The Falling

Holiday's End

When Fred and George rejoined the group, now fighting a bad swarm of Doxies in one of the bedrooms on the fourth floor, Hermione immediately noticed that there was something wrong. Harry was busy practicing non-verbal stunning spells, like Sirius had taught him, every time Mrs Weasley's back was turned and didn't notice the worried looks on the twins' faces. Hermione nudged Harry to get his attention, who hastily pocketed his wand. Once Harry realized something was wrong, she could tell he began looking for a good diversion.

Without thinking, Hermione picked up a piece of debris from the floor and walked over to an empty bin near the door. She looked around to see that everyone was too busy cleaning, except for Fred and George, to notice what she was doing. She quickly tossed the debris into the bin, shrieked, withdrew her wand pointing it at the bin, and cried, "Confringo!" The bin exploded into pieces, causing Ron to swear loudly.

"WHAT ON EARTH!" shrieked Mrs Weasley.

"I threw a piece of paper in the bin and it started swirling into a snake so I hexed it!" lied Hermione.

"I thought Mad-Eye and Remus had thoroughly purged this house of dark objects!" replied Mrs Weasley. "Okay, everyone back to your rooms till we've had a chance to search these rooms again. Tonks, please ask Mad-Eye to join me up here." Mrs Weasley placed a hand on Hermione's shoulder. "Hermione, are you okay dear?"

"I'll be alright." replied Hermione. "It just startled me."

At that, Mrs Weasley chivvied them off to their rooms. Harry and Hermione straggled behind the group, then took the opportunity to slip into Fred and George's room. George immediately cast a silencing charm on the door.

"Must say I'm very impressed Hermione." said Fred approvingly.

"A feat worthy of us." said George nodding.

"What's wrong?" asked Hermione, ignoring their comments and looking at them imploringly. "I saw your faces when you joined us."

Grim looks shrouded the twins' faces again and Hermione dreaded what her and Harry was about to hear.

Fred looked down at the floor as he spoke, "Charlie is missing."

"WHAT!" blurted Harry. "What do you mean by missing?"

"He was on a mission for the Order, following Hagrid and Madam Maxime." replied George, while rubbing his temples with his thumb and middle finger.

"Why was he following Hagrid and Madam Maxime?" asked a bewildered Harry.

"The real question is, what were Hagrid and Madam Maxime doing for the Order that they needed added protection, but right now we need to hear all that was said." said Hermione, thinking hard as she pressed her thumb and index finger to her lips.

Harry looked at Hermione smiling, and said, "What the bloody hell are you talking about?"

"It's not important right now." replied Hermione. "What's important is –"

"What's important," interrupted Fred "is that we find Charlie."

"No offense mate, but what about Hermione's parents?" asked Harry, a little frustrated.

"No offense taken Harry," replied George "but when Fred said we, he meant him and I."

"Yeah mate," said Fred "it's our brother so it's our job to find him, just as it's your job to find Hermione's parents."

"So that's it then? You're just going to run off on your own and wander around aimlessly looking for Charlie?" asked Harry.

"He's our brother, Harry! We can't just ignore that he's missing!" shouted Fred.

"I'm not saying to!" stressed Harry. "Help us find Hermione's parents and we'll find Charlie too. If Voldemort has him, we'll find him!"

"Who said Voldemort has Charlie?" shouted Hermione in frustration. "All we know so far is that he was helping Hagrid and Madam Maxime find giants!"

"Whoa! Who said they were looking for giants?" asked George, completely perplexed.

"Madam Maxime? Hagrid? Isn't it obvious?" asked Hermione imploringly.

"Nope." replied Harry.

"Think you three!" exclaimed Hermione. "Hagrid and Madam Maxime are both half giants! What else would they be doing? Now please, tell us all that you heard!"

Fred nodded in agreement. Harry tossed an arm around Hermione in order to calm her while Fred and George told them all that they had heard. She was startled by the recounting of Sirius and Lupin's confrontation. Harry retracted his arm and Hermione could see that Sirius' reaction disturbed him.

She pieced together what had happened to Charlie in her mind, confirming what she already thought. After another heated conversation, the twins agreed that the four of them, together, had the best chance of finding not only Hermione's parents, but also Charlie. Whether or not Sirius would truly be any support, it was clear that any help from him would have to remain given in ignorance. Hermione only hoped that Harry would see things her way.

In a frustrated tone, Hermione said, "Well, unless the Order provides us with something solid to go on, our only choice is to return to Hogwarts."

"How will returning to Hogwarts help us find Charlie or your parents?" asked George.

"It's the first place Hagrid will go when he turns up again." replied Hermione. "For all we know, he'll be there when we arrive."

"And if he's not there, we're sure to find out something from the staff." said Harry.

"They're not going to just tell us, mate." said George shaking his head.

"Even if you're a prefect or the Boy-Who-Lived." said Fred, smirking.

"No, but they do have a staff room where they just love to sit and chat." replied Harry, a mischievous but determined look on his face.

"Ya know George," said Fred "I believe that we've been a bit of a bad influence on young Mr. Potter here."

Hermione stared at her reflection in the mirror, hanging on the wall behind George's head. She felt as though the answer was dangling right in front of them, but they could not see it. The tiny mirror reminded Hermione of the one in her home that Lucius used to show her parents to her.

Hermione leapt to her feet and shouted, "The stone floor covered in moss!"

She remembered something at last! A detail about where her parents were! Harry, Fred, and George stared at her as though she was insane. Hermione giggled to herself as she sat back down, not easing their minds in the slightest.

"I remember something about where my parents were when Lucius showed them to me in that mirror!" said Hermione excitedly.

Harry's expression immediately went from worried too elated. "Excellent!" he shouted.

"Well?" exclaimed George.

"Don't keep us waiting!" exclaimed Fred.

"I remember how hollow their voices sounded and thinking that it must be because of the mossy stone floor they were standing on." said Hermione, still smiling.

She felt it was the first real breakthrough they had received in weeks. Remembering anything about the day her parents went missing had been an extremely difficult thing. Harry had been right, thought Hermione. He had told her that the memories would come to her when she least expected them to.

"A mossy stone floor." recited Harry, clearly thinking hard.

A tiny voice in Hermione's mind said, Turn the focus back to Charlie. Make sure that the twins believe that the best chance of finding him is in finding your parents. They cannot be allowed to come to the realization that Charlie may be dead. If they do, they may not help you.

The horror of the thought made Hermione cringe. How could she even entertain the thought that Charlie may be dead, thought Hermione.

"If Voldemort did take Charlie, I wonder if he would hold him captive in the same place?" puzzled Harry aloud as the twins flinched at the name.

"What do you mean by if, mate?" asked Fred, eyebrows raised.

"Well, I was thinking – if Death Eaters came for them, wherever they were, maybe Charlie took refuge somewhere and is just lying low till he can escape." said Harry.

Fear gripped Hermione as she retorted, "Harry, of course he's been captured. It's the best we can hope for."

"What the bloody hell do you mean by that, Hermione?" shouted George.

Trembling, Hermione replied, "I just meant that if he was hiding somewhere, he would have sent word by now."

"She didn't mean anything by it, George." said Harry, taking Hermione's hand in his.

"Sorry Hermione." said George calmly. "I'm just a bit anxious, like you."

"So does that mean that Hagrid might be captured too, or worse?" asked Fred, breathing hard.

"I-I dunno." replied Hermione, simply.

"Why Charlie though?" asked George. "What use is he to the You-Know-Who?"

"If Voldemort's new game is control then someone in your family should expect a visit from a Death Eater like Lucius with a list of demands." said Harry thoughtfully.

"I think our best bet, mate, is to help Hermione remember some more about that mirror." said Fred, staring at Hermione.

Over the next few days the four rendered countless possibilities, trying to help jog Hermione's memories, but she could remember nothing more. Order members continued to flow in and out of Grimmauld Place but the meetings were now daily instead of once or twice a week. The base topic was the whereabouts of Charlie and Hagrid. It was becoming more apparent that Hagrid would not be at Hogwarts when they arrived on Friday. This realization prompted another heated discussion between Hermione, Harry, and the twins. In the end, the twins conceded yet again to return to Hogwarts.

The side conversation amongst Order members was what Hermione and Harry were hiding. They were certain that the new couple weren't being completely honest with them. Sirius was the only member that stood up for them, citing that they could be trusted, even if they didn't completely trust the Order. The only Order member to not make another appearance at Grimmauld Place was Dumbledore. All messages from him were delivered by either Snape or Moody.

The day before the trip, Mrs Weasley suspended all work on the house so that they could enjoy one day before their return to Hogwarts. Hermione felt as though it was more of a bereavement rather than a day of rest. Returning to Hogwarts without finding her parents made her stomach hurt so much that she avoided both breakfast and lunch. Harry caught up with her after lunch and took her into one of the now purged bedrooms and closed the door. He withdrew his wand and cast the silencing charm that George had taught them upon the closed door before turning to face her. Hermione looked into his brilliant green eyes and could see the concern.

"I'm okay." said Hermione, trying to answer his worried look.

"No, you're not." replied Harry, placing his hands on her shoulders.

"I never thought that I would dread returning to Hogwarts, but now, the mere image sickens me." said Hermione, as a tear trickled down her cheek.

"We'll find them, Hermione." said Harry. "No matter how long it takes, I promise."

"But what if we can't?" replied Hermione. "What if Voldemort and Lucius just keep toying with me, using them against me and you? What if they're already dead?"

The last thought issued aloud caused Hermione to break down crying. Harry hugged her, wiping the tears from her eyes.

"They won't win." replied Harry with a grit to his voice. "You must believe that or they've already won."

"How do you know they haven't already won?" asked Hermione quietly.

"Because I still draw breath!" growled Harry.

Hermione looked back up at Harry. There was a fire in his eyes; a steely resolve that she had never seen before. It almost frightened her, his gaze was so intense.

"You're scaring me, Harry." said Hermione timidly. "What's wrong?"

"Don't be alarmed, Hermione. I've just come to realize – that if I'm to have any future, I must stop Voldemort." said Harry.

Hermione's voice trembled, "Harry, listen to yourself! You barely escaped that graveyard and now you're ready to face him again? You're scaring me, Harry! What's happened?"

"You happened." replied Harry. "Every time my scar starts to hurt, I think of you and it stops immediately. I think clearer when you're near." said Harry, releasing her shoulders then striding about the room. "I faced my greatest fear in that graveyard and survived. Now, I know that I can win."

Hermione felt angry with him. "So you're just going to go hunting the most powerful dark wizard in history just because you survived?"

"He hunted and killed my parents. Now, he's hunting me." said Harry hotly. "Once we've rescued your parents and hidden them safe away where he can never touch them, then I will do what must be done; I will defeat Lord Voldemort."

At Hermione's tortured look, Harry stopped pacing, grabbed her hands softly, and guided her to sit with him on the bed. He stroked her hair back from her face, looking into her eyes tenderly.

"Hermione, we will never be safe until Voldemort is gone, for good. I know this now." said Harry, cupping her hands. "I may be only fifteen but, there is no sixteen; there is no future for me, until Voldemort is dead."

"But how, Harry? How can you defeat Voldemort? You were just a boy; the Boy-Who-Lived, and nobody knows why." said Hermione softly.

"There is one who knows – Dumbledore." said Harry, the resolve returning to his face. "That clarity I spoke of, has lead me over the last month to realize that the great Dumbledore isn't mad as Ron likes to proclaim. Brilliant – yes, mad – no."

"You think he's using you?" asked Hermione.

Harry smiled at Hermione. "You know he is as well as I do. He's been testing me, letting me find my strengths. But why – why has he been willing to let me risk life and limb unless he has been preparing me to do this."

Harry sighed, "All my life, Hermione, I've been tortured with dreams about the past, even when I didn't know what they were. Now, I'm able to dream about the future; about how things might be. The trouble is, until Voldemort is dead I see no other path." he said softly.

"But Harry, why you?" asked Hermione. "Why can't someone else do it? Why not Dumbledore?"

She knew the answer, but her heart pleaded for another solution, any solution that didn't involve Harry.

"Hermione, you didn't see the blood lust in his eyes; hear the thrill in his voice at the thought of murdering me." said Harry coldly. "He won't stop until I'm dead. There is no where we could go that he would not eventually find us and I'm not ready to run."

Hermione knew his mind was set, however, it was his demeanor that frightened her. Harry sounded as though he was ready to sacrifice himself to stop Voldemort.

"Please promise me you won't do anything foolish!" pleaded Hermione. "Promise me that you won't."

"I promise you, Hermione, that I'm not about to go wondering off after Voldemort." said Harry smiling.

"Good, cause the best way to defeat him, is to draw him to us." said Hermione thoughtfully.

She could see that her comment had completely confounded Harry, which made her smile. She was tired of listening to his selfless goings and needed him to realize that they were in this together. Hermione, of course, had no idea how to defeat Voldemort, but she did know that it wasn't going to happen if Voldemort had the advantage. She explained this to Harry, who in turn, explained to her his plan of confronting Dumbledore as soon as they returned to school the next day.

Hermione didn't get the opportunity to hear how Harry planned on gaining audience with the Headmaster, for the realization that they were completely alone for the first time in weeks drowned out all thoughts from her mind. In an instant she had grabbed hold of and began to passionately kiss Harry, who did not resist. They quickly made use of the recently cleaned bed linens, stripping down and climbing beneath them.

She was quite thankful for the many "useless books" she had read, as Lavender Brown had put it so eloquently last year, especially the Healer's Helper book which included a twenty-four hour contraceptive charm. This charm, which she had thought wouldn't be useful to her for years, now had been used twice in the last month. Hermione was also thankful for the silencing charm George had taught them, as she let out a strangled moan, wrapping her legs tightly around Harry.

After about an hour, Hermione and Harry cleaned themselves up and emerged back into the rest of the house. Fred, George, and Ginny smirked as they joined them in the drawing room. Ron shot them a scathing look full of accusation. Harry smiled broadly at him, which made Ron's ears burn red. Mrs Weasley had barely noticed their absence amongst the group as she was busy planning an End-of Holiday feast for dinner that night. Hermione was surprised when Mrs Weasley asked her and Ginny to help with the preparations. To this point, Mrs Weasley had purposefully ignored her existence at Grimmauld Place as much as possible.

Sirius was acting very sulky at first but quickly brightened up when Harry asked if he could return to Grimmauld Place for the Christmas Holiday. Lupin expressed his concerns however, Sirius cut across him, reminding him to mind to his own affairs. Sirius was so overjoyed that he graciously volunteered to assist Mrs Weasley in the kitchen. Mad-Eye, Mundungus, Kingsley, and Bill Weasley joined Hermione, Harry, Sirius, Lupin, and the rest of the Weasleys for dinner. It felt as though they had fixed everything in the cupboards and ice box but Hermione didn't complain. She was famished from not eating earlier and happily fixed everyone hearty plate fulls, not even minding that Mrs Weasley insisted on not using magic to dress the table.

The one noticeable absence was Tonks. She had accompanied Mad-Eye almost every time up until Charlie's disappearance. Since then, she hadn't been seen at headquarters. Harry, Hermione, and the twins had speculated that Tonks was probably out looking for Hagrid and Charlie.

"So Bill, have you seen Charlie lately?" asked Ron, making casual conversation.

Awkward silence spread through the table amongst Order members. Bill chewed his food thoroughly before answering.

"No Ron, I haven't. However, I did run into Percy." said Bill, glancing at his father.

"And what did the foul git have to say?" asked Ron.

Mrs Weasley shouted, "Ron!"

"He didn't say anything. Just nodded and turned after the Minister as they left Gringots." smirked Bill, ignoring his mother. "Guess he didn't want to hurt his reputation conversing with family."

"He's a grown man, Bill. He can make his own decisions." said Mr Weasley coolly.

"Back to school feast, how touching." sneered Severus Snape as he entered the room.

Harry eyed his potions master and enemy with much loathing. He noticed that Hermione shifted uncomfortably beside him at Snape's presence.

"Severus, you must tell us when you will be here for dinner." said Mrs Weasley.

"Molly, if I knew in advance, I would tell you." replied Snape, bowing curtly. "However, I'm not here for dinner. I will wait in the drawing room until you are finished."

Snape excused himself from the kitchen and headed back upstairs. Harry watched as the overgrown bat swooped out of the kitchen. He considered his options then stood up and excused himself, telling Sirius and Mrs Weasley that he needed to use the toilet. Harry, knowing that no one at the table believed him, knew it would only be a few minutes before someone came looking for him. He hated people thinking him a bit dodgy, but as Sirius had so eloquently stated, perception changes quickly.

Harry entered the drawing room to see Snape muttering to himself as he looked at the Black family tapestry. He spun around quickly when he realized that someone else had entered the room. Snape glared at Harry, a venomous simile curling his face.

"Excuse me, professor, but I was wondering if I might ask a favor." said Harry in an innocent tone.

Snape laughed, "What makes you think, Mr Potter, that I would do something for you?"

"It's rather simple." said Harry. "I just need you to deliver a message to Professor Dumbledore. Please tell him that I request an audience with him this coming Saturday morning."

"Oh, I will gladly inform the Headmaster however, he is a very busy man and I do not expect he will have time for even you." sneered Snape. "I suggest that you take your grievance to your Head of House."

"What grievance?" asked Harry politely.

"Do not toy with me, Potter." spat Snape. "You're so much like your father it sickens me. I'm sure you're quite dismayed not to have been chosen as Gryffindor prefect. Your father went running to the Headmaster when Lupin was chosen over him."

"I'm sorry Professor, but you are mistaken." replied Harry softly. "I just wish to speak with the Headmaster before I speak to the Daily Prophet."

Snape's pale skin flushed slightly, his eyes narrowed to slits. "What business would you have with the Daily Prophet, Potter?" he asked silkily.

"That's between myself and the Headmaster." replied Harry calmly.

He could see that his calm appearance was being taken as arrogance, thus starting to unravel Snape's nerves. Any minute he expected Snape to lash out, or worse. He placed his hand in his pocket, gripping his wand tightly. Harry could feel Snape's hatred for him.

"Very well, Potter," hissed Snape, striding up to Harry, standing merely inches from him "I will deliver your message, but mark my word, such show of knackers in my classroom will NOT go unpunished!"

Rage exploded inside Harry. He could feel white hot heat brush past his skin as the air seemed to ripple in front of him, blasting Snape backwards off of his feet and into the wall behind him. Harry spun around to see Sirius standing in the doorway, his wand drawn, and a complex look on his face. Snape had regained his composure and stormed past Harry, wand drawn, coming nose to nose with Sirius.

"How dare you assault me, Black!" yelled Snape.

The portrait of Mrs Black began screaming insults before a bang silenced her.

"What's going on here!" growled Moody, stumping up behind Sirius.

"Black here, decided to assault me for speaking to his godson!" spat Snape.

"It looked to me like you were bullying him, Snape!" growled Sirius. "This isn't one of you potions classes at Hogwarts; this is my house."

Shut it, both of you!" growled Moody, stumping into the room past Sirius and Snape.

Harry noticed that Moody's magical eye was fixated on him as his normal eye looked in Sirius and Snape's direction. The unwavering affect made Harry feel very uncomfortable.

"Sirius, if you don't mind, please escort young Mr Potter here back down to finish dinner while I have a word with Severus." growled Moody.

Sirius nodded and motioned for Harry to come with him. Reluctantly, Harry complied and accompanied his godfather back downstairs. The moment they reached the ground floor however, Sirius immediately chivvied Harry into the abandoned dining room. Harry started to speak but Sirius put a hand to his mouth to silence him.

"Harry," whispered Sirius "what just happened upstairs?"

"Nothing." whispered Harry. "I was just having a little discussion with Snape till you blasted him."

"That's just it," whispered Sirius, looking worried "I didn't hex Severus. I thought you had till I realized that your wand was still in your pocket."

Harry was completely confused. He had assumed that Sirius had hexed Snape when he turned to see him standing there. Sirius was studying Harry's face hard, as though he was looking for something.

"Tell me what happened, Harry." whispered Sirius.

Harry thought hard before speaking. "Snape had just insulted me when I felt something hot brush past my skin, the air rippled, and Snape went flying backwards." he whispered. "Do you think we triggered another jinx in this house that had been missed?"

"Not sure." whispered Sirius. "For now, let's keep it amongst ourselves."

Harry nodded and he could see that Sirius was doing some heavy thinking as they exited the old dining area. Moody was standing at the bottom of the stairs, his magical eye following them as they passed by heading to the kitchen. All eyes met theirs when they entered the kitchen. Ginny and Hermione were starting to clear the table to make room for dessert. Harry's plate was still waiting for him, though he merely picked at it before shoving it away. Hermione was eying him suspiciously and he knew a barrage of questions would befall him the moment they were alone again. While Harry had agreed to keep what had happened quiet, he did not consider telling Hermione a breach in agreement for he felt there was nothing that he could not tell her.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful by comparison. After dessert, they sat about the table talking, the Order members reminiscing about their days at Hogwarts and sharing stories. Snape left shortly after speaking to Moody in the drawing room, apparently he had delivered the message he brought for the Order. Harry enjoyed the moment of tensionless conversation as he listened to stories of Sirius, Lupin, and his parents causing trouble at school. He stomached the mentions of Wormtail, for he knew that he had been an intricate part of his parents old gang, no matter the outcome.

Later, Harry satisfied Hermione's curiosity and divulged what he had done and what had happened afterwards. Hermione told him of how Moody had apparently been watching from the kitchen and sent Sirius up to fetch him moments before dashing abruptly out of the kitchen, leaving a stirring commotion in his wake. Harry could tell that Hermione was very concerned about what had assaulted Snape. Harry wondered what it was that Moody had saw to cause him to react like such. Was it that Sirius and Snape were about to attack each other or had he seen something else, thought Harry.

"So Harry wishes to speak with me." said Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling.

"Yes." replied Snape. "Surely you do not plan on entertaining his request and giving in to his threat?"

"He merely said that to gain my attention and to thoroughly irritate you." chuckled Dumbledore. "Both of which he has accomplished quite well."

"You do not intend to – " began Snape.

"Severus," interrupted Dumbledore "Harry is a bright young man and if you intend to teach him this year, I would advise that you find a way to deal with your anger, lest he causes more trouble for us than merely asking to speak with me. You cannot keep him in detention all year, Severus. We have far greater problems to deal with."

"What do you mean, Dumbledore?" asked Snape hesitantly.

"What I mean, Severus, is that the Ministry have found their way into Hogwarts." sighed Dumbledore. "I have failed to secure a Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher before the start of term and now they have exercised their right to appoint one for us."

"Why did you not give me the post? Surely it would have been easier to find a potions master, being that position isn't rumored to be cursed!" said Snape coldly.

"I do not believe it would be wise, Severus, to place you in that post." said Dumbledore as Snape's expression widened. "We do not need any lapses."

"If you do not trust me then let me prove myself. Take me before the entire Wizengamot and question me under Veritus Sirum. I will tell the entire wizarding world that Voldemort has returned. Then, the Ministry would have to concede." said Snape.

"I admire your loyalty Severus, however, what a poor waste that would be after all my troubles to keep you out of Azkaban, when I will accomplish such in due time." replied Dumbledore, staring at Snape over his half moon spectacles. "You are much more valuable to me in Voldemort's inner circle than in Azkaban."

"AZKABAN! I do not understand, how would I end up in Azkaban, Dumbledore?" asked Snape, clearly taken aback.

"Think Severus, think! What else would be uncovered while under Veritus Sirum? Do you think they would be satisfied with letting me ask all the questions?" Dumbledore drummed his desk with his fingers. "It would no less dangerous than to administer Veritus Sirum to Harry Potter in front of the Wizengamot. Yes, they would be forced to accept that Voldemort had returned but at what cost? I dare say that some of my methods would quickly come under scrutiny by the lesser minded."

"And what of the Weasley twins assisting Ms Granger and Potter?" asked Snape, changing the subject. "Mad-Eye says that the four of them have been meeting quite regularly."

"Not to worry, Severus. Once they are back within the confides of Hogwarts, the natural order here will sort things out." said Dumbledore smiling. "Why do you think I set the Weasley boy and Ms Granger as prefects? I dare say the strain will put an end to this summer romance then you will inform Voldemort that Ms Granger has failed. Unfortunately, the consequence is that she will become a muggle born orphan."

A knock at the office door brought their discussion to an abrupt halt. Dumbledore glanced at a portrait which nodded knowingly.

"You may enter, Minerva." called Dumbledore.

Professor McGonagall strode into the office, closing the door behind her, nodding briefly to Snape.

"You wished to see me, Dumbledore?" asked McGonagall.

"Yes Minerva, I wanted to inform you that we will be having an unwanted disruption this year." said Dumbledore, peering at her over his half moon spectacles.

"Disruption? What kind of disruption?" asked McGonagall, flustered.

"The Ministry has found a way to place someone here within the school to, not only spy, but I dare say influence events around the school itself." said Dumbledore.

"So you were unsuccessful at filling the Defense Against The Dark Arts post then. Who will they be sending?" asked McGonagall dryly.

"Senior Undersecretary Dolores Umbridge, will fill the post. She will join us tonight at the feast." replied Dumbledore grimly.

McGonagall's nostrils flared dangerously at these words. The Deputy Headmistress and the Senior Undersecretary were quite familiar with each other and McGonagall was clearly enraged that the Ministry would be placing such a vile person here to teach children, amongst other things.

After assuring Dumbledore that the proper preparations would be made for the arrival of such a person, Professor McGonagall excused herself from the Headmaster's office. Once she reached the bottom of the spiral staircase and exited past the stone gargoyle, she quickly slipped into an abandoned classroom. She took a seat in an old high back wooden chair, clutching at her chest. She had put on an excellent front while in the Headmaster's office and deflected his attempted legilimency.

What she had heard before knocking was racing through her mind, I dare say the strain will put an end to this summer romance then you will inform Voldemort that Ms Granger has failed. Unfortunately, the consequence is that she will become a muggle born orphan.

Had she heard correctly? Was he giving Severus orders or was he stating what might happen in order to prevent it? Somehow, she was going to have to find out, and if they were orders, she would have to do something she's never done before.

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