The War Within
Charlie flung his cloak across the sitting room as he and Tonks entered their small flat in London. He knew that Tonks would try once again to calm him down, but she would be wasting her time. His sister had been taken from the heart of the Ministry in the middle of a trial and they were unable to stop them.
"It's not your fault, love." said Tonks, entering the room.
"I know it's not my fault, Tonks." growled Charlie. "It's Harry's fault."
"How is it Harry's fault?" asked Tonks, placing a hand on his shoulder which he immediately shrugged off.
"If he hadn't been so reserved, we could have stopped the Death Eaters from taking her." said Charlie, not looking at her. "Then he had to waste time at the lifts rather than pursuing after my sister."
"So reserved?" repeated Tonks. "What did you expect him to do? Cause the walls of the Ministry to collapse or something? I thought he showed great magic against Bellatrix and you cannot blame him for not trusting us enough to let us on the lift. I mean, you did set loose a bloody dragon in Gringotts that almost got him killed."
"He wasted time with hexes and jinxes, Tonks." said Charlie hotly. "His motive was to capture Death Eaters and nothing more."
"He's fifteen, Charlie!" exclaimed Tonks. "He wasn't aiming to injure anyone intentionally because none of them were You-Know-Who. I honesty believe when the day comes that they face each other again, Harry will fight the way you were expecting him to today."
"Time to report in." spat Charlie, ignoring Tonks' remarks.
He raised his wand and shot a jet of white light at a mirror hanging over an old granite fireplace. The spell struck the mirror so hard that it groaned and threatened to fall off the wall. Tonks rolled her eyes, but said nothing. The mirror became smoky and glowed a light blue around it's edges.
"What have you to report?" asked an unseen individual in a deep voice from the other side of the mirror.
"Just as we suspected," began Charlie "the Ministry had no intentions of giving Ginny a fair trial, but the real trouble came in the form of Death Eaters. They infiltrated the Ministry, stormed into the courtroom, and made off with my sister."
"I take it by the look on your face, Mr Weasley, that you were unable to catch the Death Eaters and retrieve your sister." said the voice.
"No." spat Charlie, unable to conceal his anger. "The Death Eater carrying my sister escaped through the Department of Mysteries. We searched but were unable to find them. Our contact at the Ministry said that the Unspeakables told Fudge that no one entered the Department of Mysteries today. This means that You-Know-Who has people within the Department as well."
"That's troubling, indeed." said the voice.
"What should we do?" asked Tonks.
"Proceed with the plan." replied the voice. "Mr Potter has now gained the trust of Bill Weasley, which gives his plan of rescuing the Grangers a much greater chance of success, and his success only bolsters our success."
"My brother Bill has joined him too?" frowned Charlie.
"Along with your father, Mr Weasley." replied the voice.
"What of my mother?" asked Charlie.
"She has chosen to stay loyal to Albus Dumbledore." replied the voice. "She returned to the Order's headquarters alone."
The thought of his father and mother on potentially opposing sides was hard to comprehend. While his mother and father hadn't always agreed, she had never not stood beside him. Charlie scratched his head as he contemplated how his brothers must feel.
"Bellatrix Lestrange led the attack on the Ministry today even though she's suppose to be in Azkaban." said Tonks.
"Your aunt, Ms Tonks, is another clear sign that the Ministry is no longer functional." said the voice.
"When should we begin the next phase?" asked Tonks.
"Immediately." replied the voice. "You know what to do. I ask, Mr Weasley, that you shake off this turn of events and focus on what needs to be done. The sake of our world depends on it."
With that, the mirror became clear once more and the light blue glow around the edge of the mirror faded. Charlie scowled at the mirror for a moment before turning to face Tonks.
"Sometimes he reminds me why I don't like his kind." said Charlie.
"He's right though," said Tonks "we have to make sure that we remain focused. We'll make sure Ginny gets back home safely."
"I'm focused, love." said Charlie. "Let's just hope that Harry is as well. Time for you and I to get changed."
Neville made his way towards the Great Hall alongside Seamus, trying to ignore the growing knot inside his stomach. The final class of the day, Divination, had just ended and yet there was no word from Harry, Hermione, Ron, or the twins. The hot, smoke-filled room along with Professor Trelawney's predictions of death had nearly sent him over the edge. For the first time that he could remember in Divination, Lavender and Parvati looked just as ready as him for class to be over. They had left the tower almost immediately after class and that was highly unusual for them. Neville had hoped that by now at least Lavender would have heard something, but even the gossip line was silent. When they reached the bottom of the stairs, Neville spotted Malfoy and a group of Slytherins congregated just outside the Great Hall. Malfoy spotted them, an evil grin curling his face.
"Have you heard the news, Longbottom?" asked Malfoy. "How 'bout you Finnigan?"
Neville ignored Malfoy and nudged Seamus as to say, 'Do as I do'. Seamus glared at Malfoy, but continued on with Neville.
"No?" sneered Malfoy. "Well...I would have at least thought Potter would have sent word that the trial was over...and what an exciting ending!"
Several Slytherins snickered at the comment. Crabbe and Goyle looked as clueless as ever.
"What you on about?" asked Seamus, stopping to stare at Malfoy.
"He's just being a git." said Neville, tugging at Seamus' elbow. "He knows nothing."
"Oh Longbottom, I've said it before and I'll say it again, if brains were money you'd be poorer than the Weasleys." drawled Malfoy. "Now seriously, aren't you at least happy that the blood-traitor won't be going to Azkaban?"
Neville was walking slower, but he still continued his path; determined not to break his promise to Harry.
"Of course, Azkaban would probably be a holiday compared to what my Aunt Bella will do to her." said Malfoy in a bored tone.
Neville's breathing became extremely shallow and his walking came to a complete halt. He wiped his face while trying to convince himself not to fall into Malfoy's trap. He was sure that Malfoy's father had told him just how to get to him.
"Forget how to walk, Longbottom?" sneered Malfoy. "Or did you never learn how to think and walk at the same time?"
"Spill it, Malfoy!" growled Seamus.
"Death Eaters...broke into the Ministry and rescued the Weasley brat." said Malfoy in mock concern as the Slytherins laughed. "Guess she was one of them after all."
"Thought your aunt Bella was in Azkaban, Malfoy?" asked Neville, not looking at Malfoy.
"She was, she was, but now she's not." replied Malfoy. "Never was in there for a good reason."
Neville saw Seamus saying something to him, but his mind didn't register. All sound had become an inaudible muffle, as the blood thundered in his ears. His wand was in his hand before his eyes saw their target. The one thing that could have made him break his promise to Harry to not do anything rash had been done by Draco Malfoy. Red light burst from his wand as he shouted, "STUPEFY!", at the top of his lungs. The spell struck Malfoy in the stomach, lifting him completely off his feet, sending him falling into the throng of Slytherins behind him. Seamus cast a shield charm to protect him and Neville from Crabbe and Goyle's hexes. This time, unlike on the train, the two large Slytherins were ready for a fight. Pansy joined the fight, but was quickly retreating as Angelina came to their aide.
While dueling Crabbe and Goyle with Seamus, Neville realized that Malfoy had recovered just in time to deflect a stinging hex. Dean joined the fray, taking on Crabbe and evening the odds once more. The Slytherins were no match for the Alliance members, who bobbed and weaved to avoid the incoming spells while the Slytherins had to use shield charms at an increasingly alarming rate. Angelina was fully on the offensive as Pansy did her best to deflect the spells being hurdled her way.
Neville continued to duel Malfoy, looking for another opportunity to strike and suddenly, there it was. Malfoy tripped as he retreated backwards and Neville stepped through the door of opportunity.
"ESPICULUS!" roared Neville hitting Malfoy in the stomach with a stinging hex, followed by, "Petrificus Totalus!" and finally, "Stupefy!"
Malfoy was unable to do anything but twitch and jerk as spell after spell struck him, sending him toppling backwards uncontrollably, spinning through the air. The series climaxed with the crunching sound of his nose finding the floor. At the sight of Malfoy being overtaken by Neville, Crabbe and Goyle immediately retreated towards the Great Hall. Pansy, however screamed in anger at the sight of Malfoy's defeat, whirling a storm of hexes in Angelina's direction. The rage in her eyes was truly frightening. Dean and Seamus came to the aide of the retreating Angelina, countering Pansy's curses and driving her back. Two older Slytherins came racing out of the Great Hall, wands drawn, but Neville was too quick for them.
"Glacius!" shouted Neville, turning the floor into a sheet of solid ice.
The two Slytherins began sliding the moment they hit the sheet of ice, followed by two sickening thuds as they fell; their heads making contact with the frozen floor.
"WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?" shouted Umbridge.
Neville turned to see Professor Umbridge standing behind him, her wand pointing at his chest. The look of fury on her toad-like face made his blood run cold.
Neville whipped around to see Professor Sinestra running to the scene as a shield charm expanded in between Pansy, Dean, Seamus, and Angelina; bringing the dueling to a halt.
"NEVILLE LOOKOUT!" shrieked Luna from the entrance to the Great Hall.
Suddenly he felt as though six long needles were jabbed into his body from every angle at the same time, then all went black.
Sirius had lightly suggested that they eat something before returning to Hogwarts, however Harry, like the others, found he had no appetite. Hermione wasn't fully rested yet, but Harry could tell she was doing much better though the idea of returning to Hogwarts and the lack of response from the Alliance were very concerning to them both. They had tried three times to contact the Alliance via the fake galleons but no one had responded. Sirius had just suggested that Harry send Dobby to investigate when his galleon burned hot inside his robes. Harry, Hermione, Ron, Sirius, and the twins withdrew their fake galleons to read two words, "much trouble".
"Can you tell who sent the message?" asked Sirius, looking at Harry and Hermione across the kitchen table.
"It was sent by Seamus." replied Hermione. "The sender's initials appear below the image on the back of the galleon." She added, answering the unspoken question.
Harry flipped the coin over to see the initials, 'SF', on the back where Hermione said they would be. He truly marvelled some times at her spell work.
"Luna." mumbled Ron, looking worried.
"I think we should escort them back to Hogwarts, Sirius." said Mr Weasley. "That way we can see for ourselves what this trouble is."
"I agree, Arthur." said Sirius. "Bill, will you join us also?"
"Like to see you stop me." growled Bill.
"Okay, everyone Apparate outside the castle grounds and we'll all walk in together." said Sirius. "Harry – Hermione, you two are with me as usual. Ron should go with his father. KREACHER!"
There was a loud crack as the aged house-elf appeared in the kitchen.
"Fetch us our cloaks, quickly." said Sirius to the aged house-elf.
Kreacher disappeared then reappeared in a matter of seconds with their traveling cloaks. Harry was worried that Hermione wasn't up to this, but her face was full of determination.
The Weasleys, Sirius, Harry, and Hermione Apparated just outside the school grounds. Hermione was still feeling the effects of her injuries from the Ministry and grasped Harry's shoulder for support. She noticed that Harry had immediately withdrew his wand.
"Put your wand back in your holster Harry." said Sirius sharply. "We're not suppose to know anything is wrong, remember? If we go in looking as though we're about to duel, Umbridge will get suspicious and start asking questions."
"Okay, okay." replied Harry.
Hermione watched Harry holster his wand as the Weasleys Apparated next to them. The grounds were quiet as they entered, the sun hanging low in the sky. Hermione did not like the feeling that the peaceful scene was giving her. As they crossed the grounds to the castle, it seemed as though everything living was gone or hiding. However the moment they opened the doors to the castle their ears were assaulted by the shouts of arguing.
"YOU'VE GONE TOO FAR, DOLORES!" shouted Neville's grandmother, Mrs. Longbottom, from the middle of the stairs.
"HERE YOU WILL REFER TO ME AS HEADMISTRESS!" retorted Umbridge, standing at the bottom of the steps and looking ready to defend herself.
"THERE ARE MANY THINGS THAT I WOULD CARE TO CALL YOU DOLORES, HOWEVER HEADMISTRESS IS NOT ONE OF THEM!" shouted Mrs. Longbottom.
The scene was surrounded by students that stood there watching in awe. Harry and Hermione closely followed Sirius, the Weasleys right behind them, as they pushed their way through the gathered spectators of students and faculty to reach the middle.
"LADIES!" snapped Professor McGonagall. "You are both witches of certain position! Please act as such!"
"Thank you, Minerva." said Umbridge.
"Do NOT thank me for anything, Dolores." retorted McGonagall, rage filling her voice. "Why in the heavens did you assault one of my students?"
"I was regaining control of a situation." said Umbridge coolly.
"YOU STOPPED MY GRANDSON'S HEART YOU FOUL TOAD!" shrieked Mrs. Longbottom, running down the steps.
Professor McGonagall darted in between the two witches to avoid any altercation, magical or otherwise. Hermione gasped, throwing her hands to her mouth.
"YOU KILLED NEVILLE?" shouted Harry, withdrawing his wand and Hermione could see the anger fill him like venom in his glare.
"HARRY!" snapped McGonagall. "Neville is going to be alright! Now, put away your wand at once!"
The tone of her voice and the glare in her eyes halted Harry at once. He slowly holstered his wand again, then glared at Umbridge who was watching him carefully. Hermione squeezed his arm to say 'Relax' as she felt her own anger building at the thought of Umbridge attacking Neville and the Alliance.
"What is going on here, Headmistress?" asked Sirius authoritatively. "Have you lost control of Hogwarts as well?"
"Lord Black, I can assure you that I have not lost control of this school!" snapped Umbridge.
"Not yet." Mumbled the twins darkly behind Hermione.
"Then by Merlin, please explain what has happened here!" demanded Mr. Weasley.
Umbridge was breathing heavily and looked prepared to hex everyone there. Hermione was praying that she would attempt to do so, but no such luck.
"A gang of Gryffindors attacked a group of Slytherins outside the Great Hall." said Umbridge coolly.
"Not likely!" shouted Lee Jordan.
"Quiet Lee!" snapped McGonagall.
"Professor, they taunted Nev– the Gryffindors into attacking." said Susan Bones.
Hermione saw Umbridge shoot Susan a questioning look before turning her attention back to the adults. Harry glanced at Hermione, a hint of concern in his eyes.
"Regardless of what was said, violence will not be tolerated in this school." said Umbridge.
"Is stopping a young wizard's heart really the way to stop violence, Headmistress?" asked Sirius firmly.
"Let the Headmistress deal with the matters of Hogwarts, Lord Black." said Snape, striding into the circle. "Don't you have enough time to catch up on?"
"The safety of my godson comes first, Severus." said Sirius, sniffing loudly.
"The safety of my son needs to be considered here as well!" hissed Narcissa Malfoy as she made her way down the stairs.
Hermione saw that Narcissa Malfoy's face was white with anger; her stares boring holes into Mrs. Longbottom. She halted at the bottom of the stairs and glared the company of faculty and students. The moment that Hermione heard Mrs. Malfoy's voice she felt a tremendous pain in the back of her head.
"I saw him." spat Mrs. Longbottom, not looking at Mrs. Malfoy. "He'll live."
"Your grandson could have killed my son!" said Mrs. Malfoy through gritted teeth.
At this, Mrs. Longbottom rounded on her; the stuffed vulture atop her hat swaying to one side.
"Your bitch of a sister took my son from me!" shouted Mrs. Longbottom. "So don't expect any sorrow or remorse from me for what my grandson did!"
"That will do!" shouted Umbridge. "This is a school of the highest educational standards! At least it will be. Let us refrain from this type of behavior at once!"
"I will be pressing hard to find out exactly what these standards you speak of are, I assure you." said Mrs. Longbottom.
"So will I." said Sirius.
"You may, of course, visit your grandson again Augusta, before you leave." said Umbridge coldly. "If you wish, you can withdraw him from school. Either way, good day to you." Umbridge turned to face Mrs. Malfoy. "Mrs. Malfoy, please come with me to my office so that we might discuss your son's safety while he is at school."
Umbridge refused to acknowledge Sirius or Mr. Weasley any further. She and Mrs. Malfoy ascended the steps together without a backwards glance. Mrs. Longbottom waited a minute then gave a curt nod to Sirius, Mr. Weasley, and Harry before ascending the stairs, muttering something about hexes.
"All students to the Great Hall or to your common rooms." shouted McGonagall, dispersing the crowd of students. "All nighttime activities are suspended for the evening."
Many grumblings could be heard as the assembled students disbursed to either the Great Hall or to their common room.
Professor McGonagall turned her attention to Harry, Hermione, Sirius, and the Weasleys. Hermione noted Snape lingering in the Great Hall doorway.
"Harry, you Hermione, Fred, and George may visit the hospital wing if you wish then come down to the Great Hall for a late supper." said McGonagall quietly.
"Thank you, Professor," said Hermione "but we've already eaten."
"Not really." mumbled Ron.
"Very well," said McGonagall "please return to your common room after you visit your house-mates."
Hermione nodded, though she didn't like the sound of 'house-mates'.
"Professor McGonagall," interrupted Sirius "we would like to discuss with you in private the safety of Gryffindor students."
"Very well gentlemen," said McGonagall "please follow me to my office and I will try to place your minds at ease."
Mr. Weasley gave his boys a hug and whispered something to them. Bill just shook all their hands. Sirius gave Harry and Hermione a hug and whispered, "Stay safe and stay in touch. I'll see you Saturday, if not sooner."
Harry, Hermione, Ron, and the twins made their way to the hospital wing in silence. Hermione was trying not to imagine what she was about to see or hear. Upon reaching the wing, Harry knocked once loudly. Madam Pomfrey opened the door and allowed them entrance.
"Here to see Mr. Longbottom, I suppose." said Madam Pomfrey. "He's in the bed at the end of the wing. Didn't think it wise to place them close together."
Madam Pomfrey glanced over her shoulder at Malfoy's bed. Hermione wasn't surprised to see Pansy, Crabbe, and Goyle sitting by his bed. Malfoy laid quite still, his eyes shut as though he was sleeping. Pansy glared at the incoming group as though murder was on her mind. Hermione had never seen such a look before from the Slytherin girl. Her feelings for Malfoy must be stronger than Hermione had once suspected.
Hermione turned her attention from Malfoy's bed to their intended destination. At the end of the wing was Neville's bed and she could see Mrs. Longbottom sitting in a chair on the other side of the curtain, her silhouette easily identified by her pointed hat and stuffed vulture. A few other silhouettes were present, though not as easily identified.
"Is it okay if we all go?" asked Hermione.
"The boy had a near death experience." replied Madam Pomfrey. "I wouldn't turn away the whole of Gryffindor, should they decide to show up. I think half has been here already."
Hermione nodded her thanks then walked down to see their wounded mate, not bothering another glance towards the Slytherins. She took Harry's hand as they walked and he knew that she was nervous. It wasn't like Madam Pomfrey to allow so many in at once. When they reached the curtain, Hermione swallowed as she stepped past it.
"Harry! Hermione!" said Neville, clearly glad to see them.
Neville looked as though nothing had even happened, besides the fact that he was in a bed in the hospital wing.
"Hello to you too, mate." said Ron sarcastically, but recoiled at the glare from Mrs. Longbottom.
"Hey Ron – Fred – George." said Neville. "Sorry, I didn't see you for the curtain."
"No worries mate." said Fred.
"Ickle Ronnie is a little sensitive sometimes." said George.
"Ickle Ronnie?" snorted Seamus.
"Shut it." hissed Ron.
"Did your heart really stop?" asked Hermione quietly.
"Yep." replied Neville solemnly. "Madam Pomfrey revived me. Thought I'd see a bright light or something but I didn't."
"I hear that's a good thing." said Dean.
Angelina stood in the corner, but said nothing. Hermione could tell that another close death and possibly the abduction of Ginny had her thinking hard about something.
"So you took out Malfoy." said Harry, clearly not caring if anyone overheard him.
"Mr. Potter, we will not revisit what happened while you were away from the school with mixed company so close by." said Mrs. Longbottom, sitting in a chair beside Neville's bed; then a small smirk curled her lips. "Besides, it's not the first time a Longbottom bested a Malfoy."
Hermione bit her lower lip as Angelina's eyebrows disappeared into her hair line as she stared at the elderly witch. Seamus and Dean had to cough to cover their laughs.
"Now," said Mrs. Longbottom in a low voice, her face etched with concentration "tell me what happened at the Ministry today. I heard about the Death Eaters making off with the poor Weasley girl. The Minister is claiming that it was a rescue operation."
All eyes jumped to Harry, Hermione, and the Weasleys; concern showing on every face. The momentary distraction from earlier events was gone. Harry sighed then recanted the events of the Ministry. Ron closed his eyes and kept them closed; no one interrupted; no one barely drew breath. When Harry finished, silence followed.
"Bellatrix Lestrange." breathed Mrs. Longbottom, breaking the silence then rising from her chair.
"Gran, where are you going?" asked Neville, looking alarmed.
"I...am headed to the Ministry to find out exactly when Bellatrix Lestrange escaped from Azkaban and why I wasn't informed." replied Mrs. Longbottom, her voice full of determination. "You –"
"I'm staying here." interrupted Neville.
"Naturally." said Mrs. Longbottom. "We Longbottoms do not run or hide; we fight. I expect nothing less from you. You truly are my grandson."
Hermione could hear the pride in the elderly witch's voice and could see it beaming in Neville's face. She could not recall ever seeing Neville look so confident.
"Weasleys," said Mrs. Longbottom "chin up. You will be reunited with you sister soon. I am confident."
"Mr. Potter," continued Mrs. Longbottom, turning to face Harry "I, as does my grandson, stand behind you. If there is anything you need, do not hesitate to ask. I knew your parents and I know they would be proud of whom you've become."
Harry swallowed hard as Mrs. Longbottom patted him on the shoulder. She smiled broadly at Hermione in a knowing way. Hermione glanced at Neville who nodded as to say, 'she knows'. Hermione fought back a frown as she wondered, 'how'. She would get to the bottom of that problem later.
Mrs. Longbottom kissed Neville on the forehead, then swept out towards the hospital wing exit; the stuffed vulture on her hat swaying as she went. As she reached the doors, Hermione could hear Mrs. Longbottom address Madam Pomfrey.
"Matron Pomfrey, might I suggest that a permanent ward be placed between Mr. Malfoy and my grandson during the night. We wouldn't want to rise tomorrow to find that Mr. Malfoy had suffered any further injuries."
"I do not believe that your grandson would attack Mr. Malfoy in the middle of the night." said Madam Pomfrey.
"Neither do I." said Mrs. Longbottom.
"Very well Mrs. Longbottom. I will see to it after visitation hours have expired." said Madam Pomfrey.
Hermione heard the two witches whisper something amongst themselves, followed by hushed laughter. Moments later, the sound of the hospital wing doors signaled the departure of Mrs. Longbottom.
"I still cannot believe that Umbridge did that." said Angelina in hushed tones. "I know that she is evil, but she could have killed him!"
"I don't think she was trying to kill Neville." said Dean thinking hard.
"Still here and she could have fooled me." said Neville with a smirk.
"You kidding?" snorted Ron. "Would have been just another Gryffindor down for her if Neville had bit it."
"Ron!" hissed Hermione, thoroughly frustrated with him for saying something like in front of Neville.
"Sorry mate," said Ron, gesturing to Neville "but we all know it's true. She framed my sister and now she's hospitalized Neville. What's next?"
Hermione glanced at Harry who was thinking hard. As well as she knew him, he could still baffle her sometimes when he wore certain looks and this was one of them. His body was rigid, so whatever he was thinking about wasn't pleasant.
"Maybe something unexpected." said Luna in her dreamy voice as she walked up behind the Weasleys.
"Hey Luna." said Harry, as Luna walked around the twins to stand beside Ron. "What do you mean by, unexpected?"
"Well, as you would expect, not many are happy about Umbridge's actions against Neville." replied Luna thoughtfully. "What's unexpected for me, is that I heard several of the older Slytherins talking outside the Great Hall about how awful it was for her to attack a student, no matter the house."
"Not all Slytherins are enormous gits." said Angelina. "Just the prominent ones."
"Still don't trust a Slytherin any more than I do a Blast-ended Skrewt." said Harry fervently.
"Are we any better than them if we judge them by their house?" asked Hermione.
"How can you even defend them, Hermione?" asked Seamus. "All things considered."
"The trouble doesn't lie with houses." replied Hermione. "It never has. Our problems come from the Pureblood fascist, like the Malfoys. They believe that they're better than the rest of us because of their heritage. Being proud is one thing, but they take it too far."
"Don't forget the Half-bloods that try to bolster themselves by supporting the Purebloods." said Sirius, walking up behind Hermione, placing a hand on her shoulder. "They cause just as many problems as those they support." Sirius then turned his attentions to Neville. "How you feeling there, Mr. Longbottom?"
"Doing well, Lord Black." replied Neville.
"Please, call me Sirius."
Neville grinned and glanced at Harry, who was smirking. Hermione could feel the mood lighten considerably. Sirius had a way about him that could either lighten a setting or sober it quickly. Hermione rolled her eyes as she thought about what a 'Sirius raised Harry' would have been like.
"I do believe that it is time Mr. Longbottom was getting some rest." said Madam Pomfrey, strolling up behind the crowd that was Neville's friends.
"I'm okay. Really." said Neville, clearly not wanting them to leave.
"Nonsense, Mr. Longbottom." retorted Madam Pomfrey. "You've had a very traumatic day." She sighed as she looked at the Weasleys. "It's been traumatic for a lot of us."
The twins refused to look at her and Ron snorted his retort. Sirius nodded to the matron then motioned for the group to head out of the wing with him.
"See ya tomorrow, mate." said Harry to Neville. "We'll come up before breakfast to see you."
Seamus and Dean nodded their agreement with Harry.
"Stay in bed and out of trouble." said Hermione, even though she heard what Mrs. Longbottom had said to the matron.
Neville mock saluted, causing Hermione and Angelina to shake their heads. For some reason, this gesture made Luna look at Neville very strangely, tilting her head to one side, as though he was some odd art at a museum. Sirius tugged on her and Harry's shoulders to follow him.
Just as Hermione turned she heard an almighty, SLAP! Narcissa Malfoy had attempted to slap the taste out of Sirius' mouth and judging by the look on his face, she may have succeeded.
"Mrs. Malfoy!" shouted Madam Pomfrey. "What in Merlin's name do you think –"
"Always good to see you too, cousin." said Sirius smoothly, rubbing his jaw.
"Lucius told me what you did!" spat Mrs. Malfoy. "How dare you take away Draco's inheritance! Our grandfather set that trust in place –"
"To preserve the Black Family name because your father was unable to conceive a son, my brother was dead, and I was unlikely to produce any offspring while in Azkaban." interrupted Sirius. "But as you can see, I am no longer in Azkaban and my current heir, Harry, can continue on the Black Family name if ever he chooses to alongside the Potter name."
"So, you're giving the trust to Potter?" sneered Narcissa.
"He doesn't need the money, Narcissa, and neither do I." replied Sirius. "No, it has been transferred to a foundation fund."
Hermione could see Malfoy raise up a little in his bed to get a better view. His bedside was already clear of visitors.
"What kind of foundation fund?" asked Narcissa, looking leery of the answer.
"The Black Family Muggleborn Foundation Fund." replied Sirius proudly. "It will provide Muggleborns that would otherwise be unable to attend Hogwarts due to the cost, the opportunity to apply for funding. The foundation has been vested wisely and will have enough funds to finance hundreds of Muggleborns through their Hogwarts days for many many years to come. While I realize that Hogwarts has always had a fund, it has only covered the basic needs. This fund will ensure that Muggleborns entering our world will feel welcome."
Hermione's fondness for Sirius grew ten times in an instant. She knew that he was doing it in part to spite his family's Pureblood antics, but she also knew that he could have done a number of other things too to achieve this goal. She wondered if Harry was rubbing off on Sirius or if the old Marauder was doing it in honour of his fallen friend, Lily Potter.
"You have disgraced the name of Black!" shouted Narcissa.
"We have an extremely different view of disgrace, Narcissa." growled Sirius. "Being however, that you chose to make a scene, I'll ask, have you had the pleasure yet of seeing Bella since her apparent escape from Azkaban? Seems we Blacks are making quite a habit of cutting our stays short there."
Narcissa Malfoy glared at Sirius, but didn't say a word.
"What's the matter?" groaned Sirius mockingly. "Snake got your tongue? Is this really about the trust fund or are you still pining over our childhood?"
Narcissa looked as though she was chewing something disgusting. Her regal heir and good looks, that Hermione thought must be a Black Family trait, were being erased by the pure venom she had for Sirius.
"That will do!" huffed Madam Pomfrey. "This is not the place to air family issues. This is a hospital wing – preferably one for Hogwarts students and not their guardians. So, before either of you do anything I'll regret seeing, please leave."
Hermione had never heard that tone from Madam Pomfrey. It was cold and pointed, which highlighted her distaste for what she was hearing. Sirius apologized as he ushered them out of the wing. Narcissa however, completely ignored Madam Pomfrey and made her way to Draco's bedside, much to the matron's dismay.
"Mr. Weasley and Bill have already headed back." said Sirius, after the doors to the hospital wing closed behind them. "Keep in contact. Use this to communicate with us if using Dobby is too risky." He continued, shoving a black pouch into Harry's hand. "I don't have time to explain, but I'm sure that Hermione will know what to do."
Sirius gave Hermione a wink. She couldn't help but smirk at his confidence in her.
"Did you really turn Draco's Black Family trust fund into a foundation fund?" asked Harry.
"Of course I did." said Sirius. "Think of what your life would be like Harry, if Hermione hadn't been able to afford to come. I personally would be dead – or worse, remember?"
Hermione looked behind them and noticed that Luna had quietly slipped her hand into Ron's. The twins were whispering to each other while Angelina, Dean, and Seamus hung on Sirius' every word.
"Okay Alliance," said Sirius, capturing everyone's attention "have each other's backs and chin up. This has just begun."
"No 'Stay out of trouble' speech?" asked Seamus.
"Not my place to." replied Sirius, smirking. "Besides, I never did."
Sirius gave her and Harry a hug, then headed for the staircases and out of Hogwarts where he would then Disapparate away back to Grimmauld Place.
"Some godfather you got there, Harry." said Dean.
"Yep." replied Harry smiling.
"For an ex-convict." sneered Pansy, slipping around the corner corridor, Blaise, Crabbe and Goyle right behind her. "Too bad he turned out to be not much good at the Ministry today for the blood traitor."
Hermione withdrew her wand and heard the sounds that told her the rest of the Alliance was doing the same thing.
"Thought you'd slithered down to the dungeons by now, Parkinsin." growled Seamus.
"If it's any of your business, Finnigan, we're waiting to speak with Draco's mum before she leaves." scowled Pansy.
"Too bad." said Angelina. "I was hoping you were looking for a way to get adjoining beds with Malfoy, cause I'd gladly oblige."
Harry held up a hand, as he stared down Pansy, Blaise, Crabbe, and Goyle with an intense ferocity. Hermione could feel her wand grow warm within her grasp and she knew somehow that Harry was ready to strike at any moment.
"You're severely outnumbered Parkinsin." said Harry. "Let us pass without conflict and you'll still be able to stand."
Pansy stood there gripping her wand and looked as those she was making a hard decision. Hermione had never seen such courage or determination from the Slytherin before. She recalled the account she'd heard of the conflict earlier and wondered if Parkinson might truly be in love with Malfoy, to show such devotion.
"No worries, Potter." spat Pansy. "Your end will come soon enough."
"Funny," said Harry "that's what Voldemort said fourteen years ago, four years ago, three years ago, and then again only a few months ago."
Hermione watched as Blaise, Crabbe, and Goyle shivered at the sound of his name. Pansy however, only shivered slightly and looked even more empowered by hatred. None of the Alliance even flinched.
"Big talk, Potter." spat Blaise. "It's only a matter of time before the Dark Lord has his revenge."
Hermione could see several wand tips begin to glow, including Harry's. The tension was rising and another fight was only moments away.
"What's going on here?" asked Professor Flitwick, entering the corridor to the hospital wing.
Everyone immediately put away their wands, all that is except for Pansy and Harry.
"Professor." said Blaise, smoothing his tones. "What are you doing here?"
"That's none of your business, Mr. Zabini." retorted Professor Flitwick. "I want to know why it looked as though members of Slytherin house were about to duel members of Gryffindor and Ravenclaw houses."
"Because we were, Professor," said Luna confidently "if the Slytherins didn't allow us to pass."
"There has been quite enough violence today." said Professor Flitwick harshly. "All of you, go to your common rooms immediately."
"But Professor – " began Blaise indignantly.
"Unless you wish to duel me, Mr. Zabini, then I suggest you do as I say." interrupted Professor Flitwick, withdrawing his wand playfully.
"No sir." replied Blaise, quickly backing away towards the stairs.
It was no secret about the castle that Professor Flitwick was a world dueling champion in his day and no student, including Harry, would probably even stand a chance against him. As they passed Professor Flitwick, having waited for the Slytherins to completely depart, Hermione made eye contact with him and he gave her a knowing smile of sorts. She remembered her only personal conversation with the Head of Ravenclaw and wondered what his smile was about.
Luna gave Ron a kiss on the cheek before heading towards Ravenclaw tower. The twins were so engrossed in their own conversation that they didn't even notice. Upon arriving in the Gryffindor common room, they found the mood of the students there to be very somber. It didn't take long either to find out why.
"Hem, hem." came the familiar sound that made Hermione's skin crawl. "Ms. Johnson, might I have a word?"
Umbridge was sitting in the corner of the room and until she spoke, you might have thought a rather ugly gargoyle had been added to the decor. She stood, which didn't affect her height much, and walked across the common room to where Angelina stood.
"Of course, Professor." replied Angelina, nervous but determined.
"Are you not the Quidditch Captain for Gryffindor?" asked Umbridge.
"Yes, Professor." replied Angelina.
"Not anymore, Ms. Johnson." said Umbridge, her tone final. "Your behavior today is not becoming a team captain. I also ban you from Quidditch for the rest of the year."
"B-But, b-but, Professor!" stammered Angelina.
"It is not negotiable, Ms. Johnson." said Umbridge smoothly. "Now, Mr. Thomas, you serve as a reserve from last year for the team and I presume that you intended to try out for the team again. I regret to inform you, but you are also banned from playing this year."
Dean stared at Umbridge, however he didn't utter a single word. The twins murmured their displeasure behind Hermione, who realized that this may mean very little come Sunday.
"I can see that you would like to say something, Mr. Potter." said Umbridge. "Please, by all means, I'm sure there are more things you'd like to say to my face."
"No comments, Professor." said Harry, his tone laced with a mock innocence that made Hermione cringe. "Just one question, out of curiosity."
"And what that be, Mr. Potter?" asked Umbridge sweetly.
"When you talk with first years – do you have to look up or down at them?" asked Harry evenly.
Hermione closed her eyes as she began to curse Harry for such foolishness. There were gasps around the room, everyone knowing that Umbridge wouldn't stand for this.
"Detention, Mr. Potter." said Umbridge, void of emotion. "Starting tonight. Now as for Quidditch, I do not know why you no longer wish to play, but I'm NOT banning you from playing. I wouldn't deprive the school from seeing you play, nor your more than habitual habit of getting injured. Be warned, though, that Dumbledore isn't here to catch you when you fall this time."
Harry said nothing; just stared at Umbridge with disgust.
"My turn to ask a question, Mr. Potter." continued Umbridge. "Tell me, do you still believe that You-Know-Who has returned?"
The common room fell deathly silent, but Harry said nothing.
"Do you tell students behind my back that You-Know-Who has returned?" pressed Umbridge, but Harry just continued to stare. "Very well, Mr. Potter, we'll continue this conversation later tonight in your first detention."
Without another word Umbridge swept from the room, slamming the portrait behind her.
"How could you be so...so...thick?" asked Hermione, smacking Harry on the shoulder hard.
"I wanted detention, Hermione." replied Harry smiling.
Hermione rubbed her eyes with the palms of her hands in frustration. She couldn't possibly imagine why Harry would want detention – especially this week. The common room broke into loud chatter, discussing what just happened.
"Why in Merlin's baggiest would you want detention, mate?" asked Ron, looking as confused as Hermione felt.
"Sometimes when you're at war, you have to visit the beast's den." replied Harry. "I want a look at her office up close. I might even swipe a tea cup while I'm there, but I promise to return it."
Suddenly, Hermione realized exactly what he was up to and so did the twins.
"Doesn't have to be a tea cup, mate." said Fred.
"Just something she won't play with too much." said George.
"You realize that she's going to torture you, right?" asked Seamus. "I mean, it's what she does."
"I've got scars to spare, mate." said Harry. "Besides, Hermione will fix me up."
Hermione shook her head at his presumption that she could fix whatever Umbridge did to him, though he was right to believe she would try. His faith in her abilities was far more than her own.
"I always said you were barmy, Potter," said Cormac McLaggan, striding over to them and chuckling "but as long as you catch the snitch I'm sure the new captain will keep you on the team."
"Shove off McLaggan." growled Dean.
"No need being rude to old Cormac for being truthful." said Fred in a mock sincerity, as he slapped McLaggan on the shoulder.
"Yeah, he's just telling it like it is." said George, slapping McLaggan on the other shoulder.
"No need to shine my boots yet, fellas," laughed McLaggan "I'm not Captain yet."
In an instant, McLaggan's laughter turned to screams as he dropped down to the ground and began dragging his back along the ground fiercely. He looked close to tears as he began begging people to scratch his back. There was a mixture of stunned silence and outright laughter at McLaggan's predicament.
"Go for the bath before you start to whelp, mate!" shouted Lee finally, after a good round of belly laughs at McLaggan.
"What did you do?" asked Hermione.
"Double dose of itching powder." said George smiling broadly.
"One on each shoulder." said Fred proudly.
"So how did you apply it without getting it on yourself?" asked Ron, clearly amazed.
"Charmed gloves." said Fred.
"Protected and invisible." said George.
"Best money I've ever spent." whispered Harry in Hermione's ear, and she had to agree.
Dumbledore was sitting in Godric's Hollow at a large desk in an upstairs bedroom turned makeshift office. He was writing a letter to Bulgaria's Minister, informing him of what was transpiring in Britain. Dumbledore was still seen as a hero there, and hoped that the sudden disappearance then tragic death of Durmstrang's Headmaster would be enough to overcome Fudge's assurance that all was well. In his eyes, the more of the magical community that understood why he was no longer at Hogwarts the better. While Cho Chang's death was a tragedy, it was by no means any reason to sack him.
"Yes Remus?" asked Dumbledore, looking up from the letter he was writing.
"Pardon me for interrupting you, but I just saw Molly sobbing in the kitchen downstairs." said Lupin, closing the door to one of the upstairs bedrooms.
"Yes, unfortunately that is to be expected." replied Dumbledore. "She is in shock – her daughter and all."
"So what are we planning to do about it?" asked Lupin.
"About what?" asked Dumbledore, trying to avoid where he knew this would be going.
"Merlin's name, Dumbledore!" retorted Lupin. "For a brilliant man you clearly can miss some things."
"I miss many things, Remus." replied Dumbledore. "You, like many, give me far too much credit."
"Don't act so barmy, Dumbledore." growled Moody, stumping into the room and slamming the door behind him.
"Evening, Alastor." said Dumbledore, grimacing at his old friend's ill timing.
"The Ministry was breached, Albus," said Moody, drawing up a chair and taking a seat "and we know they weren't there for the Weasley girl."
"Yes, but they failed at their endeavor, Alastor." said Dumbledore. "Though they will try again, only Lord Voldemort or Harry can retrieve it."
"What about Ginny? What about Molly? What about Arthur? What about Bill?" asked Lupin. "How do you plan to fix this, Dumbledore?"
"Fix what?" retorted Dumbledore. "Arthur and Bill are with Harry and Sirius, so we haven't lost them. Molly is tougher than you give her credit. This will only strengthen her resolve. As for Ginny, any attempt to rescue her would just endanger her more than she already is. She has become a pawn in the game."
"This isn't chess, Dumbledore!" shouted Lupin. "Arthur's right. You cannot play with people's lives like this!"
"I'm not playing with people's lives, Remus." said Dumbledore calmly. "Lord Voldemort plays the game. We are just forced to play along."
"You think Harry isn't working out a plan to rescue Ginny as we speak?" asked Lupin.
"Of course he is." chuckled Dumbledore. "He's Harry Potter, after all."
"Then why aren't you?" asked Lupin.
"I'm not fifteen years old, Remus." retorted Dumbledore. "I've lived long enough to realize the failure of my ways when I become impatient."
"So we set back and let Harry endanger Ginny's life by attempting to rescue her?" asked Lupin incredulously.
"An attempt by Harry and his friends does not place her in danger for Lord Voldemort expects it." replied Dumbledore. "He expects Harry to come for her and plans to use her as a bargaining chip to obtain the prophecy."
"You think Harry will tell him?" asked Moody.
"If you were Lord Voldemort, would you believe anything Harry Potter told you?" asked Dumbledore, not waiting for a response. "Of course not. Lord Voldemort will demand the prophecy from the Department of Mysteries so that he can hear it for himself."
"You believe Harry will do that?" asked Lupin.
"No – he is much too clever a boy to do that." replied Dumbledore. "He will fetch the prophecy with no intention of giving it to his enemy. He will find a way to save her and keep the prophecy from Voldemort. We just have to be there to make sure all make it out alive."
"Be where?" asked Lupin.
"Where ever there is, Remus." replied Dumbledore, driving Lupin mad.
"YOU MAKE NO SENSE, DUMBLEDORE!" shouted Lupin as he left the room, slamming the door behind him.
"Alas, poor Remus is too attached." sighed Dumbledore. "That happens when you teach."
"Does madness follow?" asked Moody, eying Dumbledore with his magical eye.
A blue light filled the room then faded in an instant, followed by a pop, as Sirius successfully used his new Portkey to travel to the cottage. Bill and Arthur needed time to talk, so Sirius decided it would be a good time to visit the cottage and try out the new Wellington boot that he had enchanted to take him there.
Kreacher told him that there were several surprises at the cottage, in preparation for the upcoming war. Sirius immediately spotted a Foe Mirror hanging over the mantle; ghostly images moving about inside it, as though in a fog. On the mantle itself stood a Sneakerscope and two candles that made him smile. The candles were Black family Immobilus candles. These magical candles would immobilize any non-Black bloodline in the room once lit. They were a simple but effective way to trick your enemy.
"Hello, Lord Black."
The voice nearly made his heart stop. Sirius slowly turned around to see a witch standing in the shadows. Her wand was drawn, but not raised.
"Did you forget about me while in Azkaban?" asked the witch.
"Not a waking second has your name not been in my thoughts, your face in my mind's eye." replied Sirius, his breathing shallow.
"Still the charmer." said the witch, stepping into the light; her long black hair laying on her shoulders; her sapphire eyes penetrating his soul.
"Habits of an old Marauder," said Sirius "but I mean every word."
"I figured you'd come looking for me if you ever got out." said Cassie softly, as she stepped closer to him. "Yet nearly two years later, it is I that has to come looking for you."
"I figured you wouldn't want to see me again." said Sirius, unable to look away from her face.
"At first, I was devastated by what you had done to me." said Cassie, the pain present in her voice. "You chose vengeance over me; over us. I petitioned for a trial numerous times, but none would hear me. It was just too easy for them to write you off as a Black. They wouldn't even let me visit you." Cassie took another step closer.
"So, I tried to move on without you." she continued. "I met someone very good to me. We married, but it just wasn't right. I hurt him the way you hurt me."
"Please forgive me, Cass." said Sirius, taking a step closer to her; fighting back the tears. "I was a fool. I let my emotions get the best of me. Pettigrew had taken my brother from me and I wasn't thinking straight."
"I know, Sirius." said Cassie, tears flowing from her eyes. "I knew how much James meant to you and I do forgive you. I wouldn't be standing here crying if a didn't. Just promise me you'll never turn your back on me again."
"Again?" asked Sirius dumbfounded. "You mean you –"
Before Sirius could finish, Cassie closed the gap between them and flung herself into his arms; kissing him with the passion of fourteen missed years. Sirius' mind ground to a halt. No thought could be formed. All he could see, feel, touch, smell, and taste was Cassie. He had wondered in Azkaban what heaven would be like and he was sure this was a close second. When they finally broke apart, his arms still wrapped tightly around her thin frame, Cassie leaned her nose against his just like he remembered.
"Been too long, Black." whispered Cassie.
"An eternity, Cass." whispered Sirius.
Cassie pulled away, then took Sirius by hand and led him to the sofa where he took a seat before grabbing her and pulling her into his lap.
"Easy Gryffindor." said Cassie playfully. "We need to talk first. You being a dad and all now."
"I'm his godfather." retorted Sirius.
"His father is dead, Sirius." said Cassie. "You're his father now. Aunt Minerva says you're a real influence on him right now."
"Harry and I are helping each other." said Sirius, swallowing hard so not to cry. "I wish I'd been there for him."
"You made that decision, Sirius." said Cassie, placing a finger under his chin; staring him directly in the eyes. "Now, you've got to make sure that you're there for him from now on."
"Is there a possibility that Harry will have a godmother one day?" asked Sirius playfully, but seriously all the same.
"We are two very different people than we were fourteen years ago, Sirius." replied Cassie. "However, I've waited a long time to see if we could ever make this work, so let's just see where this goes. If you're both lucky, maybe Harry will eventually get a godmother. No promises yet."
"That's enough for me!" said Sirius, before kissing her softly and squeezing her waist.
"Now, how many years were you in Azkaban again?" asked Cassie, a wicked grin curling her face.
"Oh how I've missed you." growled Sirius.
"Prove it, Black." hissed Cassie into his ear, making him shiver with excitement.
Harry made his way to Umbridge's office. She wasn't in the usual Headmaster/Headmistress office, for the gargoyle refused her access. Therefore, she was resigned to use an office on the third floor. Harry knocked once upon the door then waited.
"Enter." said Umbridge, her tone sickeningly sweet.
Harry entered the office and immediately felt the urge to vomit. The entire office was lined with moving pictures of cats. He watched as they played or slept in their pink frames; the same pink as her disgusting head bow. The office reeked of her personality; pretending to be sweet while hiding something dark and sinister.
Umbridge pointed to a chair in front of her desk and Harry dropped his bag besides the chair as he sat down. Harry was skimming her office for something decorative that he could swipe and return without her noticing. Fred had given him a vial to pour on the object to create a duplicate they could use for listening. The task wasn't going to be easy. Then he spotted it; a small ancient looking sugar bowl sitting on the edge of her desk that looked as though it hadn't been used for years.
"Mr. Potter," said Umbridge, leaning back in her chair contently "let's finish the conversation we started earlier, shall we?"
"What conversation was that?" asked Harry.
"The one about you believing that You-Know-Who is back." replied Umbridge sweetly.
"Do you believe he's back, Professor?" asked Harry.
"Why on earth would I believe that, Mr. Potter?" asked Umbridge, trying to see where he was going.
"Well – you keep asking me about him." replied Harry.
"Mr. Potter, I can be a very patient witch, however you are trying my patience to the limit." said Umbridge, losing her girlish tone.
"I'm not meaning to try your patience, Professor." said Harry calmly.
"Then Mr. Potter, why don't you just –" said Umbridge, stopping abruptly.
"Something wrong, Professor?" asked Harry, eying her with suspicion.
Harry could only describe her look as a mixture of elation and insanity. It was unnerving to say the least.
"You can't say anything, can you?" asked Umbridge in a light delicate tone.
"What do you mean, Professor?" asked Harry, starting to feel like a broken record.
"About You-Know-Who. I haven't heard you, not one time say that You-Know-Who has returned." Cooed Umbridge. "You've side stepped the question at every turn. The closest thing I've heard from you to making a statement was at the Ministry today, but even then you posed it as a question."
Harry wasn't sure where she was going with this, but he thought it best to let her lead.
"Not following, Professor." said Harry.
"Oh, but I think you do." said Umbridge kindly, scaring Harry for the first time. "You grew up in a Muggle home away from magical society until Dumbledore brought you back amongst your own, correct?" Harry nodded then she continued. "Last year you mysteriously get entered into the Tri-Wizard tournament then supposedly come face-to-face with You-Know-Who. After that, your godfather is cleared of all charges as the real killer is suspiciously captured inside the Ministry itself. Now that you have your godfather, you never have to return to those Muggles. Seems you owe a lot to somebody, Mr. Potter."
Harry chewed his lower lip, but did not say anything. He knew where she was going now and allowing her to might just come useful. As he contemplated what Sirius would say or do in this situation, Umbridge continued on.
"We need to get to know each other, Mr. Potter," said Umbridge sweetly "so these detentions are going to be a little different. I want to know the real Harry Potter; the Quidditch loving student that no one hears about. In turn, I'll tell you a little about me; so that you can understand who I am and why I'm here."
The thought made his stomach sour and he wondered if others would perceive this as a new form of punishment. He knew what she was up to, but decided to play along. He only had to stall for a few more days.
"Thank you, Professor. I'd like that." said Harry in his most sincere voice.
He placed a hand on her desk, fingering the sugar bowl so that it would fall.
"So sorry, Professor." said Harry, stooping to retrieve the sugar bowl in front of her desk.
Harry slipped the vial out of his robes and poured it over the bowl. Instantly, a second identical sugar bowl appeared. He slipped the duplicate into his bag before rising back to his seat, placing the bowl back on her desk.
"No worries, Mr. Potter." said Umbridge, though he could tell she was lying. "How about we end for the night and pick this back up at ten tomorrow night."
"Very well, Professor." said Harry, standing to leave.
"Remember Mr. Potter," said Umbridge "I'm not your enemy, and neither is the Ministry."
Harry forced a smile, nodded, then quickly exited her office; a smirk forming across his face as he entered the corridor. Harry had to refrain from dancing as he made his way back to Gryffindor tower. Peeves was zoom past when he saw Harry and did an about face.
"Oh, Potty wee Potty." cackled Peeves. "What has the King of Gryffindor so wickedly happy?"
"What do you mean by 'King of Gryffindor'?" asked Harry, thinking he really didn't need another title.
"Everyone knows that Potty is the kingy and bushy haired Grangy is your queeny!" roared Peeves with delight.
"Haven't seen you around much, Peeves." said Harry smirking. "You have a queeny somewhere?"
Harry didn't know if such a thing was possible, but it was all he could think of. At that moment, Peeves sank about a foot in the air.
"Umbitch keeps old Peevesy out of the way." growled Peeves with venom. "She threatens to have old Peevesy banished. Even loopy Dumbles didn't try to get rid of old Peevesy."
Harry never thought he'd sympathize with Peeves, and it didn't last long. Peeves pulled himself out of his stupor and went soaring down the corridor singing, "Potty is the kingy and Grangy is his queeny."
When Harry reached the Gryffindor common room, he found Hermione, Ron, and the twins waiting up for him.
"You okay?" asked Hermione, looking worried.
"Yeah, I'm alright." replied Harry. "Did you get a chance to look at whatever was in that pouch?"
"Yes, and it's quite brilliant." replied Hermione, holding up a small mirror. "This mirror can act as a two-way communication with another mirror."
"Any mirror?" asked Harry.
"No. The mirrors have to be charmed at the exact same time, so I'm guessing that Sirius has an identical mirror to this one with him." replied Hermione.
"Excellent." said Harry, thinking of how useful it could be over the next few days.
"Any luck?" asked the twins in unison.
"Yep." replied Harry, smiling broadly.
He reached inside his bag and pulled out the ancient sugar bowl, then handed it to Fred. Fred lifted the lip of the bowl to his ear and immediately began to smile wickedly.
"I can hear her perfectly." whispered Fred. "Quick, grab a bit of blank parchment!"
Ron rushed over to a nearby table and yanked about a foot of parchment from inside the drawer. He handed it to George, who laid it on the sofa to block any prying eyes that might enter the common room, then placed the bowl upon it. Fred tapped the parchment with his wand and immediately, sentences began to write across the page. The five of them were silent as they read the conversation being written in front of them.
This is excellent news, Dolores! With Harry Potter on our side, Dumbledore will be powerless against us!
Thank you, Cornelius. It is not a done deal yet, but if tonight is any indication, Dumbledore's witness is nothing more than a scared young boy that has been made all kinds of promises.
These Death Eaters are just taking advantage of the situation.
Are you saying that you do not believe the Weasley girl to be one of them, Cornelius?
The Weasley girl? Absolutely not! Albeit poor, the Weasleys are no dark family. However, if we agree to this publicly, it will only empower Dumbledore. No, I've already instructed the Prophet to run a set of articles about the Weasley girl and what might have sent her over the edge. It is sad, but if we must sacrifice one Pureblood family to save the rest of us from Dumbledore's disillusions, then we must.
You always make the tough choices, Cornelius. Other men might falter against the likes of Dumbledore.
The writing continued, but at that point Harry stopped reading. He had read enough and apparently so had Ron.
"How can they do this to us?" asked Ron, his ears bright red. "My father has done nothing but work hard for the Ministry as long as I can remember."
"Unfortunately, this isn't about the Weasleys, Ron." said Hermione. "It's about saving his own neck in what he honestly believes is a power struggle with Dumbledore." Then Hermione rounded on Harry. "What in Merlin's name did you say?"
"That's just it, Hermione." said Harry amused. "I didn't say anything. I just let her talk."
"Well, she must be desperate to turn the tide," said Hermione "if she is grasping at straws."
"Or – she's just that demented." snarled Ron.
"Either way, it means that if Harry can just play along for a few more days –" began Hermione.
"No worries, Hermione." interrupted Fred.
"He won't have to work too hard." said George.
"The useless blood traitors will have her attention." said Fred.
"As she tries to decipher who's causing all her woes." said George.
"What are you two planning?" asked Harry, concerned how far they might go.
"Three, mate." said Ron. "And what would the fun be if we told?"
"You're involved too?" asked Hermione, looking stunned.
"They started a war with the Weasleys, and a war is what they're going to get." spat Ron.
"No innocent casualties." warned Harry. "Remember, you're better than that."
The Weasleys nodded, but there was no denying the wicked grins on their faces. Harry could not recall the last time that the twins and Ron were working together on anything. The thought was actually terrifying to comprehend.
They gathered up the bowl and parchment before heading up to their dorms. Fred would place it in his trunk and check it periodically. Hermione gave Harry a kiss on the cheek before heading to her dorm. When Harry finally changed into his pajamas and laid down in his four poster bed for the night, he closed his eyes and wondered what a normal life might be like; not to worry about mental people trying to murder you and governments trying to use you all the time.
Six and a half hours later...
Harry jumped out of bed, grabbed his glasses and wand, then looked around to see that the sunlight coming through his window was being marred by purple smoke outside rising from below. He looked over at Ron's bed to see that it was empty.
Harry knew that either Death Eaters were attacking the castle, or the Weasleys were wasting no time getting started. He really wished they had confided in him a little as to what they were up to, but knew they were only protecting he and Hermione from the consequences should they get caught.