As the feeling of being squeezed through a rubber tube subsided, Harry opened his eyes as Sirius released his arm and he began to look around. They were standing in the doorway, looking into the handsome sitting room of a small country cottage; a cozy fire crackling in a stone fireplace to his right; a large ornate mirror hung over-top the mantle. This must be where Sirius was now living, thought Harry. Directly in front of him and to his left, was a staircase leading upstairs. Beyond the sitting room was a quaint country kitchen, which looked warm and inviting. Brass pots suspended from the ceiling glistened as the sun shone through the window over the sink. Swept and polished floors gave the impression you could eat from them, while the spotless counter tops looked as though nothing had ever been prepared upon them. A small kitchen table sat on the other side of a short half-wall that divided the sitting room from the kitchen.
Harry walked over and leant up against the mantle, while Hermione flopped into one of two beige plush arm chairs next to the fireplace, folding her arms around her waist. Sirius took a seat on the couch across from the fireplace, running his fingers through his hair. Unanswered questions were swimming through Harry's mind, multiplying the longer he thought about what had just transpired. If a stranger had entered the room, they would have thought that someone had just died. The burning question in Harry's mind, resounding like a trumpet: how could Tonks and Charlie betray them?
Anger was building in Harry, replacing the pain he was feeling inside. The fact was that Charlie had set the dragon loose upon them, killing who knows how many Gringotts wizards and goblins in the chambers below before making its way into the main hall through the marble floor. If it hadn't been for Fawkes, the three of them and Hooktooth might have died down there in that corridor as well. Rage was pouring over him as he slammed his fist into the mantle. All at once, the candles that lined the mantle and sat in groups around the room flared to life. Harry glanced at Sirius and Hermione, who had looked up immediately.
"So, when did you start performing wandless magic?" asked Sirius, folding his arms and staring at Harry.
"Only a little while ago." replied Harry defensively.
"I'm not angry – I'm just asking." said Sirius, holding up his hands. "Tonks referenced your shield charm as a mistake and that you should have attacked her like you did Snape. Was that accidental or on purpose?"
"Both." replied Harry, still feeling a little defensive. "I intended to cast a shield charm, but with my wand."
"What about the dragon? Was that intentional?" asked Sirius without hesitation, giving Harry the increasing sense of being interrogated.
"I-I dunno." replied Harry. "I mean – I was trying to protect Hermione, but I never expected that to happen."
Hermione glared at Harry, anger flashing in her eyes as she got up and walked into the kitchen. Harry knew exactly why she looked angry. Sirius watched Hermione intently, then glanced at Harry.
"Why are you angry, Hermione?" asked Sirius, still eying her almost suspiciously.
"Why am I so angry?" repeated Hermione, her face contorting in a way that made Harry want to flee. "Because – I've told THAT STUPID GIT over and over and over again NOT TO BE THICK AND GET HIMSELF KILLED LIKE SOME SELFLESS BASTARD!"
"WHAT DO YOU THINK I SHOULD HAVE DONE? JUST WATCHED WHILE YOU WERE INCINERATED?" shouted Harry, tired of being ridiculed for trying to save her.
"HARRY – HERMIONE." interrupted Sirius firmly. "Please, if I may." Sirius gestured for Harry and Hermione to take a seat. When neither budged, he sighed, "Hermione, can I ask you a question?"
"Sure." replied Hermione in a clipped tone, shrugging her shoulders defiantly. "This is your cottage – ask away."
"Hermione, if Voldemort appeared in this room right now and cast the killing curse at Harry, would you try to throw yourself in front of him?" asked Sirius calmly but firmly.
Hermione did not answer, but simply stared at Harry, tears streaking down her cheeks. At this, Sirius smiled, making Harry angry at the thought that his godfather was taking pleasure in Hermione's pain.
"Hermione, you cannot be mad at Harry for trying to save you, if you would do the same for him." said Sirius, standing up and walking into the kitchen.
Harry then realized that Sirius wasn't enjoying this, but was just pleased to see that his point was made. Sirius gave Hermione a hug and Harry had to fight back a tear. He had never had a real family before. Mrs Weasley had always made him feel wanted, but seeing Sirius like this was what he had always imagined having a father would be like.
"I just don't want to see Harry die, Sirius!" wailed Hermione suddenly, sobbing into his shoulder. "Not like Cho!"
Sirius smiled at Harry as he patted Hermione on the back.
"Do you think I want to see him die, Hermione?" asked Sirius softly. "I don't want to see him mangled by a dragon or a Death Eater, but Harry cannot run – it's just not in him." Sirius choked, "I know – I knew his father well. He was my best mate."
Harry walked into the kitchen where he was immediately dragged into a hug by both Sirius and Hermione. Harry's mind went fuzzy, as this kind of emotion was unnatural to him; having two people that truly loved him was more than he had ever hoped for. Sirius motioned for Harry and Hermione to take a seat at the kitchen table while he made some tea. It was a small table, and like the rest of the cottage it was just big enough for four people. Sirius took a seat beside Harry, offering Hermione his handkerchief so she could wipe her eyes.
"So, is there anyone we can trust?" asked Harry, rubbing the back of his neck.
"Well," sighed Sirius "we can trust Professor McGonagall and your Alliance."
"Not all of them." said Harry, frowning as he thought of Ron.
"Speaking of the Alliance –" said Hermione "whatever do we tell Fred and George?"
"The truth." replied Harry. "They deserve nothing less."
"But what is the truth?" asked Hermione, sounding exasperated.
"That Charlie is alive and is not Voldemort's prisoner." replied Sirius solemnly.
"Not to mention a traitor." added Harry bitterly.
"You have no proof that they are traitors, Harry." said Sirius firmly.
"He set loose a bloody dragon on us, Sirius!" scoffed Harry. "What more proof do we need?"
"They set loose the dragon to cover their escape." replied Hermione. "Besides, he called out to Bill, not us."
"Bill!" shouted Harry. "Did he make it out of there?"
"I'm sure he made it out alive." said Sirius, though Harry knew he wasn't as sure as he portrayed.
"If he set the dragon loose to cover their escape, then why did the dragon follow us?" asked Harry, remembering how the dragon came after them.
"The dragon was simply trying to escape from Gringotts." replied Sirius. "I do not believe that the dragon was hunting us."
Harry wasn't sure he agreed, but decided not to argue the subject. Instead, he turned his thoughts to Charlie and Tonks' purpose at Gringotts bank. Tonks had been in front of another ancient vault when she was caught by Hooktooth and Harry wondered what it was they were after.
"So – Sirius," began Harry "what makes you think that Charlie and Tonks aren't traitors? Do you think that they've been imperiused?"
"If they were imperiused or Death Eaters, Harry," replied Hermione "they wouldn't have shuddered at the mention of Voldemort's name."
"Good point, Hermione." interjected Sirius. "Not to mention that their attire wasn't Death Eater robes."
Harry frowned at Sirius, wondering why he was defending Charlie and Tonks. Sirius gave him an appraising look and Harry knew his thoughts must be etched across his face.
"Harry," continued Sirius "just because someone doesn't agree with the Order, doesn't make them a traitor. If that was true, we could brand ourselves the same."
There it was: for the first time, Sirius had verbally placed himself at odds with the Order. While Harry always believed that actions meant more than mere words, actually hearing it vocalized by his godfather was surreal. It gave life to the fact that they weren't doing what Dumbledore wanted. 'Or were they,' Harry wondered. Dumbledore had given in far too easy to his demands concerning Sirius' freedom for Harry's liking. He had buried the thought under him just being paranoid, but the thought kept creeping back to the front of his mind; it's only paranoia when they're not out to get you. Was this exactly what Dumbledore wanted them to do?
"Sirius, are you sure that we're at odds with the Order?" asked Harry.
Sirius did not answer but sat back into his chair, scratching his chin. Harry could tell he had struck a nerve, not only with Sirius but Hermione as well. He watched as she shifted in her seat at the thought, trying to displace it. At that moment, the tea kettle started whistling loudly then –
Kreacher, the old Black family house-elf appeared in the kitchen in front of Sirius.
"Master Sirius," croaked the elf in his bullfrog voice "you returned but did not summon Kreacher. Has Kreacher done something to offend Master?"
"Of course not, Kreacher." replied Sirius, waving a hand. "I was merely making a kettle of tea. The cottage is to my liking now. You have done well."
"Thank you Master." replied Kreacher, bowing low; his large bat-like ears flopping about his face. He eyed Harry and Hermione but did not acknowledge them. "It is a pleasure to serve the noble House of Black."
"Have you finished moving the Black family valuables to a secure location?" asked Sirius.
"Yes, Master Sirius." replied Kreacher. "All Black family heirlooms are safe."
"Very good, Kreacher." said Sirius. "Go and fetch my father's cloaks from Grimmauld Place and bring them here for proper storage. I will call you when it's time for supper."
"As you wish, Master. Kreacher will go right away!"
Harry and Hermione stared at Sirius, as though the world was now completely mad. Kreacher was being respectful to Sirius, and he to Kreacher.
Sirius got up to tend to the tea, ignoring Harry and Hermione's looks. He placed two tea bags into a small teapot before adding the boiling water from the kettle. He arranged three cups and saucers onto a tray, and put the teapot in the center before placing the tray on the table. Sirius then flicked his wand making a small flask of milk and a cup of sugar cubes to appear on the tray. Harry and Hermione helped themselves to some tea as Sirius rejoined them at the table.
"Makes him feel better to be tending to Black family affairs." said Sirius, in response to their looks.
"Since when have you ever cared?" asked Harry, causing Hermione to slap his arm hard.
"Fair question, Hermione." said Sirius. "Harry was right. He told me that house-elves desired to be of service. Making him feel wanted has made him a better house-elf."
Harry dared not look at Hermione, whom he was sure was fuming at this revelation. She may have relented over Dobby, but he knew her feelings about house-elves had not changed.
"So Harry," continued Sirius "you think that we're doing exactly what Dumbledore wants without knowing it?"
"I dunno." said Harry, rubbing the back of his neck. "I just thought he'd be more of a problem, and I'm sure he's noticed Fawkes' change of loyalty."
"It's time to stop worrying about what Dumbledore wants you to do and just do what you think is right, Harry." said Hermione, placing a hand on his shoulder.
Sirius marveled to himself at the maturity Hermione constantly showed, despite all that was going on. Her concern for Harry was genuine and he could see how positive she was in his godson's life. He knew that James and Lily would approve of their son's choices if they were still alive. His burden now was to make sure that his godson stayed alive and well; no matter the cost.
"She's right Harry," said Sirius "it's time to start trusting your instincts. You'll never survive this war if you don't."
"Did my mum and dad trust their instincts?" asked Harry, looking at the floor.
Sirius felt a pang in his chest as he looked at Harry. The amount of guilt that he carried around with him was more than Sirius had realized. He needed to find a way to lighten Harry's guilt, lest it consumed him.
"Yes Harry – they did." replied Sirius sadly. "They trusted in me but I let them down. I was too consumed with my own insecurities to see Pettigrew for whom he really was. I was warned not to trust him but I didn't listen."
"Who warned you?" asked Hermione.
"Another Order member." replied Sirius, hoping that his answer would suffice.
"Someone else knew you gave up being Secret-Keeper for Harry's parents?" asked Hermione, her eyebrows raised high on her forehead.
"Yes." replied Sirius, looking towards the kitchen door. "She was the only one that knew besides James and Lily."
"She?" repeated Harry. "Surely not Professor McGonagall!"
"No Harry," replied Sirius "it wasn't Minerva."
"Speaking of Professor McGonagall – how did this come about?" asked Harry, gesturing to the cottage.
"We told you in her office, Harry. Remember?" replied Sirius, noting his godson's attempt to change the subject.
"No, I mean how did you come to be such the close acquaintance with Professor McGonagall that you knew you could trust her not to betray you to Dumbledore?" asked Harry.
"Harry!" scolded Hermione. "That may be none of your business!"
Harry looked at Hermione, eyebrows raised at her suddenly siding with Sirius.
"That's okay, Hermione." said Sirius calmly.
Sirius sat up a little straighter, scratched his chin while checking the tea pot that was just starting to steam. His face became hard as he looked into Harry's eyes. He knew he must be straight with his godson.
"This cottage marks the tragedy of war." said Sirius coldly.
"What do you mean?" frowned Harry.
"The night Harry's parents died" sighed Sirius "I arrived at the Potter cottage to find it blown apart. Dumbledore had set sensory spells about the place, to notify him of any breaches. Whatever transpired there_ tore the magical wards protecting the cottage – Dumbledore alerted us at once. We fetched Harry from the cottage and brought him here."
"WHAT!" shouted Harry, looking wildly about the cottage. "YOU TOOK ME FROM MY PARENTS' HOUSE AND BROUGHT ME HERE? HOW DID I END UP AT THE DURSLEYS, THEN?"
"Calm down, Harry," said Sirius "and I will tell you."
"What do you mean by we?" asked Hermione, not missing his slip.
"I'm referring to myself and the Order member that I told you that warned me not to trust Pettigrew." replied Sirius. "Her name was Cassie."
"Who's Cassie?" asked Hermione, eyes wide.
"Cassie McGonagall is Professor McGonagall's niece." replied Sirius, looking out the window.
"This was her grandfather's fishing cottage." continued Sirius, realizing he wasn't going to be able to avoid this topic.
"Cassie's grandfather was happy to have us and distraught at your parent's passing." continued Sirius as Harry and Hermione just stared. "We were both worried and wasn't sure what to do. Upon arriving I began working out how Voldemort could have possibly perpetrated such; for even he has limits. My mind slowly built a picture that only led to one possible solution – Peter. Later that evening, Dumbledore sent Hagrid to fetch you, telling me that they were taking you to St Mungos for examinations. I agreed and told Hagrid to use my motor bike, as it would be faster and I would apparate to St Mungos after a while. First, I had to kill a rat."
"St Mungos?" repeated Harry. "Did I go to St Mungos before I was taken to the Dursleys?"
"No." replied Sirius. "That was a lie to keep me from stopping Hagrid. I would have never allowed Dumbledore to take you to live with muggles such as the Dursleys."
"My mind was firmly planted on hunting Peter down and killing him." continued Sirius. "Cassie, knowing that I had transferred my Secret-Keeper responsibility to Peter, also realized what had happened, but she was determined to stop me." Sirius shook his head. "Nothing was going to stop me from gutting the rat; not even her."
"What did you do?" asked Harry.
"She grabbed hold of me so that I couldn't apparate without her and threatened that if I tried to kill Peter I would never see her again." said Sirius, looking at the floor. "So I told her we were never meant to be, and then I hexed her – the full body-bind."
He knew that Harry needed to hear this, even though the pain it caused Sirius was like stabbing himself with a dagger.
One more lie, thought Harry. One more DAMN LIE FROM ALBUS DUMBLEDORE! Did he know that Sirius was planning to hunt and kill Pettigrew or did he think that Sirius had betrayed them? His blood boiled at the thought of Dumbledore plotting to keep Harry from Sirius.
"Did you love her?" asked Hermione softly.
"We were to be married." replied Sirius.
Harry's mind felt fuzzy again, as though someone had just hit him. Hermione had clasped a hand to her mouth in shock. He didn't know if wanted to hear this. Fortunately for Harry, Sirius was in no mood to continue this topic any further.
"Now – enough of all that." growled Sirius. "We only have a little time before your warden will need you back at Hogwarts; so before you go I'd like to address Harry's wandless magic."
"What – that I shouldn't use it or something mental like that?" asked Harry hotly, feeling frustrated by the day. "Would you have rather I let Tonks curse Hooktooth, or that bloody dragon roast us?"
"I wasn't going to say anything of the sort." replied Sirius. "What I was going to say, Harry, is that right now it's very reactionary and unintentional. In order for it to be useful in battle, it needs to be premeditated and calculating. You may have had the element of surprise, but any chance of that was lost the moment you knocked out a fully grown dragon."
Harry was feeling incredibly frustrated by the tone of the conversation. It made him feel like a child that had broken the rules.
"What Sirius is trying to convey, Harry," said Hermione "is that now Voldemort and the Death Eaters will be expecting it, so you'd better learn to control it."
"I've been trying!" retorted Harry, growing angry.
Sirius sighed "You're missing the point, Harry. I've never seen or heard of anyone doing what I witnessed you do today. If you could master what you did today – well, let's just say you would become quite the formidable foe for any Death Eater – but you must be careful not to hurt your allies in the process."
"Well, I can only say that – that – that it's perfect!" exclaimed Harry, punching the air.
Sirius and Hermione looked at him quite perplexed by his reaction. He smiled madly at such the ingenuous idea that had floated to the surface of his mind, causing even more alarm on Hermione's face.
"What is it, Harry?" asked Sirius, looking concerned.
"I know exactly how to rescue Hermione's parents!" replied Harry, causing Hermione frown.
"How?" asked Sirius, who now shared Hermione's frown.
Harry was dissecting the possibilities in his head as looked at the confused expressions on Hermione and Sirius' faces. This idea would definitely complicate his plan, but the chances of success would rise tremendously.
"Sirius, you believe that Voldemort will know of the incident at Gringotts, correct?" asked Harry smirking.
"Along with half of magical Britain by nightfall." scoffed Sirius. "I'd wager half the Black family fortune that all of Hogwarts knows by now."
"Well then," said Harry "we don't need to let it go to waste. I'm sure that Voldemort will be quite interested in how his nemesis defeated that dragon – which means Malfoy will be eager to hear too."
"How does telling Draco Malfoy about Gringotts benefit us or help rescue Hermione's parents?" asked Sirius.
"It doesn't." replied Harry. "But telling him about my master plan to defeat Voldemort does."
Harry could tell that Sirius was fighting the urge to smile as he contemplated where he was headed with this. Hermione however, looked sour as though she was drinking something very bitter.
"What master plan?" asked Hermione.
"Simple," replied Harry "you're going to tell Malfoy that what happened at Gringotts was an unintentional test of my new powers; that I've found a way to increase my magical core using ancient relics. That's why I was at Gringotts, and that's why I'm heading to Ireland."
"Ireland?" repeated Sirius.
"You heard Hooktooth." replied Harry. "Before Gringotts, goblins used to hide their treasures in the caves of Ireland. He said that they still have some there to this day." Sirius tilted his head to one side as Harry continued. "So – Hermione will tell them that the last remaining relic I need is in Ireland. Once I have it, I can fulfill the prophecy. If Voldemort thinks that I'm fulfilling the prophecy, he won't be able to resist!"
"I don't think me approaching Draco with information about you would work, Harry." said Hermione. "He's not about to trust anything –" she paused for a moment and Harry could see the wheels spinning inside her head "unless – he thinks we don't know that he knows."
"Spit it out Hermione." smirked Harry.
"What if he thought he overheard a conversation between me and Seamus about what happened at Gringotts and my worries about your plans?" said Hermione, thinking hard.
"You'll have to make sure that it looks convincing." said Sirius and Harry knew his godfather was speaking from experience.
"Malfoy is quite predictable." said Harry. "Has an almost ritualistic routine. How do you think I caught the git so easily yesterday?"
"Harry, you could hide under your cloak and use the Map to tell us when he's coming." said Hermione, as though she hadn't been paying them any attention. "We can use a vacant classroom. Yes, I think that would work."
"We're still present too Hermione." said Harry, catching her attention at last.
"What – oh – sorry." said Hermione, a little flustered.
"Don't be." said Sirius. "Sounds like you're formulating a right grand plan there," he turned and looked at Harry "but if you succeed in drawing Voldemort out, Harry, you'd better have an escape route ready. He will consider this news a threat."
Hermione suddenly didn't like the sound of this. Sirius was right; Voldemort would consider the answer to the prophecy to be most certainly a threat to his very existence. She looked at Harry eagerly to hear what his thoughts were on an escape.
"I realize that Sirius," said Harry "but Hooktooth gave us the answers. He said that the cave of the seven sisters was enchanted so that any who fell in would magically be transported to the beach below the cliff. We'll jump into the cave and be transported to the beach. From there we can apparate to the Ministry of Magic."
"What?" declared Sirius in astonishment. "Why in Merlin's name would you go to the Ministry?"
"To rendezvous with Dumbledore and the Order." replied Harry.
Hermione could tell that Harry was thoroughly enjoying the looks of total confusion and surprise on their faces. She understood that if they were being pursued by Voldemort, that a meeting with Dumbledore would be highly desirable, but she didn't quite comprehend yet how Harry was planning to invite Dumbledore to the Ministry.
"So you're going to involve Dumbledore in this plan?" growled Sirius.
"Not directly," replied Harry "just make sure he gets the message. That's the second part of my plan."
"Well," said Hermione "you've got my attention."
"I know." said Harry, causing her to blush. "The second part is a bit more complicated. We're going to have to split up the Alliance for this to work."
"What do you mean?" asked Hermione.
"Well, we" said Harry, pointing to himself, Hermione, and Sirius "along with Fred, and George will go to the caves as bait while Professor McGonagall, Angelina, Seamus, Susan, Neville, and Dobby go to rescue Hermione's parents. Ginny, Luna, Ron, and Terry will stay behind to lay the cover." He sighed heavily. "The tricky part is that we're going to tell the group staying behind that we're all going to the Ministry to retrieve the prophecy so that we can use it as a bargaining chip for Hermione's parents."
"You're going to lie to Ginny, Ron, Luna, and Terry?" asked Hermione incredulously.
"It's the only way to guarantee that they won't be forced into betraying us by Umbridge, and that Dumbledore will go to the Ministry." replied Harry.
"You think that either Ginny or Ron is an Order spy, don't you." stated Sirius.
"I think that they are too greatly influenced by Mrs Weasley to be trusted," said Harry "and I'm counting on it. The moment Dumbledore hears what is happening, he will race to the Ministry to stop me."
Hermione knew that Harry not being able to trust all of the Alliance was a huge issue. His distrust was well founded and she found it impressive that he had thought of a way to use Ron's inevitable betrayal to their advantage. The problem was that Ron couldn't betray them. He had signed the same parchment as the others.
"Harry," said Hermione "they cannot betray the Alliance even if they wanted to. They signed the parchment, remember?"
Harry nodded "I remember, but I believe that they have been shown how to get around it."
She looked at him as though he had grown two heads, but Harry held up a hand to stop her protest.
"I'll explain later, but for now you need to trust me that all cannot be held as confidential while either Ginny or Ron are around." continued Harry.
Hermione snarled at Harry then glanced at Sirius, who had suddenly taken a fancy to something on the floor. Deciding not to argue any more in front of Sirius, Hermione nodded then filed the topic away for later. Before the day was out she would corner Harry and force it from him.
"Harry, you realize that even if we somehow pull this off it won't go that smoothly." said Hermione, staring into Harry's bright green eyes. "Four years at Hogwarts has taught us this much."
"That's why I'm going to give the group a chance to back out." said Harry. "Nobody will be forced to participate, however I do not foresee any of them backing down now. Ever since Cho's death, Neville and Seamus have been looking for clues to her killer's identity and are ready for action."
"So when will we do this?" asked Sirius, looking at Harry with pride.
"The first Hogsmeade visit of term is this Saturday." replied Harry. "It's the prime opportunity and this week should give us enough time to prepare so we can leave out from the village."
"The barman at the Hogs Head could be useful;" said Sirius "that is if he still hates Albus."
"Why would he hate Dumbledore?" wondered Hermione aloud.
"Best not to know." said Sirius, sipping his tea.
Hermione caught Sirius' smirk and felt that for now, its meaning was best left for another time. There was no telling how many people Dumbledore had annoyed in the course of his life, if he played with others lives as he had done Harry's. Her father had taught her that a person's past actions will predict their future actions unless they feel the need to change. At the time he had been teaching her how to deal with bullies like Malfoy, but she felt it fit people like Dumbledore as well.
"I think that we can determine how hard this rescue mission will be very quickly." said Harry, leaning back in his chair.
"How's that?" asked Hermione and Sirius in unison.
"Dobby!" said Harry firmly.
"Master Harry called for Dobby?" squeaked the tiny elf joyfully, bouncing up and down.
"Dobby," said Harry in an even tone "we have confirmed that Voldemort is holding Hermione's parents captive in Malfoy Manor." Dobby shuddered from head to toe at the mention of Voldemort and Malfoy Manor, the home of his former masters. "Would you be willing to accompany members of the Alliance to rescue them? I will not order you to, so this is your choice."
"Master Harry," said Dobby fiercely "Dobby will do whatever Master Harry wishes, but Dobby will go with Master Harry to his former master's home and rescue Mistress Hermione's parents!"
"I won't be going to Malfoy Manor, Dobby." said Harry. "I will be with other Alliance members, luring Voldemort away from the Manor so that you can rescue Hermione's parents. The Alliance members going with you will provide cover so that you can apparate them back here."
"So noble, so brave is Dobby's Master!" squealed Dobby. "Dobby will not fail Master Harry!"
"Dobby, you must promise me to come back unharmed." said Harry fervently.
Hermione sighed inwardly at Harry's compassion for the tiny elf. He truly cared for Dobby and she knew that some of it had to do with how the Dursleys had treated him growing up.
"Master Harry," replied Dobby "never could Dobby have imagined having a master as kind as Master Harry. Dobby will not do anything to endanger Dobby, Mistress Hermione's parents, or Master's Alliance. When does Master Harry wish for Dobby to take Master's Alliance to Malfoy Manor?"
Harry smiled broadly at the tiny elf, making Hermione beam with happiness. He was the best Master Dobby could have, regardless of whether she agreed with house-elf ownership.
"I will tell you when later this week." replied Harry. "For now, this is to be kept in confidence from the Alliance, as not all of them will be privileged to this plan. Understand?"
"Whatever Master Harry says, Dobby will do!" piped the elf.
Kreacher appeared in the sitting room carrying Sirius' father's robes from Grimmauld Place to put away for safe keeping. He looked curiously at Dobby who smiled timidly at Kreacher. Hermione knew that house-elf law followed wizard law in accordance to how house-elves treated one another. She had studied it thoroughly last year and understood that in the rare cases that a house ward had his or her own house-elf, the Head of House's house-elf would be the ward's house-elf's superior. Simply stated, this was Kreacher's house and Dobby was seen as a guest-elf.
Kreacher snapped his fingers and the robes disappeared. He walked into the kitchen as Dobby bowed his head to Kreacher. Kreacher returned the nod then bowed low to Sirius.
"Kreacher has returned from Kreacher's chores and wondered if Master Sirius would like Kreacher to prepare some food for Master Sirius, young Master Potter, and t-t-t-t-t-t-t" the elf stumbled over his words before groaning "M-Mistress Granger? Kreacher knows that Master Sirius must be famished."
"I am quite hungry." replied Sirius. "Thank you, Kreacher."
"Dobby," said Harry "you can assist Kreacher."
Dobby bounced up and down with delight, though Kreacher didn't look too pleased. Sirius agreed that the two elves would need to get used to working together if Harry was to live with him. It was amusing for Hermione, though she refused to let Sirius or Harry see her smile, to watch the two elves try to work together. Overall, the meal they prepared was delicious and a full stomach did help to calm her nerves; she had been feeling rather nauseous again. As desperate as she was to see her parents again, she knew that their safety was all that kept Harry's rage at bay. Once they were safe, she worried what he might do next.
"Hermione." said Harry, drawing her away from her thoughts. "I know that Tuesday is your birthday, but I was wondering if you would be upset if we waited to celebrate it until after we rescued your parents."
Her birthday; she had completely forgot about it and it was just like Harry to remember it. She had wondered last year what it would be like to have a birthday with a boyfriend. She had imagined going to Hogsmeade and being treated royally by Victor or Ron, but since Harry had become her boyfriend under such strained circumstances she hadn't even given thought to what a birthday with Harry would be like. Seeing Harry's frown, she pulled herself again away from her own thoughts.
"Harry," replied Hermione "I had completely forgotten about my birthday, and I honestly cannot see myself enjoying any celebration until after all this is over."
Harry nodded solemnly and sighed as he took a swig of pumpkin juice. His expression told her that he was contemplating how he would make it up to her, which made her smile.
The fake galleon in her pocket burned slightly, informing her of another message. The first one they received while at Gringotts bore the message "occupied", meaning that Umbridge was being occupied by the Alliance. Hermione pulled the fake galleon from her pocket then gasped as she now read, "danger". She looked up at Harry and Sirius who wore the same expression as she did. 'Danger', wasn't one of the code words they had agreed upon.
"We must return to Hogwarts at once." said Sirius, rising to his feet.
Harry and Hermione joined him at once making Kreacher and Dobby look very worried.
"Does Master Harry wish for Dobby to return also?" asked Dobby.
"No." replied Harry. "Stay here with Kreacher and I will call for you if I need you."
Dobby bowed but still looked worried.
"What do you think has happened?" asked Hermione nervously.
Truthfully, she didn't really want to know but her concern for their friends made the necessity to get back to Hogwarts and find out what the message meant all she could think about.
"Something bad." said Harry.
"Hermione, place Harry's cloak over yourself then both of you grab my arms." commanded Sirius.
Harry and Hermione did not argue but did as Sirius told them to. Once Hermione was securely under Harry's invisibility cloak and holding firm to Sirius' right arm they disapparated, reappearing just outside the gates to Hogwarts.
"Wands out." whispered Sirius.
Hermione shook nervously, still concealed under the cloak, as they approached the castle looking hastily for signs of danger. The very first thing that caught her attention was that the astronomy tower looked like a giant cotton candy cone from a muggle fair. It was covered in pink fluffy foam-like substance, forming a perfect ball atop the tower. This was surely the work of the twins and probably the reason for the first message, 'occupied'. The next thing that caught her attention caused her breath to catch in her chest. Lucius Malfoy was standing in front of the entrance to the castle, a very smug look upon his face as he watched Sirius and Harry approach. Hermione looked over to see Harry's hand clinching his wand tightly and looking murderous.
"Sneak away now to the castle before we get any closer." whispered Sirius and Hermione knew that he was talking to her.
"I'll be in the library." whispered Hermione.
Sirius and Harry grunted as she slowly moved away from them, keeping the cloak tucked around her fully. She saw the eyes of Lucius and remembered the day that he stood inside her home, the same satisfied look on his face. She bit back the urge to hex him as she made her way quietly around him and into the castle.
Harry glared at Lucius Malfoy as he and Sirius approached the man responsible for tormenting Hermione and abducting her parents. He had been envisioning the day that he would come face-to-face with the elder Malfoy; how he would make him suffer for all that he had done to Hermione; how as he begged for mercy, Harry would cease the man's breathing once and for all. Unfortunately, now was not the time to do such things. Now, he would have to endure whatever torture Lucius had for him and try to control his godfather at the same time.
"Sirius Black." drawled Lucius. "How good it is to see you and Mr Potter out and enjoying yourselves."
"Hello Lucius." greeted Sirius, smiling. "How's my cousin, Narcissa? I do hope that you're making her life a living hell on a daily basis. Of course, I'm sure being married to you more than suffices."
To Harry's delight, Lucius' smile faded into a scowl. He knew that Lucius couldn't stand seeing Sirius walk about a free wizard, knowing what became of Wormtail.
"Let's be cordial now, Black." spat Lucius. "Wouldn't want to teach your godson any bad manners. Besides, I come with glad news."
"Any news you would think is glad must be awful to everyone else." spat Harry. "I am surprised that you recognized me so quickly, Mr Malfoy. I barely recognized you without your mask and hood on."
Harry saw Sirius smile out of the corner of his eye.
"Still carrying on that bit I see." said Lucius, smiling darkly. "Where's Rita Skeeter when you need her."
"Try looking under a rock." said Harry. "Probably next to your mother."
"You filthy half –" spat Lucius, but stopped at the glare from Sirius.
"Give us your news Malfoy, then kindly step aside so that we can enter Hogwarts without getting our robes dirty." said Sirius.
"Very well." said Lucius. "As I was saying, I have glad news. The witch that murdered the Ravenclaw, Cho Chang, has been captured and taken into custody for her crimes."
Harry's blood ran cold. Anyone that Lucius would be glad for being captured must be innocent.
"Who'd you frame, Malfoy?" hissed Harry.
Harry felt Sirius' grip on his shoulder tighten as a warning. Lucius glared at Harry before regaining his composure.
"Trust me, it came as quite a shock." replied Lucius. "I would have never believed that the Weasley girl could have done such."
"LIAR!" shouted Harry, unable to control himself.
"What's going on – oh – I see." said Minister Fudge, walking out of the entrance to the castle, mopping his brow and upper lip with his handkerchief.
"Lucius – you've informed Mr Potter and Lord Black of the disturbing news?" asked Fudge, looking at Sirius apprehensively.
"Yes, Minister." replied Lucius. "Young Mr Potter has taken the news as you expected."
"You won't get away with this, Malfoy!" spat Harry.
"Don't tell me you're still accusing Mr Malfoy falsely, Mr Potter." sighed Fudge. "I thought we'd be past that by now, with Dumbledore gone and all."
"What proof do you have, Minister, that the Weasley girl did this?" asked Sirius calmly.
"Her wand – well not her wand, but a wand that was in her possession." replied Fudge. "It was Ms Granger's lost wand, or so I was told. Seems she stole it from Ms Granger, then planned to place it back in Ms Granger's trunk. Bad business."
"Must be more careful, Mr Potter." said Lucius. "Affairs of the heart can be tricky, indeed."
"Affairs of the heart?" repeated Fudge distractedly. "Really – well, that explains much."
"It explains nothing!" growled Harry.
"Not here, not now." growled Sirius, bending into Harry's ear.
"Where is the Weasley girl now?" asked Sirius firmly.
"She's been taken to the Ministry." replied Fudge. "There, we'll decide what to do next. Bad business indeed."
Without another word, Fudge and Lucius swept past Harry and Sirius; Lucius giving them one final filthy look. Sirius gripped Harry by the shoulder even tighter and nearly dragged him into the Entrance Hall.
"Focus, Harry." said Sirius, forcing Harry to look him in the eyes. "Go secure the bloody Map, find Hermione, and meet me in Professor McGonagall's office. Do nothing else."
Harry nodded then shot off up the stairs, taking two at a time until he reached the seventh floor. Upon reaching the portrait hole, he had to nearly scream, trying to get the Fat Lady's attention who was gossiping in another portrait before Seamus opened up the portrait hole to let him in. Every Gryffindor, except for Hermione, was in the common room. The twins were cursing loudly and Ron looked redder than he had ever seen him before. Upon seeing Harry, he immediately exploded about how that toad-faced witch had framed his sister soundly. Seamus had to force Ron to sit down before he fell down from becoming disorientated. The twins were looking at Harry imploringly as for what to do next. He motioned for them to come closer so he could talk. Neville notice the gathering and joined quickly.
"Lucius met Sirius and I in the castle grounds and gloated about what had happened." said Harry below the commotion. "I'm going to need a full account of what happened while we were gone. First, where's the Map?"
"I put it back in your trunk and locked it like you told me to, should something happen." said Neville. "Did you really fight a dragon at Gringotts today while they were here arresting Ginny, Harry?"
Harry simply nodded, for there was nothing else to say at the moment.
"Bloody hell, Harry –" exclaimed Seamus "what's going on?"
"We're at war, Seamus." replied Harry without thinking. "I'm going to go fetch the Map from our room. Neville, try to calm everyone down while I go speak to Professor McGonagall."
"Where's Hermione?" asked Seamus.
"In the Library." replied Harry.
Seamus smiled slightly as Harry slapped him on the arm in a reassuring way before heading to the fifth year dorm room. He found the room to be as he anticipated, empty. He unlocked his trunk and stuffed the Map into his robes. As he stood up, something bushy tackled him in a suffocating hug. He pushed away quickly, surprised to see Hermione standing in front of him. She must have used the cloak, thought Harry.
"What's going on Harry?" asked Hermione, taking a seat on the side of four poster bed.
Harry noticed immediately that there was something off about Hermione. She wasn't being, Hermione-ish, as he so often described it.
"Thought you were in the Library?" asked Harry, gripping his wand slightly to remind himself that it was still there.
"Couldn't find the book I was looking for, and besides, how could someone read at a time like this?" asked Hermione, a little too sincerely.
Harry immediately pointed his wand at her, gripping it tightly as he asked, "Where's Hermione?"
"Damn." said Hermione. "Should I have kissed you first or was it something I said?"
"I asked you a question, witch." said Harry through gritted teeth. "Where is Hermione?"
"In the Library, of course!" laughed the witch. "Where else would she be?"
"Who are you?" growled Harry, twitching his wand that was pointed at her face.
"You know if you'd played along, I would have ravished you right here on your bed." replied the witch. "It would have been way better than anything you've done with Hermione."
"I won't ask again," growled Harry "WHO ARE YOU?"
"Wotcher, Harry." said Tonks as she morphed back into herself before Harry's eyes, her pink hair as bright as ever.
"Hermione better be safe of so help me –" growled Harry.
"I told you Harry," interrupted Tonks "she's in the Library – apparently waiting on you."
"How do you know where she is?" asked Harry.
"You told me!" replied Tonks, now morphing into Seamus.
Harry's eyes widened considerably. His breathing became extremely shallow.
"Mr Finnigan is sleeping soundly in the Prefect's private lavatory." said Tonks in Seamus' voice. "I'm not the enemy, Harry. You-Know-Who and Dumbledore are the enemies."
"WHAT THE BLOODY HELL IS GOING ON HERE?" shouted Neville, staring incredulously at the scene before him.
"LOOKOUT NEVILLE!" shouted Harry as his momentary distraction cost him.
He was blown backwards by a stinging hex as Tonks shoved Neville to one side, still looking like Seamus. Harry angrily shook off the stinging hex to his own amazement, then helped Neville to his feet.
"That wasn't Seamus." said Harry to Neville's strained face. "He's in the Prefect's lavatory. Go fetch him."
Harry barely saw Neville nod as he darted off after Tonks. She was already out of the common room before he got there. He raced out the portrait hole, ignoring stunned and scared looks in the common room, but she was already gone. He didn't dare pull out the Map in the corridor, lest he was caught by Umbridge or Filch sneaking around before he had the chance to check. Instead, he made his way to the Library as quickly as he could. When he found Hermione, she was sitting at a table and looking nervous. When she saw him she rose to greet him but he jabbed his wand into her stomach beneath her robes, causing her to fright.
"What pet name did I give you for when we're alone?" whispered Harry into her ear. "Just answer the question."
"Y-You didn't." stammered Hermione.
"Why didn't I give you one?" whispered Harry.
"Harry!" whispered Hermione. "This isn't the place!"
"Please Hermione." whispered Harry.
"You said my name was all you wanted to hear." said Hermione, turning scarlet in the face.
Harry immediately drew her into a tight hug, stroking her back with his free hand.
"What was that about?" whispered Hermione into his chest.
"I'll explain shortly." replied Harry. "Right now we need to get to McGonagall's office."
Hermione nodded into his chest. Before leaving the Library, Harry quickly pulled out the Map and checked it for Tonks, but she was already gone. After checking to see that Umbridge was in her office, he then turned and walked with Hermione out of the Library and off to McGonagall's office, ignoring her confused looks, his arm around her shoulders. When they reached her office, Harry knocked once. Sirius opened the door and motioned them inside.
"You just missed Mr Weasley." said Sirius, taking a seat in one of the four chairs that sat in front of Professor McGonagall's desk. "He's quite upset, so it's probably for the best."
Professor McGonagall sat behind her desk looking quite concerned. Harry and Hermione took seats next to Sirius.
"Does he blame us?" asked Harry.
"What's going on?" asked Hermione, looking scared and confused.
"Blimey Hermione." exclaimed Harry. "I forgot that you don't know yet."
"They've taken Ginny into custody for the murder of Cho." said Sirius, before Hermione could ask.
That was it. Hermione couldn't take any more. She was already feeling queasy and that bit of information was just too much. She grasped a nearby bin and retched into it violently. She felt Harry's hand on her shoulder but it was a moment before she could regain her composure. Professor McGonagall offered her a handkerchief to clean up with and they allowed her a few minutes to calm down before explaining anything else. Once she was under control, they explained what had happened to Ginny.
"Clever plan though." said Sirius. "Stealing Hermione's wand, using it to kill Cho, then placing it on Ginny. Lucius said, 'affairs of the heart' to Fudge, remember Harry?"
"What does that mean?" asked Professor McGonagall.
"It means that Ginny has always had a crush on Harry up until this year and everyone knew it, except Harry." said Hermione looking down. "They're trying to make it as though Ginny stole my wand in order to frame me, but that is absolutely outrageous. Whoever attacked us in the Owlery was definitely trying murder me and it wasn't Ginny."
"Not going to lie, I'm quite impressed." said Harry to the shock of all in the room. "The attack on Hermione in the Owlery was clearly botched and this is a brilliant way to turn it to their favour."
"So if they hadn't planned to frame Hermione or Ginny for Cho's death – why steal Hermione's wand?" asked Professor McGonagall.
"Wouldn't want to use your own wand to do it," said Sirius "so why not use the person's wand you plan to kill?"
"Makes sense," said Hermione "in a psychotic sort of way."
"In a psychotic sort of way." repeated Sirius, more so to himself. "Minerva, are we certain all is well at Azkaban?"
"As far as we know," replied McGonagall "but the Minister is bound to cover-up anything that might make him look worse. Why?"
"Not sure." said Sirius grimly.
"So who supposedly caught Ginny with Hermione's wand?" asked Harry.
"Isn't it obvious, Harry?" fumed Hermione. "Umbridge!"
The thought of Umbridge's smug face sent waves of rage through Hermione. She was sure that Umbridge was relishing in the fact that she was causing pain not only to a blood traitor family, but to the entire Gryffindor house as well. This type of attack was a direct shot at Harry and possibly the Alliance too. There would be time for Umbridge when the day for vengeance finally arrived. Hermione no longer tried to shake away those thoughts, but instead fed from them.
"Trouble is," said McGonagall "that Ginny confessed to the whole thing right here in my office only an hour ago."
"Confessions can be falsified," retorted Sirius "even if they're from the innocent. Memory modification charms are not above the Ministry or Malfoy."
"I agree, Sirius," said McGonagall "but the trouble is unless the accused can be submitted to a healer, no one will ever know."
"So what do we do?" asked Hermione imploringly. "We cannot just let Ginny go to Azkaban!"
"We have to stay focused." said Sirius. "Whatever Voldemort is playing at, we must not let him distract us from the task at hand."
"I agree." said Harry firmly. "We have one more problem to deal with – Tonks was just here."
Hermione was stunned into silence, as was Professor McGonagall. Then, to her own horror, Harry told them of his run in with Tonks. Sirius growled under his breath and she could see the hurt of betrayal turn to hatred in his eyes.
"She looked like me?" asked Hermione, her eyebrows raised.
"And Seamus." recounted Harry.
"So Nymphadora Tonks and Charlie Weasley caused the ruckus at Gringotts, and then made their way to Hogwarts?" asked Professor McGonagall fiercely.
"Seems so, Minerva." replied Sirius calmly. "I wanted to tell Arthur earlier, though I didn't think it a good time to tell him."
"Agreed." said Professor McGonagall. "He couldn't take the pressure."
"Not sure if Charlie was here today, but he was definitely at Gringotts." said Harry.
"But why?" asked Hermione. "Why did Tonks come here? What is she after?"
Nobody answered immediately. Professor McGonagall twirled a quill between her fingers while Sirius scratched his chin. Harry rubbed his hands on his face, thinking hard, before placing them together in his lap. Hermione was thinking fast as thoughts flew through her mind at a rapid pace. The answer was there somewhere, like a jigsaw puzzle; she just had to find the missing pieces. The only common denominator was her and Harry. They had both been at Gringotts and were now back at Hogwarts. The feeling that the hunters had become the hunted loomed in her mind. The question was why? Why had Tonks taken a sudden interest in Harry, enough to risk being caught – and there it was; lying there in her mind as large as a dragon.
"The dragon." hissed Hermione aloud.
"The dragon?" repeated Professor McGonagall. "Are you referring to the Gringotts dragon?"
"It's the why." said Hermione, thinking aloud. "It's why Tonks would risk getting caught here at Hogwarts. To try to understand how Harry stopped the dragon."
"Why she pretended to be you." said Harry, now looking at Hermione.
"Exactly." said Hermione. "She was seeking information about you."
Hermione was really concerned now. If they proceeded with Harry's plan, what would Voldemort do to try and stop them? The thought made her feel as though she had been pushed into icy cold water, all the way up to her neck.
Harry hadn't told them all Tonks had said about Voldemort and Dumbledore being the enemy and not her. He especially didn't tell Hermione about Tonks alluding to ravishing him on his bed. He might have been only fifteen and not very bright when it came to witches, but he knew without anyone's help that this was where the line was. Hermione was precious to him, but he also didn't care too much for her wrath either. He was worried about how she was holding up as of late. He had never known her to be the weak stomach sort, but lately she had succumb quite often to retching on the floor and in bins. He had also noticed that her colour was a bit off and wondered if she was well.
Forcing from their minds the mayhem of the day and the insanity that was sure to follow, Harry went over the revised plan with Professor McGonagall, watching her expressions closely. She looked disturbed and impressed, all at the same time, while listening to Harry lay out the plan. Sirius and Hermione simply sat there and nodded as he touched on key points of the plan. When he finished, he sat back and waited for her input. Professor McGonagall did not immediately speak, but sat there for a moment as if gathering her thoughts.
"Harry, this plan is really quite eloquent." said McGonagall. "I dare say Dumbledore would be impressed, but what bothers me is Dumbledore. How do you expect to get him and the Order to the Ministry?"
"I expect Ron Weasley to tell the Order." replied Harry.
Hermione cleared her throat, but Harry ignored her.
"You believe that Mr Weasley will betray the group?" asked McGonagall.
"Yes, Professor, I do." said Harry.
"But I'm not so certain." said McGonagall. "I'm still in the Order and I haven't heard anything pertaining to you or the Alliance that I haven't told them."
"It's very likely that Professor Dumbledore doesn't share everything with the Order." said Harry.
"I agree." said McGonagall. "Matter of fact, I'm sure of it. However, regardless of that I think that it might be wise if I also send word to the Order. I can say that one of your group has informed me that you're planning to break into the Ministry to steal a prophecy. Dumbledore is brilliant enough to figure out the rest."
"If nothing else," interjected Sirius "it will push Dumbledore to question Mr Weasley as to what is going on."
"Aside from a few minor details, I really think this will work." said McGonagall, a wry smile cutting her face.
"Well, we have a very busy week ahead of us. Why don't you two go see if you can settle down the Gryffindors and see if there are any more bits of information to be gathered concerning Ginny's status? I'm sure they have a thousand questions to ask about Gringotts." said Sirius, pointing at Harry and Hermione. Then he sighed "As much as I'm sure you're dreading it, you need to inform the twins about Charlie. Minerva and I need to go see Umbridge before I leave."
"Whatever for?" asked McGonagall, slightly taken aback.
"Keeping up appearances, of course." replied Sirius. "What kind of godfather would I be if I returned to the school to find things in such conditions and not file my complaint? I might even threaten to withdraw Harry from school. That wouldn't look good in the Prophet, "Boy-Who-Lived Removed From Hogwarts Due To Safety Concerns", would it?"
"Safety concerns?" repeated Hermione, lifting an eyebrow.
"Witches fighting over my godson and students vandalizing the school." ticked off Sirius. "That's not a safe environment at all."
"Still a Marauder." sighed McGonagall with a chuckle.
"Till the end." replied Sirius.
Harry and Hermione smiled as they gave Sirius a hug before leaving McGonagall's office and heading back to their common room. Sirius was correct: Harry was dreading the talk he knew they must have with the twins. It wasn't going to be easy; it could even mean the end of the twins' involvement in the Alliance, but it had to be done. He felt Hermione slide her hand inside his and squeeze. He looked at her knowing smile and knew that he could do this. The twins deserved to know, come what may; and he wasn't Dumbledore.
As they made their way back to the Gryffindor common room, Hermione wondered how that they were going to tell Fred and George about Charlie; especially in the light of Ginny's dire position. Would they blame her somehow because of her wand? She knew that Harry would not let anyone harm her, though it wasn't the physical hurt that she dreaded. Harry squeezed her hand, causing her to look up at him. He was smiling softly at her, making her feel so thankful that they had survived the day, even if it wasn't over yet.
Suddenly Harry pushed her sideways with his body into a classroom they were passing. As he shut the door behind them she gave him a scandalized look. He cast a silencing charm before turning to take her into his arms. He pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her, pressing her face into his chest. She breathed in his scent and found it soothing.
"Before we confront Fred and George, I wanted to talk to you in private." said Harry into her ear.
"Do you think they'll be upset with us?" asked Hermione trying to ignore his breath on her neck which made her shudder.
"I dunno." replied Harry. "All I know is that this would probably be easier if I was telling them Charlie was dead."
She could feel his chest tighten and hear the choked emotion in his voice. This was really hard on Harry, who had at one time looked at the Weasleys as his adopted family. To watch their lives being torn apart by this silent war was extremely difficult. Compile that with her parents being held captive as another way to try and hurt him was more than most wizards would be able to take. Yet she knew that Harry wasn't just any wizard, and not just because of what happened when he was one year old. Every time he was faced with adversity, he somehow rose to the occasion and had conquered whatever came against him. The dragon at Gringotts was just one more example of how different Harry was.
"We'll get through this Harry," said Hermione "together."
Hermione pushed her way up and found his lips with hers. She placed all her passion into the kiss that she could. She wanted him to feel her love; know that he was her world and that nothing could change that. He returned her passion, pulling her as close as he could to him. She reached up and ran her fingers through his untidy hair, gently gripping handfuls to try and pull him somehow closer. When they finally pulled apart, both of their chests were heaving as waves of emotions flooded over her. As wrong as it was in the wake of everything going on; she desired nothing more at that moment than for him to rip off her clothing and take her right there in a furry of passion. The look he was giving her made her weak in the knees, as her desire was being reflected in his brilliantly green eyes.
Suddenly, Harry lifted her up by her waist and sat her on a nearby desk. Her breath caught in her chest as he pulled her into a passionate kiss, pushing past her robes and finding her slim waist with his hands. She placed one arm around his neck and pulled him closer so she could wrap her legs about his waist. She fumbled for her wand then nearly dropped it as Harry buried his face into her neck, sucking just below her ear, causing her to gasp. Hermione silently cast a locking charm upon the door and a contraceptive charm on herself as a precautionary measure. She knew that they needed to talk to Fred and George, but they needed each other first.
Professor McGonagall sat back into her chair as she watched the flames in her fireplace change back from bright green to a gentle amber. The meeting with Umbridge had gone just as Sirius had hoped. His pompous attitude and belittlement of her abilities to keep the school safe had stripped her of her normal girlish tone and revealed the hardened Ministry witch they all knew her to be. He had cut her to the quick when he told her that if she didn't get a handle on things, she would turn out to be no better than Dumbledore. This might not have worked as well for Sirius, had it not been made public knowledge that since his exoneration he had made strides to distance himself from Dumbledore and re-establish the Black family seat in the Wizengamot. He had been so convincing in his Daily Prophet interview that the reporter had stated in her opinion, Lord Black was the best possible influence for the troubled Boy-Who-Lived.
She poured herself a small glass of fire whiskey then sighed as she pondered the fate of the young Weasley. Ginny was a strong girl, yet she worried how she might fair while locked away at the Ministry. If she was convicted of murder? Professor McGonagall shuddered at the thought. It could not be allowed to come to that, no matter what.
Snape gathered himself silently, guarding his mind with Occlumency before knocking soundly on one of the large library doors.
"Enter." replied a high cold voice.
Snape opened the doors to the library and entered. As always, the room was dark; the drapes drawn on every window against the evening sun. The crackling fireplace was the only source of light for the room, casting long shadows on the walls and ceiling. To Snape's left sat the massive ornate desk, and behind it sat Voldemort in a high back chair; his snake-like face glowing in the firelight. Voldemort stared at Snape as he approached the desk and bowed low, awaiting his master's commands.
"I do not wish to jeopardize your post at Hogwarts by calling you to me at this hour of the day Severus," said Voldemort "however something very important has been brought to my attention."
Snape did not respond, but waited for Voldemort to continue; his eyes fixed upon the Dark Lord's desk.
"When I first returned, you confessed your unwavering loyalty to me." continued Voldemort. "You also informed me that Dumbledore believed that the reason for my inability to destroy Harry Potter was because of the rare coincidence that our wands share the same phoenix core. You also told me that Mr Potter was an average student and showed no great magical potential. Have I said anything you believe not to be true?"
"No, my Lord." replied Snape. "Your memory is as keen as ever."
"Then how did the same Harry Potter stop a fully grown dragon today without even a wand?" hissed Voldemort dangerously.
"I do not know, my Lord." said Snape, his breathing strained. "He has never shown such potential in school. Perhaps something happened to him since he escaped the graveyard."
Voldemort moved so fast, Snape had no time to react. Rising to his feet then pulling his wand from nowhere, Voldemort pointed it at Snape and trilled, "Crucio!"
Snape fell to the floor howling in pain; his body contorting uncontrollably as pain flooded every inch of his body. Snape had been punished before, but he had never felt pain like unto this. It was blinding every thought from his mind, except one. Lily's face flashed before his eyes and he wondered if he was about to join the Potters in death. Then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over.
"I believe that you believe this be the truth." said Voldemort coldly over Snape's gasps of breath. "I also know that your petty childhood grudge with his father blinds you to the truth. You will never accept Harry Potter to be powerful or superior in any way. Even in the light of what transpired today in London, you believe him to be nothing more than an arrogant boy surrounded by stronger wizards." Voldemort glided out from behind his desk to stand directly in front of the still grounded Snape. "I admit that I was convinced of this myself, mostly because of what you and Lucius had told me; that was until today. Now, Lord Voldemort knows better, for no mere wizard could stop a fully grown raging dragon – especially without a wand."
Voldemort eyed the fireplace for a moment and Snape feared that Voldemort might be contemplating whether he would fit inside the grate. He dared not attempt to stand until he was given permission.
"My Lord." groaned Snape.
"Do not think that I fear Harry Potter, Severus." said Voldemort, ignoring Snape's groaning. "I will no longer, however, underestimate his abilities. I will no longer toy with the child, as I did in the graveyard. I must possess the prophecy, so that the next time I see Harry Potter, I will be the last thing he ever sees."
Snape glanced up at Voldemort, only to see the tip of his wand as he heard the harsh cruel voice cry, "Crucio!" again. Snape flat out screamed this time in absolute pain. The Dark Lord's wrath was more than he could take. Snape felt his bowls release uncontrollably as the burning sensation spread through his organs. He wished for death but knew that the Dark Lord was not so kind. Just before he blacked out, the pain ceased.
Snape's eyes flickered open to see Voldemort striding back around the desk to his chair. Snape visibly trembled as his body slowly began to recover from shock. He was sure that the whole of the house could hear his screams, yet no one came to plead for his life. Death Eaters had no code amongst one another, and not one would stand against the Dark Lord.
A soft cackle came from the opposite corner of the room. Snape pushed himself up onto his hands before rising to a kneeling position. Out of the shadows stepped a tall woman with long black hair, thin lips, heavily-lidded eyes with long eyelashes, and a strong jaw. Only her slightly sunk-in eyes marred her heritage beauty. She stared at Snape with a gleeful look, absorbing his tortured face and relishing in his misery.
"No words of welcome, Severus?" asked the witch silkily. "Thought you'd be happy to see me."
"A pleasure, as always, Bellatrix." grunted Snape, still unable to stand.
"Wish I could say the same, but the air is foul today with your stench." said Bellatrix Lestrange, placing a hand over her nose.
"I only said that you could watch, Bella." said Voldemort coldly.
"Forgive me, my Lord." said Bellatrix, bowing low.
Snape sneered as he watched Bellatrix being rebuked. He knew then and there that this had been a punishment only, not a sign that he had lost favour in the Dark Lord's eyes.
"Severus, go compose yourself before you return to Hogwarts." instructed Voldemort. "I expect you to be more open minded when it comes to the capabilities of those that you teach. Should your petty grudge interfere in your duties again, I will be most displeased."
Acknowledging his dismissal, Snape rose to his feet then bowed low as he left the library, closing the doors behind him.
"Bella, I have an assignment for you." Snape heard Voldemort hiss as he closed the doors to the library behind him.