their common room." said Dumbledore softly. "Professor Flitwick, please stay, as we need to discuss the matter of the Chang family."

Professors McGonagall and Flitwick nodded. Harry made no protest as he desired nothing more than to leave the Headmaster's presence. He placed an arm around Hermione and guided her out of the office, Professor McGonagall close behind. When they reached the bottom of the spiraling staircase, Professor McGonagall halted them.

"Before you return to your common room to prepare for breakfast, I would like you to accompany me to my office for a moment." said Professor McGonagall. "That is, if you are up to it, my dear."

Hermione nodded and Professor McGonagall led them to her office, Harry keeping his arm wrapped tightly around Hermione. As they entered McGonagall's office, she motioned for them to take a seat in front of her desk. Harry helped Hermione into a seat, before sitting in the chair next to her.

"As your Head of House, I am responsible for both of you; thus it is my position to keep you safe." said McGonagall, settling herself into her desk chair to face them. "Even though I asked you two here, I'm not really sure what to say."

"Then don't say anything, Professor." said Harry harshly.

"Harry!" shouted Hermione with a sudden jerk of the head.

McGonagall removed her glasses and placed them on the desk in front of her. She did not react to Harry's rudeness, but instead watched him with a look of concern. Harry had decided that now was the time to find out how much he could trust his Head of House.

"I'm sick of the games." said Harry. "Hermione, it's the staff's fault that Cho is dead, not yours or mine."

"I agree, Mr Potter." said McGonagall, her lips thinning considerably and her eyes becoming fixed upon Harry, though there were no signs of anger in her face.

"Professor, might I ask you why it seems that you've been going out of your way to assist Hermione and myself these last couple of weeks?" Harry asked shrewdly.

"I do my best to help every student in Gryffindor house, Mr Potter." said McGonagall briskly. "I have always –"

"Encouraging Occlumency;" interrupted Harry "warning us against Dumbledore; acknowledging our distrust of the Order and the faculty here at Hogwarts; showing interest in our detention; arranging for Hermione to accompany me to Pettigrew's trial." Harry counted them off on his hand. "Do any of these things sound like our Head of House, Hermione?"

Hermione was startled by the question, but shook her head no.

"The last time a teacher showed that much interest in my life and acted that far out of character, they turned out to be a Death Eater in disguise." said Harry, fixing McGonagall with a hard stare.

"I'm truly sorry, Harry, that I haven't shown enough interest in your life before now." replied McGonagall, swallowing hard. "I've always tried to be fair with all students, yet there has been nothing fair about your life, has there?" McGonagall's breathing became slower and deeper as she assessed the two teens sitting before her. "I completely understand your reservations, especially after the Barty Crouch Jr. catastrophe. I will submit myself to any test you wish to prove that I am me."

"One simple question will suffice, Professor." said Harry. "How did I make the Quidditch team in my first year?"

"I selected you for the team after I saw you break school rules by flying a school broom to retrieve Mr Longbottom's Rememberall after Mr Malfoy tried to dispose of it." said McGonagall with a smile. "You were as white as a sheet while we went to fetch Mr Wood."

"I thought you were going to expel me." said Harry, returning her smile.

"And miss the opportunity to beat Slytherin? Never." smiled McGonagall.

Harry felt confident that they were with the real Professor McGonagall. Now, he needed to ask the really tough questions. Suddenly, the fireplace in McGonagall's office roared to life, as the flames turned a bright green. Harry instinctively withdrew his wand and leapt to his feet, pointing it at the fireplace.

"Pardon the interruption." said Sirius, stepping out of the bright green fireplace and eying his godson.

Sirius had departed earlier that morning to cleanup for the memorial service. He was dressed in black dress robes and looking extremely well groomed. For the first time Harry could see the regal heir of the Black family in his godfather. Harry placed his wand back into his holster, then sat back down beside Hermione.

"No interruption." said McGonagall, her eyes still fixed on Harry. "We were just – discussing the unfortunate tragedy."

"How long have you both known about my parents?" asked Hermione.

Harry simply blinked as he stared at Hermione disbelievingly. He had been worried about how she would handle this conversation, but now he realized he was overlooking her mental toughness.

"I see." growled Sirius. "So we're placing our cards on the table now, in light of recent events?"

"It's time." said Hermione.

"Yes, I agree." replied Sirius firmly. "Hermione, I've known about your parents since shortly after I visited your residence that morning."

"What about you Professor," asked Hermione turning to address Professor McGonagall "how long have you known about my parents?"

"My dear, I've known about your parent's situation since just before start of term." replied McGonagall softly.

Harry felt rage flowing through him as the blood thundered in his ears. His suspicions were true: Dumbledore was aware of everything! Even if Sirius and Professor McGonagall were kept ignorant of the finer details, Harry was sure that Snape had told Dumbledore all about Voldemort's plans. At that moment, he knew they could never trust the Order of the Phoenix again – not as long as Dumbledore was their leader.

"So you've known about Hermione's parents being abducted this whole time?" asked Harry angrily.

"Harry, I've been waiting for you two to trust me enough to tell me yourself." replied Sirius. "I didn't want to push you away."

"I however, did not want to wait, but Sirius believed we should allow you to tell us first." replied McGonagall, glaring at Sirius.

"Makes perfect sense." said Hermione, to Harry's complete astonishment.

"How does this make perfect sense?" asked Harry in disbelief.

" Harry, would you have listened to Sirius if he had told you that he knew my parents had been abducted?" asked Hermione, though she did not wait for him to respond. "Of course not – but by showing trust in your decisions, he gained your trust in return." Hermione looked up at Professor McGonagall, wiping tears from her face. "Professor, thank you for your support."

"My dear," said McGonagall in a rather choked voice "I will do whatever I can to help you."

"Even if it means facing Voldemort and defying Dumbledore?" asked Harry harshly.

"Dumbledore isn't the enemy, Harry." replied Sirius.

"He's not necessarily an ally either." said Hermione firmly.

"I admit he has his own agenda, Hermione –" began Sirius.

"One that included your imprisonment in Azkaban." Interrupted Hermione. "If we're going to be honest, then let's do so."

Harry was impressed by Hermione's candid behaviour. He had seen it time and time again with students; rarely ever with adults. Sirius said nothing, though Harry could tell he was thinking hard.

"He proved that he could have freed you at any time he wished." continued Hermione.

"Can you provide a reason why he would have purposely left me to rot in that hell hole?" asked Sirius softly, though the growl was clear.

"I thought it was obvious." replied Hermione. "He left you there because of Harry."

Comprehension dawned for Harry like the morning sun beyond McGonagall's window. Dumbledore never could have had such control over Harry's life, had Sirius been allowed to be his godfather. Harry would have lived with Sirius; would have been raised in the wizarding world; would have probably never even known the Dursleys. He would not have needed Dumbledore if he had a godfather.

Harry could see the same comprehension in the scowl on Sirius' face. His breathing was becoming very heavy as his gaze dropped to the floor. The balling of fists told Harry exactly what his godfather was thinking – or so he thought.

"Harry – Hermione," said Sirius abruptly "I want you two to come stay with me. I want you both out of this school immediately."

Harry's mind went blank as Hermione's mouth fell open in shock. Of all the responses he had imagined, this wasn't one of them. Harry closed his eyes to reign in his thoughts.

"Sorry, Sirius, but we cannot." replied Harry, his eyes still closed tightly. "If we leave, we'll lose our advantage."

"If you stay, you could very well die." growled Sirius, causing Harry to open his eyes and look at his godfather.

Harry could see the genuine concern on Sirius' face and knew that he was truly worried. The continuing loss of faith in Dumbledore and the ever growing reach of Voldemort's followers were making the once secure Hogwarts look as vulnerable as sleeping in the open.

"Not while I'm here." said McGonagall firmly, causing them to look at her. "Sirius, I believe that Harry and Hermione have learned a valuable lesson and will not repeat that mistake twice." When Harry raised his eyebrows, she continued. "If you and your group are going to make waves Harry, you had best travel in pairs. You're far too vulnerable alone, even at Hogwarts."

Harry and Hermione sat quietly together in the Great Hall, which had been transformed into a large cathedral-like environment. Sirius sat next to Harry, looking extremely troubled. The students were not separated into houses today. Instead, friends and family sat with one another, comforting each other. For Cedric, Dumbledore had merely said some words to the students after the closing feast; now the Great Hall played host to many parents and family members as well as students. She had the suspicion that many were there to collect their children and take them home.

Hermione's stomach growled but she ignored it. They had skipped breakfast, neither of them wanting to eat, and had stayed in their common room near the fireplace to enjoy some time alone, staring at the crackling fire. Harry had allowed her to lay her head in his lap while he rubbed her head. She hadn't felt like talking much since Cho's death and Harry didn't try to force her. He was there for her but was also giving her some space so that she could deal with it in her own way. For this, she was truly grateful.

The Alliance sat together behind Harry and Hermione; Hermione having no doubts that they were silently standing guard over them. They were truly the only reason that she hadn't tried to convince Harry to accept Sirius' request to immediately take them to his new residence this morning. They were close to unraveling the riddle that was her parents whereabouts, and she wasn't about to be set back in their task.

Dumbledore stood before the podium, the staff seated behind him in chairs, all dressed in black; the most difficult of expressions to decipher upon their faces. Dumbledore cleared his throat and the Great Hall fell silent.

"It pains me that I must stand before you this morning and again speak of a life cut far too short. A life so full of promise; so full of good; so full of love." Dumbledore paused before continuing. "Cho Chang was a person who exemplified what it means to be a Ravenclaw. Professor Flitwick has told me that she was not only intelligent, creative, and witty, but also a loyal friend and a truly loving person."

Sobs could be heard from various portions of the hall. Hermione laid her head on Harry's shoulder, crying softly, as he placed an arm around her. Hermione stared into the sorrowful eyes of Dumbledore as he continued.

"She was cut down by the actions of an unknown individual." said Dumbledore, his sorrow dissipating as it was replaced by a fierce resolve. "This individual violated all that we hold dear. Let her memory serve to us as a reminder that in these times of uncertainty we must stand together."

Hermione could feel Harry tense; his arm tightening about her shoulders. How could Dumbledore stand there and speak of unity when he himself was drawing lines and building walls, thought Hermione. They hadn't continued into detail earlier of why Dumbledore would want control over Harry so much that he would leave an innocent man to rot in Azkaban, but Hermione was certain that there was more to it than just defeating Lord Voldemort.

"We must remember, that in the battle between what is right and what is easy, there are no school houses; no winners or losers; nothing but a choice." continued Dumbledore. "This choice is one that will change and guide your life. So, I ask here today, that in the light of this tragedy that we reflect on what choices we are making and how they will change our lives. Now, a moment of silence in memory of Cho Chang."

Dumbledore bowed his head, as did everyone else. Even Slytherins were, if at the very least, glancing down at the floor. Dumbledore sniffed as he raised his head to look upon the congregation once more.

"Now, as for the safety of Hogwarts. We will..."

Dumbledore's voice trailed away as the doors to the Great Hall opened and Hermione watched Fudge march into the hall along with the entire Hogwarts Board of Governors, approaching the podium where Dumbledore stood. After a brief discussion with Dumbledore, Fudge stepped to the podium, calling for silence from the congregation which had broken into whispers.

"My apologies for interrupting this memorial service, however, we believe that it is necessary and will strengthen our beloved school." said Fudge in a very sombre tone. "This brings me no pleasure Dumbledore," Fudge turned and nodded to the Headmaster "but we feel that in light of this tragedy, changes must be made. Therefore, in the best interest of Hogwarts, we officially dismiss Albus Dumbledore as Headmaster and appoint Dolores Umbridge as Headmistress of Hogwarts."

A mixture of rapid talking and loud boos erupted in the Great Hall. Professor Umbridge, who had risen to her feet, magically magnified her voice and gave a, "hem, hem" in an attempt to bring the congregation's focus back to the podium. That however, did not work in the slightest. Hermione looked around Harry to see Sirius' expression, which was just as placid as Harry's. Dumbledore cleared his throat and all fell silent.

"Thank you, Dumbledore." said Fudge "Let me extend our sincerest condolences, on behalf of the Board of Governors and the entire Ministry, to the friends and family of Ms Chang. We share your sorrow in your loss."

The Board of Governors magically created another row of chairs in front of the teachers and sat down. Fudge bowed to Professor Umbridge, then motioned for Dumbledore to go ahead of him as he left the Great Hall. Dumbledore bowed to Fudge then proceeded down the center of the hall, passing through the doors into the Entrance Hall, Fudge close behind him. Hermione saw Dumbledore glance at them, a shrewd look upon his face, as he passed where they sat.

"Thank you, Minister," said Professor Umbridge, stepping behind the podium "for those kind words of comfort."

Hermione turned back towards the front to see a smug look on the toad-like face that was barely visible above the podium. She then looked at Harry, who showed no change of expression; his face placid and hard.

"We will remember Ms Chang for all her wonderful qualities, however we would do her memory the highest injustice if we forget how she died." said Umbridge, only traces of her girlish tone present. "She died because of reasons yet unknown; all we do know is that it was entirely avoidable. It is clear to me, in the short time I have been here, that the many wild ideas allowed to run rampant here have lead to the demises of Mr Diggory and Ms Chang."

Hermione was certain that if looks truly could kill, Umbridge would lay dead upon the floor. The entire staff, whose expressions had once been unreadable, looked as though they could attack at any moment. Sirius though, looked strangely as though he was amused by what was being said.

"That said, I want every student here to know that I will be working diligently with each and every member of staff to ensure that this type of tragedy does not occur here again." said Umbridge comfortingly. "The Ministry and the Governors want Hogwarts to be a safe place of learning for all. To accomplish this, certain rules will be enforced temporarily, until we feel that all is safe here again." Umbridge pulled out a small piece of parchment, unfolded it, and began to read aloud. "There will be a required head count twice a day in every house. A curfew of 9pm will be strictly enforced. Any student caught breaking curfew will be given detention. Aurors will patrol the castle at night to ensure safety. No wand use of any kind will be allowed outside of classrooms. Any student caught using their wand will have it confiscated."

Umbridge folded the parchment then surveyed the congregation with a very satisfied look. She stepped back from the podium and sat down in Dumbledore's chair, as one of the Governors stood up and approached the podium. He began to speak of loss and lives cut short, though his words felt meaningless and cold. The feeling of sorrow in the Great Hall was gone; replaced by indifference. The words of Dumbledore were heart-felt and truly sorrowful; now, the political aspiration of power hungry individuals was all that could be heard. As a pair of pipers appeared and began to play, Hermione felt anger building up inside her at the atrocity Cho's memorial had become.

When the pipers finished, everyone rose to their feet and began to exit the hall. Sirius walked with them as they made their way into the Entrance Hall, followed by members of the Alliance.

"My offer still stands, now more than ever." said Sirius to Harry and Hermione, placing a hand on Harry's shoulder.

"We couldn't now, even if we wanted to." said Hermione. "Umbridge would never allow it, especially without my parent's consent."

"Yes, and I've always played by the rules." replied Sirius, a mischievous smile spread across his face.

"If we leave now, they will either blame Hermione for what happened or accuse you of kidnapping her." said Harry.

Suddenly, a commotion broke out in the Great Hall. Hermione followed Harry and Sirius back into the hall to find Terry Boot howling in pain on the floor as Seamus stood over top of him twisting his hand.

"What is going on here?" shouted Umbridge, as she pushed her way through the growing crowd.

"Just doing what you told us to, Professor." said Seamus, squeezing harder on Terry's hand, causing him to holler even more.

"Release him at once!" shouted Umbridge.

Seamus released Terry's hand; Terry backing away quickly into the wall of onlookers.

"When did I ever tell you to act like some – some muggle, Mr Finnigan?" asked Umbridge.

"You told us not to be using magic outside the classroom," replied Seamus "and being half muggle me self, it was the first thing that came to me."

"Detention, Mr Finnigan." hissed Umbridge.

"Aren't you going to even ask what happened?" asked Sirius politely.

"This is my school now, Lord Black, and fighting is unacceptable – no matter the circumstance." replied Umbridge, looking up into Sirius' face.

"Then shouldn't both students serve detention?" asked Sirius.

"Very well, Lord Black, Mr Boot will serve detention as well." replied Umbridge.

"What seems to be the trouble?" asked McGonagall, walking over to the gathering through the crowd.

"Everything is under control, Minerva." replied Umbridge. "Mr Finnigan and Mr Boot will be serving detention for brawling."

Umbridge huffed loudly then made her way back to the Governors, who were still congregated near the front of the hall. McGonagall raised an eyebrow as she looked from Seamus to Sirius then shouted for everyone to disburse.

"What was that about, Seamus?" asked Harry.

"Oh, the git made a comment about how suspicious it was that only Gryffindors saw the supposed Death Eater and that Hermione was holding Cho's dead body." said Seamus. "I told him that Professor Sprout was there too and I was one of them that saw the Death Eater but he said that didn't prove anything. Luckily, me father was a fair hand-to-hand fighter in his day."

Hermione saw Harry glance up at Sirius who looked lost in thought. The Board of Governors were beginning to depart and Hermione knew that without Dumbledore there, Sirius would be asked to leave very soon. Sirius seemed to be aware of this as well. He motioned for Harry and Hermione to follow him back out into the Entrance Hall.

"See ya in the common room." said Seamus, as Harry and Hermione followed Sirius.

Harry nodded as he proceeded out of the Great Hall. When they reached the Entrance Hall, Sirius turned to face them both.

"If you're going to remain here, you need to be careful." said Sirius in a hushed tone. "I'm sure the Ministry will be looking for any excuse to confiscate your wands. If you change your minds, you can always come stay with me." Sirius leaned close and whispered in Hermione's ear, "Chin up, Hermione, we'll find them."

Hermione nodded as Sirius patted her on the shoulder. They walked with Sirius out to the edge of the grounds, as he thought it would be best to apparate rather than use the floo network. They bid Sirius farewell then headed back to the castle.

"So what's our next step?" whispered Hermione as they approached the castle entrance.

"Dunno. Any suggestions?" whispered Harry.

"I think we need to tell the group." whispered Hermione. "They need to know why."

Hermione was nervous about telling them but she knew it must be done.

"I agree." said Harry, taking Hermione's hand in his.

The Gryffindor common room was abuzz with noise when Harry and Hermione stepped through the portrait, as groups of students actively discussed the morning's events thus far. The largest group surrounded Seamus, who was the center of a serious discussion about 'muggle fighting'. The room quickly fell silent as many noticed the arrival of Harry and Hermione.

"What's happened?" asked Harry, staring at the frown on Seamus' face.

"Parvati, her sis, Lavender, Katie, the Creevey brothers, and Dean are gone." replied Seamus.

"Gone?" asked Harry, frowning hard. "What do you mean?"

"Their parents came to collect them." replied Angelina Johnson angrily.

"Dunno yet how many others have been removed from the other houses," said Neville "but we're sure Gryffindor house isn't the only one with concerned parents."

Harry wasn't surprised, and by the look on Hermione's face, she wasn't either. Harry didn't respond but instead walked over and stood by the fireplace, Hermione at his side. Conversations around the room started up again as someone tapped him on the shoulder and Harry turned to see Angelina standing behind him.

"Fred informed me that you have a 'study group' that I might want to join but I'd have to ask you. If it's the same 'study group' as on the train, I want in." said Angelina firmly.

"Alright," replied Harry quietly, as not to be overheard "but we'll need you to sign a piece of parchment first before we can let you in."

"Just sign right here." said Hermione, pulling the rolled up parchment from inside her robes.

Hermione and Angelina walked over to a far corner, away from prying eyes, and Angelina immediately signed. Hermione rolled the parchment back up and placed it back inside her robes.

"What else do I need to do?" asked Angelina walking back over to Harry with Hermione.

"Just come with Fred and George tonight." replied Harry. "We'll explain more there. You can then decide if you want to stay."

"Wonder how long before Umbridge tries to shut you down." said Angelina.

"She'll have to catch us first." replied Harry darkly, causing Angelina to smirk.

Just before lunch, Harry convinced Hermione that she needed to eat something. Begrudgingly, she agreed and they joined Neville, Ron, and Ginny in the Great Hall. Neville informed them that four Hufflepuffs and six other Ravenclaws, not counting Padma Patil, had been removed from Hogwarts by their parents. No surprise to Harry that not one Slytherin had been removed.

"Susan Bones asked me if I was a part of your study group, Harry." said Ginny, sipping her pumpkin juice. "I told her I was and she asked if she could join. I told her to ask Hermione."

"Thanks Ginny." said Hermione, shaking her head.

"Angelina joined up." said George, sitting down next to Neville.

"Students will be flocking to us." said Fred, sitting down next to Harry.

"Now that the toad is in charge." said George, taking a drink from his goblet.

"Any tea news?" asked Harry, ignoring their comments.

"Actually – yes." replied Fred, glancing at George.

"What?" asked Harry, looking over at Fred.

"Our favourite little morpher is better, I guess." replied Fred.

"You don't sound sure." said Hermione, leaning around Harry.

"Well, that's just it." said George.

"Don't know for sure 'cause our little morpher got up and left." said Fred.

"Are you sure the morpher left under their own power?" asked Harry, wondering if Tonks might have been abducted.

"Yep." replied Fred.

"The morpher stunned two healers on the way out." said George.

Harry just looked at George as though he had two heads. Why on Earth would Tonks attack a healer, he thought to himself.

"Nobody has seen our little morpher since." said Fred.

This bit of information troubled Harry deeply. Tonks had been attacked while doing something for the Order. Could she be imperiused then, wondered Harry.

Harry asked the group to relay word to Luna and Angelina that they would meet that night at seven to avoid any chance of breaking curfew. Harry then took Hermione for a stroll in the grounds to get her mind off of Cho. As they passed Hagrid's hut, Harry wished their oversized friend was there to sit and talk with; hoped that he was still alive.

Later that evening, the Alliance gathered for another meeting in the Room of Requirement. The mood was a sombre one as many were still digesting all that had transpired. Angelina marveled at the room, while Fred showed her its many features. As everyone took a seat at the large table, Harry stood to address the group.

"There's something that Fred, George, Hermione and I have been keeping from most of you." said Harry tensely.

"No real revelation there, mate." said Ron sarcastically.

"We can still obliviate your memories, Ron." Hermione snapped, and Ron bit his lip but said no more.

"Like I was saying, we have been keeping a secret." said Harry, eying Ron for signs of interruption. "The attack in the Owlery happened because of our secret, I'm sure of it. Cho just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Neville, Ginny, Luna, and Ron bowed their heads, while Seamus, Angelina, and the twins looked intently at Harry.

"Roughly a month before the start of term, Hermione's parents were abducted by Lucius Malfoy in order to blackmail Hermione." said Harry.

Gasps from Luna, Angelina, and Ginny were joined by cries of outrage from Neville, Seamus, and Ron.

"Why would Malfoy's father wanna blackmail Hermione?" asked Seamus.

"He wants information about me for Voldemort." replied Harry.

Neville, Ginny, Angelina, Ron, and Seamus cringed at the sound of Lord Voldemort's name. Luna however, simply looked amused by the name.

"Mr Malfoy expects Hermione to provide Draco with information about me." continued Harry.

"That little piece of garbage." spat Angelina.

"No wonder you attacked Malfoy on the train." said Seamus. "Surprised you didn't chuck him from it."

"There's plenty of high windows here." said Ron savagely, his ears glowing red.

"Attacking Malfoy will only place Hermione's parents in jeopardy." said Harry. "So instead, we have feed Malfoy a bit of false information while we work out where they're being held. We think that is what led to the attack in the Owlery."

Hermione looked at Harry then looked at the table, tears gushing from her eyes, trailing down her face. She felt guilty about what happened to Cho. Her transgressions had now led to Cho's death. Ginny leaned over and placed an arm around her.

"Why didn't you just tell Dumbledore while he was still here and let him take care of it?" asked Seamus.

"Because you git, Snape would just go run off and warn Voldemort, now wouldn't he." said Fred darkly.

"Don't call me a git!" snapped Seamus.

"Do you really think that Professor Snape is a spy for You-Know-Who?" asked Angelina.

"Trouble is, we really truly don't know." said Harry. "For that reason, we could not trust Dumbledore. He trusts Snape completely."

Harry was doing his best to keep his prejudiced feelings for Snape in check. They would not do him any favours in convincing anyone. The overall reaction was as he expected it to be. He could see traces of resentment in Ron's eyes, no doubt for keeping such a thing from him, and he wondered if Ron would be able to get past it.

"Please don't get upset, Hermione, but do you believe that her parents are still alive, Harry?" asked Angelina. "This is You-Know-Who you're talking about."

"Yes." replied Harry. "Hermione has been provided proof. The only chance we have of rescuing them without anyone else we care about getting killed is if you all help. However, I will not look differently at any of you, should you decide not to help."

"How can you possibly find Hermione's parents while at Hogwarts?" asked Seamus.

"We've been spying on a group called, the Order of the Phoenix since before we returned to school." said Harry, glancing at Ron and Ginny.

"What's the Order of the Phoenix?" asked Seamus.

"It's a group formed by Professor Dumbledore to fight You-Know-Who." replied Luna. "Though, I once thought, as many did, that they were just a music group."

Harry smiled as Seamus blinked rapidly at Luna.

"So, have you figured out where Hermione's parents are?" asked Ron, his eyes wide.

"Not yet," replied Harry "but we're close." Harry paused a moment and gathered himself, his anger brewing at the thought of Hermione nearly dying and Cho's death.

"I believed – that as long as we were at Hogwarts, we were safe." continued Harry. "I believed – that as long as Albus Dumbledore was here, nothing like this could happen. I had convinced myself – that Cedric's death happened only because we had been removed from the grounds." Harry bowed his head as he struggled to prevent his anger from boiling over. "I was wrong, I was foolish; I, like all of us, was lead to believe that Hogwarts was the safest place on Earth," his anger boiled over and he could no longer control the fire that burned within him, as he began to shout. "EVEN IN THE FACE OF A BASILISK, I BELIEVED! EVEN AFTER FACING VOLDEMORT ON TWO SEPERATE OCCASSIONS WITHIN THE CASTLE WALLS, I foolishly believed that Dumbledore knew what he was doing, AND THAT IT WAS ALL FOR MY OWN GOOD!"

Harry slammed his fist into the table but nobody said a word. All eyes were on Harry, held captive with looks of, not fear but, intrigue.

"I realize now," continued Harry, a little more calmly "that waiting for someone else to fight this battle is foolish." Harry looked at those around the table. "Dumbledore – Umbridge – the Ministry, we're just expendables to them; a means to an end. Now, the Ministry has won their little political battle and we just become the trophy as long as they can make it look as though all is safe here now that Dumbledore is gone; a pawn in the Minister's fight with Dumbledore. When they finally do have to admit that Voldemort has returned, it will be too late."

"What do we need to do?" asked Neville, pounding his fist on the table in front of him.

"Train – train so that when the day comes that we have to defend ourselves, we can." replied Harry. "Voldemort's forces will not stop however, I'm sure that short of Umbridge having to murder every student in the castle, no new incidents will reach the press. In my opinion, the Ministry is just as much a danger now as Voldemort himself."

"So, what're our goals?" asked Angelina. "I mean, what can a group as small as ours possibly do?"

"Back in 1632, twelve wizards turned the tide of the goblin rebellion by a series of strategic attacks." replied Hermione.

"Didn't they all die?" asked Angelina.

"Okay, well their final stand was a bit foolish." replied Hermione. "I don't think Harry would order us to charge a hundred angry goblins."

"Unless the Ministry comes to their senses soon, we may have similar odds." said Harry, sitting down. "Though, I think running to my death won't ever become a strategy."

"How do you propose we keep Umbridge at bay, Harry?" asked Seamus. "I mean, she's not a delightful witch even when she's happy and we already know you're not her favourite person, mate. She's bound to be on the hunt for more ways to discredit you."

"You suggesting we be on good behaviour, Seamus?" asked Fred, one eyebrow raised.

"Pampering Umbridge's behaviour is the wrong way to deal with the problem." replied Harry. "Allowing her and Malfoy to focus solely on us is not a sound strategy. We're going to have to be very careful too, Umbridge will be looking for any reason to punish us and take our wands." He looked at Fred and George. "We need some diversions."

Mischievously evil grins curved the faces of Fred and George, as they mock saluted Harry.

"I'll do everything I can to help too, Harry." said Neville solemnly, as everyone else nodded in agreement with Neville.

"Sorry I lost me cool earlier, Harry," said Seamus "but Boot was clear outta line."

"You should have broken the git's hand." said Angelina savagely.

"Would have only made things worse." said Luna in a cold voice that sounded unnatural compared to her usual dreamy tone. "Besides, Terry's just upset."

"Regardless of that, Seamus, I think it would be an excellent idea for you to show us some hand-to-hand fighting." said Harry. "It may be useful."

"Sure thing, Harry." said Seamus, looking serious.

"Do you think it was Draco Malfoy that attacked Cho and Hermione in the Owlery?" asked Ginny.

"We dunno." replied Harry. "The person was very skilled, whoever it was."

"So," said Neville "anything else we need to know?"

Harry glanced at Fred and George, who shook their heads.

"I think that is all." replied Harry.

"Once we get your parents back, Hermione, we chuck Malfoy out the nearest window." declared Ron.

"Wrong, Ron. Once Hermione's parents are safe, Draco Malfoy is mine." said Harry, his anger burning his skin.

"Don't count on it." growled Hermione, tears etching her face.

Ginny patted her on the back and Hermione gave her a weak smile.

"Okay," said Harry, rising to his feet once more "am I to presume that everyone here is with us to the brink?"

He stared at Angelina, their newest member, then at Ron. They were, in his opinion, the group's weakest links. Everyone nodded, Seamus and Neville pounding the table with their fists.

"Excellent." said Harry. "Now, let's train."

Everyone rose from the table, looks of determination and concern etched most faces, the revelation of Hermione's predicament weighing heavily on the group. Harry marveled at the group's maturity in taking such news, as his speech wasn't a rallying chorus of political propaganda or call-to-arms. He wanted them to understand his position and judging from their response, they did.

He divided the group into two, placing Seamus in charge of teaching muggle hand-to-hand fighting while he taught defensive and offensive spells. They changed groups partway through and united the group at the end so that Seamus could get some wand work in, while he tried some of Seamus' fighting styles. Harry was really impressed with how fast you could disarm someone in close proximity and take their wand. He thought that many witches and wizards wouldn't know or expect such behaviour from a fellow witch or wizard, judging by Umbridge's earlier reaction.

"Excellent work tonight." said Harry, as they wrapped up their meeting. "Seamus, your fighting style is quite impressive. I'm glad we now know about it and can learn how to use it. That said, if we hadn't seen you display it earlier, we would not have known you knew it."

Harry addressed the group calmly, showing poise and confidence. Hermione thought he was really going to make a great leader.

"If anyone else knows something that might be useful, please tell us. I've learned already, that any advantage in a fight should be taken as long as it is morally right." continued Harry.

"Morally right?" scoffed Ron. "Where does that come into play? This is war, isn't it?"

"Ron," replied Harry "when the day is done, you have to live with yourself. I couldn't live with myself if I hadn't thrown Neville and Seamus back onto the stairs to avoid a curse, just to get the bastard that killed Cho. I could have dived forward and had a clean shot but what would the consequences have been?" Harry folded his arms. "We don't sacrifice another to win nor do we hide behind others."

"That's right." said Neville. "That ceiling could have crushed us if Professor McGonagall and Professor Sprout had just let it fall."

"Bloody hell," said Ron frustratedly "I was just asking a question."

"It's okay, Ron." said Luna, placing a hand on his arm.

"Anyway," said Harry "Seamus and I probably won't be joining you all this week, due to our detentions."

"So what do we do?" asked Angelina.

"Hermione will be in charge." said Harry to Hermione's utter horror. "She can lead the drills."

"And I can show Neville some new things to practice and he can show the group." said Seamus encouragingly.

Neville looked as horrified as Hermione felt. She had never seen herself as a leader before and the very thought made her nauseous. Harry looked over at her and gave her an encouraging wink. She gave him a glare that let him know he was in trouble.

Harry watched the Marauder's Map, making sure that everyone returned to their common rooms safely. He warned them to stay in pairs or in large groups, if not with fellow Alliance members. Seamus and Angelina walked back together, to Fred's displeasure and Seamus' delight. Ron, Luna, Ginny, and Neville made a large procession of it by going to Gryffindor common room first, then Neville went with Ron and Luna to the Ravenclaw common room, so that Ron wouldn't have to walk back alone.

"Why didn't you want Harry to tell them about Charlie?" asked Hermione, staring at the twins.

"No need to worry Ron and Ginny." replied Fred.

"Besides, we're really starting to wonder." said George.

"If our brother truly is You-Know-Who's captive." said Fred.

"Or he's pulled a Sirius." said George.

"Pulled a Sirius?" repeated Harry.

"You know, done a bunk on the Order." said Fred.

"Seems to be a growing trend." said George.


Harry, Hermione, and the twins quickly looked around for the source of the sound. Hidden in the corner was Dobby, the house elf.

"Dobby!" said Harry, sounding amused. "What are you doing in the corner?"

"Dobby was waiting, Master Harry, for your Alliance to leave, just as you had instructed Dobby to." said the tiny elf.

"Dobby," said Hermione, rolling her eyes "you don't have to call him Master."

"Pardon Dobby miss, but Dobby must call Master Harry, Master Harry, for he is Dobby's master." replied Dobby.

Hermione slowly looked from Dobby to Harry, who was rubbing the back of his neck; always a guilty sign. She was having trouble comprehending what she had just heard. Surely Harry, her boyfriend, wouldn't willingly take a house-elf into service, thought Hermione.

"Uh, Hermione," said Harry, holding up a hand as though preparing to hold her off "before you go completely mental on me, please allow me to explain."

"Go ahead." said Hermione, though she felt nothing he could say could save him now.

"You know how the strongest bond any witch or wizard can have to any other creature is with a house-elf, correct?" asked Harry slowly.

"Go on." replied Hermione, folding her arms.

"Right, well, house-elves cannot betray their masters, no matter the circumstance." said Harry, talking very fast. "So Dobby convinced me to be his master so that he could be trusted to do whatever we need without fear. I swear that when this is all over, if Dobby wishes to be free once again, I will present him with clothes."

Hermione looked at Dobby, who looked eager until Harry mentioned setting him free. Now, he looked quite crest fallen.

"Dobby, don't you wish to be free?" asked Hermione.

"Miss, when Dobby was the Malfoy's servant, Dobby desired nothing more than to be free." replied the tiny elf. "But for a house-elf, there is no higher honour than to serve a great master. The reason that Dobby has remained free until now is because the master that Dobby desired hasn't wanted Dobby."

"I don't understand, Dobby," exclaimed Hermione "why is being a slave a high honour?"

Hermione looked at Fred and George, who merely shook their heads, as to say that they wanted no part of this conversation.

"Miss," sighed Dobby "long ago house-elves lived together in colonies, before the slaughters began. Goblins descended upon Dobby's kind, slaughtering us and taking our land. Elves fled for their lives, but the goblins continued to ruthlessly hunt them. Just when it seemed that Dobby's kind was finished, the wizards came! They battled the goblins and saved the elves from extinction. By our nature, elves are very loyal beings. The elves vowed eternal loyalty to the wizards. Ever since, we have served the houses of wizard families and have been known as house-elves!"

Hermione could hear the pride in Dobby's voice as he told her the story of his kind. He truly wanted to be Harry's servant.

"Um, Dobby, did you have something you wanted to tell Harry?" asked Hermione weakly, as she relaxed her arms.

"Yes miss, Dobby does indeed have news for Master Harry." he replied, not looking at all happy.

"What's wrong, Dobby?" asked Harry seriously.

"Things are as Master Harry has feared." replied Dobby. "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is growing ever stronger and Professor Dumbledore's Order is failing to stop him."

"You swore that you hadn't asked Dobby to do anything dangerous!" exclaimed Hermione.

"I didn't." said Harry calmly. "Matter of fact, he shouldn't have had to even leave the castle."

"Just once, Master Harry." replied Dobby. "Dobby had to leave today."

"Dobby, I told you that you didn't have to follow him." said Harry.

"Dobby had to, Master Harry, for Dobby heard Professor Dumbledore tell Professor Snape that he was going to Gringotts to visit Master Harry's vault."

"Wait, you had Dobby following Dumbledore?" asked the twins in unison.

"Did he take anything?" growled Harry, ignoring the twins.

Hermione could see the anger in Harry boiling over, his eyes growing dark and the room slowly growing colder. His intensity had doubled since her near death experience that had resulted in Cho's demise.

"Gringotts would not permit him access." replied Dobby. "Dobby heard a goblin called Hooktooth tell Dumbledore that only Lord Black or Master Harry could visit the Potter vaults."

"Vaults?" repeated Harry.

"Dobby, how did you follow Dumbledore without him knowing?" asked Hermione.

"Professor Dumbledore did not know Dobby was following him because Master Harry told Dobby not to let him." replied Dobby, looking confused by the question.

Hermione knew that elf magic was vastly different from wizard magic. Apparently, even Dumbledore couldn't detect an elf if the elf didn't want to be. So many wizards underestimated house-elves that it was quite sad.

"Dobby, if another house-elf is nearby, can you tell?" asked Hermione, spotting a potentially dangerous vulnerability.

"Yes miss." replied Dobby. "So can wizards if wizards knows how. There is a wizard spell but Dobby knows it not."

Hermione immediately made a mental note to find the spell and master it. Harry had grown very quiet and Hermione knew he was thinking hard.

"Dobby, is there anything else?" asked Harry.

"Yes, Master Harry." replied Dobby. "Professor Dumbledore instructed Professor Snape to prevent Master Harry from leaving Hogwarts until he said otherwise, but not to physically harm Master Harry in any way."

Harry grinned darkly and Hermione did not like the look on his face one bit.

"Dobby," said Harry "go to Sirius and tell him about Dumbledore and the vaults but do not tell him how you know, or about Snape, understand?"

"Yes, Master Harry! Dobby will go right away!"

Dobby bowed low to Harry, then there was a loud CRACK, and the tiny elf was gone. Hermione wasn't sure though if she agreed with Harry in telling Sirius but, it was too late.

"You think that was wise?" asked Hermione.

"I think so." replied Harry, smirking slightly. "If I'm right, Sirius will check on the family vaults first thing in the morning."

"Why do you want him to do that?" asked Fred.

"If Dumbledore finds out Sirius was at Gringotts." began George.

"Won't he wonder why such the coincidence?" finished Fred.

"Blimey, I must admit that is an added bonus I hadn't considered." replied Harry thoughtfully.

Hermione rubbed her face with her hands. Harry was acting very odd, even for him. She couldn't understand what he was thinking.

"So, is this part of this plan of yours?" asked Hermione hotly. "You know, the one you haven't told us about?"

"In a way, yes." replied Harry, smirking again. "I'm still formulating a plan, and I'm hoping you lot are going to help me. That bit about a plan was for only one person's benefit."

"Still don't trust our brother then?" asked George.

"Not yet." replied Harry.

Hermione suddenly understood and knew how he felt. Ron just hadn't gotten on board, apology or not. He had had little to nothing to do with them since they had arrived at Hogwarts.

"It's getting late." continued Harry, looking up at the clock on the mantle above the fireplace. "But before we go, I'd really like to stretch a little. So how about a quick duel?"

"Alright, Harry." said Fred.

"Which one first?" asked George.

"I dunno – how about both of ya!" replied Harry, withdrawing his wand.

"Oh come now, Harry." said Fred.

"I admit you're good, but not that good." said George laughing.

Harry walked over to the centre of the practice area, bowed low, then took a duelling stance. Hermione watched, mouth slightly ajar, at the scene before her. The twins simply shrugged their shoulders before they began to circle Harry, wands drawn, like a couple of vultures. Harry counted to three, then the twins shouted in unison, "Stupefy!"

Harry waved his free hand and a shield charm deflected both of the twins' stunners. He bobbed and weaved as he aimed a red stunning spell at George, who just managed to dive behind a practice dummy to avoid the jet of red light. Harry then deflected another stunner from Fred before waving his free hand, causing books to fly off the shelf and stack themselves on the floor. This distracted Fred long enough for Harry to hit him with a full body bind curse. George tried to take advantage but Harry was able to deflect his stunner before causing the practice dummy to bump into him followed by a stunner straight to George's stomach. George fell backwards and collapsed on the floor.

Hermione, though extremely impressed, had seen enough. She cleared her throat as she withdrew her wand. Harry had removed the body bind and was helping Fred to his feet when he recognized her challenge. He smiled, lifting his eyebrows, before bowing to her. Fred quickly made his way over to George while watching with a mischievous grin.

"Ladies first." said Harry.

"How dare you put me on the spot!" shouted Hermione, just as George was about to say something. "So you want to be a gentleman now, but you didn't think to ask whether I would want to teach the group in your absence before volunteering me, did you!"

"You're the most logical choice, Hermione." said Harry, swallowing hard.

"Let's find out then, shall we?" asked Hermione, narrowing her eyes at him.

Hermione fired a non-verbal stunner at Harry, who only barely deflected it. Harry seemed reluctant to fire back, sending two stunners her way that she easily deflected using a shield charm. She smiled at Harry before firing a stinging jinx that caught him off guard in the chest. Harry fell to one knee and she could tell that his reservations were fading. Fred and George had sat down back at the table and whooped, cheering loudly for both her and Harry. Harry fired a series of stunners as he weaved between practice dummies. Hermione was taken off guard by this sudden movement and slid behind a cushioned chair before firing another stunner over the top. The chair suddenly slid out from in front of her as she dodged another stunner.

"If you best him in front of the twins, will he still love you?" whispered the tiny voice in the back of her head.

At that moment, she hesitated, giving Harry the opening he needed, as he cried, "Expelliarmus!" Her wand flew high into the air, falling to the ground at his feet.

"That was wicked!" cried Fred, as Harry picked up her wand and helped her to her feet.

"You've been holding out mate." said George as they joined them at the table.

"Just wanting to let the group get comfortable with spell casting first." said Harry, catching his breath. "Sirius taught me some basics of real world duelling and I've been practicing at night."

"And Ron told us you were practicing dancing in your dorm!" snorted Fred.

"I was referencing the wandless magic, mate." said George.

"Yeah, well that's something I've been working on lately." said Harry.

"Not many witches or wizards can do it, mate." said Fred. "It's really advanced stuff!"

"You looked quite scary there, Hermione." said George, sounding impressed.

"You'll do great this week." said Fred encouragingly.

Hermione wasn't sure she was ready for it, though she felt a lot better after sparring with Harry. She shrugged off her hesitation as nerves when Harry asked later that night in the common room. He would have been upset if he knew what she had thought. Hermione laid in her bed, her eyes closed, thinking about the day's events. She found the images of Harry darting around the Room of Requirement, using wandless magic, and defeating her and the twins very pleasant. She had never seen him as The-Boy-Who-Lived or some legendary figure, the way Ginny once viewed him, however, after seeing him tonight she couldn't help but admire her dashing boyfriend. Then, she thought of Cho and any happiness drained from her being. A tear rolled down her cheek as she turned over onto her side and slowly she drifted off to sleep.

The first week under Headmistress Umbridge was as Hermione had expected. Umbridge spent each day in a different teacher's classroom, evaluating their teaching methods. She was obsessed, it seemed to Hermione, with her and Harry, for every single one of their classes that week had been graced by Umbridge's presence. She seemed to find a way to address Harry or allude to him in some way, attempting to get a rise. Harry, however, was not willing to oblige her but rather ignored her as much as possible; only addressing her when absolutely necessary.

Daily head counts were taken at breakfast and at ten till curfew. Aurors patrolled the corridors and the grounds at night, taking anyone caught out of their common rooms directly to Umbridge. Hogwarts was now becoming more and more like a muggle prison, rather than a wizarding school, while Fred and George were taking Harry's request as some sort of challenge; pushing even their normal theatrics to new heights by causing it to rain on the entire third floor, sending Umbridge over the edge with rage.

Training with the Alliance had gone much smoother than she had expected. Harry had used all of their free time during the day to practice lessons with her. Seamus had done the same thing with Neville and the result was extremely effective. Harry also showed her how to use the Marauder's Map, so that she could check before entering and leaving the Room of Requirement, and let her borrow his invisibility cloak. The group was progressing very well, even with the additions of Susan Bones, Madam Bones' niece, from Hufflepuff and the unexpected newcomer, Terry Boot from Ravenclaw. After Terry had a long talk with Harry and Seamus, they decided to let him join. Surprisingly, he was by far the most eager member of the group to learn. Luna said that it was probably because he had fancied Cho.

Harry and Seamus' detention was an entirely different story. Snape was taking full advantage of Dumbledore's absence and by the end of the week, Harry had commented that losing his wand was almost worth it just to hex Snape. While she knew he was joking, she still made him swear not to.

Draco was the only concerning topic for her. He hadn't tried to approach her all week, while his arrogance seemed to be reaching new heights. He strutted about the castle as though he had conquered the world, yet he became silent when he was near her and Harry. There was an air of uncertainty that emanated from him, causing Hermione to feel even more threatened by his presence than before. An unpredictable Draco could be very dangerous. Whether it was him behind the mask that morning or someone else, she blamed him for Cho's death. The thought of happiness at seeing her parents again was being marred by the thoughts of revenge. All she wanted was to see the Malfoys suffer.

As Hermione laid in bed Friday night, she thought that the best part of her week was the time she had got to spend with Harry. Truthfully, she hadn't spent any more time with him than the week before. She had actually spent less time with him, due to his detention. The part that made it so special was the amount of attention she was getting from him. The fire in his eyes as he taught her to duel was similar to the look he had that morning in that classroom before he ravaged her. A faint moan escaped her lips, as she realized that her memory of the event had brought about her arousal. She turned over onto her side, squeezing her legs tightly together to try and stifle the feeling that was threatening to overwhelm her. It had been two weeks since they had been intimate and with purpose. They had decided that focusing on the task of rescuing her parents required their undivided attentions and that there would be time for intimacy later.

Hermione got up and decided to try and suppress her urges by going down to the common room. Though Lavender and Parvati were gone, she was far from alone. Her roommates, Fay Dunbar and Alice Topilan, had very little to do with her but they were still there and fast asleep. She was certain that if she didn't do something fast, she might lose control. She pocketed her wand in her pyjama trousers and made her way down to the common room, which was completely empty as she had expected. Hermione took a seat on the couch in front of the fireplace, pulling her legs up underneath her. She laid her head on one of the cushions, focusing on the cracking embers, thus allowing her mind to drift as she slowly fell to sleep.

This however, was a mistake as tortured visions of Cho falling to her death; crying out for Hermione to avenge her, raced through her dreams. Her body contorted as she pulled herself into a foetal-like position. Someone touched her leg and her eyes flew open, her breathing ragged and uneven. She looked up to see Harry sitting by her feet, wearing a T-shirt and trackies, a complex look upon his face. She sat up and had to resist the urge to start sobbing into his chest. He reached over and pulled her into a tight embrace.

"I heard you call for me." whispered Harry into her ear.

"I hollered your name?" whispered Hermione in horror.

"No." whispered Harry. "I heard you in my dreams."

She pulled back so that she could see his face. His eyes were bright in the glow of the fireplace and she could see concern in his eyes. She could have explained that they were experiencing some sort of bond created by their wands; could have told him how she had found a book on the rarity of sharing a core with another and the strange connections that it had caused in the past. She could have; however she was too busy enjoying the long passionate kiss he had bestowed upon her, wrapping his arms around her waist and drawing her closer to him. He gently pushed his tongue inside her mouth, causing her arousal to heighten once more. Harry moved his hands to the small of her back and began to massage it slowly. It felt intimate and amazing as his fingers slowly released all the tension in her body. She moved herself over and sat in his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck, his kisses becoming softer and deeper.

They continued kissing for what felt like a blissful eternity, lying over onto the couch, wrapped in each other's arms. They laid there, staring into each other's eyes, smiling, before Harry whispered, "Turn over and get some rest." Hermione willingly did so, allowing Harry to wrap his right arm around her waist while she laid her head on his left. She pulled her knees up and Harry pulled his legs up beneath hers.

"We're close to finding them, Hermione; very close." whispered Harry.

"Are you sure that we'll find them, Harry?" whispered Hermione. "Or is it our fate to end up like Cho; dead at the hands of some unknown murdering Death Eater?"

"Fate is a cruel joke, Hermione." whispered Harry. "After the graveyard, I'm certain that life is made up of choices, like Dumbledore said. We influence others and they, in turn, influence us. Our actions are ours, not the will of something greater. That Death Eater made a choice that morning to try and murder you; murdering Cho in the process. That was their mistake."

"That's what troubles me, Harry." whispered Hermione. "If I'm no longer valuable to them, how long before they kill my parents; if they haven't already?"

Tears filled her eyes, streaking down her face onto Harry's arm. Harry hugged her tight around the waist, comforting her.

"We won't stop looking, I promise." replied Harry.

"Excellent idea."

Hermione and Harry sat up quickly, wands withdrawn, as Sirius sat down in the cushioned arm chair next to them.

"Sirius!" hissed Harry. "What are you doing here?"

"Missed you too." whispered Sirius. "Sorry to interrupt however, I must commend you on your quick reflexes. Training must be really paying off."

"What training?" asked Harry pointedly, his wand still trained on Sirius' chest.

"McGonagall has kept me informed." said Sirius smiling. "I'm glad to see that you're putting what I've taught you to good use. Would you like for me to transform into my furrier form? Never-mind, I know the answer."

Sirius rose to his feet, then transformed into the great black dog. Moments later, he was sitting back in the cushioned arm chair in human form, smiling as they lowered their wands.

"How did you get past the Aurors?" whispered Hermione, wiping the tears from her face.

"First, I'm a Marauder. Second, my furrier form can slip through small areas." replied Sirius, ticking off on his fingers. "Third, I convinced Scruff that my master's son was like a pup to me and that I was dying to see him."

"Scruff?" repeated Harry.

"A terrier." replied Sirius. "A guard dog for one of the Aurors."

"Wait, Aurors use dogs?" asked Hermione.

"Dogs have senses that we don't." replied Sirius. "They can smell and hear things before they see them. Now, I'd love to sit and chat about useful canine qualities, but I did come for a reason."

"What's happened?" asked Harry seriously.

"Professor McGonagall informed me that the Order believes the attack on Hermione and Ms Chang was unplanned." replied Sirius. "The Death Eater was supposed to deliver a message to Hermione; however something happened that provoked the attack."

"I didn't even know they were behind me!" stressed Hermione.

"Regardless," said Sirius, leaning closer "Voldemort was furious at the near fiasco, though he thinks you got the message anyway, via Cho's death. You've been feeding the Malfoys false information, correct?"

Both Harry and Hermione nodded.

"Then I must tell you that what happened was in response to your last bit of false information." said Sirius solemnly. "It sent a great deal of waves through both camps. The Order believes the Death Eater was delivering some sort of warning."

"If it was just a warning, then why not send it via Draco Malfoy?" asked Harry.

"I don't think Voldemort thought Hermione was taking young Draco seriously enough." replied Sirius. "They must have thought that the appearance of a Death Eater inside the castle would scare her into submission."

"So, why hasn't Malfoy approached me since?" asked Hermione.

"I think they're waiting to see if you got the message." replied Sirius. "You need to approach Draco and supply him with some information on Harry soon." Sirius sighed "If we just had some idea as to where your parents were, it would be the perfect time to act."

"We think they might be at the Malfoy home, wherever that is." said Hermione, trying not to show that she was worried.

"Why do you think that?" asked Sirius, sitting up a little straighter.

"It's a long story – too long to tell tonight," said Harry "but do you trust us?"

"I do," replied Sirius "however, we need to confirm your suspicions before we do anything. We'll only get one shot at a rescue."

Hermione would never tell Harry, but rescuing her parents had seemed like something farfetched, until now. When Sirius said it, suddenly she had hope because someone other than a group of underage witches and wizards was discussing the possibility; someone with experience fighting this type of war.

"We need a better way to communicate than by owl or the floo." said Harry.

"I got your message from Dobby." said Sirius. "He's a reliable source."

Sirius looked at Harry and Hermione excitedly, as though the most brilliant thought had just come to him.

"Why not send Dobby to the Malfoy home?" asked Sirius. "I bet he knows it better than they do!"

"Too dangerous." replied Harry flatly. "I promised that no harm would befall him and I cannot keep that promise if I send him into a Death Eater's home."

Sirius looked disappointingly at Harry but did not utter a word. Hermione knew that Sirius did not think too highly of house-elves and would not consider the life of a house-elf to be equal to that of a wizard.

"Before I forget," said Sirius, changing the subject "I visited Gringotts this week and Hooktooth, the Potter accounts goblin, confirmed that Dumbledore has been accessing the Potter family vaults for years. Dumbledore established the vault that you visit every year before school as an allowance, transferring the necessary funds to it. You have never visited the real Potter family vaults."

Hermione could see fury building in Harry's eyes, as the realization was sinking in. Apparently, Dumbledore had been using the Potter fortune for some purpose, giving Harry only what he wished him to have.

"So what has he been doing with Harry's family vaults?" asked Hermione.

"Using them to help fund the Order, I suppose." replied Sirius, before quickly adding "No worries though, you'll accrue more interest in a year's time than has ever been taken by Dumbledore; Hooktooth assured me of it."

"Really?" asked Harry, who looked stunned.

"Yes." sighed Sirius. "Hooktooth asked if I could arrange a meeting with you. There's a Potter family matter that needs addressing."

A rustling noise came from the stairway leading to the boy's dorms. Someone was coming down to the common room. Sirius immediately changed into the great black dog and slinked around behind the closest arm chair to the wall to hide. Harry and Hermione watched the dorm stairs from the couch, as Lee Jordan stretched and yawned, making his way into the common room.

"Oy!" exclaimed Lee, catching sight of Harry and Hermione. "You two gave me a fright."

"Hermione couldn't sleep." said Harry, answering the unasked question.

"I'd advise you to read a book, like I'm going to," said Lee "however, you'd probably enjoy it too much, Hermione. Me, I won't make it to page five."

Hermione smiled at Lee's jest. He was just like the twins and she could see why they were such good friends.

"I've already read every good book in here," said Hermione "but thanks anyway."

Lee chuckled and shook his head as he made his way over to the bookcase. After a moment, he took hold of a book, looked at the preface, then tucked it under his arm.

"There's something I want to talk to you about tomorrow, Harry." said Lee. "About your study group. Fred and George think that I should join, but I want to talk to you first."

"Excellent, Lee." said Harry. "I'll see you in the morning."

Lee smiled then nodded to Harry and Hermione, before heading back upstairs. The black dog that was Sirius slid from between the chair and the wall before changing back into his human self.

"Your forces are growing by the day." said Sirius smirking. "You'll need all the help you can get." Sirius looked approvingly at them. "I'll be back, officially, on Sunday to escort you to Gringotts so that we can clear up this family business."

"You two won't do anything mental while you're gone, will you?" asked Hermione, staring at Harry with a sour look.

"You'll be with us." replied Sirius. "You can decide what is and isn't mental."

"Sirius," said Hermione exasperatedly "I can't go. Umbridge won't allow it, I'm sure of it."

"You still have your father's cloak, Harry." said Sirius. "It's time you two start thinking like a Marauder. Let your Alliance cover for you." When Hermione made to protest, Sirius added "It will be a great training lesson. They're going to have to learn how to cover, especially with the enemy in control."

Hermione could have argued, but she really wanted to go and she knew it was her only way. Sirius took her silence as a sign of agreement.

"Well, I'd better be going before someone else needs a book." said Sirius. "I'll see you two on Sunday. Get your cover ready and get some rest."

"One more thing, Sirius." said Harry. "How did you get past the portrait of the Fat Lady?"

"The Fat Lady and I have an understanding – now." replied Sirius, a wicked grin curling his face. He gave each of them a hug then swept from the common room through the portrait hole, the glimpse of a furry black tail swishing as the portrait closed behind him.

Hermione decided to head back up to bed; feeling she could finally get some rest. Harry pulled her into a loving embrace; kissing her tenderly before she ascended the steps to her dorm. Her feelings of fear and sadness had been replaced by courage and hope. She laid back down, confident that she would see her parents again very soon.

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