The Trial of Ginny Weasley
Tuesday morning came quickly for Harry, even though it felt like it took forever for the sun to rise. At the first sign of light, he was up, bathed, dressed and headed for the hospital wing; invisibility cloak wrapped tightly around him. He wondered if the doors would be magically sealed or if he would be able to slip into the wing without having to knock. His answer came soon enough when he reached the wing, pulling slowly on one of the doors to find that it opened with ease. He slipped inside and saw that Hermione was sitting up reading a book in bed. She looked as though she was ready to leave at a moment's noticed. Just as he was deciding whether to remove the cloak before approaching her bed as not to scare her, she looked up from her book.
"Are you waiting for something, Harry?" asked Hermione, closing her book.
"How did you know it was me?" retorted Harry, tugging off the cloak.
"I saw the door open and the sun is up." replied Hermione. "It was either you or Peeves."
"Happy Birthday, Hermione." said Harry, stuffing his cloak beneath his robes and giving her a hug.
"Thank you." replied Hermione. "Maybe I will be happy."
"Feeling better?" asked Harry.
"Now that you're here." replied Hermione, straightening his glasses. "How did the meeting go last night?"
"As Seamus says, all in to the brink." replied Harry. "The odd thing is that Fawkes showed up."
"Were you thinking about him?" asked Hermione.
"Yeah – kinda." replied Harry, shrugging.
"That's why." said Hermione. "If he has bonded to you then every time you focus on him he will appear."
"Good thing that doesn't happen with girlfriends or you'd appear at some really odd times." chuckled Harry as Hermione slapped him on the arm.
"Morning, Mr. Potter." said Madam Pomfrey, causing Harry to redden instantly.
"Good morning Madam Pomfrey." replied Harry and Hermione.
"Did you sleep well, Ms. Granger?" asked Madam Pomfrey.
"Yes, thank you." replied Hermione.
"Well, let me check you over." said Madam Pomfrey, withdrawing her wand and waving it over Hermione. "Your vitals seem to be normal. I believe that the potions have done their job. You are clear to leave, Ms. Granger."
"Thank you, Madam Pomfrey." said Hermione, hopping down from the bed.
"Happy Birthday, dear." said Madam Pomfrey.
"Thank you." replied Hermione, smiling.
Hermione gathered what things Harry and Professor McGonagall had brought to her, then turned to leave; Harry at her side. Madam Pomfrey touched Harry on the shoulder as they began to head towards the door, causing him to turn round.
"Take care of her, Mr. Potter." said Madam Pomfrey softly. "This is the third time that she has been in my care and I've grown fond of her."
"I will." said Harry, smiling as Madam Pomfrey hurried away.
He turned back to see a tear in Hermione's eye, and he knew that she had heard the exchange. Harry took her by the hand and together they walked out of the hospital wing.
As they made their way back to the Gryffindor common room, Harry questioned her about if she was up to the task ahead. Hermione assured him that she was ready and waiting to place 'Phase One' into effect. Seamus was waiting for them when they arrived and quickly began going over the details once more. When Harry had retrieved the Map, they set off to the third floor to put their ruse to work, careful to avoid anyone in the corridors; Harry already under the cloak. Once they were in the classroom on the third floor, they waited as patiently as they could for Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle to make their rounds. Harry watched Malfoy and his goons leave the dungeons and make their way up to the fourth floor to do who knows what then down to the third floor corridor where they were waiting. Harry pointed a disembodied hand at Seamus, signaling to start before withdrawing it again beneath the cloak.
"Hermione! What is it?" asked Seamus loudly.
"Shhhh! Seamus!" hissed Hermione.
Harry watched as Malfoy stopped dead, then slowly make his way closer to the classroom door; Crabbe and Goyle standing guard.
"What's going on?" asked Seamus again in a softer voice.
"It's Harry, Seamus – I'm worried." replied Hermione in convincing tones.
"Worried?" repeated Seamus. "I don't understand, Hermione. Isn't this part of the plan?"
"Yes, but he's more powerful than I expected and now he's determined to collect all the artifacts." replied Hermione, actually tearing up.
Harry smiled at the show Hermione was putting on for Malfoy; his dot unmoved from outside the door.
"Has he located the last of the artifacts yet?" asked Seamus.
"Yes." replied Hermione. "One of the Gringotts goblins told him that the remaining artifact is in a cave in Ireland called the Seven Sisters. They also told him that only he can retrieve the final artifact. Harry is convinced that this is the answer to the prophecy and he will be able to defeat Voldemort once and for all."
Seamus visibly shuddered at the name and hissed, "Don't say his name!"
"Sorry Seamus." said Hermione. "Harry says it so much I forget."
Harry could almost see Malfoy's dot dancing with delight on the Map.
"Why is Harry the only one that can retrieve the last artifact?" asked Seamus.
"Because Harry already possesses the main piece." replied Hermione. "Now, only he can retrieve them all."
"So, are you saying that you don't want him to fulfill this prophecy and defeat You-Know-Who?" asked Seamus.
"Not at all!" replied Hermione. "What I'm saying is that after the dragon I don't know that he'll be willing to give up the artifacts after he defeats Vol- You-Know-Who. What if he becomes the next Dark Lord or even the next Merlin?"
"Hermione! Pull yourself together!" said Seamus. "This is Harry we're talking about! He would never go bad; not after all that has happened."
"You're right – of course. What was I thinking." said Hermione. "I'm sorry Seamus."
"Perfectly okay, Hermione." said Seamus. "You're just looking out for Harry, as you should. If things get bad, we'll talk him down together."
"You're a good friend, Seamus." said Hermione, wiping away a tear.
"Na. I just want to be on Harry's good side when he takes over the world." chuckled Seamus. "So when does Harry plan to try and retrieve the final artifact?"
"This Saturday when we go to Hogsmeade." replied Hermione. "It will be the perfect opportunity for Harry, Fred, George, and myself to slip away."
"How are you all going to get to bleeding Ireland?" asked Seamus.
"Not sure." replied Hermione. "Harry is still working on that."
"What're Harry's thoughts on the trial today?" asked Seamus, acting nervous. "I mean, last night he was really worked up."
"He's determined to protect Ginny." replied Hermione. "The Weasleys are like family to him and I'm afraid he won't be able to control himself if things go bad."
"Just make sure he doesn't do anything he could get locked up for." said Seamus. "Now, we better get back before Harry misses us."
Harry watched as Malfoy's dot bolted out of the corridor and back to the Slytherin common room; Crabbe and Goyle struggling to catch up.
"They're gone." said Harry, staying under the cloak.
"You think he bought it?" asked Seamus.
"The way he bolted for the Slytherin common room, I'd say he's contacting his father this very moment." replied Harry gleefully.
"We'll know soon enough." said Hermione, sounding worried.
"Unfortunately, we might find out today." said Harry, thinking about the trial that afternoon.
"You don't think Voldemort would honestly show up at the Ministry, do you?" asked Seamus.
"Not likely." replied Hermione. "I think Harry's thinking more along the lines of Lucius Malfoy."
"Exactly." said Harry. "The bastard won't be able to control himself."
Harry, Seamus, and Hermione made their way back up to the common room; Harry still under the cloak, lest a Slytherin spot him with them and ruin the whole plan. Once in the common room, they quietly brought the rest of the Gryffindor faction of the Alliance up to speed on what had transpired. Ron was thrilled to hear that the ferret was so gullible to take the bait. Angelina warned Harry that Quidditch tryouts was this Friday and nearly gagged when Harry said he was forfeiting his place on the team.
"Harry!" shouted Angelina. "How can you do this to me? We'll never find a seeker as good as you!"
"I have more important things on my mind!" growled Harry, unable to comprehend why Angelina would think that he would remain on the Quidditch team.
"It might not be convenient, mate." said Fred.
"But it also might draw too much attention." said George.
"From the wrong people if you drop off the team." said Fred.
Harry stopped to think about it, and knew the twins had a point when Hermione nodded in agreement.
"Okay, I'll stay on." said Harry at last. "It just means we have one less night this week."
"Then you'd better make the most of them." said the voice of Sirius Black.
Harry spun around to face his godfather and gave him a half hug. Sirius smiled then nodded in Hermione's direction and motioning for her to come there. Hermione walked over and gave him a half hug as well. Harry could hear Sirius whisper, "I heard and am glad you're well, Hermione." Hermione smiled at Sirius and so did Harry.
"How are you three holding up?" asked Sirius, looking at Fred, George, and Ron.
"Alright, I guess." said the twins in unison while Ron just shrugged.
"Your father will be along shortly to collect you." said Sirius. "He just needs to sort out a few things."
"You're early, Sirius." said Harry. "They haven't moved up the trial, have they?"
"No." replied Sirius. "Just thought I'd eat with you first before we head to my place in London."
"Why would we go there?" asked Hermione.
"Because it's vacant." replied Sirius, smirking.
Harry, Hermione, and Sirius made their way to the Great Hall with the other Gryffindors for breakfast. It wasn't too uncommon for parents and guardians to visit students throughout the year; joining them for a meal or simply visiting for a few minutes to see how they were doing. However, everyone knew why Harry's godfather was there today. Professor Umbridge glared at Sirius from the staff table as he took a seat at the Gryffindor table and Harry wondered if that was his reason; to play more games with the toad. He understood why Sirius got along so well with Hermione's cat, Crookshanks; they both liked to play with their food before they ate it. Sirius really seemed to enjoy his trip back down memory lane as he shared stories of misadventures with Harry, Hermione, the twins, Seamus, Ron, and Neville. The twins, of course, were the most interested of the group; comparing the old Marauder's adventures to their own.
After breakfast they bid farewell to their fellow Alliance members then made their way to the outer wall of the castle grounds where they could apparate away. Even though Umbridge knew that Hermione was accompanying them this time, apparition was the only way to guarantee that they weren't being tracked by the Ministry and they could apparate directly onto the doorstep of No. 12 Grimmauld Place. Sirius had assured them that after the Order vacated the residence, Kreacher had sealed it against all non-family. Hermione would be able to pass into the residence because she was accompanied by Sirius and Harry. Harry was free to enter because he was Sirius' godson and the only legal heir to Sirius.
They apparated directly onto the front step of No. 12 Grimmauld Place and Sirius unlocked the door by pressing his hand against the silver serpent door knocker. They stepped inside to find the place looking magnificent. Every brass fitting and oil lamp shined as though recently polished; the floors were buffed and the rugs thoroughly clean.
"Wow!" muttered Hermione before covering her mouth.
"It's okay, Hermione." said Sirius. "My mother's portrait has been moved to her room."
"How?" asked Harry.
"It seems that after the Order left, Kreacher convinced my mother to tell him the counter curse to remove her portrait." replied Sirius. "He told her that he had cleaned up her old room and that he could move her there where she would be happier."
"And it worked?" asked Hermione in shock.
"Kreacher always was my mother's favorite house-elf." replied Sirius.
"Kreacher could not have Mistress Black always upsetting Kreacher's Master." croaked the elf, hobbling into the hallway. "Kreacher knew that Master would not return here unless things were to Master's liking. That is why Kreacher drove off those other witches and wizards that had no place in the Black Family Home."
"Other witches and wizards?" repeated Harry.
"He means the Order." replied Sirius, smirking hard. "He made their stay here very unpleasant I heard. Top that off with the fact that they were under the impression that the "walls have ears" and they decided to leave."
Harry glanced at Hermione, noting Sirius' remark, as they followed him into the sitting room; Sirius handing his cloak to Kreacher who collected Harry and Hermione's cloaks then hurried to hang them up. Sirius took a seat on the freshly cleaned sofa near the fireplace and crossed his feet contently. Harry and Hermione sat down on another sofa across from him.
"I have to say that I really never cared for this place growing up," said Sirius looking around "but Kreacher has really done a wonderful job fixing up the place. Much better than Molly and her crew of unwilling workers."
"Kreacher is most thankful for Master's praise, however Kreacher had help." said Kreacher entering the room. "House-elf Dobby helped Kreacher clean and sweep. Dobby is a very useful house-elf."
"I'm glad to hear that, Kreacher." said Harry, smiling.
"Dobby will serve the House of Potter well." said Kreacher, and then turned to face Sirius. "Does Master require food or drink?"
"Three butter beers while we wait, Kreacher." said Sirius. "It will help us relax and keep my mind off the fire whiskey."
Kreacher bowed low then made his way to the kitchen to fetch the butter beer. Harry looked around the place and wondered, for the first time since Sirius' exoneration, if he would ever live with Sirius in this house. After visiting the cottage and knowing the Order were using this place as headquarters, Harry hadn't even considered this to ever be a future residence.
"So, where will you stay now?" asked Hermione.
"I'll float back and forth between here and the cottage, I think." replied Sirius loftily. "I stayed in one place way longer than I ever wanted to and it will take years to get over it. With the inevitable war upon us, I think that it will be necessary to establish a secure way to travel between the two beyond apparition."
"If you do, won't the Ministry know?" asked Hermione.
"Unregistered portkeys are created all the time, Hermione." replied Sirius. "Some laws are useless during times of war. Besides, do you think the Death Eaters concern themselves with magical law?"
Kreacher reappeared with three butter beers and handed one to each of them.
"I wonder what Dobby is up to?" pondered Harry aloud.
"Master Harry called for Dobby?" asked the tiny elf, bouncing on his heels.
"Sorry, Dobby. I was just wondering what you were up to." said Harry.
"Dobby was cleaning Black cottage." replied Dobby. "Does Master need Dobby to do something?"
"Uh – yes, actually you can." replied Harry. "Can you keep a close eye on Ron Weasley for me without his knowledge? I want to know if he communicates in any way with Dumbledore or the Order."
"Dobby can, but does Master Harry still not trust the young Weasey?" asked the tiny elf.
"No Dobby, I don't." replied Harry solemnly. "Now, will you do this for me?"
"Yes Master Harry, Dobby will." replied Dobby. "When does Master Harry wish for Dobby to begin?"
"Immediately," replied Harry "but come quickly if I call."
Dobby swept Harry a low bow before a loud, CRACK, and the tiny elf was gone. Harry looked over to see Sirius staring at him with something between a frown and a smile. Hermione was blatantly frowning at him, her arms still in her lap but creeping dangerously towards the folded position.
"Listen, I cannot trust Ron just yet." said Harry defensively. "Just because he told me the truth when his arse was backed into a corner does not mean that he can be trusted."
"I'm not arguing, Harry." said Sirius. "Matter of fact, I agree with you."
"So you're using Ron like you're using Malfoy?" asked Hermione.
"No." replied Harry flatly. "Malfoy is a foul git and his father is a bastard. I want to trust Ron again and it's best if he thinks I do, but he's going to have to earn it."
"Harry's right." said Sirius. "Ron is confused and weak minded. He could still be not thinking clearly, so there is reason to doubt."
"Do you doubt me too?" asked Hermione, staring dead at Harry.
"Why would you ask that?" asked Harry feeling bewildered. "Why would I doubt you?"
"You just found out that I've been cursed this entire time by a curse of wills and I could see it in your eyes in the hospital wing." said Hermione. "You questioned my feelings for you."
"I did," said Harry "but you and Professor McGonagall told me that the curse didn't affect you in that way."
"When did you talk to Professor McGonagall about me?" asked Hermione, folding her arms and raising an eyebrow.
"Right after they lifted the curse." replied Harry. "Professor McGonagall said that the curse had no affect on certain emotions."
"Hermione," interjected Sirius softly "could you tell me a little about this curse and how it affected you?"
"What – oh – sure." said Hermione, ripping her gaze from Harry. "Well, it was more suggestive than anything. I mean, it was like having a second opinion constantly inside my mind."
Harry was thankful for the distraction, but was sure that Hermione wasn't done with him yet. Strangely enough, that thought made him smile.
"Did this second opinion have a voice or was it just thoughts?" asked Sirius, whom Harry could tell was thinking hard.
"It was more like my own thoughts – and yet they weren't, if that makes any sense." replied Hermione, visually relaxing a bit. "Why do you ask?"
"Well, you see the Imperius curse is more like a voice rather than thoughts. So even while you're cursed, you realize it; you just can't resist it." replied Sirius.
"Yeah, like what Barty Crouch Jr. did to us last year while posing as Mad-Eye Moody." said Harry, thinking how Barty couldn't force him to obey.
"That foul man had me hopping around like a frog." spat Hermione.
Sirius barked with laughter, but quickly apologized.
"I can see how difficult this curse could be to be detected and why they used it over Imperiusing you." said Sirius, scratching his chin. "Very cleaver magic indeed, and very ancient. All of which is very disturbing."
"Disturbing?" repeated Harry. "In what way?"
"The first time around Voldemort used fear and intimidation as weapons." replied Sirius. "He flaunted his existence and dared anyone to stand against him. This time, it seems so far that he is satisfied to remain a rumor and guide his forces from the shadows. It appears that he has learned from his mistakes and that is terrible news for all of us."
"Why didn't Dumbledore hunt him down and stop him the first time?" asked Harry, feeling frustrated. "Why doesn't he do it now? Isn't he supposedly the only wizard Voldemort fears?"
"I used to believe that Dumbledore was wiser than all of us; that he knew something we didn't." said Sirius, chewing his words. "Now, I realize that he is a man that fears the sword; afraid of what it might expose in him. He waited until it was unavoidable to face Grindelwald. He avoided Voldemort completely; sacrificing your parents and nearly sacrificing you in the process. He chooses to fight this war with diplomacy rather than action. It's why we were losing the first time and why we're losing right now. Every day that passes, Voldemort grows stronger. Instead of sending Hagrid to try and convince giants not to join Voldemort, we should be giving reasons to all why it's not in your best interest to stand with him by making examples out of those that do."
"Last year I would have disagreed with you, Sirius." said Harry. "Now, after watching Cedric, Cho, and nearly Hermione die, I realize that not only do we need to stop Voldemort at any cost, but make sure that all his Death Eaters are gone forever too."
"If your plan works, Harry, the world will no longer be able to deny his return and you will prove that someone besides Dumbledore can stand against him." said Sirius. "Very powerful message, indeed."
"Have you been reading some motivational speaking books, Sirius?" asked Hermione in jest and Harry knew she was trying to lighten the mood.
"Are you suggesting that I'm not already charismatic enough to raise my godson's spirits?" asked Sirius, raising one eyebrow and smiling.
"Of course not." smirked Hermione. "You just seem to be cheerier than the last time we saw you, despite all that is going on."
"Freedom will do that for you." replied Sirius. "I'm becoming more accustomed to this new life each and every passing day. I realize now that time is like a gift; I should be thankful and spend it wisely."
"Speaking of gifts...Sirius." said Harry.
"Haven't forgotten lad," said Sirius "just waiting for you."
Sirius waved his wand and a small wrapped box appeared in his hand. He then handed it to Harry, who then turned to face a very pink Hermione.
"I thought you said we were going to wait to celebrate my birthday later?" asked Hermione softly.
"We are, but that doesn't mean I can't give you a gift today." said Harry, handing the gift to her.
Hermione unwrapped the gift to find a jewelry box. Harry watched as she slowly opened the box then smiled as she squealed.
"Oh Harry, it's beautiful!" said Hermione breathlessly, holding up a gold ring with a small pearl set interlined with tiny diamonds to form a heart. "Wherever did you get it?"
"I spotted it in the second vault while we were visiting Gringotts." replied Harry. "I asked Dobby to fetch it for me and take it to Sirius for safe keeping until today."
"Careful which finger she puts it on, lad!" smirked Sirius.
Sirius barked with laughter as Hermione nearly dropped it before quickly placing it on her right ring finger, blushing madly.
"It must be goblin made." said Hermione.
"Really, why do you say that?" asked Harry.
"Must be a perfect fit." said Sirius. "All goblin made jewelry is like that."
Hermione nodded in agreement, and then gave Harry a hug.
"Happy birthday, Hermione." said Harry into her ear.
"Thank you." said Hermione, kissing him on the cheek.
"I have a gift for you too, Hermione." said Sirius. "Though, it's no comparison to Harry's."
Sirius waved his wand again and another gift appeared in his free hand. He leaned over and handed the gift to Hermione. She unwrapped it to reveal a book entitled, 'One Thousand Years of Detecting Dark Magic'.
"Hope it's not too insensitive." said Sirius.
"I love it!" cried Hermione, who looked absolutely eager to start reading. "This will really help me. Thanks."
"Glad you like it." said Sirius. "So, Harry, we need to go over the plan once more while we wait. I'm afraid that this may be the last time we get to prepare before Saturday."
"There has been a few changes." said Hermione.
"Anything major?" asked Sirius.
Harry and Hermione told Sirius of how Dean, Lee, Lavender, and the Patil twins had joined the Alliance and what roles they would play in the upcoming events. Sirius smiled as he commended Harry and Hermione on their plan, but warned them not to be shaken if their plan has to be altered along the way. Harry assured Sirius that they were doing their best to think six steps ahead. After they had exhausted all possible problems and things that could go wrong, Sirius had Kreacher prepare them a light lunch before they headed to the Ministry.
"Before we leave," said Sirius, draining his goblet "there's something I'd like to show you both. I'll be right back."
Without another word, Sirius excused himself from the kitchen table and headed upstairs.
"I wonder what that was about?" pondered Hermione aloud.
"I'm sure we're about to find out." said Harry, smiling at her.
"That's the obvious answer!" said Hermione, shaking her head at him.
Sirius strode back into the kitchen, carrying a small book under his arm. He sat down beside Harry and placed the book on the table.
"This is my memory book." said Sirius, opening the front cover. "It's a collection of my favorite times throughout the years. Cassie convinced me to start it after I met her, due to my poor memory."
Sirius flipped through the book, which was a mixture of writings and pictures, showing them his collection of misadventures.
"This here is a picture of James, Lily, Remus, Cassie, and yours truly." said Sirius, pointing to a picture.
Harry looked at his mum and dad, standing in the Great Hall next to Lupin and Sirius. Next to Sirius was Cassie, a beautiful witch with long flowing black hair and blue eyes with high cheek bones. They all looked very happy; waving out of the picture, not knowing then what was coming.
"Poor Remus." said Sirius. "He had a hard time finding a girl that was okay with his affliction."
"There were girls that were willing to knowingly date a werewolf?" asked Harry incredulously.
"Harry!" hissed Hermione, slapping his shoulder.
"No one knew that Remus was a werewolf, Harry." replied Sirius. "However, his affliction causes him times of poor health and a sickly appearance. Not very attractive to the witches."
"That's really not fair." said Hermione. "He apparently never met the right witch."
"He did, but that story is for another time." said Sirius flipping the pages. "Of course, many years are missing and I wouldn't consider any of them in my favorite times." chuckled Sirius, a sadistic undertone to his voice. "However, I have started writing again and that is what I wanted to show you."
Sirius pointed to a page that he had written recently, depicting his escape from Hogwarts nearly two years ago with the help of Harry and Hermione. The next page contained a more detailed assessment of the incident at Gringotts along with a clipping from the Daily Prophet.
"I would like to add a picture of us three as a memory, if that would be okay?" asked Sirius.
"Of course!" exclaimed Harry.
"We'd love to, Sirius." replied Hermione smiling.
Sirius summoned Kreacher who fetched a camera from one of the bedrooms. Sirius propped it up on the table, so to get the proper angle then huddled together with Harry and Hermione before pointing his wand at the camera saying, "Smile and wave." A puff of purple smoke marked the making of another memory. Sirius had to wipe away a tear as he looked at his godson and Hermione.
"So sorry." said Sirius. "Just reminded me of when I did the same thing with James and Lily; only – in a way this means more."
"Pardon Kreacher, Master." interrupted the aged elf.
"Yes Kreacher, what is it?" asked Sirius.
"It's time for Master to be going to the Ministry, lest Master be late." replied Kreacher.
"Thank you, Kreacher." said Sirius, standing up from the table.
"Kreacher lives to serve the noble House of Black." said Kreacher, sweeping Sirius a low bow.
"We best not be late." said Sirius, gathering up the book and camera then handing them to Kreacher. "Fudge will be apt to start the trial as soon as the Wizengamot and the Weasley family are present."
"Why doesn't that FOOL stop fighting us, realize that Voldemort has returned, and start helping us?" shouted Harry, slamming his fist into the table as he stood up.
"Harry, it's easier for the Minister to believe that Dumbledore is waging a political war with him than to believe that Voldemort has returned and is waging a war on the wizarding world." replied Hermione calmly. "When the truth comes out that Voldemort has indeed returned, magical Britain will surely demand Fudge's resignation. He's been hiding one fiasco after another from the public eye while trying to save face and his own job."
"So he'd rather keep his post as Minister a little longer than try to save the world from Voldemort?" spat Harry angrily.
"Politics, Harry." said Sirius. "You're about to get another firm dose of it too, so unless Voldemort himself shows up at the trial you need to remain absolutely in control. They'll be watching you very closely after the Gringotts incident and don't expect Fudge to try to use you again to bolster himself after what you did last time in court."
"Good." said Harry, smirking. "It's best that Fudge pretends that I don't even exist today."
"Do your best to help him forget you're there, okay Harry?" retorted Sirius, a pleading tone to his voice. "Unfortunately, moral support is the only thing you can do for Ginny today."
Harry nodded as Kreacher brought them their traveling cloaks and they made their way out onto the front stoop. He and Hermione took hold of Sirius, then together they apparated into a small alley in London. They followed Sirius out of the alley and down a small street. The street looked to be in a rough area of London, judging by the large amounts of graffiti on the sides of buildings. They stopped in front of a ragged telephone booth and Sirius motioned for them to get inside. It's was very cramped and Harry wondered if this was how being a sardine might feel. Sirius reached between them, lifted the receiver, and dialed a number.
Suddenly, a disembodied female voice said, "Welcome to the Ministry of Magic. Please state your purpose."
"Here for the trial of Ginny Weasley." said Sirius.
Three visitors' badges shot out of the coin return as the telephone booth quickly descended into the ground. Sirius motioned for them to place the badges on their robes as the booth descended deeper into the ground, finally arriving in what Harry recognized as the Ministry Atrium. They exited the booth before watching it shoot back up into the ceiling.
"Still not use to entering through the main entrance." grumbled Sirius, straightening his robes.
Just as the day of the Pettigrew trial, the Atrium was alive with witches and wizards bustling about. Unlike the last time, their presence seemed to draw everyone's attention and brought most of the bustling to an abrupt halt. Sirius ignored the attention, chivvying them towards the check-in desks and their destination beyond. Since Pettigrew's trial, security surrounding courtroom proceedings had been heightened dramatically according to Sirius. Now no witch or wizard, other than a select few that included the Minister, were allowed to carry a wand inside the courtroom. Hermione submitted her wand and this time it did not disappear during inspection. All three were given claim tickets so that they could retrieve their wands when they departed the Ministry. They quickly made their way into a vacant lift which rattled loudly as it descended and the disembodied female voice informed them of each level, but Harry's mind was too focused on the unsettling reason they were there to even notice. The only thing he did notice was when Hermione took his hand in hers. They exited the lift and made their way to the courtroom with no delays or interruptions, which unsettled Harry even more. The courtroom was slightly smaller than the last time, similar to the one Harry had seen in Dumbledore's pensive; giving that claustrophobic feeling of the walls collapsing upon you. He could only imagine what this did for the accused; sitting in the middle, bound to a high backed chair. As they took their seats, Harry could see that it looked as though every member of the Wizengamot was present. He could also see that nearly every member of the Weasley family was present too; Charlie the only missing sibling. Percy Weasley sat behind the Minister's booth, taking notes and not even acknowledging his family.
"I do not believe that there is any reason to delay today's hearing any longer." said Fudge, as Sirius glanced in Harry's direction. "Please send in the accused."
Harry felt Hermione's hand grip his elbow hard as a door below and to the left of where Fudge sat opened and the wails of Ginny could be heard. Two wizards escorted her into the courtroom, a terrified look plastered across Ginny's face as she eyed the high backed chair in the center. Harry could see Mr. Weasley shifting in his seat and knew that he desperately wanted to hurl himself over the banister and save his daughter. Harry was not ready for the emotions that flooded him and he had to close his eyes to shut out the scenes before him if he had any chance of maintaining control. Ginny's cries ceased and Harry opened his eyes to behold the terrified teen bound to the chair; so scared that she looked almost unable to breath.
"This courtroom will come to order." said Fudge in a magically magnified voice that was rather unnecessary, due to the cramped conditions. "Today Ginevra Weasley is accused of murdering Cho Chang, a sixth year Ravenclaw, in the Owlery of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry while using the stolen wand of Ms Hermione Granger. This is a very serious offense and due to the age of the accused, it must be handled as delicately as possible."
A large amount of murmuring spread through the courtroom and Fudge had to clear his throat loudly to bring the room back to order. Ginny began crying at this point.
"Does the accused have a defense?" asked Fudge.
"Yes Minister, she does." said Sirius, leaving Harry and Hermione utterly stunned as he made his way down to stand beside Ginny.
"Lord Black." stammered Fudge. "This is most irregular."
"Yet perfectly legal." replied Sirius. "Ms Weasley's father sent word to me this morning, asking me to stand up for his daughter, if I believed her innocence."
Fudge turned red in the face; his eyes burning with rage.
"Very well. What do you say to these accusations, Ms Weasley?" asked Fudge sternly.
"I-I didn't do it!" sobbed Ginny.
"You confessed but two days ago in front of myself, your Headmistress, and your Head of House to attacking Ms Granger and Ms Chang in the Owlery with the wand that you stole from Ms Granger." said Fudge calmly. "Now you deny it?"
"I-I don't know why I said those things!" replied Ginny through flowing tears. "I would never hurt anyone! Especially Hermione!"
"Then why were you found with Ms Granger's stolen wand in your possession in your dorm room?" asked Fudge.
Harry looked to see Umbridge's expression, but it was Lucius Malfoy's expression that caught his attention. Lucius was smiling and nodding his approval to Fudge, as though approving of the way he was handling it thus far. Anger burned in Harry's belly at the thought, and he reached up to wipe sweat from his brow.
"I-I don't know how Hermione's wand got in my trunk!" cried Ginny.
"Minister, members of the Wizengamot, let the record state that Ms. Weasley is not the only person with access to her dorm room, nor is her trunk a new trunk and thus susceptible to simple unlocking spells." said Sirius imperiously.
"Lord Black, who else would have motive to harm Ms. Granger, besides Ms. Weasley, that has access to Ms. Weasley's dorm?" asked Fudge.
"Minister, none of the dorm rooms or common rooms within Hogwarts are impenetrable." replied Sirius. "Students have been sneaking in and out of opposing house common rooms for generations. Therefore, it is highly possible that someone else within Hogwarts could have placed Ms. Granger's stolen wand in Ms. Weasley's trunk."
"But can you produce anyone with motive to do so?" stressed Fudge.
"Ms. Granger is currently in a relationship with my godson, Harry Potter." replied Sirius. "Due to recent articles in the Daily Prophet, my godson possibly has numerous witches and wizards within Hogwarts that wish him ill will. What better way than to harm Ms. Granger and place blame upon one of his best friend's sister?"
"Minister, might I interrupt?" came the sickening sweet voice of Professor Umbridge.
"Of course." replied Fudge. "The court now recognizes Professor Dolores Umbridge, Headmistress of Hogwarts."
"Thank you, Minister." simpered Umbridge. "Ms. Weasley, Ms. Granger reported that the person that attacked them in the Owlery attacked her first, with the intent to harm her. Now, it's a very well-known fact that you have harbored a childhood crush for Mr. Potter for quite some time. Tell us, is this why you attacked Ms. Granger in the Owlery; inadvertently murdering Ms. Chang? Were you jealous of Ms. Granger?"
"N-No!" replied Ginny shakily.
"Oh come now, my dear," cooed Umbridge "seeing Mr. Potter and Ms. Granger walking about the castle happily didn't irritate you in the slightest?"
"No!" replied Ginny, this time more firmly.
"Then Ms. Weasley, please explain how a stolen wand came to be in your possession if you did not take it from Ms. Granger?" asked Fudge harshly, his eyes glinting as he leaned towards Ginny.
"I-I have no idea!" replied Ginny, sobbing once more.
"Lord Black, do you have any witnesses who can testify to Ms. Weasley's whereabouts when Ms. Chang was murdered?" asked Fudge sharply.
"No, Minister." replied Sirius, chewing his lower lip.
"You contest that Ms Weasley is innocent, yet you are telling us that no one in Hogwarts can account for her whereabouts before or after the murder of Ms. Chang?" asked Fudge.
Harry could tell that the "delicate" handling of the case had come to an end for Fudge. His face was as hard as stone now as he stared at Ginny and Sirius.
"No, Minister." repeated Sirius.
"If you cannot produce any evidence that would explain why Ms. Weasley would be in possession of the wand that murdered Ms. Chang or lead us to believe that she is innocent of these charges, then I must press forward." said Fudge, now sounding both bitter and extremely business-like.
"Minister, based on what Ms. Granger said when describing the attack, would you say that the death of Ms. Chang was on purpose or accidental?" asked Sirius.
The courtroom roared with the sound of murmurs and whispers as Fudge's face shown with the look of victory. Ginny sobbed violently in the chair; her arms bound and unable to even wipe the tears from her face. The Weasley twins could be seen holding Ron back from exploding over the banister; Mr. Weasley biting his lower lip hard as Mrs. Weasley clung tight to him, burying her head in his shoulder. Harry knew that Sirius was now avoiding Ginny receiving the Dementor's Kiss, which was the awful sign that today's battle was lost. Hermione was holding tight to his arm and he could feel her hot tears through his robes.
"Based upon Ms. Granger's account, I would have to agree that the death of Ms Chang was accidental." said Fudge triumphantly. "However, that does not make the death of Ms Chang any less real. Ms Granger stated in front of witnesses that the witch or wizard that assaulted her and Ms Chang in the Owlery of Hogwarts was dressed in the attire of a Death Eater and killed several school owls in the process. Even if the death was accidental, the intent was there."
Fudge looked around the courtroom as he drew a long breath before speaking again.
"That said," breathed Fudge "all those that find the accused, Ginevra Weasley, guilty of murdering Cho Chang in the Owlery of Hogwarts on the morning in question, please raise you hands now."
Over half the Wizengamot and Ministry officials raised their hands then lowered them again. Harry could see the satisfied look on Fudge's face.
"All those that find the accused, not guilty." said Fudge.
Less than half raised their hands. Harry saw Ron defiantly raise his hand.
"Guilty as charged." said Fudge, as Mrs Weasley began to wail. "As Minister of Magic, I do hereby sentence Ginevra Weasley to –"
Her sentence was never heard, for just then the door beneath the podium exploded off its hinges; flashes of green light soaring into the courtroom. Fudge dove from the podium to avoid a jet of green light that struck an elderly wizard sitting behind him directly in the chest. Harry shoved Hermione to the floor behind the banister to avoid the jets of green light that continued to fly into the courtroom. Witches and wizards of the Wizengamot were scrambling to leave the courtroom, for all were without wands and thus defenseless. Harry heard a woman cackling almost insanely above the screams and commotion, and for some reason the sound filled him with anger. He rose to his feet, careful to avoid more jets of green light, to behold the scene below. Sirius was standing defiantly beside the chair that bound Ginny, dodging jets of green and purple light while scowling as he stared at the intruders.
"Bellatrix Lestrange!" shouted Fudge, staring in disbelief over top the banister.
"Evening, Minister!" cackled the dark haired woman, flanked by several masked Death Eaters.
"Bad move, Bella!" shouted Sirius. "The Aurors will be here shortly."
"The Aurors are busy, dear cousin, which means your death comes now!" cried Bellatrix, raising her wand and aiming it at Sirius' chest.
"NO!" shouted Harry.
Suddenly, the air between him and the Death Eaters rippled like heat rising from the pavement on a hot summer's day. The effect was instantaneous, as Bellatrix and her fellow Death Eaters were lifted off their feet then flung into the opposing banister.
"DOBBY!" shouted Harry.
"WE NEED WANDS!" shouted Harry to the tiny elf above the commotion.
Dobby wasted no time in disapparating and apparating again moments later with three wands in hand. Harry did not recognize the wands, but now was not the time to care. Dobby hesitated when Harry ordered him to leave, but did as he was told. Harry pitched one to Sirius and handed another to Hermione just as a purple jet blew past his right ear, blowing his hair. He turned to see that the fallen Death Eaters had recovered and had rejoined the fray. A spell shot up towards the balcony, and the banister and floor imploded beneath them, sending Harry and Hermione plummeting to the floor below. They rolled to their feet just as they had practiced in the Room of Requirement, shooting stunning spells at the Death Eaters while Sirius cast shield charms to protect Ginny, who was still bound to the chair by thick chains. Harry could hear the sounds of fighting beyond and knew that Ministry witches and wizards must be dueling with Death Eaters somewhere outside the courtroom.
Bellatrix sent a curse over their heads, causing more of the seating above them to crumble and fall. Harry shoved Hermione and Sirius out of the way then raised his free hand towards a large falling chunk of banister, willing it to fall another direction. A small piece of banister tore through his robes under his outstretched arm; a searing pain marking where his side had been sliced. He grabbed his side, feeling his own warm wet blood beginning to dampen his shirt. Instinctively, Harry cast a fury of stunners blindly in the direction of Death Eaters.
The sound of sliding chains caught Harry's ears and he looked to see a large hooded and masked Death Eater throwing a limp looking Ginny over his shoulder and sprinting for the door. Harry aimed his wand at the Death Eater but caught sight of something silver flash through the air in front of him. He caught it in his left hand with the reflexes of a seeker, only inches from Hermione's face. A silver dagger pricked the end of his finger, drawing blood, as he dropped it to the ground. Bellatrix smiled and laughed insanely as she stared at Harry, her chest heaving excitedly.
At that moment another door above them burst open, two Death Eaters backing into the courtroom battling, to Harry's shock, Charlie and Tonks. He heard Bellatrix cackle before turning and running through the demolished doorway.
"HARRY! SAVE GINNY!" shouted Charlie as one of the Death Eaters he was dueling toppled.
Harry pushed himself up while holding his side then lunged after Bellatrix, Sirius and Hermione racing to catch up.
"They cannot apparate till they reach the Atrium!" shouted Sirius.
Harry sprinted as fast as he could after the retreating figure of Bellatrix Lestrange, his leg muscles burning as he reached his top speed; ignoring the sharp pains in his side.
"'Little Potter wants to play!'" sang Bellatrix merrily, running down the corridor towards the lifts.
Harry was slowly catching up with Bellatrix, just not fast enough. He reached out, imagining he could feel Bellatrix's back and pushed hard. Immediately, the air rippled and Bellatrix fell forward, sliding on the floor in front of the lift. She looked back at Harry, her manic smile still ever present, and pointed her wand in his direction.
"LET'S PLAY!" screamed Bellatrix. "CRUCIO!"
Harry felt pain strike every inch of his body as he skidded to a halt, before he shrugged it off; his anger fueling his magic and burning the curse away. Bellatrix's look of shock evaporated quickly as she rolled out of the way to avoid Sirius and Hermione's jets of red light that struck the ground where she had been moments before. The others had already ascended in the lifts, however Bellatrix was more than capable of standing her own against her opposition. She hurled curse after curse in their direction as she bobbed and weaved about, forcing them to take a defensive stand.
"If she gets in the lift, we will lose her." said Sirius, sending a jet of white light that flashed on impact with the far wall, lighting up the end of the corridor.
The bright flash blinded Bellatrix and Hermione made to capitalize, sending three red stunners at her. Bellatrix, however was too quick and deflected the spells.
"YOU FILTHY MUDBLOOD!" spat Bellatrix, responding with another fury of curses, forcing Harry to cast a shield charm.
"Crucio!" cried Charlie, racing up behind Harry, his curse forcing Bellatrix to roll out of the way.
Tonks joined them firing a jet of purple light, forcing Bellatrix to deflect it. Realizing she could not overcome them all, Bellatrix shot a curse at their feet, causing the floor to explode in their faces; dust and large chunks of the floor filling the air. She seized the opportunity and hurled herself into a lift.
"Goodbye, dear cousins! Goodbye, little Potter! Goodbye, filthy little mudblood and blood traitor!" cackled Bellatrix merrily as the lift rose out of sight.
"COME ON!" shouted Harry, racing for another lift.
The three of them ran into a waiting lift, Charlie and Tonks attempting to follow, but Harry immediately turned his wand on Charlie.
"Truce Harry." said Charlie raising his hands in surrender. "We're not your enemy."
"That remains to be seen." growled Sirius.
"He's telling the truth cous." said Tonks firmly.
"For Ginny and for your family I'm going to let you walk away." growled Harry. "Get your own lift."
Harry watched as Charlie and Tonks made for another lift. It felt like an eternity as the lift clattered up towards the Atrium. Harry groaned as his mind raced ahead, envisioning what lay before them.
"Forget Bellatrix, Harry." said Sirius firmly, thinking Harry was focused on her. "We need to find the Death Eaters that have Ginny and hope that they haven't made it past the desks, or we may never catch them."
"This doesn't make sense." said Hermione. "Why abduct Ginny?"
"Doesn't matter right now." said Sirius. "We've just got to stop them."
The lift clanged to a halt and the sounds of battle flooded their ears. Many of the witches and wizards from the courtroom, including the entire Weasley family, had retrieved their wands from the check-in and were attempting to hold the Death Eaters at bay. Bellatrix had already entered the fray and was dueling Madam Bones. Harry looked frantically, but the Death Eater carrying Ginny was nowhere to be found. Harry saw Ron duck behind a table before firing a jet of red light at a Death Eater, his face contorted with rage. The spell found its mark and thrust the Death Eater backwards over a chair.
"SOMEONE SEAL OFF THE ATRIUM!" shouted Fudge from the other side of the large fountain; ducking back down behind it to avoid a curse that struck the stone goblin, sending the head spinning to the ground.
Harry wasn't surprised to see that Fudge was taking a purely defensive stand, casting only defensive spells. Fred, George, Bill, and Mr. Weasley were guarding the check-in, attempting to turn back any Death Eaters from leaving, which made Harry look even harder for the large Death Eater that had Ginny. 'If he had already escaped, surely the Weasley family wouldn't be forming a blockade', thought Harry. Sirius and Hermione must have thought the same thing, for they were looking too; splitting up and battling their way past the groups of fighting. Charlie and Tonks exited another lift then disappeared into the chaos. Harry was getting ready to chase after Hermione when he heard his name.
"Do something, Harry!" shouted Fudge, catching sight of him. "Like you did with the dragon!"
Harry felt his anger rising even higher. He had no idea how he did that with the dragon, nor how to focus it as to not hurt any innocent people. Of course, Fudge would now look to him for help, but refused to believe him at the Tri-Wizard Tournament when he told him about Voldemort's return.
"Potter!" shouted a Death Eater, advancing on Harry.
The Death Eater shot a purple jet at Harry, which he dodged easily as he rolled to his left. He then cried, "Expelliarmus!" sending the Death Eater's wand spinning through the air away from them. The Death Eater retreated before Harry could strike again, as another masked and hooded Death Eater raced forward to challenge him. This Death Eater proved to be much more of a problem for Harry as he quickly found himself on the defensive, warding off curse after curse. Harry could feel the pain in his side getting worse and needed to get back on the offensive as quickly as possible; then he saw his chance. He summoned the fallen stone goblin head by the fountain and made it fly through the air at the Death Eater, causing him to stumble backwards to avoid the stone head as it smashed against the wall. Harry took the advantage and struck the Death Eater with a stunner, before hurdling himself past his adversary in the direction of the Weasleys, avoiding flying spells as he went.
"Mr. Potter, your wand!" shouted the guard from the check-in.
Harry looked up to see the wizard running to him. Harry threw out a shield charm to protect the wizard from more flying spells as he made his way to him.
"Your friends have theirs already!" shouted the guard as he handed Harry his wand.
The moment Harry gripped his wand, it felt as though fire spread through him; every nerve in his body suddenly more aware of its surroundings. He pocketed the wand Dobby had brought him then pointed his wand towards a throng of fighters; both Death Eaters and Ministry wizards alike. The Ministry wizards were dueling hard, but the Death Eaters were advancing. He lowered his aim to their feet and shouted, "Bombarda!" The purple jet exploded from the tip of his wand, more powerful than ever before, striking the floor beneath the Death Eater's feet causing the floor to rumble violently then implode, sending the Death Eaters plummeting through the newly created and massive hole. Several Ministry wizards had to fall back to keep from falling through themselves. He then pointed his wand at Bellatrix who shrieked and dove for the lifts, avoiding Madam Bones' hex and any potential spell from Harry.
"IT'S TIME!" shouted Bellatrix, and Harry could hear a lift clanging as it descended.
About ten Death Eaters made for the point beyond the check-in where they could apparate away, casting jets of green light at the Weasleys, forcing them to take cover. At that moment, Harry realized that they hadn't been making a run of it, but stalling. Why they were stalling and where Ginny was were two very disturbing questions that Harry had no answers to. An explosion from above sent witches and wizards scrambling and marked the Death Eater's departure. Harry's wand burned in his hand and he knew immediately that Hermione was in trouble. He could feel her pain before he could see or hear her. Hermione was trapped beneath a large slab of stone; her wand arm pinned to the floor. One of the fleeing Death Eaters had noticed this too and made to capitalize.
"Harry!" shouted Hermione, struggling against the slab.
Harry, while racing to help her pointed his wand at the Death Eater and growled, "Stupefy!" Again the spell exploded from his wand more powerful than ever before, striking the Death Eater in the chest and sending him flying across the way, slamming into the wall hard. Harry then waved his hand as he reached Hermione, sending the stone up into the air and crashing against one of the lifts.
"You always come when I need you." said Hermione, clearly in pain.
"I'll always come for you." said Harry dropping to one knee beside her, staying vigilant of his surroundings. "You okay?"
"My arm hurts badly and I think my leg's broke." replied Hermione, rolling onto her left side.
"Don't move." said Sirius running over to them. "We'll get her to a healer."
"Where's Ginny?" asked Hermione.
"Gone." growled Sirius. "We don't know how, but they're gone. Madam Bones just ordered Aurors to search the entire Ministry for Bellatrix and apprehend those you sent down that hole."
"I thought Bellatrix Lestrange was in Azkaban?" asked Harry angrily.
"She was." growled Sirius.
"You're hurt!" said Hermione, noticing the growing wet spot under his arm.
"It's just a scratch." said Harry dismissively.
Harry saw Kingsley Shacklebolt binding up the Death Eater Harry had just stunned as he scanned the lift lobby. Several witches and wizards were fallen; some being tended to while others laid motionless, an ominous sign that they may never move again. A matron made her way over to examine Hermione. Harry could hear Mr. Weasley yelling at someone in such a way that he barely recognized his voice. He was surrounded by Bill, Ron, and the twins so Harry couldn't see whom he was yelling at.
"Broken left leg, fractured right arm and fractured rib." said the witch in a very professional manner after waving her wand over Hermione. "I will mend the break and the fractures now. Then I need you to take her to a make shift wing that is being done up on the second floor so we can tend to her."
The matron waved her wand over Hermione who winced as her leg straightened then rubbed her arm before sitting up.
"Please lie still child and let them take you down to rest." said the matron.
"You need to tend to –" began Hermione, suddenly looking very dizzy and laying back down.
"It's just a scratch." repeated Harry.
"Let me see." said the matron.
Harry raised his arm, allowing her to see the cut. She examined it before waving her wand over it, sending a hot feeling up and down his side. When the feeling subsided, the pain was gone.
"I've mended the gash in your side." said the matron. "You've lost some blood, but not a lot. Eat a good healthy meal tonight young man and you should be fine."
"If all she needs is rest, Healer Brady, then I will take them with me." said Sirius, much friendlier than normal.
"Sirius, I didn't even recognize you. It's been so long since I've seen you." said the matron. "So that means you're Harry Potter and Hermione Granger."
"How do you know who I am?" asked Hermione, amazed.
"Lavender is my niece." replied the matron, before addressing Sirius. "Sirius, get these two to safety. I'm afraid my work here is far from finished."
The matron rose to her feet then paused, placing a soft hand on Harry's shoulder. Harry looked up to see a kind face. "Just so you know, Mr. Potter, my husband and I believe you."
Without another word she hurried off to the next fallen victim of the day's attack. Harry stood, then he and Sirius helped Hermione to her feet. She was a little unbalanced, but well for the most part. Another hand found Harry, this time seizing his left elbow. Harry turned to attack but halted and took a step back when he realized he was standing nearly nose-to-nose with Mr. Weasley; Mrs Weasley standing beside him. Bill, Ron, and the twins stood behind their parents, but Percy was nowhere to be seen.
"First, are you three alright?" asked Mr. Weasley, his eyes hard and focused.
"Yes Arthur, we are fine." sighed Sirius.
"Are you leaving now?" asked Mr. Weasley.
"I'm going to take them back to my place, Arthur." replied Sirius. "Nothing more we can do here. The Aurors have rounded up the captured Death Eaters."
"May my family accompany you?" asked Mr. Weasley, growling when Mrs. Weasley made to say something.
"You're leaving already?" asked Harry, frowning hard.
"My daughter has been abducted from the very heart of the Ministry and all they can offer is excuses and lies." spat Mr. Weasley. "There are things I wish to discuss, but need an open ear."
"Now see here, Arthur!" said Fudge, striding up to them with Professor Umbridge at his side. "Just because you're not willing to accept the truth, does not give you the right to go about in the midst of chaos spouting your opinion!"
"Minister, he's in shock." simpered Umbridge. "This is a very hard thing to accept."
"Accept what?" growled Harry, beginning to follow.
"Mr. Potter, you saw the Death Eaters rescue Ms. Weasley from the courtroom." replied Umbridge. "You yourself tried to stop them."
"Rescue?" repeated Hermione angrily. "Rescue? You're implying that Ginny was rescued? She was TAKEN! We were trying to stop them from MURDERING her!"
"Ms. Granger, I am as shocked as you are but the facts are the facts!" said Umbridge, her girlish tone gone; replaced by her natural cold voice.
"The only facts I'm aware of, Professor," said Sirius sternly "is that nearly twenty Death Eaters penetrated the Ministry, abducted the Weasley girl, murdered numerous witches and wizards, then at least half of them escaped."
"They waited until she was being sentenced to attack!" stressed Umbridge. "What more proof do you need, Lord Black?"
"The only way that theory would be true," began Harry "is if a Death Eater was already present in the courtroom. So which member or members of the Ministry and Wizengamot are you accusing, Professor?"
Umbridge looked furious beyond comprehension, but she could smell Harry's trap and was too smart to fall for it. She glared at Harry and he knew she was desperately wishing they were back at Hogwarts where her power was nearly absolute.
"How did Bellatrix Lestrange escape Azkaban, Minister?" asked Sirius coldly.
"The same way she escaped the Ministry today for all I know!" exclaimed Fudge, clearly not liking the way the conversation was going.
"The Department of Mysteries is a labyrinth unto itself." said Mr Weasley. "Are you sure that they're not still here, hiding in one of the many rooms?"
"The Unspeakables have already stated that no one has entered the Department today." said Fudge firmly.
"After this, surely you cannot deny that Lord Voldemort has returned." said Harry.
"All this is your fault, Mr Potter." growled Umbridge. "Your – your lies have spawned these 'Death Eaters' into action. You-Know-Who has NOT returned!"
By-the-way, Mr Potter," said Fudge, his face growing dark "how did you sneak those wands into the Ministry?"
"I didn't." replied Harry coldly. "My house-elf brought them to me."
"Your house-elf, Mr Potter?" retorted Umbridge, her girlish tone returning. "You don't have a house-elf. It's not permitted for those who live with muggles."
"You forget that Harry is now my ward." said Sirius. "He has all the privileges due to the heir of the House of Black and Potter, including house-elves."
"It's not the place of a Hogwarts student or students to be interfering in Ministry business." said Umbridge.
"They have a right to protect themselves, Headmistress." interjected Mr Weasley.
"Where were you during the fight, Headmistress?" asked Harry. "Afraid you might hit the wrong person?"
"Enough!" snapped Fudge. "I will not have the authority of the Ministry and of Hogwarts questioned in the same day at the same time in my presence!"
"The authority of the Ministry lays in ruin around you and my daughter was taken from the midst of it." spat Mr. Weasley. "Nothing more could be done here today to question it."
"I heard you say you were leaving, Arthur." said Fudge scowling. "Do not let me stop you. Go home and allow the Ministry to handle this."
Fudge turned and swept away from them, Umbridge following close behind him.
"Arthur, your family is welcome in my home, if you wish to accompany us." said Sirius firmly.
"Thank you, Sirius." said Arthur, inclining his head.
Hermione walked between Harry and Sirius; Harry shouldering most of her weight, his arm about her waist. The Weasley family followed them silently past the check-in station and into the outer Atrium.
Harry turned to see Madam Bones rushing to catch up with the group.
"Yes, Amelia?" asked Mr. Weasley coldly.
"Arthur, I beg you not to do anything rash." said Madam Bones. "The entire Auror Department will be hunting for these Death Eaters. Leave it to us."
"Amelia, you do not even know where to begin and the only real leads will be blocked by the Minister." said Mr. Weasley harshly. "And what will you do if you find my daughter? Arrest her again? Send her to Azkaban without trial? No Amelia, I do not believe that I will leave it to you."
"Then what do you plan to do?" Asked Madam Bones.
"I'm afraid that is none of your business, Amelia." replied Mr. Weasley.
"Very well." said Madam Bones, before turning her back and striding away.
"Ready?" asked Sirius.
"Yes." replied Mr. Weasley.
"Kreacher!" shouted Sirius.
There was a loud CRACK, as the aged house-elf appeared in the Atrium.
"Kreacher, please take the Weasley family to our London home." said Sirius.
"Kreacher will do as Master asks." said Kreacher, bowing low. "Please take a hold of Kreacher."
Kreacher raised a hand and the Weasleys reached in to touch him. Harry saw Kreacher stifle a shiver before disapparating to Grimmauld Place with the entire Weasley family.
"How is it that we can apparate out of the Atrium, but not into here?" asked Harry.
"Security measures, as useless as they may be." said Sirius.
"House-elves are not bound to this." said Hermione, answering Harry's next question before he asked it. "Their magic is often overlooked."
"Shall we discuss this back at my flat?" asked Sirius. "I've seen enough of this place today."
Harry tightened his grip around Hermione as they took hold of Sirius and Harry prepared himself for that suffocating feeling that was to come. Like Sirius, he was ready to leave, maybe forever.
Sirius, Harry, and Hermione landed on the stoop of No. 12 Grimmauld Place; Hermione slumping as the compressing feeling of apparition released her sore body. Harry still had his arm round her and for good reason. If it wasn't for that, she might have fallen completely over. The matron may have healed her injuries, but Hermione understood exactly why she had told her to rest. Harry tugged her good arm around his shoulders and nearly carried her into Grimmauld Place. Dobby met them at the door, jubilant that they had returned alive. The Weasleys were waiting in the sitting room; Mr Weasley pacing like a caged animal while Mrs Weasley sat sobbing beside Bill. Ron and the twins were staring at the front entrance as Sirius, Harry, and Hermione entered. Harry immediately requested that Dobby bring down extra pillows to the sitting room for Hermione to prop up with in one of the chairs. She smiled at his wisdom, knowing she would not want to go up and lay down. Once Hermione was comfortable, Mrs Weasley broke her silence.
"Why are we here, Arthur?" began Mrs Weasley, wiping her face with Bill's handkerchief. "Why aren't we with Dumbledore?"
"Molly, when will you understand Albus Dumbledore doesn't have this family's best intentions at heart." growled Mr Weasley. "Fudge was about to sentence our daughter to Azkaban when all bloody hell broke loose!"
"Arthur! Think of what you are saying!" exclaimed Mrs Weasley, looking at her children then at Harry and Hermione, as though the conversation was inappropriate for their ears.
"I have, Molly." replied Mr Weasley. "That is why we are here. We must do what is best for our family and it does not include Dumbledore."
"So you plan to place the fate of my daughter in the hands of children?" asked Mrs Weasley incredulously, standing up to face her husband. "Being the state of things I agreed that Sirius had a better chance in the Ministry as Ginny's representation than Dumbledore, but now you want to place the task of rescuing her from Death Eaters there too? With Charlie and Percy acting the way they are, I don't know how much more I can stand. Arthur, what is wrong with you?"
Hermione looked at Sirius who was standing near the fireplace. He wasn't looking directly at the Weasleys, but he was definitely listening; his face placid. She then looked at Harry who stood next to her chair and his expression was somewhere between frustration and pity as he watched. The Weasley boys were a mixture of emotions as they also watched the scene unfold.
"Arthur, would you like us to give you a moment?" asked Sirius finally. "We can adjourn to the kitchen so that you and Molly can talk in private."
"Thank you Sirius, but there's no need." replied Mr Weasley. "Molly, I've made my decision. I place my faith in Harry. Just as he did today, he has risked his life time and time again to save our family. After hearing the accounts of what happened at Gringotts and seeing what happened today, this is where the true Order of the Phoenix resides; not with Dumbledore's army that sits quietly in the shadows."
"My faith is in Dumbledore!" said Mrs Weasley fiercely. "I've sat back and tolerated your eccentric ideas and fascination with all muggle contraptions from flying motor cars to can openers, but I refuse to do so when it comes to the well-being of my daughter! Harry is a good boy and I am truly grateful for all that he has done. He will one day be a great wizard if he ever separates himself from the wrong influences, but until then we MUST TRUST DUMBLEDORE! Now, let's go see what he plans to do."
"I'm staying." said Mr Weasley firmly.
"Very well," said Mrs Weasley biting her lower lip "let's go boys."
"I'm staying too, mother." said Bill.
"We're with Harry." said the twins in unison.
"Fine!" huffed Mrs Weasley. "Ronald, come!"
Ron just sat there red-faced, and Hermione wondered if he was unsure what to say.
"Ronald, I said come!" commanded Mrs Weasley again, marching towards the door.
"No." replied Ron.
Mrs Weasley stopped then turned to stare at her youngest son with all the parental fury she could muster.
"I'm staying with dad and Harry." said Ron. "So should you."
"This is all your doing!" growled Mrs Weasley, rounding to face Hermione. "If you had just listened to Dumbledore!"
Hermione didn't feel angry or scared, but heartbroken by the look in Mrs Weasley's face. She knew then and there that Molly Weasley truly hated her. She'd never had anyone she cared about hate her before. She'd been picked on, called names, and hated for being herself all her life, but never by someone she considered extended family. Hermione had stayed in her home, shared meals, shared stories, and had even been told she considered her like a daughter. Tears poured down her face uncontrollably for now she knew it was all a lie; all for Dumbledore.
"That will do, Molly." said Sirius, as Harry stepped between her and Hermione.
Mrs Weasley turned and left Grimmauld Place without another word; Mr Weasley and her children pleading with her to stay as the front door slammed shut. Silence followed, as no one really knew for certain what to say. Hermione had read how the last wizarding war with Voldemort had severed families in half in the struggle of light versus dark magic; yet in all her books on the fall of Voldemort, not one spoke of the struggles of power within the light. Of course, her father had taught her years ago that the history books were always written and rewritten by the victors. Hermione wiped the tears from her face and as hard as it might be, she tried to forget the look on Mrs Weasley's face.
"So how are we going to find Ginny?" asked Bill breaking the silence, arms folded defiantly.
"Not sure, Bill." sighed Mr Weasley, wiping his face with his hands.
"WHERE HAVE THEY TAKEN HER!" shouted Ron, slamming his fist into the wall. "WHY ARE THEY DOING THIS TO US?"
Hermione knew that Ron was releasing tension the only way their red-haired friend knew how to; with anger. The Weasley family was caught dead in the middle of Voldemort's war, just like hers. Harry looked down at her as he rubbed one of her shoulders with his hand.
"RONALD!" shouted Mr Weasley. "Control yourself and apologize to Sirius now!"
"No need, Arthur." said Sirius calmly. "He has every right to be angry, upset, and frustrated."
"Ron, you know where she probably is." said Harry darkly.
Hermione knew what Harry was thinking and truthfully, it was the first place she had thought of too; Malfoy Manor. If that was true, it raised the stakes for Harry's plan tremendously.
"How would Ron know?" asked Bill defensively.
"It's okay Bill." said Fred.
"We know about Hermione's parents." said George.
"What in Merlin's name are you two talking about?" asked Mr Weasley.
Hermione was shocked, and at the same time not, to see that Bill and Mr Weasley were completely unaware of her parent's situation. She now realized that secrets and lies were the calling card of the wizard she once thought to be the greatest. She had been sure though, that Mrs Weasley knew.
"They don't know." said Sirius flatly. "Dumbledore never confided in them."
"Lucius Malfoy abducted Hermione's parents before the start of term." said Harry calmly.
"Whatever for?" asked Mr Weasley breathlessly.
"To control her." said Sirius. "He planned on using her to manipulate Harry, but luckily for us Hermione was smarter than that."
"And Dumbledore knows?" asked Bill angrily.
"Yes." replied Harry. "I'm sure it wouldn't faze him either if something happened to them."
"So you know where they are?" asked Mr Weasley, eyebrows lifted.
"Lucius Malfoy's home." growled Sirius.
"Then what are we waiting for?" asked Bill. "If Ginny and Hermione's parents are at Malfoy Manor, let's go get them!"
"We can't just barge in, Bill." replied Sirius. "If Malfoy Manor has become headquarters or a base for Voldemort, it will be heavily guarded. Any direct attack would just bugger everything up and possibly get several killed. Besides, Harry has come up with an excellent plan."
"Damn the plan, Sirius." said Harry to everyone's shock. "If we wait it may be too late."
"If we rush in, Harry," interjected Hermione "they'll be expecting us. We know that the plan won't go as smoothly as we hope, but now we have Bill."
"Me?" asked Bill incredulously. "I'll do what I can, but how can I help?"
"Have you ever heard of the caves in Ireland that the goblins use to hide their valuables?" asked Harry.
"Of course." replied Bill. "I spent six months there training to break curses on actual objects. How do you know about the caves?"
Harry explained to the Weasley elders about how he'd heard of the caves and his plan to lure Voldemort and his followers away from Malfoy Manor. Hermione thought that Mr Weasley looked impressed, but Bill looked troubled.
"Excellent plan, Harry." said Bill. "Too bad it won't work."
"Why not?" asked Ron, staring at his oldest brother.
"Because, the caves no longer work that way." replied Bill. "They haven't for centuries. Not to worry, I know how to get in and how to get out. Mercy be on anyone who follows us in."
"Looks like you're officially on team decoy." said Sirius smiling.
"I want on the rescue party." said Mr Weasley fiercely. "All the better if Lucius is there."
"Unfortunately, you will have to return to Hogwarts in order for your plan to work." said Sirius, staring at Harry and Hermione.
"We all will." said Ron.
"What are we going to do about Umbridge?" asked Hermione. "You can guarantee that after today, she is going to really be watching us closely, looking for any opportunity to expel us."
"Leave Umbridge to us." said the twins darkly in unison.
"It's time we leave." said George.
"Our mark on Hogwarts." said Fred.
"Just promise me you'll be careful." pleaded Mr Weasley. "Nothing too destructive, okay boys?"
"We promise that come Saturday." said Fred.
"Hogwarts will still be standing." said George.
As Harry rubbed his eyes and the bridge of his nose, Hermione knew that he had no more desire to return to school than she did, but they both knew that this was their best chance of succeeding. She was also certain that Mrs Weasley would be with Dumbledore by now, informing him of all that happened there and at the Ministry. This war would be like nothing she could even imagine.
Bellatrix knocked upon her master's door with confidence. When she finally heard the cold voice bidding her entrance, she opened the door and strode in, proud of her accomplishment. She bowed herself low upon reaching his desk and awaited his permission to speak.
"What have you to report?" asked Voldemort coldly, his red eyes now focused on her.
"My Lord," replied Bellatrix "I have done as you requested. The Weasley child is ours and the prophecy is exactly where you thought it was."
"Is exactly where I thought it was?" repeated Voldemort. "You failed to possess it for me?"
"My Lord," replied Bellatrix, swallowing hard "the Unspeakables say that only you or Potter can take it from its shelf."
Voldemort swept around the desk so fast that Bellatrix had no time to react. He grasped her face with one hand and leaned in very close to her ear.
"I don't care." hissed Voldemort dangerously in her ear. "Potter was there, wasn't he? I told you that the mudblood is his weakness and yet you failed to exploit it. You expect me to go to the Ministry and collect it myself?"
"N-No my Lord!" stammered Bellatrix. "P-Please forgive me my stupidity! I will not fail you again."
"Do you know why Lord Voldemort is not forgiving?" whispered Voldemort. "Is your enemy's curse forgiving when it strikes you?"
Bellatrix didn't answer, but only trembled; too afraid to look at him.
"Lord Voldemort does not tolerate problems, Bella." hissed Voldemort. "I did not need you to confirm what Lucius had told me; I needed you to retrieve it! You failed to retrieve the prophecy, lost me seven of my followers to the Ministry which included your husband, and all you did was capture the blood traitor girl? My plan is to torture Potter; make him feel pain emotionally then physically before I finally kill him, however I cannot kill him until I have the prophecy. I am about to do great things in this world and I have no time for setbacks!"
Voldemort shoved her to the ground, and then pointed his wand at her chest.
"Never ask Lord Voldemort for forgiveness, for I do not forgive." said Voldemort softly. "Mercy is all you can hope for when you fail me."
"Have mercy, my Lord, HAVE MERCY!" shouted Bellatrix, raising a hand in his direction.
Voldemort tilted his head as he contemplated her, his wand still pointed at her chest.
"Crucio!" cried Voldemort savagely.
Bellatrix screamed with pain, trying to accept the punishment she knew she deserved for failing her Lord. She knew that she wouldn't be shown mercy twice. Voldemort lifted his wand and the pain ceased, then he swept back around the desk to take a seat once more. Bellatrix slowly picked herself up off the ground, struggling to stand still.
"I'm going to give you a chance to redeem yourself, Bella." said Voldemort, his red eyes piercing her with his stare.
"THANK YOU, MY LORD!" cried Bellatrix.
"Lucius says that Potter is seeking what he believes be the answer to the prophecy." said Voldemort softly. "I must know what power Potter seeks and how it pertains to the prophecy before he achieves his goals. Once he possesses this power, he will head to Malfoy Manor to seek me out."
"Malfoy Manor?" repeated Bellatrix weakly.
"Yes." replied Voldemort. "He believes by now that I am there. He will come for me and to free the mudblood's parents. Before I kill him I wish to possess this power that he seeks. If it is powerful enough to threaten Lord Voldemort, then imagine what marvels I could do with it."
"What would you have me do, my Lord?" asked Bellatrix, bowing her head.