The Falling

East Winds (Part Two)

Harry looked up at Mr Granger, his eyes wide; eyebrows raised.

“Don't get me wrong,” continued Mr Granger “I'm sure he's a nice chap, but the number of times that he's made her cry… well, that would never do.”

Harry was glad that Ron was back at the cottage with Luna instead of at Grimmauld Place. If looks could kill…

At that moment, Hermione walked into the room. "Everything okay in here?"


Hermione had walked into the sitting room of Grimmauld Place to see the something out of a recent nightmare. There, on the sofa, sat her boyfriend looking apprehensively at her father while he stared at the floor with more venom and malice in his eyes than she had ever seen. However, at the sound of her voice both of their expressions softened.

“Hey, Hermione.” greeted Harry, nearly jumping off the couch. “Everything is excellent. Right?”

Harry looked over at her father.

“Of course.” said her dad. “Harry and I were just… talking.”

“What were you all talking about?” retorted Hermione skeptically, one eyebrow raised.

“Fighting and war and stuff.” said Harry, raising his eyebrows as though he was begging her to drop it.

“Well, mum and I just put a batch of tea on to brew.” sighed Hermione, vowing to grill Harry later. “I think we upset Kreacher though. I don't think he cared for us helping ourselves.”

Suddenly, the flames in the fireplace turned bright green.

“He'll get over it.” said Sirius, as he stepped out of the grate. “Though it would help if you asked him every once and a while for his help. House-elves tend to feel neglected if you don't.”

Hermione caught Harry's smirk at Sirius giving her house-elf kindness lessons. The moment she spotted him, he pretended to cough.

“Morning, Eugene.” said Sirius, greeting her father. “Ready for this morning's schedule?”

“Morning, Sirius.” replied her dad, shaking Sirius' hand. “'Bout as ready as I'll ever be, I guess.”

“It's just an interview.” said Sirius. “And Madam Bones is a close personal friend.”

“It's just that we're still trying to come to grips with all that has happened.” said Hermione's mum, entering the room.

“Morning, my dear.” greeted her dad, as she pecked him on the cheek.

“No sense us all standing about.” said Sirius, drawing up a chair and gesturing for them to take a seat.

Hermione's mum and dad took a seat on the sofa; her mum motioning for her to join them. She looked to Harry, who smiled as he drew up a seat next to Sirius. She returned his smile as she sat down next to her mother; her chest tensing as they awaited the arrival of the new Minister of Magic.

“Kreacher.” called Sirius.

CRACK. The old house-elf appeared in front of his master; bowing low.

“Master called for Kreacher?”

“Yes Kreacher.” said Sirius. “Is the tea ready?”

“Yes, Master.” replied Kreacher. “The tea that the Muggle started is ready.”

“Very good.” said Sirius. “Please prepare it for serving and prepare to serve seven.”

“As Master wishes.” said Kreacher, bowing low before disappearing with a loud CRACK.

The flames turned bright green once more as Arthur Weasley stepped out of the fireplace into the sitting room; brushing a small amount of soot from his traveling cloak.

“Hello everyone.” greeted Arthur, sounding stressed. “Madam Bones will be along shortly.”

“Morning Arthur.” greeted Sirius. “Please, have a seat.”

“If it's all the same to you, Sirius,” retorted Arthur “I believe I'll stand. Been doing too much sitting lately.”

Sirius nodded and Hermione felt her stomach clinch. With all that had been going on, she had allowed the Weasley family's situation to slip to the back of her mind. They were truly in turmoil with Charlie still on the rogue, Ginny potentially a Death Eater, and Mrs Weasley in custody for attempting to murder Dumbledore. Ron was distancing himself from everyone except Luna, Bill was spending all his time with his father at the Ministry, and the twins hadn't cracked a joke or attempted a prank since the battle at the Ministry. Hermione couldn't even imagine how Mr Weasley was feeling. She could only assume that this proceeding was nothing more than a good distraction for him.

A few minutes of silence passed before the fireplace sprung to life once more. Hermione looked to see Madam Bones step out of the swirling green flames and into the sitting room.

"Welcome to my humble abode, Madam Minister." said Sirius, rising from his chair to greet her.

"Good afternoon, Sirius." greeted Madam Bones. "Thank you for being so kind as to host this meeting."

Hermione pulled tighter to her mother's side on the sofa. It wasn't that she mistrusted Madam Bones. On the contrary, she trusted her very much. It was simply the fact that her parents were about to relive the last month and a half of hell that they had suffered at the hands of the Malfoys. Her mum patted her on the leg, as if to say, 'it will be okay'.

“My pleasure, Madam Minister.” said Sirius. “We're just happy to have the Granger family, united again.”

“Sirius, please drop the Madam Minister.” smirked Madam Bones. “There are no other Ministry officials present and this is not my office.”

“Very well, Amelia.” sighed Sirius, as though he was enjoying the formality. “Would you at least allow me to offer you a chair and some tea?”

Madam Bones smiled and graciously accepted the chair that Sirius summoned; taking a seat directly across from the Grangers. Harry nodded to Hermione reassuringly from his seat next to Sirius'.

"I promise not to keep you too long." said Madam Bones. "I just wanted to get your statements on record while I could. I also wanted to do this myself. For many reasons, I take this personally."

"Before we begin," continued Madam Bones "let me first extend my deepest apologies for what has transpired against your family. I'm so very thankful that you returned to us alive and am disgusted by what had happened to you."

"Thank you, Madam Minister." said Hermione's Dad. "We're just glad to put it behind us."

"I know that is your wish, so rest assured that this will be the only time you will have to give testimony as to what happened to you." said Madam Bones.

"Has Lucius Malfoy been arrested?" asked Harry.

"Not yet, Mr Potter." replied Madam Bones. "We have Aurors searching for him. Draco and Narcissa Malfoy have been thoroughly questioned, but they do not know where he is. We warned them against attempting to harbor him, should he return to the Manor."

"WHAT?" shouted Harry, standing up. "Why aren't Draco and Narcissa in jail, or better yet, Azkaban?"

"Draco has come forward and stated that his father was forcing him to be his messenger." replied Madam Bones calmly. "As for Narcissa, she claims no knowledge of her husband's wrong doings."

"SHE'S LYING!" shouted Hermione, causing the back of her head to ache.

Hermione's mum placed a hand on her knee, attempting to calm her; however Hermione would not be deterred.

"Ms Granger, we have no evidence against Narcissa as of yet that we can use." replied Madam Bones. "She has claimed her actions at the Manor House, the night of the rescue, was self defense."

"What of all the dead house-elves in her library?" asked Arthur.

"She claims that her husband would never allow her into their library or the basement and that she was too scared of him to argue." replied Madam Bones. "And before you ask, Mr Potter, Draco says that he was forced to take part in the attack on Hogwarts." Madam Bones held up a hand in both Harry and Hermione's directions. "Now, unless Mr and Mrs Granger can give evidence to contradict these statements, we cannot arrest Draco and Narcissa Malfoy. The Ministry cannot afford any further political damage inflicted by Lord Voldemort and his band of Death Eaters."

"What do you mean by further political damage?" asked Sirius.

"The Ministry had stood since the end of the Tri-Wizard tournament, under the guidance of Fudge, that Lord Voldemort had not returned as Mr Potter had claimed." replied Madam Bones. "Even in the face of the death of young Ms Chang, the Ministry sought to find other means to explain her death. Cornelius Fudge is now being investigated for conspiracy with Dolores Umbridge to cover up the Death Eater attack by framing Arthur's daughter. That investigation is being further complicated by Umbridge's disappearance."

"Well, you have Professor Sinistra." said Harry. "She is Cho's murderer. That should be enough to prove that Umbridge was lying."

"Yes, Mr Potter, but without evidence linking Fudge to the event, it will be seen as Umbridge was lying for the Ministry, not just Fudge." said Madam Bones.

"So? Who cares if the entire Ministry is blamed for covering up Cho's death?" retorted Harry, earning a disapproving look from Sirius.

Before Madam Bones could begin, Kreacher appeared with a tray of tea. The old house-elf quickly served everyone in the room before disappearing again with another CRACK.

"Mr Potter, the Wizard Republic of China cares very much." sighed Madam Bones. "You see, young Ms Chang's father came here as an Ambassador of Wizard China to Magical Britain many years ago. While he was here, he met Ms Chang's mother. He married, and became a resident of Britain. When young Cho Chang was murdered, her grandfather, the Chancellor of the Wizard Republic of China, was outraged and demanded that the ICW investigate."

"Wu Chang's father is the Chancellor of the WRC?" asked Arthur, dumbfounded.

"Yes Arthur, he is." replied Madam Bones. "So, you see what would have happened if the ICW had been allowed to investigate. Fudge would have been ousted for covering up the return of Voldemort and the WRC would have demanded his life in return for the death of Cho Chang."

Hermione was speechless, though she could not find an ounce of sympathy for former Minister Fudge. After everything he had done and gone through to save his own neck, she could not feel sorry for him.

"What happens if you cannot prove that it was all Fudge's doings?" asked Sirius. "The cover up, I mean."

“Politically, it will set back relations between Magical Britain and the WRC over a hundred years.” said Madam Bones. “It will also greatly affect our position in the ICW.”

“Why?” asked Harry. “I mean, wizards turn bad all the time. Why is it so hard to believe that the Minister of Magical Britain could turn bad?”

“It isn't, Mr Potter,” replied Madam Bones, turning to address Harry “and that's the point. If we can prove that Fudge and Umbridge acted out in secret, then the WRC and the ICW will accept that Fudge is no longer in charge, thus the issue dealt with. We will then allow them to monitor our movements forward, in order to establish a 'Good Faith' relationship.”

“What Madam Bones is trying to say, Harry,” interjected Arthur “is that without proving that Fudge acted in secret, the WRC and the ICW will assume that the entire Magical British Ministry has become corrupted and thus rated untrustworthy.”

“How far off is that assumption?” asked Hermione, shocked inwardly by her own gull.

“There is corruption within the Ministry, Ms Granger.” replied Madam Bones, turning her attention back to the Granger family. “That, I will not deny and I have vowed to clean up. What concerns me isn't the political backlash, but how it will hinder our new war with Voldemort.”

“Why do we need the ICW or the WRC – or anyone else for that matter to fight Voldemort?” asked Harry.

“Mr Potter, Voldemort's eyes aren't set just upon Magical Britain, but the entire world.” stressed Madam Bones. “If our trust is broken with the other Ministries and Magical Governments around the world, then it hampers our abilities to track Voldemort's movements. He has never been just a British threat. He operates in the shadows and goes from place to place without care of legality. We need to be able to work together with the ICW to contain him.”

“Is this how you fought him last time?” asked Harry, sarcasm dripping from his tone.

“No, Mr Potter, it is not.” replied Madam Bones. “If I am successful in convincing the Wizengamot to work openly with the ICW, it will be a first.”

“Amelia isn't against us, Harry.” said Sirius. “Don't judge her by Fudge.”

“I'm not.” retorted Harry. “It just sounds like a lot of long drawn out stuff. Like Madam Bones said, Voldemort doesn't care about legal boundaries.”

“We cannot circumvent the law, Mr Potter.” said Madam Bones. “If we do so, then we're no better than the ones we fight against.”

Hermione silently disagreed, and she could tell by Harry's face that he disagreed as well.

“Madam Minister,” said Hermione's Dad “it sounds as though you have a lot on your plate. Maybe we should go ahead and proceed with the interview, or do you wish to postpone until another day?”

Hermione knew that her dad was trying to diffuse the situation.

“Thank you, Mr Granger,” said Madam Bones “I do have a lot on my plate, however I do not wish to postpone this in any way.”

“Then let us continue with what we came to do.” said Sirius. “We can shelf the political discussions until another day.”

"Very good indeed, Sirius.” said Madam Bones, smiling slightly. “Now, Mr and Mrs Granger, your accounts today will be recorded by a special quill and preserved for all future investigations. You have agreed to take a truth serum, so whatever you say will be binding."

Madam Bones withdrew a role of parchment, a quill that resembled Rita Skeeter's quick quotes quill and two small vials. Sirius summoned a table for her to use. She unrolled the parchment and placed it on the table. She then touched the quill to the parchment and the quill stood up on its tip. Mr Weasley verified the contents of the bottles before she handed them to Hermione's parents. One of the first changes that Madam Bones had made was the immediate acceptance of testimony while under the effects of Veritaserum.

“If you are ready to begin, please drink the potion in the vials I handed you.” said Madam Bones.

Hermione's parents nodded and downed the tiny vials in one, even as Hermione wished she could leave the room. She did not wish to hear what her parents had been through, even though a small part of her desired the truth.

"Now, on this the 26th day of September, Mr Arthur Weasley has agreed to be the Ministry witness and Sirius Black has agreed to be the moderator." continued Madam Bones, the quill scribbling away on the parchment; capturing every word.

Sirius nodded and Mr Weasley cleared his throat nervously.

"For the record," continued Madam Bones "your names are Eugene and Danielle Granger, parents of Hermione Granger, and currently preside at Number 27 Spencer Chase, London – correct?"

"That is correct, Madam Minister." replied Hermione's Dad.

"For the record, Mr and Mrs Granger, you agreed to take the potion known as Veritaserum of your own free will -- knowing that it is a truth potion -- correct?" asked Madam Bones.

"That is correct." replied her Mum and Dad in unison.

"Now, where have you two been for over the last month?" asked Madam Bones.

“On August 2nd of this year, my wife and I were abducted from our residence and forced to stay in the basement of Lucius Malfoy's manor home.” replied her Dad in a military fashion.

“It was a dungeon, dear.” corrected Hermione's Mum.

“I stand corrected.” said her Dad, nodding in approval.

“Who abducted you?” asked Madam Bones, the quill scribbling away.

“Lucius Malfoy and several masked individuals.” replied her Dad. “They were in our home before we knew what was happening. We were told to come quietly and that if we resisted, they would murder Hermione.”

“Were you taken directly to Malfoy Manor?” asked Madam Bones.

“Yes.” replied her Mum. “That scum Malfoy made it perfectly clear that he did not see us as worthy to live, let alone enter his home. Only that his master found our daughter of use, was the reason we still breathe.”

“Did they torture you?” asked Madam Bones.

Harry twisted in his seat; his face hard, his breathing shallow.

“Starvation was the only form of torture.” said Hermione's Dad. “Giving us only enough to survive.”

“Was there anyone else with you?” asked Madam Bones.

“Yes.” replied her Mum. “A few weeks after we arrived, they brought in a young red-headed girl.”

A snarling frown crept across Arthur Weasley's face.

“Did they torture the young girl?” asked Madam Bones.

“They forced us to watch as they tortured her.” replied her Dad.

“It was inhuman!” cried her Mum, visibly shaking.

Hermione's dad wrapped an arm around her mum while she squeezed her mum's hand in hers.

“They tortured her repeatedly, inflicting pain with magic!” continued her Mum. “The poor girl had no idea what was happening or why! She cried and pleaded with them, but they would only laugh and spit on her!”

“Can you describe the young girl's torturers?” asked Madam Bones, clearly trying to remain calm.

“No.” replied her Dad. “They all wore masks.”

"What became of the young girl?" asked Madam Bones.

Hermione knew that Madam Bones had already heard the details from Professor McGonagall; however this was for the official record and she had to pretend as though it was her first time hearing the accounts. Any leading questions by Madam Bones could allow the Malfoys to get off on a technicality, once they were arrested.

"She died." replied Hermione's Mum.

"How did she die?" asked Madam Bones, closing her eyes for she knew the answer.

"She killed herself with a knife." replied her Dad dryly. "A knife that a masked wizard supplied her with. They gave it to her the first day she arrived. They told her that the only thing she could use it for was to kill herself. They tortured her until... one night she slit her own wrists. They carved the word 'Traitor' into her forehead with the same knife. Then, the sick bastard licked the blood from the blade."

Sirius nearly stood up in his chair at the statement. His eyes were now narrow slits as he glared at the far wall before softening his gaze and returning it to the room at large. His fierce look scared Hermione.

"Excuse me, Madam Minister." said Sirius. "May I ask a question of Mr Granger?"

"Certainly, Lord Black." replied Madam Bones. "The floor is yours."

"Mr Granger, can you tell me anything of the wizard that licked the blood from the blade?" asked Sirius.

"Yes, Lord Back, I can." replied Hermione's Dad. "He lifted his mask only slightly to perform the disgusting deed. By the light of his torch I could see that his face was hairy and ragged, with pointed teeth."

Sirius sat deathly still; his breathing heavy.

"Lord Black, do you have any further questions for the Grangers?" asked Madam Bones.

"No, Madam Minister." replied Sirius.

"Very well." said Madam Bones. "Now, Mr and Mrs Granger, besides Lucius Malfoy, the masked wizards and the young girl -- did you see anyone else while you were at Malfoy Manor?"

"There was another." said Hermione's Mum, tensing up. "He visited us a few weeks after we arrived."

"Can you describe the wizard or did he tell you his name?" asked Madam Bones.

"He never gave his name," replied her Dad "but we clearly saw his face. He was tall with long black greasy hair, black eyes, and very pale skin."

Harry immediately stood up; however Sirius quickly yanked him back down. Hermione felt her face burn as rage surged through her body like electricity.

"Did this wizard say anything to you?" asked Madam Bones.

"Yes." replied her Mum. "He said that our plight was unfortunate, but necessary. He told us that should we... die... our deaths would not be for nothing."

"He also told us not to worry about our daughter, should we die." interjected her Dad. "He told us that she would be well taken care of."

Hermione had closed her eyes against her surroundings as pure fury coarsed through her body. They had been warned repeatedly not to interrupt the proceedings; however the urge to lash out was almost too great. Snape had visited her parents while they were being held hostage. Dumbledore had known all along where her parents were being held and did absolutely nothing to try and save them. Instead, he purposely left them there to die.

"Was there anyone else that you saw or visited you while you were there, before your rescue?" asked Madam Bones, remaining calm though her eyes deceived her.

"No." replied Hermione's Mum. "We were not allowed to leave the dungeon and the only people we saw was those that came down there."

"I know that you have been through a great ordeal," said Madam Bones. "but is there anything you can think of that might be helpful to the Ministry's investigation?"

"Wish we could," replied her Dad "but we honestly didn't see much or hear much in than that dark damp --"

"Dear, what about when we first got there?" interrupted Hermione's Mum. "Didn't you say that you smelt something?"

"Yes I did." said her Dad, his eyebrows lifting. "There was a strong smell of oil and sulfur. It was drifting into the rest of the house from what I presumed to be the kitchen. It was so foul that Lucius Malfoy covered his face with his hand as he and the masked wizards escorted us to the dungeon."

"Why do you say it smelled like oil and sulfur?" asked Madam Bones.

"It was a common smell when I was stationed in the Middle East." replied her Dad. "It was the smell of oil being refined."

"Well, thank you for your cooperation, Mr and Mrs Granger." said Madam Bones. "We will do everything we can to bring those that abducted you to justice."

"Thank you, Madam Minister." said her Dad.

“This interview with Eugene and Danielle Granger is now complete.” said Madam Bone.

Madam Bones reached over and touched the quill which immediately fell to one side.

“THAT BLOODY SON OF A –”

“HARRY!” shouted Sirius, interrupting Harry's expected and no doubt explicit rant. “THAT WILL DO! I know that you're angry, but show some restraint!”

Harry's face turned blood red and Hermione could tell that he wasn't done, even if he waited until Madam Bones left. She, on the other hand, was beyond emotional expression. There were no words to describe her feelings. The only word that came close was hatred. Not for Snape, but for Dumbledore. Snape was merely a chess piece in Dumbledore's mad game.

“Mr Potter,” said Madam Bones, standing up “let me make one thing perfectly clear. Do not let me hear of you bending the laws of this land in order to continue your own personal war with Voldemort. I have let the incident at the Ministry slide due to the fact that the Ministry was in denial of Voldemort's return. Now that they have come to grips with his return, and that the entire wizarding world is aware, the only thing I expect from you is cooperation."

"Cooperation?" repeated Harry, his face still burnt red. "What type of cooperation?"

"For starters, be at Hogwarts when the school re-opens on Halloween." said Madam Bones sternly.

"And why, Amelia, should Voldemort's number one target go back to Hogwarts?" asked Mrs Longbottom, strolling into the sitting room with Neville at her side.

"Aug, I didn't know that you were here." said Madam Bones, who looked shocked.

"We arrived during your interview with the Grangers." said Mrs Longbottom. "Neville and I stayed down in the kitchen until you were finished. At least we presumed you were finished by the sound of Mr Potter expressing himself ever so boldly."

"Mr Potter returning to Hogwarts, along with Professor Dumbledore and the rest of the students, will promote confidence in the Ministry's ability to protect Magical Britain from Lord Voldemort." said Madam Bones, straightening her traveling cloak about her.

"Professor Dumbledore is okay?" asked Neville.

"I have been told that he will make a complete recovery." replied Madam Bones.

“Forgive me, Amelia, but since when have you ever been interested in what the public thinks about the Ministry?” asked Mrs Longbottom, her arms crossed in front of her.

“Since it became my duty as the Minister of Magic.” retorted Madam Bones defiantly. “Wizarding Britain cannot lose faith in the Ministry, else they turn to Voldemort for support. The rest of the Wizarding World must see that Magical Britain is still the primary power in the world.”

“Spoken like a true politician.” said Mrs Longbottom. “You're a powerful witch, Amelia. It's only been a day, so don't let the position go to your head.”

Cold silence fell throughout the room.

"The Ministry's ability to protect Magical Britain from Voldemort." repeated Hermione, breaking the silence; her mind unable to let go of the statement. "What abilities? The last time Voldemort was rising to power, the only thing that stopped him was Harry nearly dying as a baby! And now, if it wasn't for Harry nearly DYING AGAIN in that graveyard, you STILL wouldn't know he was even BACK! So now you just want us to do nothing and wait for the Ministry to protect us?"

Hermione's mother made to console her, but she would have none of it. She wasn't sure where her rage was coming from; however the moment she heard that Dumbledore would be returning to Hogwarts she could not hold it in. Hermione pushed her mum away and made to leave the room.

“Hermione.” said Harry, his hand finding her shoulder just as she made it to the doorway.

“I want to be alone, Harry.” said Hermione, shrugging his hand off and heading up the stairs.

“Give her some space.” Hermione heard Sirius say from behind her as she made the first floor.

Hermione didn't stop until she reached the room she had stayed in before the start of school. She dropped down onto the small bed and placed her head on her knees. It was just too much for her to take to pretend that they could go back to school, worry about OWLs, and sit underneath the manipulation of Dumbledore. If he was left to it, he would somehow find a way to trick Harry into leaving Sirius and go back to stay with the Dursleys!

No, Hermione knew that she had to do something, else Sirius, Harry and who knows what other pawn would become victim to Dumbledore's game of chess. She reached into her purse to get her handkerchief, but found something else; something supple to the touch. She pulled out Harry's invisibility cloak and held it with both hands. She had completely forgot that she was holding it for Harry, in case they had needed to make a hasty retreat.

A thought suddenly spawned in Hermione's head. Being driven by anger and a need to protect Harry, she acted on it. She looked about the room until she found a small candle sitting on the dresser. It was small enough to fit in the palm of her hand, yet dense enough to maintain the spell she required it for. She withdrew her wand and touch the tip of her wand to the wick and muttered, “Portus”. The tiny candle glowed blue for a moment, to indicate that the spell had worked. She quickly stuffed the candle into her purse, then slung the invisibility cloak about her.

Under the invisibility cloak, Hermione slipped out into the corridor and down the stairs. As she approached the ground floor, she could hear much commotion coming from the sitting room. She glanced inside to see everyone, including her parents, gathered together discussing something.

Hermione heard Mrs Longbottom saying, “It's settled then. The Grangers will stay here with Sirius and Mr Potter. We will not allow the Ministry to be responsible for their safety when we still do not know whom within the Ministry is trustworthy.”

“Very well then.” said Hermione's Dad. “I guess it won't hurt to leave the office closed a little longer. As long as we're no bother to you, Sirius.”

“No bother at all, Eugene.” said Sirius happily.

“Should someone go up and check on Hermione?” asked Harry tentatively, glancing at her mum.

“I think it's best that we give her some space.” said her mum. “She'll calm down once she's had a chance to process everything.”

“She's been through a lot.” said Sirius.

The sound of a thousand metallic clicks coming from the front door silenced the house. Everyone that had a wand withdrew theirs, including Hermione. Her parents were motioned to stand behind the group as Sirius stepped into the hallway, right next to Hermione. She dared not breathe for multiple reasons.

The door opened and in stepped Professor McGonagall.

“My apologies, Sirius.” said Professor McGonagall, removing her traveling cloak. “I dared not use any other method to arrive. Every other mode of transportation is being closely monitored.”

“No apologies needed.” said Sirius, lowering his wand. “Whom do you think is watching you?”

“Everyone.” replied Professor McGonagall.

Professor McGonagall turned to close the front door and Hermione seized the opportunity. She darted past Sirius, back up the stairs and to her old room. She sealed the door and placed a silencing charm upon it. She then quickly reached into her purse and pulled out the tiny candle; her mind was made up. All she had to do was port back to her room once she was done.

Whether porting while under the invisibility cloak would work, she wasn't sure. However, at that moment she didn't care. With the tiny candle in one hand, she touched the tip of her wand again to its wick. Immediately, the room began to spin as her feet left the ground. She snatched a hold of the cloak, however it showed no sign of flying away. When her feet met ground, she looked around and was pleased to see that it had worked.

As Hermione made her way out of the empty waiting room at St Mungo's, she realized that she had no clue where she was going. The matron at the welcome desk looked even more formidable than Madam Pomfrey, which made her think twice about attempting to sneak around the desk to see the registry. Then a bit of luck came her way.

“Excuse me, but where might I find Albus Dumbledore?” asked a tall wizard, approaching the reception desk.

“Professor Dumbledore's quarters are restricted, sir.” replied the matron.

“I'm with the Auror Department.” said the wizard, handing her some form of I.D.

“Fifth floor, room five hundred and twelve.” said the matron.

The man nodded then headed for the stairs. Hermione immediately followed at a distance. The last thing she needed was for an Auror to catch her. When they reached the room, she hung back and watched from a safe distance.

The Auror joined another wizard in front of the room. They were, no doubt, assigned to protect Dumbledore by the Ministry. A Healer approached and Hermione fell silently into step behind him; following him into Dumbledore's room past the guards. She silently hoped that Mad-Eye wasn't waiting inside.

The room was sterile looking and the only person present was Dumbledore, lying in a hospital bed; his eyes closed. The Healer waved his wand over Dumbledore, causing a blue glow to cover the bed. He marked something on a parchment beside the bed, then left the room.

Hermione silently cast a silencing and sealing charm upon the door. Dumbledore opened his eyes and glanced around the room, as though he felt her spells.

“I was hoping that you might come – Harry.” said Dumbledore.

Hermione bit her lower lip, then removed the invisibility cloak.

“Ms Granger – what a pleasant surprise.” said Dumbledore, though Hermione sensed that he wasn't pleased at all. “I wasn't expecting you to visit.”

“How do you do it?” asked Hermione, her anger giving her confidence. “How do you look me in the face and pretend to care?”

“What is it that I have done to you, Ms Granger?” retorted Dumbledore kindly.

“It's not what you've done to me.” replied Hermione. “It's what you've done to Harry and to Sirius, and what you refused to do for my parents.”

“Ms Granger, you are truly one of the few that could possibly understand all that I do.” said Dumbledore solemnly.

Hermione stared into the normally twinkling blue eyes; though now there was no twinkle to be found.

“Enlighten me then, Professor.” said Hermione, not bothering to hide her contempt.

“Ms Granger, everything that I have done has been to ensure the fall of Voldemort and to protect the Wizarding World.” sighed Dumbledore. “It was imperative that Harry be protected by blood wards growing up and kept away from the Wizarding World. Growing up with Sirius would have changed him completely.”

“So you admit to allowing Sirius to go to jail for a crime he didn't commit!” growled Hermione.

“I admit nothing of the sort, Ms Granger.” said Dumbledore. “I merely chose not to assist Sirius in clearing his name. I knew that his influences on Harry would be negative.”

“Yeah, love can be so detrimental.” sneered Hermione.

“It can be, Ms Granger.” said Dumbledore softly. “Those that have lived long enough know so to be true.”

“What about Cho's death?” asked Hermione. “I know that you were aware of Professor Sinistra's family! When Mrs Figg died, did you even stop to consider how this might affect Sinistra?”

“Ms Granger, I knew of Professor Sinistra's history, though I was unaware that she had fallen back to her family's old ways.” replied Dumbledore. “Nor did I believe that Voldemort would send someone after you. I thought for certain that you would still be safe.”

Hermione felt her blood boiling in her veins. There was only one reason why he thought that she would be safe.

“I used to admire you.” said Hermione coldly. “I used to want to be just like you. I thought that you were changing the world through teaching. Now I find out that you were changing the world alright, but not through teaching. You chose to use your intelligence to manipulate everyone into doing your bidding. Like puppets! But now, your puppets have cut their cords. You've lost control. Did you really think that you could maintain control over people like Snape, out of loyalty for you?”

“Snape was never loyal to me, Ms Granger.” sighed Dumbledore. “He was, and I believe he still is, loyal to the memory of Harry's mother – Lily.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Hermione, not expecting that answer.

“Severus Snape loved Lily Evans, but Lily chose James Potter.” explained Dumbledore. “When Lord Voldemort started hunting the Potters, Professor Snape came to me and begged me to help him protect Lily. When Lily died, he swore to me to help protect Harry. His hatred for Harry's father, James, has caused him to treat Harry less than fair, but I believe that he still honors his vows.”

“You used his love for Harry's mum to control him?” growled Hermione.

She never thought that she would ever feel sorry for Snape, until now. Truly, Dumbledore's levels of manipulation knew no boundaries.

“He came to me for help.” replied Dumbledore. “I used his love for Lily to ensure that I could trust him. He pledged his loyalty voluntarily. I simply made sure that he was genuine.”

“So Voldemort abducts my parents, and you decide to use it to your advantage as well.” said Hermione, more to herself than to Dumbledore. “It was your way to catapult Harry into a confrontation with Voldemort, thus drawing Voldemort into the open.”

“Ms Granger, your parent's abduction was an unfortunate turn of events.” said Dumbledore calmly. “I must say that your plans this year catapulted Harry to face down Lord Voldemort, not mine.”

“My parents told us of Snape's visit!” spat Hermione. “They told us how he assured them that I would be safe in the event of their death! Snape would have never done so, if it had not been on your orders. You KNEW!”

“Yes, Ms Granger, I knew.” said Dumbledore sadly. “I knew that your parents were in Malfoy Manor.”

“And you did nothing!” spat Hermione, venom pouring through her. “Did you know that I had been cursed as well?”

Dumbledore did not answer. He merely looked down at his blanket.

“You evil, manipulative bastard!” growled Hermione, barely able to control her rage. “I could have died because of that curse! You allowed Voldemort and his followers to torture me for months! You allowed Cho's death to happen because you were playing your games! And now, Neville's parents are dead as well!”

“Ms Granger, I'm sad to say this, but Neville's parents are better off dead than the life they were living.” said Dumbledore. “I tried to convince Augusta to let them go, but she would not.”

“THEY WERE BURNED ALIVE!” screamed Hermione. “HOW CAN YOU LAY HERE AND SAY THAT THEY ARE BETTER NOW!”

“This would not have happened if –” began Dumbledore.

“If what?” interrupted Hermione. “If they had already been dead? And how would they have died sooner? They weren't on any type of life support, were they? Were you just going to murder them while they slept?”

“Ms Granger, please listen.” pleaded Dumbledore. “Harry has a very difficult and dangerous destiny ahead of him. There are things that he must do in order to defeat Lord Voldemort and they will be nearly impossible if he is in a romantic relationship.”

“You're not allowed to dictate this conversation, Professor.” spat Hermione. “As for Harry's destiny, that is for him to decide, not you! Expelliarmus!

Dumbledore's wand came hurling out of the bed; landing at Hermione's feet.

“Very good, Ms Granger.” said Dumbledore, a smile betraying him. “Harry has taught you well.”

“WE TRUSTED YOU!” shouted Hermione. “We believed in you, as did so many others!”

“And you will again.” said Dumbledore calmly still. “I will do everything in my power to regain your trust, once I return to Hogwarts. I will help you to understand why I have done what I have and the true purpose for everything. We do not get to choose but one thing in life – whether to follow the dark path to self satisfaction or to follow the more noble path for the greater good of all mankind.”

“So that's really it with you, isn't it?” asked Hermione, not looking for an answer. “Bloody hell. So your way is all for the good in your eyes and any other choice is self satisfaction? You need help, Professor, and more than can be given in this hospital.”

“In time, Ms Granger, you will see that all that I do is for the greater good – not myself.” said Dumbledore in his most grandfatherly tone. “If you are truthful with yourself, you will see that your relationship with Harry is selfish in nature. It will only lead to his death in the end.”

“Not your choice, Professor.” said Hermione coldly. “Harry will write his own destiny and you will have no place in it.”

“I'm afraid, Ms Granger, that the only way that will happen is if… ” Dumbledore paused. “That's what you came here to do this morning… you came to finish what Mrs Weasley tried to do.”

“Mrs Weasley was forced to do what she did in order to protect her family.” retorted Hermione, her chest feeling hollow. “What happens today is up to you.”

“I suppose that you will ask me to stay away from Hogwarts.” said Dumbledore.

“No.” replied Hermione. “You will leave Britain all together and vow to never return. If not, I will do what I must.”

“I cannot leave, Ms Granger.” said Dumbledore. “Not only is Britain and Hogwarts my home, I cannot leave until it is safe from Voldemort.”

“You just don't get it, Professor.” said Hermione. “Voldemort isn't the greatest threat to Britain, you are.”

“I believe that we have reached an impasse, Ms Granger.” sighed Dumbledore. “You are convinced that I am as much a threat to Harry as Voldemort is. I was hoping that you would be capable of understanding why I have done all that I have.”

“I do, Professor.” said Hermione coldly. “You're brilliant. Too brilliant for your own good. You believe that you know best.”

“I know you, Ms Granger,” retorted Dumbledore “and I know that you are not a murderer.”

“You have no idea what I'm capable of!” shouted Hermione. “I'll do anything for Harry!”

“Then let him go!” shouted Dumbledore. “If you love him, let him go!”

“No Professor, I won't!” shouted Hermione. “I'll protect him from anyone – INCLUDING YOU!”

Hermione raised her wand and pointed it at Dumbledore.

“Do what you must, Ms Granger.” said Dumbledore, his eyes now a piercing blue; full of fire. “But make no mistake. Once you murder someone in cold blood, the path back for your soul is almost impossible.”

“You allowed Death Eaters to run loose in Hogwarts.” said Hermione, her voice shaking. “You allowed them to murder Cho. You allowed them to murder Neville's parents. You would have allowed them to murder my parents. This isn't murder, Professor, it's justice!”

Hermione allowed her rage to overflow as the blood thundered in her head. She stared into the eyes of the man that had caused Harry and her so much pain. As a tear etched her cheek she screamed, “AVEDA KEDAVRA!

THE END

To Be Continued in -- The Darkness Rising

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