As the season changed to autumn, many town folk in the tiny village of Godric's Hollow felt it lucky to have spent their Sunday evening without rain. The weather was gorgeous, and the changing colours of nature were awe-inspiring. The air was crisp and cool, the falling leaves and calming sounds of nature led many to be in a very euphoric mood, leaving their windows turned open to allow nature's symphony of tranquillity and the rich orange light from the distant sunset into their abodes. There wouldn't be many days like this and it was for most the picture perfect fall evening.
Only one resident of the tiny village did not find the day to be pleasant. Albus Dumbledore sat in a cushy arm chair in the sitting room of a small cottage on the edge of the village, staring into the eyes of a furious Arthur Weasley. The slightly balding red headed wizard was scarlet in the face as he continued to yell into Dumbledore's paling face.
"WHAT DO YOU PLAN TO DO ABOUT THIS DUMBLEDORE?" roared Mr. Weasley. "I WANT MY DAUGHTER OUT OF CUSTODY AND CLEARED OF THESE CHARGES IMMEDIATELY!"
"What would you wish for me to do, Arthur?" asked Dumbledore calmly. "I have no pull with the Ministry or the Wizengamot. There are no favours afforded me that I may call upon."
"I DO NOT CARE WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO, JUST DO IT!" roared Mr. Weasley, slamming his fist against the nearest wall. "YOU CLEARED SIRIUS RATHER SWIFTLY WHEN HARRY CAME TO YOU, DEMANDING HIS EXONERATION! WERE YOU ABLE TO ACCOMPLISH SAID FEAT BECAUSE YOU'RE SO BLOODY BRILLIANT OR BECAUSE YOU HAD A HAND IN SIRIUS' INCARSERATION FROM THE START?"
Dumbledore sat there, his mouth agape, looking at Mr. Weasley in disbelief.
"ARTHUR!" shrieked Mrs. Weasley, grasping her husband's arm and forcing him to look at her. "Think of what you're saying!"
"I know exactly what I am saying, Molly." replied Mr. Weasley firmly. "Ever since Sirius' name was cleared, things haven't been the same."
"Arthur," said Dumbledore "you were present in the meeting when Severus came up with the idea of how to clear Sirius' name."
"I'm no fool, Dumbledore!" snapped Mr. Weasley. "Severus Snape would NEVER willingly help Sirius Black unless he was ordered to by you! I was there when Hermione found out that her wand was missing! I remember how calm you were about the whole situation and how odd it seemed to me! You KNEW that her wand was stolen, but you did nothing to find it! Now, her wand is the primary evidence in the murder of the Chang girl and being used to FRAME MY DAUGHTER!"
"I admit that I have made some mistakes," said Dumbledore solemnly "so please feel free to continue to yell at me as long as you need to, Arthur, for I deserve it."
Faster than Dumbledore could get to his own, Arthur had drawn his wand and pointed directly at his crooked nose. Lupin and Moody were also present, and drew their wands on Mr. Weasley, though neither did more. Mrs. Weasley squeaked in fear; however Mr. Weasley paid them no attention and continued to glare at Dumbledore.
"Do not attempt to turn this on me, Dumbledore." growled Mr. Weasley. "You said yesterday at Grimmauld Place that you still had no idea where Charlie was, and yet Bill just told me that Charlie was at Gringotts this morning setting loose dragons alongside Nymphadora! He also told me that when he informed you this morning about the incident, you barely acknowledged the revelation of Charlie and Nymphadora, but you instead pressed him for details about how Harry defeated the dragon."
"Would you rather me tell you of my suspicions that Nymphadora and Charlie have turned against the Order or the fact that I still do not know where they are?" asked Dumbledore. "When Bill informed me of the occurrences, they had already left the bank for destinations unknown to me."
"Damn it Dumbledore," shouted Mr. Weasley "you have no right to keep things about my children from me!"
"Arthur, please." said Mrs. Weasley feebly but Mr. Weasley continued to ignore her.
"Put the wand away, Arthur." growled Moody. "There's no need to do anything you'll regret later."
"I hate to interrupt," said Kingsley Shacklebolt hesitantly as he entered the room and beheld the sight before him "but I have news from the Ministry about Ginny, Arthur."
Mr. Weasley pocketed his wand at once and turned to face Shacklebolt, looking at him expectantly. Dumbledore nodded and Shacklebolt cleared his throat.
"They've set Ginny's trial for Tuesday." said Shacklebolt. "The Minister wants to get this wrapped up as soon as possible in hopes that families will begin to send their children back to Hogwarts. They're also relieving you, Arthur, of your post until after the trial."
Dumbledore watched Mr. Weasley deflate at the news about his daughter then turn to glare once again at Dumbledore; a fire in his eyes that Dumbledore had never seen there before.
"Being that you will not do anything to help, I guess that it is up to us to find a way to clear my daughter's name." spat Mr. Weasley. "Then again, if you had just defeated You-Know-Who fourteen years ago, maybe all this would not be happening. Harry will eventually do your job for you so maybe he will save my daughter's life again too."
Without another word, Mr. Weasley took Mrs. Weasley by the arm and marched out of the cottage, slamming the door behind them. Moments later the sound of them apparating away crackled through the air.
"What in Merlin's name just happened?" asked Shacklebolt.
"Arthur came close to straightening Albus' nose." growled Moody with a smirk.
"He has every right to be upset." said Lupin. "It is his daughter that is on trial for murder."
Dumbledore did not say anything for a few minutes as he pondered the words of Arthur Weasley. He knew the man not to be a fool, but if one so loyal to him could be so quick to question his actions; what of the rest of the Order; what of the wizards in the room with him right now? It never served him well for those around him to question his judgment, so he would have to find a way to strengthen the Order's faith in him.
"You're right, Remus," said Dumbledore "and so is Arthur. I should have done something all those years ago when I had the chance, but I thought it better not to hunt Lord Voldemort. I thought it best to just slow his advances the best we could until we found a way to defeat all his followers at once. I was as foolish then as I am now."
"Are you telling me that Arthur has finally found the spine of Albus Dumbledore?" growled Moody.
"Spine?" repeated Dumbledore. "This is not about courage, Alastor, but about wisdom. It is still Harry's battle to win, however the fight is beginning to take too many casualties so we must act. Lord Voldemort's fate lies with Harry, but his followers are ours to deal with."
"Why are you so constantly determined that this prophecy has to be fulfilled?" growled Moody. "There are thousands to prophecies that lay in the Department of Ministries that have never been fulfilled."
"The prophecy will be fulfilled, Alastor, because Lord Voldemort will make it so." replied Dumbledore. "He will not rest until he has finished what he started here in Godric's Hollow and that will be his downfall. We need not worry about him, but instead focus on keeping as many alive as possible."
Dumbledore could see the argument in Moody's face; however Shacklebolt and Lupin looked as though they were happy with this idea of action, as they nodded in agreement. Shacklebolt excused himself as he had to return to the Ministry early the following morning. The Minister had requested extra attention be given to the protection of the lower chambers after what happened to Pettigrew. Lupin also excused himself as the moon cycle would begin soon.
Dumbledore began to scribble on some parchment a letter to the allies he had left in the Wizengamot, expressing his concern over the upcoming trial of Ginny Weasley when he realized that Moody was still present.
"Something else you would like to add, Alastor?" asked Dumbledore looking up.
"Charlie Weasley and Nymphadora Tonks broke into Gringotts." said Moody.
"So it seems." said Dumbledore.
"And you don't find this to be strange?" asked Moody.
"Alastor, I am not as young as I once was, so could you please just say what's on your mind?" retorted Dumbledore.
"Alright," growled Moody "you know as well as I do that there is one very central person that could not only bring those two together, but also give them admittance to Gringotts without the knowledge of the goblins."
"He would not do so, Alastor." said Dumbledore.
"And you know this how?" growled Moody.
"Because," replied Dumbledore wearily "he knows more than all of us that this war must be fought and must be won. He would not do anything to hinder that."
"What if he doesn't share your views any longer?" asked Moody.
"Alastor, there is only one way you can convince me of this." replied Dumbledore standing up. "Go find Charlie and Tonks then bring them to me. If they confirm your suspicions, we will deal with him accordingly."
Moody grinned then left the cottage, slamming the door behind him. Dumbledore sat back down then continued his letter. He would not explain himself any further to anyone, nor would he be swayed from the prophecy. He knew that it must be Harry that finished Tom in the end. No one else need die for the Greater Good.
Harry pressed his lips against Hermione's soft skin as he slowly caressed her collar bone and shoulders. The feeling of her in his arms was utter bliss; an escape from the reality that surrounded them. She sighed deeply as he caressed his way down her chest to her exposed breasts. Her sharp intakes of breath and her clinched hands on his bare shoulders excited him as he took one of her breasts into his mouth and sucked. When his hands found the small of her back, he began to rub his fingers up and down her spine, travelling a little lower with every stroke until he was pushing her skirt and knickers down, revealing a little more of her arse each time. She responded by grasping his untidy hair and pressing his face hard into her chest.
Harry continued to work his way lower with his lips, now caressing her stomach as he felt her lean back into his hands and onto the desk. He then gripped the waist line of her skirt and knickers, pulling down as she lifted her bottom off of the table; exposing her delicate and most private regions to him. He didn't take this for granted, as they had discussed how special intimacy was to each other. To him, she wasn't some conquest or play toy. He revered every moment he spent with her, relishing in the fact that someone truly wanted him and not the Boy-Who-Lived. Maybe they were too young to be experiencing such things, but in light of all that was transpiring and was about to transpire they could not be certain how many more times they might be able to share these moments with each other. Their hearts were bound to each other for she was the only one that could relate to his feelings and he to hers.
Harry caressed the inside of her thighs with his lips and could feel her shiver as she moaned softly. His pulse quickened as he stood up and pushed down his trousers and boxers; fully exposing himself to her once more. Hermione lifted her hips up off of the table as he slowly pushed himself inside her; grasping her waist with his hands. The feeling of them together made him shudder with delight as he began to slide himself in and out of her. Her moans echoed in the room as he groaned, trying not to lose control too soon. Hermione raised herself up; wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him passionately. He increased his speed; wrapping his arms around her and pressing her as close to him as possible; nearly lifting her completely off of the table. Suddenly, she jerked her head back and screamed his name, causing him to lose all control. He thrust himself into her as hard as he could as he climaxed with her in unison, breathing her name into her neck. A ripple of heat rose off of him as their bodies shuddered together as one. Sweat soaked their skin as they clung to each other and Harry never wanted to let go. This was as close to utopia as he felt he would ever get while on Earth. The smell of her skin and hair; the feel of her body: to him, there could not be anything anywhere that compared to his love.
Slowly, they forced themselves to let go and he could tell that Hermione felt the same way that he did. The unspoken communication between them was growing stronger each day. He had always felt close to her, but this new open expression of emotions that came with being boyfriend and girlfriend was more than he could ever have imagined it to be. Harry wondered if other couples felt this way or if what he and Hermione had was truly special.
Draco Malfoy was on cloud nine as he sat in the Slytherin common room. The thought that a blood traitor Weasley was going to be found guilty of the murder of that pompous half-blood Ravenclaw was too good to be true. He had been so disappointed when she didn't die in the Chamber of Secrets, but now he was elated. Crabbe and Goyle only barely understood the irony, so he could hardly wait for Pansy Parkinson to come back from her dorm room. He knew that she would surely take delight in the outcome of today's events. Blaise was nowhere to be found and Draco was sure that he was off somewhere shagging some witch. Pansy finally entered the common room again, looking as slick and pristine as ever. She wore her pureblood status proudly and didn't tarnish it the way the Weasleys did. She smiled as she sat down beside Draco, pushing Crabbe off of the arm rest.
"You're in an excellent mood tonight." said Pansy.
"And why wouldn't I be?" drawled Draco with a smile. "A blood traitor will soon be off to Azkaban or worse, and Harry Potter can do nothing to stop it."
"That makes you happy, doesn't it?" asked Pansy, snuggling his arm.
"Of course it does." drawled Draco. "Why wouldn't it?"
"Well," said Blaise, entering the room and sitting across from them "for one I wouldn't say that Potter can do nothing to stop it; not after today."
"Where have you been, Blaise?" asked Pansy, tucking her feet up beneath her legs.
"Oh you know," drawled Blaise "been shagging another Hufflepuff. I think this one actually believed me when I told her I loved her!"
He chuckled to himself as Draco smirked at his wit. The Hufflepuffs truly were the thickest house at Hogwarts, all the way up to their Head of House, mused Draco.
"So Potter fighting dragons impresses you, Blaise?" asked Draco. "Well then, you must have just been absolutely giddy last year at the tournament!"
"My aunt sent me an owl to warn me about Potter." said Blaise, ignoring Draco's remarks. "She was at Gringotts this morning and she witnessed what happened."
"What did she say?" asked Pansy, tensing up and sounding alert.
Draco couldn't help but be a little curious himself to hear what Blaise's aunt had to say. According to Draco's father, Blaise's aunt was a Gringotts liaison to the very elite pureblood families that banked there.
"She said that Potter had arrived earlier this morning with his godfather to secretly meet with the Potter accounts manager." replied Blaise in hushed tones. "About an hour later Potter came running out into Gringotts main lobby as the dragon burst through the floor. She said it was about to roast a young witch when Potter stepped in front of her, spread his arms wide, and the air between him and the dragon became as white as steam. The next moment, the dragon fell to the floor of the bank, crushing everything in its path." Blaise paused dramatically before saying, "My aunt said that he never raised his wand towards the dragon or anything. Potter just stared at it."
Goyle swallowed hard and looked at Draco as though seeking some sort of explanation. Crabbe mirrored his large friend but Pansy just bit her lower lip. Draco wasn't sure what think either, but showing signs of fear was always a bad idea.
"So Granger was there with them." sneered Draco. "Too bad the dragon didn't roast the mudblood first."
"You think it was Granger? " asked Pansy.
"Who else would be with Potter?" spat Draco. "Besides, I don't recall seeing the mudblood all day, come to think of it."
"Wouldn't you be upset if the mudblood Granger was gone forever?" quipped Blaise.
"What are you on about?" sneered Draco. "Why would I care? To be honest, I would have preferred it."
"Okay – I'm just a little surprised." replied Blaise. "I thought you'd be upset if you didn't get to shag her first before a dragon roasted all her pretty flesh off."
Pansy twisted uncomfortably next to Draco and he was becoming quite agitated. If Blaise ruined a good night of meaningless shagging with Pansy, he would hex his jewels off.
"There are many things I wish to accomplish in life, but shagging a mudblood isn't one of them." drawled Draco. Pansy snuggled closer.
The mudblood's ability to avoid death was annoying to Draco. Ever since she punched him in the face in their third year he had wanted to see her suffer. A smirk curved his lips as he thought about how much suffering his father was inflicting on her this year. She was learning why it wasn't nice to mess with the Malfoys.
"I still wonder who it was that killed the pomped up Ravenclaw." said Draco.
"Best we all not know." said Blaise. "The less that we know, the better."
"Too bad they didn't finish them both off." said Draco thoughtfully. "A double memorial would have meant twice the celebration and the Dementor's kiss for the blood traitor without a doubt."
"I have to admit that the mudblood Granger and the blood traitor Weasley are the only reasons that I'd ever want to be Potter." said Blaise.
"You'd do old McGonagall, Blaise, if you had the chance." spat Pansy.
Blaise faked retching as they laughed at their own humour. Crabbe and Goyle laughed too, though they weren't sure why.
As they walked down the corridor holding hands and headed for the Gryffindor common room, Hermione wondered how it was that through so many awful things, something so good could come from it. Harry was silent and she knew that he was working hard trying to find a way to clear Ginny's name. She too was thinking hard, but the only thing she could think of was to request to testify at the trial, if they would let her. Without Dumbledore there, she didn't know how she could request to attend the trial and hide the fact that her parents were unavailable from Professor Umbridge at the same time. Hermione gripped Harry's hand as they entered the Gryffindor common room, walking directly into the one person they had absolutely no desire to see.
"Nearly late for curfew, Mr Potter – Ms Granger." simpered Umbridge, turning away from the rest of the assembled Gryffindors to greet them.
Umbridge, dressed in her pink cardigan and matching velvet bow atop her head, enraged Hermione more than any other person to date, including Lucius Malfoy. What disturbed her most of all was the idea that Umbridge thrived in the misery of others and seemed to seek it. The smug expression on her face made Hermione visibly tremble at the thought of what it might mean.
"Wouldn't want to disappoint you, Professor." said Harry coldly.
"Careful, Mr Potter," said Umbridge delicately "your godfather has already left." A very dangerous smile curled her face. "Amazing what one hears from London."
"Wouldn't believe everything you hear, Professor." said Harry, his eyes narrowing. "Rita Skeeter isn't the only one that likes a good story."
"I never do, Mr Potter –" simpered Umbridge "I never do." She then turned to face their fellow Gryffindors once more. "Now that Mr Potter and Ms Granger have joined us, all are accounted for – at least all those supposed to be here."
Fred, George, and Ron looked ready to strike, but Hermione saw Harry shoot them a warning look. The three brothers held still; however she could see that they didn't relax, but remained tense. Umbridge was prodding for someone to say something so she could give them detention. They had already heard from Luna and Terry what happened to those in her detentions. Sarah McLean, a third year Ravenclaw, had found out firsthand what crossing too far with Umbridge was like. She had screamed in frustration at Umbridge one evening and had returned from detention that night with angry burn marks on her right hand that spelled the words, 'I will practice self control'.
"Well, that is all." trilled Umbridge. "Pleasant dreams."
Umbridge swept past Harry and Hermione, breathing ever so quietly in their direction, "None for you, I think" before exiting through the portrait hole. Hermione watched as Harry spun around to glare in the direction of the entrance to the common room; his chest heaving dangerously. She gripped his forearm and felt him flinch before giving her a crooked smile. A scream of fury from Ron made both of them jump as they turned back to the crowd of Gryffindors.
"Calm down, Ron." said Seamus, placing a hand on his chest.
"Yeah mate." said Neville, who's face looked murderous. "You'll do Ginny no good by getting detention with the hag."
Hermione could not remember ever seeing Neville look so angry. The awkward and shy boy from their first year at Hogwarts was gone, replaced with a furiously determined looking young wizard. His expression mirrored that of Fred, George, Seamus, and Harry. She felt her own anger boil at the thought of Ginny being sentenced to Azkaban for the murder of Cho.
"So where have you two been since you returned?" asked Ron hotly, though she could tell that he wasn't mad at them.
"Been to see Professor McGonagall." replied Harry. "She wanted to know about all that had happened."
"Yeah, but she was in here about twenty minutes ago looking for you two and asking me some strange questions about me mum." said Seamus. "Strange because she knows me mum."
"We told her about your run in." said Harry. "After we got through, Hermione and I needed to talk for a while before returning to the common room."
"What's going on?" asked Angelina as she joined the group. "Why is this all happening?"
The commotion in the common room was loud, but Hermione hadn't failed to notice that the rest of the Gryffindors were giving them quite a bit of space. No matter how many years passed, the general masses still tended to believe what was told to them.
"I'm sorry Angelina," replied Harry "I promise to fill everyone in tomorrow but we really need to talk to the Fred, George, and Ron first."
"No need to explain, mate." said Neville. "We understand why."
"When and where can we talk?" whispered Fred.
"Tonight, here in the common room." replied Hermione. "We should meet back here at midnight. All the house-elves will be gone by then."
"Agreed." said the twins in unison.
Ron nodded and looked surprised but thankful that he was being included in the discussion. Later that night after everyone had straggled off to bed, the Weasleys, Harry, and Hermione snuck back down to the common room to discuss what had transpired earlier that day.
"Bad news mates." whispered Fred as they congregated near the crackling fireplace.
"Bill sent us an owl." whispered George.
"Ginny's trial has been set for Tuesday afternoon." said Fred.
"Tuesday?" whispered Hermione in disbelief. "Why so quickly?"
"Didn't say." replied Fred.
"But it can't be good." said George.
Hermione glanced at Harry who looked as though he was pondering the same thing. Was this just a coincidence or was it purposely set for Hermione's birthday as part of some sick game? Hermione felt like something inside her head was struggling to scream out, but was unable. The feeling made her nauseous.
"At least we now know that Bill made it out of the bank safely." said Harry looking relieved.
"What's going on, Harry?" asked Ron looking strained.
Harry sighed then slowly brought Ron up to speed with the past month. Hermione was surprised that the twins only had to hex Ron twice before he finally calmed down enough to let Harry finish.
"So Charlie has been missing and today he shows up with Tonks at Gringotts to set loose a dragon on you?" asked Ron incredulously.
"Correct, Ron." replied Hermione. "Though I'm not sure the dragon was after us like Harry thinks."
Harry glanced at her and she could tell that he still thought the dragon was after them. To her shock the twins kept smiling before fighting it back each time. 'How could they find this amusing?' she wondered.
"What's so funny?" asked Ron harshly, looking at his brothers.
"It's just that here we thought Charlie was in danger." said Fred.
"But now we find out that he's jaunting around with Tonks." said George.
"He could be imperiused!" exclaimed Harry.
"But you don't think he is." said Fred.
"Do you?" asked George.
"No –" replied Harry "but he's up to something..."
"As he should be." said the twins in unison.
"Okay, but what about Ginny?" asked Ron thoroughly stressed.
"It just means that we're going to have to move ahead with my plan a little faster than I had wanted to." replied Harry firmly.
Hermione looked at Harry but his face was placid which meant he had made up his mind about something.
"What plan?" asked the Weasleys in unison.
"First, I need to address something." said Harry. "I have to be able to trust everyone in our group. That said, I know that you've been leaking information to the Order, Ron."
Ron gaped at Harry like a fish out of water struggling for air.
"He couldn't have Harry." said Fred.
"He'd be pockmarked by now." said George.
Harry didn't answer the twins but continued to stare at Ron. Hermione was about to ask Harry if he was sure when Ron spoke.
"It wasn't my idea, Harry." said Ron. "You've gotta believe me."
"How?" demanded Hermione, frowning and folding her arms as she waited for his response.
"P-Professor Dumbledore cast some sort of charm over me before you two arrived at Grimmauld Place." said Ron. "He expected you two to be secretive and told me it was for your own good. He told me that once I was back at Hogwarts, there was a portrait that I could report things to on the fifth floor."
"You little prat!" hissed George.
"We oughta pock mark you up good." said Fred darkly.
"I only did it twice." stressed Ron. "After I told Luna, she convinced me not to do it anymore and that I needed to be loyal to my friends."
"You told Luna?" asked Hermione, shocked at how close they had been getting.
"Don't worry, Ron." said Harry. "I believe you, but we can use it to our advantage."
"How's that, mate?" asked Fred.
"Simple," replied Harry "he's going to rat on us again."
The twins and Ron smiled as Harry laid out the master plan he had dreamed up. As usual, Harry gave credit to everyone else for his ideas but one thing was clear – his plan was the best shot they had at rescuing her parents and, if they could find a way to disrupt the trial on Tuesday, freeing Ginny.
"It's brilliant mate," said Ron "and I'm glad you decided not to lie to me."
"I'm glad you decided to tell me the truth." said Harry.
Hermione knew that Harry and Ron would never be as close as they once were, but maybe they could still be good friends. Harry had placed the quaffle in Ron's hands and it was his to hold on to or drop. Hermione hoped that Ron would make the right decision, because she hated to think what might happen if he betrayed Harry again.
The next morning Hermione was awoken abruptly to someone shaking her. Instinctively, she rolled over to face them, the tip of her wand pointed into their faces.
"Easy Hermione!" shouted Lavender Brown. "It's just me and Parvati!"
"Parvati? Lavender? What – where?" spluttered Hermione sitting up, but not lowering her wand.
"We arrived this morning. The Ministry sent owls yesterday staying that the killer had been apprehended and it was just some tragic mishap." said Lavender. "I had to demand that my parents let me come back."
"My father nearly danced when he heard that Padma and I could return." snorted Parvati. "But seriously, Hermione, could you lower your wand, please?"
Hermione lowered her wand, still a bit shocked by their presence.
"You know who they're blaming, don't you?" asked Hermione.
"Yeah, it was in the letter." replied Parvati. "Wanted to argue but knew our mum would never let us return if she thought they hadn't got the right witch."
"Least your parents don't know the Weasley family." said Lavender sounding frustrated. "I had to convince my parents that Ginny was some Boy-Who-Lived crush stricken nutter that would do anything to have him."
"Glad to hear that you two don't believe that load of hippogriff dung." spat Hermione.
"You forget, Hermione," said Lavender smiling "we know Ginny and she hasn't shown the least bit of interest in Harry since you all returned. How's Neville taking it?"
"Just as mad as the rest of us, I guess." replied Hermione. "Wait – why would – NO!"
"It's okay, Hermione." said Parvati. "You've been wrapped up in your own little world and as the gossips, it's our duty to know these things."
Hermione blushed at this pointed statement. Parvati wasn't accusing her but just letting her know she knew what people called them.
"Listen," said Lavender firmly "you can deny it if you wish, but all of Gryffindor knows that you, Harry, the twins, and a handful of other Hogwarts students called the Alliance are up to something. You don't have to tell us anything, but if it includes helping Ginny, just let us know if we can help."
Hermione didn't say anything, but just nodded.
"We also heard about Gringotts." added Parvati. "Did You-Know-Who attack Harry again?"
"So you believe Harry?" asked Hermione. "About Voldemort's return?"
Both girls shuddered at the name, but nodded their heads.
"Harry may have nearly ruined the Yule Ball for me, but he's no liar." said Parvati.
The three girls talked while they dressed about the upcoming trial and what was going to become of Hogwarts. Hermione mainly nodded or shrugged, but it was the longest conversation she had had with Lavender and Parvati since they had started Hogwarts four years prior. Fay and Alice briefly greeted their returned dorm mates before excusing themselves. Lavender noticed the less than warm reception but rolled her eyes and shrugged it away. When they finally made the common room, Hermione was surprised to see Dean Thomas standing there chatting with Seamus, Ron, and Harry. The twins were discussing something with Lee in hushed tones, but waved when they saw her.
"You have the parchment, Hermione?" asked Harry in close to a whisper.
"Yeah, why?" asked Hermione.
"Dean and Lee need to sign it as soon as possible." said Harry, glancing at Lavender and Parvati flanking her.
"I want to help too, Harry." said Lavender firmly.
"I speak for my sis too when I say, 'we do too'." said Parvati.
"Okay," replied Harry "but I'll give you the same warning – I cannot guarantee anything."
"Good enough for me." said Lavender.
Just like that, before breakfast the Alliance had five more members and Hermione was going to have to make more galleons that evening to accommodate the growing sanction. Harry told Hermione that Seamus was already up to speed with the plan and ready to play his role. They would have to make their move after breakfast tomorrow to make sure Malfoy had enough time to inform his father. Harry informed her that he had also sent a message via McGonagall to Sirius stating that he and Hermione wanted to attend Ginny's trial at all possible cost. Now, it was up to the McGonagall and the 'Old Marauder' to find a way. Harry was hard at work revising his plan to include the new Alliance members and trying to think of any provisions should things not go so well at the Ministry. Neville informed them as they headed down to breakfast that Ginny had slipped him her fake galleon during a goodbye hug right before she was taken away. Hermione felt sad for Neville as she looked into the fiery stare that now filled his once tender eyes. Harry told Neville and Ron to spread the word that the Alliance was having a special meeting tonight.
Upon reaching the Great Hall, a sneering voice met them from the Slytherin table.
"Well, well, well," said Malfoy "if it isn't Merlin himself!"
The Slytherin table roared with laughter, though Hermione noticed that not all of the Slytherins were laughing. Harry clinched his fists as he glared at Malfoy.
"Ignore him, Harry." whispered Hermione.
"You looked confused, Potter." sneered Malfoy. "Go have a look at today's Prophet, or have you already?"
Hermione did not like the sound of that and didn't feel any better when she caught a glimpse of the Daily Prophet that Fred was unrolling at the Gryffindor table as a large barn owl beat its wings, flying away to join the other messenger owls that were leaving the Great Hall. The front page was filled with a picture of the fallen dragon in Gringotts below the headline, 'POTTER SAVES DIAGON ALLEY FROM DRAGON!' With a sense of total dread, Hermione took a seat next to Harry as Fred handed him the paper which he laid in the middle of the table for all to see.
Yesterday at Gringotts Wizarding Bank, one of the large dragons that is rumoured to be guarding the lower vaults escaped its restraints and made a destructive way through the bank while making a bid for freedom. Amazingly, the dragon did manage to make it into the main lobby of the bank and was about to exit into Diagon Alley where countless witches and wizards would have been killed when none other than Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, came running into the lobby along with his godfather, Lord Black. Witnesses say that Potter threw himself between the dragon and the bank goers as a human shield. Amazingly still, was what transpired next. Angela Durbin, a Gringotts account liaison, said that the air between Potter and the dragon became hot and white as steam. "I thought certain that Harry Potter, those poor people, and the goblins were being burnt to a crisp by the dragon." said Durbin. "Then we all gasped as the dragon began to fall!" Indeed, many believed that Aurors had arrived and stunned the dragon, but as the dust and the smoke settled, there was Harry Potter rising to his feet, staring at his fallen foe.
Goblins reported that during the incident, high amounts of magic were detected by the sensory wards within the bank. If all this wasn't hard enough to believe, many witnesses also reported not seeing a wand in Mr. Potter's hand. The Ministry has stated that while the incident is being investigated, even if Mr. Potter used magic there will be no actions taken against him for the provisions state that under-aged witches and wizards are allowed to use magic in life threatening situations. An anonymous source within the Department of Mysteries stated that if Mr. Potter produced enough magic to stop a full grown dragon without the presence of a wand, it would be the single greatest feat of magic performed by a single witch or wizard since the days of Merlin himself. That leads this reporter to ask the following questions: Who is Harry Potter? How did he survive the attack of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named all those years ago? Does he mark the return of Warlocks?
Hermione finished reading the article and looked up into the green eyes that lately made her knees weak. She watched as he turned and looked around the Great Hall to see that every witch and wizard there, dead or alive, was staring at him. She was waiting for Harry to stand up and leave; to flee the stares of the other students; to avoid the sneers and laughter from the Slytherins. Instead, he took her left hand in his right and turned back to face his fellow Gryffindors.
"I wonder if that makes me the chief warlock?" wondered Harry aloud to the snorts of laughter from his friends.
He was finally showing signs that he was capable of handling all the ridicule that came with being Harry Potter; he was maturing right before her eyes and it made her heart flutter.
"Good one mate!" said Seamus, laughing then in a hushed voice, "Should make things more believable."
"So you're not mad, Harry?" asked Neville.
"That's Warlock Potter to you." growled Fred in mock authority.
"Show Potter respect before he incinerates you with his eyes!" growled George.
Hermione felt herself smile before a sound made her want to retch.
"Hem, hem." grunted Professor Umbridge.
Harry and Hermione turned to see the squat witch standing there, an evil smile curling her lips.
"Drinking in the fame, Potter?" asked Umbridge.
"Actually, I was drinking pumpkin juice." replied Harry and Hermione squeezed his hand hard.
"I'm glad to see that you are in a good mood." said Umbridge. "Your godfather has sent word that he will be collecting you tomorrow morning to take you to the trial. He also stated that he would be taking Ms. Granger too. Trouble is, we'll need permission from your parents, Ms. Granger, before that can be arranged and I was unable to reach your parents this morning. Would you know where I might find them?"
Hermione felt her throat go dry as she sat unable to speak.
"I have her written permission here." said Professor McGonagall, striding up to them between the tables.
McGonagall handed Umbridge a scroll of parchment which she quickly unrolled. Umbridge's eyes darted to the bottom of the parchment then up to the face of McGonagall. This time Harry squeezed Hermione's hand to remind her to close her mouth.
"Where did you get this?" asked Umbridge, sounding a little breathless.
"From Ms. Granger's parents, of course." replied McGonagall. "As Head of Gryffindor house, it is my responsibility to acquire special request forms when the need arises for one of my students."
"I tried reaching them myself this morning but was unable to." said Umbridge. "How is it Minerva, that you were able to reach them?"
"Mr. and Mrs. Granger are very busy people." replied McGonagall. "I was fortunate to acquire these signatures before they left out for the day."
Umbridge simply stared at McGonagall, unable to speak.
"Is there an issue, Headmistress?" asked McGonagall.
"N-No." stammered Umbridge, shaking her head slightly. "Very well, Minerva. Thank you for your assistance in this matter."
"You are quite welcome, Headmistress." said McGonagall, inclining her head.
Umbridge bustled past McGonagall without another word.
"Lord Black will be here shortly after breakfast tomorrow morning to collect the two of you." said McGonagall, now addressing Harry and Hermione. "I expect both of you to be on your best behaviour while you are gone. Remember, you still represent Gryffindor house."
"I will do my best to uphold the reputation of my house." said Harry smirking.
"That's what I'm afraid of, Mr. Potter." said McGonagall, furrowing her brow.
"Will you be going with us?" asked Hermione.
"With you, no." replied McGonagall. "I will, however be attending the trial as it involves one of my students."
"You know she's innocent!" exclaimed Ron.
"I know, Mr. Weasley, I know." whispered McGonagall.
McGonagall walked back to the staff table to join the rest of the teachers. Hermione wondered how Professor McGonagall forged her parents' signatures. She knew that McGonagall was one of the best at transfiguration, but fooling a witch like Umbridge was truly amazing. Neville slammed his goblet down on the table a little harder than he intended to.
"Sorry." muttered Neville. "Just wish I was going too."
"Don't worry, Neville." said Seamus. "At least five members will be in attendance."
"They take our wands at the gate now, Seamus." said Hermione.
"Not real worried about that." said Fred darkly, jabbing a finger at the Prophet; his fingernail touching the picture of the fallen dragon.
Harry bit his lower lip and Hermione swore his eyes darkened slightly. She knew that the Weasleys were counting on Harry to save their sister, now more than ever. The problem now was that if anything odd happened at the trial, Hermione was sure that Harry would be blamed.
The rest of the morning went on as one would have expected. Most students gave Harry a wide birth as he walked down the corridors, heading for class. Fred and George vented their frustrations by shouting "Make way for Warlock Potter, most dangerous wizard since Merlin!" every chance they got. Double Potions seemed to be some kind of added torture intended for Harry, but inflicted upon all fifth year Gryffindors. Snape was in a right foul mood, which was off in Hermione's eyes as she thought the upcoming trial of a Gryffindor that was indirectly involving Harry would have made him thoroughly delighted. 'Was Snape upset because it was the child of an Order member?' pondered Hermione.
"POTTER!" bellowed Snape and she could see Malfoy snicker across the room.
"Yes, Professor?" asked Harry calmly.
"I said stir with the tip of the feather only, not the entire stem!" replied Snape, glaring at Harry. "Maybe if you focused on your work as well as you focus on your fame, you could brew up a way to get your love sick fan girl out of trouble!"
A sickening thud could be heard as Snape's forehead connected with the floor after a cauldron came spinning out of nowhere, colliding with the back of his head. Everyone turned to stare at Harry.
"Swish and flick! Right Hermione?" asked Ron.
Hermione turned in disbelief to see Ron wearing a nasty smirk. Had he actually performed a non-verbal spell or had he whispered it, wondered Hermione.
"You filthy blood traitor!" spat Malfoy. "How dare you attack our Head of House!"
Malfoy withdrew his wand and pointed it at Ron. Everyone gasped as Harry raised a hand in Malfoy's direction. Malfoy dropped his wand instantly from fright and backed away. He had done absolutely nothing and yet he had all the Slytherins in the room petrified with fear. Harry smiled then lowered his hand as though it was a weapon he was wielding. There was a brief knock on the classroom door then Professor Umbridge entered the room. Hermione groaned inwardly as she imagined what was about to transpire.
"Professor Snape, I do hate to –" began Umbridge but halted at the sight of Snape lying on the floor; the empty cauldron lying next to him.
Her eyes darted from Snape to Harry in a flash; a look of accusation etched on her face. She slowly looked around the room, taking in the scene that was before her.
"What did you do, Mr. Potter?" asked Umbridge dangerously.
"Harry didn't do anything, Professor." said Ron. "I was summoning a new cauldron from the corner, but I'm still not very good at that particular spell."
"Why were you summoning a new cauldron, Mr. Weasley?" asked Umbridge suspiciously. "Whose cauldron were you using?"
"Mine," replied Ron "but I burnt mine, so I was summoning one of the spare cauldrons. I didn't want to get into trouble."
"Oh, but trouble you are in!" growled Snape as he slowly pushed up to one knee. "MR. WEASLEY! YOU DID THAT ON PURPOSE!"
Hermione saw Ron swallow hard but he didn't back away. She looked at Harry, who was staring at Ron with a pleasantly surprised look.
"Professor Snape," said Umbridge calmly "why would Mr. Weasley have hit you on purpose with an empty cauldron? It is clear that his cauldron is burnt, and while I'm not defending him, I would still like to know what has happened that would be grounds for an assault on a Hogwarts teacher?"
"Students like Mr. Weasley and Mr. Potter do not need reasons to do such things." replied Snape, massaging his head and rising to his feet. "They shun and spit in the face of authority at every turn."
"So you are accusing Mr. Weasley of doing this as some devilish prank?" asked Umbridge, studying Snape. "That you did nothing to provoke such behavior?"
Snape glared at Umbridge. He wasn't used to someone questioning him like this. Dumbledore would often step in to soften Snape's wrath, but he always soothed the overgrown bat to some extent.
"Surely you're not going to let –" began Snape.
"Mr. Weasley will serve detention, Professor," interrupted Umbridge "however I do not think it wise to allow the teachers to go without reprimanding when the need arises. Maybe I need to spend some time evaluating your teaching abilities to see if there is anything that needs pruning."
Umbridge turned her attentions to Ron, while Snape looked as though he was choking on one of Dumbledore's lemon drops.
"Mr. Weasley, you will serve detention tonight with Filch." said Umbridge, making Ron look sour.
Instead of leaving, Umbridge apparently decided to begin her evaluation process immediately. She conjured a high back chair in the right hand corner of the classroom behind the teacher's desk and took a seat as she conjured a clipboard, parchment, and quill. Snape looked as though anyone that said a word would be hexed on the spot. Malfoy had recovered his wand but looked very bitter.
"Sorry." whispered Ron to Harry and Hermione. "I lost my cool."
"No problem mate." replied Harry.
"At least it only sounds like one night of detention and he deserved it." whispered Hermione.
The class continued on with little interruption, ending with Snape actually accepting Harry's vial of potion. Hermione was sure that this rare anomaly was mostly due to Umbridge's presence. After potions there was an open period for Harry and Hermione before History of Magic, which Harry always considered to a free period unto itself. Hermione had always tried to get Harry to take the class seriously, so she was thoroughly surprised when Harry withdrew parchment and quill from his bag while Ron attempted to use his own bag for a pillow. Binns was drawling on about the goblin rebellions but Harry was making notes and actually muttered the word, "excellent" during what even she considered an extremely boring lecture about wizard-goblin treaties.
"I'm glad to see that you're finally taking History of Magic seriously Harry," said Hermione as they headed down to the Great Hall for lunch "though I hope it's not just to impress me."
Harry took her hand in his and squeezed as he smiled.
"Not trying to impress you Hermione, but it's a bonus if it does." said Harry.
"What a pity scar head." said Malfoy from behind.
"What's more pitiful than you?" asked Harry, as he and Hermione turned to face Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle.
"It's a pity that even though your face can cause a great dragon to pass out, it won't be enough to stop the Dementors from giving the little blood traitor a kiss." sneered Malfoy.
It felt as though the air around them dropped ten degrees and Hermione grasped Harry's arm, forcing him to look at her.
"Not worth it." she whispered.
Malfoy tried to ignore the drastic change of temperature, however both Crabbe and Goyle backed away fearfully as they stared at Harry. Hermione watched as Harry's expressions softened and she slackened her grip on his arm.
"Stay away from Hermione and me, Malfoy." said Harry, glaring at Malfoy again. "This is the second time that your family has tried to do Ginny in and it will be the second time that your family fails."
Harry tugged at Hermione and they marched away from Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle into the Great Hall. Hermione could feel him trembling with anger as they sat down at the Gryffindor table. She knew that if it wasn't for the plan, Malfoy could have been in real trouble just then. Seamus came in and sat down between Ron and Neville, directly across from Harry.
"What's wrong Harry?" asked Seamus. "You have that look."
"What look?" asked Harry, pushing his plate away.
"The one you get in Potions when Snape rejects your work." said Neville.
"It's nothing." sighed Harry. "Just Malfoy trying to get under my skin."
Again, Hermione felt as though thoughts in the back of her mind were trying to come forth, but couldn't for some strange reason. The feeling was making her sick and she became nauseous then dizzy. Luckily, Harry was still holding her hand which prevented her from feeling like she was going to fall off the bench.
"Listen," said Harry "I'm not that hungry. I'll just head up to the common room."
"I'll come with you." said Hermione.
"No, you should eat something." replied Harry.
"I will. Just up in our common room." said Hermione, before leaning in and whispering, "Then you can rub my shoulders and neck. I have a terrible headache."
"Okay." said Harry. "I'll have Dobby bring you some food."
They made their way up to the common room to find it completely deserted. Harry had Dobby bring Hermione some food from the kitchens and only after much begging from the tiny elf did Harry permit him to bring him some food as well. Harry massaged her shoulders and neck while they sat there in front of the fireplace eating sandwiches and drinking pumpkin juice. The tension in the back of her head subsided some as he massaged just behind her ears with his hand.
"We're going to have to make absolutely sure that everyone understands the risks involved when we talk to the group tonight." said Harry, swigging some more pumpkin juice to wash down a bite of sandwich.
Hermione made to voice her concerns for the safety of the group as well when a blistering pain shot through her head. She cried out then grabbed her face as all went black.
Harry grabbed Hermione about the waist as she clutched her face and screamed in pain. As he did she went limp in his arms.
"HERMIONE!" shouted Harry as he laid her back onto the couch. "HERMIONE! WAKE UP!"
Hermione did not stir at his cries but remained quite still. Harry felt panic building in his chest and his wand growing warm in its holster. He was just about to carry Hermione out of the common room and head for the hospital wing when he heard Neville and Ron enter through the portrait hole.
"RON! NEVILLE!" shouted Harry as he scooped Hermione up into his arms. "Go find Professor McGonagall and tell her that she's needed in the hospital wing!"
"WHAT HAPPENED TO HERMIONE?" shouted Neville in panic.
"JUST GO!" shouted Harry as he headed out the portrait hole and towards the hospital wing.
Ron and Neville darted out the portrait hole behind Harry to find Professor McGonagall. Harry could barely feel Hermione breathing which caused him to push harder; running through groups of stunned students. By the time he reached the hospital wing, his back and legs were burning but he did not care. Harry burst through the doors to wing, running directly into Madam Pomfrey.
"Heavens Potter!" exclaimed Madam Pomfrey.
"My apologies, Madam Pomfrey," said Harry breathlessly "but it's Hermione!"
"Quickly lad," said Madam Pomfrey calmly "put her in that bed and tell me exactly what happened."
Harry explained exactly what had happened as Madam Pomfrey began to wave her wand over Hermione, chanting in some strange language. Moments later, Professor McGonagall hurried into the wing, looking very distressed.
"Poppy, what has happened?" asked Professor McGonagall, staring at Hermione.
Harry was uncertain as to whether she was aware that he was even present at first.
"She's been cursed." replied Madam Pomfrey calmly.
"Cursed!" shouted Harry and McGonagall in unison.
"When?" asked McGonagall.
"I dunno." replied Harry, confused and looking at Hermione worried.
"It has been a while." replied Madam Pomfrey. "Possibly several months. This particular curse is of a very ancient nature."
"Can you cure her?" asked Harry.
"Yes Potter, I can." replied Madam Pomfrey. "You got her to me in time."
"What is going on here?" asked Umbridge, barging into the wing behind them.
Before Harry could even move, Professor McGonagall withdrew her wand and a jet of red light burst from its tip, striking Umbridge directly in the chest and slamming her into the wall behind her. She slid down the wall to the floor completely unconscious.
"Minerva!" shouted Madam Pomfrey.
"Memories can be modified, Poppy." said McGonagall sharply. "Right now, you need to focus on Ms. Granger."
Madam Pomfrey nodded then ran to her office. She returned carrying several bottles of potion.
"Mr. Potter, please elevate Ms. Granger with those pillows from the other bed." said Madam Pomfrey. "Minerva, take these bottles and force their contents down Ms. Granger's throat when I tell you to. I will begin the incantation to activate the potions."
Harry ran to the other bed and fetched the pillows to prop up Hermione. Professor McGonagall took the bottles from Madam Pomfrey and stood at the ready to administer them to Hermione. Madam Pomfrey cast a spell on the doors to the wing, sealing them shut. She then pointed her wand at Umbridge and ropes flew from its tip, binding and gagging her. Finally, she turned her attention to Hermione and began to chant and wave her wand over her body as she instructed Professor McGonagall to give the potions to her one at a time. Harry watched nervously, feeling helpless as the minutes past like an eternity. When the last bottle was given to Hermione, she coughed violently, sat straight up, then screamed a blood curdling scream before falling back onto the pillows unconscious. Harry's eyes darted from a shocked Professor McGonagall to a calm Madam Pomfrey.
"She will be okay now." said Madam Pomfrey, waving her wand so that a blanket covered Hermione up to her shoulders. "Now, she needs some rest for the potions to take full effect."
"What just happened?" asked Harry.
"Like I said, Ms. Granger had been cursed." replied Madam Pomfrey, sighing slightly. "It was a very ancient curse called the Mortmormun curse. It is very similar to the Imperious curse."
Professor McGonagall looked darkly at the bed, her brow furrowing heavily.
"How were you able to cure it so easily?" asked Harry.
"Very simple, Mr. Potter." replied Madam Pomfrey. "It was one of the first curses that I learned how to cure and Ms. Granger had already done most of the work subconsciously."
"What do you mean that she had done most of the work subconsciously?" asked Harry. "Did she know that she had been cursed?"
"No Harry, she didn't." replied McGonagall, looking up from the bed. "The Mortmormun curse is a curse of wills. One person curses the other by inflicting their will upon the other. Some have described it as hearing voices while others have described it as the feeling of strong emotions. The subconscious is the first part of the mind to rebel against it. It causes the person cursed to become quite ill as they battle against it. Eventually, either the person will succumb to it or will die."
Harry sat down in the chair next to the bed, staring at Hermione's face. She looked very peaceful. 'What will was being inflicted upon Hermione and by whom?' pondered Harry.
"Poppy, can you determine who cast the curse upon Ms. Granger?" asked McGonagall.
"No, but it is possible that Ms. Granger will be able to tell us once she awakens." replied Madam Pomfrey.
"How long will she sleep?" asked McGonagall.
"For a few hours." replied Madam Pomfrey. "The last bottle you gave her was a calming draft. She needs her rest."
"Madam Pomfrey," said Harry softly "did you say that she had been cursed for possibly several months?"
"Yes, Mr. Potter, I did." replied Madam Pomfrey. "Rest assured though that the Mortmormun curse can do many things, however it cannot create emotions of friendship, hope, or love."
Harry blushed at her knowing look.
"Now to deal with Dolores." huffed McGonagall, turning to face the slumped witch, who was still bound and gagged.
Madam Pomfrey waved her wand and all the potion bottles disappeared at once. Professor McGonagall waved her wand and a silvery light shot from its tip, striking Umbridge in the forehead. She then waved her wand and the ropes binding Umbridge disappeared. Madam Pomfrey walked over and levitated Umbridge into a nearby chair.
"Professor Umbridge!" shouted McGonagall firmly.
Umbridge's eyelids fluttered before flying open. She looked around then stood up, which wasn't much different than sitting.
"Professor Umbridge, Madam Pomfrey has completed her exam and is pleased to report that Ms. Granger has simply collapsed from being overwrought." lied McGonagall. "No doubt due to the situation with Ms. Weasley. She has been given a calming draft to help her rest."
"Very well." said Umbridge. "I expect you to keep me informed of her recovery. I, however, do not believe that it be necessary for Mr. Potter to remain here with Ms. Granger while she rests."
Harry bit his lower lip, but nodded and rose to leave. He was simply too glad that Hermione was okay to risk arguing his way to detention. Besides, he had many things to do and Hermione would murder him if he didn't keep a steady head. Professor McGonagall nodded her approval as he patted Hermione on the shoulder then made his way to the door.
"You can visit her before dinner, Mr. Potter, if you wish." said Madam Pomfrey. "I'm sure she'll be awake by then."
"Thank you, Madam Matron." replied Harry.
Fortunately for Harry, his remaining class for the day was Charms. Professor Flitwick was teaching them how to counter a summoning charm. He pointed out that while it could be used to defend yourself against someone taking something from you, its main objective was to cancel out a summoning charm that you yourself had cast. Harry tried to focus on the charm but couldn't reel in his attentions long enough to properly cast the spell. Professor Flitwick gave him a knowing smile and told him to work on it later. The others had tried to question him about Hermione's condition, but could never get a chance. He promised that he would inform them later at the meeting. As soon as dinner time arrived, Harry bolted up to the hospital wing to find Hermione sitting up in bed sipping tea with Madam Pomfrey.
"Harry!" shouted Hermione as he approached her bedside.
She flung her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek. Madam Pomfrey chuckled and Hermione let go immediately, blushing madly.
"Are you feeling okay?" asked Harry smiling at her.
"Better than I have in a while." replied Hermione. "It's like there has been this weight on my shoulders and even though I didn't notice it before, I realize it was there now that it's gone."
"What do you remember?" asked Harry.
"Oh I remember everything I've done and where I've been, but there's one thing I didn't remember until now." replied Hermione, a little too hyper even for her.
"I gave her a rejuvenating potion as well." said Madam Pomfrey smiling.
"I remember a woman cursing me." said Hermione.
"When?" asked Harry.
"At my house before you arrived." replied Hermione in a tone that literally shrieked, 'Not now'.
"Professor McGonagall has asked me not to say anything about this to anyone and that she would be informing Dumbledore and Ms. Granger's parents." said Madam Pomfrey. "I hope that Dumbledore catches the witch responsible for all this. Of course, it would be best if he caught You-Know-Who instead."
"Madam Pomfrey, could I have some more tea?" asked Hermione.
"Certainly, my dear." replied Madam Pomfrey. "Though you don't need to ask for more tea to have some alone time with your boyfriend. Not too much alone time, mind you. I believe you've had too much as it is."
Harry's eyes widened considerably as Madam Pomfrey made her way to her office to fetch some more tea and give them a little space.
"What did she mean by that?" asked Harry.
"She means that her examination revealed that I was no longer a virgin." replied Hermione, blushing again.
Harry made a mental note then and there, that even if he broke every bone in his body he would never return to that wing again once Hermione left. Alone time lectures with Madam Pomfrey were more than he could bear to imagine.
"So, who did this to you?" asked Harry.
"Some witch did this, I believe." replied Hermione. "I didn't see her face, but I heard her voice."
"When did it happen?" asked Harry, looking hard at her.
"When Lucius was there." whispered Hermione. "She must have been in the house with him. I didn't remember because they used a memory modifying charm on me. When Madam Pomfrey removed the curse she inadvertently removed the charm too."
Harry felt anger building inside him now. 'What more could possibly have been done to her that she did not know of?' thought Harry to himself.
"What was it like or do you remember?" asked Harry.
"It was like having someone else's voice in your head giving advice all the time." replied Hermione with a shudder.
"Any advice about me?" asked Harry.
"Harry, all my feelings for you have been true." replied Hermione, taking his hands in hers. "In fact, I see them even clearer now. You are my everything. You have been since the troll, but I confused them with friendship and convinced myself I wasn't going to crush on you."
"Promise you won't leave me?" asked Harry with a wink.
"You couldn't push me away, oh mighty Merlin." replied Hermione, a wry smile curling her face.
"Yes, but I can push you away, Mr. Potter." said Madam Pomfrey, returning with more tea. "Ms. Granger needs more rest. If all goes well, I will release her in the morning."
Harry did not need to be told twice. Blushing slightly again, Harry kissed Hermione on the forehead, whispered "I'll see you soon", then exited the hospital wing smiling all the way. Hermione would be out in the morning if all was well and he had some serious things to do; it was finally time to act.
Later that evening, almost all of the Alliance met in the Room of Requirement. Hermione hadn't been able to make more fake galleons yet, so the twins made sure to get Lavender, Parvati, Padma, Dean, and Lee to the meeting. Only Ron was absent besides Hermione, do to detention. The group was in an uproar over Ginny's predicament and Hermione's condition. Harry was about to raise his voice when a flash of flame marked the arrival of Fawkes, who took perch on the back of Harry's chair. Harry had only just thought about Fawkes before he arrived. He would have to ask Hermione about how bonds with phoenix birds worked later.
"Isn't that Dumbledore's bird?" asked Parvati.
"He was his pet." replied Harry. "According to the goblins, Fawkes has changed his allegiance."
Silence filled the room at this statement.
"First, let me state that Hermione will make a full recovery, hopefully by morning." began Harry.
"What happened to her?" asked Neville.
"I won't go into detail, but she was cursed by a Death Eater before returning to school." replied Harry. "The intention was, I believe, to eventually kill her."
Angry looks filled the room. Harry had to control himself, so as not to become angry again as well.
"For those that have just joined our group," Harry nodded to Lavender, the Patil twins, Dean, and Lee "Fred and George informed me that they have brought you up to speed with the situation regarding Hermione's parents. That said, before we begin the meeting I want to point out that I'm about to ask some of you to do some potentially dangerous things. If you do not wish to be a part of our plan, you can back out at any time."
"What do you have in mind?" asked Terry.
"Yeah mate." said Neville. "I can't imagine anything more dangerous than being here at Hogwarts with some murdering nutter still on the loose."
"I didn't come back to hide, mate." said Dean. "My kind will be hunted like dogs if You-Know-Who ever takes over."
Harry smiled inwardly before laying out his revised plan to free Hermione's parents. The added members allowed him to be more selective as to who went and who stayed. Lavender, the Patil twins, and Dean would join Terry and Ron as the look out party at Hogwarts. With Ron being fully aware and involved, Harry felt more comfortable having Luna and Lee join the rescue party led by Professor McGonagall and Dobby. Professor McGonagall's involvement was a shock to most, but the inclusion of Sirius Black and McGonagall in the plan added confidence to the group. He also included a revised plan in the event that Ginny's trial didn't go well.
"Even if Ginny is found guilty tomorrow and sentenced to Azkaban," said Harry amongst much grumbling "Sirius says that she won't be moved to the prison until the end of the month. This will give us the opportunity to rescue her from the Ministry. I also want to point out that even if we are completely successful, many of you could still be expelled from Hogwarts for this."
"Why would we be expelled if your plan works?" asked Dean. "I mean how can they deny he has returned if he follows you to the Ministry as planned and everyone sees him?"
"Regardless of whether Voldemort's return is exposed to the entire wizarding world, we are going to have to break a lot of Hogwarts rules and wizarding laws to accomplish this." said Harry. "We have seen what happens when you cross the Ministry first hand."
"Not worried mate." said Fred.
"We've never envisioned a career in the Ministry anyway." said George.
"A lot of witches and wizards are taught at home these days." said Lavender. "My parents had already decided to either send me away to a foreign school or teach me at home before the Ministry sent the letters stating that Hogwarts was safe again."
"Listen mate," said Seamus "we've told you before, we're with you to the brink."
"It's time to expose the Malfoys for who they really are." said Angelina.
"One thing we need to work out before Saturday is how the decoy party will get to Ireland." said Harry. "Dobby can apparate the entire rescue party with Professor McGonagall's help."
"That's simple." said Luna in her dreamy tone. "Thestrals."
"Thestrals?" repeated Harry, thinking of the black winged skeletal horses. "Are they safe?"
"Of course." replied Luna dreamily. "They are completely tame and very smart. They just have a bad reputation."
"Alright Luna, I'll consider your suggestion." said Harry.
Luna beamed brightly; happy to be contributing to the group.
"Well," said Harry "I guess we're going to find out what a bunch of under-age witches and wizards can do."
"We're seventeen mate." said Fred, pointing to himself and George.
"And as far as we're concerned." said George.
"You're about twenty." said Fred.
"Twenty?" asked Parvati, raising an eyebrow.
"They say near death experiences age you." said Fred.
"And who's had more than the Boy-Who-Lived?" asked George, an evil grin curling his face.
Harry even chuckled at their humour. As he stroked Fawkes' plumage, he realized that the next few days would probably produce little to laugh about. He only hoped that he wasn't leading them all to their death.
Tonks rolled over and kissed Charlie on the cheek. One of his strong muscular arms wrapped around her waist; his hand tickling her abdomen. Tonks purred into his ear at his touch; running her fingertips lightly over his toned chest causing him to shiver.
"Still feeling frisky?" asked Charlie, grabbing her hand.
"Always love." replied Tonks.
"We need to rest a little tonight, love." replied Charlie. "We need to rise early in the morning to practice some, so we're ready in case we need to intervene. I won't let my little sis go to Azkaban; not even for Harry."
"Harry doesn't want her to go to prison either, love." said Tonks, pushing herself up on one elbow to look at him. "They say he and Hermione are going to the trial too."
"I know, but Dumbledore would let her die if it meant protecting the Boy-Who-Lived." spat Charlie.
"You once believed he was the one chosen to defeat You-Know-Who too." said Tonks.
"Part of me still does, love." said Charlie. "His little exhibition with that dragon in Gringotts was truly unbelievable. He still may be the one to stop You-Know-Who or he could be the next Dark Lord."
"Harry is no future Dark Lord, Charlie." said Tonks smiling. "He has way too much heart for that."
"If you say so, love." replied Charlie half-heartedly. "It's just that if Harry is as powerful as it seems – can he resist the lure of corruption?"
"We'll just have to wait and see." replied Tonks.
"That's not completely truthful." said Charlie. "We can make sure he continues to have a reason to care. Who knows, maybe Fred, George, Hermione, and Harry will join us one day."
"They're not against us either, love." said Tonks, stroking his hair with her free hand and looking into his eyes.
"Trouble is, they don't know that." said Charlie. "Now, let's get some rest."
"You said a little rest, love, and it will come later!" said Tonks, playfully biting his lower lip and moving over to straddle him in their bed; determined to only allow him rest once they were completely exhausted.