The Falling

Rumors And Revenge

The morning of September the 1st was a busy one at No 12 Grimmauld Place. Even though everything had been sorted and situated the night before, Mrs Weasley was drilling Harry, Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Fred, and George, making sure that they hadn't forgotten anything. The Order would be escorting them to Platform Nine and Three Quarters for protection. Again, Tonks was conspicuous by her absence.

Harry was in the drawing room rearranging his trunk when Sirius found him.

"Harry, if you have a moment, there is something I'd like to show you before you leave." said Sirius, nodding at the curious Mrs Weasley.

"Sure." replied Harry, looking up from his trunk. "I was just making sure I had everything."

"It's up in my room and I thought that it would also give you an opportunity to say goodbye to Buckbeak before you go." said Sirius, ever so slightly raising an eyebrow.

Harry caught the subtle change in expression and nodded then followed his godfather up to the fifth floor. Buckbeak, the hippogriff, had been staying upstairs in Sirius' room during the summer. Sirius had become quite fond of the beast during their travels since being rescued from the tower. Harry stopped and bowed his head low then waited for Buckbeak to respond. The hippogriff waisted no time before bowing it's magnificent head, thus allowing Harry to step forward and stroke the plumage on his neck. Sirius closed the door behind them and Harry recognized the silencing charm that Sirius cast upon it.

"Sorry Harry, but there is something I need to say without being overheard." said Sirius.

"What's wrong?" asked Harry, not liking the tone of this conversation's beginning.

Sirius' face hardened and Harry could tell that he was preparing for an argument.

"Listen, I know that you, Hermione, and the twins are planning something and don't bother arguing - I know." said Sirius. "Your father and I were turning Hogwarts on it's head years before you were even thought of."

Harry smiled, folding his arms, but did not protest. Planning something, was an understatement.

"There is something you should know; something that the Order would not want me to tell you, but you're going to find out soon enough." said Sirius.

"What's going on, Sirius?" asked Harry, showing some concern.

"It's the Ministry, Harry – they want to remove you from the Dursleys and place you in a wizarding foster home." said Sirius in a concerned tone.

Harry, trying to act surprised, asked, "Oh, well, can they do that?"

"How the bloody hell did you know!" shouted Sirius in disbelief.

"What do you mean?" asked Harry, suppressing a grin.

"Come off it, Harry!" chuckled Sirius. "Your father had the same expression when he was wise to something."

"I have my sources." replied Harry coolly.

"I see, well," growled Sirius unable to keep from smiling "then you're probably aware of Umbridge."

"Who?" asked Harry, furrowing his brow.

"Ah, finally, a topic I can enlighten you on." said Sirius smoothly. "Senior Undersecretary, Dolores Umbridge, has been appointed as the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher by the Ministry."

"Wait – what? Can they do that?" asked Harry, now thoroughly surprised.

"If the Headmaster cannot fill a post before the start of term, the Ministry have the authority to do so." replied Sirius. "As in this case, everyone that Dumbledore spoke to about the post either took another position somewhere else or they suddenly vanished. This made some people literally run from Dumbledore should they be asked to fill the post."

Harry could see why too. He wondered to himself if the Ministry had something to do with it so that they could fill the post themselves. Judging by Sirius' body language, Harry was sure that Sirius was thinking the same thing.

"So do you think that, this Umbridge witch, will target me?" asked Harry.

"We do not know her true purpose for wanting the post Harry, however, we are sure that it's not to educate young minds." said Sirius huffing slightly. "Fudge is still livid about the notion that you or Dumbledore would even dare suggest You-Know-Who has returned. He is hell bent on turning as many as possible against you both."

"Well, if Professor Umbridge asks, I'll tell her that I would like to live with the notorious Sirius Black." said Harry thoughtfully.

Sirius barked with laughter at this notion, slapping Harry on the back. Buckbeak snorted indignantly at the commotion. Sirius placed a hand on Harry's shoulder.

"Listen, do not underestimate this Umbridge woman. She represents the Ministry and therefore should be treated, until otherwise noted, that she carries the full weight of the Ministry behind her." said Sirius. "In other words, you should consider her as dangerous as the Minister himself."

Harry nodded and Sirius smiled as he looked at his godson.

Hermione waited impatiently downstairs for Harry and Sirius to join them, tapping her foot on the floor rhythmically. She wasn't the only one either; Mrs Weasley was huffing, pacing, and glancing up the staircase every few minutes. Hermione only ceased her staring upstairs after Fred complimented her on her wonderful impersonation of his mum.

When they finally did come back down, few words were exchanged as Mad-Eye was hurrying everyone to get back on schedule. The Order had arranged for an armed escort to accompany them to Kings Cross Station. Sirius also accompanied them as the large black dog. Mad-Eye used an over-sized porter's cap to hide his magical eye; Mundungus fit in nicely with the local street urchins; while Kingsley fit in so well with the muggle upper-class that Hermione completely lost track of him until they appeared on Platform Nine and Three Quarters. Lupin stayed behind to keep an eye on headquarters and, Hermione was sure, not to create more tension. The Scarlet steam engine billowed white steam from it's stack, making it hard to see more than ten meters down the platform however, once Harry was spotted, it seemed as though the entire crowd was aware of his presence. Mr and Mrs Weasley were busy double checking that every trunk, owl, and cat were accounted for when Hermione recognized Neville bounding up the platform to greet them. He stopped a foot shorter than he'd planned to, a lopsided smile curving his face, when he saw Harry and Hermione holding hands.

"Hi ya Harry, hi ya Hermione." greeted Neville.

"Hey Neville." said Harry. "How did you know where we were?"

Neville shifted slightly. "The whole platform is buzzing about your arrival. My gram told me she would go ahead and get my trunk loaded if I wanted to come find you."

"Hey Neville." said Ron as he walked over to where they stood.

"Good summer, Ron?" asked Neville, spying the sour look on Ron's face.

"Okay I guess." replied Ron before turning to face Harry. "Listen, we need to talk."

"It will have to wait." said Mr Weasley. "You four can talk when you get on board. Fred, George, and Ginny are already aboard and Kingsley has finished loading your things."

Mrs Weasley grabbed Hermione from behind, turning her to face her, then embraced her in a bone crushing hug. Hermione was completely stunned for she hadn't even contemplated such a response. She clumsily patted Mrs Weasley on the back.

"Stay safe my dear and watch over Harry." whispered Mrs Weasley into Hermione's ear. "I'm know I'm not your mum but you will always be one of my kids."

Hermione could not help it; she squeezed Mrs Weasley as a tear trickled down her cheek. When she let go, Mrs Weasley held on a moment longer.

"Try to overlook Ron. He'll come around – eventually." whispered Mrs Weasley. "You and Harry are his best friends. He needs you both."

Mrs Weasley pushed back and looked at Hermione in the face, who sniffed and nodded. Smiling, Mrs Weasley then turned to Harry and gave him a hug before hugging Ron. Mr Weasley hurried them onto the train as Hermione saw Harry lean down and hug the large black dog around the neck who's tail was wagging wildly. She knew that Sirius was happier than he'd probably been in fifteen years.

They waved from the doorway as the train began to slowly leave the station. Sirius bounded down the platform, barking his goodbyes. Moments later, the scarlet stream engine turned the corner and the platform disappeared from sight. Hermione followed Harry who walked a good ways down the train car before deciding on a cabin. When they entered, she saw that it was already occupied by Neville and a younger student, Luna Lovegood. Neville looked pleased to see them and Hermione smirked, for she knew why. Luna was sitting next to Neville, looking at a magazine that she was holding upside down.

Hermione had met Luna the previous year through Ginny. Luna had a way about her that was a bit odd to say the least. She could only imagine the conversation that had occurred before they arrived. Harry slid the door shut behind him but a large hand prevented it from shutting. Hermione turned around to see Crabbe slide the door back open, allowing Malfoy to enter the cabin, an emerald green prefect badge gleaming on his robes, followed by Goyle then Crabbe. The two boys stood on each side of Malfoy like bodyguards.

"Is it true? Have you fallen from the graces as Dumbledore's pet already?" sneered Malfoy.

"W-What you going on about, Malfoy?" spat Neville.

"Oh, hello Longbottom. Didn't see you sitting there but then again, why would I?" sneered Malfoy while Crabbe cracked his knuckles menacingly, looking like a large gorilla.

Hermione thought she knew where Malfoy was going with this, eying him suspiciously.

"Have out with it Malfoy, so we can be free of your company." said Harry hotly.

"Very well, Potter, rumor has it that Weasley was made prefect and not you." sneered Malfoy. "Is that to keep you humble or so you can continue to hide once we get to school? Maybe Dumbledore is afraid too many would see you crying under pressure again like at the tournament."

"Why would I hide, Malfoy?" asked Harry. "I'm not afraid of your master or your father. Yes, Ron and Hermione were both made prefects and I'm not upset about it one bit."

Malfoy chuckled, "The blood traitor and the mudblood as Gryffindor prefects! How appropriate! So Potter, jealous of all the time Weasley will be spending with your girlfriend or will you and Weasley be taking turns shagging Granger then comparing notes? If she knows she's being graded, I'm sure she'll do her best!"

Hermione's rage broke as she reached for her wand to hex him, Harry mimicking her movements however, they both hesitated as a sudden commotion behind Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle erupted. Goyle was shoved to the side as Ron surged past him, the sound of Ron's fist colliding with Malfoy's jaw echoed in the cabin. As Malfoy fell to his knees, Neville lunged forward tackling Crabbe who was reaching for Ron. Harry stowed his wand and rushed forward, burying his knee into Malfoy's face, breaking his nose. Malfoy wailed in pain as Crabbe thrust Neville off of him. Goyle finally seemed to comprehend what was going on but Hermione was too fast, stunning him, Crabbe, and Malfoy, who fell to the floor with a loud thud. Luna remained seated and simply lowered her magazine, looking mildly interested.

The look in Harry's eyes told Hermione that he wasn't done yet. The element that he enjoyed this a little too much worried her. Harry seemed almost disappointed that Hermione had stunned the three so quickly. She also thought for a moment his eyes seemed to be a bit darker shade of green however, when he smiled at her, his eyes where as brilliant as ever.

"No fun for us?" said Fred as he and George arrived in the corridor.

"What do we do now?" asked Neville, wiping a bit of blood from his lower lip.

"Simple," said Harry "we deliver these three to their cabin."

George's eyebrows lifted clear into his hairline at this profound idea. Hermione was panicked, yet she could not help but laugh at the thought of Pansy's face along with the other Slytherins when they discovered the three. Of course, there would be consequences, and serious ones she was sure, but in the moment it was simply brilliant. Lucius could not blame her for his son's decision to take on a whole lot of Gryffindors. Besides, what could she do to stop them from fighting that wouldn't have seemed suspicious.

"So how do we lift these baboons?" asked Ron, not making eye contact with Harry or Hermione.

"Oh I think it should be very easy and incredibly obvious." said Luna in a dreamy tone, standing up.

She withdrew her wand and pointed it at the three stunned boys then said, "Wingardium Leviosa."

With a flick of her wand the three levitated into the air like limp rag dolls. Thoroughly impressed, Harry asked Luna if she'd be so kind as to do the honors of levitating the three into the first empty cabin they came to in the "Slytherin" car.

The Slytherin car, as it was so commonly referred to as, was the train's middle passenger car that the Slytherins had claimed years ago. Other houses didn't mind mixing and mingling during their travels to and from Hogwarts. For many, it was the perfect time to make new friends. For most Slytherins, who were by their nature very secretive, this mingling was not acceptable and the other houses didn't mind having the Slytherins all in one place.

Harry led the way as they were levitated down the corridor towards the Slytherin car by Luna and prodded along like bobbing corks in water by Hermione, Neville, Ron, and the twins. Hermione was afraid that someone was going to stop this little procession but students merely stepped aside, some clapping, as they made their way, finally arriving at the Slytherin's car.

Blaise Zabini was the first Slytherin to see this odd site, his mouth dropped, backing away as they entered the train car. On Harry's command Luna lowered the three boys to the floor in the corridor outside the first cabin, Malfoy already starting to stir. He pushed himself to his feet, stumbling slightly, his face showing signs of swelling, as he wiped blood from his nose.

"You'll pay for this!" hissed Malfoy, staring daggers at Hermione. "He's coming for you, Potter. In the end, we will win."

"You haven't even seen him, have you Malfoy?" scoffed Hermione. "You'll soak yourself, if you ever do."

"He's a git Hermione." said Ron. "Don't even waste your time with him."

"Granger, Weasley, even if you are prefects, that still doesn't change the fact that I'm a Malfoy; a noble pureblood, and you're nothing more than filth!" spat Malfoy. "As for you, Potter, you're just dead."

Hermione heard Harry laugh though she didn't hear anything funny. The seven of them turned away and headed back to their cabin, ignoring the shouts of vulgarity being cast their way by the Slytherins. When they reached their cabin, Perks, the Head Boy, was waiting.

"I heard what happened." said Perks.

Hermione immediately started to try and explain what had occurred but Perks held up his hand to silence her.

"No need for explanations, Ms Granger." said Perks. "Just you and Mr Weasley be on time for the prefects meeting. I have to go inform Mr Malfoy that these circumstances do not excuse him nor should he be late because of them."

With that, Perks headed past them down the corridor towards the Slytherin's train car. Wild grins appeared on the twins' faces, as Neville shut the door to cabin after they all piled in. It was a bit cramped but the discussion was rapid. The twins, Ron, and Neville were absolutely jubilant over what they had just done, Harry looked very satisfied with the outcome, and Luna seemed pleased with herself too. Hermione and Ron had to hurry off to the prefect meeting so there was little time to talk so they agreed to wait until they returned from patrols.

They did not speak on their way to or from the prefect meeting. Malfoy was also silent during the meeting, not even bothering to answer Perks' questions about first years. Hermione separated from Ron after the meeting to check a girls toilet when a hand grasped her by the elbow and yanked her into a cabin. The door slammed behind her and there stood a healed Draco Malfoy, seething with rage.

"Happy, are we with that little exhibition?" hissed Malfoy.

"What did you expect, barging in and throwing around statements like that?" asked Hermione through gritted teeth. "You got what you deserved!"

"As will your boyfriend when the Dark Lord has his way." hissed Malfoy.

Hermione glared at Malfoy in defiance, her hatred for him was not hidden nor did she try. She absolutely despised the ferret.

"Remember Granger, your family depends on your actions." hissed Malfoy, an evil grin curling his face. "This means that until Potter is controlled or dead, you're my new toy. Now, tell me – what is Potter up to?"

Hermione spit on him, wanting to rip his heart out. Malfoy wiped the spit from his face, smirking but waiting for her response. Hermione sighed as she thought of what to say.

"He's trying to figure out where Charlie Weasley is." said Hermione, sounding defeated.

"Why? Has the Weasley gone missing?" asked Malfoy casually.

"You know he has!" spat Hermione, not wanting to play games.

"Trust me Granger, this is news to me however, I will pass it along to my father." said Malfoy in a bored tone.

Hermione scoffed aloud at his attitude, but all the same she believed him.

"Anything else?" asked Malfoy.

"Harry plans on confronting Dumbledore over the state of things when we get to school." said Hermione looking at the floor.

"The state of things." chuckled Malfoy. "Glad to hear that Potter is still interested in his reputation. Oh well, if that's it then let's just plan on me finding you again soon and remember Granger, if Potter does something unexpected, the Dark Lord will make sure you pay dearly."

Hermione rolled her eyes for effect, not wanting Malfoy to see her panic, and started to leave the cabin, feeling that no real harm had been done, when Malfoy grabbed her and pulled her into an embracing kiss. Stunned, it took her a moment to gather herself together and push him away.

"What the bloody hell do you think you are doing!" she shouted.

"Whatever I want." replied Malfoy sneering. "And I must say, you tasted better than I expected a mudblood to."

"Do that again and I'll turn every bone in your body to jelly, understand!" hissed Hermione as Draco laughed.

Hermione huffed loudly and stormed out of the cabin, plowing directly into Cho Chang. Her and Cho's eyes met, letting her know immediately that Cho had seen the interaction through the cabin window.

"Excuse me." said Cho as she moved past a stunned Hermione.

Hermione turned to yell at Cho but Ron was walking down the corridor towards her. Malfoy had already slipped away somehow, leaving her completely flustered.

"Done with patrols?" asked Ron awkwardly.

Hermione just nodded, looking around to see who else might have been in the area at the time.

"Good, let's get back to your cabin. There's something I need to say to you and Harry and I don't want to say it multiple times." said Ron, motioning for her to go ahead of him.

She did so, thinking that she knew, based upon his actions today, what it was that he had to say. Upon arriving at the cabin, she saw that Ginny had now joined the group, making it a very tight fit. Ginny sat beside Neville and Luna while the twins sat beside Harry. Hermione squeezed in besides Harry, nearest the exterior window but Ron remained standing.

"I really didn't want an audience," said Ron as he shut the door to the cabin "however, it's just as well that most of you hear it too."

"I can cover my ears if you wish." said Luna dreamily.

"Uh, no, that won't be necessary, um – who are you again?" said a bewildered Ron.

"Ron, this is Luna Lovegood." said Ginny in an introductory fashion. "Luna, this is my brother, Ron."

"Nice to meet you, Ron." said Luna in a far off voice. "If I make you feel uncomfortable, just let me know and I'll cover my ears."

"Uh, okay, Luna." replied Ron uncertainly.

The twins both snickered and Hermione struggled to suppress a laugh before Fred said, "Go ahead Ron, we're waiting."

Ron cleared his throat then focused on Harry and Hermione as he spoke. "Listen, first I'd like to apologize for my actions this last month and say that it's none of my business if my two best mates are together. Second, I'm not certain what's going on but if I can help, please let me."

Ron stood there for a moment before Harry answered, "Thank you, Ron. I accept your apology however, I cannot speak for Hermione."

"I accept your apology too." said Hermione, looking into the face of a relieved Ron.

"Now, as for what we may or may not be up to, that is for another time." said Harry as Ron took a seat across from Hermione next to Luna. "What we need to discuss now is our new DA professor."

Hermione listened as Harry explained that this Professor Umbridge was a Ministry official and they were to expect nothing good from her presence. Neville chimed in and told of how his gram hated the Senior Undersecretary, often referring to her as a toad. Ginny and the twins expelled their thoughts on what plans and motives the Ministry might have while Luna hummed merely.

Hermione's thoughts drifted back to her confrontation with Malfoy and what Cho might have seen; what she might think. His pureblood antics made her physically ill and she longed for the day that she could duel with him. The scenery was growing wilder outside, marking their trip was drawing to a close and Hogsmeade Station would be soon approaching.

"What say you, Luna?" asked George. "Are you with our band of merely Potter followers?"

Harry shot George a filthy look then shook his head.

"Oh yes." said Luna dreamily. "My father and I believe Harry that You-Know-Who has returned and that he has fought him."

"Uh – thanks, Luna." said Harry.

"Do not mention it, Harry Potter." said Luna smiling. "But should we really call ourselves Potter Followers?"

"No." said Harry flatly.

"How about Potter's Brigade then?" asked Luna offhandedly.

"Absolutely not!" said Harry, shaking his head. "I'm not trying to start a movement or anything."

"Like it or not mate." said George.

"That little stunt didn't go unnoticed." said Fred.

"Maybe, instead of the Order of the Phoenix." said George.

"We could be the Order of the Owl!" said Fred and George excitedly in unison, sporting evil grins in Harry's direction.

Harry looked as though he was trying to decide whether to hex, jinx, or punch each of the twins in the face.

"The who?" asked Neville.

"The Order of the Phoenix." replied Luna dreamily. "They were a music band started by Professor Dumbledore before he became Headmaster. Daddy says they were really good, or so he's heard."

Ron rolled his eyes and Ginny giggled.

"No Luna, they're a secret society started by Dumbledore to fight against You-Know-Who when he first rose to power years ago." replied Hermione.

"Well, that makes more sense." said Luna thoughtfully. "Professor Dumbledore never has shown good taste for music."

At this, Ginny shoved her fist into her mouth to stop a fit of giggles.

"Anyways, what do we do about this Umbridge character?" said Ron, trying to get the topic back on track.

"We're going to find out exactly what this Professor Umbridge is up to and do whatever we can to thwart her, not just for us but for the sake of our families and school mates too." said Hermione. "In my opinion, she's here to convince the students that Voldemort hasn't returned, Dumbledore's lost his mind, and Harry's a glory seeking liar."

Everyone cringed except for Harry, who was used to the name and looked proud that she was using it too.

"Then we'll tell everyone we see that You-Know-Who has returned." said Neville firmly.

"And play right into her hands? No, I don't think so." said Harry. "We need to lay low at first, once we know what her and the Ministry's intentions are then we can work out a way to stop them."

"What if the Ministry is working for You-Know-Who?" asked Neville timidly.

Hermione's heart quickened at the look on Harry's face and for the second time she thought that his eyes looked a darker shade of green.

"No way!"exclaimed Ron hotly. "Our dad works for the Ministry, remember?"

"I don't think the Ministry is working for Voldemort, Neville." said Harry to another round of cringes. "However, with Fudge so heatedly denying Voldemort's return, Professor Umbridge may prove to be just as dangerous."

"Another fun filled year at Hogwarts." said Ginny sarcastically. "Well, I need to get back to my cabin as we're almost there but count me in on whatever needs to be done."

"We'd better get back to our cabin too." said Fred, standing up.

"Yes, we need to get changed and make sure our things are together." said George.

Hermione caught something in George's voice that made her wonder what they had packed to bring to Hogwarts. Ron also had to go collect his things from his cabin, which he'd been sharing with Seamus and Dean. While Luna and Neville purchased some sweets from the passing trolley, Hermione took the opportunity to speak with Harry.

"You okay?" she whispered.

"I'm fine. You?" whispered Harry.

"That was really risky, don't you think? I mean, attacking Malfoy." whispered Hermione.

"The git deserved it after what he said!" whispered Harry darkly.

"Don't you think breaking his nose with your knee then parading him down the train was going a little too far?" whispered Hermione.

"It was perfect." whispered Harry. "The Malfoys are none the wiser and they'll think my focus is on battling Draco and worrying about Voldemort. I think that the addition of Neville, Ginny, Luna, and even Ron will help sell the idea of a rising conflict within the school. They'll never know what we're really up to until it's too late." Harry paused for a moment before saying, "We'll find them, I promise."

"Is it okay if we sit back down or should we stand outside while you two discuss things that you wish for us not to hear?" asked Luna in a dreamy tone.

"Uh – no, Luna, we were just talking." replied Harry a little dumb struck.

"Very well, Harry Potter." said Luna, as her and Neville took a seat again across from them. "Shall I call you Harry now that I'm one of your followers?"

"I don't have followers!" stressed Harry. "But please call me Harry."

Hermione laughed, "It's okay Luna, our fearless leader is a little shy."

"Ha, ha, ha." replied Harry rolling his eyes.

"Well, I need to do one final sweep before we arrive." said Hermione.

Harry squeezed her hand as she got up to patrol once more before reaching Hogsmeade Station, which she knew by the scenery outside, was just around the next bend.

"Harry is yours and Lucius will soon regret the day he took your parents." said that tiny voice in the back of her mind reassuringly as she stepped into the corridor.

Professor McGonagall paced in the Entrance Hall, waiting for the first years to be brought to her. It had been her responsibility for many years, as the Deputy Headmistress, to oversee the Sorting but this year she was quite distracted. Hagrid had not yet returned from the task Dumbledore had sent him to do immediately after the end of term, which both concerned and irritated her. Dumbledore had not seen fit to explain what he had sent Hagrid to do but merely informed the staff that Professor Grubbly-Plank would be taking over all of Hagrid's duties until he returned. Professor McGonagall had nothing personally against Professor Grubbly-Plank. For the most part, the two women got along quite smashingly however, it was her lack of ability to connect with the students that bothered McGonagall.

Perhaps the largest concern that was weighing McGonagall down was what to do about Harry and Hermione. She needed to convene with them in private and as soon as possible however, when that opportunity would arise, she still was not sure.

"Something bothering you Minerva?" asked Dumbledore, striding into hall.

McGonagall immediately recognized Dumbledore's subtle probing.

"I am not your favorite book Albus, so please do not try to read me every time you see me!" said McGonagall coolly, glaring at the Headmaster.

"Forgive me, Minerva however, I am just simply concerned. You seem troubled." replied Dumbledore in a soft tone.

"If you're concerned, just ask, and if I wish to discuss it, I will." said McGonagall in a tone of dismissal however, Dumbledore ignored it.

"If you are worried that Professor Grubbly-Plank cannot handle the task – " started Dumbledore.

"Oh shut up, Albus." interrupted McGonagall. "I'm the one that suggested her as a suitable Care of Magical Creatures professor before you appointed Hagrid!"

"If that is not it, then what troubles you?" asked Dumbledore politely.

McGonagall raised her eyebrows and smiled dangerously. "We did not just meet yesterday, Albus. Now, don't you have a start of term speech to rehearse?"

Dumbledore bowed then smiled as he left the hall.

"Ten points to you, Minerva." said Professor Sprout as she walked up behind her old friend.

"He's Dumbledore, Pomona. He won by simply entering the room." replied McGonagall, watching Dumbledore exit the hall.

"Then why are you smiling, Minerva?" asked Professor Sprout.

"Because he knows that it's probably the last time he'll ever best me again." replied McGonagall.

"What are you up to, Minerva?" asked Professor Sprout, now looking her old friend directly in the face.

"I'm thinking about doing what I should have done years ago – fostering a child." said McGonagall.


"A teenager, to be exact." said McGonagall firmly.

"I always said you would have made a good parent, but – wait, you don't mean –"

"I still have a cottage in Hogsmeade and I think it's time I move back there, away from Hogwarts. I do not wish to die alone in this castle." said McGonagall, ignoring her best friend's looks of surprise.

McGonagall had decided that it was time she stopped being so trusting and started doing things the way she deemed right, no matter who disagreed.

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